Story type: Literature
“Good night, Lettie!”
(The moon is sinking at the west.)
“Good night, my sweetheart.” Once again
The parting kiss, while comrades wait
Impatient at the roadside gate,
And the red moon sinks beyond the west.
John Jennings was not one of those men who go to a donation party with fifty cents’ worth of potatoes and eat and carry away two dollars’ worth of turkey and jelly-cake. When he drove his team around to the front door for Mrs. Jennings, he had a sack of flour and a quarter of a fine fat beef in his sleigh and a five-dollar bill in his pocket-book, a contribution to Elder Wheat’s support.
Milton, his twenty-year-old son, was just driving out of the yard, seated in a fine new cutter, drawn by a magnificent gray four-year-old colt. He drew up as Mr. Jennings spoke.
“Now be sure and don’t never leave him a minute untied. And see that the harness is all right. Do you hear, Milton?”
“Yes, I hear!” answered the young fellow, rather impatiently, for he thought himself old enough and big enough to look out for himself.
“Don’t race, will y’, Milton?” was his mother’s anxious question from the depth of her shawls.
“Not if I can help it,” was his equivocal response as he chirruped to Marc Antony. The grand brute made a rearing leap that brought a cry from the mother and a laugh from the young driver, and swung into the road at a flying pace. The night was clear and cold, the sleighing excellent, and the boy’s heart was full of exultation.
It was a joy just to control such a horse as he drew rein over that night. Large, with the long, lithe body of a tiger and the broad, clear limbs of an elk, the gray colt strode away up the road, his hoofs flinging a shower of snow over the dasher. The lines were like steel rods; the sleigh literally swung by them; the traces hung slack inside the thills. The bells clashed out a swift clamor; the runners seemed to hiss over the snow as the duck-breasted cutter swung round the curves and softly rose and fell along the undulating road.
On either hand the snow stood billowed against the fences and amid the wide fields of corn-stalks bleached in the wind. Over in the east, above the line of timber skirting Cedar Creek, the vast, slightly gibbous moon was rising, sending along the crusted snow a broad path of light. Other sleighs could be heard through the still, cold air. Far away a party of four or five were singing a chorus as they spun along the road.
Something sweet and unnamable was stirring in the young fellow’s brain as he spun along in the marvelously still and radiant night. He wished Eileen were with him. The vast and cloudless blue vault of sky glittered with stars, which even the radiant moon could not dim. Not a breath of air was stirring save that made by the swift, strong stride of the horse.
It was a night for youth and love and bells, and Milton felt this consciously, and felt it by singing:
“Stars of the summer night,
Hide in your azure deeps,–
She sleeps–my lady sleeps.”
He was on his way to get Bettie Moss, one of his old sweethearts, who had become more deeply concerned with the life of Edwin Blackler. He had taken the matter with sunny philosophy even before meeting Eileen Deering at the Seminary, and he was now on his way to bring about peace between Ed and Bettie, who had lately quarreled. Incidentally he expected to enjoy the sleigh-ride.
“Stiddy, boy! Ho, boy! Stiddy, old fellow,” he called soothingly to Marc, as he neared the gate and whirled up to the door. A girl came to the door as he drove up, her head wrapped in a white hood, a shawl on her arms. She had been waiting for him.
“Hello, Milt. That you?”
“It’s me. Been waiting?”
“I should say I had. Begun t’ think you’d gone back on me. Everybody else’s gone.”
“Well! Hop in here before you freeze; we’ll not be the last ones there. Yes, bring the shawl; you’ll need it t’ keep the snow off your face,” he called, authoritatively.
“‘Tain’t snowin’, is it?” she asked as she shut the door and came to the sleigh’s side.
“Clear as a bell,” he said as he helped her in.
“Then where’ll the snow come from?”
“From Marc’s heels.”
“Goodness sakes! you don’t expect me t’ ride after that wild-headed critter, do you?”
His answer was a chirp which sent Marc half-way to the gate before Bettie could catch her breath. The reins stiffened in his hands. Bettie clung to him, shrieking at every turn in the road. “Milton Jennings, if you tip us over, I’ll”—-
Milton laughed, drew the colt down to a steady, swift stride, and Bettie put her hands back under the robe.
“I wonder who that is ahead?” he asked after a few minutes, which brought them in sound of bells.
“I guess it’s Cy Hurd; it sounded like his bells when he went past. I guess it’s him and Bill an’ Belle an’ Cad Hines.”
