The Rapture of Hetty by Mary Hallock Foote
The dance was set for Christmas night at Walling's, a horse-ranch where
there were women, situated in a high, watered valley shut in by foothills,
sixteen miles from the nearest town. The cabin with its roof of shakes,
the sheds and corrals, can be seen from any divide between Packer's ferry
and the Fayette.
The "boys" had been generally invited, with one exception to the usual
company. The youngest of the sons of Basset, a pastoral and nomadic house,
was socially under a cloud, on the charge of having been "too handy with
the frying-pan brand."
The charge could not be substantiated, but the boy's name had been roughly
handled in those wide, loosely defined circles of the range where the
force of private judgment makes up for the weakness of the law, in dealing
with crimes that are difficult of detection and uncertain of punishment.
He that has obliterated his neighbor's brand or misapplied his own, is
held as, in the age of tribal government and ownership, was held the
remover of his neighbor's landmarks. A word goes forth against him potent
as the levitical curse, and all the people say amen.
As society's first public and pointed rejection of him the slight had
rankled with the son of Basset, and grievously it wore on him that Hetty
Rhodes was going, with the man who had been his earliest and most
persistent accuser: Hetty, prettiest of all the bunch-grass belles, who
never reproached nor quarreled, but judged people with her smile and let
them go. He had not complained, though he had her promise,—one of
her promises,—nor asked a hearing in his own defense. The sons of
Basset were many and poor; their stock had dwindled upon the range; her
men-folk condemned him, and Hetty believed, or seemed to believe, as the
Had she forgotten the night when two men's horses stood at her father's
fence,—the Basset boy's and that of him who was afterward his
accuser; and the other's horse was unhitched when the evening was but half
spent, and furiously ridden away, while the Basset boy's stood at the
rails till close upon midnight? Had the coincidence escaped her that from
this night, of one man's rage and another's bliss, the ugly charge had
dated? Of these things a girl may not testify.
They met in town on the Saturday before the dance, Hetty buying her
dancing-shoes at the back of the store, where the shoe-cases framed in a
snug little alcove for the exhibition of a "fit." The boy, in his belled
spurs and "shaps" of goat-hide, was lounging disconsolate and sulky
against one of the front counters; she wore a striped ulster, an enchanted
garment his arm had pressed, and a pink crocheted tam-o'-shanter cocked
bewitchingly over her dark eyes.
Her hair was ruffled, her cheeks were red, with the wind she had faced for
two hours on the spring-seat of her father's "dead axe" wagon. Critical
feminine eyes might have found her a trifle blowzy; the sick-hearted
Basset boy looked once,—he dared not look again.
Hetty coquetted with her partner in the shoe bargain, a curly-headed young
Hebrew, who flattered her familiarly and talked as if he had known her
from a child, but always with an eye to business. She stood, holding back
her skirts and rocking her instep from right to left, while she considered
the effect of the new style; patent-leather foxings and tan-cloth tops,
and heels that came under the middle of her foot, and narrow toes with
tips of stamped leather;—but what a price! More than a third of her
chicken-money gone for that one fancy's satisfaction. But who can know the
joy of a really distinguished choice in shoe-leather like one who in her
childhood has trotted barefoot through the sage-brush and associated shoes
only with cold weather or going to town? The Basset boy tried to fix his
strained attention upon anything rather than upon that tone of high
jocosity between Hetty and the shiny-haired clerk. He tried to summon his
own self-respect and leave the place.
What was the tax, he inquired, on those neck-handkerchiefs; and he pointed
with the loaded butt of his braided leather quirt to a row of dainty silk
mufflers, signaling custom from a cord stretched above the
The clerk explained that the goods in question were first class, all silk,
brocaded, and of an extra size. Plainly he expected that a casual mention
of the price would cool the inexperienced customer's curiosity, especially
as the colors displayed in the handkerchiefs were not those commonly
affected by the cow-boy cult. The Basset boy threw down his last
half-eagle and carelessly called for the one with a blue border. The
delicate "baby blue" attracted him by its perishability, its suggestion of
impossible refinements beyond the soilure and dust of his own grimy
circumstances. Yet he pocketed his purchase as though it had been any
common thing, not to show his pride in it before the patronizing salesman.
He waited foolishly for Hetty, not knowing if she would even speak to him.
When she came at last, loitering down the shop, with her eyes on the gay
Christmas counters and her arms filled with bundles, he silently fell in
behind her and followed her to her father's wagon, where he helped her
unload her purchases.
"Been buying out the store?" he opened the conversation.
"Buying more than father'll want to pay for," she drawled, glancing at him
sweetly. Those entoiling looks of Hetty's dark-lashed eyes had grown to a
habit with her; even now the little Jewish salesman was smiling over his
brief portion in them. Her own coolness made her careless, as children are
in playing with fire.
"Here's some Christmas the old man won't have to pay for." A soft paper
parcel was crushed into her hand.
