The ranch at the wolveri.., p.1
The Ranch at the Wolverine, p.1B. M. Bower / Western
Produced by Al Haines
THE RANCH AT
By B. M. BOWER
Author of "The Lonesome Land," Etc.
A. L. BURT COMPANY, PUBLISHERS
114-120 East Twenty-third Street ---- New York
Published by Arrangement with Little, Brown and Company
BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.
_All rights reserved_
I. LET US START AT THE BEGINNING II. A STORM AND A STRANGER III. A BOOK, A BANNOCK, AND A BED IV. "OLD DAME FORTUNE'S USED ME FOR A FOOTBALL" V. MARTHY BURIES HER DEAD AND GREETS HER NEPHEW VI. A MATTER OF TWELVE MONTHS OR SO VII. WARD HUNTS WOLVES VIII. HELP FOR THE COW BUSINESS IX. WHEN EMOTIONS ARE BOTTLED X. THIS PAL BUSINESS XI. WAS IT THE DOG? XII. THE LITTLE DEVILS OF DOUBT XIII. THE CORRAL IN THE CANYON XIV. EACH IN HIS OWN TRAIL XV. "YOU WON'T GET ME AGAIN" XVI. "I'M GOING TO TAKE YOU OUT AND HANG YOU" XVII. "SO-LONG, BUCK!" XVIII. FORTUNE KICKS AGAIN XIX. THE BRAVE BUCKAROO XX. "WE BEEN SORRY FOR YOU" XXI. SEVEN LEAN KINE XXII. THE BILLY OF HER XXIII. BILLY LOUISE GETS A SURPRISE XXIV. THE HOOKIN'-COUGH MAN XXV. THE WOLF JOKE XXVI. "HM-MM!" XXVII. MARTHY XXVIII. ALL RIGHT AND COMFY
_The Ranch at the Wolverine_
LET US START AT THE BEGINNING
Four trail-worn oxen, their necks bowed to the yoke of patientservitude, should really begin this story. But to follow the trailthey made would take several chapters which you certainly wouldskip--unless you like to hear the tale of how the wilderness was tamedand can thrill at the stern history of those who did the taming whilethey fought to keep their stomachs fairly well filled with food andtheir hard-muscled bodies fit for the fray.
There was a woman, low-browed, uncombed, harsh of voice and speech andnature, who drove the four oxen forward over lava rock and roughprairie and the scanty sage. I might tell you a great deal aboutMarthy, who plodded stolidly across the desert and the low-lying hillsalong the Blackfoot; and of her weak-souled, shiftless husband whom shecalled Jase, when she did not call him worse.
They were the pioneers whose lurching wagon first forded the singingWolverine stream just where it greens the tiny valley and then slipsbetween huge lava-rock ledges to join the larger stream. Jase wouldhave stopped there and called home the sheltered little green spot inthe gray barrenness. But Marthy went on, up the farther hill andacross the upland, another full day's journey with the sweating oxen.
They camped that night on another little, singing stream, in anotherlittle valley, which was not so level or so green or so wholly pleasingto the eye. And that night two of the oxen, impelled by a surerinstinct than their human owners, strayed away down a narrow, windinggorge and so discovered the Cove and feasted upon its rich grasses. Itwas Marthy who went after them and who recognized the little, hiddenEden as the place of her dreams--supposing she ever had dreams. SoMarthy and Jase and the four oxen took possession, and with much laborand many hard years for the woman, and with the same number of yearsand as little labor as he could manage on the man's part, they tamedthe Cove and made it a beauty spot in that wild land. A beauty spot,though their lives held nothing but treadmill toil and harsh words anda mental horizon narrowed almost to the limits of the grim, gray, rockwall that surrounded them.
Another sturdy-souled couple came afterwards and saw the Wolverine andmade for themselves a home upon its banks. And in the rough little logcabin was born the girl-child I want you to meet; a girl-child when sheshould have been a boy to meet her father's need and great desire; agirl-child whose very name was a compromise between the parents. Forthey called her Billy for sake of the boy her father wanted, and Louisefor the girl her mother had longed for to lighten that terribleloneliness which the far frontier brings to the women who brave itsstern emptiness.