“Expect to see Ed there?” asked Milton after a little pause.
“I don’t care whether I ever see him again or not,” she snapped.
“Oh, yes, you do!” he answered, feeling somehow her insincerity.
Milton didn’t care to push the peace-making any further. However, he had curiosity enough to ask, “What upset things ‘tween you ‘n Ed?”
“You mean none o’ my business?”
“I didn’t say so.”
“No, you didn’t need to,” he laughed, and she joined in.
“Yes, that’s Cy Hurd. I know that laugh of his far’s I c’n hear it,” said Bottie as they jingled along. “I wonder who’s with him?”
“We’ll mighty soon see,” said Milton, as he wound the lines around his hands and braced his feet, giving a low whistle, which seemed to run through the colt’s blood like fire. His stride did not increase in rate, but its reach grew majestic as he seemed to lengthen and lower. His broad feet flung great disks of hard-packed snow over the dasher, and under the clash of his bells the noise of the other team grew plainer.
“Get out of the way,” sang Milton, as he approached the other team. There was challenge and exultation in his tone.
“Hello! In a hurry?” shouted those in front, without increasing their own pace.
“Ya-as, something of a hurry,” drawled Milton in a disguised voice.
“Wa-al? Turn out an’ go by if you are.”
“No, thankee, I’ll just let m’ nag nibble the hay out o’ your box an’ take it easy.”
“Sure o’ that?”
“You bet high I am.” Milton nudged Bettie, who was laughing with delight. “It’s Bill an’ his bays. He thinks there isn’t a team in the country can keep up with him. Get out o’ the way there!” he shouted again. “I’m in a hurry.”
“Let ’em out! Let ’em out, Bill,” they heard Cy say, and the bays sprang forward along the level road, the bells ringing like mad, the snow flying, the girls screaming at every lurch of the sleighs. But Marc’s head still shook haughtily above the end-gate; still the foam from his lips fell upon the hay in the box ahead.
“Git out o’ this! Yip!” yelled Bill to his bays, but Marc merely made a lunging leap and tugged at the lines as if asking for more liberty. Milton gave him his head and laughed to see the great limbs rise and fall like the pistons of an engine. They swept over the weeds like a hawk skimming the stubble of a wheat field.
“Get out o’ the way or I’ll run right over your back,” yelled Milton again.
“Try it,” was the reply.
“Grab hold of me, Bettie, and lean to the right. When we turn this corner I’m going to take the inside track and pass ’em.”
“You’ll tip us over”—-
“No, I won’t! Do as I tell you.”
They were nearing a wide corner, where the road turned to the right and bore due south through the woods. Milton caught sight of the turn, gave a quick twist of the lines around his hands, leaned over the dasher and spoke shrilly:
“Git out o’ this, Marc!”
The splendid brute swerved to the right and made a leap that seemed to lift the sleigh and all into the air. The snow flew in such stinging showers Milton could see nothing. The sleigh was on one runner, heeling like a yacht in a gale; the girl was clinging to his neck; he could hear the bells of the other sleigh to his left; Marc was passing them; he heard shouts and the swish of a whip. Another convulsive effort of the gray, and then Milton found himself in the road again, in the moonlight, where the apparently unwearied horse, with head out-thrust, nostril wide-blown and body squared, was trotting like a veteran on the track. The team was behind.
Milton soothed Marc down to a long, easy pace; then turned to Bettie, who had uncovered her face again.
“How d’ y’ like it?”
“My sakes! I don’t want any more of that. If I’d ‘a’ known you was goin’ t’ drive like that I wouldn’t ‘a’ come. You’re worse’n Ed. I expected every minute we’d be down in the ditch. But, oh! ain’t he jest splendint?” she added, in admiration of the horse.
“Don’t y’ want to drive him?”
“Oh, yes; let me try. I drive our teams.”
She took the lines, and at Milton’s suggestion wound them around her hands. She looked very pretty with the moon shining on her face, her eyes big and black with excitement, and Milton immediately put his arm around her and laid his head on her shoulder. “Milton Jennings, you don’t”—-
“Look out,” he cried in mock alarm, “don’t you drop those lines!” He gave her a severe hug.
“Milton Jennings, you let go me!”
“That’s what you said before.”
“Take these lines.”
