FICTION

You Always Were My Girl

Marjorie Wilkins Campbell May 15 1947
FICTION

You Always Were My Girl

Marjorie Wilkins Campbell May 15 1947

You Always Were My Girl

FICTION

Marjorie Wilkins Campbell

WILDE tore open the letter. Pete’s writing, the dear, crazy writing she’d know anywhere even if she hadn’t seen it since varsity days. She sat for a moment savoring the memory of him, wondering why he had written at all. Pete wasn’t the kind to write many letters. He was all there, or gone completely. That was the way it had always been with them, ever since they were kids. All or nothing. And the last fight had lasted for—how long was it anyway? She was twenty that year he’d come home; now she was twenty-four.

With her finger in the envelope, she still sat holding the letter, dreaming in the car beside their

mail box. They’d had fun, she and Pete, riding here beside the Saskatchewan River. When there was snow Pete had always come out to the Bar Nothing for skiing. Wilde grinned to herself—Pete wasn’t at all like John.

She liked John Horvath. She might come to like him more, she thought, holding Pete’s letter and looking down the river toward the irrigation camp. There was something intriguing about John’s Hungarian ancestry, his nice manners and the way he played her mother’s piano, qualities unexpected in a man who was handling a huge and tough irrigation project. She and her dad were already counting on having the new dam site on their land. Wilde didn’t believe there would be another depression, not for years and years. But if her dad

believed it she’d humor him the way she usually did and the sale of the land would pay off the $50,000 overdraft, especially with John working on it. Her dad liked John too. Already they’d had some good times together.

But Pete! Why, even the crazy name “Wilde” started with Pete.

There was clear ice on the creek in town all through the Christmas holidays that year, she recalled. Some of the Hi boys had boasted that they had skated for 35 miles with only a few patches of rubber ice under the railway bridges. The sun was warm, the way it often is on the prairies even though the thermometer was 10 below. Every day the boys made a fire and they all put on their skates, sitting on logs beside it.

Most of the girls wore slacks, but she had worn the new pleated tartan skirt which swirled agreeably about her knees. It was the skirt which started her dancing round and round to keep warm while the boys laid the fire, and singing one of her dad’s Rotary songs, the one where you put a finger on top of your head and pirouetted:

“/’m a little prairie flower Growing wilder every hour. Nobody cares to cultivate me For Fm as wild as I can be.”

Pete had turned his back on the West, but he couldn’t forget the coulee country and the girl who'd ridden beside him

There were hoots and catcalls from the boys.

“I’ll say you’re wild,” jeered one of them, and another called: “Some legs. They’re like a palo-

mino colt,” which was no mean compliment, she knew. But Pete hadn’t said anything. He just went on breaking sticks over his bony knees and heaped up the fire. She had laced on her skates by the time he stood up, and he called to her:

“Hi, Wilde, come and skate. I’ll tame you!”

She went with him the way she usually did when he commanded. Pete could skate and so could she. They swung off happily, her long legs matching his. The first few jerky strides soon settled into long, rhythmic movements which took them from one side of the creek to the other. It was like flying, with the added excitement of the cutbanks speeding by. In no time they were out of sight of town, alone in the crisp, bright world, Pete’s fingers tight around hers, her elbow firm and yet easy against his body. When she knew he was looking down at her she felt she was in heaven. Though she was tall, Pete was taller. And he had the nicest smile, his eyes crinkling at the corners, his teeth strong and white in contrast with his black hair. He patted her hand lightly.

“Always my girl—Wilde?” he said.

Well, she always had been Pete’s girl, except when they were fighting, right up until that last fight when he had gone away. Wilde tried to remember what it had been about. She couldn’t; so she opened his letter.

HER eyes gobbled a few sentences here and there, leaping over the lines like a prairie fire. Pete was coming west! She reread the letter slowly to miss none of it. Yet even with the second reading her eyes saw the huge, strong writing as much as the words he had written.

