MERELY TWO POINTS OF VIEW
Mary V wadded a soft cushion under the nape of her neck, looked again at Johnny sprawled in her dad's pet chair and smoking a cigarette after a very ample meal that had been served him half-way between dinner and supper, and stifled a sigh. Johnny was alive and well and full of enthusiasm as ever. He had just finished telling her all the wonderful things he could do and would do with his airplane, and the earnings he had hopefully mentioned ran into thousands of dollars, and left a nice marrying balance after her father's debt was paid. Yet Mary V felt a heaviness in her heart, and though she listened to all the wonderful things Johnny meant to do, she could not feel that they were really possible.
Something else troubled Mary V, but just now, with Johnny there before her almost like one risen from the grave, she dreaded to recognize the thing that shadowed the back of her mind. Johnny turned his head and looked at her, and she forced a smile that held so little joy that even Johnny was perturbed.
"What's the matter? Don't you believe I can do it?" he challenged her instantly. "There's no reason why I can't. It's being done all the time. Other flyers make as much money as your dad makes here on the ranch. And--you know yourself, Mary V, I couldn't settle down and be just a rider again. Fighting bronks is too tame, now--too slow. I'll have to make a flyer of you, Mary V, and then you'll know--"
Mary V suddenly buried her face in a cushion. Johnny heard a smothered sob and got up, looking very much astonished and perturbed. With a glance over his shoulder to make sure no one saw him, ho put an arm awkwardly around her shaking shoulders.
"If you don't want to fly, you needn't," he reassured her. "I didn't mean you had to. I only meant--"
"It--it isn't that at all," Mary V managed to enunciate more or less clearly. "But we've been simply crazy, worrying about you and thinking all kinds of horrible things, and--"
"Well, but I'm all right, you see, so you don't need to worry any more. I was all right all the time, if you had only known it. You don't want to let that give you a prejudice against flying. It's just as safe as riding bronks."
"It--it isn't the safeness." Mary V choked back a sob and wiped her eyes. "But you don't seem to take it seriously at all!"
"Now, you know I do! It's the most serious thing in my whole life---except you, of course. And you know--"
"I don't mean that!" Mary Y gave a small stamp with her slipper toe on the porch floor, thereby proving how swiftly her resilient young self was coming back to a normal condition after the strain of the past forty-eight hours. "You ought to know what I mean."
Johnny sat down again and looked at her with his eyebrows pulled together. Mary V had always been more or less puzzling in her swift changes of mood, wherefore this sudden change in her did not greatly surprise him.
"Well, what do you mean, then?" he asked patiently. "Seems to me I've been taking everything too seriously to suit you, till just this minute. I've been pretty serious, let me tell you, about making good, and now I can see my way clear for the first time since all those horses were run off right under my nose, while I was busy with my airplane, getting it in shape to fly. You've been after me all the time because I couldn't let things slide. Don't you think, Mary V, you're kinda changeable?"
Mary V gave him a quick, intent look and bit her lower lip. "I only wish I could change you a little bit," she retorted. "I don't want to be disagreeable, Johnny, after you were given up for lost and everything, and then turned out to be all right. But that's just the trouble! You--"
"The trouble is that I wasn't killed? Good golly!"
"No, I don't mean that at all. But we thought you were, and everybody in the country was simply frantic, and you weren't even--"
"Huh!" Johnny got up, plainly hesitating between dignified retreat and another profitless argument with Mary V. Another, because his acquaintance with her had been one long series of arguments, it seemed to him; and profitless, because Mary V simply would not be logical, or ever stick to one contention, but instead would change her attack in the most bewildering manner.
"I'm very sorry," he said stiffly, "that the whole country was frantic without due cause. But I never asked them to take it upon themselves to get all fussed up because I happened to be late for my meals. I was foolish enough to take it for granted that a man has a right to go about his business without asking permission of the general public. I didn't know the public had my welfare on its mind like that. I'll have to call a meeting after this, I reckon, and put it to vote whether I can please go up in my little airplane. Or maybe the public will pass the hat around and buy a string to tie on to me, so I can't get too far away. Then they can take turns holding the string and pull me down when they think I've been up long enough! Darned boobs--what did they want to get up searching parties for? Couldn't they find anything else to do, for gosh sake?"
