ELDER CONKLIN AND OTHER STORIES
ELDER CONKLIN AND OTHER STORIES
MACMILLAN AND CO.
_All rights reserved_
BY MACMILLAN AND CO.
* * * * *
THE SHERIFF AND HIS PARTNER
A MODERN IDYLL
THE BEST MAN IN GAROTTE
GULMORE THE BOSS
* * * * *
As soon as the Elder left the supper-table his daughter and the new
schoolmaster went out on the stoop or verandah which ran round the
frame-house. The day had been warm but the chilliness of the evening
air betokened the near approach of the Indian summer. The house stood
upon the crest of what had been a roll in the prairie and as the two
leant together on the railing of the stoop they looked out over a small
orchard of peach-trees to where a couple of hundred yards away at the
foot of the bluff Cottonwood Creek ran fringed on either bank by the
trees which had suggested its name. On the horizon to their right away
beyond the spears of yellow maize the sun was sinking a ball of orange
fire against the rose mist of the sky. When the girl turned towards him
perhaps to avoid the level rays Bancroft expressed the hope that she
would go with him to the house-warming. A little stiffly Miss Conklin
replied that she'd be pleased but--
"What have I done Miss Loo to offend you?" the young man spoke
"Nothin' I guess" she answered with assumed indifference.
"When I first came you were so kind and helped me in everything. Now for
the last two or three days you seem cold and sarcastic as if you were
angry with me. I'd be sorry if that were so--very sorry."
"Why did you ask Jessie Stevens to go with you to the house-warmin'?"
was the girl's retort.
"I certainly didn't ask her" he replied hotly. "You must know I
"Then Seth lied!" exclaimed Miss Conklin. "But I guess he'll not try
that again with me--Seth Stevens I mean. He wanted me to go with him to-
night and I didn't give him the mitten as I should if I'd thought you
were goin' to ask me."
"What does 'giving the mitten' mean?" he questioned with a puzzled air.
"Why jest the plainest kind of refusal I guess; but I only told him I
was afraid I'd have to go with you seein' you were a stranger.
'Afraid'" she repeated as if the word stung her. "But he'll lose
nothin' by waitin' nothin'. You hear me talk." And her eyes flashed.
As she drew herself up in indignation Bancroft thought he had never
seen any one so lovely. "A perfect Hebe" he said to himself and
started as if he had said the words aloud. The comparison was apt.
Though Miss Loo Conklin was only seventeen her figure had all the
ripeness of womanhood and her height--a couple of inches above the
average--helped to make her look older than she was. Her face was more
than pretty; it was in fact as beautiful as youth good features and
healthy colouring could make it. A knotted mass of chestnut hair set off
the shapely head: the large blue eyes were deepened by dark lashes. The
underlip however was a little full and the oval of the face through
short curve of jaw a trifle too round. Her companion tried in vain to
control the admiration of his gaze. Unelated by what she felt to be
merely her due Miss Conklin was silent for a time. At length she
"I guess I'll have to go and fix up."
Just then the Elder appeared on the stoop. "Ef you're goin'" he said in
the air as his daughter swept past him into the house "you'd better
hitch Jack up to the light buggy."
"Thank you" said the schoolmaster; and for the sake of saying
something he added "What a fine view." The Elder paused but did not
answer; he saw nothing remarkable in the landscape except the Indian
corn and the fruit and the words "fine view" conveyed no definite
meaning to him; he went on towards the stables.
The taciturnity of the Elder annoyed Bancroft excessively. He had now
passed a couple of weeks as a boarder with the Conklins and the Elder's
unconscious rudeness was only one of many peculiarities that had brought
him to regard these Western folk as belonging almost to a distinct
species. George Bancroft was an ordinary middle-class Bostonian. He had
gone through the University course with rather more than average
success and had the cant of unbounded intellectual sympathies. His
self-esteem however was not based chiefly on his intelligence but on
the ease with which he reached a conventional standard of conduct. Not a
little of his character showed itself in his appearance. In figure he
was about the middle height and strongly though sparely built. The head
was well-proportioned; the face a lean oval; the complexion sallow; the
hair and small moustache very dark; the brown eyes inexpressive and
close-set revealing a tendency to suspiciousness--Bancroft prided
himself on his prudence. A certain smartness of dress and a conscious
carriage discovered a vanity which in an older man would have been
fatuous. A large or a sensitive nature would in youth at least have
sought unconsciously to bring itself into sympathy with strange
surroundings but Bancroft looked upon those who differed from him in
manners or conduct as inferior and this presumption in regard to the
Conklins was strengthened by his superiority in book-learning the
importance of which he had been trained to over-estimate.
