The Chalice Of Courage: A Romance of Coloradoскачать книгу бесплатно
"There isn't any danger of my falling in love with anybody," said Enid at last, with all the confidence of two triumphant social seasons. "I think I must be immune even to dukes," she said gayly.
"I referred to worthy young Americans of – " began her father who, to do him justice, was so satisfied with his own position that no foreign title 'dazzled' him in the least degree.
"Rittenhouse Square," cut in Robert Maitland with amused sarcasm. "Well, Enid, you seem to have run the gamut of the east pretty thoroughly, come out and spend the summer with me in Colorado. My Denver house is open to you, we have a ranch amid the foothills, or if you are game we can break away from civilization entirely and find some unexplored, unknown ca?on in the heart of the mountains and camp there. We'll get back to nature, which seems to be impossible in Philadelphia, and you will see things and learn things that you will never see or learn anywhere else. It'll do you good, too; from what I hear, you have been going the pace and those cheeks of yours are a little too pale for so splendid a girl, you look too tired under the eyes for youth and beauty."
"I believe I am not very fit," said the girl, "and if father will permit – "
"Of course, of course," said Stephen Maitland. "You are your own mistress anyway, and having no mother" – Enid's mother had died in her infancy – "I suppose that I could not interfere or object if I wished to, but no marrying or giving in marriage: Remember that."
"Nonsense, father," answered the young woman lightly. "I am not anxious to assume the bonds of wedlock."
"Well, that settles it," said Robert Maitland. "We'll give you a royal good time. I must run up to New York and Boston for a few days, but I shall be back in a week and I can pick you up then."
"What is the house in Denver, is it er – may I ask, provided with all modern conveniences and – " began the elder Maitland nervously.
Robert Maitland laughed.
"What do you take us for, Steve? Do you ever read the western newspapers?"
"I confess that I have not given much thought to the west since I studied geography and —The Philadelphia Ledger has been thought sufficient for the family since – "
"Gracious!" exclaimed Maitland. "The house cost half a million dollars if you must know it, and if there is anything that modern science can contribute to comfort and luxury that isn't in it, I don't know what it is. Shall it be the house in Denver, or the ranch, or a real camp in the wilds, Enid?"
"First the house in Denver," said Enid, "and then the ranch and then the mountains."
"Right O! That shall be the program."
"Will my daughter's life be perfectly safe from the Cowboys, Indians and Desperadoes?"
"Quite safe," answered Robert, with deep gravity. "The cowboys no longer shoot up the city and it has been years since the Indians have held up even a trolley car. The only real desperado in my acquaintance is the mildest, gentlest old stage driver in the west."
"Do you keep up an acquaintance with men of that class, still?" asked his brother in great surprise.
"You know I was Sheriff in a border county for a number of years and – "
"But you must surely have withdrawn from all such society now."
"Out west," said Robert Maitland, "when we know a man and like him, when we have slept by him on the plains, ridden with him through the mountains, fought with him against some border terror, some bad man thirsting to kill, we don't forget him, we don't cut his acquaintance, and it doesn't make any difference whether the one or the other of us is rich or poor.
I have friends who can't frame a grammatical sentence, who habitually eat with their knives, yet who are absolutely devoted to me and I to them. The man is the thing out there." He smiled and turned to Enid. "Always excepting the supremacy of woman," he added.
"How fascinating!" exclaimed the girl. "I want to go there right away."
And this was the train of events which brought about the change. Behold the young lady astride of a horse for the first time in her life in a divided skirt, that fashion prevalent elsewhere not having been accepted by the best equestriennes of Philadelphia. She was riding ahead of a lumbering mountain wagon, surrounded by other riders, which was loaded with baggage, drawn by four sturdy broncos and followed by a number of obstinate little burros at present unencumbered with packs which would be used when they got further from civilization and the way was no longer practicable for anything on wheels.
Miss Enid Maitland was clad in a way that would have caused her father a stroke of apoplexy if he could have been suddenly made aware of her dress, if she had burst into the drawing-room without announcement for instance. Her skirt was distinctly short, she wore heavy hobnailed shoes that laced up to her knees, she had on a bright blue sweater, a kind of a cap known as a tam-o-shanter was pinned above her glorious hair, which was closely braided and wound around her head. She wore a silk handkerchief loosely tied around her neck, a knife and revolver hung at her belt, a little watch was strapped to one wrist, a handsomely braided quirt dangled from the other, a pair of spurs adorned her heels and, most discomposing fact of all, by her side rode a handsome and dashing cavalier.
