The next morning was several degrees colder, and there were indications of a snow-storm. Within doors, the atmosphere betokened a coming storm, as old Jim Maverick was several degrees more quarrelsome and ugly-tempered than usual. He glared sullenly at Lyle, as she stepped quietly about the kitchen, preparing the early breakfast that he and the boys took before starting for their work.
Finally he growled, “What was you doin’ out so late last night? Pretty time ’twas when you come in, where’d you been?”
Lyle seemed to take no notice of his questions for a moment, then replied, without a glance at him:
“I was not out late; I went out for a walk early in the evening, and came back early, but I staid out on the porch.”
“Oh,” he replied with a sneer, “so you was settin’ out there waitin’ for the new clerk to come home, wasn’t you?”
“I didn’t even know he was out of the house,” said Lyle, indifferent to his sneers, so long as he did not mistrust where she had really spent the evening.
“Oh, no, of course not! I understand you pretty well, and don’t you forgit it, always puttin’ on your damned airs round here, too nice for any of your own folks; I’d like to see you made a fool of by some of the dudes you’re so stuck on.”
“You never will have that pleasure,” replied Lyle, coolly, “I know too well the opinion that people have of you and your family, to ever be in any danger of being made a fool of.”
Old Jim’s face grew livid with rage, and he clenched his hand with an oath, but hearing some of the boarders coming in to breakfast in the next room, he only hissed, with a terrible leer:
“Never mind, even if you are my child, with that doll-face o’ yourn, you might rope in that rich young feller for a few thousands.”
Lyle staggered under the insult as if she had received a blow, and pale and trembling, went into the next room to wait on the guests. She was relieved to see that Rutherford was not there; she felt she could not have faced him while those words of her father’s were ringing in her ears. There was only Mr. Houston, who greeted her with his usual gentle courtesy, and Morgan, whom she despised.
Out in the kitchen, however, her cause was being championed by Mrs. Maverick, the fire flashing from her faded eyes, as she talked in a manner very unusual for her.
“You may abuse me as much as you like, Jim Maverick,” she was saying, “I’ve had nothing but abuse from you for the past twenty years, and I don’t never expect nothing else, but if you ever lay a hand on that girl, or speak to her like that again, you’ll be sorry for it. I can make you smart for it, and you know it, and I’ll do it too.”
The boys, Joe and Jim, aged respectively twenty and eighteen, stared at their mother in astonishment, but their father, several shades paler, ordered them from the house; then advancing toward his wife, shaking his fist and cursing her, he exclaimed:
“You damned old fool! do you think you can try to scare me? you’ll find ’tain’t very healthy business for you.”
“Kill me, if you want to,” she replied doggedly, “but you’ll find it won’t make you any better off; I’ve fixed you for that.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, now thoroughly frightened.
“Mean!” said his wife, as she saw that she at last had the brute in her power, “it means that you’ve got to let that girl alone, and behave yourself to me, or you’ll wish you had, that’s all.”
Just then, Minty entered on the scene, her round eyes wide open with astonishment, and Lyle entering an instant later from the breakfast room, Maverick slunk away to his work.
Meanwhile, the other boarders were gathering in the breakfast room, Miss Gladden and Rutherford being the last to enter.
“Whew!” exclaimed the latter, rubbing his hands, “this seems a little wintry, doesn’t it? Looks like a storm, too!”
“Yes,” said Morgan, glancing up, “we’ll probably have a snow-storm before noon.”
“How do you pleasure seekers intend to spend the day?” inquired Houston, addressing Miss Gladden and Rutherford.
“I think I shall spend it beside the fire,” replied Miss Gladden, shivering slightly, and sitting down for a moment beside the little box stove, where a wood fire was crackling and spluttering; “I haven’t quite decided what to do, because I didn’t come out here prepared for snow-storms.”
“I believe,” said Rutherford, “I’ll take a day off and develop some of the pictures I’ve taken lately, and sort over my collection of views.”
“That will be delightful,” exclaimed Miss Gladden, smiling brightly at Lyle who had entered the room in time to hear Rutherford’s remark, “We will make Mr. Rutherford entertain us with his collection, won’t we Lyle?”
Lyle smiled in assent, but Miss Gladden very quickly detected traces of trouble in her face, and determined, if possible, to gain her confidence, and find the cause. Rutherford also noticed the change in her appearance, and remarked, after she had again left the room:
“Miss Maverick doesn’t look like herself this morning, I wonder what is the matter.”