During their drive Miss Conklin made her companion talk of Eastern life;
she wanted to know what Chicago was like and what people did in New
York. Stirred by her eager curiosity Bancroft sketched both cities in
hasty outline and proceeded to tell what he had read and heard of
Paris and Rome and London. But evidently the girl was not interested
by his praise of the art-life of European capitals or their historical
associations; she cut short his disquisition:
"See here! When I first seed you an' knew you was raised in Boston an'
had lived in New York I jest thought you no account for comin' to this
jumpin'-off place. Why did you come to Kansas anyway and what did you
reckon upon doin'? I guess you ain't goin' to teach school always."
The young man flushed under the frankness of the girl's gaze and
question and what appeared like contempt in her opinion of him. Again
he became painfully conscious that there was a wide social difference
between Miss Conklin and himself. He had been accustomed to more
reticence and such direct questioning seemed impertinent. But he was so
completely under the spell of her beauty that he answered with scarcely
"I came out here because I wanted to study law and wasn't rich enough
to do it in the East. This school was the first position offered to me.
I had to take it but I intend after a term or two to find a place in
a lawyer's office in some town and get admitted to practice. If I'd had
fifteen hundred dollars I could have done that in Boston or New York
but I suppose it will all come right in time."
"If I'd been you I'd have stayed in New York" and then clasping her
hands on her knee and looking intently before her she added "When I
get to New York--an' that won't be long--I'll stay there you bet! I
guess New York's good enough for me. There's style there" and she
nodded her head decisively as she spoke.
Miss Loo and Bancroft were among the latest arrivals at the Morrises'.
She stood beside him while he hitched Jack to a post of the fence amidst
a crowd of other horses and they entered the house together. In due
form she presented the schoolmaster to Mr. and Mrs. Morris and
smilingly produced three linen tablecloths as her contribution to the
warming. After accepting the present with profuse thanks and unmeasured
praise of it and of the giver Mrs. Morris conducted the newcomers
across the passage into the best sitting-room which the young folk had
already appropriated leaving the second-best room to their elders.
In the small square apartment were some twenty boys and girls ranging
between sixteen and twenty-two years of age. The boys stood about at one
end of the room while the girls sat at the other end chattering and
enjoying themselves. Bancroft did not go among those of his own sex
none of whom he knew and whom he set down as mere uncouth lads. He
found it more amusing to stand near the girls and talk with them. By so
doing he unconsciously offended the young men.
Presently a tall youth came towards them:
"I guess we'd better play somethin'?"
"Forfeits! Mr. Stevens" was a girl's quick reply and it was arranged
to play forfeits in a queer educational fashion. First of all Mr.
Stevens left the room presumably to think. When he came in again he
went over to Miss Conklin and asked her to spell "forgive." After a
moment's pause she spelt it correctly. He retired slowly and on his
return stopped again in front of Miss Conklin with the word
"reconciliation." She withstood the test triumphantly. Annoyed
apparently with the pains she took Mr. Stevens on his next entrance
turned to a pretty quiet girl named Miss Black and gave her
"stranger" with a glance at Bancroft which spread a laugh among the
boys. Miss Black began with "strai" and was not allowed to go on for
Mr. Stevens at once offered his arm and led her into the passage.
"What takes place outside?" asked Bancroft confidentially of the girl
sitting nearest to him who happened to be Miss Jessie Stevens. She
replied with surprise:
"I guess they kiss each other!"
"Ah!--Now I understand" he said to himself and from that moment
followed the proceedings with more interest. He soon found that
successive pairs called each other out in turn and he had begun to tire
of the game when Miss Jessie Stevens stopped before him and pertly gave
the word "friendship." Of course he spelt it wrongly and accompanied
her outside the door. As he kissed her cheek she drew away her head
"I only called you out to give you a chance of kissin' Loo Conklin."
He thought it wiser not to reply to this and contented himself with
thanking her as they entered the room. He paused before Miss Conklin
and gave her "bumpkin" adding by way of explanation "a rude country
fellow." She spelt it cheerfully without the "p." When the mistake was
made plain to her which took some little time she accepted his arm
and went with him into the passage. He kissed her more than once
murmuring "At last Miss Loo!" She replied seriously:
"See here! You're goin' to get into a fuss with Seth Stevens if you call
me out often. And he's the strongest of them all. You ain't afraid? O.K.
then. I guess we'll pay him out for lyin'."
On returning to the room Bancroft became conscious of a thinly veiled
antagonism on the part of the young men. But he had hardly time to
notice it when Miss Loo came in and said to him demurely "Loo." He
spelt "You." Much laughter from the girls greeted the simple pleasantry.
So the game punctuated by kisses went on until Miss Loo came in for
the fourth time and stopped again before Bancroft whereupon Seth
Stevens pushed through the crowd of young men and said:
"Miss Loo Conklin! You know the rule is to change after three times."
