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Sir Redmond Waits His Answer








From: Her Prairie Knight

Beatrice felt distinctly out of sorts the next day, and chose an hour
for her ride when she felt reasonably secure from unwelcome company. But
when she went out into the sunshine there was Sir Redmond waiting with
Rex and his big gray. Beatrice was not exactly elated at the sight, but
she saw nothing to do but smile and make the best of it. She wanted
to be alone, so that she could dream along through the hills she had
learned to love, and think out some things which troubled her, and
decide just how she had best go about winning Rex for herself; it had
become quite necessary to her peace of mind that she should teach Dick
and Keith Cameron a much-needed lesson.

"It has been so long since we rode together," he apologized. "I hope you
don't mind my coming along."

"Oh, no! Why should I mind?" Beatrice smiled upon him in friendly
fashion. She liked Sir Redmond very much--only she hoped he was
not going to make love. Somehow, she did not feel in the mood for
love-making just then.

"I don't know why, I'm sure. But you seem rather fond of riding about
these hills by yourself. One should never ask why women do things, I
fancy. It seems always to invite disaster."

"Does it?" Beatrice was not half-listening. They were passing, just
then, the suburbs of a "dog town," and she was never tired of watching
the prairie-dogs stand upon their burrows, chip-chip defiance until fear
overtook their impertinence, and then dive headlong deep into the earth.
"I do think a prairie-dog is the most impudent creature alive and the
most shrewish. I never pass but I am scolded by these little scoundrels
till my ears burn. What do you think they say?"

"They're probably inviting you to stop with them and be their queen, and
are scolding because your heart is hard and you only laugh and ride on."

"Queen of a prairie-dog town! Dear me! Why this plaintive mood?"

"Am I plaintive? I do not mean to be, I'm sure."

"You don't appear exactly hilarious," she told him. "I can't see what is
getting the matter with us all. Mama and your sister are poor company,
even for each other, and Dick is like a bear. One can't get a civil word
out of him. I'm not exactly amiable, myself, either; but I relied upon
you to keep the mental temperature up to normal, Sir Redmond."

"Perhaps it's a good thing we shall not stop here much longer. I must
confess I don't fancy the country--and Mary is downright homesick. She
wants to get back to her parish affairs; she's afraid some rheumatic old
woman needs coddling with jelly and wine, and that sort of thing. I've
promised to hurry through the business here, and take her home. But I
mean to see that Pine Ridge fence in place before I go; or, at least,
see it well under way."

"I'm sure Dick will attend to it properly," Beatrice remarked, with pink
cheeks. If she remembered what she had threatened to tell Sir Redmond,
she certainly could not have asked for a better opportunity. She was
reminding herself at that moment that she always detested a tale bearer.

"Your brother Dick is a fine fellow, and I have every confidence in
him; but you must see yourself that he is swayed, more or less, by
his friendship for--his neighbors. It is only a kindness to take the
responsibility off his shoulders till the thing is done. I'm sure he
will feel better to have it so."

"Yes," she agreed; "I think you're right. Dick always was very
soft-hearted, and, right or wrong, he clings to his friends."
Then, rather hastily, as though anxious to change the trend of the
conversation: "Of course, your sister will insist on keeping Dorman with
her. I shall miss that little scamp dreadfully, I'm afraid." The next
minute she saw that she had only opened a subject she dreaded even more.

"It is something to know that there is even one of us that you will
miss," Sir Redmond observed. Something in his tone hurt.

"I shall miss you all," she said hastily. "It has been a delightful
summer."

"I wish I might know just what element made it delightful. I wish--"

"I scarcely think it has been any particular element," she broke in,
trying desperately to stave off what she felt in his tone. "I love the
wild, where I can ride, and ride, and never meet a human being--where
I can dream and dally and feast my eyes on a landscape man has not
touched. I have lived most of my life in New York, and I love nature
so well that I'm inclined to be jealous of her. I want her left free to
work out all her whims in her own way. She has a keen sense of humor, I
think. The way she modeled some of these hills proves that she loves
her little jokes. I have seen where she cut deep, fearsome gashes, with
sides precipitous, as though she had some priceless treasure hidden away
in the deep, where man cannot despoil it. And if you plot and plan,
and try very hard, you may reach the bottom at last and find the
treasure--nothing. Or, perhaps, a tiny little stream, as jealously
guarded as though each drop were priceless."

Sir Richmond rode for a few minutes in silence. When he spoke, it was
abruptly.

"And is that all? Is there nothing to this delightful summer, after all,
but your hills?"

"Oh, of course, I--it has all been delightful. I shall hate to go back
home, I think." Beatrice was a bit startled to find just how much she
would hate to go back and wrap herself once more in the conventions of
society life. For the first time since she could remember, she wanted
her world to stand still.

Sir Redmond went doggedly to the point he had in mind and heart.

"I hoped, Beatrice, you would count me, too. I've tried to be patient.
You know, don't you, that I love you?"

"You've certainly told me often enough," she retorted, in a miserable
attempt at her old manner.

"And you've put me off, and laughed at me, and did everything under
heaven but answer me fairly. And I've acted the fool, no doubt. I know
it. I've no courage before a woman. A curl of your lip, and I was ready
to cut and run. But I can't go on this way forever--I've got to know.
I wish I could talk as easy as I can fight; I'd have settled the thing
long ago. Where other men can plead their cause, I can say just the one
thing--I love you, Beatrice. When I saw you first, in the carriage I
loved you then. You had some fur--brown fur--snuggled under your chin,
and the pink of your cheeks, and your dear, brown eyes shining and
smiling above--Good God! I've always loved you! From the beginning of
the world, I think! I'd be good to you, Beatrice, and I believe I could
make you happy--if you give me the chance."

