V.
ENTER THE WOMAN

"We are taking steps," said Mr. Taylor. "Bear Creek ain't going to be hasty about a schoolmarm."

"Sure," assented the Virginian. "The children wouldn't want yu' to hurry."

But Mr. Taylor was, as I have indicated, a serious family man. The problem of educating his children could appear to him in no light except a sober one. "Bear Creek," he said, "don't want the experience they had over at Calef. We must not hire an ignoramus."

"Sure!" assented the Virginian again.

"Nor we don't want no gad-a-way flirt," said Mr. Taylor.

"She must keep her eyes on the blackboa'd," said the Virginian, gently.

"Well, we can wait till we get a guaranteed article," said Mr. Taylor. "And that's what we're going to do. It can't be this year, and it needn't to be. None of the kids is very old, and the schoolhouse has got to be built." He now drew a letter from his pocket, and looked at me. "Are you acquainted with Miss Mary Stark Wood of Bennington, Vermont?" he inquired.

I was not acquainted with her at this time.

"She's one we are thinking of. She's a correspondent with Mrs. Balaam." Taylor handed me the letter. "She wrote that to Mrs. Balaam, and Mrs. Balaam said the best thing was for to let me see it and judge for myself. I'm taking it back to Mrs. Balaam. Maybe you can give me your opinion how it sizes up with the letters they write back East?"

The communication was mainly of a business kind, but also personal, and freely written. I do not think that its writer expected it to be exhibited as a document. The writer wished very much that she could see the West. But she could not gratify this desire merely for pleasure, or she would long ago have accepted the kind invitation to visit Mrs. Balaam's ranch. Teaching school was something she would like to do, if she were fitted for it. "Since the mills failed" (the writer said) "we have all gone to work and done a lot of things so that mother might keep on living in the old house. Yes, the salary would be a temptation. But, my dear, isn't Wyoming bad for the complexion? And could I sue them if mine got damaged? It is still admired. I could bring one male witness AT LEAST to prove that!" Then the writer became businesslike again. Even if she came to feel that she could leave home, she did not at all know that she could teach school. Nor did she think it right to accept a position in which one had had no experience. "I do love children, boys especially," she went on. "My small nephew and I get on famously. But imagine if a whole benchful of boys began asking me questions that I couldn't answer! What should I do? For one could not spank them all, you know! And mother says that I ought not to teach anybody spelling, because I leave the U out of HONOR."

Altogether it was a letter which I could assure Mr. Taylor "sized up" very well with the letters written in my part of the United States. And it was signed, "Your very sincere spinster, Molly Stark Wood."

"I never seen HONOR spelled with a U," said Mr. Taylor, over whose not highly civilized head certain portions of the letter had lightly passed.

I told him that some old-fashioned people still wrote the word so.

"Either way would satisfy Bear Creek," said Mr. Taylor, "if she's otherwise up to requirements."

The Virginian was now looking over the letter musingly, and with awakened attention.

"'Your very sincere spinster,'" he read aloud slowly.

"I guess that means she's forty," said Taylor.

"I reckon she is about twenty," said the Virginian. And again he fell to musing over the paper that he held.

"Her handwriting ain't like any I've saw," pursued Mr. Taylor. "But Bear Creek would not object to that, provided she knows 'rithmetic and George Washington, and them kind of things."

"I expect she is not an awful sincere spinster," surmised the Virginian, still looking at the letter, still holding it as if it were some token.

Has any botanist set down what the seed of love is? Has it anywhere been set down in how many ways this seed may be sown? In what various vessels of gossamer it can float across wide spaces? Or upon what different soils it can fall, and live unknown, and bide its time for blooming?

The Virginian handed back to Taylor the sheet of note paper where a girl had talked as the women he had known did not talk. If his eyes had ever seen such maidens, there had been no meeting of eyes; and if such maidens had ever spoken to him, the speech was from an established distance. But here was a free language, altogether new to him. It proved, however, not alien to his understanding, as it was alien to Mr. Taylor's.

We drove onward, a mile perhaps, and then two. He had lately been full of words, but now he barely answered me, so that a silence fell upon both of us. It must have been all of ten miles that we had driven when he spoke of his own accord.

"Your real spinster don't speak of her lot that easy," he remarked. And presently he quoted a phrase about the complexion, "Could I sue them if mine got damaged?"' and he smiled over this to himself, shaking his head. "What would she be doing on Bear Creek?" he next said. And finally: "I reckon that witness will detain her in Vermont. And her mother'll keep livin' at the old house."

Thus did the cow-puncher deliver himself, not knowing at all that the seed had floated across wide spaces, and was biding its time in his heart.

On the morrow we reached Sunk Creek. Judge Henry's welcome and his wife's would have obliterated any hardships that I had endured, and I had endured none at all.

For a while I saw little of the Virginian. He lapsed into his native way of addressing me occasionally as "seh"--a habit entirely repudiated by this land of equality. I was sorry. Our common peril during the runaway of Buck and Muggins had brought us to a familiarity that I hoped was destined to last. But I think that it would not have gone farther, save for a certain personage--I must call her a personage. And as I am indebted to her for gaining me a friend whose prejudice against me might never have been otherwise overcome, I shall tell you her little story, and how her misadventures and her fate came to bring the Virginian and me to an appreciation of one another. Without her, it is likely I should also not have heard so much of the story of the schoolmarm, and how that lady at last came to Bear Creek.

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