"Did he—did Hector Hall sling a gun on Mr. Mackenzie that time?" she asked, pressing forward eagerly.
"Never mind, Joan—let that go," said Mackenzie, putting his arm before her to stay her, speaking hastily, as if to warn her back from a danger.
"He didn't have time to sling a gun on him," said Swan, great satisfaction in his voice as he recalled the scene. "Your man he's like a cat when he jumps for a feller, but he ain't got the muscle in his back like me."
"There's nobody in this country like you, Swan," said Joan, pleased with him, friendly toward him, for his praise of the one he boldly called her man.
"No, I can roll 'em all," Swan said, as gravely as if he would be hung on the testimony. "You ought to have me for your man; then you'd have somebody no feller on this range would burn out."
"You've got a wife, Swan," Joan said, with gentle reproof, but putting the proposal from her as if she considered it a jest.
"I'm tired of that one," Swan confessed, frankly. Then to Mackenzie: "I'll fight you for her." He swung half way out of the saddle, as if to come to the ground and start the contest on the moment, hung there, looking Mackenzie in the face, the light of morning revealing the marks of his recent battle. "Not now, you've had a fight already," said Swan, settling back into the saddle. "But when you brace up, then I'll fight you for her. What?"
"Any time," Mackenzie told him, speaking easily, as if humoring the whim of some irresponsible person.
With a sudden start of his horse Swan rode close to Joan, Mackenzie throwing himself between them, catching the bridle, hurling the animal back. Swan did not take notice of the interference, only leaned far over, stretching his long neck, his great mustaches like the tusks of an old walrus, and strained a long look into Joan's face. Then he whirled his horse and galloped away, not turning a glance behind.
Joan watched him go, saying nothing for a little while. Then:
"I think he's joking," she said.
"I suppose he is," Mackenzie agreed, although he had many doubts.
They turned to look at the wagon again, the popping of ammunition having ceased. The woodwork was all on fire; soon it would be reduced to bolts and tires. Joan's spirits seemed to have risen with the broadening of day, in spite of Swan Carlson's visit and his bold jest, if jest he meant it to be. She laughed as she looked at the sheep, huddled below them in attitude of helpless fright.
"Poor little fools!" she said. "Well, I must go back to Charley. Don't tell dad I was over here, please, John. He wouldn't like it if he knew I'd butted in this way—he's scared to death of the Halls."
"I don't see how I'm to keep him from knowing it," Mackenzie said, "and I don't see why he shouldn't know. He'd have been out a cheap herder if it hadn't been for you."
"No, you mustn't tell him, you mustn't let anybody know I was here, John," she said, lifting her eyes to his in an appeal far stronger than words. "It wouldn't do for dad—for anybody—to know I was here. You don't need to say anything about them tying—doing—that."
Joan shuddered again in that chilling, horrified way, turning from him to hide what he believed he had read in her words and face before.
It was not because she feared to have her father know she had come riding to his rescue in the last hours of her troubled night; not because she feared his censure or his anger, or wanted to conceal her deed for reasons of modesty from anyone. Only to spare him the humiliation of having his failure known, Mackenzie understood. That was her purpose, and her sole purpose, in seeking his pledge to secrecy.
It would hurt him to have it go abroad that he had allowed them to sneak into his camp, seize him, disarm him, bind him, and set the fire that was to make ashes of him for the winds to blow away. It would do for him with Tim Sullivan entirely if that should become known, with the additional humiliation of being saved from this shameful death by a woman. No matter how immeasurable his own gratitude, no matter how wide his own pride in her for what she had done, the sheep country never would be able to see it with his eyes. It would be another smirch for him, and such a deep one as to obscure him and his chances there forever.
Joan knew it. In her generosity, her interest for his future, she wanted her part in it to remain unknown.
"You must promise me, John," she said. "I'll never come to take another lesson unless you promise me."
"I promise you, God bless you, Joan!" said he.
