The Spinster Meets the Unknown

On a Monday noon a small company of horsemen strung out along the trail from Sunk Creek to gather cattle over their allotted sweep of range. Spring was backward, and they, as they rode galloping and gathering upon the cold week’s work, cursed cheerily and occasionally sang. The Virginian was grave in bearing and of infrequent speech; but he kept a song going--a matter of some seventy-nine verses. Seventy-eight were quite unprintable, and rejoiced his brother cowpunchers monstrously. They, knowing him to be a singular man, forebore ever to press him, and awaited his own humor, lest he should weary of the lyric; and when after a day of silence apparently saturnine, he would lift his gentle voice and begin:

“If you go to monkey with my Looloo girl,
I’ll tell you what I’ll do:
I’ll cyarve your heart with my razor, AND
I’ll shoot you with my pistol, too--”

then they would stridently take up each last line, and keep it going three, four, ten times, and kick holes in the ground to the swing of it.

By the levels of Bear Creek that reach like inlets among the promontories of the lonely hills, they came upon the schoolhouse, roofed and ready for the first native Wyoming crop. It symbolized the dawn of a neighborhood, and it brought a change into the wilderness air. The feel of it struck cold upon the free spirits of the cow-punchers, and they told each other that, what with women and children and wire fences, this country would not long be a country for men. They stopped for a meal at an old comrade’s. They looked over his gate, and there he was pattering among garden furrows.

“Pickin’ nosegays?” inquired the Virginian and the old comrade asked if they could not recognize potatoes except in the dish. But he grinned sheepishly at them, too, because they knew that he had not always lived in a garden. Then he took them into his house, where they saw an object crawling on the floor with a handful of sulphur matches. He began to remove the matches, but stopped in alarm at the vociferous result; and his wife looked in from the kitchen to caution him about humoring little Christopher.

When she beheld the matches she was aghast but when she saw her baby grow quiet in the arms of the Virginian, she smiled at that cowpuncher and returned to her kitchen.

Then the Virginian slowly spoke again: “How many little strangers have yu’ got, James?

“Only two.” “My! Ain’t it most three years since yu’ maried? Yu’ mustn’t let time creep ahaid o’ yu’, James.

The father once more grinned at his guests, who themselves turned sheepish and polite; for Mrs. Westfall came in, brisk and hearty, and set the meat upon the table. After that, it was she who talked. The guests ate scrupulously, muttering, “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am,” in their plates, while their hostess told them of increasing families upon Bear Creek, and the expected school-teacher, and little Alfred’s early teething, and how it was time for all of them to become husbands like James. The bachelors of the saddle listened, always diffident, but eating heartily to the end; and soon after they rode away in a thoughtful clump. The wives of Bear Creek were few as yet, and the homes scattered; the schoolhouse was only a sprig on the vast face of a world of elk and bear and uncertain Indians; but that night, when the earth near the fire was littered with the cow-punchers’ beds, the Virginian was heard drawling to himself: “Alfred and Christopher. Oh, sugar!” They found pleasure in the delicately chosen shade of this oath. He also recited to them a new verse about how he took his Looloo girl to the schoolhouse for to learn her A B C; and as it was quite original and unprintable, the camp laughed and swore joyfully, and rolled in its blankets to sleep under the stars.

Upon a Monday noon likewise (for things will happen so) some tearful people in petticoats waved handkerchiefs at a train that was just leaving Bennington, Vermont. A girl’s face smiled back at them once, and withdrew quickly, for they must not see the smile die away.

She had with her a little money, a few clothes, and in her mind a rigid determination neither to be a burden to her mother nor to give in to that mother’s desires. Absence alone would enable her to carry out this determination. Beyond these things, she possessed not much except spelling-books, a colonial

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