So Pete had heard about the irrigation plans for the Saskatchewan. Even down East he must think of the West, sometimes. And suddenly she remembered what they had quarrelled about, Pete insisting that down East was as good a place to live as the prairies! It seemed adolescent, now that he was a lawyer, like most of the scraps had been. Pete didn’t know what the scheme involved, so he planned to combine his holidays with selling the land his mother had left him. If he could get a good price from the Government as part of the irrigation project he could buy himself a partnership with his firm. And of course he wanted to see her. She frowned as she read the way he spelled her name, without the “e” she had added at the end of it. Pete never would spell it her way. Dear Wild—it looked silly.

She started the car. If Pete Quarrington thought he would be able to get the site for the South Saskatchewan main dam on his 1,000 acres he was in line for disappointment. The Quarrington ranch was miles down the river. And to think he wanted

to sell his mother’s land to buy an interest in an eastern law firm, the graze land and water acres his father had bought for a ranch! The car leaped down the trail as she thought of it.

As she slowed the car at their own gate Wilde was glad John was so near. Probably he’d have the site chosen and all plans made by the time Pete arrived. She hoped so. It would do Pete good not to get his own way all the time. And her dad had been worrying about that overdraft in spite of Dr. Graham’s caution against worry. Well, with the overdraft paid off she could manage the ranch in the winter and he could go to California. As she neared the Bar Nothing ranch house, Wilde glanced at the rear view mirror. §he took a good look before she finally got out of the car, running her fingers through the curls at the nape of her neck, patting the high coronet of braids. She looked into her own eyes—they really did look green in the shadow under the top—and smiled. John was coming for supper.

Supper was on the wide veranda. When they had visitors the ranch foreman and his wife who cooked usually had their meal in the kitchen. So there was only John, Wilde and her father.

“You’ll never guess who I got a letter from,” Wilde said as she poured coffee for John.

“Might as well tell me,” said Sam Wayne.

Wilde put plenty of cream in John’s coffee, and handed him the cup. “Pete Quarrington,” she said, carefully filling her father’s cup.

“Pete! Long time since we heard of Pete. How’s he?”

“Fine, I guess. He’s coming west to sell their land—you know that thousand acres his mother saved.”

“Why’s he want to sell? Seems to me even his mother knew what that land was worth.”

“Pete wants to buy an interest in the law firm he’s with, of all things! Thinks maybe he can sell to the government for irrigation . . .” she broke off, feeling John looking at her.

“Who is Pete Quarrington?” he asked. “An oldtimer?”

“We-ell, he was born on the river, down some 30-40 miles.”

“Quarringtons used to be neighbors in the early days,” explained Sam Wayne. “Forty miles was near for neighbors back in ’09 when Bill Quarrington and I took up land. Left a gap when he died, did Bill. Never rode with a finer man.”

“And this Pete,” said John, “is he a son?”

“Only son,” said Wayne, “though Bill had a couple of girls too. They’ve all moved away. Guess they were kinda like their mother, not up to prairie standards.”

“Well!” exclaimed Wilde, “Pete certainly needn’t think he can come out here and persuade John to put the dam on his land!”

“He certainly cannot!” stated John, laughing at her vehemence. “Not if we can find footings anywhere else. When is he coming?”

Wilde reached into the pocket of her yellow linen suit for Pete’s letter. “Week Sunday,” she said without looking at it. “He’s flying.”

“Does he want you to meet him?” asked Wayne. “No, he said he’d borrow or rent a car.”

“Be kind of nice to see Pete,” said her father, pushing back his chair. “We-ell, Chuck and I’re riding over to see the Herefords while it’s cool and before it gets dark. Don’t suppose you want to come?” he asked John.

“Thanks. I’ll stay with Wilde.”

“Up to you,” said Sam Wayne, his steel-blue eyes twinkling.

From the veranda they watched the two men ride down the valley and up the distant coulee-scarred shoulders. The air was lovely now, much cooler than it had been all day and the fragrance of wild roses scented the air currents. Wilde carried the dishes out to the kitchen and pushed the gate-leg table over against the stucco wall.

“The piano tuner was out today,” she said. “Wilde!” He jumped up and crossed the veranda to the living room door. “Just because 1 suggested it?” he asked as he opened the piano.

“Just because you suggested it.” She followed him und sat down by the window.