ONE COMES TO SERVE
An hour after midday there came riding over the hills Tim Sullivan and a stranger. They stopped at the ruins of the sheep-wagon, where Tim dismounted and nosed around, then came on down the draw, where Mackenzie was ranging the sheep.
Tim was greatly exercised over the loss of the wagon. He pitched into Mackenzie about it as soon as he came within speaking distance.
"How did you do it—kick over the lantern?" he inquired, his face cloudy with ill-held wrath.
Mackenzie explained, gruffly and in few words, how the wagon was fired, sparing his own perilous adventure and the part that Joan had borne in it. This slowed Tim down, and set him craning his neck over the country to see if any further threat of violence impended on the horizon.
"Them Hall boys ought to be men enough not to do me a trick like that after the way I've give in to them on this side of the range," he said. Then to Mackenzie, sharply: "It wouldn't 'a' happened if you hadn't took Hector's guns away from him that time. A sheepman's got no right to be fightin' around on the range. If he wants to brawl and scrap, let him do it when he goes to town, the way the cowboys used to."
"Maybe you're right; I'm beginning to think you are," Mackenzie returned.
"Right? Of course I'm right. A sheepman's got to set his head to business, and watchin' the corners to prevent losses like this that eats up the profit, and not go around with his sleeves rolled up and his jaw slewed, lookin' for a fight. And if he starts one he's got to have the backbone and the gizzard to hold up his end of it, and not let 'em put a thing like this over on him. Why wasn't you in the wagon last night watchin' it?"
"Because I've been expecting them to burn it."
"Sure you've been expectin' 'em to burn you out, and you hid in the brush with your tail between your legs like a kicked pup and let 'em set my new wagon afire. How did you git your face bunged up that way?"
"I fell down," Mackenzie said, with a sarcasm meant only for himself, feeling that he had described his handling of the past situation in a word.
"Runnin' off, I reckon. Well, I tell you, John, it won't do, that kind of business won't do. Them Hall boys are mighty rough fellers, too rough for a boy like you that's been runnin' with school children all his life. You got some kind of a lucky hitch on Hector when you stripped that belt and guns off of him—I don't know how you done it; it's a miracle he didn't nail you down with lead—but that kind of luck won't play into a man's hands one time in a thousand. You never ought 'a' started anything with them fellers unless you had the weight in your hind-quarters to keep it goin'."
"You're right," said Mackenzie, swallowing the rebuke like a bitter pill.
"Right? You make me tired standin' there and takin' it like a sick cat! If you was half the man I took you to be when you struck this range you'd resent a callin' down like I'm givin' you. But you don't resent it, you take it, like you sneaked and let them fellers burn that wagon and them supplies of mine. If you was expectin' 'em to turn that kind of a trick you ought 'a' been right there in that wagon, watchin' it—there's where you had a right to be."
"I suppose there's where I'd been if I had your nerve, Sullivan," Mackenzie said, his slow anger taking place of the humiliation that had bent him down all morning like a shameful load. "Everybody on this range knows you're a fighting man—you've fought the wind gettin' away from this side of the range every time you saw smoke, you've got a reputation for standing out for your rights like a man with a gizzard in him as big as a sack of bran! Sure, I know all about the way you've backed out of here and let Carlson and the Halls bluff you out of the land you pay rent on, right along. If I had your nerve——"
* * * * *
Tim's face flamed as if he had risen from turning batter-cakes over a fire. He made a smoothing, adjusting, pacificating gesture with his hands, looking with something between deep concern and shame over his shoulder at the man who accompanied him, and who sat off a few feet in his saddle, a grin over his face.
"Now, John, I don't mean for you to take it that I'm throwin' any slur over your courage for the way things has turned out—I don't want you to take it that way at all, lad," said Tim.
"I'm not a fighting man"—Mackenzie was getting hotter as he went on—"everybody in here knows that by now, I guess. You guessed wrong, Sullivan, when you took me for one and put me over here to hold this range for you that this crowd's been backing you off of a little farther each spring. You're the brave spirit that's needed here—if somebody could tie you and hold you to face the men that have robbed you of the best range you've got. I put down my hand; I get out of the way for you when it comes to the grit to put up a fight."
