The Happy Girl





The stage line which ran from Williams to Bear Tooth (one of the most

authentic then to be found in all the West) possessed at least one

genuine Concord coach, so faded, so saddened, so cracked, and so

splintered that its passengers entered it under protest, and alighted

from it with thanksgiving, and yet it must have been built by honorable

men, for in 190- it still made the run of one hundred and twenty miles

twice each week without loss of wheel or even so much as moulting a scrap

of paint.



And yet, whatever it may have been in its youth, it was in its age no

longer a gay dash of color in the landscape. On the contrary, it fitted

into the dust-brown and sage-green plain as defensively as a beetle in a

dusty path. Nevertheless, it was an indispensable part of a very moving

picture as it crept, creaking and groaning (or it may be it was the

suffering passenger creaking and groaning), along the hillside.



After leaving the Grande River the road winds up a pretty high divide

before plunging down into Ute Park, as they call all that region lying

between the Continental Range on the east and the Bear Tooth plateau on

the west. It was a big spread of land, and very far from an Eastern man's

conception of a park. From Dome Peak it seems a plain; but, in fact, when

clouds shut off the high summits to the west, this "valley" becomes a

veritable mountain land, a tumbled, lonely country, over which an

occasional horseman crawls, a minute but persistent insect. It is, to be

exact, a succession of ridges and ravines, sculptured (in some far-off,

post-glacial time) by floods of water, covered now, rather sparsely, with

pinons, cedars, and aspens, a dry, forbidding, but majestic landscape.



In late August the hills become iridescent, opaline with the translucent

yellow of the aspen, the coral and crimson of the fire-weed, the

blood-red of huckleberry beds, and the royal purple of the asters, while

flowing round all, as solvent and neutral setting, lies the gray-green of

the ever-present and ever-enduring sage-brush. On the loftier heights

these colors are arranged in most intricate and cunning patterns, with

nothing hard, nothing flaring in the prospect. All is harmonious and

restful. It is, moreover, silent, silent as a dream world, and so flooded

with light that the senses ache with the stress of it.



Through this gorgeous land of mist, of stillness, and of death, a few

years ago a pale young man (seated beside the driver) rode one summer day

in a voiceless rapture which made Bill McCoy weary.



"If you'd had as much of this as I have you'd talk of something else," he

growled, after a half dozen attempts at conversation. Bill wasn't much to

look at, but he was a good driver and the stranger respected him for it.



Eventually this simple-minded horseman became curious about the slim

young fellow sitting beside him.



"What you doing out here, anyhow--fishing or just rebuilding a lung?"



"Rebuilding two lungs," answered the tourist.



"Well, this climate will just about put lungs into a coffee-can,"

retorted Bill, with official loyalty to his country.



To his discerning eye "the tourist" now became "a lunger." "Where do you

live when you're to home?"



"Connecticut."



"I knew it."



"How did you know it?" The youth seemed really interested to know.



"I drove another fellow up here last fall that dealt out the same kind of

brogue you do."



This amused the tourist. "You think I have a 'brogue,' do you?"



"I don't think it--I know it!" Bill replied, shortly.



He was prevented at the moment from pursuing this line of inquiry by the

discovery of a couple of horsemen racing from a distant ranch toward the

road. It was plain, even to the stranger, that they intended to intercept

the stage, and Bill plied the lash with sudden vigor.



"I'll give 'em a chase," said he, grimly.



The other appeared a little alarmed, "What are they--bandits?"



"Bandits!" sneered Bill. "Your eyesight is piercing. Them's girls."



The traveler apologized. "My eyes aren't very good," he said, hurriedly.



He was, however, quite justified in his mistake, for both riders wore

wide-rimmed sombreros and rode astride at a furious pace, bandanas

fluttering, skirts streaming, and one was calling in shrill command, "OH,

BILL!"



As they neared the gate the driver drew up with a word of surprise. "Why,

howdy, girls, howdy!" he said, with an assumption of innocence. "Were you

wishin' fer to speak to me?"



"Oh, shut up!" commanded one of the girls, a round-faced, freckled romp.

"You know perfectly well that Berrie is going home to-day--we told you

all about it yesterday."



"Sure thing!" exclaimed Bill. "I'd forgot all about it."



"Like nothin'!" exclaimed the maid. "You've been countin' the hours till

you got here--I know you."



Meanwhile her companion had slipped from her horse. "Well, good-by,

Molly, wish I could stay longer."



"Good-by. Run down again."



"I will. You come up."



The young passenger sprang to the ground and politely said: "May I help

you in?"



Bill stared, the girl smiled, and her companion called: "Be careful,

Berrie, don't hurt yourself, the wagon might pitch."



