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Dorman Plays Cupid








From: Her Prairie Knight

Dorman toiled up the steps, his straw hat perilously near to slipping
down his back, his face like a large, red beet, and his hands vainly
trying to reach around a baking-powder can which the Chinaman cook had
given him.

He marched straight to where Beatrice was lying in the hammock. If she
had been older, or younger, or a plain young woman, one might say that
Beatrice was sulking in the hammock, for she had not spoken anything but
"yes" and "no" to her mother for an hour, and she had only spoken
those two words occasionally, when duty demanded it. For one thing,
Sir Redmond was absent, and had been for two weeks, and Beatrice was
beginning to miss him dreadfully. To beguile the time, she had ridden,
every day, long miles into the hills. Three times she had met Keith
Cameron, also riding alone in the hills, and she had endeavored to amuse
herself with him, after her own inimitable fashion, and with more or
less success. The trouble was, that sometimes Keith seemed to be amusing
himself with her, which was not pleasing to a girl like Beatrice. At any
rate, he proved himself quite able to play the game of Give and Take,
so that the conscience of Beatrice was at ease; no one could call her
pastime a slaughter of the innocents, surely, when the fellow stood his
ground like that. It was more a fencing-bout, and Beatrice enjoyed it
very much; she told herself that the reason she enjoyed talking with
Keith was because he was not always getting hurt, like Sir Redmond--or,
if he did, he kept his feelings to himself, and went boldly on with
the game. Item: Beatrice had reversed her decision that Keith was
vain, though she still felt tempted, at times, to resort to "making
faces"--when she was worsted, that was.

To return to this particular day of sulking; Rex had cast a shoe, and
lamed himself just enough to prevent her riding, and so Beatrice was
having a dull day of it in the house. Besides, her mother had just
finished talking to her for her good, which was enough to send an angel
into the sulks--and Beatrice lacked a good deal of being an angel.

Dorman laid his baking-powder can confidingly in his divinity's lap.
"Be'trice, I did get some grasshoppers; you said I couldn't. And
you wouldn't go fishin', 'cause you didn't like to take Uncle Dick's
make-m'lieve flies, so I got some really ones, Be'trice, that'll wiggle
dere own self."

"Oh, dear me! It's too hot, Dorman."

"'Tisn't, Be'trice It's dest as cool--and by de brook it's awf-lly
cold. Come, Be'trice!" He pulled at the smart little pink ruffles on her
skirt.

"I'm too sleepy, hon."

"You can sleep by de brook, Be'trice. I'll let you," he promised
generously, "'cept when I need anudder grasshopper; nen I'll wake you
up."

"Wait till to-morrow. I don't believe the fish are hungry to-day. Don't
tear my skirt to pieces, Dorman!"

Dorman began to whine. He had never found his divinity in so unlovely
a mood. "I want to go now! Dey are too hungry, Be'trice! Looey Sam is
goin' to fry my fishes for dinner, to s'prise auntie. Come, Be'trice!"

"Why don't you go with the child, Beatrice? You grow more selfish every
day." Mrs. Lansell could not endure selfishness--in others. "You know he
will not give us any peace until you do."

Dorman instantly proceeded to make good his grandmother's prophecy, and
wept so that one could hear him a mile.

"Oh, dear me! Be still, Dorman--your auntie has a headache. Well, get
your rod, if you know where it is--which I doubt." Beatrice flounced
out of the hammock and got her hat, one of those floppy white things,
fluffed with thin, white stuff, till they look like nothing so much as
a wisp of cloud, with ribbons to moor it to her head and keep it from
sailing off to join its brothers in the sky.

Down by the creek, where the willows nodded to their own reflections in
the still places, it was cool and sweet scented, and Beatrice forgot her
grievances, and was not sorry she had come.

(It was at about this time that a tall young fellow, two miles down the
coulee, put away his field glass and went off to saddle his horse.)

"Don't run ahead so, Dorman," Beatrice cautioned. To her had been given
the doubtful honor of carrying the baking-powder can of grasshoppers.
Even divinities must make themselves useful to man.