"Why, Johnny Jewel!" Righteous indignation brought Mary V to her feet, trembling a little but with the undaunted spirit of her fighting forebears shining in her eyes. "Johnny Jewel, you silly, ungrateful boy! What if you had been hurt somewhere? You'd have been glad enough then for the public to take some interest in you, I guess!"
"Well, but I wasn't hurt," Johnny reiterated with his mouth set stubbornly. "They had to go and worry the life outa you, Mary V--that's what I'm kicking about. They--"
Mary V gazed at him strangely. "But you see, Johnny, it was I who worried the life out of them! When you didn't come, I got dad started, and then I 'phoned the sheriff and offered a reward and big pay and everything, to get men out. All the sheriff's men will get twenty-five dollars a day, Johnny, for hunting you. And there was a reward and everything. So don't blame the public for taking an interest in whether you were killed or not. Blame me, Johnny--and dad, and the boys that have been riding day and night to find you."
Johnny reddened. "Well, I appreciate it, of course, Mary V--but I don't see why you should think--"
"Because, Johnny, you didn't come the next morning after I told you to come. And the hotel clerk found your plane was gone, so--"
"But I never said I'd come. I told you I wouldn't come to the ranch till I had the money to square up with your dad. I meant it--just that. You must have known I wasn't talking just to be using the telephone."
"But you knew I expected you just the same. And how could I know--how could I dream, Johnny, that instead of coming or letting me know, or anything, you would take up with that perfectly horrible Bland Halliday again, and go off in the opposite direction, and be gone three whole days without a word? I'm sure I wouldn't have believed it possible you'd do a thing like that, Johnny. I--I can't believe it now. It--it seems almost worse than if you had started for the ranch and--"
"Got killed on the way, I suppose! I like that. I must say, I like that, Mary VI You'd rather have me with my neck broken than not doing exactly as you say. Is that it?"
Mary V set her teeth together until she had herself under control, which, had you known the girl, would have meant a great deal. For Mary V was not much given to guarding her tongue.
"Johnny, tell me this: After knowing Bland Halliday as you do, and after knowing what I think of him, and what he tried to do down there at Sinkhole when he was going to steal your airplane and fly off with it, why have you taken up with him again, without one word to me about it? And why didn't you take the time and the trouble to call me up and say what you were going to do, when you knew that I'd be looking for you? I hate to say it, Johnny, but it does look as though you didn't care one bit about me or what I'd think, or anything. You've just gone crazy on the subject of flying, and that Bland Halliday is just working you, Johnny, for an easy mark. You think it's pride that's holding you back from taking dad's offer and staying here and settling down. But it isn't that at all, Johnny. It's just plain conceit and swell-headedness, and I hate to tell you this, but it's the truth.
"That airplane has simply gone to your head and you can't look at anything sensibly any more. If you could, you'd have kicked that miserable Bland Halliday when he came sneaking around--wanting money and a square meal, and you needn't deny it, Johnny. But no, instead of taking the chance that's given you to make good, you turn up your nose at it because it isn't spectacular enough to keep you in the limelight as the original Boy Wonder! And you--you take that crook, that tramp, that--that bum as a partner, and imagine you're going to do wonderful things and get rich and everything! And you won't do anything except give that tramp a chance to steal you blind!"
"I didn't say I'd taken Bland as a partner. But I may do it, at that--if my judgment approves of the deal."
"Your judgment! Johnny Jewel, you haven't got any more judgment than a cat!"
This was putting it rather strongly, since Mary V had fully intended to guard her tongue, being careful not to antagonize him. That heady young man now stood glaring at her in a thoroughly antagonistic manner. Speech trembled on his lips that would not formulate the scathing rebuke surging within his mind. He had been called conceited, swell-headed, inconsiderate of others, and now this final insult was heaped upon the full measure of his wrongs, just when he had a clear vision of future achievements that should have dazzled any young woman whose life was to be linked with his. But Mary V, he reminded himself, could not look beyond her own little desires and whims. Because she had tried to lay down the law for him and he had failed to obey, she refused to see that he was playing for big stakes and that he could not be expected to throw everything up just because she had been worried over him for a couple of days. The mere fact that he had not been lost on the desert, as every one supposed he was, could not affect his plans for the future, though Mary V seemed to think that it should.