“It’s good,” he said, playing a few bars of the Warsaw concerto. “You’ve always kept the piano closed.”

“Oh, yes, mother soon learned you couldn’t keep the dust out of a piano here unless you did. That’s one of the last things I can remember her telling me.”

“When did she die, Wilde?”

“When I was seven.”

It was wonderful having John play. Wilde sat watching him at the grand piano in the corner of the big living room. Her children would play her mother’s piano, she determined, wishing as she often did that she could play better herself, much better.

John didn’t seem to realize when the long sunset finally faded. Occasionally he spoke to her. Most of the time it was enough to play for her, enough for both of them. He was still playing when Sam Wayne returned, and Wilde almost wished her father hadn’t come.

“Be sure to come over Sunday for supper,” said Wayne as John was leaving. “You’ll want to meet Pete Quarrington.”

PETE was still Pete. He threw one long leg over the car door without opening it, and followed with the other. He raced to meet them. Suddenly Wilde knew he was going to kiss her. And as suddenly Pete saw John on the steps behind her. He took her hand instead, and he seemed like someone else. Quickly he turned to Sam Wayne and gripped his hand, and then looked toward John again.

“This is John Horvath,” Wilde introduced them.

The two men shook Continued on page 48

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hands and Sam Wayne lead the way onto the veranda.

Wilde was glad supper was ready. One part of her wanted to enjoy a little of the excitement of having John and Pete here together, knowing that Pete still cared and delighting in his concealed discomfiture at the sight of John. But the other part of her cried out for him. “Always my girl,” he had said. Always. Her heart thumped at the word. Always - always—always.

There was cold fried chicken and hot biscuits. Sam Wayne filled the glasses with cold amber ale, slightly bitter.

“Don’t know anyone I’d rather see than a Quarrington,” he said.

They talked small talk for a little while, about the good food and how long since Pete had been there and where John’s camp was down the river. Wilde took out the plates and brought in strawberry shortcake and coffee, pleased by the exclamations of both their guests at sight of the shortcake.

“This always was the best place to eat!” exclaimed Pete.

“And yet you choose to live down east,” taunted Wilde.

He looked at her and the old excitement rushed through her. For a moment his eyes held hers.

“Don’t bring that up now,” he said.

They started talking about irrigation when she was clearing the table. Wilde couldn’t follow all they said, coming and going with the dishes. But she could almost feel Pete’s hot arguments. Certainly she could feel the clash between them and John’s betterinformed comments. Her father was merely sort of referee. There was no reason why Pete and John shouldn’t be friends, except herself.

“Just how extensive is this proposed scheme?” Pete asked John.

“As extensive as the runoff, eventually. Right now the plan is to put a few thousand acres under the ditch here and there. That’s all that is needed, actually, and all most farmers want.”

Wayne said: “A man can always make out on the prairies if he’s got water and has his place clear. I’ve got a $50,000 overdraft.”

“That’s not too much on this place.”

“Not as things are today. But I don’t want to be hobbled when the next dry spell comes.”

Again Pete turned to John. “You don’t expect another drought, do you?”

“It would not surprise me. In fact that is one of the main factors behind this project. Irrigation will be insurance against a dry day, not prevention.”

Wilde said, “Dad thinks there’s going to be another depression.”

“What makes you think that?” asked Pete.

“Experience.”

“Then you’d better sell out and come east!”

“I’m not that crazy.” Wayne settled back with his pipe. “If John here can locate his dam up on the west end of my land we’ll go on sitting pretty.”

Pete grinned at his father’s friend. He said, “You’re just like dad,” and turned to John. “Just how much do you figure irrigation increases the value of land right here?”

“You’ve got to consider the population.” John lit a cigarette with the assurance of a man on familiar ground. “But I’d say it increases the real value comparable with the Nile, and in California.” He warmed to his topic. “In some parts of Alberta, a man may make as much as a hundred dollars an acre growing sugar beets, with irriga-

tion. Raising beef on the same land, dry, he might make a dollar an acre— if he happens to hit a very good market. That’s why dry land is cheap to lease.” “I see.” Pete sat up. “Then my thousand acres ought to bring a nice price, irrigated.”