"Why, Be'trice?" Dorman swished his rod in unpleasant proximity to his
divinity's head.

"Because, honey"--Beatrice dodged--"you might step on a snake, a
rattlesnake, that would bite you."

"How would it bite, Be'trice?"

"With its teeth, of course; long, wicked teeth, with poison on them."

"I saw one when I was ridin' on a horse wis Uncle Dick. It kept windin'
up till it was round, and it growled wis its tail, Be'trice. And Uncle
Dick chased it, and nen it unwinded itself and creeped under a big rock.
It didn't bite once--and I didn't see any teeth to it."

"Carry your rod still, Dorman. Are you trying to knock my hat off my
head? Rattlesnakes have teeth, hon, whether you saw them or not. I saw a
great, long one that day we thought you were lost. Mr. Cameron killed it
with his rope. I'm sure it had teeth."

"Did it growl, Be'trice? Tell me how it went."

"Like this, hon." Beatrice parted her lips ever so little, and a
snake buzzed at Dorman's feet. He gave a yell of terror, and backed
ingloriously.

"You see, honey, if that had been really a snake, it would have bitten
you. Never mind, dear--it was only I."

Dorman was some time believing this astonishing statement. "How did you
growl by my feet, Be'trice? Show me again."

Beatrice, who had learned some things at school which were not included
in the curriculum, repeated the performance, while Dorman watched her
with eyes and mouth at their widest. Like some older members of his sex,
he was discovering new witcheries about his divinity every day.

"Well, Be'trice!" He gave a long gasp of ecstasy. "I don't see how can
you do it? Can't I do it, Be'trice?"

"I'm afraid not, honey--you'd have to learn. There was a queer French
girl at school, who could do the strangest things, Dorman--like fairy
tales, almost. And she taught me to throw my voice different places, and
mimic sounds, when we should have been at our lessons. Listen, hon.
This is how a little lamb cries, when he is lost.... And this is what a
hungry kittie says, when she is away up in a tree, and is afraid to come
down."

Dorman danced all around his divinity, and forgot about the fish--until
Beatrice found it in her heart to regret her rash revelation of hitherto
undreamed-of powers of entertainment.

"Not another sound, Dorman," she declared at length, with the firmness
of despair. "No, I will not be a lost lamb another once. No, nor a
hungry kittie, either--nor a snake, or anything. If you are not going to
fish, I shall go straight back to the house."

Dorman sighed heavily, and permitted his divinity to fasten a small
grasshopper to his hook.

"We'll go a bit farther, dear, down under those great trees. And you
must not speak a word, remember, or the fish will all run away."

When she had settled him in a likely place, and the rapt patience of the
born angler had folded him close, she disposed herself comfortably in
the thick grass, her back against a tree, and took up the shuttle of
fancy to weave a wonderful daydream, as beautiful, intangible as the
lacy, summer clouds over her head.

A man rode quietly over the grass and stopped two rods away, that he
might fill his hungry eyes with the delicious loveliness of his Heart's
Desire.

"Got a bite yet?"

Dorman turned and wrinkled his nose, by way of welcome, and shook his
head vaguely, as though he might tell of several unimportant nibbles, if
it were worth the effort.

Beatrice sat a bit straighter, and dexterously whisked some pink ruffles
down over two distracting ankles, and hoped Keith had not taken notice
of them. He had, though; trust a man for that!

Keith dismounted, dropped the reins to the ground, and came and laid
himself down in the grass beside his Heart's Desire, and Beatrice
noticed how tall he was, and slim and strong.

"How did you know we were here?" she wanted to know, with lifted
eyebrows.

Keith wondered if there was a welcome behind that sweet, indifferent
face. He never could be sure of anything in Beatrice's face, because it
never was alike twice, it seemed to him--and if it spoke welcome for
a second, the next there was only raillery, or something equally
unsatisfying.

"I saw you from the trail," he answered promptly, evidently not thinking
it wise to mention the fieldglass. And then: "Is Dick at home?" Not
that he wanted Dick--but a fellow, even when he is in the last stages of
love, feels need of an excuse sometimes.