At once she moved in front of the stout youth Richards who had come
forward to support his friend and said "liar!" flashing at the same
time an angry glance at Stevens. "Lire" spelt Richards painfully and
the pair withdrew.
Bancroft went over to the men's corner; the critical moment had come; he
measured his rival with a glance. Stevens was tall fully six feet in
height and though rather lank had the bow legs and round shoulders
which often go with strength.
As he took up his new position Stevens remarked to a companion in a
"Schoolmasters kin talk an' teach but kin they fight?"
Bancroft took it upon himself to answer "Sometimes."
"Kin you?" asked Stevens sharply turning to him.
"We kin try that to-morrow. I'll be in the lot behind Richards' mill at
"I'll be there" replied the schoolmaster making his way again towards
the group of girls.
Nothing further happened until the old folk came in and the party broke
up. Driving homewards with Miss Conklin Bancroft began:
"How can I thank you enough for being so kind to me? You called me out
often almost as often as I called you."
"I did that to rile Seth Stevens."
"And not at all to please me?"
"Perhaps a little" she said and silence fell upon them.
His caution led him to restrain himself. He was disturbed by vague
doubts and felt the importance of a decisive word. Presently Miss
Conklin spoke in a lower voice than usual but with an accent of
coquettish triumph in the question:
"So you like me after all? Like me really?"
"Do you doubt it?" His accent was reproachful. "But why do you say
"You never kissed me comin' back from church last Sunday and I showed
you the school and everythin'!"
"Might I have kissed you then? I was afraid of offending you."
"Offendin' me? Well I guess not! Every girl expects to be kissed when
she goes out with a man."
"Let's make up for it now Loo. May I call you Loo?" While speaking he
slipped his arm round her waist and kissed her again and again.
"That's my name. But there! I guess you've made up enough already." And
Miss Conklin disengaged herself. On reaching the house however she
offered her lips before getting out of the buggy.
When alone in his bedroom Bancroft sat and thought. The events of the
evening had been annoying. Miss Loo's conduct had displeased him; he did
not like familiarity. He would not acknowledge to himself that he was
jealous. The persistent way Stevens had tried to puzzle her had
disgusted him--that was all. It was sufficiently plain that in the past
she had encouraged Stevens. Her freedom and boldness grated upon his
nerves. He condemned her with a sense of outraged delicacy. Girls ought
not to make advances; she had no business to ask him whether he liked
her; she should have waited for him to speak plainly. He only required
what was right. Yet the consciousness that she loved him flattered his
vanity and made him more tolerant; he resolved to follow her lead or to
improve upon it. Why shouldn't he? She had said "every girl expects to
be kissed." And if she wanted to be kissed it was the least he could do
to humour her.
All the while at the bottom of his heart there was bitterness. He would
have given much to believe that an exquisite soul animated that lovely
face. Perhaps she was better than she seemed. He tried to smother his
distrust of her till it was rendered more acute by another reflection--
she had got him into the quarrel with Seth Stevens. He did not trouble
much about it. He was confident enough of his strength and the
advantages of his boyish training in the gymnasium to regard the trial
with equanimity. Still the girls he had known in the East would never
have set two men to fight never--it was not womanly. Good girls were by
nature peacemakers. There must be something in Loo he argued almost--
vulgar and he shrank from the word. To lessen the sting of his
disappointment he pictured her to himself and strove to forget her
On the following morning he went to his school very early. The girls
were not as obtrusive as they had been. Miss Jessie Stevens did not
bother him by coming up every five minutes to see what he thought of her
dictation as she had been wont to do. He was rather glad of this; it
saved him importunate glances and words and the propinquity of girlish
forms which had been more trying still. But what was the cause of the
change? It was evident that the girls regarded him as belonging to Miss
Conklin. He disliked the assumption; his caution took alarm; he would be
more careful in future. The forenoon melted into afternoon quietly
though there were traces on Jake Conklin's bench of unusual agitation
and excitement. To these signs the schoolmaster paid small heed at the
moment. He was absorbed in thinking of the evening before and in trying
to appraise each of Loo's words and looks. At last the time came for
breaking up. When he went outside to get into the buggy--he had brought
Jack with him--he noticed without paying much attention to it that
Jake Conklin was not there to unhitch the strap and in various other
ways to give proof of a desire to ride with him. He set off for
Richards' mill whither needless to say Jake and half-a-dozen other
urchins had preceded him as fast as their legs could carry them.
As soon as he was by himself the schoolmaster recognized that the affair
was known to his scholars and the knowledge nettled him. His anger
fastened upon Loo. It was all her fault; her determination to "pay
Stevens out" had occasioned the quarrel. Well he would fight and win
and then have done with the girl whose lips had doubtless been given to
Stevens as often and as readily as to himself. The thought put him in a
rage while the idea of meeting Stevens on an equality humiliated him--
strife with such a boor was in itself a degradation. And Loo had brought
it about. He could never forgive her. The whole affair was disgraceful
and her words "Every girl expects to be kissed when she goes out with a
man" were vulgar and coarse! With which conclusion in his mind he
turned to the right round the section-line and saw the mill before him.
