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A Fair Exile
by [?]

The train was ambling across the hot, russet plain. The wind, strong and warm and dry, sweeping up from the south, carried with it the subtle odor of September grass and gathered harvests. Out of the unfenced roads the dust arose in long lines, like smoke from some hidden burning which the riven earth revealed. The fields were tenanted with thrashing crews, the men diminished by distance to pygmies, the long belt of the engine flapping and shining like a ribbon in the flaming sunlight.

The freight-cars on the accommodation train jostled and rocked about and heaved up laterally till they resembled a long line of awkward, frightened, galloping buffaloes. The one coach was scantily filled with passengers, mainly poorly clothed farmers and their families.

A young man seated well back in the coach was looking dreamily out of the window, and the conductor, a keen-eyed young fellow, after passing him several times, said, in a friendly way:

“Going up to Boomtown, I imagine.”

“Yes–if we ever get there.”

“Oh, we’ll get there. We won’t have much more switching. We’ve only got an empty car or two to throw in at the junction.”

“Well, I’m glad of that. I’m a little impatient, because I’ve got a case coming up in court, and I’m not exactly fixed for it.”

“Your name is Allen, I believe.”

“Yes; J. H. Allen, of Sioux City.”

“I thought so. I’ve heard you speak.”

The young lawyer was a tall, slender, dark-eyed man, rather sombre in appearance. He did not respond to the invitation in the conductor’s voice.

“When do you reach the junction?”

“Next stop. We’re only a few minutes late. Expect to meet friends there?”

“No; thought I’d get a lunch, that’s all.”

At the junction the car became pretty well filled with people. Two or three Norwegian families came clattering in, the mothers clothed in heavy shawls and cheap straw hats, the flaxen-haired children in faded cottonade and blue denims. They filled nearly half the seats. Several drummers came in, laughing loudly, bearing heavy valises. Then Allen heard, above the noise, the shrill but sweet voice of a girl, and caught the odor of violets as two persons passed him and took a seat just before him.

The man he knew by sight and reputation as a very brilliant young lawyer–Edward Benson, of Heron Lake. The girl he knew instantly to be utterly alien to this land and people. She was like a tropic bird seen amid the scant foliage of northern hills. There was evidence of great care and taste in every fold of her modish dress. Her hat was simple but in the latest city fashion, and her gloves were spotless. She gave off an odor of cleanliness and beauty.

She was very young and slender. Her face was piquant but not intellectual, and scarcely beautiful. It pleased rather by its life and motion and oddity than by its beauty. She looked at her companion in a peculiar way–trustfully, almost reverently–and yet with a touch of coquetry which seemed perfectly native to every turn of her body or glance of her eyes.

Her companion was a fine Western type of self-made man. He was tall and broad-shouldered, but walked a little stooping, like a man of fifty. He wore a long Prince Albert frock-coat, hanging loosely from his rather square shoulders. His white vest was noticeably soiled by his watch chain, and his tie was disarranged.

His face was very fine and good. His eyes were gray-blue, deep and quiet, but slightly smiling, as were his lips, which his golden-brown mustache shaded but did not hide. He was kept smiling in this quizzical way by the nervous chatter of the girl beside him. His profile, which was the view Allen had of him, was striking. His strong, straight nose and abrupt forehead formed a marked contrast to the rather characterless nose and retreating forehead of the girl.

The first words that Allen distinguished out of the merry war in which they seemed engaged were spoken in the tone of pretty petulance such women use–a coquette’s defence.