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A short story by B. M. Bower

Miss Martin's Mission

Title:     Miss Martin's Mission
Author: B. M. Bower [More Titles by Bower]

When Andy Green, fresh-combed and shining with soap and towel polish, walked into the dining-room of the Dry Lake Hotel, he felt not the slightest premonition of what was about to befall. His chief sensation was the hunger which comes of early rising and of many hours spent in the open, and beyond that he was hoping that the Chinaman cook had made some meat-pie, like he had the week before. His eyes, searching unobtrusively the long table bearing the unmistakable signs of many other hungry men gone before--for Andy was late--failed to warn him. He pulled out his chair and sat down, still looking for meat-pie.

"Good after_noon!_" cried an eager, feminine voice just across the table.

Andy started guiltily. He had been dimly aware that some one was sitting there, but, being occupied with other things, had not given a thought to the sitter, or a glance. Now he did both while he said good afternoon with perfunctory politeness.

"Such a _beau_tiful day, isn't it? _so_ invigorating, like rare, old wine!"

Andy assented somewhat dubiously; it had never just struck him that way; he thought fleetingly that perhaps it was because he had never come across any rare, old wine. He ventured another glance. She was not young, and she wore glasses, behind which twinkled very bright eyes of a shade of brown. She had unpleasantly regular hair waves on her temples, and underneath the waves showed streaks of gray. Also, she wore a black silk waist, and somebody's picture made into a brooch at her throat. Further, Andy dared not observe. It was enough for one glance. He looked again for the much-desired meat-pie.

The strange lady ingratiatingly passed him the bread. "You're a cowboy, aren't you?" was the disconcerting question that accompanied the bread.

"Well, I--er--I punch cows," he admitted guardedly, his gaze elsewhere than on her face.

"I _knew_ you were a cowboy, the moment you entered the door! I could tell by the tan and the straight, elastic walk, and the silk handkerchief knotted around your throat in that picturesque fashion. (Oh, I'm older than you, and dare speak as I think!) I've read a great deal about cowboys, and I do admire you all as a type of free, great-hearted, noble manhood!"

Andy looked exactly as if someone had caught him at something exceedingly foolish. He tried to sugar his coffee calmly, and so sent it sloshing all over the saucer.

"Do you live near here?" she asked next, beaming upon him in the orthodox, motherly fashion.

"Yes, ma'am, not very near," he was betrayed into saying--and she might make what she could of it. He had not said "ma'am" before since he had gone to school.

"Oh, I've heard how you Western folks measure distances," she teased. "About how many miles?"

"About twenty."

"I suppose that is not far, to you knights of the plains. At home it would be called a _dreadfully_ long journey. Why, I have known numbers of old men and women who have never been so far from their own doors in their lives! What would you think, I wonder, of their little forty acre farms?"

Andy had been brought to his sixteenth tumultuous birthday on a half-acre in the edge of a good-sized town, but he did not say so. He shook his head vaguely and said he didn't know. Andy Green, however, was not famous for clinging ever to the truth.

"You out here in this great, wide, free land, with the free winds ever blowing and the clouds--"

"Will you pass the butter, please?" Andy hated to interrupt, but he was hungry.

The strange lady passed the butter and sent with it a smile. "I have read and heard so much about this wild, free life, and my heart has gone out to the noble fellows living their lonely life with their cattle and their faithful dogs, lying beside their camp-fires at night while the stars stood guard--"

Andy forgot his personal embarrassment and began to perk up his ears. This was growing interesting.

"--And I have felt how lonely they must be, with their rude fare and few pleasures, and what a field there must be among them for a great and noble work; to uplift them and bring into their lonely lives a broader, deeper meaning; to help them to help themselves to be better, nobler men and women--"

"We don't have any lady cowpunchers out here," interposed Andy mildly.