"Who is going to pay for it, I'd like to know? If it's some of your
doings, Jim Basset, I can't take it—so there!"
She thrust the package back upon him. He tore off the wrapper and let the
wind carry his rejected token into the trampled mud and slush of the
Hetty screamed and pounced to the rescue. "What a shame! It's a beauty of
a handkerchief. It must have cost a lot of money. I shan't let you use it
She shook it, and wiped away the spots from its delicate sheen, and folded
it into its folds again.
"I don't want the thing." He spurned it fiercely.
"Then give it to some one else." She endeavored coquettishly to force it
into his hands, or into the pockets of his coat. He could not withstand
her thrilling little liberties in the face of all the street.
"I'll wear it Monday night," said he. "May be you think I won't be there?"
he added hoarsely, for he had noted her look of surprise, mingled with an
infuriating touch of pity. "You kin bank on it I'll be there."
Hetty toyed with the thought that after all it might be better that she
should not go to the dance. There might be trouble, for certainly Jim
Basset had looked as if he meant it when he had said he would be there;
and Hetty knew the temper of the company, the male portion of it, too well
to doubt what their attitude would be toward an inhibited guest who
disputed the popular verdict, and claimed social privileges which it had
been agreed that he had forfeited. But it was never really in her mind to
deny herself the excitement of going. She and her escort were among the
first couples to cross the snowy pastures stretching between her father's
claim and the lights of the lonely horse-ranch.
It was a cloudy night, the air soft, chill, and spring-like. Snow had
fallen early and frozen upon the ground; the stockmen welcomed the
"chinook wind" as the promise of a break in the hard weather. Shadows came
out and played upon the pale slopes, as the riders rose and dropped past
one long swell and another of dim country falling away like a ghostly land
seeking a ghostly sea. And often Hetty looked back, fearing, yet half
hoping, that the interdicted one might be on his way, among the dusky,
straggling shapes behind.
The company was not large, nor, up to nine o'clock, particularly merry.
The women were engaged in cooking supper, or were above in the roof-room
brushing out their crimps by the light of an unshaded kerosene lamp,
placed on the pine wash-stand which did duty as a dressing-table. The
men's voices came jarringly through the loose boards of the floor from
About that hour arrived the unbidden guest, and like the others he had
brought his "gun." He was stopped at the door and told that he could not
come in among the girls to make trouble. He denied that he had come with
any such intention. There were persons present,—he mentioned no
names,—who were no more eligible, socially speaking, than himself,
and he ranked himself low in saying so; where such as these could be
admitted, he proposed to show that he could. He offered, in evidence of
his good faith and peaceable intentions, to give up his gun; but on the
condition that he be allowed one dance with the partner of his choosing,
regardless of her previous engagements.
This unprecedented proposal was referred to the girls, who were charmed
with its audacity. But none of them spoke up for the outcast till Hetty
said she could not think what they were all afraid of; a dozen to one, and
that one without his weapon! Then the other girls chimed in and added
their timid suffrages.
There may have been some twinges of disappointment, there could hardly
have been surprise, when the black sheep directed his choice without a
look elsewhere to Hetty. She stood up, smiling but rather pale, and he
rushed her to the head of the room, securing the most conspicuous place
before his rival, who with his partner took the place of second couple
"Keep right on!" the fiddler chanted, in sonorous cadence to the music, as
the last figure of the set ended with "Promenade all!" He swung into the
air of the first figure again, smiling, with his cheek upon his instrument
and his eyes upon the floor. Hetty fancied that his smile meant more than
merely the artist's pleasure in the joy he evokes.
"Keep your places!" he shouted again, after the "Promenade all!" a
second time had raised the dust and made the lamps flare, and lighted with
smiles of sympathy the rugged faces of the elders ranged against the
walls. The side couples dropped off exhausted, but the tops held the
floor, and neither of the men was smiling.
The whimsical fiddler invented new figures, which he "called off" in time
to his music, to vary the monotony of a quadrille with two couples
The opposite girl was laughing hysterically; she could no longer dance nor
stand. The rival gentleman looked about him for another partner. One girl
jumped up, then, hesitating, sat down again. The music passed smoothly
into a waltz, and Hetty and her bad boy kept the floor, regardless of
shouts and protests warning the trespasser that his time was up and the
game in other hands.
Three times they circled the room; they looked neither to right nor left;
their eyes were upon each other. The men were all on their feet, the music
playing madly. A group of half-scared girls was huddled, giggling and
whispering, near the door of the dimly lighted shed-room. Into the midst
of them Hetty's partner plunged, with his breathless, smiling dancer in
his arms, passed into the dim outer place to the door where his horse
stood saddled, and they were gone.
They crossed the little valley known as Seven Pines; they crashed through
the thin ice of the creek; they rode double sixteen miles before daybreak,
Hetty wrapped in her lover's "slicker," with the blue-bordered
handkerchief, her only wedding-gift, tied over her blowing hair.