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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Long Shadow - Chapter 11. "When I Lift My Eyebrows This Way"
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The Long Shadow - Chapter 11. 'When I Lift My Eyebrows This Way' Post by :shareitall Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :July 2011 Read :1050

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The Long Shadow - Chapter 11. "When I Lift My Eyebrows This Way"

CHAPTER XI. "When I Lift My Eyebrows This Way"

"Oh, where have you been, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Oh, where have you been, charming Billy?"


Somewhere behind him a daring young voice was singing. Billy turned with a real start, and when he saw her coming gayly down a little, brush-hidden path and knew that she was alone, the heart of him turned a complete somersault--from the feel of it.

"My long friend, Dilly, was busy, and so I--I went to look after my horse," he explained, his mind somewhat in a jumble. How came she to be there, and why did she sing those lines? How did she know that was _his song, or--did she really care at all? And where was the Pilgrim?

"Mr. Walland and I tried the swing, but I don't like it; it made me horribly dizzy," she said, coming up to him. "Then I went to find Mama Joy--"

"Who?" Billy had by that time recovered his wits enough to know just exactly what she said.

"Mama Joy--my stepmother. I call her that. You see, father wants me to call her mama--he really wanted it mother, but I couldn't--and she's so young to have me for a daughter, so she wants me to call her Joy; that's her name. So I call her both and please them both, I hope. Did you ever study diplomacy, Mr. Boyle?"

"I never did, but I'm going to start right in," Billy told her, and half meant it.

"A thorough understanding of the subject is indispensable--when you have a stepmother--a _young stepmother. You've met her, haven't you?"

"No," said Billy. He did not want to talk about her stepmother, but he hated to tell her so. "Er--yes, I believe I did see her once, come to think of it," he added honestly when memory prompted him.

Miss Bridger laughed, stopped, and laughed again. "How Mama Joy would _hate you if she knew that!" she exclaimed relishfully.

"Why?"

"Oh, you wait! If ever I tell her that you--that _anybody ever met her and then forgot! Why, she knows the color of your hair and eyes, and she knows the pattern of that horsehair hat-band and the size of your boots--she _admires a man whose feet haven't two or three inches for every foot of his height--she says you wear fives, and you don't lack much of being six feet tall, and--"

"Oh, for Heaven's sake!" protested Billy, very red and uncomfortable. "What have I done to yuh that you throw it into me like that? My hands are up--and they'll stay up if you'll only quit it."

Miss Bridger looked at him sidelong and laughed to herself. "That's to pay you for forgetting that you ever met Mama Joy," she asserted. "I shouldn't be surprised if next week you'll have forgotten that you ever met _me_. And if you do, after that chicken stew--"

"You're a josher," said Billy helplessly, not being prepared to say just all he thought about the possibility of his forgetting her. He wished that he understood women better, so that he might the better cope with the vagaries of this one; and so great was his ignorance that he never dreamed that every man since Adam had wished the same thing quite as futilely.

"I'm not going to josh now," she promised, with a quick change of manner. "You haven't--I _know you haven't, but I'll give you a chance to dissemble--you haven't a partner for the dance, have you?"

"No. Have you?" Billy did have the courage to say that, though he dared not say more.

"Well, I--I could be persuaded," she hinted shamelessly.

"Persuade nothing! Yuh belong to me, and if anybody tries to throw his loop over your head, why--" Billy looked dangerous; he meant the Pilgrim.

"Thank you." She seemed relieved, and it was plain she did not read into his words any meaning beyond the dance, though Billy was secretly hoping that she would. "Do you know, I think you're perfectly lovely. You're so--so _comfortable_. When I've known you a little longer I expect I'll be calling you Charming Billy, or else Billy Boy. If you'll stick close to me all through this dance and come every time I lift my eyebrows this way"--she came near getting kissed, right then, but she never knew it--"and say it's _your dance and that I promised it to you before, I'll be--_awfully grateful and obliged."

"I wisht," said Billy pensively, "I had the nerve to take all this for sudden admiration; but I savvy, all right. Some poor devil's going to get it handed to him to-night."

