THREE WOMEN AND LOVE
THE PADDED LIFE
Said Life to Love: “Much have I suffered through
Thy ways, and for thy madness learned to mourn!”
Said Love: “The things I leave undone or do
Must count not, for of me all life is born!”
SOMETHING about the half-squalid grandeur of the hotel in which she found herself brought a revulsion of feeling over Cynthia Britton. She had been confronted by nothing base and revolting to the eye, but the contrast between the dingy crimsons of that corridor filled with meaningless faces and the intimate, violet-scented, firelit room she had left caused the intruder to shrink down a little behind the barricade of her heavy sables. Her earlier flame of resolution seemed to have burned away into a dull and sullen protest against the fact that she was not to face something tangibly odious, something against which to direct and centralize her hatred.
As she stepped from the upholstered and mirror-lined elevator-cage, with its taint of over-strong perfume and cigar-smoke, she could no longer feel that life was crowding and narrowing itself up into one climacteric apex. She had hoped to walk about this dilemma, discreetly yet deliberately, as about some new and nervous brood-mare in her husband’s stables. But already she was teased by a sense of intrusion. She was no longer sure of herself.
Yet as she tapped on the door which the uniformed bell-boy had pointed out to her, she made one last effort to school herself to perfect calmness. A second bell-boy, carrying a trayful of whisky glasses and a siphon of seltzer, hurried past her. Even her dull glow of protest, by this time, had withered down into what seemed the ashes of a pale indifference.
“Come in!” cried a high soprano voice from within the room.
Cynthia Britton carried away with her no distinct memory of opening and closing the door. All that remained with her was the feeling that she would look best and be most at ease if she restored her hands to the hollow of her muff. Her attention, as she did this, was fixed on what stood before her—the large red-carpeted bedroom with the half-drawn blinds, the wide white bed with its tumbled coverings, the scattered newspapers, and the young woman in a dark crimson peignoir, propped up against a bank of pillows. In her hand she held the card that had just come up from the office. She looked from the card to her visitor, and then back at the card again.
“I never thought that—that you’d be coming here!” said the woman on the bed, at last. She gave utterance to a nervous and yet a careless little laugh. It was her only outward sign of concern, and it was as free of scorn as the ripple of running water.
The woman, whose sable boa was rising and falling so quickly, studied the figure on the bed with an intentness of vision that let no detail go unrecorded, as she found her lips saying aloud: “One often does things in which one takes little immediate pleasure!”
She spoke with a lowness of tone that seemed a rebuff to the lighter-timbred voice, yet she was wondering, even as that evading note of dignity fell from her, what had sapped away her earlier grim resolution, what had become of her burning passion for some final word to the sordid chapter?
“Well, I don’t!” The soprano voice spoke the three pregnant syllables with a quiet drawl. They fell more as the confession of a victor, than the challenge of an enemy. It was the woman’s life, thought Cynthia Britton, as she continued to gaze at her—her rudimentary and unrelated and irresponsible life in three short words.
She noticed the hand that held the card, the short white fingers, the softly enough turned yet strangely muscular looking arm, the thick white hand itself, the massive rounded neck. Then she noticed the two heavy ropes of braided hair that hung down in front of either shoulder. It was brown and thick and heavy; she felt sure it was a little coarse. She noticed the woman’s wide thick shoulders. Then her gaze was fastened on the face itself, where some vague sense of fragility seemed to contradict the strength of the body, on the meek hazel-brown eyes, set so wide apart under the low brow that at first they seemed almost ox-like in their impression of placidity, the short straight nose that was clean-chiseled, but too broad at the nostrils, perhaps, to be called beautiful, the soft pear-like chin, the heavy wilful mouth that seemed so unnaturally red. She noticed, too, the large white teeth, and the ridiculous dimple, high on one cheek, seeming to mock the worldly-wise shadows of the strangely autumnal and almost colorless face with a touch of baby-like guilelessness.