Do you like children? In other words, are you human? Then I want youto meet Billy Louise when she was ten and had lived all her life amongthe rocks and the sage and the stunted cedars and huge, gray hills ofIdaho. Meet her with her pink sunbonnet hanging down the back of herneck and her big eyes taking in the squalidness of Marthy's crudekitchen in the Cove, and her terrible directness of speech hittingsquarely the things she saw that were different from her own immaculatehome. Of course, if you don't care for children, you may skip achapter and meet her later when she was eighteen--but I really wish youwould consent to know her at ten.
"Mommie makes cookies with a raising in the middle. She gives me twosometimes when the Bill of me has been workin' like the deuce with dad;one for Billy and one for Louise. When I'm twelve, Mommie's goin' tolet the Louise of me make cookies all myself and put a raising on top.I'll put two on top of one and bring it over for you, Marthy. And--"Billy Louise was terribly outspoken at times--"I'll put four raisingson another one for Jase, 'cause he don't have any nice times with you.Don't you ever make cookies with raisings on 'em, Marthy? I'm hungryas a coyote--and I ain't used to eating just bread and the kinda butteryou have. Mom says you don't work it enough. She says you are tooscared of water, and the buttermilk ain't all worked out, so that's whyit tastes so funny. Does Jase like that kind of butter, Marthy?"
"If your mother had to do the outside work as well as the inside, mebbeshe wouldn't work her butter so awful much, either. I dunno whetherJase likes it or not. He eats it," Marthy stated grimly.
Billy Louise sighed. "Well, of course he's awful lazy. Daddy says so.I guess I won't put but one raising on Jase's cookie when I'm twelve.Has Jase gone fishing again, Marthy?"
A gleam of satisfaction brightened Marthy's hard, blue eyes. "No, heain't. He's in the root suller. You want some bread and some nice,new honey, Billy Louise? I jest took it outa the hive this morning.When you go home, I'll send some to your maw if you can carry it."
"Sure! I can carry anything that's good. If you put it on thick, so Ican't taste the bread, I'll eat it. Say, you like me, don't you,Marthy?"
"Yes," said Marthy, turning her back on the slim, wide-eyed girl, "Ilike yuh, Billy Louise."
"You sound like you wish you didn't," Billy Louise remarked. Even atten Billy Louise was keenly sensitive to tones and glances and thatintangible thing we call atmosphere. "Are you sorry you like me?"
"No-o, I ain't sorry. A person's got to like something that's aliveand human, or--" Marthy was clumsy with words, and she was alwayscoming to the barrier between her powers of expression and the thoughtsthat were prisoned and dumb. "Here's your bread 'n' honey."
"What makes you sound that way, Marthy? You sound like you had tearsinside, and they couldn't get out your eyes. Are you sad? Did youever have a little girl, Marthy?"
"What makes you ask that?" Marthy sat heavily down upon a box besidethe rough kitchen table and looked at Billy Louise queerly, as if shewere half afraid of her.
"I dunno--but that's the way mommie sounds when she says somethingabout angel-brother. Did you ever--"
"Billy Louise, I'm going to tell you this oncet, and then I don't wantyou to ast me any more questions, nor talk about it. You're thequeerest young one I ever seen, but you don't hurt folks onpurpose--I've learnt that much about yuh." Marthy half rose from thebox, and with her dingy, patched apron shooed an investigative hen outof the doorway. She knew that Billy Louise was regarding her fixedlyover the huge, uneven slice of bread and honey, and she felt vaguelythat a child's grave, inquiring eyes may be the hardest of all eyes tomeet.
"I never meant--"
"I know yuh never, Billy Louise. Now don't tell your maw this. Longago--long before your maw ever found you, or your paw ever found yourranch on the Wolverine, I had a little girl, 'bout like you. She was apurty child--her hair was like silk, and her eyes was blue, and--we wasMormons, and we lived down clost to Salt Lake. And I seen so muchmisery amongst the women-folks--you can't understand that, but mebbyyou will when you grow up. Anyway, when little Minervy kep' growin'purtyer and sweeter, I couldn't stand it to think of her growin' up andbein' a Mormon's wife. I seen so many purty girls... So I made up mymind we'd move away off somewheres, where Minervy could grow up jest assweet and purty as she was a mind to, and not have to suffer fer hersweetness and her purtyness. When you grow up, Billy Louise, you'llknow what I mean. So me and Jase packed up--we kinda had to do it onthe sly, on account uh the bishops--and we struck out with a four-oxteam.