“Could be,” agreed John.

“I’d like to show you my land,” Pete told him. “It may be just what you need.”

“Well, I like your nerve,” exclaimed Wilde, “trying to get John to buy up your land instead of ours!”

John smiled at her vehemence. “Adequate footings may be the deciding factor,” he told them all. “We are still drilling, you know.”

“No rock?” asked Pete.

“Most of the rock here is soft.”

Pete laughed shortly. “Re too bad if the first spring ice washed out the dam and carried the good old Bar Nothing ranch house away—”

“If you think that’s funny, Pete!” Wilde exclaimed.

“Don’t get me wrong,” his voice was sober. “This is still the liest ranch site on the river. With the dam you'd have a fortune.”

“That’s what we hope,” said Wayne. “It’s what John is going to fix for us,” said Wilde, grinning wickedly at Pete. “Then dad won’t have anything to worry about.” She got up as the phone rang, and went in to answer it. “For you, John,” she called.

“Now what?” he said, getting up. “I left your number with the foreman.” “Anything wrong?” asked Wilde, as he came out again.

“Joe has something on his mind. I’d better go down.” He turned to Pete. “Come and look us over,” he invited. “Thanks, 1 will.”

“I’m sorry, John,” said Wilde. “I hoped you’d play again.”

“1 might not be in such a good playing mood tonight.” He looked at her and again Wilde thought how nice he was.

“Come over again soon,” she said.

Pete was behind her on the steps. “Thought he was going to do us out of seeing the sunset,” he said when John’s car had turned down the trail. “Come on, we’ve just got time.” Taking Wilde’s hand, he raced with her to his car. Without pausing to open the door he lifted her over it and raced round to his own side. In no time they were driving toward the old sunset knoll.

“You’re crazy as ever, Pete,” exclaimed Wilde.

“And you’re as sweet as ever,” he retorted, his attention focused on the trailless climb he was following as the quickest route to the remembered knoll. Skilfully he skirted one coulee and angled the car down and up another. “Good thing I learned to ride like a side-hill gouger,” he opined.

Wilde had been sitting shaken with suppressed laughter. He had n’t changed at all. He was only more so. And he belonged to the prairies as much as she did. It was wonderful, being crazy with Pete, riding up the shoulder of the valley without a sign of a trail, just as if they were on horses. He turned the car and there ahead of them lay the west, aflame with the sunset.

Pete turned off the ignition and swung an arm about her, all in one motion.

“Wilde!” he cried.

“Wait, Pete,” she said. “Wait till the sun sets.”

He gave her a long searching look, and they both knew the moment would last. Pete pressed one arm about her shoulders and with his other hand held hers. It seemed right and natural, being together. Below stretched the river like a narrow ribbon of very old copper, polished by careful hands until its sheen was mellow. Coulees cut into

the valley in sharp patterns of light and shadow, patterns which were slowly softening,the light and shadow merging as the sun dropped lower.

“1 love it,” she cried. “Oh, how I love it !”

Pete’s arm tightened about her. "And 1 love you, Wilde*. 1 guess you know that.” His grip was like a vice.

“You’re hurting me,” she whispered without making an effort to move either him or herself.

“I’m sorry,” he said, still holding her close. “You’re so sw«*et, Wilde, so sweet . . .” His words broke against her lips. When at last she stirred he released her and said: “'Think you

could marry me now, while I’m here on holiday?”

She smiled up at him.

“What made you think I’d ever marry you?”

“Because you just told me.”

“Why, 1 never did!”

“No-o?” He drew her to him again. “Then I’ll have to repeat to remind you.”

She laughed happily as she pushed him away. “Oh, Pete, you always were difficult!”

“Not when I get co-operation,” he insisted. “And you might as well make up your mind to get married at once and come back with me.”

“Back with you!” She felt her eyes grow wide. “But I couldn’t go back with you, Pete, not to stay.”

“Why not? Doesn’t a wife usually go with her husband?”

“Of course. But—well, I couldn’t go away, you know.”