For the second time a dim sense of frustration flashed through Cynthia Britton. The very thought of finding nothing to oppose left her more embittered even while it left her more helpless. She had looked for something primordial and animal-like, against which to test the keen steel of her higher civilization, against which to fling her sublimating fury. She saw only a white-throated and mild-browed woman, gazing back at her with ingenuous and baby-like eyes in which there appeared neither hate nor resentment. She felt herself the victim of an imprisoning and devitalizing career, where dignity forever gnawed on the proffered bones of concession and compromise. She seemed engulfed and choked in an endless gray fog of ennui, shot through with apprehension. Her soft and idle days had weakened her claws of instinct; she felt that she could never revert to the pagan type and fight for her threatened hearth. She even began to wonder in what way she was going to meet and combat this woman who had come between her and her home.
“Won't you sit down?” the woman was Saying, in her mild soprano.
She waved a languid hand toward an upholstered rocking-chair close by the window. It was soft and padded and sustaining; the married woman felt glad of its material support.
“I guess you'll think I’m awf'ly lazy! Here it’s almost twelve and I’ve never touched my breakfast yet!”
She laughed a little, almost deprecatingly, and looked down at the food that stood at her bedside. The other woman followed the line of her gaze. On the napkin-covered metal tray stood a pewter coffee-pot, and close beside it a nickel cream-jug and sugar-bowl. Near these, again, stood a platter of chops and a plate of buttered toast, grown cold, and a dish of scrambled eggs garnished with a parsley-sprig.
“You don’t mind if I eat, do you?” said the woman on the bed, with her baby-like impersonality of stare, as she lifted the tray over to her updrawn knees and flung back her two heavy ropes of dark hair.
Then she reached under her pillow for a little silver “vanity-glass,” and after a close andscrutiny of her face, made an impersonal dab or two at her nose with a powder-puff. As the woman in the rocker still remained silent, she picked up one of the cold chops and a slice of the toast, and fell to munching the bread and meat between her strong molars. The chop, which was “frenched,” she held by the bone. From time to time, as she ate her toast, she stopped to lick the butter from her finger-tips.
A dozen rushing thoughts crowded through Cynthia Britton’s mind as she watched this few seconds of dumb show. Often, in vaguely anticipating this meeting which was now filling her with such tingling and concrete miseries, she had imagined herself as pleading with her enemy. She now felt the absurdity of that, just as she saw the futility of any open conflict of word or will. Her opponent was an anomaly, as primordial and instinctive as an animal. She herself was the daughter of a super-refined and super-feminine exclusiveness of existence that built golden walls between its offspring and all elemental life. She wondered if her world was not forgetting how to hate, as it had forgotten how to love. She knew she had the hatred of her class for a “scene”—she had surrendered so many hostages to material dignity—there were so many things to remember; there were the grim yet insidious exactions of name and position, the secret yet continuous compromises to outward respectability. Life, as she had lived it, with all its involutions, had grown tame, and old and discreet. Yet she could not face it without its upholstery; she could not imagine it without its wide-chaired boudoir and its waiting brougham. These things made keener and more continual demand than any barbaric play and abandon of passion.
The married woman stared in wonder at the crimson-clad figure eating the cold chop with its almost canine simplicity of appetite. The poor thing was hardly a woman! She was something to be pitied. Yet she hated herself for that incongruous emotionalism, as she felt the relaxing wave sweep through her, and make her path more complex than ever before.
“Why did you come up here to see me?” suddenly demanded the woman on the bed. The interrogation whipped out like a pistol-shot. It was the simplicity of the primordial once more. She put down the chop-bone and licked her white, short fingers.
“Can’t you imagine why I came?” asked the woman in the sables.
The other woman surveyed the tray at her side.
“It’s something about Charlie?”
She held the plate of eggs poised before her, looking up with her exasperatingly mild and impersonal stare. If she saw the tight-lipped wife’s wince of spirit she gave no sign of comprehending it.
The side light from the window threw into strong relief the face of the woman on the bed. If she had anything under the husk, if she only had brains, the other woman bitterly acknowledged to herself, with a sudden pang of acutest misery, she could see how a man might come to think of her as good-looking.
“Yes, it is something to do with my husband!” she answered, dimly held down by the other’s devastating directness of approach.