“Can’t do it,” he laughed; my hands are cold. Got to warm them, see?” He pulled off his mitten and put his icy hand under her chin. The horse was going at a tremendous pace again.
“O-o-o-oh! If you don’t take these lines I’ll drop ’em, so there!”
“Don’t y’ do it,” he called warningly, but she did, and boxed his ears soundly while he was getting Marc in hand again. Bettie’s rage was fleeting as the blown breath from Marc’s nostrils, and when Milton turned to her again all was as if his deportment had been grave and cavalier.
The stinging air made itself felt, and they drew close under their huge buffalo robes as Marc strode steadily forward. The dark groves fell behind, the clashing bells marked the rods and miles and kept time to the songs they hummed.
“Jingle, bells! Jingle, bells!
Jingle all the way.
Oh, what joy it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.”
They overtook another laughing, singing load of young folks–a great wood sleigh packed full with boys and girls, two and two–hooded girls, and boys with caps drawn down over their ears. A babel of tongues arose from the sweeping, creaking bob-sleigh, and rose into the silent air like a mighty peal of laughter.
A school-house set beneath the shelter of great oaks was the center of motion and sound. On one side of it the teams stood shaking their bells under their insufficient blankets, making a soft chorus of fitful trills heard in the pauses of the merry shrieks of the boys playing “pom-pom pullaway” across the road before the house, which radiated light and laughter. A group of young men stood on the porch as Milton drove up.
“Hello, Milt,” said a familiar voice as he reined Marc close to the step.
“That you, Shep?”
“Chuss, it’s me,” replied Shep.
“How’d you know me so far off?”
“Puh! Don’t y’ s’pose I know that horse an’ those bells–Miss Moss, allow me”—- He helped her out with elaborate courtesy. “The supper and the old folks are here, and the girls and boys and the fun is over to Dudley’s,” he explained as he helped Bettie out.
“I’ll be back soon’s I put my horse up,” said Milton to Bettie. “You go in and get good ‘n’ warm, and then we’ll go over to the house.”
“I saved a place in the barn for you, Milt. I knew you’d never let Marc stand out in the snow,” said Shephard as he sprang in beside Milton.
“I knew you would. What’s the news? Is Ed here t’night?”
“Yeh-up. On deck with S’fye Kinney. It’ll make him swear when he finds out who Bettie come with.”
“Let him. Are the Yohe boys here?”
“Yep. They’re alwiss on hand, like a sore thumb. Bill’s been drinking, and is likely to give Ed trouble. He never’ll give Bettie up without a fight. Look out he don’t jump onto your neck.”
“No danger o’ that,” said Milton coolly.
The Yohe boys were strangers in the neighborhood. They had come in with the wave of harvest help from the South and had stayed on into the winter, making few friends and a large number of enemies among the young men of “the crick.” Everybody admitted that they had metal in them, for they instantly paid court to the prettiest girls in the neighborhood, without regard to any prior claims.
And the girls were attracted by these Missourians, their air of mysterious wickedness and their muscular swagger, precisely as a flock of barnyard fowl are interested in the strange bird thrust among them.
But the Southerners had muscles like wild-cats, and their feats of broil and battle commanded a certain respectful consideration. In fact, most of the young men of the district were afraid of the red-faced, bold-eyed strangers, one of the few exceptions being Milton, and another Shephard Watson, his friend and room-mate at the Rock River Seminary. Neither of these boys being at all athletic, it was rather curious that Bill and Joe Yohe should treat them with so much consideration.
Bill was standing before the huge cannon stove, talking with Bettie, when Milton and Shephard returned to the school-house. The man’s hard, black eyes were filled with a baleful fire, and his wolfish teeth shone through his long red mustache. It made Milton mutter under his breath to see how innocently Bettie laughed with him. She never dreamed and could not have comprehended the vileness of the man’s whole life and thought. No lizard reveled in the mud more hideously than he. His conversation reeked with obscenity. His tongue dropped poison each moment when among his own sex, and his eye blazed it forth when in the presence of women.
“Hello, Bill,” said Milton, with easy indifference. “How goes it?”
“Oh, ’bout so-so. You rather got ahead o’ me t’night, didn’t yeh?”
“Well, rather. The man that gets ahead o’ me has got t’ drive a good team, eh?” He looked at Bettie.
“I’d like to try it,” said Bill.
“Well, let’s go across the road,” said Milton to Bettie, anxious to get her out of the way of Bill.