“Like heck I do! You'll marry me and come and live with me and no nonsense!” He kissed her, slowly. “See what I mean? We’ve got to be together, Wilde my Wilde.”

She clung to him for a moment. And then she pulled herself away.

“But 1 mean it, Pete. 1 can’t go away from here.”

He made an effort at control. “Okay, Christmas then. 'That gives you fourfive months.”

“I can’t, Pete.”

He didn’t tirgue further. He drew her to him and lifted her face to where he could see it in the moonlight. For a long time he looked into her eyes and then gently kissed her forehead. Only when his lips touched hers were they rough and possessive.

“For the fourth time,” he said, “now tell me you don’t love me!”

“1 do love you, Pete,” she cried, her eyes misty. “I guess I’ve always loved you.”

“Sure you did,” he told her joyously. “You always were my girl, the only girl in the world for me. Now, how about Christmas time?”

Suddenly she felt as though she were on a medieval rack. “Can’t you understand?” she cried. “I love you. Of course I love you. But I can’t leave dad to run this place alone. He’s got to go away in the winter. Dr. Graham said so.”

“Then sell the ranch. We sold ours, most of it.”

Wilde looked about them at the prairies and the river find the ranch house* below. She had been born in that house. Her father and mother had lived there, and her father could as easily die as part with it. There were the cowboys and their families to think of, as her father had so often reminded her. «Just to think of.leaving it all made her feel like a traitor.

“We couldn’t do that,” she said. “Why, Pete we couldn’t sell the Bar Nothing!”

Pete looked at her. “You won’t, you mean. Is that final?”

“It’s got to IKÎ.”

“Okay!”

His hand was on the ignition. He

backed the car and turned toward the ranch house.

“You’re not going to drive down there!” cried Wilde.

“Why not!” he retorted. “We came up this way.”

“Then you’re crazy. Crazier than I ever thought you were.”

“Afraid?” he taunted.

“Of course not. And you know it!” But her tummy felt chilly and she clutched the door handle to grip something that felt secure. She had raced down coulees like t his on a horse. Never in a car. 'Twice she had to swallow to adjust the air pressure in her ears. Yet. in the bright, moonlight the way was clearly visible. As Pete jammed on his brakes at the Bar Not hing yard she had no feeling of fear. She was plain mad, madder with him than she had ever been.

SH F opened the door at her side of the car and dashed up onto the veranda and into the house. She could hear her father calling to Pete.

“Been wondering when you’d come for a nightcap,” he said. “Can’t drink alone when there’s folks about.”

“And I need a drink,” said Pete tersely. “But I’m not stopping.”

“Not stopping? Why not?”

“If you must know, Wilde’s just chosen between this place and me. I’ll get my bag and go.”

“I wouldn’t do that, Pete. She’ll probably change her mind in the morning.”

“And come east?”

There was a long pause, so long that Wilde could hardly bear it.

“I—I never thought of that, Pete,” her father said slowly. “That’s bad. It looks like it’s you or me.”

“Well, I’m going. Can I get my bag?”

“Not tonight, Pete. I can’t let Bill Quarrington’s boy go like that. Come in. Have a drink. You can go as early as you like in the morning.”

Wilde’s look questioned her father when she came down to breakfast, very late.

“Pete’s gone,” he said.

“1 know. Where’d he go?”

“That’s hardly our business any more, 1 reckon. But if 1 know Pete like 1 knew his dad he’ll be camping over on his place till he gets what he wants.” “You mean sell his land to the government?” she exclaimed. “He— he wouldn’t do that. Do you think he would, dad?”

“Pete’s a lawyer and he knows the value of land in this valley.”

John didn’t mention Pete when he came over that evening, nor again for the next few evenings. It seemed strange to Wilde, but she couldn’t bring herself to say his name. She was trying hard to suppress the longing for him which surged up in her every time she thought of him. Having John about made it easier. John wanted to play and she liked that. She liked John.

“I always want to play when l have a knotty problem,” he said once. “I’d like to be able to take a piano along on every project.”

“Might lie difficult, to carry,” suggested Wilde. “But why? Why are you worrying now, John?”