“You want him back?”
There were three seconds of unbroken silence.
“I want him back,” answered the wife.
The woman on the bed was moving her head up and down, slowly.
“I think he ought to go back,” she said, in her drawling soprano.
An inarticulate gasp fell from the wife’s lips. She closed her eyes, fighting for strength to speak, to say only the right thing, that her way might be left open and sane. She felt that she was bargaining for nothing more than the empty shell of a man—but all her life had been made up of the empty shells of things.
The woman on the bed turned and studied her visitor. The meek and wide-set eyes were penetrating in their sudden intentness of scrutiny. Yet their owner made no effort to conceal the admiration in her gaze, as she made note of the refined face with its sense of cool and quiet, of the small head so well poised above the narrow sloping shoulders, of the tall and well-gowned figure with its somber scrupulosity of line. Then she sank back on her bank of pillows with a little sigh.
“Do you like Charlie?”
The tortured wife had told herself that she could be no longer affronted, happen what might. But she drew herself up, intuitively, combatively. Then an icy calm crept over her.
“I love my husband,” was her answer, in the low tones that were a rebuff to the other’s betraying highness of note.
The woman on the bed shook her head.
“No, you don't,” she explained. “You like him!”
“And why, pray, this gratuitous qualification?”
“Because—well, just because if you did love him, the way I mean, you wouldn’t be sitting-there talking to me like you’re doing! I can see how you'd like him. He can give you dresses and things, and horses and houses and all that kind of stuff you've got to have.”
“How dare you!” gasped the married woman.
“But I guess that’s not the kind of love a man like Charlie Britton’d want to be paid back in!” went on the other woman, unperturbed. “No, that’s not the best kind of love for Charlie!”
“The best kind of love!” mocked the woman in sables.
Her enemy drew up her knees, and hugged them with her thick white arms.
“I don’t think you understand Charlie,” she began, conciliatingly.
“You don’t think so?” scoffed the wife, trembling in spite of herself.
“If you did you'd be able to hold him, I guess! Charlie’s always been so big and rough, he can’t be satisfied with acting. I mean he’s so crazy-headed and wild an animal—and I suppose that’s why he never got what he was after out of all this quiet city life here. You women are all too cold and shut in for him—he always seemed to like things big and rough. I guess that’s why he gets so much fun poking round those Big Eagle Mines. He can get away from high collars and company manners out there, and kind of break loose again. He’s got to!”
The woman turned round with her childlike, impersonal smile.
“Oh, Charlie and me ’ve talked things over, many a time!”
“And did he tell—tell you all this?” broke, in a low and colorless voice, from the woman in the chair.
The eyes of the two women met.
“Why, doesn’t he talk things over with you?”
The wife rose to her feet, unsteadily. After all, she could endure it no longer.
The woman on the bed held her with a sudden question.
“Have you got any children?”
Again there were several seconds of unbroken silence.
“I have no children,” she answered, where she stood.
The standing woman put her hand on the padded back of the rocking-chair. She looked at the room, at the bed, at the crimson-clad figure, as though she had seen them all for the first time.
“Why should I talk such things over with you?” she cried out, in her pitiful and impotent hauteur.
“Charlie does,” said the other, simply, as she brushed a crumb from her fingers.
“A woman like you ought to have children,” she drawled on, relentlessly. “I guess every man’s wife ought to have children, if she can. They keep her feelings from going to seed. They keep her from getting mean and morbid, too. But, what’s more, things like that’ve got a way of keeping her humble—I mean they bring it home to her that after all she’s an animal herself. And that’s what holds a man, more often than not!”
The listening woman took three steps forward.
“Do you love my husband?” she demanded.
The other looked up, but still languidly, at the sudden passion in the wife’s cry.
“I like him,” she answered.
“Do you love him?”
The woman on the bed fingered the coverlet, and shook her head from side to side, slowly.
“I guess it’s not him I like. It’s more just the liking itself, I suppose. I mean I've got to like somebody, or have somebody like me! I can’t get along without love!”
“You!” cried the wife, in startled scorn. “You—love!”