How Mr. James Armstrong might have appeared in the conventional black and white of evening clothes was not quite clear to her, for she had as yet never beheld him in that obliterating raiment, but in the habit of the west, riding trousers, heavy boots that laced to the knees, blue shirt, his head covered by a noble "Stetson," mounted on the fiery restive bronco which he rode to perfection, he was ideal. Alas for the vanity of human proposition! Mr. James Armstrong, friend and prot?g? these many years of Mr. Robert Maitland, mine owner and cattle man on a much smaller scale than his older friend, was desperately in love with Enid Maitland, and Enid, swept off her feet by a wooing which began with precipitant ardor so soon as he laid eyes on her, was more profoundly moved by his suit, or pursuit, than she could have imagined.
Omne ignotum pro magnifico!
She had been wooed in the conventional fashion many times and oft, on the sands of Palm Beach, along the cliffs of Newport, in the romantic glens of Mount Desert, in the old fashioned drawing-room overlooking Rittenhouse Square. She had been proposed to in motor cars, on the decks of yachts and once even while riding to hounds, but there had been a touch of sameness about it all. Never had she been made love to with the headlong gallantry, with the dashing precipitation of the west. It had swept her from her moorings. She found almost before she was aware of it that her past experience now stood her in little stead. She awoke to a sudden realization of the fact that she was practically pledged to James Armstrong after an acquaintance of three weeks in Denver and on the ranch.
Business of the most important and critical nature required Armstrong's presence east at this juncture, and willy-nilly there was no way he could put off his departure longer. He had to leave the girl with an uneasy conscience that though he had her half-way promise, he had her but half-way won. He had snatched the ultimate day from his business demands to ride with her on the first stage of her journey to the mountains.
THE GAME PLAYED IN THE USUAL WAY
The road on which they advanced into the mountains was well made and well kept up. The ca?on through the foothills was not very deep – for Colorado – and the ascent was gentle. Naturally it wound in every direction following the devious course of the river which it frequently crossed from one side to the other on rude log bridges. A brisk gallop of a half mile or so on a convenient stretch of comparatively level going put the two in the lead far ahead of the lumbering wagon and out of sight of those others of the party who had elected to go a horseback. There was perhaps a tacit agreement among the latter not to break in upon this growing friendship or, more frankly, not to interfere in a developing love affair.
The ca?on broadened here and there at long intervals and ranch houses were found in every clearing, but these were few and far between and for the most part Armstrong and Enid Maitland rode practically alone save for the passing of an occasional lumber wagon.
"You can't think," began the man, as they drew rein after a splendid gallop and the somewhat tired horses readily subsided into a walk, "how I hate to go back and leave you."
"And you can't think how loath I am to have you return," the girl flashed out at him with a sidelong glance from her bright blue eyes and a witching smile from her scarlet lips.
"Enid Maitland," said the man, "you know I just worship you. I'd like to sweep you out of your saddle, lift you to the bow of mine and ride away with you. I can't keep my hands off you, I – "
Before she realized what he would be about he swerved his horse toward her, his arm went around her suddenly. Taken completely off her guard she could make no resistance, indeed she scarcely knew what to expect until he crushed her to him and kissed her, almost roughly, full on the lips.
"How dare you!" cried the girl, her face aflame, freeing herself at last, and swinging her own horse almost to the edge of the road which here ran on an excavation some fifty feet above the river.
"How dare I?" laughed the audacious man, apparently no whit abashed by her indignation. "When I think of my opportunity I am amazed at my moderation."
"Your opportunity, your moderation?"
"Yes; when I had you helpless I took but one kiss, I might have held you longer and taken a hundred."
"And by what right did you take that one?" haughtily demanded the outraged young woman, looking at him beneath level brows while the color slowly receded from her face. She had never been kissed by a man other than a blood relation in her life – remember, suspicious reader, that she was from Philadelphia – and she resented this sudden and unauthorized caress with every atom and instinct of her still somewhat conventional being.
"But aren't you half-way engaged to me?" he pleaded in justification, seeing the unwonted seriousness with which she had received his impudent advance. "Didn't you agree to give me a chance?"
"I did say that I liked you very much," she admitted, "no man better, and that I thought you might – "
"Well, then – " he began.
