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- Elder Conklin and Other Stories - 3/33 -
refused her anythin'. If fifteen hundred dollars would be enough for George alone, three thousand would do for both of them. Once admitted as a lawyer, he would get a large practice: he was so clever and hard- working. She was real glad that she'd be the means of giving him the opportunity he wanted to win riches and position. But he must begin in New York. She would help him on, and she'd see New York and all the shops and elegant folk, and have silk dresses. They'd live in a hotel and get richer and richer, and she'd drive about with--here she grew hot again. The vision, however, was too entrancing to be shut out; she saw herself distinctly driving in an open carriage, with a negro nurse holding the baby all in laces in front, "jest too cute for anythin'," and George beside her, and every one in Fifth Avenue starin'.
Sleep soon brought confusion into her picture of a happy future; but when she awoke, the glad confidence of the previous night had given place to self-reproach and fear. During the breakfast she scarcely spoke or lifted her eyes. Her silent preoccupation was misunderstood by Bancroft; he took it to mean that she didn't care what happened to him; she was selfish, he decided. All the morning she went about the house in a state of nervous restlessness, and at dinner-time her father noticed her unusual pallor and low spirits. To the Elder, the meal-times were generally a source of intense pleasure. He was never tired of feasting his eyes upon his daughter when he could do so without attracting attention, and he listened to her fluent obvious opinions on men and things with a fulness of pride and joy which was difficult to divine since his keenest feelings never stirred the impassibility of his features. He had small power of expressing his thoughts, and even in youth he had felt it impossible to render in words any deep emotion. For more than forty years the fires of his nature had been "banked up." Reticent and self-contained, he appeared to be hard and cold; yet his personality was singularly impressive. About five feet ten in height, he was lean and sinewy, with square shoulders and muscles of whipcord. His face recalled the Indian type; the same prominent slightly beaked nose, high cheek bones and large knot of jaw. But there the resemblance ended. The eyes were steel-blue; the upper lip long; the mouth firm; short, bristly, silver hair stood up all over his head, in defiant contrast to the tanned, unwrinkled skin. He was clean-shaven, and looked less than his age, which was fifty-eight.
All through the dinner he wondered anxiously what could so affect his daughter, and how he could find out without intruding himself upon her confidence. His great love for his child had developed in the Elder subtle delicacies of feeling which are as the fragrance of love's humility. In the afternoon Loo, dressed for walking, met him, and, of her own accord, began the conversation:
"Father, I want to talk to you."
The Elder put down the water-bucket he had been carrying, and drew the shirt-sleeves over his nervous brown arms, whether out of unconscious modesty or simple sense of fitness it would be impossible to say. She went on hesitatingly, "I want to know--Do you think Mr. Bancroft's strong, stronger than--Seth Stevens?"
The Elder gave his whole thought to the problem. "P'r'aps," he said, after a pause, in which he had vainly tried to discover how his daughter wished him to answer, "p'r'aps; he's older and more sot. There ain't much difference, though. In five or six years Seth'll be a heap stronger than the schoolmaster; but now," he added quickly, reading his daughter's face, "he ain't man enough. He must fill out first."
She looked up with bright satisfaction, and twining her hands round his arm began coaxingly:
"I'm goin' to ask you for somethin', father. You know you told me that on my birthday you'd give me most anythin' I wanted. Wall, I want somethin' this month, not next, as soon as I can get it--a pianner. I guess the settin'-room would look smarter-like, an' I'd learn to play. All the girls do East," she added, pouting.
"Yes," the Elder agreed thoughtfully, doubting whether he should follow her lead eastwards, "I reckon that's so. I'll see about it right off, Loo. I oughter hev thought of it before. But now, right off," and as he spoke he laid his large hand with studied carelessness on her shoulder-- he was afraid that an intentional caress might be inopportune.
"I'm cert'in Mr. Bancroft's sisters play, an' I--" she looked down nervously for a moment, and then, still blushing deeply, changed the attack: "He's smart, ain't he, father? He'd make a good lawyer, wouldn't he?"
"I reckon he would," replied the Elder.
"I'm so glad," the girl went on hurriedly, as if afraid to give herself time to think of what she was about to say, "for, father, he wants to study in an office East and he hain't got the money, and--oh, father!" she threw her arms round his neck and hid her face on his shoulder, "I want to go with him."
The Elder's heart seemed to stop beating, but he could not hold his loved one in his arms and at the same time realize his own pain. He stroked the bowed head gently, and after a pause:
"He could study with Lawyer Barkman in Wichita, couldn't he? and then you'd be to hum still. No. Wall! Thar!" and again came a pause of silence. "I reckon, anyhow, you knew I'd help you. Didn't you now?"
His daughter drew herself out of his embrace. Recalled thus to the matter in hand he asked: "Did he say how much money 'twould take?"
