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June Is Glad








From: The Fighting Edge

June turned away from the crowd surrounding the dead mad dog and walked
into the hotel. The eyes of more than one man followed the slim, graceful
figure admiringly. Much water had run down the Rio Blanco since the days
when she had been the Cinderella of Piceance Creek. The dress she wore
was simple, but through it a vivid personality found expression. No
longer was she a fiery little rebel struggling passionately against a
sense of inferiority. She had come down from the hills to a country
filled with laughter and the ripple of brooks.

The desire to be alone was strong upon her--alone with the happy thoughts
that pushed themselves turbulently through her mind. She was tremulous
with excitement. For she hoped that she had found a dear friend who had
been lost.

Once, on that dreadful day she would never forget, June had told Jake
Houck that Bob Dillon was as brave as he. It had been the forlorn cry of
a heart close to despair. But the words were true. She hugged that
knowledge to her bosom. Jake had run away while Bob had stayed to face
the mad dog. And not Jake alone! Blister Haines had run, with others of
tested courage. Bob had outgamed him. He admitted it cheerfully.

Maybe the others had not seen little Maggie Wiggins. But Bob had seen
her. The child's cry had carried him back into the path of the brindle
terrier. June was proud, not only of what he had done, but of the way he
had done it. His brain had functioned swiftly, his motions been timed
exactly. Only coordination of all his muscles had enabled him to down the
dog so expertly and render the animal harmless.

During the months since she had seen him June had thought often of the
man whose name she legally bore. After the first few hours there had been
no harshness in her memories of him. He was good. She had always felt
that. There was something fine and sweet and generous in his nature.
Without being able to reason it out, she was sure that no fair judgment
would condemn him wholly because at a crisis he had failed to exhibit a
quality the West holds in high esteem and considers fundamental. Into her
heart there had come a tender pity for him, a maternal sympathy that
flowed out whenever he came into her musings.

Poor boy! She had learned to know him so well. He would whip himself with
his own scorn. This misadventure that had overwhelmed him might frustrate
all the promise of his life. He was too sensitive. If he lost heart--if
he gave up--

She had longed to send a message of hope to him, but she had been afraid
that he might misunderstand it. Her position was ambiguous. She was his
wife. The law said so. But of course she was not his wife at all except
in name. They were joint victims of evil circumstance, a boy and a girl
who had rushed to a foolish extreme. Some day one or the other of them
would ask the law to free them of the tie that technically bound them
together.

Now she need not worry about him any longer. He had proved his mettle
publicly. The court of common opinion would reverse the verdict it had
passed upon him. He would go out of her life and she need no longer feel
responsible for the shadow that had fallen over his.

So she reasoned consistently, but something warm within her gave the lie
to this cold disposition of their friendship. She did not want to let him
go his way. She had no intention of letting him go. She could not express
it, but in some intangible way he belonged to her. As a brother might,
she told herself; not because Blister Haines had married them when they
had gone to him in their hurry to solve a difficulty. Not for that reason
at all, but because from the first hour of meeting, their spirits had
gone out to each other in companionship. Bob had understood her. He had
been the only person to whom she could confide her troubles, the only pal
she had ever known.

Standing before the glass in her small bedroom, June saw that her eyes
were shining, the blood glowing through the dusky cheeks. Joy had
vitalized her whole being, had made her beautiful as a wild rose. For the
moment at least she was lyrically happy.

This ardor still possessed June when she went into the dining-room to
make the set-ups for supper. She sang snatches of "Dixie" and "My Old
Kentucky Home" as she moved about her work. She hummed the chorus of
"Juanita." From that she drifted to the old spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet
Chariot."

A man was washing his hands in the tin basin provided outside for guests
of the hotel. Through the window came to him the lilt of the fresh young
voice.

"Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin' fo' to carry me home."

The look of sullen, baffled rage on the man's dark face did not lighten.
He had been beaten again. His revenge had been snatched from him almost
at the moment of triumph. If that mad dog had not come round the corner
just when it did, he would have evened the score between him and Dillon.
June had seen the whole thing. She had been a partner in the red-headed
boy's ovation. Houck ground his teeth in futile anger.

Presently he slouched into the dining-room.

Mollie saw him and walked across the room to June. "I'll wait on him if
you don't want to."

The waitress shook her head. "No, I don't want him to think I'm afraid of
him. I'm not, either. I'll wait on him."

June took Houck's order and presently served it.

His opaque eyes watched her in the way she remembered of old. They were
still bold and possessive, still curtained windows through which she
glimpsed volcanic passion.

"You can tell that squirt Dillon I ain't through with him yet, not by a
jugful," he growled.

"If you have anything to tell Bob Dillon, say it to him," June
answered, looking at him with fearless, level eyes of scorn.

"An' I ain't through with you, I'd have you know."

June finished putting his order on the table. "But I'm through with you,
Jake Houck," she said, very quietly.

"Don't think it. Don't you think it for a minute," he snarled. "I'm
gonna--"

He stopped, sputtering with fury. June had turned and walked into the
kitchen. He rose, evidently intending to follow her.

Mollie Larson barred the way, a grim, square figure with the air of a
brigadier-general.

"Sit down, Jake Houck," she ordered. "Or get out. I don't care which. But
don't you think I'll set by an' let you pester that girl. If you had a
lick o' sense you'd know it ain't safe."

There was nothing soft about Houck. He was a hard and callous citizen,
and he lived largely outside the law and other people's standards of
conduct. But he knew when he had run up against a brick wall. Mrs. Larson
had only to lift her voice and half a dozen men would come running. He
was in the country of the enemy, so to say.

"Am I pesterin' her?" he demanded. "Can't I talk to a girl I knew when
she was a baby? Have I got to get an O.K. from you before I say
'Good-mawnin' to her?"

"Her father left June in my charge. I'm intendin' to see you let her
alone. Get that straight."

Houck gave up with a shrug of his big shoulders. He sat down and attacked
the steak on his plate.





Next: Injuns

Previous: Partners In Peril



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