The youth, perceiving that he had made another mistake, stammered an

apology.



The girl perceived his embarrassment and sweetly accepted his hand. "I am

much obliged, all the same."



Bill shook with malicious laughter. "Out in this country girls are

warranted to jump clean over a measly little hack like this," he

explained.



The girl took a seat in the back corner of the dusty vehicle, and Bill

opened conversation with her by asking what kind of a time she had been

having "in the East."



"Fine," said she.



"Did ye get as far back as my old town?"



"What town is that, Bill?"



"Oh, come off! You know I'm from Omaha."



"No, I only got as far as South Bend."



The picture which the girl had made as she dashed up to the pasture gate

(her hat-rim blown away from her brown face and sparkling eyes), united

with the kindliness in her voice as she accepted his gallant aid, entered

a deep impression on the tourist's mind; but he did not turn his head to

look at her--perhaps he feared Bill's elbow quite as much as his

guffaw--but he listened closely, and by listening learned that she had

been "East" for several weeks, and also that she was known, and favorably

known, all along the line, for whenever they met a team or passed a ranch

some one called out, "Hello, Berrie!" in cordial salute, and the men, old

and young, were especially pleased to see her.





Meanwhile the stage rose and fell over the gigantic swells like a tiny

boat on a monster sea, while the sun blazed ever more fervently from the

splendid sky, and the hills glowed with ever-increasing tumult of color.

Through this land of color, of repose, of romance, the young traveler

rode, drinking deep of the germless air, feeling that the girl behind him

was a wondrous part of this wild and unaccountable country.



He had no chance to study her face again till the coach rolled down the

hill to "Yancy's," where they were to take dinner and change horses.



Yancy's ranch-house stood on the bank of a fine stream which purled--in

keen defiance of the hot sun--over a gravel bed, so near to the mountain

snows that their coolness still lingered in the ripples. The house, a

long, low, log hut, was fenced with antlers of the elk, adorned with

morning-glory vines, and shaded by lofty cottonwood-trees, and its green

grass-plat--after the sun-smit hills of the long morning's ride--was very

grateful to the Eastern man's eyes.



With intent to show Bill that he did not greatly fear his smiles, the

youth sprang down and offered a hand to assist his charming

fellow-passenger to alight; and she, with kindly understanding, again

accepted his aid--to Bill's chagrin--and they walked up the path side by

side.



"This is all very new and wonderful to me," the young man said in

explanation; "but I suppose it's quite commonplace to you--and Bill."



"Oh no--it's home!"



"You were born here?"



"No, I was born in the East; but I've lived here ever since I was three

years old."



"By East you mean Kansas?"



"No, Missouri," she laughed back at him.



She was taller than most women, and gave out an air of fine unconscious

health which made her good to see, although her face was too broad to be

pretty. She smiled easily, and her teeth were white and even. Her hand he

noticed was as strong as steel and brown as leather. Her neck rose from

her shoulders like that of an acrobat, and she walked with the sense of

security which comes from self-reliant strength.



She was met at the door by old lady Yancy, who pumped her hand up and

down, exclaiming: "My stars, I'm glad to see ye back! 'Pears like the

country is just naturally goin' to the dogs without you. The dance last

Saturday was a frost, so I hear, no snap to the fiddlin', no gimp to the

jiggin'. It shorely was pitiful."



Yancy himself, tall, grizzled, succinct, shook her hand in his turn.

"Ma's right, girl, the country needs ye. I'm scared every time ye go away

fer fear some feller will snap ye up."



She laughed. "No danger. Well, how are ye all, anyway?" she asked.



"All well, 'ceptin' me," said the little old woman. "I'm just about able

to pick at my vittles."



"She does her share o' the work, and half the cook's besides,"

volunteered Yancy.



"I know her," retorted Berrie, as she laid off her hat. "It's me for a

dip. Gee, but it's dusty on the road!"



The young tourist--he signed W. W. Norcross in Yancy's register--watched

her closely and listened to every word she spoke with an intensity of

interest which led Mrs. Yancy to say, privately:



"'Pears like that young 'lunger' ain't goin' to forgit you if he can help

it."



"What makes you think he's a 'lunger'?"



"Don't haf to think. One look at him is enough."



Thereafter a softer light--the light of pity--shone in the eyes of the

girl. "Poor fellow, he does look kind o' peaked; but this climate will

bring him up to the scratch," she added, with optimistic faith in her

beloved hills.



A moment later the down-coming stage pulled in, loaded to the side-lines,

and everybody on it seemed to know Berea McFarlane. It was hello here and

hello there, and how are ye between, with smacks from the women and open

cries of "pass it around" on the part of the men, till Norcross marveled

at the display.