“Yes, me!” answered the other placidly. “You'll never understand it, for you don’t care about him yourself. If you did you'd be killing me, now, right here!”
“Yes, killing me—without caring much what it meant, either!”
“That’s absurd. I’m—I’m not a mad thing of the streets! I’m not a cave-woman, a she-pagan, who has to snarl and fight and scratch for its mate!”
“No, that’s it! Of course, you’re not a fool! That's just the trouble! You've never been fool enough to forget that your hair’s just Marcelled, or what folks are going to say about you when everything’s over!" She turned suddenly on one hip to give emphasis to what she was about to say. “And that’s why a great big rough-house fellow like Charlie Britton lives such an awf'ly mean and lonely life! You couldn't go and fall in love, like a fool, and you couldn’t turn round and fight, like a fool!”
The woman pushed up her loose sleeves and looked at her short white hands, almost ruminantly.
“I could!” she ended, with her childlike directness. And the staring wife was startled to see that the other woman’s eyes were flaming with some slow and mounting fire, for all her outward calmness of movement.
She waved her visitor toward the chair once more, almost imperiously.
“You may as well sit down—I want to tell you something. I’ve got to tell you, now, so you'll understand. I want a man to make a fool of himself over me. I guess that’s the only proof I can ever get. Charlie Britton never would. And he never will. The last time he was going out to the Mines I wanted him to take me out to the Big Eagle, for good. I like it out there. I don’t know why, but I suppose it’s because it’s so big and raw and easy-going!”
She closed her eyes reminiscently. “D’ you want me to go on?” she asked, with a sudden inapposite timidity.
“Yes, go on!”
“But it always seemed to me that it’s—it’s awf'ly fierce, out there. Charlie says it’s only the altitude. But it grips you. You have to live hard, and drink hard, and die hard, too! But Charlie’d never stand for all that. He’s had eleven years of—of bleaching out. He belongs to your set, now. He’s a good deal like the rest of you—if you only knew just how to keep his hobble on! He's too—oh, too civilized for me. I thought that would make you feel better! But I’ve never cared enough to fight it out with him. Then I told him I was going out there by myself. He tore things up and said he’d rather see me dead, and that it would be a dog’s life out there, in a Rocky Mountain mining-town.”
“And you are going?” demanded Cynthia Britton.
“Maybe,” said the other, with her enigmatic slow smile. “But here’s what I want you to understand. If I’d cared for your husband, do you suppose I’d have thought of going? Not if I cared! I knew that, as soon as I was able to sit back and see him feeling so bad. If I'd loved him I’d have had to crawl after him, no matter where he went, or what he did. I suppose out there there will be somebody who'll be able to make another fool of me. But Charlie Britton never could!”
The married woman drew in a quavering breath, audible across the quiet room. The universe, to which she had always imputed some deep yet inscrutable order, seemed without justice, without pity. She had been made to suffer, beyond her due, for transgressions that were small and trivial. And this, this soft and pliant plaything of passions that flowed and raced about her, doing nothing more than discolor the currents into which she had been flung, yielding and suffering nothing more than would a mass of clay in the bed of its river, this brought down no stroke of supreme reproof, this evoked no hour of retributive anguish!
She clasped the arms of her chair and gazed at the other woman, not so much with horror, now, as with wonder. It seemed maddeningly beyond her to comprehend the springs of action in this creature, who made emotion the ultimate and only arbiter of life and fate. She forgot her temporary sense of release, her momentary personal triumph, in the keener mental curiosity to fathom what she felt must be something antipodean. She watched her, with a sudden detachment, as she wiped her red mouth with the table napkin, flung aside her heavy braids of hair, and then leaned back on her bank of pillows.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” the woman on the bed asked.
Cynthia Britton moved her head, absently.
“I always do, after breakfast.” And again she drew up her knees, under the tumbled coverings.
A moment or two later the heavy aroma of the Egyptian cigarette filled the room. The blue smoke curled ceilingward. Cynthia Britton looked at her companion, and wondered if she herself, with a cigarette between her fingers after bridge-whist, looked the same to her friends.