"No--we women are alone to-day. There isn't a man on the place, except
Looey Sam, and he doesn't count."

Dorman squirmed around till he could look at the two, and his eyebrows
were tied in a knot. "I wish, Be'trice, you wouldn't talk, 'less you
whisper. De fishes won't bite a bit."

"All right, honey--we won't."

Dorman turned back to his fishing with a long breath of relief. His
divinity never broke a promise, if she could help it.

If Dorman Hayes had been Cupid himself, he could not have hit upon a
more impish arrangement than that. To place a girl like Beatrice beside
a fellow like Keith--a fellow who is tall, and browned, and extremely
good-looking, and who has hazel eyes with a laugh in them always--a
fellow, moreover, who is very much in love and very much in earnest
about it--and condemn him to silence, or to whispers!

Keith took advantage of the edict, and moved closer, so that he could
whisper in comfort--and be nearer his Heart's Desire. He lay with his
head propped upon his hand, and his elbow digging into the sod and
getting grass-stains on his shirt sleeve, for the day was too warm for a
coat. Beatrice, looking down at him, observed that his forearm, between
his glove and wrist-band, was as white and smooth as her own. It is
characteristic of a cowboy to have a face brown as an Indian, and hands
girlishly white and soft.

"I haven't had a glimpse of you for a week--not since I met you down by
the river. Where have you been?" he whispered.

"Here. Rex went lame, and Dick wouldn't let me ride any other horse,
since that day Goldie bolted--and so the hills have called in vain. I've
stayed at home and made quantities of Duchesse lace--I almost finished
a love of a center piece--and mama thinks I have reformed. But Rex is
better, and tomorrow I'm going somewhere."

"Better help me hunt some horses that have been running down Lost Canyon
way. I'm going to look for them to-morrow," Keith suggested, as calmly
as was compatible with his eagerness and his method of speech. I doubt
if any man can whisper things to a girl he loves, and do it calmly. I
know Keith's heart was pounding.

"I shall probably ride in the opposite direction," Beatrice told him
wickedly. She wondered if he thought she would run at his beck.

"I never saw you in this dress before," Keith murmured, his eyes
caressing.

"No? You may never again," she said. "I have so many things to wear out,
you know."

"I like it," he declared, as emphatically as he could, and whisper. "It
is just the color of your cheeks, after the wind has been kissing them a
while."

"Fancy a cowboy saying pretty things like that!"

Beatrice's cheeks did not wait for the wind to kiss them pink.

"Ya-as, only fawncy, ye knaw." His eyes were daringly mocking.

"For shame, Mr. Cameron! Sir Redmond would not mimic your speech."

"Good reason why; he couldn't, not if he tried a thousand years."

Beatrice knew this was the truth, so she fell back upon dignity.

"We will not discuss that subject, I think."

"I don't want to, anyway. I know another subject a million times more
interesting than Sir Redmond."

"Indeed!" Beatrice's eyebrows were at their highest. "And what is it,
then?"

"You!" Keith caught her hand; his eyes compelled her.

"I think," said Beatrice, drawing her hand away, "we will not discuss
that subject, either."

"Why?" Keith's eyes continued to woo.

"Because."

It occurred to Beatrice that an unsophisticated girl might easily think
Keith in earnest, with that look in his eyes.

Dorman, scowling at them over his shoulder, unconsciously did his
divinity a service. Beatrice pursed her lips in a way that drove Keith
nearly wild, and took up the weapon of silence.

"You said you women are alone--where is milord?" Keith began again,
after two minutes of lying there watching her.

"Sir Redmond is in Helena, on business. He's been making arrangements to
lease a lot of land."

"Ah-h!" Keith snapped a twig off a dead willow.

"We look for him home to-day, and Dick drove in to meet the train."

"So the Pool has gone to leasing land?" The laugh had gone out of
Keith's eyes; they were clear and keen.

"Yes--the plan is to lease the Pine Ridge country, and fence it. I
suppose you know where that is."