"Oh, don't take it to heart what I've been sayin', lad. A man's hot under the collar when he sees a dirty trick like that turned on him, but it passes off like sweat, John. Let it go, boy, let it pass."
"You sent me in here expecting me to fight, and when I don't always come out on top you rib me like the devil's own for it. You expected me to fight to hold this grass, but you didn't expect me to lose anything at all. Well, I'll hold the range for you, Sullivan; you don't need to lose any sleep over that. But if I'm willing to risk my skin to do it, by thunder, you ought to be game enough to stand the loss of a wagon without a holler that can be heard to Four Corners!"
"You're doin' fine holdin' my range that I pay solid money to Uncle Sam for, you're doin' elegant fine, lad. I was hasty, my tongue got out from under the bit, boy. Let it pass; don't you go holdin' it against an old feller like me that's got the worry of forty-odd thousand sheep on his mind day and night."
"It's easy enough to say, but it don't let you out. You've got no call to come here and wade into me without knowing anything about the circumstances."
"Right you are, John, sound and right. I was hasty, I was too hot. You've done fine here, you're the first man that's ever stood up to them fellers and held 'em off my grass. You've done things up like a man, John. I give it to you—like a man."
"Thanks," said Mackenzie, in dry scorn.
"I ain't got no kick to make over the loss of my wagon—it's been many a day since I had one burnt up on me that way. Pass it up, pass up anything I've said about it, John. That's the lad."
So John passed it up, and unbent to meet the young man who rode with Tim, whom the sheepman presented as Earl Reid, from Omaha, son of Malcolm Reid, an old range partner and friend. The young man had come out to learn the sheep business; Tim had brought him over for Mackenzie to break in. Dad Frazer was coming along with three thousand sheep, due to arrive in about a week. When he got there, the apprentice would split his time between them.
Mackenzie received the apprentice as cordially as he could, but it was not as ardent a welcome as the young man may have expected, owing to the gloom of resentment into which Sullivan's outbreak had thrown this unlucky herder on the frontier of the range.
Reid was rather a sophisticated looking youth of twenty-two or twenty-three, city broke, city marked. There was a poolroom pallor about this thin face, a poolroom stoop to his thin shoulders, that Mackenzie did not like. But he was frank and ingenuous in his manner, with a ready smile that redeemed his homely face, and a pair of blue eyes that seemed young in their innocence compared to the world-knowledge that his face betrayed.
"Take the horses down there to the crick and water 'em," Tim directed his new herder, "and then you'll ride back with me as far as Joan's camp and fetch over some grub to hold you two fellers till the wagon comes. Joan, she'll know what to give you, and I guess you can find your way back here?"
"Surest thing you know," said Earl, with easy confidence, riding off to water the horses.
"That kid's no stranger to the range," Mackenzie said, more to himself than to Tim, as he watched him ride off.
"No, he used to be around with the cowboys on Malcolm's ranch when he was in the cattle business. He can handle a horse as good as you or me. Malcolm was the man that set me up in the sheep business; I started in with him like you're startin' with me, more than thirty years ago. He was the first sheepman on this range, and he had to fight to hold his own, I'm here to say!"
"You'd better send the kid over into peaceful territory," Mackenzie suggested, crabbedly.
"No, the old man wants him to get a taste of what he went through to make his start—he was tickled to the toes when he heard the way them Hall boys are rarin' up and you standin' 'em off of this range of mine. 'Send him over there with that man,' he says; 'that's the kind of a man I want him to break in under.' The old feller was tickled clean to his toes."
"Is he over at the ranch?"
"No, he went back home last night. Come down to start the kid right, and talk it over with me. It was all a surprise to me, I didn't know a thing about it, but I couldn't turn Malcolm down." Tim winked, looked cunning, nodded in a knowing way. "Kid's been cuttin' up throwin' away too much money; gettin' into scrapes like a boy in town will, you know. Wild oats and a big crop of 'em. The old man's staked him out with me for three years, and he ain't to draw one cent of pay, or have one cent to spend, in that time. If he breaks over, it's all off between them two. And the kid's sole heir to nearly half a million."