"We kep' a-goin' and kep' a-goin', fer I was scared to settle tooclost. I seen how they keep spreadin' out all the time, and I wantedto git so fur away they wouldn't ketch up. And we got into badcountry, where there wasn't no water skurcely. We swung too fur north,and got into the desert back there. And over next them three butteslittle Minervy took sick. We tried to git outa the desert--we headedover this way. But before we got to Snake river she--died, and I hadto leave 'er buried back there. We come on. I hated the church worsethan ever, and I wanted to git clear away from 'em. Why, Billy Louise,we camped one night by the Wolverine, right about where your paw's gothis big corral! We didn't stay there, because it was an Injuncamping-ground then, and they wasn't no use getting mixed up in nofuss, first thing. In them days the Injuns wasn't so peaceable as theybe now. So we come on here and settled in the Cove.
"And so--I like yuh," said Marthy, in a tone that was half defiance,"because I can't help likin' yuh. You're growin' up sweet and purty,jest like I wanted my little Minervy to grow up. In some ways youremind me of her, only she was quieter and didn't take so much noticeof things a young one ain't s'posed to notice. Now I don't want youaskin' no more questions about her, 'cause I ain't going to talk aboutit ag'in; and if yuh pester me, I'll send yuh home and tell your maw tokeep yuh there. If you're the nice girl I think yuh be, you'll be goodto Marthy and not talk about--"
Billy Louise opened her eyes still wider, and licked the honey off onewhole corner of the slice without really tasting anything. Marthy'ssquare, uncompromising chin was actually quivering. Billy Louise wasstricken dumb by the spectacle. She wanted to go and put her armsaround Marthy's neck and kiss her; only Marthy's neck had a hairy mole,and there was no part of her face which looked in the least degreekissable. Still, Billy Louise felt herself all hot inside with remorseand sympathy and affection. Physical contact being impossible becauseof her fastidious instincts, and speech upon the subject being sosternly forbidden, Billy Louise continued to lick honey and stare infascinated silence.
"I'll wash the dishes for you, Marthy," she offered irrelevantly atlast, as a supreme sacrifice upon the altar of sympathy. When thatfailed to stop the slow procession of tears that was traveling down thefurrows of Marthy's cheeks, she added ingratiatingly: "I'll put sixraisings on the cookie I'm going to make for you."
Whereupon Marthy did an unprecedented, an utterly amazing thing. Shegot up and gathered Billy Louise into her arms so unexpectedly thatBilly Louise inadvertently buried her nose in the honey she had not yetlicked off the bread. Marthy held her close pressed to her big, flabbybosom and wept into her hair in a queer, whimpering way that somehowmade Billy Louise think of a hurt dog. It was only for a minute thatMarthy did this; she stopped almost as suddenly as she began and wentoutside, wiping her eyes and her nose impartially upon her dirty apron.
Billy Louise sat paralyzed with the mixture of unusual emotions thatassailed her. She was exceedingly sticky and uncomfortable from honeyand tears, and she shivered with repugnance at the odor of Marthy'sunbathed person. She was astonished at the outburst from phlegmaticMarthy Meilke, and her pity was now alloyed with her promise to washall those dirty dishes. Billy Louise felt that she had been a triflehasty in making promises. There was not a drop of water in the housenor a bit of wood, and Billy Louise knew perfectly well that thedishpan would have a greasy, unpleasant feeling under her fastidiouslittle fingers.
She sighed heavily. "Well, I s'pose I might just as well get to workat 'em," she said aloud, as was her habit--being a child who had noplaymates. "I hate to dread a thing I hate."
She looked at the messy slice of sour bread and threw it out to thespeckled hen that had returned and was standing with one foot liftedtentatively--ready for a forward step if the fates seemed kind--and wasregarding Billy Louise fixedly with one yellow eye. "Take it and go!"cried the donor, impatient of the scrutiny. She picked up the woodenpail and went down to the creek behind the house, by a pathway borderedthickly with budding rosebushes and tall lilacs.
