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- Tales of Trail and Town - 20/36 -
another rush of wind around the house, a drifting cloud of dust before the door, the clatter of hoofs, and a quick shout.
Her husband reached the door, from the inner room, almost as quickly as she did. They both saw in the road two armed mounted men--one of whom Ira recognized as the sheriff's deputy.
"Has anybody been here, just now?" he asked sharply.
"Seen anybody go by?" he continued.
"No. What's up?"
"One of them circus jumpers stabbed Hal Dudley over the table in Dolores monte shop last night, and got away this morning. We hunted him into the plain and lost him somewhere in this d----d dust."
"Why, Sue reckoned she saw suthin' just now," said Ira, with a flash of recollection. "Didn't ye, Sue?"
"Why the h-ll didn't she say it before?--I beg your pardon, ma'am; didn't see you; you'll excuse haste."
Both the men's hats were in their hands, embarrassed yet gratified smiles on their faces, as Sue came forward. There was the faintest of color in her sallow cheek, a keen brilliancy in her eyes; she looked singularly pretty. Even Ira felt a slight antenuptial stirring through his monotonously wedded years.
The young woman walked out, folding the towel around her red hands and forearms--leaving the rounded whiteness of bared elbow and upper arm in charming contrast--and looked gravely past the admiring figures that nearly touched her own. "It was somewhar over thar," she said lazily, pointing up the road in the opposite direction to the barn, "but I ain't sure it WAS any one."
"Then he'd already PASSED the house afore you saw him?" said the deputy.
"I reckon--if it WAS him," returned Sue.
"He must have got on," said the deputy; "but then he runs like a deer; it's his trade."
The two men were delighted at this divine simplicity. "A man who runs, jumps, climbs--and all that sort, in the circus."
"But isn't he runnin', jumpin', and climbin' away from ye now?" she continued with adorable naivete.
The deputy smiled, but straightened in the saddle. "We're bound to come up with him afore he reaches Lowville; and between that and this house it's a dead level, where a gopher couldn't leave his hole without your spottin' him a mile off! Good-by!" The words were addressed to Ira, but the parting glance was directed to the pretty wife as the two men galloped away.
An odd uneasiness at this sudden revelation of his wife's prettiness and its evident effect upon his visitors came over Ira. It resulted in his addressing the empty space before his door with, "Well, ye won't ketch much if ye go on yawpin' and dawdlin' with women-folks like this;" and he was unreasonably delighted at the pretty assent of disdain and scorn which sparkled in his wife's eyes as she added:--
"Not much, I reckon!"
"That's the kind of official trash we have to pay taxes to keep up," said Ira, who somehow felt that if public policy was not amenable to private sentiment there was no value in free government. Mrs. Beasley, however, complacently resumed her dish- washing, and Ira returned to his riata in the adjoining room. For quite an interval there was no sound but the occasional click of a dish laid upon its pile, with fingers that, however, were firm and untremulous. Presently Sue's low voice was heard.
"Wonder if that deputy caught anything yet. I've a good mind to meander up the road and see."
But the question brought Ira to the door with a slight return of his former uneasiness. He had no idea of subjecting his wife to another admiring interview. "I reckon I'll go myself," he said dubiously; "YOU'D better stay and look after the house."
Her eyes brightened as she carried a pile of plates to the dresser; it was possible she had foreseen this compromise. "Yes," she said cheerfully, "you could go farther than me."