"Well, since that is the way you feel toward me, I may as well drift," he made belated retort in a tone of suppressed wrath. "I guess it would have been better if I'd stayed away, I'll remember--"
"For gracious sake, what does make you so horrid?" Mary V now had one arm crooked around his neck, which he stiffened stubbornly. With her other hand she was tweaking his ears rather painfully. "You're going to stay right here and behave yourself till dad comes, and you're going to have a talk with him about your affairs before you go doing anything silly. You know perfectly well that my father's advice is worth something. Everybody in the country thinks he has a wonderful brain when it comes to business or anything like that. He can tell you what you ought to do, Johnny, if you'll only be sensible and listen to him."
"What do I want to listen to him for?" Johnny's eyes looked down at her with no softening of his anger. "Good golly! Do you think your dad's got the only brain in the world? How do men run their affairs, and get rich, that never heard of him, do you suppose? I don't want to mock your dad--he's all right in his own field, and a smart man and all that. But he don't know the flying game, and his advice wouldn't be worth the breath he'd use giving it. Perhaps I am conceited and swell-headed and a few other things, but I am perfectly willing to take a chance on my own judgment for awhile yet, anyway. When I do need advice, I'll know where to go."
"To Bland Halliday, I suppose!" Mary V took away her arm and stood back from him. "You'd take a tramp's advice before you would my father's, would you?" She pressed her lips together, seeming to hold back with difficulty a storm of reproaches.
"I would, where flying is concerned." Johnny's lips spelled anger to match her own. "He knows the game, and your father doesn't. And just because Bland's playing hard luck is no reason why you need call him names. Give the devil his due, anyway."
"I just perfectly ache to do it!" cried Mary V. "He wouldn't be talking you into all kinds of crazy things--"
"Crazy because they don't happen to appeal to you," Johnny flung back. "Oh, well, what's the use of talking? You don't seem to get the right angle on things, is all." He busied himself with a cigarette, his face, that had been so boyishly eager while he told her his plan, gone gloomy with the self-pity of one who feels himself misunderstood.
Mary V had gone back to her hammock and was lying with one arm thrown up across the cushion, her face concealed behind it. She, too, felt miserably misunderstood. Flighty she was, spoiled and impulsive, but beneath it all she had her father's practical strain of hard sense. Mary V had grown older in the past three days. She had faced some bitter possibilities and had done a good deal of sober thinking. She felt now that Johnny was carried away by the fascination of flying, and that Bland's companionship was the worst thing in the world for him. She was hurt at Johnny's lack of consideration for her, at his complete absorption in himself and his own plans. She wanted him to "settle down," and be content with loving her and with being loved--to be satisfied with prosperity that carried no element of danger.
Moreover, that he had not troubled to send her any message but had deliberately gone flying off in the opposite direction with Bland, regardless of what she might think or suffer, filled her with something more bitter than mere girlish resentment. Johnny was like one under a spell, hypnotized by his own air castles and believing them very real.
Mary V had no faith in his dreams, and not even to please Johnny would she pretend that she had. She had nothing but impatience for his plans, nothing but disgust for his partner, nothing but disappointment from his visit. She moved her arm so that she could look at him, and wondered why it should give her no pleasure to see him standing there unharmed, sturdy, alive to his finger tips--him whom she had but a little while ago believed dead. Johnny, I must confess, was cot a cheerful object. He was scowling, with his face turned so that Mary V saw only his sullen profile; with his mouth pinched in at the corners and his chin set in the lines of stubbornness.
As if he felt her eyes upon him, Johnny turned and sent her a look not calculated to be conciliating. If Mary V wanted to sulk, he'd give her a chance. He certainly could not throw up all his plans just on her whim.
"I guess I'll go down and help Bland," he said in the repressed tone of anger forcing itself to be civil. "We ought to be getting back to-night." He opened the screen door, gave her another look, and went off toward the corral, sulks written all over him.
Mary V waited until she was sure he did not mean to turn back, then went off to her room, shut the door with a force that vibrated the whole house, and turned the key in the lock.