"Two or three thousand dollars"--and she scanned his face anxiously-- "for studyin' and gettin' an office and everythin' in New York. Things are dearer there."
"Wall, I guess we kin about cover that with a squeeze. It'll be full all I kin manage to onc't--that and the pianner. I've no one to think of but you, Loo, only you. That's what I've bin workin' for, to give you a fair start, and I'm glad I kin jess about do it. I'd sorter take it better if he'd done the studyin' by himself before. No! wall, it don't make much difference p'r'aps. Anyway he works, and Mr. Crew thinks him enough eddicated even for the Ministry. He does, and that's a smart lot. I guess he'll get along all right." Delighted with the expression of intent happiness in his daughter's eyes, he continued: "He's young yet, and couldn't be expected to hev done the studyin' and law and everythin'. You kin be sartin that the old man'll do all he knows to help start you fair. All I kin. If you're sot upon it! That's enough fer me, I guess, ef you're rale sot on it, and you don't think 'twould be better like to wait a little. He could study with Barkman fer a year anyway without losin' time. No! wall, wall. I'm right thar when you want me. I'll go to work to do what I kin....
"P'r'aps we might sell off and go East, too. The farm's worth money now it's all settled up round hyar. The mother and me and Jake could get along, I reckon, East or West. I know more'n I did when I came out in '59.
"I'm glad you've told me. I think a heap more of him now. There must be a pile of good in any one you like, Loo. Anyhow he's lucky." And he stroked her crumpled dress awkwardly, but with an infinite tenderness.
"I've got to go now, father," she exclaimed, suddenly remembering the time. "But there!"--and again she threw her arms round his neck and kissed him. "You've made me very happy. I've got to go right off, and you've all the chores to do, so I mustn't keep you any longer."
She hurried to the road along which Jake would have to come with the news of the fight. When she reached the top of the bluff whence the road fell rapidly to the creek, no one was in sight. She sat down and gave herself up to joyous anticipations.
"What would George say to her news? Where should they be married?"----a myriad questions agitated her. But a glance down the slope from time to time checked her pleasure. At last she saw her brother running towards her. He had taken off his boots and stockings; they were slung round his neck, and his bare feet pattered along in the thick, white dust of the prairie track. His haste made his sister's heart beat in gasps of fear. Down the hill she sped, and met him on the bridge.
"Wall?" she asked quietly, but the colour had left her cheeks, and Jake was not to be deceived so easily.
"Wall what?" he answered defiantly, trying to get breath. "I hain't said nothin'."
"Oh, you mean boy!" she cried indignantly. "I'll never help you again when father wants to whip you--never! Tell me this minute what happened. Is _he_ hurt?"
"Is who hurt?" asked her brother, glorying in superiority of knowledge, and the power to tease with impunity.
"Tell me right off," she said, taking him by the collar in her exasperation, "or--"
"I'll tell you nothin' till you leave go of me," was the sullen reply. But then the overmastering impulse ran away with him, and he broke out:
"Oh, Loo! I jest seed everythin'. 'Twar a high old fight! They wuz all there, Seth Stevens, Richards, Monkey Bill--all of 'em, when schoolmaster rode up. He was still--looked like he wanted to hear a class recite. He hitched up Jack and come to 'em, liftin' his hat. Oh, 'twas O.K., you bet! Then they took off their clo's. Seth Stevens jerked hisn loose on the ground, but schoolmaster stood by himself, and folded hisn up like ma makes me fold mine at night. Then they comed together and Seth Stevens he jest drew off and tried to land him one, but schoolmaster sorter moved aside and took him on the nose, an' Seth he sot down, with the blood runnin' all over him. An'--an'--that's all. Every time Seth Stevens hauled off to hit, schoolmaster was thar first. It war bully!--That's all. An' I seed everythin'. You kin bet your life on that! An' then Richards and the rest come to him an' said as how Seth Stevens was faintin', an' schoolmaster he ran to the crick an' brought water and put over him. An' then I runned to tell you--schoolmaster's strong, I guess, stronger nor pappa. I seed him put on his vest, an' Seth Stevens he was settin' up, all blood and water on his face, streaky like; he did look bad. But, Loo----say, Loo! Why didn't schoolmaster when he got him down the first time, jest stomp on his face with his heels?--he had his boots on--an' that's how Seth Stevens broke Tom Cooper's jaw when _they_ fit."
The girl was white, and trembling from head to foot as the boy ended his narrative, and looked inquiringly into her face. She could not answer. Indeed, she had hardly heard the question. The thought of what might have happened to her lover appalled her, and terror and remorse held her heart as in a vice. But oh!--and the hot tears came into her eyes--she'd tell him when they met how sorry she was for it all, and how bad she had been, and how she hated herself. She had acted foolish, very; but she hadn't meant it. She'd be more careful in future, much more careful. How brave he was and kind! How like him it was to get the water! Oh! if he'd only come.
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