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Mr Verinder Complains








From: The Highgrader

Jack Kilmeny followed the pathway which wound through the woods along
the bank of the river. Occasionally he pushed through a thick growth of
young willows or ducked beneath the top strand of a neglected wire
fence.

Beyond the trees lay a clearing. At the back of this, facing the river,
was a large fishing lodge built of logs and finished artistically in
rustic style. It was a two-story building spread over a good deal of
ground space. A wide porch ran round the front and both sides. Upon the
porch were a man in an armchair and a girl seated on the top step with
her head against the corner post.

A voice hailed Kilmeny. "I say, my man."

The fisherman turned, discovered that he was the party addressed, and
waited.

"Come here, you!" The man in the armchair had taken the cigar from his
mouth and was beckoning to him.

"Meaning me?" inquired Kilmeny.

"Of course I mean you. Who else could I mean?"

The fisherman drew near. In his eyes sparkled a light that belied his
acquiescence.

"Do you belong to the party camped below?" inquired he of the rocking
chair, one eyeglass fixed in the complacent face.

The guilty man confessed.

"Then I want to know what the deuce you meant by kicking up such an
infernal row last night. I couldn't sleep a wink for hours--not for
hours, dash it. It's an outrage--a beastly outrage. What!"

The man with the monocle was smug with the self-satisfaction of his
tribe. His thin hair was parted in the middle and a faint straw-colored
mustache decorated his upper lip. Altogether, he might measure five feet
five in his boots. The miner looked at him gravely. No faintest hint of
humor came into the sea-blue eyes. They took in the dapper Britisher as
if he had been a natural history specimen.

"So kindly tell them not to do it again," Dobyans Verinder ordered in
conclusion.

"If you please, sir," added the young woman quietly.

Kilmeny's steady gaze passed for the first time to her. He saw a slight
dark girl with amazingly live eyes and a lift to the piquant chin that
was arresting. His hat came off promptly.

"We didn't know anybody was at the Lodge," he explained.

"You wouldn't, of course," she nodded, and by way of explanation: "Lady
Farquhar is rather nervous. Of course we don't want to interfere with
your fun, but----"

"There will be no more fireworks at night. One of the boys had a
birthday and we were ventilating our enthusiasm. If we had known----"

"Kindly make sure it doesn't happen again, my good fellow," cut in
Verinder.

Kilmeny looked at him, then back at the girl. The dapper little man had
been weighed and found wanting. Henceforth, Verinder was not on the map.

"Did you think we were wild Utes broke loose from the reservation? I
reckon we were some noisy. When the boys get to going good they don't
quite know when to stop."

The eyes of the young woman sparkled. The fisherman thought he had never
seen a face more vivid. Such charm as it held was too irregular for
beauty, but the spirit that broke through interested by reason of its
hint of freedom. She might be a caged bird, but her wings beat for the
open spaces.

"Were they going good last night?" she mocked prettily.

"Not real good, ma'am. You see, we had no town to shoot up, so we just
punctured the scenery. If we had known you were here----"

"You would have come and shot us up," she charged gayly.

Kilmeny laughed. "You're a good one, neighbor. But you don't need to
worry." He let his eyes admire her lazily. "Young ladies are too seldom
in this neck of the woods for the boys to hurt any. Give them a chance
and they would be real good to you, ma'am."

His audacity delighted Moya Dwight. "Do you think they would?"

"In our own barbaric way, of course."

"Do you ever scalp people?" she asked with innocent impudence.

"It's a young country," he explained genially.

"It has that reputation."

"You've been reading stories about us," he charged. "Now we'll be on our
good behavior just to show you."

"Thank you--if it isn't too hard."

"They're good boys, though they do forget it sometimes."

"I'm glad they do. They wouldn't interest me if they were too good.
What's the use of coming to Colorado if it is going to be as civilized
as England?"

Verinder, properly scandalized at this free give and take with a
haphazard savage of the wilds, interrupted in the interest of
propriety. "I'll not detain you any longer, my man. You may get at your
fishing."

The Westerner paid not the least attention to him. "My gracious, ma'am,
we think we're a heap more civilized than England. We ain't got any
militant suffragettes in this country--at least, I've never met up with
any."

"They're a sign of civilization," the young woman laughed. "They prove
we're still alive, even if we are asleep."

"We've got you beat there, then. All the women vote here. What's the
matter with you staying and running for governor?"

"Could I--really?" she beamed.

"Really and truly. Trouble with us is that we're so civilized we bend
over backward with it. You're going to find us mighty tame. The
melodramatic romance of the West is mostly in storybooks. What there was
of it has gone out with the cowpuncher."

"What's a cowpuncher?"

"He rides the range after cattle."

"Oh--a cowboy. But aren't there any cowboys?"

"They're getting seldom. The barb wire fence has put them out of
business. Mostly they're working for the moving picture companies now,"
he smiled.

Mr. Verinder prefaced with a formal little cough a second attempt to
drive away this very assured native. "As I was saying, Miss Dwight, I
wouldn't mind going into Parliament, you know, if it weren't for the
bally labor members. I'm rather strong on speaking--that sort of thing,
you know. Used to be a dab at it. But I couldn't stand the bounders that
get in nowadays. Really, I couldn't."