Billy Louise first of all washed her face slowly and with a methodicthoroughness which characterized her--having lived for ten full yearswith no realization of hours and minutes as a measure for her actions.She dried her face quite as deliberately upon her starched calicoapron. Then she spent a few minutes trying to catch a baby trout inher cupped palms. Never had Billy Louise succeeded in catching a babytrout in her hands; therefore she never tired of trying. Now, however,that rash promise nagged at her and would not let her enjoy the game ascompletely as usual. She took the wooden pail, and squatting on herheels in the wet sand, waited until a small school swam incautiouslyclose to the bank, and scooped suddenly, with a great splash. Shecaught three tiny, speckled fish the length of her little finger, andshe let the half-full pail rest in the shallow stream while she watchedthe fry swimming excitedly round and round within.
There was no great fun in that. Billy Louise could catch baby trout ina pail at home, from the waters of the Wolverine, whenever she liked.Many a time she had kept them in a big bottle until she tired ofwatching them, or they died because she forgot to change the wateroften enough. She could not get even a languid enjoyment out of themnow, because she could not for a minute forget that she had promised towash Marthy's dishes--and Marthy always had so many dirty dishes! AndMarthy's dishpan was so greasy! Billy Louise gave a little shudderwhen she thought of it.
"I wish her little girl hadn't died," she said, her mind swinging fromeffect back to cause. "I could play with her. And she'd wash thedishes herself. I'm going to name my new little pig Minervy. I wishshe hadn't died. I'd show her my little pig, if Marthy'd let her comeover to our place. We could both ride on old Badger; Minervy couldride behind me, and we'd go places together." Billy Louisemeditatively stirred up the baby trout with a forefinger. "We'd go upthe canyon and have the caves for our play-houses. Minervy could havethe secret cave away up the hill, and I'd have the other one acrossfrom it; and we'd have flags and wigwag messages like daddy tells aboutin the war. And we'd play the rabbits are Injuns, and the coyotes arebig-Injun-chiefs sneaking down to see if the forts are watching. Andwhichever seen a coyote first would wigwag to the other one..." A babytrout, taking advantage of the pail tipping in the current, gave a flipover the edge and interrupted Billy Louise's fancies. She gave thepail a tilt and spilled out the other two fish. Then she filled it asfull as she could carry and started back to pay the price of hersympathy.
"I don't see what Minervy had to go and die for!" she complained,dodging a low-hanging branch of bloom-laden lilac. "She could wash thedishes and I'd wipe 'em--and I s'pose there ain't a clean dish-towel inthe house, either! Marthy's an awful slack housekeeper."
Billy Louise, being a young person with a conscience--of a sort--washedthe dishes, since she had given her word to do it. The dishpan waseven more unpleasant than experience had foretold for her; and ofMarthy's somewhat meager supply there seemed not one clean dish in thehouse. The sympathy of Billy Louise therefore waned rapidly; rather,it turned in upon itself. So that by the time she felt morally free tospend the rest of the afternoon as she pleased, she was not at allsorry for Marthy for having lost Minervy; instead, she was sorry forherself for having been betrayed into rashness and for being deprivedof a playmate.
"I don't s'pose Marthy doctored her right, at all," she consideredpitilessly, as she returned down the lilac-bordered path. "If she had,I guess she wouldn't have died. I'll bet she never gave her a speck ofsage tea, like mommie always does when I'm sick--only I ain't ever,thank goodness. I'm just going to ask Jase if Marthy did."
On the way to the root cellar, which was dug into the creek-bank wellabove high-water mark, Billy Louise debated within herself the ethicsof speaking to Jase upon a forbidden subject. Jase had been Minervy'sfather, and therefore knew of her existence, so that mentioning Minervyto him could not in any sense be betraying a secret. She wondered ifJase felt badly about it, as Marthy seemed to do. On the heels of thatcame the determination to test his emotional capacity.