“You smoke yourself?” said the other, with her feminine intuitive alertness. She reached over for the gaudily lithographed box with a malicious little laugh.
The woman in the sables knew a denial was useless, for already she could feel the telltale flush creeping up to her very eyebrows.
The gaily-colored little box was handed to her, without a word. Her first impulse was to refuse. But that same impersonal intellectual curiosity which had already held her a studious observer of an unlovely scene, wherein she had beheld swamp and founder her own sense of shame, still called to her for more light. She found herself possessed of a hunger to get in touch with the mystery of the woman, to uncover and know, once for all, the source of her enigmatic power.
She lighted the cigarette, hardly conscious of the act. It was not until she had done so that it struck her as a concession, as a ritual of compromise, of some nameless capitulation. She would have flung the perfumed horror from her, only she was startled by a sudden and peremptory knock on the door.
She looked up, and saw her husband standing on the threshold, saw him take half-a-dozen groping steps forward, and then come to a stop.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded. The interrogation, she felt, was almost automatic. Again he moved forward, his eyes, by this time, wide with fear and wonder. Then still again he came to a stop, gazing at the two women, at the drifting arch of blue smoke that seemed to bridge and unite the two strangely diverse beings before him.
“What are you doing here?” he gasped, coming to his senses.
Cynthia Britton looked down at the gold-tipped cigarette, which she had crushed, unconsciously, between her shaking fingers. Then sudden laughter, mirthless, abandoned, cruel, shook the huge frame of her husband, at the eviscerating irony of it all.
She heard it, and did not move. She waited, wondering if one of the others would speak.
It was not tragic, nor was it comedy. It was only life as it had always been to her, a thing of tangled complexities, of subversive side-issues, of hampering neutralities of emotion, but always without one engulfing and implacable passion.
“Take her home, you fool!” commanded the woman on the bed, in her strident soprano. “Can’t you see that she wants you to take her home?”
THE BONES OF LIFE
If all the tears by men and women wept
Because of love, in one vast ocean lay,
Life still would cry, as to that deep it crept:
“A little love—then gladly I shall pay!”
“Lordly Ames,” the giant foreman of Number Three, clutched at the edge of an ore-car and watched for the express to go east. He could see it at last, through smoke-plumed chimneys and dust-stained ore-chutes, twining and crawling along the valley bottom, two miles below. That train was taking “The Boss” once more to the East; Lordly Ames wished to heaven that it wasn’t taking him alone. But there was no getting out of things as easy as that. And Lordly Ames wiped his great forehead with the back of his hand.
It was his first day back at the Big Eagle Smeltery. He was still weak and sick, and the keen mountain air cut him like a knife-blade. But he was going to sweat it out, as he had done before. He was in luck to be back at his work. If the Boss hadn't appeared in the nick of time, and made it easy for him, about getting back, he wondered where he would have been—after those red and lurid weeks of things that now seemed like a nightmare, and those five long weeks in the Mounted Police Hospital, and those three limp and tottering days hugging the box-stove in Sunset Stevens’ saloon! Then he cursed himself and his luck, and crawled back to his old solace, work.
But Lordly Ames, “the driver av men and the divil wid wimmen,” as he was known to that uncouth colony of “Black Irish” that fringed the upper levels of the Big Eagle, was not what he had been. The broad, dare-devil face had weakened; the bull neck had fallen away. In the glare of the smelter fires he turned dizzy and sick. His throat seemed burning for a few drops of the old anodyne, as far away as Sunset Stevens’. His arm was flaccid. And work was going hard with him. He wished he were home. Already his clothes were moist and soggy with sweat, and he hadn't so much as lifted a hand. He was still troubled with what he called that “bit av lung trouble.” The young police surgeon in the little clapboarded hospital had called it double pneumonia. Whatever it was, Lordly Ames knew that it had hit him hard. He wished he were home.
But that came too late. “Tell me you'll never go back to her!" the other woman had cried, clinging to him with her soft hands. He remembered it, sinkingly, as he mopped the wet from his face.
Toward noon a sudden chill came over him. It bewildered and terrified the man of strength in his first sickness. A sharp knife-blade of pain pushed through his left breast. He crouched down on an ore-car, shivering and cowed.
