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Chapter 25


Just at dawn the humming of the airplane motor woke Mary V. She sat up in bed and listened, a little fear gripping at her heart; a fear which she fought with her reason, her hopes, and all her natural optimism. Surely Johnny would not be foolish enough to attempt a flight that morning. He must be just trying put the motor. He would know he was not yet in condition to bear any physical or nervous strain, sick as he had been. Of course he wouldn't be so selfish as to make a flight without so much as asking her if she would like to go with him. He knew she was simply crazy over flying.

By that time she was out on the porch, where she was immediately joined by her father and mother, also awakened by the motor. They were just in time. From the neighborhood of the corral came an increasing roar. A sudden rush of cool morning wind brought dust and bits of hay and gravel flying in a cloud. A great, wide-winged, teetering bird-thing went racing out into sight, spurned the earth and lifted, climbed steadily, circling like a hungry hawk over a meadow full of mice.

"By heck, the boy can fly, all right!" Sudden paid tribute to Johnny's skill in one unpremeditated ejaculation. "An airplane using our very dooryard for a flying field, mommie! Times are certainly changing."

Mary V bit her lip and blinked very fast while she watched the plane go circling up and up, the motor droning its monotonous song like a hive of honey bees at work. It was pure madness for Johnny to attempt flying so soon again. He would be killed; anything could happen that was terrible. She shut her eyes for a minute, trying to rout a swift vision of Johnny crumpled down limp in the pilot's seat as she had seen him that day--nearly a month ago--with Bland, white-faced and helpless, walking aimlessly around the crippled plane, so sure Johnny was dead that he would not touch him to find out. If anything like that should happen again, Mary V believed that she would go crazy. She simply couldn't stand it to go through such a horror again.

The plane was circling around once more and flew straight northeast. They watched it until they could not hear the humming; until it looked like a bird against the glow of sunrise.

"Hm-mm, I wonder where--" Sudden began, but Mary V did not stay to hear the rest of the sentence.

She went back and crept into her bed, sick at heart with an unnamed fear and a hurt that went deep into her soul. She gave a little, dry sob or two and lay very still, her face crushed into a pillow.

But Mary V was not born to take life's hurts passively. Presently she dressed and went straight down to the bunk house, where she knew the boys would be at their breakfast--unless they had finished and gone to the corral. She walked into the old-fashioned, low-ceiled living room where she had first learned to walk, and stood just inside the door, smiling a little.

Bud had just finished eating, and was rolling a cigarette before he got up from the long table. The others were finishing their coffee and hot biscuits, and they said hello to Mary V and went on undisturbed.

"Hello--what's all that racket I heard as I was getting up?" Mary V inquired lightly. "My good gracious, I thought you boys had started a sawmill--or maybe somebody had overslept down here and was snoring. It sounded like Aleck."

They laughed, and Curley spoke. "That there was Skyrider. He has flew--"

Bud, fumbling for a match, had a fit of genius. He grinned, cleared his throat, and began to warble unexpectedly.

"Skyrider-r has flew into-o the blew Ta-da, da-da, da-daa-a-a-- No-obody knew what he aimed to do Till he went and said adieu.

"Says he, 'Good-bye, I aim to fly To foreign lands, ta da-a--'"

"Oh, for gracious sake, Bud! I always knew you were queer at times, but I really didn't know you had fits. So it was Skyrider riding off to call on Venus, was it? I wish I had seen him start; but that's just my luck, of course. Er--where was he going? Or didn't he say?"

"He didn't say. But he shook hands with us and told us we had treated him white at times, and that some day he'd write--"

"Oh, say! I got a letter he left for your father," Curley broke in. "I'll git it and you can take it up to the house." He gave Mary V a mysterious look and went into the room where he slept.

Mary V followed him as far as the door, and saw Curley take two letters from under his pillow. Her heart gave a jump at that, and it began to beat very fast when he turned and put them into her hand with another mysterious look. She thanked him and hurried out on the porch and straight to her pet ledge. Her dad's letter could wait.

On the ledge she sat down, and with fingers that shook she tore open, an envelope addressed to "Miss Mary V. Selmer, care of Curley." It had been sealed very tightly, as though it contained secrets. Which it did.

Mary V read that letter through from beginning to end five times before she left the ledge. It was not exactly a love letter, either, though Mary V squeezed it between her palms and then kissed it before she put it away out of sight. After that she cried lonesomely and stared away into that part of the sky where Johnny and his airplane had last been a disappearing speck.