They had to run the gauntlet of the whooping boys outside, but Bettie proved too fleet of foot for them all.
When they entered the Dudley house opposite, her cheeks were hot with color, but the roguish gleam in her eyes changed to a curiously haughty and disdainful look as she passed Blackler, who stood desolately beside the door, looking awkward and sullen.
Milton was a great favorite, and he had no time to say anything more to Bettie as peace-maker. He reached Ed as soon as possible.
“Ed, what’s up between you and Bettie?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I can’t find out,” Blackler replied, and he spurred himself desperately into the fun.
“It’ll make Ed Blackler squirm t’ see Betsey come in on Milt Jennings’ arm,” said Bill to Shephard after Milton went out.
“Wal, chuss. I denk it will.” Shephard was looking round the room, where the old people were noisily eating supper, and the steaming oysters and the cold chicken’s savory smell went to his heart. One of the motherly managers of the feast bustled up to him.
“Shephard, you c’n run over t’ the house an’ tell the young folks that they can come over t’ supper about eight o’clock; that’ll be in a half an hour. You understand?”
“Oh, I’m so hungry! Can’t y’ give me a hunk o’ chicken t’ stay m’ stomach?”
Mrs. Councill laughed. “I’ll fish you out a drumstick,” she said. And he went away, gnawing upon it hungrily. Bill went with him, still belching forth against Blackler.
“Jim said he heard he said he’d slap my face f’r a cent. I wish he would. I’d lick the life out of ‘im in a minnit.”
“Why don’t you pitch into Milt? He’s got her now. He’s the one y’d orto be dammin’.”
“Oh, he don’t mean nothin’ by it. He don’t care for her. I saw him down to town at the show with the girl he’s after. He’s jest makin’ Ed mad.”
A game of “Copenhagen” was going on as they entered. Bettie was in the midst of it, but Milton, in the corner, was looking on and talking with a group of those who had outgrown such games.
The ring of noisy, flushed and laughter-intoxicated young people filled the room nearly to the wall, and round and round the ring flew Bettie, pursued by Joe Yohe.
“Go it, Joe!” yelled Bill.
“You’re good f’r’im,” yelled Shephard.
Milton laughed and clapped his hands. “Hot foot, Bettie!”
Like another Atalanta, the superb young girl sped, now dodging through the ring, now doubling as her pursuer tried to catch her by turning back. At last she made the third circuit, and, breathless and laughing, took her place in the line. But Joe rushed upon her, determined to steal a kiss anyhow.
“H’yare! H’yare! None o’ that.”
“That’s no fair,” cried the rest, and he was caught by a dozen hands.
“She didn’t go round three times,” he said.
“Yes, she did,” cried a dozen voices.
“You shut up,” he retorted, brutally, looking at Ed Blackler, who had not spoken at all. Ed glared back, but said nothing. Bettie ignored Ed, and the game went on.
“There’s going to be trouble here to-night,” said Milton to Shephard.
Shephard, as the ring dissolved, stepped into the middle of the room and flourished his chicken-leg as if it were a baton. After the burst of laughter, his sonorous voice made itself heard.
“Come to supper! Everybody take his girl if he can, and if he can’t–get the other feller’s girl.”
Bill Yohe sprang toward Bettie, but Milton had touched her on the arm.
“Not t’night, Bill,” he grinned.
Bill grinned in reply and made off toward another well-known belle, Ella Pratt, who accepted his escort. Ed Blackler, with gloomy desperation, took Maud Buttles, the most depressingly plain girl in the room, an action that did not escape Bettie’s eyes, and which softened her heart toward him; but she did not let him see it.
Supper was served on the desks, each couple seated in the drab-colored wooden seats as if they were at school. A very comfortable arrangement for those who occupied the back seats, but torture to the adults who were obliged to cramp their legs inside the desk where the primer class sat on school-days.
Bettie saw with tenderness how devotedly poor Ed served Maud. He could not have taken a better method of heaping coals of fire on her head.
Ed was entirely unconscious of her softening, however, for he could not look around from where he sat. He heard her laughing and believed she was happy. He had not taken poor Maud for the purpose of showing his penitence, for he had no such feeling in his heart; he was, on the contrary, rather gloomy and reckless. He was not in a mood to show a front of indifference.