At the root cellar her attention was diverted. The cellar door wasfastened on the outside, with the iron hasp used to protect the storeof vegetables from the weather. Jase must be gone. She was turningaway when she heard him clear his throat with that peculiar littlehacking, rasping noise which sounded exactly as one would expect a Jaseto sound. Billy Louise puckered her eyebrows, pressed her lipstogether understandingly--and disapprovingly--and opened the door.
Jase, humped over a heap of sprouting potatoes, blinked upapathetically into the sudden flood of sweet, spring air and sunshine."Why, hello, Billy Louise," he mumbled, his eyes brightening a bit.
"Say, you was locked in here!" Billy Louise faced him puzzled. "Didyou know you was locked in?"
"Yes-s, I knowed it. Marthy, she locked the door." Jase reached out abony hand covered with carrot-colored hairs and picked up a shrivelingpotato with long, sickly sprouts proclaiming life's persistence inperpetuating itself under adverse circumstances. He broke off thesprouts with a wipe of his dirty palm and threw the potato into a heapin the corner.
"What for?" Billy Louise demanded, watching Jase reach languidly outfor another potato.
"She seen me diggin' bait," Jase said tonelessly. "I did think some ofketchin' a mess of fish before I went to sproutin' p'tatoes, but Marthyshe don't take no int'rest in nothin' but work."
"Are the fish biting good?" Billy Louise glanced toward the widerstream, where it showed through a gap in the alders.
"Yes-s, purty good now. I caught a nice mess the other day; butMarthy, she don't favor my goin' fishin'." The lean hands of Jasemoved slowly at his task. Billy Louise, watching him, wondered why hedid not hurry a little and finish sooner. Still, she could notremember ever seeing Jase hurry at anything, and the Cove with itsoccupants was one of her very earliest memories.
"Say, I'll dig some more bait, and then we'll go fishing; shall we?"
"I--dunno as I better--" Jase's hand hovered aimlessly over the potatopile. "I got quite a lot sprouted, though--and mebby--"
"I'll lock you in till I get the bait dug," suggested Billy Louisecraftily. "And you work fast; and then I'll let you out, and we'lllock the door agin, so Marthy'll think you're in there yet."
"You're sure smart to think up things," Jase admired, smilingloose-lipped behind his scraggly beard, that was fading with the years."I dunno but what it'd serve Marthy right. She ain't got no call tolock the door on me. She hates like sin t' see me with a fish-pole inm' hand--but she's always et her share uh the messes I ketch. Sheain't a reasonable woman, Marthy ain't. You git the bait. I'll showMarthy who's boss in this Cove!"
He might have encouraged himself into defying Marthy to her face, inanother five minutes of complaining. But the cellar door closed uponhim with a slam. Billy Louise was not interested in his opinion ofMarthy; with her, opinions were valueless if not accompanied by action.
"I never thought to ask him about Minervy," occurred to her while shewas relentlessly dragging pale, fleshly fishworms from the loose blacksoil of Marthy's onion bed. "But I know she was mean to Minervy.She's awful mean to Jase--locking him up in the root cellar just 'causehe wanted to go fishing. If I was Jase I wouldn't sprout a single oldpotato for her. My goodness, but she'll be mad when she opens thecellar door and Jase ain't in there; I--guess I'll go home early,before Marthy finds it out."
She really meant to do that, but the fish were hungry fish that day,and the joy of having a companion to exclaim with her over every hardtug--even though that companion was only Jase--enticed her to stay onand on, until a whiff of frying pork on the breeze that swept down theCove warned Billy Louise of the near approach of supper-time.
"I guess mebby I might as well go back to the suller," Jase remarked,his defiance weakening as he climbed the bank. "You come and lock thedoor agin, Billy Louise, and Marthy won't know I ain't been there allthe time. She'll think you caught the fish." He looked at her with aweak leer of conscious cunning.
Billy Louise, groping vaguely for the sunbonnet that was danglingbetween her straight shoulder-blades, stared at him with wide eyes thatheld disillusionment and with it a contempt all the keener because itwas the contempt of a child, whose judgment is merciless.