Mackenzie turned to look again at the boy, who was coming back with the horses.
"Do you think he'll stick?" he asked.
"Yes, he promised the old man he would, and if he's anything like Malcolm, he'll eat fire before he'll break his word. Malcolm and me we come to terms in ten words. The kid's to work three years for me without pay; then I'll marry him to my Joan."
Mackenzie felt his blood come up hot, and sink down again, cold; felt his heart kick in one resentful surge, then fall away to weakness as if its cords had been cut. Tim laughed, looking down the draw toward the sheep.
"It's something like that Jacob and Laban deal you spoke about the other day," said he. "Curious how things come around that way, ain't it? There I went ridin' off, rakin' up my brains to remember that story, and laughed when it come to me all of a sudden. Jacob skinned them willow sticks, and skinned the old man, too. But I don't guess Earl would turn a trick like that on me, even if he could."
"How about Joan? Does she agree to the terms?" Mackenzie could not forbear the question, even though his throat was dry, his lips cold, his voice husky at the first word.
"She'll jump at it," Tim declared, warmly. "She wants to go away from here and see the world, and this will be her chance. I don't object to her leavin', either, as long as it don't cost me anything. You go ahead and stuff her, John; stuff her as full of learnin' as she'll hold. It'll be cheaper for me than sendin' her off to school and fittin' her up to be a rich man's wife, and you can do her just as much good—more, from what she tells me. You go right ahead and stuff her, John."
"Huh!" said John.
"Earl, he'll look after your sheep while you're teachin' Joan her books. Stuff her, but don't founder her, John. If any man can fit her up to prance in high society, I'd bet my last dollar you can. You're a kind of a gentleman yourself, John."
"Thanks," said John, grinning a dry grin.
"Yes," reminiscently, with great satisfaction, "Malcolm made the proposition to me, hit me with it so sudden it nearly took my breath. 'Marry him to your Joan when you make a man of him,' he says. I said maybe he wouldn't want to hitch up with a sheepman's daughter that was brought up on the range. 'If he don't he can go to work and make his own way—I'll not leave him a dam' cent!' says Malcolm. We shook hands on it; he said he'd put it in his will. And that's cinched so it can't slip."
When Tim mounted to leave he looked round the range again with a drawing of trouble in his face, as if he searched the peaceful landscape for the shadow of wings.
"I ain't got another sheep-wagon to give you right now, John; I guess you'll have to make out with a tent till winter," he said.
"I'd rather have it," Mackenzie replied.
Tim leaned over, hand to one side of his mouth, speaking in low voice, yet not whispering:
"And remember what I said about that matter, John. Stuff, but don't founder."
"Stuff," said John, but with an inflection that gave the word a different meaning, quite.
A FIGHT ALMOST LOST
Dad Frazer was not overly friendly toward the young man from Omaha who had come out to learn the sheep business under the threat of penalties and the promise of high rewards. He growled around about him continually when he and Mackenzie met, which was not very often, owing to their being several miles apart. Tim had stationed Dad and his big band of sheep between Mackenzie and Joan, leaving the schoolmaster to hold the frontier. No matter for old man Reid's keenness to have his son suffer some of the dangers which he had faced in his day, Tim seemed to be holding the youth back out of harm's way, taking no risks on losing a good thing for the family.
Reid had been on the range about two weeks, but Mackenzie had not seen a great deal of him, owing to Tim's plan of keeping him out of the disputed territory, especially at night. That the young man did not care much for the company or instruction of Dad Frazer was plain. Twice he had asked Mackenzie to use his influence with Tim to bring about a change from the old man's camp to his. In Mackenzie's silence and severity the young man found something that he could not penetrate, a story that he could not read. Perhaps it was with a view to finding out what school Mackenzie had been seasoned in that Reid bent himself to win his friendship.