"She seems a great favorite," he observed to Yancy.



"Who--Berrie? She's the whole works up at Bear Tooth. Good thing she

don't want to go to Congress--she'd lay Jim Worthy on the shelf."



Berea's popularity was not so remarkable as her manner of receiving it.

She took it all as a sort of joke--a good, kindly joke. She shook hands

with her male admirers, and smacked the cheeks of her female friends with

an air of modest deprecation. "Oh, you don't mean it," was one of her

phrases. She enjoyed this display of affection, but it seemed not to

touch her deeply, and her impartial, humorous acceptance of the courtship

of the men was equally charming, though this was due, according to

remark, to the claims of some rancher up the line.



She continued to be the theme of conversation at the dinner-table and yet

remained unembarrassed, and gave back quite as good as she received.



"If I was Cliff," declared one lanky admirer, "I'd be shot if I let you

out of my sight. It ain't safe."



She smiled broadly. "I don't feel scared."



"Oh, you're all right! It's the other feller--like me--that gets

hurt."



"Don't worry, you're old enough and tough enough to turn a steel-jacketed

bullet."



This raised a laugh, and Mrs. Yancy, who was waiting on the table, put in

a word: "I'll board ye free, Berrie, if you'll jest naturally turn up

here regular at meal-time. You do take the fellers' appetites. It's the

only time I make a cent."



To the Eastern man this was all very unrestrained and deeply diverting.

The people seemed to know all about one another notwithstanding the fact

that they came from ranches scattered up and down the stage line twenty,

thirty miles apart--to be neighbors in this country means to be anywhere

within a sixty-mile ride--and they gossiped of the countryside as

minutely as the residents of a village in Wisconsin discuss their kind.

News was scarce.



The north-bound coach got away first, and as the girl came out to take

her place, Norcross said: "Won't you have my seat with the driver?"



She dropped her voice humorously. "No, thank you, I can't stand for

Bill's clack."



Norcross understood. She didn't relish the notion of being so close to

the frankly amorous driver, who neglected no opportunity to be personal;

therefore, he helped her to her seat inside and resumed his place in

front.



Bill, now broadly communicative, minutely detailed his tastes in food,

horses, liquors, and saddles in a long monologue which would have been

tiresome to any one but an imaginative young Eastern student. Bill had a

vast knowledge of the West, but a distressing habit of repetition. He was

self-conscious, too, for the reason that he was really talking for the

benefit of the girl sitting in critical silence behind him, who, though

he frequently turned to her for confirmation of some of the more

startling of his statements, refused to be drawn into controversy.



In this informing way some ten miles were traversed, the road climbing

ever higher, and the mountains to right and left increasing in grandeur

each hour, till of a sudden and in a deep valley on the bank of another

swift stream, they came upon a squalid saloon and a minute post-office.

This was the town of Moskow.



Bill, lumbering down over the wheel, took a bag of mail from the boot and

dragged it into the cabin. The girl rose, stretched herself, and said:

"This stagin' is slow business. I'm cramped. I'm going to walk on

ahead."



"May I go with you?" asked Norcross.



"Sure thing! Come along."



As they crossed the little pole bridge which spanned the flood, the

tourist exclaimed: "What exquisite water! It's like melted opals."



"Comes right down from the snow," she answered, impressed by the poetry

of his simile.



He would gladly have lingered, listening to the song of the water, but as

she passed on, he followed. The opposite hill was sharp and the road

stony, but as they reached the top the young Easterner called out, "See

the savins!"



Before them stood a grove of cedars, old, gray, and drear, as weirdly

impressive as the cacti in a Mexican desert. Torn by winds, scarred by

lightnings, deeply rooted, tenacious as tradition, unlovely as Egyptian

mummies, fantastic, dwarfed and blackened, these unaccountable creatures

clung to the ledges. The dead mingled horribly with the living, and when

the wind arose--the wind that was robustly cheerful on the high

hills--these hags cried out with low moans of infinite despair. It was as

if they pleaded for water or for deliverance from a life that was a kind

of death.



The pale young man shuddered. "What a ghostly place!" he exclaimed, in a

low voice. "It seems the burial-place of a vanished race."



Something in his face, some note in his voice profoundly moved the girl.

For the first time her face showed something other than childish good

nature and a sense of humor. "I don't like these trees myself," she

answered. "They look too much like poor old squaws."



For a few moments the man and the maid studied the forest of immemorial,

gaunt, and withered trees--bright, impermanent youth confronting

time-defaced and wind-torn age. Then the girl spoke: "Let's get out of

here. I shall cry if we don't."



