The following instance is so extraordinary, that I should not repeat it if the account were not attested by more than one writer, and also preserved in the public monuments of a considerable town of Upper Saxony; this town is Hamelin in th... Read more of The Pied Piper at Scary Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


Aline Makes A Discovery








From: Ridgway Of Montana

Aline pulled her horse to a walk. "You know Mr. Ridgway pretty well, don't
you?"

Miss Balfour gently flicked her divided skirt with a riding-whip,
considering whether she might be said to know him well. "Yes, I think I
do," she ventured.

"Mrs. Mott says you and he are great friends, that you seem very fond of
each other."

"Goodness me! I hope I don't seem fond of him. I don't think 'fond' is
exactly the word, anyway, though we are good friends." Quickly, keenly, her
covert glance swept Aline; then, withdrawing her eyes, she flung her little
bomb. "I suppose we may be said to appreciate each other. At any rate, we
are engaged."

Mrs. Harley's pony came to an abrupt halt. "I thought I had dropped my
whip," she explained, in a low voice not quite true.

Virginia, though she executed an elaborate survey of the scenery, could not
help noticing that the color had washed from her friend's face. "I love
this Western country--its big sweep of plains, of low, rolling hills, with
a background of mountains. One can see how it gets into a man's blood so
that the East seems insipid ever afterward," discoursed Miss Balfour.

A question trembled on Aline's blanched lips.

"Say it," permitted Virginia.

"Do you mean that you are engaged to him--that you are going to marry Mr.
Ridgway--without caring for him?"

"I don't mean that at all. I like him immensely."

"But--do you love him?" It was almost a cry--these low words wrung from the
tortured heart.

"No fair," warned her friend smilingly.

Aline rode in silence, her stricken face full of trouble. How could she,
from her glass house, throw stones at a loveless marriage? But this was
different from her own case! Nobody was worthy to marry her hero without
giving the best a woman had to give. If she were a girl--a sudden tide of
color swept her face; a wild, delirious tingle of joy flooded her
veins--oh, if she were a girl, what a wealth of love could she give him!
Clarity of vision had come to her in a blinding flash. Untutored of life,
the knowledge of its meaning had struck home of the suddenest. She knew her
heart now that it was too late; knew that she could never be indifferent to
what concerned Waring Ridgway.

Aline caught at the courage behind her childishness, and accomplished her
congratulations "You will be happy, I am sure. He is good."

"Goodness does not impress me as his most outstanding quality," smiled Miss
Balfour.

"No, one never feels it emphasized. He is too He is too free of selfishness
to make much of his goodness. But one can't help feeling it in everything
he does and says."

"Does Mr. Harley agree with you? Does he feel it?"

"I don't think Mr. Harley understands him. I can't help thinking that he is
prejudiced." She was becoming mistress of her voice and color again.

"And you are not?"

"Perhaps I am. In my thought of him he would still be good, even if he had
done all the bad things his enemies accuse him of."

Virginia gave her up. This idealized interpretation of her betrothed was
not the one she had, but for Aline it might be the true one. At least, she
could not disparage him very consistently under the circumstances.

"Isn't there a philosophy current that we find in people what we look for
in them? Perhaps that is why you and Mr. Harley read in Mr. Ridgway men so
diverse as you do. It is not impossible you are both right and both wrong.
Heaven knows, I suppose. At least, we poor mortals fog around enough when
we sit in judgment." And Virginia shrugged the matter from her careless
shoulders.

But Aline seemed to have a difficulty in getting away from the subject.
"And you--what do you read?" she asked timidly.

"Sometimes one thing and sometimes another. To-day I see him as a living
refutation of all the copy-book rules to success. He shatters the maxims
with a touch-and-go manner that is fascinating in its immorality. A
gambler, a plunger, an adventurer, he wins when a careful, honest business
man would fail to a certainty."

Aline was amazed. "You misjudge him. I am sure you do. But if you think
this of him why--"

"Why do I marry him? I have asked myself that a hundred times, my dear. I
wish I knew. I have told you what I see in him to-day; but tomorrow--why,
to-morrow I shall see him an altogether different man. He will be perhaps a
radiating center of altruism, devoted to his friends, a level-headed
protector of the working classes, a patron of the arts in his own
clearminded, unlettered way. But whatever point of view one gets at him, he
spares one dullness. Will you explain to me, my dear, why picturesque
rascality is so much more likable than humdrum virtue?"

Mrs. Harley's eyes blazed. "And you can talk this way of the man you are
going to marry, a man--" She broke off, her voice choked.

Miss Balfour was cool as a custard. "I can, my dear, and without the least
disloyalty. In point of fact, he asked me to tell you the kind of man I
think him. I'm trying to oblige him, you see."

"He asked you--to tell me this about him?" Aline pulled in her pony in
order to read with her astonished eyes the amused ones of her companion.

"Yes. He was afraid you were making too much of his saving you. He thinks
he won't do to set on a pedestal."

"Then I think all the more of him for his modesty."

"Don't invest too heavily on his modesty, my dear. He wouldn't be the man
he is if he owned much of that commodity."

"The man he is?"

"Yes, the man born to win, the man certain of himself no matter what the
odds against him.

He knows he is a man of destiny; knows quite well that there is something
big about him that dwarfs other men. I know it, too. Wherefore I seize my
opportunity. It would be a sin to let a man like that get away from one. I
could never forgive myself," she concluded airily.