The strange lady had merely gone astray a bit, being accustomed to addressing Mothers' Meetings and the like. She recovered herself easily. "Nobler men, the bulwarks of our nation." She stopped and eyed Andy archly. Andy, having observed that her neck was scrawny, with certain cords down the sides that moved unpleasantly when she talked, tried not to look.

"I wonder if you can guess what brings me out here, away from home and friends! Can you guess?"

Andy thought of several things, but he could not feel that it would be polite to mention them. Agent for complexion stuff, for instance, and next to that, wanting a husband. He shook his head again and looked at his potato.

"You _can't guess_?" The tone was the one commonly employed for the encouragement, and consequent demoralization of, a primary class. Andy realized that he was being talked down to, and his combativeness awoke. "Well, away back in my home town, a woman's club has been thinking of all you lonely fellows, and have felt their hearts swell with a desire to help you--so far from home and mother's influence, with only the coarse pleasures of the West, and amid all the temptations that lie in wait--" She caught herself back from speech-making--"and they have sent _me_--away out here--to be your _friend_; to help you to help yourselves become better, truer men and--" She did not say women, though, poor soul, she came near it. "So, I am going to be your friend. I want to get in touch with you all, first; to win your confidence and teach you to look upon me in the light of a mother. Then, when I have won your confidence, I want to organize a Cowboys' Mutual Improvement and Social Society, to help you in the way of self-improvement and to resist the snares laid for homeless boys like you. Don't you think I'm very--_brave_?" She was smiling at him again, leaning back in her chair and regarding him playfully over her glasses.

"You sure are," Andy assented, deliberately refraining from saying "yes, ma'am," as had been his impulse.

"To come away out here--_all alone_--among all you wild cowboys with your guns buckled on and your wicked little mustangs--Are you sure you won't shoot me?"

Andy eyed her pityingly. If she meant it, he thought, she certainly was wabbly in her mind. If she thought that was the only kind of talk he could savvy, then she was a blamed idiot; either way, he felt antagonistic. "The law shall be respected in your case," he told her, very gravely.

She smiled almost as if she could see the joke; after which she became twitteringly, eagerly in earnest. "Since you live near here, you must know the Whitmores. Miss Whitmore came out here, two or three years ago, and married her brother's coachman, I believe--though I've heard conflicting stories about it; some have said he was an artist, and others that he was a jockey, or horse-trainer. I heard too that he was a cowboy; but Miss Whitmore certainly wrote about this young man driving her brother's carriage. However, she is married and I have a letter of introduction to her. The president of our club used to be a schoolmate of her mother. I shall stop with them--I have heard so much about the Western hospitality--and shall get into touch with my cowboys from the vantage point of proximity. Did you say you know them?"

"I work for them," Andy told her truthfully in his deep amazement, and immediately repented and wished that he had not been so virtuous. With Andy, to wish was to do--given the opportunity.

"Then I can go with you out to their farm--ranchero! How nice! And on the way you can tell me all about yourself and your life and hopes--because I do want to get in touch with you all, you know--and I'll tell you all my plans for you; I have some _beau_tiful plans! And we'll be very good friends by the time we reach our destination, I'm sure. I want you to feel from the start that I am a true friend, and that I have your welfare very much at heart. Without the confidence of my cowboys, I can do nothing. Are there any more at home like you?"

Andy looked at her suspiciously, but it was so evident she never meant to quote comic opera, that he merely wondered anew. He struggled feebly against temptation, and fell from grace quite willingly. It isn't polite to "throw a load" at a lady, but then Andy felt that neither was it polite for a lady to come out with the avowed intention of improving him and his fellows; it looked to him like butting in where she was not wanted, or needed.

"Yes, ma'am, there's quite a bunch, and they're pretty bad. I don't believe you can do much for 'em." He spoke regretfully.

"Do they--_drink_?" she asked, leaning forward and speaking in the hushed voice with which some women approach a tabooed subject.