“We’re down about as far as we can practically go and still no hard rock.” “Do you really have to have rock?” “You’ve seen the river in spring,” he said. “As Pete Quarrington suggested, it would be too bad to have the Bar Nothing ranch house washed away.” He went on playing fragments of tune while he talked. “Pete was up to the camp to see me this morning. He’s camped on t hat property he mentioned. Wants me to go along and have a look at it.”

“Pete’s - still on the river? And he

hasn’t been over! Axe you going?” she hastened to ask.

“I think so. We should get there eventually anyway. The entire valley will be surveyed for water storage.” “Then you might not be able to use our land?”

John stopped playing. He said, facing her, “It. doesn’t look good.”

“But John, surely you can find a way?” Wilde sat up and looked at him. “You’ve done so many difficult, things.” “'This means a lot to you, doesn’t it?” “Of course it does.”

“There’s another angle. Pete points out that most, of the land which might be ditched hereabouts would probably be alkali.”

“Pete told you that!”

“He’s right, too. That’s what Joe was phoning about last week.”

“Does it matt er very much?”

“It did in the Western States. They had to abandon thousands of acres when they raised the water level. It brought the alkali to the surface.”

“But couldn’t they tell before?” “They didn’t know about it, then, I guess.” John turned to the piano. “Pete knows something about irrigation. He worked on surveys a couple of summers.” He played a few random bars. “I gather he’s working these holidays, too.”

“Doing what?”

“Land business. A client down east wants a dude ranch, maybe palominos. 1 think he mentioned that to your father.”

“But why doesn’t he sell his client his own place?” She looked up suddenly. “Pete’s not trying to get the dam on his land, Is he?”

John smiled down at her. She had leaned back against the old gold upholstery of the wing chair. He said: “I don’t know. I don’t know at all what Pete’s doing. What I do know is that you are very, very beautiful against that gold. Can’t we forget Pete. Or do you want to remember him?”

“1 do not. As a matter of fact, 1 want to forget him. Play for me, please, John, something lovely.”

He looked over his shoulder, his hands on the keyboard. “The loveliest thing I know,” he said flexing his fingers. “On the piano Appassionata. On the chair you!”

“Mother must have played that too,” she told him, a little confused by his words. “The music’s still in her case. Can you play it in the dark, John?”

“I can.”

“Mind if I turn down the lights?”

“I prefer playing in the dark,” he said. “You are the perfect complement,” his voice was low as he played, “the perfect complement every musician needs.”

Wilde was in town on her weekly shopping trip so she missed John Horvath when he called at the Bar Nothing later in the week. She knew something had happened as soon as she saw her father. He looked more upset than the heat warranted.

“What’s wrong?” She put down her parcels.

“Enough,” he said.

Wilde called to the cook for a cold drink. She sat down beside her father’s chair. “Tell me,” she urged.

“John was here. He came to tell me. The dam scheme’s all off. He was right about the rock being too soft for footings. Can’t build dams without foundations.” His voice sounded weary. “But they might have used some of the coulees for storage if it hadn’t been for the alkali.”

“I know. He told me about that.”

“He did? Funny thing, that never

occurred to me. I’ve seen those sloughs

for 40 years and they never affected

Continued on page 53

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grazing. I never thought of the subsoil." Wilde handed him a drink. "Try and relax," she advised. "We'll get by." "Not with that overdraft, we won't. Not if there's a slump." He got up and took the glass over to the swing. "Looks like all our plans are washed up."

