The Lighted Match (Chapter 1, page 1 of 4)


 
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Chapter 1

"When a feller an' a gal washes their hands in the same basin at the
same time, it's a tol'able good sign they won't git married this year."

The oracle spoke through the bearded lips of a farmer perched on the top
step of his cabin porch. The while he construed omens, a setter pup
industriously gnawed at his boot-heels.

The girl was bending forward, her fingers spread in a tin basin, as the
man at her elbow poured water slowly from a gourd-dipper. Heaped, in
disorder against the cabin wall, lay their red hunting-coats, crops, and
riding gauntlets.

The oracle tumbled the puppy down the steps and watched its return to
the attack. Then with something of melancholy retrospect in his pale
eyes he pursued his reflections. "Now there was Sissy Belmire an' Bud
Thomas, been keeping company for two years, then washed hands in common
at the Christian Endeavor picnic an'--" He broke off to shake his head
in sorrowing memory.

The young man, holding his muddied digits over the water, paused to
consider the matter.

Suddenly his hands went down into the basin with a splash.

"It is now the end of October," he enlightened; "next year comes in nine
weeks."

The sun was dipping into a cloud-bank already purpled and gold-rimmed.
Shortly it would drop behind the bristling summit-line of the hills.

The girl looked down at tell-tale streaks of red clay on the skirt of
her riding habit, and shook her head. "'Twill never, never do to go back
like this," she sighed. "They'll know I've come a cropper, and they
fancy I'm as breakable as Sévres. There will be no end of questions."

The young man dropped to his knees and began industriously plying a
brush on the damaged skirt. The farmer took his eyes from the puppy for
an upward glance. His face was solicitous.

"When I saw that horse of yours fall down, it looked to me like he was
trying to jam you through to China. You sure lit hard!"

"It didn't hurt me," she laughed as she thrust her arms into the sleeves
of her pink coat. "You see, we thought we knew the run better than the
whips, and we chose the short cut across your meadow. My horse took off
too wide at that stone fence. That's why he went down, and why we turned
your house into a port of repairs. You have been very kind."

The trio started down the grass-grown pathway to the gate where the
hunters stood hitched. The young man dropped back a few paces to satisfy
himself that she was not concealing some hurt. He knew her
half-masculine contempt for acknowledging the fragility of her sex.

Reassurance came as he watched her walking ahead with the unconscious
grace that belonged to her pliant litheness and expressed itself in her
superb, almost boyish carriage.

 
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