Something in Beatrice's throat ached cruelly. It was the truth, and she
knew it. He did love her, and the love of a brave man is not a thing
to be thrust lightly aside. But it demanded such a lot in return!
More, perhaps, than she could give. A love like that--a love that gives
everything--demands everything in return. Anything less insults it.

She stole a glance at him. Sir Redmond was looking straight before him,
with the fixed gaze that sees nothing. There was the white line around
his mouth which Beatrice had seen once before. Again that griping ache
was in her throat, till she could have cried out with the pain of it.
She wanted to speak, to say something--anything--which would drive that
look from his face.

While her mind groped among the jumble of words that danced upon her
tongue, and that seemed, all of them, so pitifully weak and inadequate,
she heard the galloping hoofs of a horse pounding close behind. A
choking cloud of dust swept down upon them, and Keith, riding in the
midst, reined out to pass. He lifted his hat. His eyes challenged
Beatrice, swept coldly the face of her companion, and turned again to
the trail. He swung his heels backward, and Redcloud broke again into
the tireless lope that carried him far ahead, until there was only a
brown dot speeding over the prairie.

Sir Redmond waited until Keith was far beyond hearing, then he filled
his lungs deeply and looked at Beatrice. "Don't you feel you could trust
me--and love me a little?"

Beatrice was deadly afraid she was going to cry, and she hated weeping
women above all things. "A little wouldn't do," she said, with what
firmness she could muster. "I should want to love you as much--quite as
much as you deserve, Sir Redmond, or not at all. I'm afraid I can't. I
wish I could, though. I--I think I should like to love you; but perhaps
I haven't much heart. I like you very much--better than I ever liked
any one before; but oh, I wish you wouldn't insist on an answer! I don't
know, myself, how I feel. I wish you had not asked me--yet. I tried not
to let you."

"A man can keep his heart still for a certain time, Beatrice, but not
for always. Some time he will say what his heart commands, if the
chance is given him; the woman can't hold him back. I did wait and wait,
because I thought you weren't ready for me to speak. And--you don't care
for anybody else?"

"Of course I don't. But I hate to give up my freedom to any one, Sir
Redmond. I want to be free--free as the wind that blows here always,
and changes and changes, and blows from any point that suits its whim,
without being bound to any rule."

"Do you think I'm an ogre, that will lock you in a dungeon, Beatrice?
Can't you see that I am not threatening your freedom? I only want the
right to love you, and make you happy. I should not ask you to go or
stay where you did not please, and I'd be good to you, Beatrice!"

"I don't think it would matter," cried Beatrice, "if you weren't. I
should love you because I couldn't help myself. I hate doing things by
rule, I tell you. I couldn't care for you because you were good to me,
and I ought to care; it must be because I can't help myself. And I--"
She stopped and shut her teeth hard together; she felt sure she should
cry in another minute if this went on.

"I believe you do love me, Beatrice, and your rebellious young American
nature dreads surrender." He tried to look into her eyes and smile,
but she kept her eyes looking straight ahead. Then Sir Redmond made
the biggest blunder of his life, out of the goodness of his heart, and
because he hated to tease her into promising anything.

"I won't ask you to tell me now, Beatrice," he said gently. "I want you
to be sure; I never could forgive myself if you ever felt you had made a
mistake. A week from to-night I shall ask you once more--and it will be
for the last time. After that--But I won't think--I daren't think what
it would be like if you say no. Will you tell me then, Beatrice?"

The heart of Beatrice jumped into her throat. At that minute she was
very near to saying yes, and having done with it. She was quite sure she
knew, then, what her answer would be in a week. The smile she gave him
started Sir Redmond's blood to racing exultantly. Her lips parted a
little, as if a word were there, ready to be spoken; but she caught
herself back from the decision. Sir Redmond had voluntarily given her a
week; well, then, she would take it, to the last minute.

"Yes, I'll tell you a week from to-night, after dinner. I'll race you

home, Sir Redmond--the first one through the big gate by the stable
wins!" She struck Rex a blow that made him jump, and darted off down
the trail that led home, and her teasing laugh was the last Sir Redmond
heard of her that day; for she whipped into a narrow gulch when the
first turn hid her from him, and waited until he had thundered by. After
that she rode complacently, deep into the hills, wickedly pleased at the
trick she had played him.

Every day during the week that followed she slipped away from him and
rode away by herself, resolved to enjoy her freedom to the full while
she had it; for after that, she felt, things would never be quite the
same.

Every day, when Dick had chance for a quiet word with her, he wanted
to know who owned Rex--till at last she lost her temper and told him
plainly that, in her opinion, Keith Cameron had left the country for
two reasons, instead of one. (For Keith, be it known, had not been seen
since the day he passed her and Sir Redmond on the trail.) Beatrice
averred that she had a poor opinion of a man who would not stay and face
whatever was coming.

There was just one day left in her week of freedom, and Dick still owned
Rex, with the chances all in his favor for continuing to do so. Still,
Beatrice was vindictively determined upon one point. Let Keith Cameron
cross her path, and she would do something she had never done before;
she would deliberately lead him on to propose--if the fellow had nerve
enough to do so, which, she told Dick, she doubted.





Next: Held Up By Mr Kelly

Previous: Pine Ridge Range Ablaze



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