"I ought to," Keith said quietly. "It's funny Dick never mentioned it."

"It isn't Dick's idea," Beatrice told him. "It was Sir Redmond's. Dick
is rather angry, I think, and came near quarreling with Sir Redmond
about it. But English capital controls the Pool, you know, and Sir
Redmond controls the English capital, so he can adopt whatever policy
he chooses. The way he explained the thing to me, it seems a splendid
plan--don't you think so?"

"Yes." Keith's tone was not quite what he meant it to be; he did not
intend it to be ironical, as it was. "It's a snap for the Pool, all
right. It gives them a cinch on the best of the range, and all the
water. I didn't give milord credit for such business sagacity."

Beatrice leaned over that she might read his eyes, but Keith turned
his face away. In the shock of what he had just learned, he was, at the
moment, not the lover; he was the small cattleman who is being forced
out of the business by the octopus of combined capital. It was not less
bitter that the woman he loved was one of the tentacles reaching out to
crush him. And they could do it; they--the whole affair resolved itself
into a very simple scheme, to Keith. The gauntlet had been thrown
down--because of this girl beside him. It was not so much business
acumen as it was the antagonism of a rival that had prompted the move.
Keith squared his shoulders, and mentally took up the gauntlet. He might
lose in the range fight, but he would win the girl, if it were in the
power of love to do it.

"Why that tone? I hope it isn't--will it inconvenience you?"

"Oh, no. No, not at all. No--" Keith seemed to forget that a
superabundance of negatives breeds suspicion of sincerity.

"I'm afraid that means that it will. And I'm sure Sir Redmond never
meant--"

"I believe that kid has got a bite at last," Keith interrupted, getting
up. "Let me take hold, there, Dorman; you'll be in the creek yourself in
a second." He landed a four-inch fish, carefully rebaited the hook, cast
the line into a promising eddy, gave the rod over to Dorman, and went
back to Beatrice, who had been watching him with troubled eyes.

"Mr. Cameron, if I had known--" Beatrice was good-hearted, if she was
fond of playing with a man's heart.

"I hope you're not letting that business worry you, Miss Lansell. You
remind me of a painting I saw once in Boston. It was called June."

"But this is August, so I don't apply. Isn't there some way you--"

"Did you hear about that train-robbery up the line last week?" Keith
settled himself luxuriously upon his back, with his hands clasped under
his head, and his hat tipped down over his eyes--but not enough
to prevent him from watching his Heart's Desire. And in his eyes
laughter--and something sweeter--lurked. If Sir Redmond had wealth to
fight with, Keith's weapon was far and away more dangerous, for it was
the irresistible love of a masterful man--the love that sweeps obstacles
away like straws.

"I am not interested in train-robberies," Beatrice told him, her eyes
still clouded with trouble. "I want to talk about this lease."

"They got one fellow the next day, and another got rattled and gave
himself up; but the leader of the gang, one of Montana's pet outlaws,
is still ranging somewhere in the hills. You want to be careful about
riding off alone; you ought to let some one--me, for instance--go along
to look after you."

"Pshaw!" said his Heart's Desire, smiling reluctantly. "I'm not afraid.
Do you suppose, if Sir Redmond had known--"

"Those fellows made quite a haul--almost enough to lease the whole
country, if they wanted to. Something over fifty thousand dollars--and a
strong box full of sand, that the messenger was going to fool them with.
He did, all right; but they weren't so slow. They hustled around and got
the money, and he lost his sand into the bargain."

"Was that meant for a pun?" Beatrice blinked her big eyes at him. "If
you're quite through with the train-robbers, perhaps you will tell me
how--"

"I'm glad old Mother Nature didn't give every woman an odd dimple beside
the mouth," Keith observed, reaching for her hat, and running a ribbon
caressingly through his fingers.

"Why?" Beatrice smoothed the dimple complacently with her finger-tips.

"Why? Oh, it would get kind of monotonous, wouldn't it?"

"This from a man known chiefly for his pretty speeches!" Beatrice's
laugh had a faint tinge of chagrin.