For the first time Miss Bridger blushed consciously. "I--well, you'll be good and obliging and do just what I want, won't you?"

"Sure!" said Billy, not trusting himself to say more. Indeed, he had to set his teeth hard on that word to keep more from tumbling out. Miss Bridger seemed all at once anxious over something.

"You waltz and two-step and polka and schottische, don't you?" Her eyes, as she looked up at him, reminded Billy achingly of that time in the line-camp when she asked him for a horse to ride home. They had the same wistful, pleading look. Billy gritted his teeth.

"Sure," he answered again.

Miss Bridger sighed contentedly. "I know it's horribly mean and selfish of me, but you're so good--and I'll make it up to you some time. Really I will! At some other dance you needn't dance with me once, or look at me, even--That will even things up, won't it?"

"Sure," said Billy for the third time.

They paced slowly, coming into view of the picnic crowd, hearing the incoherent murmur of many voices. Miss Bridger looked at him uncertainly, laughed a little and spoke impulsively. "You needn't do it, Mr. Boyle, unless you like. It's only a joke, anyway; I mean, my throwing myself at you like that. Just a foolish joke; I'm often foolish, you know. Of course, I know you wouldn't misunderstand or anything like that, but it _is mean of me to drag you into it by the hair of the head, almost, just to play a joke on some one--on Mama Joy. You're too good-natured. You're a direct temptation to people who haven't any conscience. Really and truly, you needn't do it at all."

"Yuh haven't heard me raising any howl, have yuh?" inquired Billy, eying her slantwise. "I'm playing big luck, if yuh ask me."

"Well--if you _really don't mind, and haven't any one else--"

"I haven't," Billy assured her unsmilingly. "And I really don't mind. I think I--kinda like the prospect." He was trying to match her mood and he was not at all sure that he was a success. "There's one thing. If yuh get tired uh having me under your feet all the time, why--Dilly's a stranger and an awful fine fellow; I'd like to have you--well, be kinda nice to him. I want him to have a good time, you see, and you'll like him. You can't help it. And it will square up anything yuh may feel yuh might owe me--"

"I'll be just lovely to Dilly," Miss Bridger promised him with emphasis. "It will be a fair bargain, then, and I won't feel so--so small about asking you what I did. You can help me play a little joke, and I'll dance with Duly. So," she finished in a tone of satisfaction, "we'll be even. I feel a great deal better now, because I can pay you back."

Billy, on that night, was more keenly observant than usual and there was much that he saw. He saw at once that Miss Bridger lifted her eyebrows in the way she had demonstrated as _this way_, whenever the Pilgrim approached her. He saw that the Pilgrim was looking extremely bloodthirsty and went out frequently--Billy guessed shrewdly that his steps led to where the drink was not water--and the sight cheered him considerably. Yet it hurt him a little to observe that, when the Pilgrim was absent or showed no sign of meaning to intrude upon her, Miss Bridger did not lift her eyebrows consciously. Still, she was at all times pleasant and friendly and he tried to be content.

"Mr. Boyle, you've been awfully good," she rewarded him when it was over. "And I think Mr. Dill is fine! Do you know, he waltzes beautifully. I'm sure it was easy to keep _my side of the bargain."

Billy noticed the slight, inquiring emphasis upon the word _my_, and he smiled down reassuringly into her face. "Uh course mine was pretty hard," he teased, "but I hope I made good, all right."

"You," she said, looking steadily up at him, "are just exactly what I said you were. You are comfortable."

Billy did a good deal of thinking while he saddled Barney in the gray of the morning, with Dill at a little distance, looking taller than ever in the half light. When he gave the saddle its final, little tentative shake and pulled the stirrup around so that he could stick in his toe, he gave also a snort of dissatisfaction.

"Hell!" he said to himself. "I don't know as I care about being too _blame comfortable. There's a limit to that kinda thing--with _her!_"

"What's that?" called Dill, who had heard his voice.

"Aw, nothing," lied Billy, swinging up. "I was just cussing my hoss."

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