Dad Frazer came over the hills to Mackenzie's range that afternoon, to stretch his legs, he said, although Mackenzie knew it was to stretch his tongue, caring nothing for the miles that lay between. He had left Reid in charge of his flock, the young man being favored by Tim to the extent of allowing him a horse, the same as he did Joan.
"I'm glad he takes to you," said Dad. "I don't like him; he's got a graveyard in his eyes."
"I don't think he ever pulled a gun on anybody in his life, Dad," Mackenzie returned, in mild amazement.
"I don't mean that kind of a graveyard; I mean a graveyard where he buried the boy in him long before his time. He's too sharp for his years; he's seen too much of the kind of life a young feller's better off for to hear about from a distance and never touch. I tell you, John, he ain't no good."
"He's an agreeable kind of a chap, anyhow; he's got a line of talk like a saddle salesman."
"Yes, and I never did have no use for a talkin' man. Nothin' to 'em; they don't stand the gaff."
In spite of his friendly defense of young Reid, Mackenzie felt that Dad had read him aright. There was something of subtle knowledge, an edge of guile showing through his easy nature and desire to please, that was like acid on the teeth. Reid had the faculty of making himself agreeable, and he was an apt and willing hand, but back of this ingenuous appearance there seemed to be something elusive and shadowy, a thing which he tried to keep hidden by nimble maneuvers, but which would show at times for all his care.
Mackenzie did not dislike the youth, but he found it impossible to warm up to him as one man might to another in a place where human companionship is a luxury. When Reid sat with a cigarette in his thin lips—it was a wide mouth, worldly hard—hazy in abstraction and smoke, there came a glaze over the clearness of his eyes, a look of dead harshness, a cast of cunning. In such moments his true nature seemed to express itself unconsciously, and Dad Frazer, simple as he was in many ways, was worldly man enough to penetrate the smoke, and sound the apprentice sheepman to his soul.
Reid seemed to draw a good deal of amusement out of his situation under Tim Sullivan. He was dependent on the flockmaster for his clothing and keep, even tobacco and papers for his cigarettes. If he knew anything about the arrangement between his father and Sullivan in regard to Joan, he did not mention it. That he knew it, Mackenzie fully believed, for Tim Sullivan was not the man to keep the reward sequestered.
Whether Reid looked toward Joan as adequate compensation for three years' exile in the sheeplands, there was no telling. Perhaps he did not think much of her in comparison with the exotic plants of the atmosphere he had left; more than likely there was a girl in the background somewhere, around whom some of the old man's anxiety to save the lad revolved. Mackenzie hoped to the deepest cranny of his heart that it was so.
"He seems to get a good deal of humor out of working here for his board and tobacco," Mackenzie said.
"Yes, he blatters a good deal about it," said Dad. "'I'll take another biscuit on Tim Sullivan,' he says, and 'here goes another smoke on Tim.' I don't see where he's got any call to make a joke out of eatin' another man's bread."
"Maybe he's never eaten any man's bread outside of the family before, Dad."
"I reckon he wouldn't have to be doin' it now if he'd 'a' been decent. Oh well, maybe he ain't so bad."
This day Dad was maneuvering around to unload the apprentice on Mackenzie for good. He worked up to it gradually, as if feeling his way with his good foot ahead, careful not to be too sudden and plunge into a hole.
"I don't like a feller around that talks so much," Dad complained. "When he's around a man ain't got no time to think and plan and lay his projec's for what he's a goin' to do. All I can do to put a word in edgeways once in a while."
It appeared plain enough that Dad's sore spot was this very inability to land as many words as he thought he had a right to. That is the complaint of any talkative person. If you are a good listener, with a yes and a no now and then, a talkative man will tell your friends you are the most interesting conversationalist he ever met.
"I don't mind him," Mackenzie said, knowing very well that Dad would soon be so hungry for somebody to unload his words upon that he would be talking to the sheep. "Ship him over to me when you're tired of him; I'll work some of the wind out of him inside of a week."