The oysters steamed; the heels of the boys’ boots thumped in wild delight; the women bustled about; the girls giggled, and the men roared with laughter. Everybody ate as if he and she had never tasted oyster-soup and chicken before, and the cakes and pies went the way of the oyster-soup like corn before a troup of winter turkeys.
Bill Yohe, by way of a joke, put some frosting down the back of Cy Hurd, and, by way of delicate attention to Ella, alternately shoved her out of the seat and pulled her back again, while Joe hurled a chicken-leg at Cad Hines as she stood in the entry-way. Will Kinney told Sary Hines for the fourth time how his team had run away, interrupted by his fear that some kind of pie would get away untasted.
“An’ so I laid the lines down–H’yare! Gimme another handful of crackers, Merry–an’ I laid the lines down while I went t’ fine–nary a noyster I can hold any more. Mrs. Moss, I’m ready f’r pie now–an’ so I noticed ole Frank’s eye kind o’ roll, but thinksi, I c’n git holt o’ the lines if he–Yes’m, I alwiss eat mince; won’t you try some, Sary?–an’–an’–so, jest as I gut my ax–You bet! I’m goin’ t’ try a piece of every kind if it busts my stummick. Gutta git my money’s worth.”
Milton was in his best mood and was very attractive in his mirth. His fine teeth shone and his yellow curls shook under the stress of his laughter. He wrestled with Bettie for the choice bits of cake, delighting in the touch of her firm, sweet flesh; and, as for Bettie, she was almost charmed to oblivion of Ed by the superior attractions of Milton’s town-bred gallantry. Ed looked singularly awkward and lonesome as he sat sprawled out in one of the low seats, and curiously enough his uncouthness and disconsolateness of attitude won her heart back again.
Everybody, with the usual rustic freedom, had remarks to make upon the situation.
“Wal, Bettie, made a swop, hev yeh?” said Councill.
“Hello, Milt; thought you had a girl down town.”
“Oh, I keep one at each end of the line,” Milton replied, with his ready laugh.
“Wal, I swan t’ gudgeon! I can’t keep track o’ you town fellers. You’re too many f’r me!” said Mrs. Councill.
Carrie Hines came up behind Milton and Bettie and put her arms around their necks, bringing their cheeks together. Bettie grew purple with anger and embarrassment, but Milton, with his usual readiness, said, “Thank you,” and reached for the tittering malefactor’s waist. Nobody noticed it, for the room was full of such romping.
The men were standing around the stove discussing political outlooks, and the matrons were busy with the serving of the supper. Out of doors the indefatigable boys were beginning again on “pom-pom pullaway.”
Supper over, the young folks all returned to the house across the way, leaving the men of elderly blood to talk on the Grange and the uselessness of the middlemen. Sport began again in the Dudley farm-house by a dozen or so of the young people “forming on” for “Weevily Wheat.”
“Weevily Wheat” was a “donation dance.” As it would have been wicked to have a fiddle to play the music, singers were substituted with stirring effect, and a song was sung, while the couples bowed and balanced and swung in rhythm to it:
“Come hither, my love, and trip together
In the morning early.
I’ll give to you the parting hand,
Although I love you dearly.
But I won’t have none of y’r weevily wheat,
An’ I won’t have none of y’r barley,
But have some flour in a half an hour
To bake a cake for Charley.
“Oh, Charley, he is a fine young man;
Charley, he is a dandy.
Oh, Charley, he’s a fine young man,
F’r he buys the girls some candy.
Oh, I won’t have none o’ y’r weevily wheat,
I won’t have none o’ y’r barley,
But have some flour in a half an hour
To bake a cake for Charley.
“Oh, Charley, he’s,” etc.
Milton was soon in the thick of this most charming old-fashioned dance, which probably dates back to dances on the green in England or Norway. Bettie was a good dancer, and as she grew excited with the rhythm and swing of the quaint, plaintive music her form grew supple at the waist and her large limbs light. The pair moved up and back between the two ranks of singers, then down the outside, and laughed in glee when they accelerated the pace at the time when they were swinging down the center. All faces were aglow and eyes shining.
Bill’s red face and bullet eyes were not beautiful, but the grace and power of his body were unmistakable. He was excited by the music, the alcohol he had been drinking, and by the presence of the girls, and threw himself into the play with dangerous abandon.
Under his ill-fitting coat his muscles rolled swift and silent. His tall boots were brilliantly blue and starred with gold at the top, and his pantaloons were tucked inside the tops to let their glory strike the eye. His physical strength and grace and variety of “steps” called forth many smiles and admiring exclamations from the girls, and caused the young men to lose interest in “Weevily Wheat.”
