From: Desert Dust
A note from a pretty woman always is a potential thing, no matter in what
humor it may have been received. The mere possession titillates; and
although the contents may be most exemplary to the eye, the mind is apt to
go hay-making between the lines and no offense intended.
All the fatuousness that had led me astray to the lure of her blue eyes,
upon the train and in hollow Benton, surged anew now--perhaps seasoned to
present taste by my peppery defiance of Daniel. A man could do no less
than bristle a little, under the circumstances; could do no less than
challenge the torpedoes, like Farragut in Mobile Bay. Whether the game was
worth the candle, I was not to be bullied out of my privileges by a clown
swash-buckler who aped the characteristics of a pouter pigeon.
Mr. Jenks was just going to bed under the wagon. With pretext of warming
up the coffee I kicked the fire together; while squatting and sipping I
managed to unfold the note and read it by the flicker, my back to the
All that it said, was:
If you are not disgusted with me I will walk a stretch with you on
the trail, during the morning.
The engagement sent me to my blanket cogitating. When a woman proposes,
one never knows precisely the reason. Anyway, I was young enough so to
fancy. For a long time I lay outside the wagons, apart in the desert camp,
gazing up at the twinkling stars, while the wolves whimpered around, and
somewhere she slept beside the gentle Rachael, and somewhere Daniel
snored, and here I conned her face and her words, elatedly finding them
Salt Lake was far, the Big Tent farther by perspective if not by miles. I
recognized the legal rights of her husband, but no ruffling Daniel should
quash the undeniable rights of Yours Truly. I indeed felt virtuous and
passing valorous, with that commonplace note in my pocket.
We all broke camp at sunrise. She rode for a distance upon the seat of
Daniel's wagon--he lustily trudging alongside. Then I marked her walking,
herself; she had shortened her skirt; and presently lingering by the trail
she dropped behind, leaving the wagon to lumber on, with Daniel helplessly
turning head over shoulder, bereft.
"Bet you the lady up yonder is aimin' to pay you a visit," quoth friend
Jenks the astute. "And Dan'l, he don't cotton to it. You ain't great
shakes with a gun, I reckon?"
"I've never had use for one," said I. "But her whereabouts in the train is
not a matter of shooting, is it?"
"A feller quick on the draw, like him, is alluz wantin' to practice, to
keep his hand in. Anyhow I'd advise you to stay clear of her, else watch
him mighty sharp. He's thinkin' of takin' a squaw."
We rolled on, in the dust, while the animals coughed and the teamsters
chewed and swore. And next, here she was, idling until our outfit drew
"Mornin'," Jenks grunted, with a shortness that bespoke his disapproval;
whereupon he fell back and left us.
She smiled at me.
"Will you offer me a ride, sir?"
My response was instant: a long "Whoa-oa!" in best mule-whacker. The
eight-team hauled negligent, their mulish senses steeped in the drudgery
of the trail; only the wheel pair flopped inquiring ears. When I hailed
again, Jenks came puffing.
"What's the matter hyar?" He ran rapid eye over wagon and animals and saw
"Mrs. Montoyo wishes to ride."
"The hell, man!" He snatched whip and launched it, up the faltering team.
The cracker popped an inch above the off lead mule's cringing haunch
twenty feet before. "You can't stop hyar! Can't hold the rest of the
train. Joe! Baldy! Hep with you!" The team straightened out; he restored
me the whip. His wrath subsided, for in less dudgeon he addressed her.
"Want to ride, do ye?"
"I did, sir."
"Wall, in Gawd's name ride, then. But we don't stop for passengers."
With that, in another white heat he had picked her up bodily, swung her
upon the nearest mule; so that before she knew (she scarce had time to
utter an astonished little ejaculation as she yielded to his arms) there
she was, perched, breathless, upon the sweaty hide. I awaited results.
"What you need is an old feller, lady. These young bucks ain't broke to
the feed canvas. Now when you want to get off you call me. You don't weigh
more'n a peck of beans."
With a bantering wink at me he again fell back. Once more I had been
forestalled. There should be no third time.
My Lady sat clinging, at first angry-eyed, but in a moment softened by my
"Your partner is rather sudden," she averred. "He asked permission of
neither me nor the mule."