Ira reflected. He could also send them about their business if they thought of returning. He lifted his hat from the floor, took his rifle down carefully from its pegs, and slouched out into the road. Sue watched him until he was well away, then flew to the back door, stopping only an instant to look at her face in a small mirror on the wall,--yet without noticing her new prettiness,--then ran to the barn. Casting a backward glance at the diminishing figure of her husband in the distance, she threw open the door and shut it quickly behind her. At first the abrupt change from the dazzling outer plain to the deep shadows of the barn bewildered her. She saw before her a bucket half filled with dirty water, and a quantity of wet straw littering the floor; then lifting her eyes to the hay-loft, she detected the figure of the fugitive, unclothed from the waist upward, emerging from the loose hay in which he had evidently been drying himself. Whether it was the excitement of his perilous situation, or whether the perfect symmetry of his bared bust and arms--unlike anything she had ever seen before-- clothed him with the cold ideality of a statue, she could not say, but she felt no shock of modesty; while the man, accustomed to the public half-exposure in tights and spangles, was more conscious of detected unreadiness than of shame.
"Gettin' the dust off me," he said, in hurried explanation; "be down in a second." Indeed, in another moment he had resumed his shirt and flannel coat, and swung himself to the floor with a like grace and dexterity, that was to her the revelation of a descending god. She found herself face to face with him,--his features cleansed of dirt and grime, his hair plastered in wet curls on his low forehead. It was a face of cheap adornment, not uncommon in his profession--unintelligent, unrefined, and even unheroic; but she did not know that. Overcoming a sudden timidity, she nevertheless told him briefly and concisely of the arrival and departure of his pursuers.
His low forehead wrinkled. "Thar's no getting away until they come back," he said without looking at her. "Could ye keep me in here to-night?"
"Yes," she returned simply, as if the idea had already occurred to her; "but you must lie low in the loft."
"And could you"--he hesitated, and went on with a forced smile-- "you see, I've eaten nothing since last night. Could you"--
"I'll bring you something," she said quickly, nodding her head.
"And if you had"--he went on more hesitatingly, glancing down at his travel-torn and frayed garments--"anything like a coat, or any other clothing? It would disguise me also, you see, and put 'em off the track."
She nodded her head again rapidly: she had thought of that too; there was a pair of doeskin trousers and a velvet jacket left by a Mexican vaquero who had bought stock from them two years ago. Practical as she was, a sudden conviction that he would look well in the velvet jacket helped her resolve.
"Did they say"--he said, with his forced smile and uneasy glance-- "did they--tell you anything about me?"
"Yes," she said abstractedly, gazing at him.
"You see," he began hurriedly, "I'll tell you how it was."
"No, don't!" she said quickly. She meant it. She wanted no facts to stand between her and this single romance of her life. "I must go and get the things," she added, turning away, "before he gets back."
"Who's HE?" asked the man.
She was about to reply, "My husband," but without knowing why stopped and said, "Mr. Beasley," and then ran off quickly to the house.
She found the vaquero's clothes, took some provisions, filled a flask of whiskey in the cupboard, and ran back with them, her mouth expanded to a vague smile, and pulsating like a schoolgirl. She even repressed with difficulty the ejaculation "There!" as she handed them to him. He thanked her, but with eyes fixed and fascinated by the provisions. She understood it with a new sense of delicacy, and saying, "I'll come again when he gets back," ran off and returned to the house, leaving him alone to his repast.
Meantime her husband, lounging lazily along the high road, had precipitated the catastrophe he wished to avoid. For his slouching figure, silhouetted against the horizon on that monotonous level, had been the only one detected by the deputy sheriff and the constable, his companion, and they had charged down within fifty yards of him before they discovered their mistake. They were not slow in making this an excuse for abandoning their quest as far as Lowville: in fact, after quitting the distraction of Mrs. Beasley's presence they had, without in the least suspecting the actual truth, become doubtful if the fugitive had proceeded so far. He might at that moment be snugly ensconced behind some low wire-grass ridge, watching their own clearly defined figures, and waiting only for the night to evade them. The Beasley house seemed a proper place of operation in beating up the field. Ira's cold reception of the suggestion was duly disposed of by the deputy. "I have the RIGHT, ye know," he said, with a grim pleasantry, "to summon ye as my posse to aid and assist me in carrying out the law; but I ain't the man to be rough on my friends, and I reckon it will do jest as well if I 'requisition' your house." The dreadful recollection
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