"Yes ma'am, they do. They're hard drinkers. And they"--he eyed her speculatively, trying to guess the worst sins in her category--"they play cards--gamble--and swear, and smoke cigarettes and--"

"All the more need of someone to help them overcome," she decided solemnly. "What you need is a coffee-house and reading room here, so that the young men will have some place to go other than the saloons. I shall see to that right away. And with the Mutual Improvement and Social Society organized and working smoothly, and a library of standard works for recreation, together with earnest personal efforts to promote temperance and clean-living, I feel that a _wonderful_ work can be done. I saw you drive into town, so I know you can take me out with you; I hope you are going to start soon. I feel very impatient to reach the field and put my sickle to the harvest."

Andy mentally threw up his hands before this unshakable person. He had meant to tell her that he had come on horseback, but she had forestalled him. He had meant to discourage her--head her off, he called it to himself. But there seemed no way of doing it. He pushed back his chair and rose, though he had not tasted his pie, and it was lemon pie at that. He had some faint notion of hurrying out of town and home before she could have time to get ready; but she followed him to the door and chirped over his shoulder that it wouldn't take her two minutes to put on her wraps. Andy groaned.

He tried--or started to try--holding out at Rusty Brown's till she gave up in despair; but it occurred to him that Chip had asked him to hurry back. Andy groaned again, and got the team.

She did not wait for him to drive around to the hotel for her; possibly she suspected his intentions. At any rate, she came nipping down the street toward the stable just as he was hooking the last trace, and she was all ready and had a load of bags and bundles.

"I'm not going to begin by making trouble for you," she twittered. "I thought I could just as well come down here to the wagon as have you drive back to the hotel. And my trunk did not come on the train with me, so I'm all ready."

Andy, having nothing in mind that he dared say to a lady, helped her into the wagon.

At sundown or thereabouts--for the days were short and he had a load of various things besides care--Andy let himself wearily into the bunk-house where was assembled the Happy Family. He merely grunted when they spoke to him, and threw himself heavily down upon his bunk.

"For Heaven's sake, somebody roll me a cigarette! I'm too wore out to do a thing, and I haven't had a smoke since dinner," he groaned, after a minute.

"Sick?" asked Pink solicitously.

"Sick as a dog! water, water!" moaned Andy. All at once he rolled over upon his face and shook with laughter more than a little hysterical, and to the questioning of the Happy Family gave no answer but howls. The Happy Family began to look at one another uneasily.

"Aw, let up!" Happy Jack bellowed. "You give a man the creeps just to listen at yuh."

"I'm going to empty the water-bucket over yuh in a minute," Pink threatened, "Go get it, Cal; it's half full."

Andy knew well the metal of which the Happy Family was made, and the night was cool for a ducking. He rolled back so that they could see his face, and struggled for calm. In a minute he sat up and merely gurgled.

"Well, say, I had to do something or die," he explained, gasping. "I've gone through a heap, the last few hours, and I was right where I couldn't do a thing. By gracious, I struck the ranch about as near bug-house as a man can get and recover. Where's a cigarette?"

"What you've gone through--and I don't give a cuss what it is--ain't a marker for what's going to happen if yuh don't loosen up on the history," said Jack Bates firmly.

Andy smoked hungrily while he surveyed the lot. "How calm and innocent yuh all look," he observed musingly, "with your hats on and saying words that's rude, and smoking the vile weed regardless, never dreaming what's going to drop, pretty soon quick. Yuh make me think of a hymn-song my step-mother used to sing a lot, about 'They dreamed not of danger, those sinners of old, whom--"

"Hand me the water bucket," directed Pink musically.

