For Once At Least Lite Had His Way





Half a mile she galloped, and met Lite coming home. She glanced over

her shoulder before she pulled Pard down to a walk, and Lite's

greeting, as he turned and rode alongside her, was a question. He

wanted to know what was the matter with her. He listened with his old

manner of repression while she told him, and he made no comment

whatever until she had finished.



"You must have made him pretty sore," he said dispassionately. "I

don't think myself that you ought to stay over to the ranch alone. Why

don't you do as he says?"



"And go back to the Bar Nothing?" Jean shivered a little. "Nothing

could make me go back there! Lite, you don't understand. He acted like

a crazy man; and I hadn't said anything to stir him up like that. He

was--Lite, he scared me! I couldn't stay on the ranch with him. I

couldn't be in the same room with him."



"You can't go on staying at the Lazy A," Lite told her flatly.



"There's no other place where I'd stay."



"You could," Lite pointed out, "stay in town and go back and forth with

the rest of the bunch. It would be a lot better, any way you look at

it."



"It would be a lot worse. There's my book; I wouldn't have any chance

to write on that. And there's the expense. I'm saving every nickel I

possibly can, Lite, and you know what for. And there's the bunch--I

see enough of them during working hours. I'd go crazy if I had to live

with them. Lite, they've put me in playing leads! I'm to get a

hundred dollars a week! Just think of that! And Burns says that I'll

have to go back to Los Angeles with them when they go this fall,

because the contract I signed lasts for a year."



She sighed. "I rode over to tell you about it. It seemed to be good

news, when I left home. But now, it's just a part of the black tangle

that life's made up of. Aunt Ella started things off by telling me

what a disgrace it is for me to work in these pictures. And Uncle

Carl--" She shivered in spite of herself. "I just can't understand

Uncle Carl's going into such a rage. It was--awful."



Lite rode for some distance before he lifted his head or spoke. Then

he looked at Jean, who was staring straight ahead and seeing nothing

save what her thoughts pictured.



He did not say a word about her going to Los Angeles.



He was the bottled-up type; the things that hit him hardest he seldom

mentioned, so by that rule it might be inferred that her going hit

hard. But his voice was normally calm, and his tone was the tone of

authority, which Jean knew very well, and which nearly always amused

her because she firmly believed it to be utterly useless.



He said in the tone of an ultimatum: "If you're bound to stay at the

ranch, you've got to have somebody with you. I'll ride in and get

Hepsy Atwood in the morning. You're getting thin. I don't believe you

take time to cook enough to eat. You can't work on soda crackers and

sardines. The old lady won't charge much to come and stay with you.

I'll come over after I'm through work to-morrow and help her get things

looking a little more like living."



"You'll do nothing of the sort." Jean looked at him mutinously. "I'm

all right just as I am. I won't have her, Lite. That's settled."



"Sure, it's settled," Lite agreed, with more than his usual

pertinacity. "I'll have her out here by noon, and a supply of real

grub. How are you fixed for bedding?"



"I won't have her, I tell you. You're always trying to make me do

things I won't do. Don't be silly."



"Sure not." Lite shifted in the saddle with the air of a man who rides

at perfect ease with himself and with the world. "She'll likely have

plenty of bedding of her own," he meditated, after a brief silence.



"Lite, if you haul Hepsibah out here, I'll send her back!"



"I'll haul her out," said Lite in a tone of finality, "but you won't

send her back." He paused. "She ain't much protection, maybe," he

remarked somewhat enigmatically, "but it'll beat staying alone nights.

You--you can't tell who might come prowling around the place."



"What do you mean? Do you know about--" Jean caught herself on the

verge of betrayal.



"You want to keep your gun handy. Just on general principles," Lite

remonstrated. "You can't tell; it's away off from everywhere."



"I won't have Hepsy Atwood. Haven't I enough to drive me mad, without

her?"



"Is there anybody else that you'd rather have?" Lite looked at her

speculatively.



"No, there isn't. I won't have anybody. It would be a nuisance having

some old lady in the house gabbling and gossiping. I'm not the least

bit afraid, except,--I'm not afraid, and I like to be alone. I won't

have her, Lite."



Lite said no more about it until they reached the house, huddled

lonesomely against the barren bluff, its windows staring black into the

dusk. Jean did not seem to expect Lite to dismount, but he did not

wait to see what she expected him to do. In his most matter-of-fact

manner he dismounted and turned his horse, still saddled, into the

stable with Pard. He preceded Jean up the path, and went into the

kitchen ahead of her; lighted a match and found the lamp, and set its

flame to brightening the dingy room.



Jean had not done much in the way of making that part of the house more

attractive. She used the kitchen to cook in, because the stove was

there, and the dishes. She had spread an old braided rug over the

brown stain on the floor, and she ate in her own room with the door

shut.