Two of the hands from the “Vibratory” found him there, and helped him back to the heat. There he lay, holding his jaws together, in the full blaze of the open furnace doors. But still he shivered. Oily beads of sweat glistened through the smoke and dust on his blanched face. He wished he were home.
The heat from the fiery red cavern scorched his great boots till the smell of burning leather filled the air. But still he shook with his chill. They came and lifted his feet away from the fire, whereat he whined that he was cold. “Only promise me that you'll never go back to her!” the other woman had pleaded and begged, following him to the door. And as he lay there he cursed her, gently, for saying it.
In time Lordly Ames’ chill wore itself away, but it left him dazed and weak, with sudden spasms twisting and bending his great body. Kootenay MacIntyre, the foreman of Number Two, came and looked down at him and said he ought to get back home to bed.
He got to his feet, and fought his way into his coat, and crawled out into the open air. He felt, though, that he could never go home. But now the thought of the other woman sickened him. He hated her eternal white hands and her way of hounding him. He wanted a long rest.
Just under the Covert Flume, beyond the Mary Stewart shaft, he was taken with a sudden dart of pain once more, and, as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, he saw that it was red with blood. Slowly he began to understand what it meant. He looked about him, terrified.
Now he had to go home; there was no way out of it. Somewhere he had heard that it was good to eat ice, in case of a hemorrhage. He clutched, with shaking fingers, at the unclean water frozen at the roadside, at the discolored icicles that hung from the sluice. But his stomach revolted at its filthiness, as it dissolved muddily on his tongue, and he spat it out.
That settled it; he would go home, and sleep. He would straighten it all out with Nora, some way or other. But he had heard that men taken that way often lived for months, in that mountain air, dying a little every day. He put his hand to his hip. Then he remembered his gun had gone over the bar, for a last round of drinks, weeks before. If it turned out that way, he would settle it quick and short, with his boots on.
He came to a stop in front of the Big Eagle Supply House. Then he crawled inside and asked for a cheap revolver. He was shown a futile little toy with a white bone handle, for a dollar and a half. He flung it down and asked what the devil good a thing like that was—he wanted something that was big enough to kill a dog, he declared, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.
“What size dog, colonel?” asked the man in the blue-flannel shirt, behind the rough counter, eying him meaninglessly. Life, in those rough hills walked bare to the buff.
“A dog about me own size!” was his answer.
“Then maybe he'll do!” said the other, caressing a heavy, ugly, thirty-eight calibre six-shooter.
Lordly Ames groped his way out. But still he wanted to go home. He felt that he could make it up, some way, with Nora. Foot by foot, leaning on rocks and stumps, he wore his way along, staggering from shack to shack, leaning on whatever chanced in his way. He tottered to that one particular outskirt shack, so like the others, yet so different. Foot by foot he crept back to his home, as dying men have done before.
A woman with red arms, bending over a pine washtub, looked up at him through clouds of steam.
“I’ve come back!” he said, with his hand on his chest.
“Ye’ve come back?” she repeated, unfeelingly.
He staggered in through the low door. She gazed at him with withering scorn.
“What’s that blood from?” she cried suddenly. He leaned against the rough wall, and- wiped his mouth, weakly.
“I’m sick, Nora,” he whined, like a child. “I’m sick; and I’ve come back to you!”
“Ye’re me wife, Nora!” He shivered forlornly. The woman made a step toward him; then stopped.
“If ye’re sick, go back to her who’s been takin’ care av you this last two months!” she flung out at him bitterly. Something in his face alarmed her. But she had never gone a step to bring him back! She had spoken no word! And she bent over her tub once more.
Lordly Ames unlaced his scorched boots with shaking fingers. Then he crawled into bed, with his damp clothes still on. He felt another chill coming. But still the woman held back.
“Some whisky, Nora; for the love av God, some whisky!” he cried out, with his blind fear of the blackness about him. She came and stood over him, arms akimbo. He was shaking the little wooden bed until it rattled on its four posts. She looked down at him with calm and studious eyes. Again he begged for a drop of whisky.