“I think there has been a storm of some kind in the kitchen,” Houston replied, “I heard pretty loud talk when I first came in.”
“Yes,” said Morgan, joining in the conversation, “she and the old man have some high old times, once in a while; and one thing is curious, the girl never seems afraid of him, and that’s more than can be said of many of the men around here.”
“Why,” asked Houston, “is he considered dangerous?”
“He is a pretty tough customer,” said Morgan, “I guess there’s no job too dirty for him to do, if he’s only paid for it;” and then added carelessly, “that’s the kind of a man Blaisdell likes to have ’round once in a while.”
“What does he do?” asked Houston, “does he work in the mines?”
“He used to,” replied Morgan, “but he don’t do any more underground work, he––”
“Doesn’t he?” interrupted Haight, with a peculiar emphasis.
“Oh, yes, in some ways, plenty of it,” laughed Morgan, “but I was speaking of the mines; he’s a sort of foreman now in one of ’em, and tends to the sorting of the ore occasionally; helps Haight out sometimes, when he has a particularly delicate job on hand,” and Morgan winked across the table at the expert, who smiled knowingly in return.
Lyle coming into the room again, the talk regarding Maverick ceased, but when she had left, Morgan continued:
“She’s a queer girl; she gives it to the old man sometimes, up and down; the boys don’t dare give him any lip, but she’s no more afraid of him, than––”
“Than she is of you,” again interrupted Haight, with a smile that seemed to discompose Morgan considerably, for he colored and bit his lip.
Miss Gladden looked annoyed, as did Houston, and Rutherford, feeling something was amiss, unintentionally said about the worst thing he could just at that moment.
“I think Miss Maverick is an awfully nice girl.”
“We all think so,” said Haight, in his blandest manner, “Mr. Morgan especially.”
“Oh,” said Morgan, angrily, but trying to speak indifferently, “she’s nice enough, as nice as girls of her class generally are.”
With a look of scorn and contempt that neither Haight nor Morgan soon forgot, Miss Gladden rose from the table and left the room, while Rutherford exclaimed indignantly:
“Whatever ‘her class’ is, she is deucedly your superior, you contemptible puppy!”
Lyle just then entering, there was an ominous silence for an instant; then Houston, rising from the table, remarked in a cool, even tone:
“There has been enough said for the present, but” turning toward Morgan and Haight, “I’ve something to say to you two, a little later.”
Morgan put on his hat and started sullenly for the office, but Haight, assuming his most ingratiating smile, stepped up to Houston, and, in a low tone, began to apologize. Houston interrupted him.
“There is no need of any words here,” he said coldly, “I shall call on you at the sorting rooms this morning, and shall then have something to say to you, but I wish no words from you, at all,” and retiring to his room, he left Haight in a state of considerable trepidation. He hurried after Morgan, and soon overtook him.
“I say,” he began, “we’ve got that new fellow stirred up, and I wish we hadn’t; I don’t want any trouble.”
“Hang you, you little, sneaking coward!” answered Morgan, “if you didn’t want trouble, why didn’t you hold your tongue? Whatever fuss there is you’ve kicked up yourself, with your own smartness, so what are you whining about?”
“Oh, well, you know my principles, Morgan; I never want quarrels with anybody; you know the old saying, ‘the good will of a dog is better than––’”
“Oh, shut up!” said Morgan, “you make me tired! You’re a damned coward, and that’s all there is about it. It’s my opinion, though, in the case of this dog, that his bark is a good deal worse than his bite.”
Meanwhile, Houston was preparing to go to the office.
“Say, old boy,” said Rutherford, “hadn’t I better go down with you? You may have some trouble, you know, and I shouldn’t wonder if they would be two pretty nasty fellows to meddle with.”
“Much obliged, Ned,” said Houston, “but I can take care of those two fellows, and twenty more just like them. Haight is an out and out coward, he wouldn’t fight any more than he would cut his own throat. Morgan would show fight, perhaps, but I’d finish him up before he even knew where he was.”
“I guess I put my foot in it, saying what I did,” said Rutherford, staring through his eye-glasses in a meditative manner, “but it did make me hot, their insinuating things in that way about such a nice little girl as Lyle, and before Miss Gladden, too.”
“There will be no more of it, that is certain,” replied Houston decidedly, and he was gone.
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