"Dear Mary V," (Johnny had written) "I'm not going to tell anybody good-bye. Not even you, or I might say especially not you. It's hard enough to go as it is.

"Maybe you won't care much, but I am a hopeful cuss, and I'm going to build air castles about you till I come back, which I hope to do when I have made good. I made an awful mess of things here, and it's up to me to make good now before I say anything to you about air castles and so on.

"I told you once that they need flyers in France, and that's where I'm going if they will have me. I've got to fly and that's all there is to it, and I can't fly and be a stock hand at one and the same time because the two don't go together worth a cent, and I have sure found that out, and so has your dad, I guess.

"Well, I can't ask you to wait till I have made good, because that wouldn't be square, but I can say that when I have made good I am coming back, and then if some other fellow has got the start of me he will sure have to go some to keep his start. Because I am going to have you some day, if I have anything to say about it. I'll teach you to fly, and we will sure part the clouds like foam and all the rest of it. You've got more nerve than any other girl I ever saw, and, anyway, I'd like you just the same if you was a coward, because I couldn't help it no matter what you was, just so you were Mary V.

"So good-bye, and look for me back with my chest all dolled up with medals, because I am sure coming if you will let me. When I get to Tucson, I'll call you up on long distance, and then if your folks ain't in the room, I wish you'd tell me if it's all right with you, my loving you the way I do. Or if they are in the room, you can just say 'all right,' and I'll know what you mean. And anyway I'll write to you and I hope you'll write to me, because I am sure going to miss you till I come back. I wish I had the nerve to go right up to the house and tell you all this instead of writing, but I know I couldn't do it, so I won't try. But you be sure and let me know some way over the 'phone. So good-bye for the present. Always your faithful Skyrider, Johnny."

His letter to her father was not so long, and it was more coherent. To Sudden he had written:

Mr. Selmer.

Dear Sir,--I have decided to fly my airplane to where I can sell it, and will turn the money over to you to help pay for the expense you have been under of having your horses stole. I can't find out how many you lost all told, but whatever I can get for the plane will not cover it, I am afraid, so I will make up the balance as soon as possible.

I want to thank you for all the kindness of yourself and family while I was sick, and before and afterwards. You have certainly treated me white, and much better than I deserve, and I certainly appreciate it all, and some day I will refund every nickel you are out on account of having me in your employ. The doctor's bill I intend to pay and the nurse, too, and whatever you were out on getting the plane repaired.

I am thinking of enlisting somewhere as an aviator, as that seems to be my chosen field. I am leaving early in the morning if the weather is all right for flying, and one of the boys will give you this letter so you will know why I went and not think I sneaked off. I am fully determined to make good, and when I have done so I will come back and finish squaring up for your trouble and expense in having the horses stole. I feel that I balled things up bad, and it is my desire to square everything up.

I feel that it is merely the square thing to tell you I love your daughter Mary V, and I hope you will not object to having me marry her when I have made good. Of course, I would not want to until I had done so. And I hope that will be all right with you; but if it isn't, it is only fair to tell you that you won't be able to stop me if she is willing, and I hope she is. So I am merely telling you, and not asking, because that ain't my style; when I have made good I will do my asking to Mary V. And I hope you will not think I have got my gall, because I am very grateful for all you have done for me and your family also. I will write when I have made some deal to turn the plane so I can send you whatever it brings.

Yours truly,

John Ivan Jewel.

Old Sudden did not say anything when he had read that letter--read it twice, to be exact. He folded it carefully and gave it to his wife to read, and sat smoothing down his face with his hand while she studied it, reading slowly, sometimes going back to get the full meaning out of a somewhat involved sentence.

"Johnny's a dear boy," she observed meditatively, after they had sat for a little while in silence. "I hope he doesn't enlist in that terrible war; it's so dangerous!"

Sudden turned in his chair and looked in through a window to where Mary V was sitting very quietly within three feet of the telephone, her album of "Desert Glimpses" in her lap. Undoubtedly Mary V was listening, but she was also undoubtedly waiting for something. He looked at his wife, and his wife also glanced into the room and caught the significance of Mary V's position and attitude.

The telephone rang, and Mary V dropped the album in her haste to answer the call. She glanced out at them while she announced, "Yes, this is Mary V--it's all right--right on the porch, but it's all right--"

Dad and mommie took the hint and withdrew.


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B.M. Bower

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