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Straight Talk








From: 'firebrand' Trevison

Ten years of lonesomeness, of separation from all the things he held dear,
with nothing for his soul to feed upon except the bitterness he got from a
contemplation of the past; with nothing but his pride and his
determination to keep him from becoming what he had seen many men in this
country become--dissolute irresponsibles, drifting like ships without
rudders--had brought into Trevison's heart a great longing. He was like a
man who for a long time has been deprived of the solace of good tobacco,
and--to use a simile that he himself manufactured--he yearned to capture
someone from the East, sit beside him and fill his lungs, his brain, his
heart, his soul, with the breath, the aroma, the spirit of the land of his
youth. The appearance of Miss Benham at Manti had thrilled him. For ten
years he had seen no eastern woman, and at sight of her the old hunger of
the soul became acute in him, aroused in him a passionate worship that
made his blood run riot. It was the call of sex to sex, made doubly
stirring by the girl's beauty, her breeziness, her virile, alluring
womanhood--by the appeal she made to the love of the good and the true in
his character. His affection for Hester Keyes, he had long known, had been
merely the vanity-tickling regard of the callow youth--the sex attraction
of adolescence, the "puppy" love that smites all youth alike. For Rosalind
Benham a deeper note had been struck. Its force rocked him, intoxicated
him; his head rang with the music it made.

During the three weeks of her stay at Blakeley's they had been much
together. Rosalind had accepted his companionship as a matter of course.
He had told her many things about his past, and was telling her many more
things, as they sat today on an isolated excrescence of sand and rock and
bunch grass surrounded by a sea of sage. From where they sat they could
see Manti--Manti, alive, athrob, its newly-come hundreds busy as ants with
their different pursuits.

The intoxication of the girl's presence had never been so great as it was
today. A dozen times, drunken with the nearness of her, with the delicate
odor from her hair, as a stray wisp fluttered into his face, he had come
very near to catching her in his arms. But he had grimly mastered the
feeling, telling himself that he was not a savage, and that such an action
would be suicidal to his hopes. It cost him an effort, though, to restrain
himself, as his flushed face, his burning eyes and his labored breath,
told.

His broken wrist had healed. His hatred of Corrigan had been kept alive by
a recollection of the fight, by a memory of the big man's quickness to
take advantage of the banker's foul trick, and by the passion for revenge
that had seized him, that held him in a burning clutch. Jealousy of the
big man he would not have admitted; but something swelled his chest when
he thought of Corrigan coming West in the same car with the girl--a vague,
gnawing something that made his teeth clench and his facial muscles cord.

Rosalind had not told him that she had recognized him, that during the ten
years of his exile he had been her ideal, but she could close her eyes at
this minute and imagine herself on the stair-landing at Hester Keyes'
party, could feel the identical wave of thrilling admiration that had
passed over her when her gaze had first rested on him. Yes, it had
survived, that girlhood passion, but she had grown much older and
experienced, and she could not let him see what she felt. But her
curiosity was keener than ever; in no other man of her acquaintance had
she felt this intense interest.

"I remember you telling me the other day that your men would have used
their rifles, had the railroad company attempted to set men to work in the
cut. I presume you must have given them orders to shoot. I can't
understand you. You were raised in the East, your parents are wealthy; it
is presumed they gave you advantages--in fact, you told me they had sent
you to college. You must have learned respect for the law while there. And
yet you would have had your men resist forcibly."

"I told you before that I respected the law--so long as the law is just
and the fellow I'm fighting is governed by it. But I refuse to fight under
a rule that binds one of my hands, while my opponent sails into me with
both hands free. I've never been a believer in the doctrine of 'turn the
other cheek.' We are made with a capacity for feeling, and it boils,
unrestrained, in me. I never could play the hypocrite; I couldn't say 'no'
when I thought 'yes' and make anybody believe it. I couldn't lie and evade
and side-step, even to keep from getting licked. I always told the truth
and expressed my feelings in language as straight, simple, and direct as I
could. It wasn't always the discreet way. Perhaps it wasn't always the
wise way. I won't argue that. But it was the only way I knew. It caused me
a lot of trouble--I was always in trouble. My record in college would make
a prize fighter turn green with envy. I'm not proud of what I've made of
my life. But I haven't changed. I do what my heart prompts me to do, and I
say what I think, regardless of consequences."

