Sir Redmond Waits His Answer





Beatrice felt distinctly out of sorts the next day, and chose an hour

for her ride when she felt reasonably secure from unwelcome company. But

when she went out into the sunshine there was Sir Redmond waiting with

Rex and his big gray. Beatrice was not exactly elated at the sight, but

she saw nothing to do but smile and make the best of it. She wanted

to be alone, so that she could dream along through the hills she had

learned to love, and think out some things which troubled her, and

decide just how she had best go about winning Rex for herself; it had

become quite necessary to her peace of mind that she should teach Dick

and Keith Cameron a much-needed lesson.



"It has been so long since we rode together," he apologized. "I hope you

don't mind my coming along."



"Oh, no! Why should I mind?" Beatrice smiled upon him in friendly

fashion. She liked Sir Redmond very much--only she hoped he was

not going to make love. Somehow, she did not feel in the mood for

love-making just then.



"I don't know why, I'm sure. But you seem rather fond of riding about

these hills by yourself. One should never ask why women do things, I

fancy. It seems always to invite disaster."



"Does it?" Beatrice was not half-listening. They were passing, just

then, the suburbs of a "dog town," and she was never tired of watching

the prairie-dogs stand upon their burrows, chip-chip defiance until fear

overtook their impertinence, and then dive headlong deep into the earth.

"I do think a prairie-dog is the most impudent creature alive and the

most shrewish. I never pass but I am scolded by these little scoundrels

till my ears burn. What do you think they say?"



"They're probably inviting you to stop with them and be their queen, and

are scolding because your heart is hard and you only laugh and ride on."



"Queen of a prairie-dog town! Dear me! Why this plaintive mood?"



"Am I plaintive? I do not mean to be, I'm sure."



"You don't appear exactly hilarious," she told him. "I can't see what is

getting the matter with us all. Mama and your sister are poor company,

even for each other, and Dick is like a bear. One can't get a civil word

out of him. I'm not exactly amiable, myself, either; but I relied upon

you to keep the mental temperature up to normal, Sir Redmond."



"Perhaps it's a good thing we shall not stop here much longer. I must

confess I don't fancy the country--and Mary is downright homesick. She

wants to get back to her parish affairs; she's afraid some rheumatic old

woman needs coddling with jelly and wine, and that sort of thing. I've

promised to hurry through the business here, and take her home. But I

mean to see that Pine Ridge fence in place before I go; or, at least,

see it well under way."



"I'm sure Dick will attend to it properly," Beatrice remarked, with pink

cheeks. If she remembered what she had threatened to tell Sir Redmond,

she certainly could not have asked for a better opportunity. She was

reminding herself at that moment that she always detested a tale bearer.



"Your brother Dick is a fine fellow, and I have every confidence in

him; but you must see yourself that he is swayed, more or less, by

his friendship for--his neighbors. It is only a kindness to take the

responsibility off his shoulders till the thing is done. I'm sure he

will feel better to have it so."



"Yes," she agreed; "I think you're right. Dick always was very

soft-hearted, and, right or wrong, he clings to his friends."

Then, rather hastily, as though anxious to change the trend of the

conversation: "Of course, your sister will insist on keeping Dorman with

her. I shall miss that little scamp dreadfully, I'm afraid." The next

minute she saw that she had only opened a subject she dreaded even more.



"It is something to know that there is even one of us that you will

miss," Sir Redmond observed. Something in his tone hurt.



"I shall miss you all," she said hastily. "It has been a delightful

summer."



"I wish I might know just what element made it delightful. I wish--"



"I scarcely think it has been any particular element," she broke in,

trying desperately to stave off what she felt in his tone. "I love the

wild, where I can ride, and ride, and never meet a human being--where

I can dream and dally and feast my eyes on a landscape man has not

touched. I have lived most of my life in New York, and I love nature

so well that I'm inclined to be jealous of her. I want her left free to

work out all her whims in her own way. She has a keen sense of humor, I

think. The way she modeled some of these hills proves that she loves

her little jokes. I have seen where she cut deep, fearsome gashes, with

sides precipitous, as though she had some priceless treasure hidden away

in the deep, where man cannot despoil it. And if you plot and plan,

and try very hard, you may reach the bottom at last and find the

treasure--nothing. Or, perhaps, a tiny little stream, as jealously

guarded as though each drop were priceless."



Sir Richmond rode for a few minutes in silence. When he spoke, it was

abruptly.



"And is that all? Is there nothing to this delightful summer, after all,

but your hills?"



"Oh, of course, I--it has all been delightful. I shall hate to go back

home, I think." Beatrice was a bit startled to find just how much she

would hate to go back and wrap herself once more in the conventions of

society life. For the first time since she could remember, she wanted

her world to stand still.



Sir Redmond went doggedly to the point he had in mind and heart.



"I hoped, Beatrice, you would count me, too. I've tried to be patient.

You know, don't you, that I love you?"



"You've certainly told me often enough," she retorted, in a miserable

attempt at her old manner.



"And you've put me off, and laughed at me, and did everything under

heaven but answer me fairly. And I've acted the fool, no doubt. I know

it. I've no courage before a woman. A curl of your lip, and I was ready

to cut and run. But I can't go on this way forever--I've got to know.