When a new set was called for, Bill made a determined assault on Bettie and secured her, for she did not have the firmness to refuse. But the singers grew weary, and the set soon broke up. A game of forfeit was substituted. This also dwindled down to a mere excuse for lovers to kiss each other, and the whole company soon separated into little groups to chatter and romp. Some few sat at the table in the parlor and played “authors.”
Bettie was becoming annoyed by the attentions of Bill, and, to get rid of him, went with Miss Lytle, Milton and two or three others into another room and shut the door. This was not very unusual, but poor Blackler seemed to feel it a direct affront to him and was embittered. He was sitting by Ella Pratt when Bill Yohe swaggered up to him.
“Say! Do you know where your girl is?”
“No, an’ I don’t care.”
“Wal! It’s time y’cared. She’s in the other room there. Milt Jennings has cut you out.”
“You’re a liar,” cried the loyal lover, leaping to his feet.
Spat! Yohe’s open palm resounded upon the pale face of Blackler, whose eyes had a wild glare in them, and the next moment they were rolling on the floor like a couple of dogs, the stronger and older man above, the valiant lover below. The house resounded with sudden screams, and then came the hurry of feet, then a hush, in the midst of which was heard the unsubdued voice of Blackler as he rose to his feet. “You’re a”—-
Another dull stroke with the knotted fist, and the young fellow went to the floor again, while Joe Yohe, like a wild beast roused at the sight of blood, stood above the form of his brother (who had leaped upon the fallen man), shouting with the hoarse, raucous note of a tiger:
“Give ‘im hell! I’ll back yeh.”
Bettie pushed through the ring of men and women who were looking on in delicious horror–pushed through quickly and yet with dignity. Her head was thrown back, and the strange look on her face was thrilling. Facing the angry men with a gesture of superb scorn and fearlessness, she spoke, and in the deep hush her quiet words were strangely impressive:
“Bill Yohe, what do you think you’re doing?”
For a moment the men were abashed, and, starting back, they allowed Blackler, dazed, bleeding and half strangled, to rise to his feet. He would have sprung against them both, for he had not heard or realized who was speaking, but Bettie laid her hand on his arm, and the haughty droop of her eyelids changed as she said in a tender voice:
“Never mind, Ed; they ain’t worth mindin’!”
Her usual self came back quickly as she led him away. Friends began to mutter now, and the swagger of the brothers threatened further trouble. Their eyes rolled, their knotted hands swung about like bludgeons. Threats, horrible snarls and oaths poured from their lips. But there were heard at this critical moment rapid footsteps–a round, jovial voice–and bursting through the door came the great form and golden head of Lime Gilman.”
“Hold on here! What’s all this?” he said, leaping with an ominously good-natured smile into the open space before the two men, whose restless pacing stopped at the sound of his voice. His sunny, laughing blue eyes swept around him, taking in the situation at a glance. He continued to smile, but his teeth came together.
“Git out o’ this, you hounds! Git!” he said, in the same jovial tone. “You! You,” he said to Bill, slapping him lightly on the breast with the back of his lax fingers. Bill struck at him ferociously, but the slope-shouldered giant sent it by with his left wrist, kicking the feet of the striker from under him with a frightful swing of his right foot–a trick which appalled Joe.
“Clear the track there,” ordered Lime. “It’s against the law t’ fight at a donation; so out y’ go.”
Bill crawled painfully to his feet.
“I’ll pay you for this yet.”
“Any time but now. Git out, ‘r I’ll kick you out.” Lime’s voice changed now. The silent crowd made way for them, and, seizing Joe by the shoulder and pushing Bill before him, the giant passed out into the open air. There he pushed Bill off the porch into the snow, and kicked his brother over him with this parting word:
“You infernal hyenies! Kickin’s too good f’r you. If you ever want me, look around an’ you’ll find me.”
Then, to the spectators who thronged after, he apologized:
“I hate t’ fight, and especially to kick a man; but they’s times when a man’s got t’ do it. Now, jest go back and have a good time. Don’t let them hyenies spoil all y’r fun.”
That ended it. All knew Lime. Everybody had heard how he could lift one end of the separator and toss a two-bushel sack filled with wheat over the hind wheel of a wagon, and the terror of his kick was not unknown to them. They all felt sure that the Yohes would not return, and all went back into the house and attempted to go on with the games. But it was impossible; such exciting events must be discussed, and the story was told and retold by each one.
