There was something not easily to be denied in this tall man, his figure still military in its self-respect of carriage, with the broad shoulders, the compact trunk, the hard jaw, and the straight blue eye of the man of deeds. The loose Western dress, which so illy became any but a manly figure, sat carelessly but well upon him. He looked so fit and manly, so clean of heart, and so direct of purpose as he came on now in this forlorn hope that Mary Ellen felt a shiver of self-distrust. She stepped back, calling on all the familiar spirits of the past. Her heart stopped, resuming at double speed. It seemed as though a thrill of tingling warmth came from somewhere in the air—this time, this day, this hour, this man, so imperative, this new land, this new world into which she had come from that of her earlier years! She was yet so young! Could there be something unknown, some sweetness yet unsounded? Could there be that rest and content which, strive as she might, were still missing from her life? Could there be this—and honour?
Mary Ellen fled, and in her room sat down, staring in a sudden panic. She needed to search out a certain faded picture. It was almost with a sob that she noted the thin shoulders, the unformed jaw, the eye betokening pride rather than vigour, the brow indicative of petulance as much as sternness. Mary Ellen laid the picture to her cheek, saying again and again that she loved it still. Poor girl, she did not yet know that this was but the maternal love of a woman’s heart, pitying, tender and remembering, to be sure, but not that love over which the morning stars sang together at the beginning of the world.
THE WAY OF A MAID
The Halfway House was an oasis in the desert. To-day it was an oasis and a battle ground. Franklin watched Mary Ellen as she passed quietly about the long, low room, engaged in household duties which she performed deftly as any servant. He compared these rude necessities with the associations amid which he knew this girl had been nurtured, and the thought gave him nothing but dissatisfaction and rebellion. He longed to give her all the aid of his own strength, and to place her again, as he felt he some day might, in something of the old ease and comfort, if not in the same surroundings. Yet, as he bethought himself of the apparent hopelessness of all this, he set his teeth in a mental protest near akin to anger. He shifted in his seat and choked in his throat a sound that was half a groan. Presently he rose, and excusing himself, went out to join Buford at the corral.
“Come,” said the latter, “and I’ll show you around over our improvements while we are waitin’ for a bite to eat. We are goin’ to have a great place here some day. Besides our own land, Miss Beauchamp and our servant have a quarter-section each adjoinin’ us on the west. If ever this land comes to be worth anything at all, we ought to grow into something worth while.”