I wish I could talk as easy as I can fight; I'd have settled the thing

long ago. Where other men can plead their cause, I can say just the one

thing--I love you, Beatrice. When I saw you first, in the carriage I

loved you then. You had some fur--brown fur--snuggled under your chin,

and the pink of your cheeks, and your dear, brown eyes shining and

smiling above--Good God! I've always loved you! From the beginning of

the world, I think! I'd be good to you, Beatrice, and I believe I could

make you happy--if you give me the chance."



Something in Beatrice's throat ached cruelly. It was the truth, and she

knew it. He did love her, and the love of a brave man is not a thing

to be thrust lightly aside. But it demanded such a lot in return!

More, perhaps, than she could give. A love like that--a love that gives

everything--demands everything in return. Anything less insults it.



She stole a glance at him. Sir Redmond was looking straight before him,

with the fixed gaze that sees nothing. There was the white line around

his mouth which Beatrice had seen once before. Again that griping ache

was in her throat, till she could have cried out with the pain of it.

She wanted to speak, to say something--anything--which would drive that

look from his face.



While her mind groped among the jumble of words that danced upon her

tongue, and that seemed, all of them, so pitifully weak and inadequate,

she heard the galloping hoofs of a horse pounding close behind. A

choking cloud of dust swept down upon them, and Keith, riding in the

midst, reined out to pass. He lifted his hat. His eyes challenged

Beatrice, swept coldly the face of her companion, and turned again to

the trail. He swung his heels backward, and Redcloud broke again into

the tireless lope that carried him far ahead, until there was only a

brown dot speeding over the prairie.



Sir Redmond waited until Keith was far beyond hearing, then he filled

his lungs deeply and looked at Beatrice. "Don't you feel you could trust

me--and love me a little?"



Beatrice was deadly afraid she was going to cry, and she hated weeping

women above all things. "A little wouldn't do," she said, with what

firmness she could muster. "I should want to love you as much--quite as

much as you deserve, Sir Redmond, or not at all. I'm afraid I can't. I

wish I could, though. I--I think I should like to love you; but perhaps

I haven't much heart. I like you very much--better than I ever liked

any one before; but oh, I wish you wouldn't insist on an answer! I don't

know, myself, how I feel. I wish you had not asked me--yet. I tried not

to let you."



"A man can keep his heart still for a certain time, Beatrice, but not

for always. Some time he will say what his heart commands, if the

chance is given him; the woman can't hold him back. I did wait and wait,

because I thought you weren't ready for me to speak. And--you don't care

for anybody else?"



"Of course I don't. But I hate to give up my freedom to any one, Sir

Redmond. I want to be free--free as the wind that blows here always,

and changes and changes, and blows from any point that suits its whim,

without being bound to any rule."



"Do you think I'm an ogre, that will lock you in a dungeon, Beatrice?

Can't you see that I am not threatening your freedom? I only want the

right to love you, and make you happy. I should not ask you to go or

stay where you did not please, and I'd be good to you, Beatrice!"



"I don't think it would matter," cried Beatrice, "if you weren't. I

should love you because I couldn't help myself. I hate doing things by

rule, I tell you. I couldn't care for you because you were good to me,

and I ought to care; it must be because I can't help myself. And I--"

She stopped and shut her teeth hard together; she felt sure she should

cry in another minute if this went on.



"I believe you do love me, Beatrice, and your rebellious young American

nature dreads surrender." He tried to look into her eyes and smile,

but she kept her eyes looking straight ahead. Then Sir Redmond made

the biggest blunder of his life, out of the goodness of his heart, and

because he hated to tease her into promising anything.



"I won't ask you to tell me now, Beatrice," he said gently. "I want you

to be sure; I never could forgive myself if you ever felt you had made a

mistake. A week from to-night I shall ask you once more--and it will be

for the last time. After that--But I won't think--I daren't think what

it would be like if you say no. Will you tell me then, Beatrice?"



The heart of Beatrice jumped into her throat. At that minute she was

very near to saying yes, and having done with it. She was quite sure she

knew, then, what her answer would be in a week. The smile she gave him

started Sir Redmond's blood to racing exultantly. Her lips parted a

little, as if a word were there, ready to be spoken; but she caught

herself back from the decision. Sir Redmond had voluntarily given her a

week; well, then, she would take it, to the last minute.



"Yes, I'll tell you a week from to-night, after dinner. I'll race you



home, Sir Redmond--the first one through the big gate by the stable

wins!" She struck Rex a blow that made him jump, and darted off down

the trail that led home, and her teasing laugh was the last Sir Redmond

heard of her that day; for she whipped into a narrow gulch when the

first turn hid her from him, and waited until he had thundered by. After

that she rode complacently, deep into the hills, wickedly pleased at the

trick she had played him.



Every day during the week that followed she slipped away from him and

rode away by herself, resolved to enjoy her freedom to the full while

she had it; for after that, she felt, things would never be quite the

same.



Every day, when Dick had chance for a quiet word with her, he wanted

to know who owned Rex--till at last she lost her temper and told him

plainly that, in her opinion, Keith Cameron had left the country for

two reasons, instead of one. (For Keith, be it known, had not been seen

since the day he passed her and Sir Redmond on the trail.) Beatrice

averred that she had a poor opinion of a man who would not stay and face

whatever was coming.



There was just one day left in her week of freedom, and Dick still owned

Rex, with the chances all in his favor for continuing to do so. Still,

Beatrice was vindictively determined upon one point. Let Keith Cameron

cross her path, and she would do something she had never done before;

she would deliberately lead him on to propose--if the fellow had nerve

enough to do so, which, she told Dick, she doubted.





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