But she would not be interrupted.
"I did not mean that you should enjoy all the privileges of a conquest before you had won me. I will thank you not to do that again, sir."
"It seems to have had a very different effect upon you than it did upon me," replied the man fervently. "I loved you before, but now, since I have kissed you, I worship you."
"It hasn't affected me that way," retorted the girl promptly, her face still frowning and indignant. "Not at all, and – "
"Forgive me, Enid," pleaded the other. "I just couldn't help it. You were so beautiful I had to. I took the chance. You are not accustomed to our ways."
"Is this your habit in your love affairs?" asked the girl swiftly and not without a spice of feminine malice.
"I never had any love affairs before," he replied with a ready masculine mendacity, "at least none worth mentioning. But you see this is the west, we have gained what we have by demanding every inch that nature offers, and then claiming the all. That's the way we play the game out here and that's the way we win."
"But I have not yet learned to play the 'game,' as you call it, by any such rules," returned the young woman determinedly, "and it is not the way to win me if I am the stake."
"What is the way?" asked the man anxiously. "Show me and I'll take it no matter what its difficulty."
"Ah, for me to point out the way would be to play traitor to myself," she answered, relenting and relaxing a little before his devoted wooing. "You must find it without assistance. I can only tell you one thing."
"And what is that?"
"You do not advance toward the goal by such actions as those of a moment since."
"Look here," said the other suddenly. "I am not ashamed of what I did, and I'm not going to pretend that I am, either."
"You ought to be," severely.
"Well, maybe so, but I'm not. I couldn't help it any more than I could help loving you the minute I saw you. Put yourself in my place."
"But I am not in your place, and I can't put myself there. I do not wish to. If it be true, as you say, that you have grown to – care so much for me and so quickly – "
"If it be true?" came the sharp interruption as the man bent toward her fairly devouring her with his bold, ardent gaze.
"Well, since it is true," she admitted under the compulsion of his protest, "that fact is the only possible excuse for your action."
"You find some justification for me, then!"
"No, only a possibility, but whether it be true or not, I do not feel that way – yet."
There was a saving grace in that last word, which gave him a little heart. He would have spoken, but she suffered no interruption, saying:
"I have been wooed before, but – "
"True, unless the human race has become suddenly blind," he said softly under his breath.
"But never in such ungentle ways."
"I suppose you have never run up against a real red-blooded man like me before."
"If red-blooded be evidenced mainly by lack of self-control, perhaps I have not. Yet there are men whom I have met who would not need to apologize for their qualities even to you, Mr. James Armstrong."
"Don't say that. Evidently I make but poor progress in my wooing. Never have I met with a woman quite like you." – And in that indeed lay some of her charm, and she might have replied in exactly the same language and with exactly the same meaning to him. – "I am no longer a boy. I must be fifteen years older than you are, for I am thirty-five."
The difference between their years was not quite so great as he declared, but woman-like the girl let the statement pass unchallenged.
"And I wouldn't insult your intelligence by saying you are the only woman that I have ever made love to, but there is a vast difference between making love to a woman and loving one. I have just found that out for the first time. I marvel at the past, and I am ashamed of it, but I thank God that I have been saved for this opportunity. I want to win you, and I am going to do it, too. In many things I don't match up with the people with whom you train. I was born out here, and I've made myself. There are things that have happened in the making that I am not especially proud of, and I am not at all satisfied with the results, especially since I have met you. The better I know you the less pleased I am with Jim Armstrong, but there are possibilities in me, I rather believe, and with you for inspiration, Heavens!" – the man flung out his hand with a fine gesture of determination. "They say that the east and west don't naturally mingle, but it's a lie, you and I can beat the world."
The woman thrilled to his gallant wooing. Any woman would have done so, some of them would have lost their heads, but Enid Maitland was an exceedingly cool young person, for she was not quite swept off her feet, and did not quite lose her balance.
"I like to hear you say things like that," she answered. "Nobody quite like you has ever made love to me, and certainly not in your way, and that's the reason I have given you a half-way promise to think about it. I was sorry that you could not be with us on this adventure, but now I am rather glad, especially if the even temper of my way is to be interrupted by anything like the outburst of a few moments since."
"I am glad, too," admitted the man. "For I declare I couldn't help it. If I have to be with you either you have got to be mine, or else you would have to decide that it could never be, and then I'd go off and fight it out."
