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Somethin's Gone Out Of Them








From: The Range Boss

As Randerson rode Patches through the break in the canyon wall in the
afternoon of a day about a week after his talk with Uncle Jepson in the
bunkhouse, he was thinking of the visit he intended to make. He had
delayed it long. He had not seen Abe Catherson since taking his new job.

"I reckon he'll think I'm right unneighborly," he said to himself as he
rode.

When he reached the nester's cabin, the dog Nig greeted him with
vociferous affection, bringing Hagar to the door.

"Oh, it's Rex!" cried the girl delightedly. And then, reproachfully: "Me
an' dad allowed you wasn't comin' any more!"

"You an' dad was a heap mistaken, then," he grinned as he dismounted and
trailed the reins over the pony's head. "I've had a heap to 'tend to," he
added as he stepped on the porch and came to a halt, looking at her.
"Why, I reckon the little kid I used to know ain't here any more!" he
said, his eyes alight with admiration, as he critically examined her
garments from the distance that separated her from him--a neat house
dress of striped gingham, high at the throat, the bottom hem reaching
below her shoe-tops; a loose-fitting apron over the dress, drawn tightly
at the waist, giving her figure graceful curves. He had never thought of
Hagar in connection with beauty; he had been sorry for her, pitying
her--she had been a child upon whom he had bestowed much of the unselfish
devotion of his heart; indeed, there had been times when it had assumed a
practical turn, and through various ruses much of his wages had been
delicately forced upon the nester. It had not always been wisely
expended, for he knew that Catherson drank deeply at times.

Now, however, Randerson realized that the years must inevitably make a
change in Hagar. That glimpse he had had of her on the Flying W
ranchhouse porch had made him think, but her appearance now caused him to
think more deeply. It made constraint come into his manner.

"I reckon your dad ain't anywhere around?" he said.

"Dad's huntin' up some cattle this mornin'," she told him. "Shucks," she
added, seeing him hesitate, "ain't you comin' in?"

"Why, I've been wonderin'" and he grinned guiltily "whether it'd be
exactly proper. You see, there was a time when I busted right in the
house without waitin' for an invitation--tickled to get a chance to
dawdle a kid on my knee. But I reckon them dawdle-days is over. I
wouldn't think of tryin' to dawdle a woman on my knee. But if you think
that you're still Hagar Catherson, an' you won't be dead-set on me
dawdlin' you--Why, shucks, I reckon I'm talkin' like a fool!" And his
face blushed crimson.

Her face was red too, but she seemed to be less conscious of the change
in herself than he, though her eyes drooped when he looked at her.

He followed her inside and formally took a chair, sitting on its edge and
turning his hat over and over in his hands, looking much at it, as if it
were new and he admired it greatly.

But this constraint between them was not the only thing that was new to
him. While she talked, he sat and listened, and stole covert glances at
her, and tried to convince himself that it was really Hagar that was
sitting there before him.

But before long he grew accustomed to the strangeness of the situation,
and constraint dropped from him. "Why, I reckon it's all natural," he
confided to her. "Folks grow up, don't they? Take you. Yesterday you was
a kid, an' I dawdled you on my knee. Today you're a woman, an' it makes
me feel some breathless to look at you. But it's all natural. I'd been
seein' you so much that I'd forgot that time was makin' a woman of you."

She blushed, and he marveled over it. "She can't see, herself, how she's
changed," he told himself. And while they talked he studied her, noting
that her color was higher than he had ever seen it, that the frank
expression of her eyes had somehow changed--there was a glow in them,
deep, abiding, embarrassed. They drooped from his when he tried to hold
her gaze. He had always admired the frank directness of them--that told
of unconsciousness of sex, of unquestioning trust. Today, it seemed to
him, there was subtle knowledge in them. He was puzzled and disappointed.
And when, half an hour later, he took his leave, after telling her that
he would come again, to see her "dad," he took her by the shoulders and
forced her to look into his eyes. His own searched hers narrowly. It was
as in the old days--in his eyes she was still a child.

"I reckon I won't kiss you no more, Hagar," he said. "You ain't a kid no
more, an' it wouldn't be square. Seventeen is an awful old age, ain't
it?"

And then he mounted and rode down the trail, still puzzled over the
lurking, deep glow in her eyes.

"I reckon I ain't no expert on women's eyes," he said as he rode. "But
Hagar's--there's somethin' gone out of them."

He could not have reached the break in the canyon leading to the plains
above the river, when Willard Masten loped his horse toward the Catherson
cabin from an opposite direction.

Hagar was standing on the porch when he came, and her face flooded with
color when she saw him. She stood, her eyes drooping with shy
embarrassment as Masten dismounted and approached her. And then, as his
arm went around her waist, familiarly, he whispered:

"How is my little woman today?"

She straightened and looked up at him, perplexity in her eyes.

"Rex Randerson was just hyeh," she said. "I wanted to tell him about you
wantin' me to marry you. But I thought of what you told me, an' I didn't.
Do you sure reckon he'd kill you, if he knowed?"

"He certainly would," declared Masten, earnestly. "No one--not even your
father--must know that I come here to see you."

"I reckon I won't tell. But Miss Ruth? Are you sure she don't care for
you any more?"

"Well," he lied glibly; "she has broken our engagement. But if she knew
that I come here to see you she'd be jealous, you know. So it's better
not to tell her. If you do tell her, I'll stop coming," he threatened.

"It's hard to keep from tellin' folks how happy I am," she said. "Once, I
was afraid Rex Randerson could see it in my eyes--when he took a-hold of
my arms hyeh, an' looked at me."

Masten looked jealously at her. "Looked at you, eh?" he said. "Are you
sure he didn't try to do anything else--didn't do anything else? Like
kissing you, for instance?"

"I'm certain sure," she replied, looking straight at him. "He used to
kiss me. But he says I'm a woman, now, an' it wouldn't be square to kiss
me any more." Her eyes had drooped from his.

"An' I reckon that's right, too, ain't it?" She looked up again, not
receiving an answer. "Why, how red your face is!" she exclaimed. "I ain't
said nothin' to hurt you, have I?"

"No," he said. But he held her tightly to him, her head on his shoulder,
so that she might not see the guilt in his eyes.





Next: The Law Of The Primitive

Previous: What Uncle Jepson Heard



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