"I should thing you'd be ashamed!" she said at last, forgetting thatthe idea had been born in her own brain. "Cowards do things and thensneak about it. Daddy says so. I don't care if Marthy is mad 'cause Ilet you out, and I don't care if she knows we went fishing. I thoughtyou wanted Marthy to see she ain't so smart, locking you up in thecellar. I ain't going to bake you a single cookie with raisings on it,like I was going to."
"Marthy's got a sharp tongue in 'er head," Jase wavered, his eyesshifting from Billy Louise's uncompromising stare.
"Daddy says when you do a thing that's mean, do it and take yourmedicine," Billy Louise retorted. "The boy of me that belongs to dadain't a sneak, Jase Meilke. And," she added loftily, "the girl of methat belongs to mommie is a perfeck lady. Good day, Mr. Meilke. Thankyou for a pleasant time fishing."
Whereupon the perfect lady part switched short skirts up the path andheld a tousled head high with disdain.
Jase, thus deserted, went shambling back to the cellar and fell tosprouting potatoes with what might almost be termed industry.
It pained Jase later to discover that Marthy was not interested in theopen door, but in the very small heap of potatoes which he had"sprouted" that afternoon. There was other work to be done in theCove, and there were but two pairs of hands to do it; that one pair wasslow and shiftless and inefficient was bitterly accepted by Marthy, whoworked from sunrise until dark to make up for the shirking of thoseother hands.
It was the trail experience over again, and it was an experience thatdragged through the years without change or betterment. Marthy wantedto "get ahead." Jase wanted to sit in the sun with his knees drawn up,just--I don't know what, but I suppose he called it thinking. When hefelt unusually energetic, he liked to dangle an impaled worm over atrout pool. Theoretically he also wanted to get ahead and to have afine ranch and lots of cattle and a comfortable home. He would planthese things sometimes in an expansive mood, whereupon Marthy wouldstare at him with her hard, contemptuous look until Jase trailed offinto mumbling complaints into his beard. He was not as able-bodied asshe thought he was, he would say, with vague solemnity. Some uh thesedays Marthy'd see how she had driven him beyond his strength.
When one is a Marthy, however, with ambitions and a tireless energy andthe persistence of a beaver, and when one listens to vague mutteringsfor many hard laboring years, one grows accustomed to the complainingsand fails to see certain warning symptoms of which even the complaineris only vaguely aware.
She kept on working through the years, and as far as was humanlypossible she kept Jase working. She did not soften, except towardBilly Louise, who rode sometimes over from her father's ranch on theWolverine to the flowery delights of the Cove. The place was a perfectjungle of sweetness, seven months of each year; for Marthy owned andindulged a love of beauty, even if she could not realize her dream ofprosperity. Wherever was space in the house-yard for a flower or afruit tree or a berry bush, Marthy planted one or the other. You couldnot see the cabin from April until the leaves fell in late October,except in a fragmentary way as you walked around it. You went in at agate of pickets which Marthy herself had split and nailed in place; youfollowed a narrow, winding path through the sweet jungle--and if youwere tall, you stooped now and then to pass under an apple branch. Andunless you looked up at the black, lava-rock rim of the bluff whichcupped this Eden incongruously, you would forget that just over thebrim lay parched plain and barren mountain.
When Billy Louise was twelve, she had other ambitions than the makingof cookies with "raisings" on them. She wanted to do something big,though she was hazy as to the particular nature of that big something.She tried to talk it over with Marthy, but Marthy could not seem tothink beyond the Cove, except that now and then Billy Louise wouldsuspect that her mind did travel to the desert and Minervy's grave.Marthy's hair was growing streaked with yellowish gray, though it nevergrew less unkempt and dusty looking. Her eyes were harder, ifanything, except when they rested on Billy Louise.
When she was thirteen, Billy Louise rode over with a loaf of bread shehad baked all by herself, and she put this problem to Marthy:
"I've been thinking I'd go ahead and write poetry, Marthy--a whole bookof it with pictures. But I do love to make bread--and people have toeat bread. Which would you be, Marthy; a poet, or a cook?"
Marthy looked at her a minute, lent her attention briefly to thequestion, and gave what she considered good advice.
"You learn how to cook, Billy Louise. Yuh don't want to go and getnotions. Your maw ain't healthy, and your paw likes good grub. Po'tryis all foolishness; there ain't any money in it."