"Oh, well--take it from the shoulder, then; I was only trying to lead up to it gradual, but yuh _will_ have it raw. You poor, dear cowboys, that live your lonely lives watching over your cattle with your _faithful dogs_ and the stars for company, you're going to be _improved_. (You'll sure stand a lot of it, too!) A woman's relief club back East has felt the burden of your no-accountness and general orneriness, and has sent one of its leading members out here to reform yuh. You're going to be hazed into a Cowboys' Mutual Improvement and Social Society, and quit smoking cigarettes and cussing your hosses and laying over Rusty's bar when yuh ride into town; and for pleasure and recreation you're going to read Tennyson's poems, and when yuh get caught out in a blizzard yuh'll be heeled with Whittier's _Snowbound_, pocket edition. Emerson and Browning and Shakespeare and Gatty" (Andy misquoted; he meant Goethe) "and all them stiffs is going to be set before yuh regular and in your mind constant, purging it of unclean thoughts, and grammar is going to be learnt yuh as a side-line. Yuh--"

"Mama mine," broke in Weary. "I have thought sometimes, when Andy broke loose with that imagination uh his, that he'd gone the limit; but next time he always raises the limit out uh sight. He's like the Good Book says: he's prone to lie as the sparks fly-upward."

Andy gazed belligerently at the skeptical group. "I brought her out from town," he said doggedly, "and whilst I own up to having an imagination, she's stranger than fiction. She'd make the fellow that wrote "She" lay down with a headache. She's come out here to help us cowboys live nobler, better lives. She's going to learn yuh Browning, darn yuh! and Emerson and Gatty. She said so. She's going to fill your hearts with love for dumb creatures, so when yuh get set afoot out on the range, or anything like that, yuh won't put in your time cussing the miles between you and camp; you'll have a pocket edition of 'Much Ado About Nothing' to read, or the speech Mark Anthony made when he was running for office. Or supposing yuh left 'em all in camp, yuh'll study nature. There's sermons in stones, she says. She's going to send for a pocket library that can easy be took on roundup--"

"Say, I guess that's about enough," interrupted Pink restlessly. "We all admit you're the biggest liar that ever come West of the Mississippi, without you laying it on any deeper."

Whereupon Andy rose in wrath and made a suggestive movement with his fist. "If I was romancing," he declared indignantly, "I'd do a smoother job; when I do lie, I notice yuh all believe it--till yuh find out different. And by gracious yuh might do as much when I'm telling the truth! Go up to the White House and see, darn yuh! If yuh don't find Miss Verbena Martin up there telling the Little Doctor how her heart goes out to her dear cowboys and how she's going to get in touch with 'em and help 'em lead nobler, better lives, you can kick me all round the yard. And I hope, by gracious, she _does_ improve yuh! Yuh sure do need it a lot."

The Happy Family discussed the tale freely and without regard for the feelings of Andy; they even became heated and impolite, and they made threats. They said that a liar like him ought to be lynched or gagged, and that he was a disgrace to the outfit. In the end, however, they decided to go and see, just to prove to Andy that they knew he lied. And though it was settled that Weary and Pink should be the investigating committee, by the time they were halfway to the White House they had the whole Happy Family trailing at their heels. A light snow had begun to fall since dark, and they hunched their shoulders against it as they went. Grouped uncomfortably just outside the circle of light cast through the unshaded window, they gazed silently in upon Chip and the Little Doctor and J.G. Whitmore, and upon one other; a strange lady in a black silk shirtwaist and a gold watch suspended from her neck by a chaste, black silken cord; a strange lady with symmetrical waves in her hair and gray on her temples, and with glasses and an eager way of speaking.

She was talking very rapidly and animatedly, and the others were listening and stealing glances now and then at one another. Once, while they watched, the Little Doctor looked at Chip and then turned her face toward the window. She was biting her lips in the way the Happy Family had learned to recognize as a great desire to laugh. It all looked suspicious and corroborative of Andy's story, and the Happy Family shifted their feet uneasily in the loose snow.

They watched, and saw the strange lady clasp her hands together and lean forward, and where her voice had before come to them with no words which they could catch distinctly, they heard her say something quite clearly in her enthusiasm: "Eight real cowboys _here_, almost within reach! I must see them before I sleep! I must get in touch with them at once, and show them that I am a true friend. Come, Mrs. Bennett! Won't you take me where they are and let me meet my boys? for they _are_ mine in spirit; my heart goes out to them--"

The Happy Family waited to hear no more, but went straightway back whence they had come, and their going savored of flight.

