TO FIT HER FINGER
It was two rings that the Virginian wrote for when next I heard
After my dark sight of what the Cattle Land could be, I soon had
journeyed home by way of Washakie and Rawlins. Steve and Shorty
did not leave my memory, nor will they ever, I suppose.
The Virginian had touched the whole thing the day I left him. He
had noticed me looking a sort of farewell at the plains and
"You will come back to it," he said. "If there was a headstone
for every man that once pleasured in his freedom here, yu'd see
one most every time yu' turned your head. It's a heap sadder than
a graveyard--but yu' love it all the same."
Sadness had passed from him--from his uppermost mood, at least,
when he wrote about the rings. Deep in him was sadness of course,
as well as joy. For he had known Steve, and he had covered Shorty
with earth. He had looked upon life with a marks eyes, very
close; and no one, if he have a heart, can pass through this and
not carry sadness in his spirit with him forever. But he seldom
shows it openly; it bides within him, enriching his cheerfulness
and rendering him of better service to his fellow-men.
It was a commission of cheerfulness that he now gave, being
distant from where rings are to be bought. He could not go so far
as the East to procure what he had planned. Rings were to be had
in Cheyenne, and a still greater choice in Denver; and so far as
either of these towns his affairs would have permitted him to
travel. But he was set upon having rings from the East. They must
come from the best place in the country; nothing short of that
was good enough "to fit her finger," as he said. The wedding ring
was a simple matter. Let it be right, that was all: the purest
gold that could be used, with her initials and his together
graven round the inside, with the day of the month and the year.
The date was now set. It had come so far as this. July third was
to be the day. Then for sixty days and nights he was to be a
bridegroom, free from his duties at Sunk Creek, free to take his
bride wheresoever she might choose to go. And she had chosen.
Those voices of the world had more than angered her; for after
the anger a set purpose was left. Her sister should have the
chance neither to come nor to stay away. Had her mother even
answered the Virginian's letter, there could have been some
relenting. But the poor lady had been inadequate in this, as in
all other searching moments of her life: she had sent
messages,--kind ones, to be sure,--but only messages. If this had
hurt the Virginian, no one knew it in the world, least of all the
girl in whose heart it had left a cold, frozen spot. Not a good
spirit in which to be married, you will say. No; frozen spots are
not good at any time. But Molly's own nature gave her due
punishment. Through all these days of her warm happiness a chill
current ran, like those which interrupt the swimmer's perfect
joy. The girl was only half as happy as her lover; but she hid
this deep from him,--hid it until that final, fierce hour of
reckoning that her nature had with her,--nay, was bound to have
with her, before the punishment was lifted, and the frozen spot
melted at length from her heart.
So, meanwhile, she made her decree against Bennington. Not
Vermont, but Wyoming, should be her wedding place. No world's
voices should be whispering, no world's eyes should be looking
on, when she made her vow to him and received his vow. Those
voices should be spoken and that ring put on in this wild Cattle
Land, where first she had seen him ride into the flooded river,
and lift her ashore upon his horse. It was this open sky which
should shine down on them, and this frontier soil upon which
their feet should tread. The world should take its turn second.
After a month with him by stream and canyon, a month far deeper
into the mountain wilds than ever yet he had been free to take
her, a month with sometimes a tent and sometimes the stars above
them, and only their horses besides themselves--after such a
month as this, she would take him to her mother and to
Bennington; and the old aunt over at Dunbarton would look at him,
and be once more able to declare that the Storks had always
preferred a man who was a man.
And so July third was to be engraved inside the wedding ring.
Upon the other ring the Virginian had spent much delicious
meditation, all in his secret mind. He had even got the right
measure of her finger without her suspecting the reason. But this
step was the final one in his plan.