When Milton returned to the parlor, he saw Bettie, tender, dignified and grave, bending over Blackler, bathing his bruised face. Milton had never admired her more than at that moment; she looked so womanly. She no longer cared what people thought.
The other girls, pale and tearful and a little hysterical, stood about, close to their sweethearts. They enjoyed the excitement, however, and the fight appealed to something organic in them.
The donation party was at an end, that was clear, and the people began to get ready to go home. Bettie started to thank Lyman for his help.
“Don’t say anything. I’d ‘a’ done it jest the same f’r anybody. It ain’t the thing to come to a donation and git up a row.”
Milton hardly knew whether to ask Bettie to go back with him or not, but Blackler relieved him from embarrassment by rousing up and saying:
“Oh, I’m all right now, Bettie. Hyere’s yer girl, Milt. See the eye I’ve got on me? She says she won’t ride home with any such”—-
“Ed, what in the world do you mean?” Bettie could hardly understand her lover’s sudden exultation; it was still a very serious matter to her, in spite of the complete reconciliation which had come with the assault. She felt in a degree guilty, and that feeling kept her still tearful and subdued, but Ed leered and winked with his good eye in uncontrollable delight. Milton turned to Bettie at last, and said:
“Well! I’ll get Marc around to the door in a few minutes. Get your things on.”
Bettie and Ed stood close together by the door. She was saying:
“You’ll forgive me, won’t you, Ed?”
“Why, course I will, Bettie. I was as much to blame as you was. I no business to git mad till I knew what I was gittin’ mad at.”
They were very tender now.
“I’ll–I’ll go home with you, if you want me to, ‘stead of with Milt,” she quavered.
“No, I’ve got to take S’fye home. It’s the square thing.”
“All right, Ed, but come an’ let me talk it all straight.”
“It’s all straight now; let’s let it all go, whaddy y’say?”
“All right, Ed.”
There was a kiss that the rest pretended not to hear. And bidding them all good-night, Bettie ran out to the fence, where Milton sat waiting.
The moon was riding high in the clear, cold sky, but falling toward the west, as they swung into the wood-road. Through the branches of the oaks the stars, set in the deep-blue, fathomless night, peered cold and bright. There was no wind save the rush of air caused by the motion of the sleigh. Neither of the young people spoke for some time. They lay back in the sleigh under the thick robes, listening to the chime of the bells, the squeal of the runners, and the weirdly-sweet distant singing of another sleigh-load of young people far ahead.
Milton pulled Marc down to a slow trot, and, tightening his arm around Bettie’s shoulders in a very brotherly hug, said:
“Well, I’m glad you and Ed have fixed things up again. You’d always have been sorry.”
“It was all my fault anyway,” replied the girl, with a little tremor in her voice, “and it was all my fault to-night, too. I no business to ‘a’ gone off an’ left him that way.”
“Well, it’s all over now anyway, and so I wouldn’t worry any more about it,” said Milton, soothingly, and then they fell into silence again.
The sagacious Marc Antony strode steadily away, and the two young lovers went on with their dreaming. Bettie was silent mainly, and Milton was trying to fancy that she was Eileen, and was remembering the long rides they had had together. And the horse’s hoofs beat a steady rhythm, the moon fell to the west, and the bells kept cheery chime. The breath of the horse rose into the air like steam. The house-dogs sent forth warning howls as they went by. Once or twice they passed houses where the windows were still lighted and where lanterns were flashing around the barn, where the horses were being put in for the night.
The lights were out at the home of Bettie when they drove up, for the young people, however rapidly they might go to the sociable, always returned much slower than the old folks. Milton leaped out and held up his arms to help his companion out. As she shook the robes down, stood up and reached out for his arms, he seized her round the waist, and, holding her clear of the ground, kissed her in spite of her struggles.
“The las’ time, Bettie; the las’ time,” he said, in extenuation. With this mournful word on his lips he leaped into the sleigh and was off like the wind. But the listening girl heard his merry voice ringing out on the still air. Suddenly something sweet and majestic swept upon the girl. Something that made her look up into the glittering sky with vast yearning. In the awful hush of the sky and the plain she heard the beat of her own blood in her ears. She longed for song to express the swelling of her throat and the wistful ache of her heart.