"Leave me to myself," said the girl earnestly, "for a little while; it's best so. I would not take the finest, noblest man on earth – "
"And I am not that."
"Unless I loved him. There is something very attractive about your personality. I don't know in my heart whether it is that or – "
"Good," said the man, as she hesitated. "That's enough," he gathered up the reins and whirled his horse suddenly in the road, "I am going back. I'll wait for your return to Denver, and then – "
"That's best," answered the girl.
She stretched out her hand to him, leaning backward. If he had been a different kind of a man he would have kissed it, as it was he took it in his own hand and almost crushed it with a fierce grip.
"We'll shake on that, little girl," he said, and then without a backward glance he put spurs to his horse and galloped furiously down the road.
No, she decided then and there, she did not love him, not yet. Whether she ever would she could not tell. And yet she was half bound to him. The recollection of his kiss was not altogether a pleasant memory; he had not done himself any good by that bold assault upon her modesty, that reckless attempt to rifle the treasure of her lips. No man had ever really touched her heart, although many had engaged her interest. Her experiences therefore were not definitive or conclusive. If she had truly loved James Armstrong, in spite of all that she might have said, she would have thrilled to the remembrance of that wild caress. The chances, therefore, were somewhat heavily against him that morning as he rode hopefully down the trail alone.
His experiences in love affairs were much greater than hers. She was by no means the first woman he had kissed – remember suspicious reader that he was not from Philadelphia! – hers were not the first ears into which he had poured passionate protestations. He was neither better nor worse than most men, perhaps he fairly enough represented the average, but surely fate had something better in store for such a superb woman – a girl of such attainments and such infinite possibilities, she must mate higher than with the average man. Perhaps there was a sub-consciousness of this in her mind as she silently waited to be overtaken by the rest of the party.
There were curious glances and strange speculations in that little company as they saw her sitting her horse alone. A few moments before James Armstrong had passed them at a gallop, he had waved his hand as he dashed by and had smiled at them, hope giving him a certain assurance, although his confidence was scarcely warranted by the facts.
His demeanor was not in consonance with Enid's somewhat grave and somewhat troubled present aspect. She threw off her preoccupation instantly and easily, however, and joined readily enough in the merry conversation of the way.
Mr. Robert Maitland, as Armstrong had said, had known him from a boy. There were things in his career of which Maitland did not and could not approve, but they were of the past, he reflected, and Armstrong was after all a pretty good sort. Mr. Maitland's standards were not at all those of his Philadelphia brother, but they were very high. His experiences of men had been different; he thought that Armstrong, having certainly by this time reached years of discretion, could be safely entrusted with the precious treasure of the young girl who had been committed to his care, and for whom his affection grew as his knowledge of and acquaintanceship with her increased.
As for Mrs. Maitland and the two girls and the youngster, they were Armstrong's devoted friends. They knew nothing about his past, indeed there were things in it of which Maitland himself was ignorant, and which had they been known to him might have caused him to withhold even his tentative acquiescence in the possibilities.
Most of these things were known to old Kirkby who with masterly skill, amusing nonchalance and amazing profanity, albeit most of it under his breath lest he shock the ladies, tooled along the four nervous excited broncos who drew the big supply wagon. Kirkby was Maitland's oldest and most valued friend. He had been the latter's deputy sheriff, he had been a cowboy and a lumberman, a mighty hunter and a successful miner, and now although he had acquired a reasonable competence, and had a nice little wife and a pleasant home in the mountain village at the entrance to the ca?on, he drove stage for pleasure rather than for profit. He had given over his daily twenty-five mile jaunt from Morrison to Troutdale to other hands for a short space that he might spend a little time with his old friend and the family, who were all greatly attached to him, on this outing.
Enid Maitland, a girl of a kind that Kirkby had never seen before, had won the old man's heart during the weeks spent on the Maitland ranch. He had grown fond of her, and he did not think that Mr. James Armstrong merited that which he evidently so overwhelmingly desired. Kirkby was well along in years, but he was quite capable of playing a man's game for all that, and he intended to play it in this instance.
Nobody scanned Enid Maitland's face more closely than he, sitting humped up on the front seat of the wagon, one foot on the high brake, his head sunk almost to the level of his knee, his long whip in his hand, his keen and somewhat fierce brown eyes taking in every detail of what was going on about him. Indeed there was but little that came before him that old Kirkby did not see.скачать книгу бесплатно