"I'll send him this evenin'," said Dad, eager in his relief, brightening like an uncovered coal. "Them dogs Joan give you's breakin' in to the sound of your voice wonderful, ain't they?"
"They're getting used to me slowly."
"Funny about dogs a woman's been runnin' sheep with. Mighty unusual they'll take up with a man after that. I used to be married to a Indian woman up on the Big Wind that was some hummer trainin' sheep-dogs. That woman could sell 'em for a hundred dollars apiece as fast as she could raise 'em and train 'em up, and them dad-splashed collies they'd purt' near all come back home after she'd sold 'em. Say, I've knowed them dogs to come back a hundred and eighty mile!"
"That must have been a valuable woman to have around a man's camp. Where is she now, if I'm not too curious?"
"She was a good woman, one of the best women I ever had." Dad rubbed his chin, eyes reflectively on the ground, stood silent a spell that was pretty long for him. "I hated like snakes to lose that woman—her name was Little Handful Of Rabbit Hair On A Rock. Ye-es. She was a hummer on sheep-dogs, all right. She took a swig too many out of my jug one day and tripped over a stick and tumbled into the hog-scaldin' tank."
"What a miserable end!" said Mackenzie, shocked by the old man's indifferent way of telling it.
"Oh, it didn't hurt her much," said Dad. "Scalded one side of her till she peeled off and turned white. I couldn't stand her after that. You know a man don't want to be goin' around with no pinto woman, John." Dad looked up with a gesture of depreciation, a queer look of apology in his weather-beaten face. "She was a Crow," he added, as if that explained much that he had not told.
"Black; nearly as black as a nigger."
"Little Handful, and so forth, must have thought you gave her a pretty hard deal, anyhow, Dad."
"I never called her by her full name," Dad reflected, passing over the moral question that Mackenzie raised. "I shortened her down to Rabbit. I sure wish I had a couple of them sheep-dogs of her'n to give you in place of them you lost. Joan's a good little girl, but she can't train a dog like Rabbit."
"Rabbit's still up there on the Big Wind waiting for you, is she?"
"She'll wait a long time! I'm done with Indians. Joan comin' over today?"
"I don't guess you'll have her to bother with much longer—her and that Reid boy they'll be hitchin' up one of these days from all the signs. He skirmishes off over that way nearly every day. Looks to me like Tim laid it out that way, givin' him a horse to ride and leavin' me and you to hoof it. It'd suit Tim, all right; I've heard old Reid's a millionaire."
"I guess it would," Mackenzie said, trying to keep his voice from sounding as cold as his heart felt that moment.
"Yes, I think they'll hitch. Well, I'd like to see Joan land a better man than him. I don't like a man that can draw a blinder over his eyes like a frog."
Mackenzie smiled at the aptness of Dad's comparison. It was, indeed, as if Reid interposed a film like a frog when he plunged from one element into another, so to speak; when he left the sheeplands in his thoughts and went back to the haunts and the companions lately known.
"If Joan had a little more meat on her she wouldn't be a bad looker," said Dad. "Well, when a man's young he likes 'em slim, and when he's old he wants 'em fat. It'd be a calamity if a man was to marry a skinny girl like Joan and she was to stay skinny all his life."
"I don't think she's exactly skinny, Dad."
"No, I don't reckon you could count her ribs. But you put fifty pounds more on that girl and see how she'd look!"
"I can't imagine it," said Mackenzie, not friendly to the notion at all.
As Dad went back to unburden himself of his unwelcome companion, Mackenzie could not suppress the thought that a good many unworthy notions hatched beneath that dignified white hair. But surely Dad might be excused by a more stringent moralist than the schoolmaster for abandoning poor Rabbit after her complexion had suffered in the hog-scalding vat.
Toward sundown Earl Reid came riding over, his winning smile as easy on his face as he was in the saddle. The days were doing him good, all around, toughening his face, taking the poolroom pastiness out of it, putting a bracer in his back. Mackenzie noted the improvement as readily as it could be seen in some quick-growing plant.