"He meant well. He isn't used to women," I apologized.
"More used to mules, I judge."
"Yes. If he had asked the mule it would have objected, whereas it's
"Perhaps he knows there's not much difference between a woman and a mule,
in that respect," she proffered. "You need not apologize for him."
"I apologize for myself," I blurted. "I see I'm a little slow for this
"You?" She soberly surveyed me as I ploughed through the dust, at her
knees. "I think you'll catch up. If you don't object to my company,
yourself, occasionally, maybe I can help you."
"I certainly cannot object to your company whenever it is available,
madam," I assured.
"You do not hold your experience in Benton against me?"
"I got no more than I deserved, in the Big Tent," said I. "I went in as a
fool and I came out as a fool, but considerably wiser."
"You reproached me for it," she accused. "You hated me. Do you hate me
still, I wonder? I tell you I was not to blame for the loss of your
"The money has mattered little, madam," I informed. "It was only a few
dollars, and it turned me to a job more to my liking and good health than
fiddling my time away, back there. I have you to thank for that."
"No, no! You are cruel, sir. You thank me for the good and you saddle me
with the bad. I accept neither. Both, as happened, were misplays. You
should not have lost money, you should not have changed vocation. You
should have won a little money and you should have pursued health in
Benton." She sighed. "And we all would have been reasonably content. Now
here you and I are--and what are we going to do about it?"
"We?" I echoed, annoyingly haphazard. "Why so? You're being well cared
for, I take it; and I'm under engagement for Salt Lake myself."
The answer did sound rude. I was still a cad. She eyed me, with a certain
whiteness, a certain puzzled intentness, a certain fugitive wistfulness--a
mute estimation that made me too conscious of her clear appraising gaze
and rack my brain for some disarming remark.
"You're not responsible for me, you would say?"
"I'm at your service," I corrected. The platitude was the best that I
could muster to my tongue.
"That is something," she mused. "Once you were not that--when I proposed a
partnership. You are afraid of me?" she asked.
"Why should I be?" I parried. But I was beginning; or continuing. I had
that curious inward quiver, not unpleasant, anticipatory of possible
"You are a cautious Yankee. You answer one question with another." She
laughed lightly. "Yes, why should you be? I cannot run away with you; not
when Daniel and your Mr. Jenks are watching us so closely. And you have
no desire to be run away with. And Pedro must be considered. Altogether,
you are well protected, even if your conscience slips. But tell me: Do you
blame me for running away from Montoyo?"
"Not in the least," I heartily assured.
"You would have helped me, at the last?"
"I think I should have felt fully warranted." Again I floundered.
"Even to stowing me with a bull train?"
"Anywhere, madam, for your betterment, to free you from that brute."
"Oh!" She clapped her hands. "But you didn't have to. I only embarrassed
you by appearing on my own account. You have some spirit, though. You came
to the Adams circle, last night. You did your duty. I expected you. But
you must not do it again."
"There are objections, there."
"From that Daniel, then. Well, I will come to Captain Adams' camp as often
as I like, if with the Captain's permission. And I shall come to see you,
whether with his permission or not."
"I don't know," she faltered. "I--you would have helped me once, you say?
And once you refused me. Would you help me next time?"
"As far as I could," said I--another of those damned hedging responses
that for the life of me I could not manipulate properly.
"Oh!" she cried. "Of course! The queen deceived you; now you are wise. You
are afraid. But so am I. Horribly afraid. I have misplayed again." She
laughed bitterly. "I am with Daniel--it is to be Daniel and I in the
Lion's den. You know they call Brigham Young the Lion of the Lord. I doubt
if even Rachael is angel enough." She paused. "They're going to make
nooning, aren't they? I mustn't stay. Good-bye."
I sprang to lift her, but with gay shake of head she slipped off of
herself and landed securely.
"I can stand alone. I have to. Men are always ready to do what I don't ask
them to do, as long as I can serve as a tool or a toy. You will be very,
very careful. Good-day, sir."
She flashed just the trace of a smile; gathering her skirt she ran on,
undeterred by the teamsters applauding her spryness.
"Swing out!" shouted Jenks, from rear. "We're noonin'." The lead wagons
had halted beside the trail and all the wagons following began to imitate.
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