“Why don’t ye call to her for your whisky?” she suddenly cried out, in what was almost a scream. “Her, wid her laughin’ and finery! Oh!”
She glared at the dare-devil face so drawn and blanched, at the bull neck so fallen away. He frightened her.
“Ye’ve been rotten to me!” she said slowly. Then she caught at him, as though to strangle him. “Ye’ve spoilt me life!” she went on, gathering fire and rapidity as she spoke. “Ye’ve made me the laughin’ stock av the town! Ye’ve left me alone widout help and money! Ye’ve broken me heart and laughed over it—wid her! Oh, ye’ve not been kind tome! Ye’ve treated me like a dog, Mickie; ye’ve treated me like a dog!”
It ended in a high wail, as a sudden passion of tears rained from her eyes.
Then she caught at the shivering hulk of his body, hungrily, and tried to warm it with the weight of her own. But this was only for a moment. She came to her senses, and with a quick thumb and forefinger scooped the suds from her strong red arms. She could hear the shaking of the wooden bed as she hurried out through the door with a shawl thrown over her shoulders. He was sick, sure enough; but when was the time, she demanded, when her big strong Mickie couldn’t throw a thing off, with the help of a drop of whisky!
As she came scuttling back from Sunset Stevens’, with her heart in her mouth, Tim Murchison met her outside the shack door.
“Then it wasn’t you?” he said.
She brushed past him. “What wasn’t me?” she demanded, with her hand on the latch. The waiting man noticed the movement of reproof.
“Oh, nothin!” he answered, with a meaning look. “I was just comin’ in.”
“Ye can’t, Tim—Mickie’s home!” she cried, looking about in alarm.
“Mickie home! What’s that to you and me?”
“He'll murther you, Timothy Murchison!”
“And haven’t ye told him ye were comin’—comin’ wid me?”
“’Twas all me philanderin’, Tim!” she cried in sudden terror.
“But ye meant it?”
“Tim, ye’re a fool!”
“But I’ve your promise! Ye swore ye’d shame him, to the whole av Big Eagle, when he came back, tired av—av the other wan!”
“I was mad wid rage—jealous rage!”
“But I’ve a feelin’ ye’ll keep to it!”
“Ye’re stoppin’ me way—and me Mickie is sick!”
“I’ll not have ye put me off, like an ould coat.”
“Ye bla’guard! I’m a wife, and a good woman!”
The man stood back, laughing wickedly.
“He’s come back to me, I tell ye!” she cried proudly, in answer to his jeer.
“Come back to ye, has he!” scoffed the other. “And wid her for comp’ny!”
“Wid her? What d’ye mean by that?”
“I mean, my dear, that’s she’s wid him now!”
“Ye lie!” she flamed back at him.
“Look inside, me darlin’!”
“Ye lie!” she cried again, but with a whiter face.
“She said she’d be keepin’ him to the end! She said she’d hold him, do what ye could!” he mocked.
The woman with the white face crept through her door, and peered in.
Through the gloom she saw her, the other woman, bending over the squalid little bed. And on that bed lay her husband.
“Your hands off that man!” she screamed, baring her arms.
“Be still!” said the woman quietly, in her plaintive soprano.
“Still! And why should I be still!” cried the wife, advancing.
“Be still—he’s dead!”
“And what's that to you?” cried the dead man’s mate, flinging off her shawl.
“It’s this, you fool!” said the other woman suddenly, with Lordly Ames’ pistol at her own painted mouth.
The short, white finger pulled the trigger, and the sudden report shook the dust and clay from the log-chinks. The wife watched the thin cloud of smoke that drifted out through the open door. Then she saw the other woman, where she had fallen forward on her face across the bed.
“Tim!” called the ashen-faced wife, in her hard and colorless voice.
She seized the still warm body that lay so jealously over the cold one, and flung it horridly out on the bare floor.
“Tim!” she called again, as she looked at the skirted and perfumed thing. “Tim, me darlin,’ I'm waitin’ to go wid ye, now!”
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1950, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 72 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.
Public domainPublic domainfalse