"And I had so counted on the cowboys. I'm going to be disappointed, I
think," Miss Dwight said to the Westerner quietly.

Verinder had sense enough to know that he was being punished. He had
tried to put the Westerner out of the picture and found himself
eliminated instead. An angry flush rose to his cheeks.

"That's the mistake you all make," Kilmeny told her. "The true romance
of the West isn't in its clothes and its trappings."

"Where is it?" she asked.

"In its spirit--in the hope and the courage born of the wide plains and
the clean hills--in its big democracy and its freedom from convention.
The West is a condition of mind."

Miss Dwight was surprised. She had not expected a philosophy of this
nature from her chance barbarian. He had the hands of a working man,
brown and sinewy but untorn; yet there was the mark of distinction in
the lean head set so royally on splendid shoulders. His body, spare of
flesh and narrow of flank, had the lithe grace of a panther. She had
seen before that look of competence, of easy self-reliance. Some of the
men of her class had it--Ned Kilmeny, for instance. But Ned was an
officer in a fighting regiment which had seen much service. Where had
this tanned fisherman won the manner that inheres only in a leader of
men?

"And how long does it take to belong to your West?" asked the young
woman, with the inflection of derision.

But her mockery was a fraud. In both voice and face was a vivid
eagerness not to be missed.

"Time hasn't a thing to do with it. Men live all their lives here and
are never Westerners. Others are of us in a day. I think you would
qualify early."

She knew that she ought to snub his excursion into the personal, but she
was by nature unconventional.

"How do you know?" she demanded quickly.

"That's just a guess of mine," he smiled.

A musical voice called from within the house. "Have you seen my
Graphic, Moya?"

A young woman stood in the doorway, a golden-white beauty with soft
smiling eyes that showed a little surprise at sight of the fisherman. A
faint murmur of apology for the interruption escaped her lips.

Kilmeny could not keep his eyes from her. What a superb young creature
she was, what perfection in the animal grace of the long lines of the
soft rounded body! Her movements had a light buoyancy that was charming.
And where under heaven could a man hope to see anything lovelier than
this pale face with its crown of burnished hair so lustrous and
abundant?

Miss Dwight turned to her friend. "I haven't seen the Graphic, Joyce,
dear."

"Isn't it in the billiard room? Thought I saw it there. I'll look,"
Verinder volunteered.

"Good of you," Miss Joyce nodded, her eyes on the stranger who had
turned to leave.

Kilmeny was going because he knew that he might easily outwear his
welcome. He had punished Verinder, and that was enough. The miner had
met too many like him not to know that the man belonged to the family of
common or garden snob. No doubt he rolled in wealth made by his father.
The fellow had studied carefully the shibboleths of the society with
which he wished to be intimate and was probably letter-perfect. None the
less, he was a bounder, a rank outsider tolerated only for his money. He
might do for the husband of some penniless society girl, but he would
never in the world be accepted by her as a friend or an equal. The
thought of him stirred the gorge of the fisherman. Very likely the man
might capture for a wife the slim dark girl with the quick eyes, or
even her friend, Joyce, choicest flower in a garden of maidens. Nowadays
money would do anything socially.

"Cheekiest beggar I ever saw," fumed Verinder. "Don't see why you let
the fellow stay, Miss Dwight."

The girl's scornful eyes came round to meet his. She had never before
known how cordially she disliked him.

"Don't you?"

She rose and walked quickly into the house.

Verinder bit his mustache angrily. He had been cherishing a fiction that
he was in love with Miss Dwight and more than once he had smarted
beneath the lash of her contempt.

Joyce sank gracefully into the easiest chair and flashed a dazzling
smile at him. "Has Moya been very unkind, Mr. Verinder?"

He had joined the party a few days before at Chicago and this was the
first sign of interest Miss Seldon had shown in him. Verinder was
grateful.

"Dashed if I understand Miss Dwight at all. She blows hot and cold," he
confided in a burst of frankness.

"That's just her way. We all have our moods, don't we? I mean we poor
women. Don't all the poets credit us with inconstancy?" The least
ripple of amusement at her sex swelled in her throat and died away.

"Oh, by Jove, if that's all! I say, do you have moods too, Miss Joyce?"

Her long thick lashes fluttered down to the cheeks. Was she embarrassed
at his question? He felt a sudden lift of the heart, an access of
newborn confidence. Dobyans Verinder had never dared to lift his hopes
as high as the famous beauty Joyce Seldon. Now for the first time his
vanity stirred. Somehow--quite unexpectedly to him--the bars between
them were down. Was it possible that she had taken a fancy to him? His
imagination soared.

For a moment her deep pansy eyes rested in his. He felt a sudden
intoxication of the senses. Almost with a swagger he drew up a chair and
seated himself beside her. Already he was the conquering male in
headlong pursuit. Nor was he disturbed by the least suspicion of having
been filled with the sensations and the impulses that she had contrived.

Miss Seldon had that morning incidentally overheard Lady Farquhar tell
her husband that Dobyans Verinder's fortune must be nearer two million
pounds than one million. It was the first intimation she had been given
that he was such a tremendous catch.





Next: Night Fishing

Previous: The Campers



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