Mackenzie was living a very primitive and satisfactory life under a few yards of tent canvas since the loss of his wagon. He stretched it over such bushes as came handy, storing his food beneath it when he slept, save on such nights as threatened showers. Reid applauded this arrangement. He was tired of Dad Frazer's wagon, and the greasy bunk in it.
"I've been wild to stretch out in a blanket with my feet to a little fire," he said, with a flash of the eagerness belonging to the boyhood buried away too soon, as Dad had remarked. "Dad wouldn't let me do it—fussed at me three days because I sneaked out on him one night and laid under the wagon."
"Dad didn't want a skunk to bite you, I guess. He felt a heavy responsibility on your account."
"Old snoozer!" said Reid.
Reid was uncommonly handy as a camp-cook, far better in that respect than Mackenzie, who gladly turned the kitchen duties over to him and let him have his way. After supper they sat talking, the lusty moon lifting a wondering face over the hills in genial placidity as if sure, after all its ages, of giving the world a surprise at last.
"Joan told me to bring you word she'd be over in the morning instead of tomorrow afternoon," said Reid.
Reid smoked in reflective silence, his thin face clear in the moonlight.
"Some girl," said he. "I don't see why she wants to go to all this trouble to get a little education. That stuff's all bunk. I wish I had the coin in my jeans right now the old man spent on me, pourin' stuff into me that went right on through like smoke through a handkerchief."
"I don't think it would be that way with Joan," Mackenzie said, hoping Reid would drop the discussion there, and not go into the arrangement for the future, which was a matter altogether detestable in the schoolmaster's thoughts.
Reid did not pursue his speculations on Joan, whether through delicacy or indifference Mackenzie could not tell. He branched off into talk of other things, through which the craving for the life he had left came out in strong expressions of dissatisfaction with the range. He complained against the penance his father had set, looking ahead with consternation to the three years he must spend in those solitudes.
"But I'm goin' to stick," he said, an unmistakable determination in his tone. "I'll show him they're making as good men now as they did when he was a kid." He laughed, a raucous, short laugh, an old man's laugh, which choked in a cigarette cough and made a mockery of mirth. "I'll toughen up out here and have better wind for the big finish when I sit in on the old man's money."
No, Joan was not cast for any important part in young Reid's future drama, Mackenzie understood. As if his thoughts had penetrated to the young man's heart, making fatuous any further attempt at concealment of his true sentiments, Reid spoke.
"They've sewed me up in a sack with Joan—I guess you know about it?"
"Tim was telling me."
"A guy could do worse."
With this comforting reflection Reid stretched himself on his blanket and went to sleep. Mackenzie was not slow in following his example, for it had been a hard day with the sheep, with much leg work on account of the new dogs showing a wolfish shyness of their new master most exasperating at times. Mackenzie's last thought was that Reid would take a great deal of labor off his legs by using the horse in attending the sheep.
A scream woke Mackenzie. He heaved up out of his sleep with confusion clouding his senses for the moment, the thought that he was on water, and the cry was that of one who drowned, persistent above his struggling reason. It was a choking cry, the utterance of a desperate soul who sees life fleeing while he lifts his voice in the last appeal. And between him and his companion Mackenzie saw the bulk of a giant-shouldered man, who bent with arm outstretched toward him, whose hand came in contact with his throat as he rose upright with the stare of confusion in his eyes.
Mackenzie broke through this film of his numbing sleep, reaching for the rifle that he had laid near his hand. It was gone, and across the two yards intervening he saw young Reid writhing in the grip of the monster who was strangling out his life.
Mackenzie wrenched free from the great hand that closed about his throat, tearing the mighty arm away with the strength of both his own. A moment, and he was involved in the most desperate struggle that he had ever faced in his life.
This interference gave Reid a new gulp of life. The three combatants were on their feet now, not a word spoken, not a sound but the dull impact of blows and the hard breathings of the two who fought this monster of the sheeplands for their lives. Swan Carlson, Mackenzie believed him to be, indulging his insane desire for strangling out the lives of men. He had approached so stealthily, with such wild cunning, that the dogs had given no alarm, and had taken the gun to insure against miscarriage or interruption in his horrible menu of death.
