Concerning The Strength Of Women





There were three things discussed by Lee Haines and Buck Daniels in the

dreary days which followed. The first was to keep on their way across the

mountains and cut themselves away from the sorrow of that cabin. The second

was to strike the trail of Barry and hunt until they found his refuge and

attempt to lead him back to his family. The third was simply to stay on and

where they found the opportunity, help Kate. They discarded the first idea

without much talk; it would be yellow, they decided, and the debt they owed

to the Dan Barry of the old days was too great to be shouldered off so

easily: they cast away the second thought still more quickly, for the trail

which baffled the shrewd sheriff, as they knew, would be too much for them.

It remained to stay with Kate, making excursions through the mountains from

day to day to maintain the pretence of carrying on their own business, and

always at hand in time of need.



It was no easy part to play, for in the house they found Kate more and more

silent, more and more thoughtful, never speaking of her trouble, but behind

her eyes a ghost of waiting that haunted them. If the wind shrilled down

the pass, if a horse neighed from the corral, there was always the start in

her, the thrill of hope, and afterwards the pitiful deadening of her smile.

She was not less beautiful they thought, as she grew paler, but the

terrible silence of the place drove them away time and again. Even Joan no

longer pattered about the house, and when they came down out of the

mountains they never heard her shrill laughter. She sat cross-legged by the

hearth in her old place during the evenings with her chin resting on one

hand and her eyes fixed wistfully upon the fire; and sometimes they found

her on the little hillock behind the house, from the top of which she could

view every approach to the cabin. Of Dan and even of Black Bart, her

playmate she soon learned not to speak, for the mention of them made her

mother shrink and whiten. Indeed, the saddest thing in that house was the

quiet in which the child waited, waited, waited, and never spoke.



"She ain't more'n a baby," said Buck Daniels, "and you can leave it to time

to make her forget."



"But," growled Lee Haines, "Kate isn't a baby. Buck, it drives me damn near

crazy to see her fade this way."



"Now you lay to this," answered Buck. "She'll pull through. She'll never

forget, maybe, but she'll go on livin' for the sake of the kid."



"You know a hell of a lot about women, don't you?" said Haines.



"I know enough, son," nodded Buck.



He had, in fact, reduced women to a few distinct categories, and he only

waited to place a girl in her particular class before he felt quite

intimate acquaintance with her entire mind and soul.



"It'll kill her," pronounced Lee Haines. "Why, she's like a flower, Buck,

and sorrow will cut her off at the root. Think of a girl like that thrown

away in these damned deserts! It makes me sick--sick! She ought to have

nothing but velvet to touch--nothing but a millionaire for a husband, and

never a worry in her life." He grew excited. "But here's the flower thrown

away and the heel crushing it without mercy."



Buck Daniels regarded him with pity.



"I feel kind of sorry for you, Lee, when I hear you talk about girls. No

wonder they make a fool of you. A flower crushed under the foot, eh? You

just listen to me, my boy. You and me figure to be pretty hard, don't we?

Well, soft pine stacked up agin' quartzite, is what we are compared to

Kate."



Lee Haines gaped at him, too astonished to be angry. He suggested softening

of the brain to Buck, but the latter waved aside the implications.



"Now, supposin' Kate was one of these dark girls with eyes like black

diamonds and a lot of snap and zip to her. If she was like that I s'pose

you'd figure her to forget all about Dan inside of a month--and maybe marry

you?"



"You be damned!"



"Maybe I am. Them hard, snappy lookin' girls are the ones that smash.

They're brittle, that's why; but you take a soft lookin' girl like Kate,

maybe she ain't a diamond point to cut glass, but she's tempered steel

that'll bend, and bend, and bend, and then when you wait for it to break it

flips up and knocks you down. That's Kate."



Lee Haines rolled a cigarette in silence. He was too disgusted to answer,

until his first puff of smoke dissolved Buck in a cloud of thin blue.



"You ought to sing to a congregation instead of to cows, Buck. You have the

tune, and you might get by in a church; but cows have sense."



"Kate will buckle and bend and fade for a while," went on Buck, wholly

unperturbed, "but just when you go out to pick daisies for her you'll come

back and find her singing to the stove. Her strength is down deep, like

some of these outlaw hosses that got a filmy, sleepy lookin' eye. They save

their hell till you sink the spurs in 'em. You think she loves Dan, don't

you?"



"I have a faint suspicion of it," sneered Haines. "I suppose I'm wrong?"



"You are."



"Buck, I may have slipped a nickel into you, but you're playing the wrong

tune. Knock off and talk sense, will you?"



"When you grow up, son, you'll understand some of the things I'm tryin' to

explain in words of one syllable.