"Don't you see any human, lovable things in him?" Aline's voice was an
accusation.

"He is the staunchest friend conceivable. No trouble is too great for him
to take for one he likes, and where once he gives his trust he does not
take it back. Oh, for all his force, he is intensely human! Take his
vanity, my dear. It soars to heaven."

"If I cared for him I couldn't dissect his qualities as you do."

"That's because you are a triumph of the survival of nature and impulse
over civilization, in spite of its attempts to sap your freshness. For me,
I fear I'm a sophisticated daughter of a critical generation. If I weren't,
I should not hold my judgment so safely in my own keeping, but would
surrender it and my heart."

"There is something about the way you look at him that shocks me. One ought
not to let oneself believe all that seems easy to believe."

"That is your faith, but mine is a different one. You see, I'm a
Unitarian," returned Virginia blithely.

"He will make you love him if you marry him," sighed Aline, coming back to
her obsession.

Virginia nodded eagerly. "In my secret heart that is what I am hoping for,
my dear."

"Unless there is another man," added Aline, as if alone with her thoughts.

Virginia was irritably aware of a flood of color beating into her cheeks.
"There isn't any other man," she said impatiently.

Yet she thought of Lyndon Hobart. Curiously enough, whenever she conceived
herself as marrying Ridgway, the reflex of her brain carried to her a
picture of Hobart, clean-handed, fine of instinct, with the inherited
inflections of voice and unconscious pride of caste that come from breeding
and not from cultivation. If he were not born to greatness, like his rival,
at least he satisfied her critical judgment of what a gentleman should be;
and she was quite sure that the potential capacity lay in her to care a
good deal more for him than for anybody else she had met. Since it was not
on the cards, as Miss Virginia had shuffled the pack, that she should marry
primarily for reasons sentimental, this annoyed her in her sophisticated
hours.

But in the hours when she was a mere girl when she was not so confidently
the heir of all the feminine wisdom of the ages, her annoyance took another
form. She had told Lyndon Hobart of her engagement because it was the
honest thing to do; because she supposed she ought to discourage any hopes
he might be entertaining. But it did not follow that he need have let these
hopes be extinguished so summarily. She could have wished his scrupulous
regard for the proper thing had not had the effect of taking him so
completely out of her external life, while leaving him more insistently
than ever the subject of her inner contemplation.

Virginia's conscience was of the twentieth century and American, though she
was a good deal more honest with herself than most of her sex in the same
social circle. Also she was straightforward with her neighbors so far as
she could reasonably be. But she was not a Puritan in the least, though she
held herself to a more rigid account than she did her friends. She judged
her betrothed as little as she could, but this was not to be entirely
avoided, since she expected her life to become merged so largely in his.
There were hours when she felt she must escape the blighting influence of
his lawlessness. There were others when it seemed to her magnificent.

Except for the occasional jangle of a bit or the ring of a horse's shoe on
a stone, there was silence which lasted many minutes. Each was busy with
her thoughts, and the narrowness of the trail, which here made them go in
single file, served as an excuse against talk.

"Perhaps we had better turn back," suggested Virginia, after the path had
descended to a gulch and merged itself in a wagon-road. "We shall have no
more than time to get home and dress for dinner."

Aline turned her pony townward, and they rode at a walk side by side.

"Do you know much about the difficulty between Mr. Harley and Mr. Ridgway?
I mean about the mines--the Sherman Bell, I think they called it?"

"I know something about the trouble in a general way. Both the Consolidated
and Mr. Ridgway's company claim certain veins. That is true of several
mines, I have been told."

"I don't know anything about business. Mr. Harley does not tell me anything
about his. To day I was sitting in the open window, and two men stopped
beneath it. They thought there would be trouble in this mine--that men
would be hurt. I could not make it all out, but that was part of it. I sent
for Mr. Harley and made him tell me what he knew. It would be dreadful if
anything like that happened."

"Don't worry your head about it, my dear. Things are always threatening and
never happening. It seems to be a part of the game of business to bluff, as
they call it."

"I wish it weren't," sighed the girl-wife.

Virginia observed that she looked both sad and weary. She had started on
her ride like a prisoner released from his dungeon, happy in the sunshine,
the swift motion, the sting of the wind in her face. There had been a
sparkle in her eye and a ring of gaiety in her laugh. Into her cheeks a
faint color had glowed, so that the contrast of their clear pallor with the
vivid scarlet of the little lips had been less pronounced than usual. But
now she was listless and distraite, the girlish abandon all stricken out
of her. It needed no clairvoyant to see that her heart was heavy and that
she was longing for the moment when she could be alone with her pain.

Her friend had learned what she wanted to know, and the knowledge of it
troubled her. She would have given a good deal to have been able to lift
this sorrow from the girl riding beside her. For she was aware that Aline
Harley might as well have reached for the moon as that toward which her
untutored heart yearned. She had come to life late and traveled in it but a
little way. Yet the tragedy of it was about to engulf her. No lifeboat was
in sight. She must sink or swim alone. Virginia's unspoiled heart went out
to her with a rush of pity and sympathy. Almost the very words that Waring
Ridgway had used came to her lips.

"You poor lamb! You poor, forsaken lamb!"

But she spoke instead with laughter and lightness, seeing nothing of the
girl's distress, at least, until after they separated at the door of the
hotel.





Next: First Blood

Previous: Virginia Intervenes



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 451