"What do you mean?" "We-eli, I'd been figgering we might even get Pete to buy up a few hundred acres for that client of his, inebbe some horses. But Pete beat us to the draw. He's sold him his own place." "You mean--Pete's sold his landfor a dude ranch? He didn't try to get the dam down there?" A hint of a smile crossed Wayne's face. He said: "Apparently he thought of it. But there's alkali south of his place too. And the rock's just as soft." Wilde looked into her glass. "So Pete's sold out," she said slowly. "He hasn't anything left on the river." "Only an option, which he's sold too, apparently. John tells me Pete bought up an option on another 1,500 acres farther down, close to the elbow." "Well!" she put down her glass so hard it cracked. "Just what is he up to, I'd like to know." "He's not up to anything." Wayne eased his body to a more comfortable position. "He's finished. In a couple of weeks Pete's sold his 1,000 acres to his client down east, got an option on another 1,500 and sold that." He grinned wryly. "Those 1,500 acres will be the new site for the dam." Wilde's eyes blazed. "So-our dam's going to be on land Pete Quarrington bought especially for it. Why--he's -----it's a low-down trick. It's mean." "Now, Wilde, don't take it that way," her father said. "I told you Pete knew this valley. He's done a good stroke of business." "I'll say he's done a good stroke of business --for Pete!" Her face softened momentarily. "Though it was smart of him to pick the right spot," she added. "Now I suppose he'll have

enough cash to buy up that whole law firm. He won’t be bothering about a mere partnership. When’s John moving camp?”

“Soon. But he says it won’t take long to run down here. He’ll be over often—tomorrow, mebbe.”

WHEN she heard the car drive up next day Wilde paused to powder her nose and then ran downstairs to see John. But it wasn’t John. Pete was already on the veranda talking to her father.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “It’s you. I thought you’d be going out east now you’ve got what you came west for.” Pete grinned. He said: “Well, I

always aim to get what 1 come for.” He turned to Wayne. “I’d like to talk to you, seriously.”

“Well, sit down, sit down.” Wayne waved to a chair near him. “Hear you’ve been up to some of your father’s tricks. He liked camping on the river.” Pete sat down. “I’ve been thinking of him, if that’s what you mean, Sam. As a matter of fact now I’ve sold the land I’m feeling a little nostalgic, not having ^ny of my own here.”

“I don’t believe it!” exclaimed Wilde.

Pete just looked at her. “I guess you heard what happened,” he said, turning back to Wayne. “1 made a good deal, a couple of good deals. The man who’s bought our land is okay. I can raise close to fifty thousand right now. So — I’ve been wondering . . .”

“Yes?” Wayne raised his right eyebrow, shifting his mustache slightly across his face.

“They say law’s pretty good training for managing any sort of business, even ranching, and I had a couple of years at U. of Saskatchewan.”

“That’s so.” Wayne’s face didn’t tell anything.

“I was brought up on a ranch. What I want to know,” Pete drew a long breath, “is how’d you like to sell me a partnership in the Bar Nothing?”

Like a cyclone Wilde whirled across

the veranda. “If you let an interest in this place go east, I’ll never forgive you,” she told her father. “And you,” she swung round to Pete, “why don’t you go wit hout upset ting us anyjnore?”

Pete looked at her. Up. And then down. And he grinned happily.

“I like those pleated skirts,” he said.

“What do you mean?” She looked down at the rippling pleats of her yellow silk skirt.

Pete sat back in his chair. “Put your finger on top of your head,” he told her. Then, when she demurred, “Go on. Now turn round and round.”

“Pete, you’re crazy!” She turned a little.

“Slow,” he commented. “A little too slow. Now, sing, you know - ‘I’m a little prairie flower, growing wilder...’ ”

Suddenly she stopped, her eyes blazing. “I could kill you, Pete Quarrington!” she cried. She stood right in front of him for a moment. And then she was in the house and Pete was rubbing his cheek. The smack had been hard and well placed. His jaw was definitely hurt.

Sam Wayne hadn’t moved. Now his deep-set eyes caught Pete’s. “You’re going to take that?” he asked, his voice very mild.

Pete stood up, towering above the older man.

“Do 1 get that partnership?” he demanded. “A working partnership, right here—out west where apparently I’ve got to stay?”

“Easy now.” Wayne grinned up at him affectionately. “First things first. Don’t look like it’d be much use to you till you get certain other details clinched.”

“I’ll look after the details,” said Pete stiffly. “And I’d better tell you, after 1 saw Wilde that night I soon realized there was nothing for me down east without her. Now there’s something else 1 realize.” He crossed the veranda to the living room door. Bending his head slightly to enter he tossed a quick grin toward Wayne. “What that girl needs is a husband to tame her.”