"Mama mine! she's coming down to the bunkhouse!" said Weary under his breath, and glanced back over his shoulder at the White House bulking large in the night. "Let's go on down to the stable and roost in the hay a while."

"She'll out-wind us, and be right there waiting when we come back," objected Andy, with the wisdom gained from his brief acquaintance with the lady. "If she's made up her mind to call on us, there's no way under Heaven to head her off."

They halted by the bunk-house door, undecided whether to go in or to stay out in the open.

"By golly, she don't improve _me_!" Slim asserted pettishly. "I hate books like strychnine, and, by golly, she can't make me read 'em, neither."

"If there's anything I do despise it's po'try," groaned Cal Emmett.

"Emerson and Browning and Shakespeare and _Gatty_," named Andy gloomily.

Whereat Pink suddenly pushed open the door and went in as goes one who knows exactly what he is about to do. They followed him distressfully and silently. Pink went immediately to his bunk and began pulling off his boots.

"I'm going to bed," he told them. "You fellows can stay up and entertain her if yuh want to--_I_ won't!"

They caught the idea and disrobed hastily, though the evening was young. Irish blew out the lamp and dove under the blankets just as voices came faintly from up the hill, so that when Chip rapped a warning with his knuckles on the door, there was no sound within save an artificial snore from the corner where lay Pink. Chip was not in the habit of knocking before he entered, but he repeated the summons with emphasis.

"Who's there-e?" drawled sleepily a voice--the voice of Weary.

"Oh, I do believe they've retired!" came, in a perturbed feminine tone, to the listening ears of the Happy Family.

"Gone to bed?" cried Chip gravely.

"Hours ago," lied Andy fluently. "We're plumb wore out. What's happened?"

"Oh, don't disturb the poor fellows! They're tired and need their rest," came the perturbed tone again. After that the voices and the footsteps went up the hill again, and the Happy Family breathed freer. Incidentally, Pink stopped snoring and made a cigarette.

Going to bed at seven-thirty or thereabouts was not the custom of the Happy Family, but they stayed under the covers and smoked and discussed the situation. They dared not have a light, and the night was longer than they had ever known a night to be, for it was late before they slept. It was well that Miss Verbena Martin could not overhear their talk, which was unchivalrous and unfriendly in the extreme. The general opinion seemed to be that old maid improvers would better stay at home where they might possibly be welcome, and that when the Happy Family wanted improving they would let her know. Cal Emmett said that he wouldn't mind, if they had only sent a young, pretty one. Happy Jack prophesied plenty of trouble, and boasted that she couldn't haul _him_ into no s'ciety. Slim declared again that by golly, she wouldn't do no improving on _him_, and the others--Weary and Irish and Pink and Jack Bates and Andy--discussed ways and means and failed always to agree. When each one hoots derision at all plans but his own, it is easy guessing what will be the result. In this particular instance the result was voices raised in argument--voices that reached Chip, grinning and listening on the porch of the White House--and tardy slumber overtaking a disgruntled Happy Family on the brink of violence.

It was not a particularly happy Family that woke to memory and a snowy Sunday; woke late, because of the disturbing evening. When they spoke to one another their voices were but growls, and when they trailed through the snow to their breakfast they went in moody silence.

They had just brightened a bit before Patsy's Sunday breakfast, which included hot-cakes and maple syrup, when the door was pushed quietly open and the Little Doctor came in, followed closely by Miss Martin; an apologetic Little Doctor, who seemed, by her very manner of entering, to implore them not to blame _her_ for the intrusion. Miss Martin was not apologetic. She was disconcertingly eager and glad to meet them, and pathetically anxious to win their favor.