"That would be a very good method--if everybody followed it," said the
girl. "Unfortunately, it invites enmity. Subtlety will take you farther in
the world." She was smitten with an impulse, unwise, unconventional. But
the conventions! The East seemed effete and far. Besides, she spoke
lightly:

"Let us be perfectly frank, then. I think that perhaps you take yourself
too seriously. Life is a tragedy to the tragic, a joke to the humorous, a
drab canvas to the unimaginative. It all depends upon what temperament one
sees it through. I dare say that I see you differently than you see
yourself. 'O wad some power the giftie gi'e us to see oursel's as ithers
see us'," she quoted, and laughed at the queer look in his eyes, for his
admiration for her had leaped like a living thing at her bubbling spirits,
and he was, figuratively, forced to place his heel upon it. "I confess it
seems to me that you take a too tragic view of things," she went on. "You
are like D'Artagnan, always eager to fly at somebody's throat. Possibly,
you don't give other people credit for unselfish motives; you are too
suspicious; and what you call plain talk may seem impertinence to
others--don't you think? In any event, people don't like to hear the truth
told about themselves--especially by a big, earnest, sober-faced man who
seems to speak with conviction, and, perhaps, authority. I think you look
for trouble, instead of trying to evade it. I think, too," she said,
looking straight at him, "that you face the world in a too physical
fashion; that you place too much dependence upon brawn and fire. That,
following your own method of speaking your mind, is what I think of you. I
tremble to imagine what you think of me for speaking so plainly."

He laughed, his voice vibrating, and bold passion gleamed in his eyes. He
looked fairly at her, holding her gaze, compelling it with the intensity
of his own, and she drew a deep, tremulous breath of understanding. There
followed a tense, breathless silence. And then--

"You've brought it on yourself," he said. "I love you. You are going to
marry me--someday. That's what I think of you!"

She got to her feet, her cheeks flaming, confused, half-frightened, though
a fierce exultation surged within her. She had half expected this, half
dreaded it, and now that it had burst upon her in such volcanic fashion
she realized that she had not been entirely prepared. She sought refuge in
banter, facing him, her cheeks flushed, her eyes dancing.

"'Firebrand,'" she said. "The name fits you--Mr. Carson was right. I
warned you--if you remember--that you placed too much dependence on brawn
and fire. You are making it very hard for me to see you again."

He had risen too, and stood before her, and he now laughed frankly.

"I told you I couldn't play the hypocrite. I have said what I think. I
want you. But that doesn't mean that I am going to carry you away to the
mountains. I've got it off my mind, and I promise not to mention it
again--until you wish it. But don't forget that some day you are going to
love me."

"How marvelous," said she, tauntingly, though in her confusion she could
not meet his gaze, looking downward. "How do you purpose to bring it
about?"

"By loving you so strongly that you can't help yourself."

"With your confidence--" she began. But he interrupted, laughing:

"We're going to forget it, now," he said. "I promised to show you that
Pueblo, and we'll have just about time enough to make it and back to the
Bar B before dark."

And they rode away presently, chatting on indifferent subjects. And,
keeping his promise, he said not another word about his declaration. But
the girl, stealing glances at him, wondered much--and reached no
decision.

When they reached the abandoned Indian village, many of its houses still
standing, he laughed. "That would make a dandy fort."

"Always thinking of fighting," she mocked. But her eyes flashed as she
looked at him.





Next: The Spirit Of Manti

Previous: The Chaos Of Creation



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