Without being told, Lite seemed to know all about her secret aversion

to the kitchen. He took up the lamp and went now on a tour of

inspection through the house. Jean followed him, wondering a little,

and thinking that this was the way that mysterious stranger came and

prowled at night, except that he must have used matches to light the

way, or a candle, since the lamp seemed never to be disturbed. Lite

went into all the rooms and held the lamp so that its brightness

searched out all the corners. He looked into the small, stuffy

closets. He stood in the middle of her father's room and seemed to

meditate deeply, while Jean stood in the doorway and watched him

inquiringly. He came back finally to the kitchen and looked into the

cupboard, as though he was taking an inventory of her supply of

provisions.



"You might cook me some supper, Jean," he said, when he had put the

lamp on the table. "I see you've got eggs and bacon. I'm pretty

hungry,--for a man that had his dinner six or seven hours ago."



Jean cooked supper, and they ate together in the kitchen. It did not

seem so gruesome with Lite there, and she told him some funny things

that had happened in her work, and mimicked Robert Grant Burns with an

accuracy of manner and tone that would have astonished that pompous

person a good deal and flattered him not at all. She almost recovered

her spirits under the stimulus of Lite's presence, and she quite forgot

that he had threatened her with Hepsibah Atwood.



But when he had wiped the dishes and had taken up his hat to go, Lite

proved how tenaciously his mind could hold to an idea, and how even

Jean could not quite match him for stubbornness.



"That mattress in the little bedroom looks all right," he said. "I'll

pack it outside before I go, so it will have all day to-morrow out in

the sun. I'll have Hepsy bring her own bedding. Well--so long."



Jean would have sworn in perfect good faith that Lite led his horse out

of the stable, mounted it, and rode away to the Bar Nothing. He did

mount and ride away as far as the mouth of the coulee. But that night

he spent in the loft over the shop, and he did not sleep five minutes

during the night. Most of the time he spent leaning against his rolled

bedding, smoking and gazing at the silent house where Jean slept. You

may interpret that as you will.



Jean did not see or hear anything more of him, until about four o'clock

the next afternoon, when he drove calmly up to the house and deposited

Hepsibah Atwood upon the kitchen steps. He did not wait for Jean to

order them away. He hurried the unloading, released the wagon brake,

and drove off. So Jean, coming from the spring behind the house,

really got her first sight of him as he went rattling down to the gate.



Jean stood and looked after him, twitched her shoulders in a mental

yielding of the point for the time being, and said "How-da-do" to the

old lady.



She was not so old, as years go; fifty-five or thereabouts. And she

could have whispered into Lite's ear without standing on her toes or

asking him to bend his head. Lite was a tall man, at that. She had

gray hair that was frizzy around her brows and at the back of her neck,

and she had an Irish disposition without the brogue to go with it.



The first thing she did was to find an axe and chop a lot of

fence-posts into firewood, as easily as Lite himself could have done

it, and in other ways proceeded to make herself very much at home. The

next day she dipped the spring almost dry, and used up all the soap in

the house; and for three days went around with her skirts tucked up and

her arms bare and the soles of her shoes soggy from wet floors. Jean

kept out of her way, but she owned to herself that, after all, it was

not unpleasant to come home tired and not have to cook a solitary

supper and eat it in silent meditation.



The third night after Hepsy's arrival, Jean awoke to hear a man's

furtive footsteps in her father's room. This was the fifth time that

the prowler had come in the night, and custom had dulled her fear a

little. She had not reached the point yet of getting up to see who it

was and what he wanted. It was much easier to lie perfectly still with

her six-shooter gripped in her hand and wait for him to go. Beyond

stealthily trying her door and finding it fastened on the inside, he

had never shown any disposition to invade her room.



To-night was as all other nights when he came and made that mysterious

search, until he went into the little bedroom where slept Hepsibah

Atwood. Jean listened to the faint creaking of old boards which told

her that he was approaching Hepsy's room, and she wondered if Hepsy

would hear him. Hepsy did hear him. There was a squeak of the old

bedstead that told how a hundred and seventy-two pounds of indignant

womanhood was rising to do battle.



"Who's that? Git outa here, or I'll smash you!" There was no fear but

a great deal of determination in Hepsy's voice, and there was the sound

of her bare feet spatting on the floor.



The man's footsteps retreated hurriedly. Jean heard the kitchen door

open and slam shut with a shrill squeal of its rusty hinges, and the

sound of a man running down the path. She heard Hepsy muttering

threats while she followed to the door and looked out, and she heard

the muttering continue while Hepsy returned to bed.



It was very comforting. Jean tucked her gun under her pillow, laughed

to herself for having shuddered under the blankets at the sound of a

man so easily put to flight, and went to sleep feeling quite secure and

for the first time really glad that Hepsibah Atwood was in the house.



She listened the next morning to Hepsy's colorful account of the

affair, but she did not tell Hepsy that the man had been there before.

She did not even tell her that she had heard the disturbance, and was

lying with her gun in her hand ready to shoot if he came into her room.

For a girl as frank and outspoken as was Jean, she had almost as great

a talent as Lite for holding her tongue.





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