Miss Martin talked, and the Happy Family ate hurriedly and with lowered eyelids. Miss Martin asked questions, and the Happy Family kicked one another's shins under the table by way of urging someone to reply; for this reason there was a quite perceptible pause between question and answer, and the answer was invariably "the soul of wit"--according to that famous recipe. Miss Martin told them naively all about her hopes and her plans and herself, and about the distant woman's club that took so great an interest in their welfare, and the Happy Family listened dejectedly and tried to be polite. Also, they did not relish the hot-cakes as usual, and Patsy had half the batter left when the meal was over, instead of being obliged to mix more, as was usually the case.

When they had eaten, the Happy Family filed out decorously and went hastily down to the stables. They did not say much, but they did glance over their shoulders uneasily once or twice.

"The old girl is sure hot on our trail," Pink remarked when they were safely through the big gate. "She must uh got us mixed up with some Wild West show, in her mind. Josephine!"

"Well, by golly, she don't improve _me_," Slim repeated for about the tenth time.

The horses were all fed and everything tidy for the day, and several saddles were being hauled down significantly from their pegs, when Irish delivered himself of a speech, short but to the point. Irish had been very quiet and had taken no part in the discussion that had waxed hot all that morning.

"Now, see here," he said in his decided way. "Maybe it didn't strike you as anything but funny--which it sure is. But yuh want to remember that the old girl has come a dickens of a long ways to do us some good. She's been laying awake nights thinking about how we'll get to calling her something nice: Angel of the Roundup, maybe--you can't tell, she's that romantic. And right here is where I'm going to give the old girl the worth of her money. It won't hurt _us_, letting her talk wild and foolish at us once a week, maybe; and the poor old thing'll just be tickled to death thinking what a lot uh good she's doing. She won't stay long, and--well, I go in. If she'll feel better and more good to the world improving me, she's got my permission. I guess I can stand it a while."

The Happy Family looked at him queerly, for if there was a black sheep in the flock, Irish was certainly the man; and to have Irish take the stand he did was, to say the least, unexpected.

Cal Emmett blurted the real cause of their astonishment. "You'll have to sign the pledge, first pass," he said. "That's going to be the ante in _her_ game. How--"

"Well, I don't play nobody's hand, or stake anybody's chips, but my own," Irish retorted, the blood showing under the tan on his cheeks.

"And we won't das't roll a cigarette, even, by golly!" reminded Slim. For Miss Martin, whether intentionally or not, had made plain to them the platform of the new society.

Irish got some deep creases between his eyebrows, and put back his saddle. "You can do as yuh like," he said, coldly. "I'm going to stay and go to meeting this afternoon, according to her invite. If it's going to make that poor old freak feel any better thinking she's a real missionary--" He turned and walked out of the stable without finishing the sentence, and the Happy Family stood quite still and watched him go.

Pink it was who first spoke. "I ain't the boy to let any long-legged son-of-a-gun like Irish hit a gait I can't follow," he dimpled, and took the saddle reluctantly off Toots. "If he can stand it, I guess I can."

Weary loosened his latigo. "If Cadwolloper is going to learn poetry, I will, too," he grinned. "Mama! it'll be good as a three-ringed circus! I never thought uh that, before. I couldn't miss it."

"Oh, well, if you fellows take a hand, I'll sure have to be there to see," Andy decided. "Two o'clock, did she say?"

* * * * *

"I hate to be called a quitter," Pink remarked dispiritedly to the Happy Family in general; a harassed looking Happy Family, which sat around and said little, and watched the clock. In an hour they would be due to attend the second meeting of the M.I.S.S.--and one would think, from the look of them, that they were about to be hanged. "I hate to be called a quitter, but right here's where I lay 'em down. The rest of yuh can go on being improved, if yuh want to--darned if I will, though. I'm all in."

"I don't recollect hearing anybody say we wanted to," growled Jack Bates. "Irish, maybe, is still burning with a desire to be nice and chivalrous; but you can count me out. One dose is about all I can stand."

"By golly, I wouldn't go and feel that foolish again, not if yuh paid me for it," Slim declared.

