In selecting the inert Virginian as the fool, Mr. McLean was scarcely wise; it is the absent who are always guilty.

Before ever Lin could have been a mile in retreat, the rattle of the wheels roused all of them, and here came the Taylors. Before the Taylors’ knocking had brought the Swintons to their door, other wheels sounded, and here were Mr. and Mrs. Carmody, and Uncle Hughey with his wife, and close after them Mr. Dow, alone, who told how his wife had gone into one of her fits--she upon whom Dr. Barker at Drybone had enjoined total abstinence from all excitement. Voices of women and children began to be up lifted; the Westfalls arrived in a lather, and the Thomases; and by sunrise, what with fathers and mothers and spectators and loud offspring, there was gathered such a meeting as has seldom been before among the generations of speaking men. To-day you can hear legends of it from Texas to Montana; but I am giving you the full particulars.

Of course they pitched upon poor Lin. Here was the Virginian doing his best, holding horses and helping ladies descend, while the name of McLean began to be muttered with threats. Soon a party led by Mr. Dow set forth in search of him, and the Southerner debated a moment if he had better not put them on a wrong track. But he concluded that they might safely go on searching.

Mrs. Westfall found Christopher at once in the green shawl of Anna Maria Dow, but all was not achieved thus in the twinkling of an eye Mr. McLean had, it appeared, as James Westfall lugubriously pointed out, not merely “swapped the duds; he had shuffled the whole doggone deck;” and they cursed this Satanic invention. The fathers were but of moderate assistance; it was the mothers who did the heavy work; and by ten o’clock some unsolved problems grew so delicate that a ladies’ caucus was organized in a private room,--no admittance for men,--and whet was done there I can only surmise.

During its progress the search party returned. It had not found Mr. McLean. It had found a tree with a notice pegged upon it, reading, “God bless our home!” This was captured.

But success attended the caucus; each mother emerged, satisfied that she had received her own, and each sire, now that his family was itself again, began to look at his neighbor sideways. After a man has been angry enough to kill another man, after the fire of righteous slaughter has raged in his heart as it had certainly raged for several hours in the hearts of these fathers, the flame will usually burn itself out. This will be so in a generous nature, unless the cause of the anger is still unchanged. But the children had been identified; none had taken hurt. All had been humanely given their nourishment. The thing was over. The day was beautiful. A tempting feast remained from the barbecue. These Bear Creek fathers could not keep their ire at red heat. Most of them, being as yet more their wives’ rovers than their children’s parents, began to see the mirthful side of the adventure; and they ceased to feel very severely toward Lin McLean.

Not so the women. They cried for vengeance; but they cried in vain, and were met with smiles.

Mrs. Westfall argued long that punishment should be dealt the offender. “Anyway,” she persisted, “it was real defiant of him putting that up on the tree. I might forgive him but for that.” “Yes,” spoke the Virginian in their midst, “that wasn’t sort o’ right. Especially as I am the man you’re huntin’.” They sat dumb at his assurance.

“Come and kill me,” he continued, round upon the party. “I’ll not resist.” But they could not resist the way in which he had looked round upon them. He had chosen the right moment for his confession, as a captain of a horse awaits the proper time for a charge. Some rebukes he did receive; the worst came from the mothers. And all that he could say for himself was, “I am getting off too easy.” “But what was your point?” said Westfall.

“Blamed if I know any more. I expect it must have been the whiskey.” “I would mind it less,” said Mrs. Westfall, “if you looked a bit sorry or ashamed.” The Virginian shook his head at her penitently. “I’m tryin’ to,” he said.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.