"She don't love Dan. She thinks she does, but down deep they ain't a damned

thing in the world she gives a rap about exceptin' Joan. Men? What are they

to her? Marriage? That's simply an accident that's needed so she can have a

baby. Delicate, shrinkin' flower, is she? I tell you, my boy, if it was

necessary for Joan she'd tear out your heart and mine and send Dan plumb to

hell. You fasten on to them words, because they're gospel."



It was late afternoon while they talked, and they were swinging slowly down

a gulch towards the home cabin. At that very time Kate, from the door of

the house where she sat, saw a dark form slink from rock to rock at the rim

of the little plateau, a motion so swift that it flicked through the corner

of her eye, a thing to be sensed rather than seen. She set up very stiff,

her lips white as chalk, but nothing more stirred. A few minutes later,

when her heart was beating almost at normal she heard Joan scream from

behind the house, not in terror, or pain, as her keen mother-ear knew

perfectly well, but with a wild delight. She whipped about the corner of

the house and there she saw Joan with her pudgy arms around the neck of

Black Bart.



"Bart! Dear old Bart! Has he come? Has he come?"



And she strained her eyes against the familiar mountains around her as if

she would force her vision through rock. There was no trace of Dan, no sign

or sound when she would even have welcomed the eerie whistle. The wolf-dog

was already at play with Joan. She was on his back and he darted off in an

effortless gallop, winding to and fro among the rocks. Most children would

have toppled among the stones at the first of his swerves, but Joan clung

like a burr, both hands dug into his hair, shrieking with excitement.

Sometimes she reeled and almost slid at one of those lightning turns, for

the game was to almost unseat her, but just as she was sliding off Bart

would slacken his pace and let her find a firm seat once more. They wound

farther and farther away, and suddenly Kate cried, terror-stricken: "Joan!

Come back!"



A tug at the ear of the wolf-dog swung them around; then as they

approached, the fear left the mind of the mother and a new thought came in

its place. She coaxed Joan from Bart--they could play later on, she

promised, to their heart's desire--and led her into the house. Black Bart

followed to the door, but not all their entreaty or scolding could make him

cross the threshold. He merely snarled at Kate, and even Joan's tugging at

his ears could not budge him. He stood canting his head and watching them

wistfully while Kate changed Joan's clothes.



She dressed her as if for a festival, with a blue bonnet that let the

yellow hair curl out from the edges, and a little blue cloak, and shiny

boots incredibly small, and around the bonnet she laid a wreath of yellow

wild flowers. Then she wrote her letter, closed it in an envelope, and

fastened it securely in the pocket of the cloak.



She drew Joan in front of her and held her by both hands.



"Joan, darling," she said, "munner wants you to go with Bart up through the

mountains. Will you be afraid?"



A very decided shake of the head answered her, for Joan's eyes were already

over her shoulder looking towards the big dog. And she was a little sullen

at these unnecessary words.



"It might grow dark," she said. "You wouldn't care?"



Here Joan became a little dubious, but a whine from Bart seemed to reassure

her.



"Bart will keep Joan," she said.



"He will. And he'll take you up through the rocks to Daddy Dan."



The face of the child grew brilliant.



"Daddy Dan?" she whispered.



"And when you get to him, take this little paper out of your pocket and give

it to him. You won't forget?"



"Give the paper to Daddy Dan," repeated Joan solemnly.



Kate dropped to her knees and gathered the little close, close, until Joan

cried out, but when she was eased the child reached up an astonished hand,

touched the face of Kate with awe, and then stared at her finger tips.



A moment later, Joan stood in front of Black Bart, with the head of the

wolf-dog seized firmly between her hands while she frowned intently into

his face.



"Take Joan to Daddy Dan," she ordered.



At the name, the sharp ears pricked; a speaking intelligence grew up in his

eyes.



"Giddap," commanded Joan, when she was in position on the back of Bart. And

she thumped her heels against the furry ribs.



Towards Kate, who stood trembling in the door, Bart cast the departing

favor of a throat-tearing growl, and then shambled across the meadow with

that smooth trot which wears down all other four-footed creatures. He was

already on the far side of the meadow, and beginning the ascent of the

first slope when the glint of the sun on the yellow wild flowers flashed on

the eye of Kate. It had all seemed natural until that moment, the only

possible thing to do, but now she felt suddenly that Joan was thrown away

thought of the darkness which would soon come--remembered the yellow terror

which sometimes gleamed in the eyes of Black Bart after nightfall.



She cried out, but the wolf-dog kept swiftly on his way. She began to run,

still calling, but rapidly as she went, Black Bart slid steadily away from

her, and when she reached the shoulder of the mountain, she saw the dark

form of Bart with the blue patch above it drifting up the wall of the

opposite ravine.



She knew where they were going now; it was the old cave upon which she and

Dan had come one day in their rides, and Dan had prowled for a long time

through the shadowy recesses.





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