Fires of Fate/Chapter 3
THE WOOING OF THE HALF-BREED
BUD CONLEY’S disgrace had been an awful blow to Norah Clarey, although she concealed it well. She had known Bud ever since she had come from school in Vancouver to join her father. Norah had been raised in Eagle’s Nest, and Bud, with his clear blue eyes, uptilted nose and ready smile had fairly grown into her life. He was different than any man she had ever met. There had been no courtship between them, but both of them seemed to feel that none was needed.
With all of her impulsive soul she tried to hate him for what he had done—tried to, but hardly succeeded. For little Marie she had nothing but sorrow. She was only a slip of a child, to Norah, although there was only a matter of a year or so difference in their ages.
It was inconceivable that Bud Conley would do this thing. But there was the evidence. He had sacrificed his place in the service and disgraced himself with the girl he loved. Norah shook her head and tried to tell herself that Bud was not worth a thought.
She knew that strange things had been done at Kingsburg. Much whisky had been run across the border, and it was an easy sanctuary for outlaws from the States. Dr. Clarey had patched up many a wound at Kingsburg, and shut his lips tight against the questions of the Mounted. He was a moral, law-abiding man, but his practice and patients were sacred to him.
Dr. Clarey had gone to the store and Norah was busy with her housework, when Joe Burgoyne, coming from his talk with the inspector, dismounted at the porch.
Joe had seen the doctor going down the path to Louie Beaudet’s place, and had waited until he was out of sight before going to the Clarey cabin.
Norah came to the door, carrying her broom and watched Joe tie his horse to a comer of the cabin. Since his encounter with Bud Conley, Joe Burgoyne was far from being the gay half-breed.
His clothes were badly wrinkled, as though he had slept in them, and a scowl twisted his lean face, as he tried to force the restive horse to lead up close enough to enable him to make the tie.
Norah had never liked Joe Burgoyne. There was something snake-like about him. She really hated to see little Marie marry him, and felt a thrill of satisfaction when Joe had refused, although she detested Joe for his decision.
He turned and saw her standing in the door.
“Ah, I am pleased to see you,” he said, and his white teeth flashed in a smile. “I come to see Dr. Clarey.”
Norah stepped further out onto the porch and glanced down toward the store.
“Why, he just went down to Beaudet’s,” she replied. “Didn’t you see him?”
Unconsciously she turned and went inside and Joe followed her. Joe’s every movement was like that of a panther. Possibly this was an inheritance from his Nez Perce mother.
“No, I don’t see him down there?”
Joe shook his head and sat down in one of the rough rockers, while Norah went on about her house-cleaning. Joe watched her closely, as he said, “You got hair like de shadows in La Clede cliffs.”
Norah stopped sweeping and looked at him.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“You never seen de shadow of La Clede cliffs? De soft black and purple—more like clouds. You got hair like it.”
Norah snorted visibly and continued sweeping. She did not seem to care for Joe’s compliments.
“You much sad, eh?” queried Joe softly. “I’m sorry.”
Norah looked at him, but continued her work.
“Your eyes be sad.” Joe was very sympathetic now. “You make mistake in one man and now you be very sad, eh?”
Norah flushed slightly, but did not reply.
“You must not be sad,” continued Joe. “Why you don’t smile and drive de clouds from your eyes? You are de prettiest girl in de worl’, and you must not be sad.”
It suddenlyto Norah that Joe was trying to make love to her, and she was not at all pleased.
“You smile at Joe Burgoyne and he feel proud. Maybe I bring you de nice present, eh? I’m like to do dat.”
“You bring me a present?” Norah turned quickly on him. “What about Marie Beaudet?”
Joe laughed softly and shook his head. “Marie? Dat is all past. I want to marry good woman—me.”
Norah stared at him for a moment and then pointed toward the door. “Dr. Clarey is down at the store, and I think you had better go down there to see him.”
“I wait here for him,” declared Joe grinning. “I’m more interest in other things jus’ now.” He had failed to note the anger in Norah’s face and voice.
“You’ll not stay here!” Nora’s hands tightened around the broom-handle and her face went a shade whiter.
Joe glanced quickly at her and got to his feet. “You not mad at me?” Joe spread his hands in a gesture of despair. “Mon dieu, I am sorry!”
“You had better go now,” said Norah coldly.
Joe, turned toward the door, but did not go out.
“You don’t like me, eh? I want to be nice to you, but you send me away. Is it because I am quarter-breed? Mebbe you like best de white man, who is de thief? No, I am sorry I say dat, mam’selle—very sorry.”
Norah had turned away and Joe started to follow her.
“Please don’t be mad with me,” he begged. “I love you ever since you come here. You no love me, eh? I know.”
Joe’s voice was so wistful that Norah’s anger faded and she turned to him.
“Why don’t you go back to Marie?” she asked. “Louie Beaudet is broken-hearted. Marie is a good woman.”
Joe laughed bitterly and shook his head. “No, I never go back to her. Good woman, eh? How could she be good woman?”
This time Norah could not hold her temper nor her tongue and Joe retreated out of the door.
“You soulless little rat!” she called him. “You are not even half-a-man! In spite of anything she has ever done, Marie Beaudet is many times too good for you! Now get out of here and stay out!”
Norah slammed the door shut, knocking Joe into Dr. Clarey, who was coming up behind him. The doctor grasped Joe to keep him from falling, but Joe, with a snarling curse, tore away from him, went out to his horse and rode away.
Her father opened the door and almost became a victim of Norah’s broom. He stepped back quickly, but she dropped the broom and laughed hysterically.
“I thought he was coming back,” she explained. “The little snake tried to make love to me.”
“Now, would ye believe that!” exploded the doctor. “That—well, now, it’s all right. He has a grand taste, so he has, Norah; and I give him that much credit. But I have some bad news for ye. McKay and his Indian were killed in Kingsburg, and last night someone broke into Louie’s safe and stole all his money.”
Norah stared at, him and her hands clutched at her apron. “Jimmy McKay and his Indian killed?”
“Aye. Henderson brought them in last night.”
“And Louie was robbed, you say?”
“He was. They took everything in his safe.”
Norah stared out of the open door. She had known McKay for a long time.
“And it’s worse and more of it,” volunteered the doctor. “Bud Conley’s gun was on the floor beside the safe.”
Norah turned and looked dumbly at him. “Bud’s gun?”
Her voice was barely above a whisper. “Bud’s gun?”
“Aye. Henderson identified it, Norah. Ah, I’m sorry.”
She bit her lips and shook her head. “You don’t need to be sorry for me, daddy. Be sorry for poor Bud Conley.”
“Aye, that’s true. He left a note for Henderson, saying that he was leaving. Things are in a bad shape around here, my dear. The inspector’s face looks like it was petrified, Angus MacPherson is swearing incessantly and old Louie is crying into his beard. Aye, there’s a deal of sorrow.
“And now Joe Burgoyne is blaspheming because you won’t love him,” added the doctor after a moment. “Sure, this sorrow is contagious. There’s no doubt of the truth that single misfortunes never come alone.”
Norah shut her lips tightly and turned back to her sweeping. The doctor studied her for a moment, shook his head and crossed the room to his desk.