In a few moments the dolorous voices were left behind, and the cheerful

light of the plain reasserted itself. Norcross, looking back down upon

the cedars, which at a distance resembled a tufted, bronze-green carpet,

musingly asked: "What do you suppose planted those trees there?"



The girl was deeply impressed by the novelty of this query. "I never

thought to ask. I reckon they just grew."



"No, there's a reason for all these plantings," he insisted.



"We don't worry ourselves much about such things out here," she replied,

with charming humor. "We don't even worry about the weather. We just take

things as they come."



They walked on talking with new intimacy. "Where is your home?" he

asked.



"A few miles out of Bear Tooth. You're from the East, Bill says--'the far

East,' we call it."



"From New Haven. I've just finished at Yale. Have you ever been to New

York?"



"Oh, good Lord, no!" she answered, as though he had named the ends of the

earth. "My mother came from the South--she was born in Kentucky--that

accounts for my name, and my father is a Missourian. Let's see, Yale is

in the state of Connecticut, isn't it?"



"Connecticut is no longer a state; it is only a suburb of New York

City."



"Is that so? My geography calls it 'The Nutmeg State.'"



"Your geography is behind the times. New York has absorbed all of

Connecticut and part of Jersey."



"Well, it's all the same to us out here. Your whole country looks like

the small end of a slice of pie to us."



"Have you ever been in a city?"



"Oh yes, I go to Denver once in a while, and I saw St. Louis once; but I

was only a yearling, and don't remember much about it. What are you doing

out here, if it's a fair question?"



He looked away at the mountains. "I got rather used up last spring, and

my doctor said I'd better come out here for a while and build up. I'm

going up to Meeker's Mill. Do you know where that is?"



"I know every stove-pipe in this park," she answered. "Joe Meeker is kind

o' related to me--uncle by marriage. He lives about fifteen miles over

the hill from Bear Tooth."



This fact seemed to bring them still closer together. "I'm glad of that,"

he said, pointedly. "Perhaps I shall be permitted to see you now and

again? I'm going to be lonesome for a while, I'm afraid."



"Don't you believe it! Joe Meeker's boys will keep you interested," she

assured him.



The stage overtook them at this point, and Bill surlily remarked: "If

you'd been alone, young feller, I'd 'a' give you a chase." His resentment

of the outsider's growing favor with the girl was ludicrously evident.



As they rose into the higher levels the aspen shook its yellowish leaves

in the breeze, and the purple foot-hills gained in majesty. Great new

peaks came into view on the right, and the lofty cliffs of the Bear Tooth

range loomed in naked grandeur high above the blue-green of the pines

which clothed their sloping eastern sides.



At intervals the road passed small log ranches crouching low on the banks

of creeks; but aside from these--and the sparse animal life around

them--no sign of settlement could be seen. The valley lay as it had lain

for thousands of years, repeating its forests as the meadows of the lower

levels send forth their annual grasses. Norcross said to himself: "I have

circled the track of progress and have re-entered the border America,

where the stage-coach is still the one stirring thing beneath the sun."



At last the driver, with a note of exultation, called out: "Grab a root,

everybody, it's all the way down-hill and time to feed."



And so, as the dusk came over the mighty spread of the hills to the east,

and the peaks to the west darkened from violet to purple-black, the stage

rumbled and rattled and rushed down the winding road through thickening

signs of civilization, and just at nightfall rolled into the little town

of Bear Tooth, which is the eastern gateway of the Ute Plateau.



Norcross had given a great deal of thought to the young girl behind him,

and thought had deepened her charm. Her frankness, her humor, her superb

physical strength and her calm self-reliance appealed to him, and the

more dangerously, because he was so well aware of his own weakness and

loneliness, and as the stage drew up before the hotel, he fervently said:

"I hope I shall see you again?"



Before she could reply a man's voice called: "Hello, there!" and a tall

fellow stepped up to her with confident mien.



Norcross awkwardly shrank away. This was her cowboy lover, of course. It

was impossible that so attractive a girl should be unattached, and the

knowledge produced in him a faint but very definite pang of envy and

regret.



The happy girl, even in the excitement of meeting her lover, did not

forget the stranger. She gave him her hand in parting, and again he

thrilled to its amazing power. It was small, but it was like a steel

clamp. "Stop in on your way to Meeker's," she said, as a kindly man would

have done. "You pass our gate. My father is Joseph McFarlane, the Forest

Supervisor. Good night."



"Good night," he returned, with sincere liking.



"Who is that?" Norcross heard her companion ask.



She replied in a low voice, but he overheard her answer, "A poor

'lunger,' bound for Meeker's--and Kingdom Come, I'm afraid. He seems a

nice young feller, too."



"They always wait till the last minute," remarked the rancher, with

indifferent tone.





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