The Sheriff's Son/Chapter 26

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Chapter XXVI
The Sins of the Fathers

THEY spoke at first only in that lovers' Esperanto which is made up of fond kisses and low murmurs and soft caresses. From these Beulah was the first to emerge.

"Would you marry a girl off the range?" she whispered. "Would you dare take her home to your people?"

"I have n't any people. There are none of them left but me."

"To your friends, then?"

"My friends will be proud as punch. They 'll wonder how I ever hypnotized you into caring for me."

"But I'm only a hillgirl," she protested. "Are you sure you won't be ashamed of me, dear?"

"Certain sure. I'm a very sensible chap at bottom, and I know when I have the best there is."

"Ah, you think that now because—"

"Because of my golden luck in winning the most wonderful girl I ever met." In the fling of the fire glow he made a discovery and kissed it. "I did n't know before that you had dimples."

"There are lots of things you don't know about me. Some of them you won't like. But if you love me, perhaps you 'll forgive them, and then—because I love you—maybe I 'll grow out of them. I feel to-night as if anything were possible. The most wonderful thing that ever happened to me has come into my life."

"My heart is saying that, too, sweetheart."

"I love to hear you say that I'm—nice," she confided. "Because, you know, lots of people don't think so. The best people in Battle Butte won't have anything to do with me. I'm one of the Rutherford gang."

The light was full on his face, so that she saw the dawning horror in his eyes.

"What is it? What are you thinking?" she cried.

He gave a little groan and his hands fell slackly from her. "I'd forgotten." The words came in a whisper, as if he spoke to himself rather than to her.

"Forgotten what?" she echoed; and like a flash added: "That I'm a Rutherford. Is that what you mean?"

"That you are the daughter of Hal Rutherford and that I'm the son of John Beaudry."

"You mean that you would be ashamed to marry a Rutherford," she said, her face white in the fire glow.

"No." He brushed her challenge aside and went straight to what was in his mind. "I'm thinking of what happened seventeen years ago," he answered miserably.

"What did happen that could come between you and me to-night?"

"Have you forgotten, too?" He turned to the fire with a deep breath that was half a sob.

"What is it? Tell me," she demanded.

"Your father killed mine at Battle Butte."

A shiver ran through her lithe, straight body. "No … No! Say it is n't true, Roy."

"It's true. I was there … Did n't they ever tell you about it?"

"I 've heard about the fight when Sheriff Beaudry was killed. Jess Tighe had his spine injured in it. But I never knew that dad … You 're sure of it?" she flung at him.

"Yes. He led the attackers. I suppose he thought of it as a feud. My father had killed one of his people in a gun fight."

She, too, looked into the fire. It was a long time before she spoke, and then in a small, lifeless voice. "I suppose you … hate me."

"Hate you!" His voice shook with agitation. "That would make everything easy. But—there is no other woman in the world for me but you."

Almost savagely she turned toward him. "Do you mean that?"

"I never mean anything so much."

"Then what does it matter about our fathers? We have our own lives to live. If we 've found happiness we've a right to it. What happened seventeen years ago can't touch us—not unless we let it."

White-lipped, drear-eyed, Roy faced her hopelessly. "I never thought of it before, but it is true what the Bible says about the sins of the fathers. How can I shake hands in friendship with the man who killed mine? Would it be loyal or decent to go into his family and make him my father by marrying his daughter?"

Beulah stood close to him, her eyes burning into his. She was ready to fight for her love to a finish. "Do you think I'm going to give you up now … now … just when we 've found out how much we care … because of any reason under heaven outside ourselves? By God, no! That's a solemn oath, Roy Beaudry. I 'll not let you go."

He did not argue with her. Instead, he began to tell her of his father and his mother. As well as he could remember it he related to her the story of that last ride he had taken with John Beaudry. The girl found herself visioning the pathetic tenderness of the father singing the "li'l'-ole-hawss" song under the stars of their night camp. There flashed to her a picture of him making his stand in the stable against the flood of enemies pouring toward him.

When Roy had finished, she spoke softly. "I'm glad you told me. I know now the kind of man your father was. He loved you more than his own life. He was brave and generous and kind. Do you think he would have nursed a grudge for seventeen years? Do you think he would have asked you to give up your happiness to carry on a feud that ought never to have been?"

"No, but—"

"You are going to marry me, not Hal Rutherford. He is a good man now, however wild he may have been once. But you need n't believe that just because I say so. Wait and see. Be to him just as much or as little as you like. He 'll understand, and so shall I. My people are proud. They won't ask more of you than you care to give. All they 'll ask is that you love me—and that's all I ask, dear."

"All you ask now, but later you will be unhappy because there is a gulf between your father and me. You will try to hide it, but I 'll know."

"I 'll have to take my chance of that," she told him. "I don't suppose that life even with the man you love is all happiness. But it is what I want. It's what I'm not going to let your scruples rob me of."

She spoke with a low-voiced, passionate intensity. The hillgirl was fighting to hold her lover as a creature of the woods does to protect its young. So long as she was sure that he loved her, nothing on earth should come between them. For the moment she was absorbed by the primitive idea that he belonged to her and she to him. All the vital young strength in her rose to repel separation.

Roy, yearning to take into his arms this dusky, brown-cheeked sweetheart of his, became aware that he did not want her to let his arguments persuade her. The fierce, tender egoism of her love filled him with exultant pride.

He snatched her to him and held her tight while his lips found her hot cheeks, her eager eyes, her more than willing mouth.