"Walter Scott paid his debts writing poetry," said Billy Louiseargumentatively. She had just read all about Walter Scott in amagazine which a passing cowboy had given her; perhaps that hadsomething to do with her new ambition.
"Mebby he did and mebby he didn't. I'd like to see our debts paid offwith po'try. It'd have to be worth a hull lot more 'n what I'd givefor it."
"Oh. Have you got debts too, Marthy?" Billy Louise at thirteen wasstill ready with sympathy. "Daddy's got lots and piles of 'em. Hebought some cattle and now he talks to mommie all the time about debts.Mommie wants me to go to Boise to school, next winter, to Aunt Sarah's.And daddy says there's debts to pay. I didn't know you had any,Marthy."
"Well, I have got. We bought some cattle, too--and they ain't done 'swell 's they might. If I had a man that was any good on earth, I couldput up more hay. But I can't git nothing outa Jase but whines. Yourpaw oughta send you to school, Billy Louise, even if he has got debts.I'd 'a' sent--"
She stopped there, but Billy Louise knew how she finished the sentencementally. She would have sent Minervy to school.
"Your paw ain't got any right to keep you outa school," Marthy went onaggressively. "Debts er no debts, he'd see 't you got schoolin'--if hewas the right kinda man."
"Daddy is the right kinda man. He ain't like Jase. He says he wisheshe could, but he don't know where the money's coming from."
"How much's it goin' to take?" asked Marthy heavily.
"Oh, piles." Billy Louise spoke airily to hide her pride in theimportance of the subject. "Fifty dollars, I guess. I've got to havesome new clothes, mommie says. I'd like a blue dress."
"And your paw can't raise fifty dollars?" Marthy's tone was plainlybelligerent.
"Got to pay interest," said Billy Louise importantly.
Marthy said not another word about debts or the duties of parents.What she did was more to the point, however, for she hitched the mulesto a rattly old buckboard next day and drove over to the MacDonaldranch on the Wolverine. She carried fifty dollars in her pocket--andthat was practically all the money Marthy possessed, and had been savedfor the debts that harassed her. She gave the money to Billy Louise'smother and said that it was a present for Billy Louise, and meant for"school money." She said that she hadn't any girl of her own to spendthe money on, and that Billy Louise was a good girl and a smart girl,and she wanted to do a little something toward her schooling.
A woman will sacrifice more pride than you would believe, if she sees away toward helping her children to an education. Mrs. MacDonald tookthe money, and she promised secrecy--with a feeling of relief thatMarthy wished it. She was astonished to find that Marthy had anyfeelings not directly connected with work or the shortcomings of Jase,but she never suspected that Marthy had made any sacrifice for BillyLouise.
So Billy Louise went away to school and never knew whose money had madeit possible to go, and Marthy worked harder and drove Jase morerelentlessly to make up that fifty dollars. She never mentioned thematter to anyone. The next year it was the same; when, in August, shequestioned Billy Louise clumsily upon the subject of finances, andlearned that "daddy" still talked about debts and interest and didn'tknow where the money was coming from, she drove over again with moneyfor the "schooling." And again she extracted a promise of silence.
She did this for four years, and not a soul knew that it cost heranything in the way of extra work and extra harassment of mind. Shebought more cattle and cut more hay and went deeper into debt; for asBilly Louise grew older and prettier and more accustomed to the ways oftown, she needed more money, and the August gift grew proportionatelylarger. The mother was thankful beyond the point of questioning. AnAugust without Marthy and Marthy's gift of money would have been atragedy; and so selfish is mother-love sometimes that she would haveaccepted the gift even if she had known what it cost the giver.
At eighteen, then, Billy Louise knew some things not taught by the wideplains and the wild hills around her. She was not spoiled by herlittle learning, which was a good thing. And when her father diedtragically beneath an overturned load of poles from the mountain at thehead of the canyon, Billy Louise came home. The Billy of her tried totake his place, and the Louise of her attempted to take care of hermother, who was unfitted both by nature and habit to take care ofherself. Which was, after all, a rather big thing for anyone toattempt.
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