During the time that his thoughts had begun to be busy over the
other ring, by a chance he had learned from Mrs. Henry a number
of old fancies regarding precious stones. Mrs. Henry often
accompanied the Judge in venturesome mountain climbs, and
sometimes the steepness of the rocks required her to use her
hands for safety. One day when the Virginian went with them to
help mark out certain boundary corners, she removed her rings
lest they should get scratched; and he, being just behind her,
took them during the climb.
"I see you're looking at my topaz," she had said, as he returned
them. "If I could have chosen, it would have been a ruby. But I
was born in November."
He did not understand her in the least, but her words awakened
exceeding interest in him; and they had descended some five miles
of mountain before he spoke again. Then he became ingenious, for
he had half worked out what Mrs. Henry's meaning must be; but he
must make quite sure. Therefore, according to his wild, shy
nature, he became ingenious.
"Men wear rings," he began. "Some of the men on the ranch do. I
don't see any harm in a man's wearin' a ring. But I never have."
"Well," said the lady, not yet suspecting that he was undertaking
to circumvent her, "probably those men have sweethearts."
"No, ma'am. Not sweethearts worth wearin' rings for--in two
cases, anyway. They won 'em at cyards. And they like to see 'em
shine. I never saw a man wear a topaz."
Mrs. Henry did not have any further remark to make.
"I was born in January myself," pursued the Virginian, very
Then the lady gave him one look, and without further process of
mind perceived exactly what he was driving at.
"That's very extravagant for rings," said she. "January is
"Diamonds," murmured the Virginian, more and more thoughtfully.
"Well, it don't matter, for I'd not wear a ring. And November
is--what did yu' say, ma'am?"
"Yes. Well, jewels are cert'nly pretty things. In the Spanish
Missions yu'll see large ones now and again. And they're not
glass, I think. And so they have got some jewel that kind of
belongs to each month right around the twelve?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Henry, smiling. "One for each month. But the
opal is what you want."
He looked at her, and began to blush.
"October is the opal," she added, and she laughed outright, for
Miss Wood's birthday was on the fifteenth of that month.
The Virginian smiled guiltily at her through his crimson.
"I've no doubt you can beat around the bush very well with men,"
said Mrs. Henry. "But it's perfectly transparent with us--in
matters of sentiment, at least."
"Well, I am sorry," he presently said. "I don't want to give her
an opal. I have no superstition, but I don't want to give her an
opal. If her mother did, or anybody like that, why, all right.
But not from me. D' yu' understand, ma'am?"
Mrs. Henry did understand this subtle trait in the wild man, and
she rejoiced to be able to give him immediate reassurance
"Don't worry about that," she said. "The opal is said to bring
ill luck, but not when it is your own month stone. Then it is
supposed to be not only deprived of evil influence, but to
possess peculiarly fortunate power. Let it be an opal ring."
Then he asked her boldly various questions, and she shoved him
her rings, and gave him advice about the setting. There was no
special custom, she told him, ruling such rings as this he
desired to bestow. The gem might be the lady's favorite or the
lover's favorite; and to choose the lady's month stone was very
Very well indeed, the Virginian thought. But not quite well
enough for him. His mind now busied itself with this lore
concerning jewels, and soon his sentiment had suggested something
which he forthwith carried out.
When the ring was achieved, it was an opal, but set with four
small embracing diamonds. Thus was her month stone joined with
his, that their luck and their love might be inseparably clasped.
He found the size of her finger one day when winter had departed,
and the early grass was green. He made a ring of twisted grass
for her, while she held her hand for him to bind it. He made
another for himself. Then, after each had worn their grass ring
for a while, he begged her to exchange. He did not send his token
away from him, but most carefully measured it. Thus the ring
fitted her well, and the lustrous flame within the opal thrilled
his heart each time he saw it. For now June was near its end; and
that other plain gold ring, which, for safe keeping, he cherished
suspended round his neck day and night, seemed to burn with an
inward glow that was deeper than the opal's.
So in due course arrived the second of July. Molly's punishment
had got as far as this: she longed for her mother to be near her
at this time; but it was too late.