* * * * *
After the return from the house-warming and the understanding as she
considered it with Bancroft Miss Loo gave herself up to her new-born
happiness. As she lay in bed her first thought was of her lover: he was
"splendid" whereby she meant pleasant and attractive. She wondered
remorsefully how she had taken him to be quite "homely-looking" when she
first saw him. Why he was altogether above any one she knew--not
perhaps jest in looks but in knowledge and in manners--he didn't stand
in the corner of the room like the rest and stare till all the girls
became uncomfortable. What did looks matter after all? Besides he
wasn't homely he was handsome; so he was. His eyes were lovely--she had
always liked dark eyes best--and his moustache was dark too and she
liked that. To be sure it wasn't very long yet or thick but it would
grow; and here she sighed with content. Most girls in her place would be
sorry he wasn't taller but she didn't care for very tall men; they
sorter looked down on you. Anyway he was strong--a pang of fear shot
suddenly through her--he might be hurt by that brute Seth Stevens on the
morrow. Oh no. That was impossible. He was brave she felt sure very
brave. Still she wished they weren't going to fight; it made her uneasy
to think that she had provoked the conflict. But it couldn't be helped
now; she couldn't interfere. Besides men were always fightin' about
somethin' or other.
Mr. Crew the Minister had said right off that he'd make his mark in
the world; all the girls thought so too and that was real good. She'd
have hated a stupid ordinary man. Fancy being married to Seth Stevens
and she shuddered; yet he was a sight better than any of the others; he
had even seemed handsome to her once. Ugh! Then Bancroft's face came
before her again and remembering his kisses she flushed and grew hot
from head to foot. They would be married soon--right off. As George
hadn't the money her father must give what he could and they'd go East.
Her father wouldn't refuse though he'd feel bad p'r'aps; he never
refused her anythin'. If fifteen hundred dollars would be enough for
George alone three thousand would do for both of them. Once admitted as
a lawyer he would get a large practice: he was so clever and hard-
working. She was real glad that she'd be the means of giving him the
opportunity he wanted to win riches and position. But he must begin in
New York. She would help him on and she'd see New York and all the
shops and elegant folk and have silk dresses. They'd live in a hotel
and get richer and richer and she'd drive about with--here she grew hot
again. The vision however was too entrancing to be shut out; she saw
herself distinctly driving in an open carriage with a negro nurse
holding the baby all in laces in front "jest too cute for anythin'"
and George beside her and every one in Fifth Avenue starin'.
Sleep soon brought confusion into her picture of a happy future; but
when she awoke the glad confidence of the previous night had given
place to self-reproach and fear. During the breakfast she scarcely spoke
or lifted her eyes. Her silent preoccupation was misunderstood by
Bancroft; he took it to mean that she didn't care what happened to him;
she was selfish he decided. All the morning she went about the house in
a state of nervous restlessness and at dinner-time her father noticed
her unusual pallor and low spirits. To the Elder the meal-times were
generally a source of intense pleasure. He was never tired of feasting
his eyes upon his daughter when he could do so without attracting
attention and he listened to her fluent obvious opinions on men and
things with a fulness of pride and joy which was difficult to divine
since his keenest feelings never stirred the impassibility of his
features. He had small power of expressing his thoughts and even in
youth he had felt it impossible to render in words any deep emotion. For
more than forty years the fires of his nature had been "banked up."
Reticent and self-contained he appeared to be hard and cold; yet his
personality was singularly impressive. About five feet ten in height he
was lean and sinewy with square shoulders and muscles of whipcord. His
face recalled the Indian type; the same prominent slightly beaked nose
high cheek bones and large knot of jaw. But there the resemblance ended.
The eyes were steel-blue; the upper lip long; the mouth firm; short
bristly silver hair stood up all over his head in defiant contrast to
the tanned unwrinkled skin. He was clean-shaven and looked less than
his age which was fifty-eight.
All through the dinner he wondered anxiously what could so affect his
daughter and how he could find out without intruding himself upon her
confidence. His great love for his child had developed in the Elder
subtle delicacies of feeling which are as the fragrance of love's
humility. In the afternoon Loo dressed for walking met him and of
her own accord began the conversation:
"Father I want to talk to you."
The Elder put down the water-bucket he had been carrying and drew the
shirt-sleeves over his nervous brown arms whether out of unconscious
modesty or simple sense of fitness it would be impossible to say. She
went on hesitatingly "I want to know--Do you think Mr. Bancroft's