From: The Fighting Edge
He was a red-headed, stringy boy between eighteen and nineteen years old.
His hands were laced back of the head, but he waggled a foot by way of
"'Lo, June," he called.
"What you doin'?" she demanded.
"Oh, jes' watchin' the grass grow."
She sat down beside him, drawing up her feet beneath the skirt and
gathering the knees between laced fingers. Moodily, she looked down at
the water swirling round the rocks.
Bob Dillon said nothing. He had a capacity for silence that was not
uncompanionable. They could sit by the hour, these two, quite content,
without exchanging a dozen sentences. The odd thing about it was that
they were not old friends. Three weeks ago they had met for the first
time. He was flunkeying for a telephone outfit building a line to Bear
"A man stayed up to the house last night," she said at last.
He leaned his head on a hand, turning toward her. The light blue eyes in
the freckled face rested on those of the girl.
Presently she added, with a flare of surging anger, "I hate him."
The blood burned beneath the tan of the brown cheeks. "'Cause."
"Shucks! That don't do any good. It don't buy you anything."
She swung upon him abruptly. "Don't you hate the men at the camp when
they knock you around?"
"What'd be the use? I duck outa the way next time."
Two savage little demons glared at him out of her dark eyes. "Ain't you
got any sand in yore craw, Bob Dillon? Do you aim to let folks run on you
all yore life? I'd fight 'em if 't was the last thing I ever did."
"Different here. I'd get my block knocked off about twice a week. You
don't see me in any scraps where I ain't got a look-in. I'd rather let
'em boot me a few," he said philosophically.
She frowned at him, in a kind of puzzled wonderment. "You're right queer.
If I was a man--"
The sentence died out. She was not a man. The limitations of sex
encompassed her. In Jake Houck's arms she had been no more than an
infant. He would crush her resistance--no matter whether it was physical
or mental--and fling out at her the cruel jeering laughter of one who
could win without even exerting his strength. She would never marry
him--never, never in the world. But--
A chill dread drenched her heart.
Young Dillon was sensitive to impressions. His eyes, fixed on the girl's
face, read something of her fears.
"This man--who is he?" he asked.
"Jake Houck. I never saw him till last night. My father knew him
when--when he was young."
"What's the matter with this Houck? Why don't you like him?"
"If you'd see him--how he looks at me." She flashed to anger. "As if I
was something he owned and meant to tame."
"Oh, well, you know the old sayin', a cat may look at a king. He can't
"Can't he? How do you know he can't?" she challenged.
"How can he, come to that?"
"I don't say he can." Looked at in cold blood, through the eyes of
another, the near-panic that had seized her a few hours earlier appeared
ridiculous. "But I don't have to like him, do I? He acted--hateful--if
you want to know."
"How d'you mean--hateful?"
A wave of color swept through her cheeks to the brown throat. How could
she tell him that there was something in the man's look that had disrobed
her, something in his ribald laugh that had made her feel unclean? Or
that the fellow had brushed aside the pride and dignity that fenced her
and ravished kisses from her lips while he mocked? She could not have put
her feeling into words if she had tried, and she had no intention of
"Mean," she said. "A low-down, mean bully."
The freckled boy watched her with a curious interest. She made no more
sex appeal to him than he did to her, and that was none at all. The first
thing that had moved him in the child was the friendlessness back of her
spitfire offense. She knew no women, no other girls. The conditions of
life kept her aloof from the ones she met casually once or twice a year.
She suspected their laughter, their whispers about the wild girl on
Piceance Creek. The pride with which she ignored them was stimulated by
her sense of inferiority. June had read books. She felt the clothes she
made were hideous, the conditions of her existence squalid; and back of
these externals was the shame she knew because they must hide themselves
from the world on account of the secret.
Bob did not know all that, but he guessed some of it. He had not gone
very far in experience himself, but he suspected that this wild creature
of the hills was likely to have a turbulent and perhaps tragic time of
it. She was very much a child of impulse. Thirstily she had drunk in all
he could tell her of the world beyond the hills that hemmed them in. He
had known her frank, grateful, dreamy, shy, defiant, and once, for no
apparent reason, a flaming little fury who had rushed to eager repentance
when she discovered no offense was meant. He had seen her face bubbling
with mirth at the antics of a chipmunk, had looked into the dark eyes
when they were like hill fires blazing through mist because of the sunset
light in the crotch of the range.
"I reckon Mr. Tolliver won't let this Houck bully you none," the boy
"I ain't scared of him," she answered.
But June knew there would be small comfort for her in the thought of her
father's protection. She divined intuitively that he would be a liability
rather than an asset in any conflict that might arise between her and
"If there was anything I could do--but o' course there ain't."
"No," she agreed. "Oh, well, I'm not worryin'. I'll show him when he
comes back. I'm as big as he is behind a gun."
Bob looked at her, startled. He saw she was whistling to keep up her
courage. "Are you sure enough afraid of him?"
Her eyes met his. She nodded. "He said he was coming back to marry
me--good as said I could like it or lump it, he didn't care which."
"Sho! Tha's jus' talk. No girl has to marry a man if she don't want to.
You don't need any gun-play. He can't make his brags good if you won't
have him. It's a free country."
"If he told you to do something--this Jake Houck--you wouldn't think it
was so free," the girl retorted without any life in her voice.
He jumped up, laughing. "Well, I don't expect he's liable to tell me to
do anything. He ain't ever met up with me. I gotta go peel the spuds for
supper. Don't you worry, June. He's bluffin'."
"I reckon," she said, and nodded a careless good-bye.
Next: Clipped Wings
Previous: A Spunky Li'l' Devil