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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Long Shadow - Chapter 13. Billy Meets The Pilgrim
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The Long Shadow - Chapter 13. Billy Meets The Pilgrim Post by :ubupats Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :July 2011 Read :2776

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The Long Shadow - Chapter 13. Billy Meets The Pilgrim

CHAPTER XIII. Billy Meets the Pilgrim

The weeks that followed did not pass as quickly as before for Billy Boyle, nor did raking the range with his riders bring quite as keen a satisfaction with life. Always, when he rode apart in the soft haze and watched the sky-line shimmer and dance toward him and then retreat like a teasing maid, his thoughts wandered from the range and the cattle and the men who rode at his bidding and rested with one slim young woman who puzzled and tantalized him and caused him more mental discomfort than he had ever known in his life before that night when she entered so unexpectedly the line-camp and his life. He scarcely knew just how he did feel toward her; sometimes he hungered for her with every physical and mental fibre and was tempted to leave everything and go to her. Times there were when he resented deeply her treatment of him and repeated to himself the resolution not to lie down and let her walk all over him just because he liked her.

When the round-up was over and the last of the beef on the way to Chicago, and the fat Irish cook gathered up the reins of his four-horse team, mounted with a grunt to the high seat of the mess wagon and pointed his leaders thankfully into the trail which led to the Double-Crank, though the sky was a hard gray and the wind blew chill with the bite of winter and though tiny snowflakes drifted aimlessly to earth with a quite deceitful innocence, as if they knew nothing of more to come and were only idling through the air, the blood of Charming Billy rioted warmly through his veins and his voice had a lilt which it had long lacked and he sang again the pitifully foolish thing with which he was wont to voice his joy in living.

"I have been to see my wife,
She's the joy of my life,
She's a young thing, and cannot leave her mother!"

"Thought Bill had got too proud t' sing that song uh hisn," the cook yelled facetiously to the riders who were nearest. "I was lookin' for him to bust out in grand-opry, or something else that's a heap more stylish than his old come-all-ye."

Charming Billy turned and rested a hand briefly upon the cantle while he told the cook laughingly to go to the hot place, and then settled himself to the pace that matched the leaping blood of him. That pace soon discouraged the others and left them jogging leisurely a mile or two in the rear, and it also brought him the sooner to his destination.

"Wonder if she's mad yet," he asked himself, when he dismounted. No one seemed to be about, but he reflected that it was just about noon and they would probably be at dinner--and, besides, the weather was not the sort to invite one outdoors unless driven by necessity.

The smell of roast meat, coffee and some sort of pie assailed his nostrils pleasantly when he came to the house, and he went in eagerly by the door which would bring him directly to the dining room. As he had guessed, they were seated at the table. "Why, come in, William," Dill greeted, a welcoming note in his voice. "We weren't looking for you, but you are in good time. We've only just begun."

"How do you do, Mr. Boyle?" Miss Bridger added demurely.

"Hello, Bill! How're yuh coming?" cried another, and it was to him that the eyes of Billy Boyle turned bewilderedly. That the Pilgrim should be seated calmly at the Double-Crank table never once occurred to him. In his thoughts of Miss Bridger he had mentally eliminated the Pilgrim; for had she not been particular to show the Pilgrim that his presence was extremely undesirable, that night at the dance?

"Hello, folks!" he answered them all quietly, because there was nothing else that he could do until he had time to think. Miss Bridger had risen and was smiling at him in friendly fashion, exactly as if she had never run away from him and stayed away all the evening because she was angry.

"I'll fix you a place," she announced briskly. "Of course you're hungry. And if you want to wash off the dust of travel, there's plenty of warm water out here in the kitchen. I'll get you some."

She may not have meant that for an invitation, but Billy followed her into the kitchen and calmly shut the door behind him. She dipped warm water out of the reservoir for him and hung a fresh towel on the nail above the washstand in the corner, and seemed about to leave him again.

"Yuh mad yet?" asked Billy, because he wanted to keep her there.

"Mad? Why?" She opened her eyes at him. "Not as much as you look," she retorted then. "You look as cross as if--"

"What's the Pilgrim doing here?" Billy demanded suddenly and untactfully.

"Who? Mr. Walland?" She went into the pantry and came back with a plate for him. "Why, nothing; he's just visiting. It's Sunday, you know."

"Oh--is it?" Billy bent over the basin, hiding his face from her. "I didn't know; I'd kinda lost count uh the days." Whereupon he made a great splashing in his corner and let her go without more words, feeling more than ever that he needed time to think. "Just visiting--'cause it's _Sunday_, eh? The dickens it is!" Meditating deeply, he was very deliberate in combing his hair and settling his blue tie and shaking the dust out of his white silk neckerchief and retying it in a loose knot; so deliberate that Mama Joy was constrained to call out to him: "Your dinner is getting cold, Mr. Boyle," before he went in and took his seat where Miss Bridger had placed him--and he doubted much her innocence in the matter--elbow to elbow with the Pilgrim.

"How's shipping coming on, Billy?" inquired the Pilgrim easily, passing to him the platter of roast beef. "Most through, ain't yuh?"

"The outfit's on the way in," answered Billy, accepting noncommittally the meat and the overture for peace. "They'll be here in less than an hour."

If the Pilgrim wanted peace, he was thinking rapidly, what grounds had he for ignoring the truce? He himself had been the aggressor and he also had been the victor. According to the honor of fighting men, he should be generous. And when all was said and done--and the thought galled Billy more than he could understand--the offense of the Pilgrim had been extremely intangible; it had consisted almost wholly of looks and a tone or two, and he realized quite plainly that his own dislike of the Pilgrim had probably colored his judgment. Anyway, he had thrashed the Pilgrim and driven him away from camp and killed his dog. Wasn't that enough? And if the Pilgrim chose to forget the unpleasant circumstances of their parting and be friends, what could he do but forget also? Especially since the girl did not appear to be holding any grudge for what had passed between them in the line-camp. Billy, buttering a biscuit with much care, wished he knew just what _had happened that night before he opened the door, and wondered if he dared ask her.

Under all his thoughts and through all he hated the Pilgrim, his bold blue eyes, his full, smiling lips and smooth cheeks, as he had never hated him before; and he hated himself because, being unable to account even to himself for his feelings toward the Pilgrim, he was obliged to hide his hate and be friends--or else act the fool. And above all the mental turmoil he was somehow talking and listening and laughing now and then, as if there were two of him and each one was occupied with his own affairs. "I wisht to thunder there was _three uh me," he thought fleetingly during a pause. "I'd set the third one uh me to figuring out just where the girl stands in this game, and what she's thinking about right now. There's a kinda twinkling in her eyes, now and then when she looks over here, that sure don't line up with her innocent talk. I wisht I could mind-read her--

"Yes, we didn't get through none too soon. Looks a lot like we're going to get our first slice uh winter. We've been playing big luck that we didn't get it before now; and that last bunch uh beef was sure rollicky and hard to handle--we'd uh had a picnic with all the trimmings if a blizzard had caught us with them on our hands. As it is, we're all dead on our feet. I expect to sleep about four days without stopping for meals, if you ask _me_."

One cannot wonder that Charming Billy heard thankfully the clatter of his outfit arriving, or that he left half his piece of pie uneaten and hurried off, on the plea that he must show them what to do--which would have caused a snicker among the men if they had overheard him. He did not mind Dill following him out, nor did he greatly mind the Pilgrim remaining in the house with Miss Bridger. The relief of being even temporarily free from the perplexities of the situation mastered all else and sent him whistling down the path to the stables.

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