"Wouldn't pretty speeches get monotonous, too?" Keith's eyes were
laughing at her.

"Yours wouldn't," she retorted, spitefully, and immediately bit her lip
and hoped he would not consider that a bid for more pretty speeches.

"Be'trice, dis hopper is awf-lly wilted!" came a sepulchral whisper from
Dorman.

Keith sighed, and went and baited the hook again. When he returned to
Beatrice, his mood had changed.

"I want you to promise--"

"I never make promises of any sort, Mr. Cameron." Beatrice had
fallen back upon her airy tone, which was her strongest weapon of
defense--unless one except her liquid-air smile.

"I wasn't thinking of asking much," Keith went on coolly. "I only wanted
to ask you not to worry about that leasing business."

"Are you worrying about it, Mr. Cameron?"

"That isn't the point. No, I can't say I expect to lose sleep over it. I
hope you will dismiss anything I may have said from your mind."

"But I don't understand. I feel that you blame Sir Redmond, when I'm
sure he--"

"I did not say I blamed anybody. I think we'll not discuss it."

"Yes, I think we shall. You'll tell me all about it, if I want to know."
Beatrice adopted her coaxing tone, which never had failed her.

"Oh, no!" Keith laughed a little. "A girl can't always have her own way
just because she wants it, even if she--"

"I've got a fish, Mr. Cam'ron!" Dorman squealed, and Keith was obliged
to devote another five minutes to diplomacy.

"I think you have fished long enough, honey," Beatrice told Dorman
decidedly. "It's nearly dinner time, and Looey Sam won't have time to
fry your fish if you don't hurry home. Shall I tell Dick you wished to
see him, Mr. Cameron?"

"It's nothing important, so I won't trouble you," Keith replied, in
a tone that matched hers for cool courtesy. "I'll see him to-morrow,
probably." He helped Dorman reel in his line, cut a willow-wand and
strung the three fish upon it by the gills, washed his hands leisurely
in the creek, and dried them on his handkerchief, just as if nothing
bothered him in the slightest degree. Then he went over and smoothed
Redcloud's mane and pulled a wisp of forelock from under the brow-band,
and commanded him to shake hands, which the horse did promptly.

"I want to shake hands wis your pony, too," Dorman cried, and dropped
pole and fish heedlessly into the grass.

"All right, kid."

Dorman went up gravely and clasped Redcloud's raised fetlock solemnly,
while the tall cow-puncher smiled down at him.

"Kiss him, Redcloud," he said softly; and then, when the horse's nose
was thrust in his face: "No, not me--kiss the kid." He lifted the child
up in his arms, and when Redcloud touched his soft nose to Dorman's
cheek and lifted his lip for a dainty, toothless nibble, Dorman was
speechless with fright and rapture thrillingly combined.

"Now run home with your fish; it lacks only two hours and forty minutes
to dinner time, and it will take at least twenty minutes for the fish to
fry--so you see you'll have to hike."

Beatrice flushed and looked at him sharply, but Keith was getting into
the saddle and did not appear to remember she was there. The fingers
that were tying her hat-ribbons under her chin fumbled awkwardly and
trembled. Beatrice would have given a good deal at that moment to know
just what Keith Cameron was thinking; and she was in a blind rage with
herself to think that it mattered to her what he thought.

When he lifted his hat she only nodded curtly. She mimicked every beast
and bird she could think of on the way home, to wipe him and his horse
from the memory of Dorman, whose capacity for telling things best left
untold was simply marvelous.

It is saying much for Beatrice's powers of entertainment that Dorman
quite forgot to say anything about Mr. Cameron and his pony, and
chattered to his auntie and grandmama about kitties up in a tree, and
lost lambs and sleepy birds, until he was tucked into bed that night.
It was not until then that Beatrice felt justified in drawing a long
breath. Not that she cared whether any one knew of her meeting Keith
Cameron, only that her mother would instantly take alarm and preach to
her about the wickedness of flirting; and Beatrice was not in the mood
for sermons.





Next: What It Meant To Keith

Previous: Beatrice's Wild Ride



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