Irish grinned and reached for his hat. "I done my damnettest," he said cheerfully. "I made the old girl happy once; now, one Irish Mallory is due to have a little joy coming his way. I'm going to town."

"'Break, break, break, on thy cold, gray crags, oh sea,
And I would that my tongue could utter the thoughts that come over me.'

"You will observe, gentlemen, the beautiful sentiment, the euphonious rhythm, the noble--" Weary went down, still declaiming mincingly, beneath four irate bodies that hurled themselves toward him and upon him.

"We'll break, break, break every bone in your body if you don't shut up. You will observe the beautiful sentiment of _that_ a while," cried Pink viciously. "I've had the euphonious rhythm of my sleep broke up ever since I set there and listened at her for two hours. Josephine!"

Irish stopped with his hand on the door knob. "I was the jay that started it," he admitted contritely. "But, honest, I never had a hunch she was plumb locoed; I thought she was just simply foolish. Come on to town, boys!"

Such is the power of suggestion that in fifteen minutes the Happy Family had passed out of sight over the top of the grade; all save Andy Green, who told them he would be along after a while, and that they need not wait. He looked at the clock, smoked a meditative cigarette and went up to the White House, to attend the second meeting of the Mutual Improvement and Social Society.

When he faced alone Miss Verbena Martin, and explained that the other members were unavoidably absent because they had a grudge against a man in Dry Lake and had gone in to lynch him and burn the town, Miss Martin was shocked into postponing the meeting. Andy said he was glad, because he wanted to go in and see the fight; undoubtedly, he assured her, there would be a fight, and probably a few of them would get killed off. He reminded her that he had told her right in the start that they were a bad lot, and that she would have hard work reforming them; and finally, he made her promise that she would not mention to anyone what he had told her, because it wouldn't be safe for him, or for her, if they ever got to hear of it. After that Andy also took the trail to town, and he went at a gallop and smiled as he rode.

Miss Martin reflected shudderingly upon the awful details of the crime, as hinted at by Andy, and packed her trunk. It might be brave and noble to stay and work among all those savages, but she doubted much whether it were after all her duty. She thought of many ways in which she could do more real good nearer home. She had felt all along that these cowboys were an untrustworthy lot; she had noticed them glancing at one another in a secret and treacherous manner, all through the last meeting, and she was positive they had not given her that full confidence without which no good can be accomplished. That fellow they called Happy looked capable of almost any crime; she had never felt quite safe in his presence.

Miss Martin pictured them howling and dancing around the burning dwellings of their enemies, shooting every one they could see; Miss Martin had imagination, of a sort. But while she pictured the horrors of an Indian massacre she continued to pack her suit-case and to consult often her watch. When she could do no more it occurred to her that she would better see if someone could take her to the station. Fortunately for all concerned, somebody could. One might go further and say that somebody was quite willing to strain a point, even, in order to get her there in time for the next train.

* * * * *

The Happy Family was gathered in Rusty Brown's place, watching Irish do things to a sheep-man from Lonesome Prairie, in a game of pool. They were just giving vent to a prolonged whoop of derision at the sheep-man's play, when a rig flashed by the window. Weary stopped with his mouth wide open and stared; leaned to the window and craned to see more clearly.

"Mama mine!" he ejaculated incredulously. "I could swear I saw Miss Verbena in that rig, with her trunk, and headed towards the depot. Feel my pulse, Cadwolloper, and see if I'm normal."

But Pink was on his way to the back door, and from there climbed like a cat to the roof of the coal-house, where, as he knew from experience, one could see the trail to the depot, and the depot itself.

"It's sure her," he announced. "Chip's driving like hell, and the smoke uh the train's just coming around the bend from the big field. Wonder what struck her so sudden?" He turned and looked down into the grinning face of Andy Green.

"She was real insulted because you fellows played hookey," Andy explained. "I tried to explain, but it didn't help none. I don't believe her heart went out to us like she claimed, anyhow."

[The end]
B. M. Bower's short story: Miss Martin's Mission