A brief tangle of locked arms, swaying bodies, ribs all but crushed in the embrace of those bestial arms, and Mackenzie was conscious that he was fighting the battle alone. In the wild swirl of it he could not see whether Reid had fallen or torn free. A little while, now in the pressure of those hairy, bare arms, now free for one gasping breath, fighting as man never fought in the sheeplands before that hour, and Mackenzie felt himself snatched up bodily and thrown down from uplifted arms with a force that must have ended all for him then but for the interposition of a sage-clump that broke the fall.
Instantly the silent monster was upon him. Mackenzie met him hand to hand, fighting the best fight that was in him, chilled with the belief that it was his last. But he could not come up from his knees, and in this position his assailant bent over him, one hand on his forehead, the other at the back of his neck, a knee against his breast.
Mackenzie tore at the great, stiff arms with his last desperate might, perhaps staying a little the pressure that in a moment more must snap his spine. As the assassin tightened this terrible grip Mackenzie's face was lifted toward the sky. Overhead was the moon, clear-edged, bright, in the dusk of the immensities beyond; behind the monster, who paused that breath as in design to fill his victim's last moment with a hope that he soon would mock, Mackenzie saw young Reid.
The youth was close upon the midnight strangler, stooping low. As the terrible pressure on forehead and neck cracked his spine like a breaking icicle, Mackenzie believed he shouted, putting into his voice all that he felt of desperate need of help. And he saw young Reid strike, and felt the breaking wrench of the cruel hands relax, and fell down upon the ground like a dead man and knew no more.
Reid was there with the lantern, putting water on Mackenzie's head when he again broke through the mists and followed the thread of his soul back to his body. Reid was encouraging him to be steady, and to take it easy, assuring him that he never saw a man put up such a fight as the schoolmaster had all but lost.
Mackenzie sat up presently, with throbbing head, a feeling of bulging in his eyeballs, his neck stiff from the wrenching it had received. The great body of the man whom he had fought lay stretched in the moonlight, face to the ground. The camp butcher knife was sticking in his back. Mackenzie got to his feet, a dizziness over him, but a sense of his obligation as clear as it ever was in any man.
"I owe you one for that; I'll not forget it in a hurry," he said, giving Reid his hand.
"No, we're even on it," Reid returned. "He'd 'a' broke my neck in another second if you hadn't made that tackle. Who is he, do you know?"
"Turn him over," Mackenzie said.
Reid withdrew the knife, sticking it into the ground with as little concern as if he had taken it from a butcher's block, and heaved the fellow over on his back. The moonlight revealed his dusty features clearly, but Mackenzie brought the lantern to make it doubly sure.
"He's not the man I thought he was," said he. "I think this fellow's name is Matt Hall. He's the sheep-killer you've heard about. Look—he's all over blood—there's wool on his shirt."
"Matt Hall, huh?" said Reid. He wiped the butcher knife on the dead sheep-killer's shirt, making a little whistling, reflective sound through his teeth. "I'll have to scour that knife before we cut bacon with it in the morning," he said.
"He's got the lonesomeness," said Dad, "and I tell you, John, when that gits a hold of a man he ain't responsible. It's the same as shuttin' a man up in jail to break him off of booze—say, he'll claw the rocks out of the wall with his finger nails to git out where he can take a snort."
"I never had the lonesomeness, so I don't know, but there's something the matter with the kid."
"Yes, I see him tearin' around the country ridin' the head off of that horse, never lookin' where he's goin' any more than a bat. He's been clean over to Four Corners after the mail twice this week. A feller must want a letter purty bad when he'll go to all that fuss for it."
"I'm afraid it's going to be hard for him; he hasn't any more than bitten into his three years yet; he don't really know how they taste."
"It'll break him; he'll go all to pieces, I tell you John. When the lonesomeness takes a hold of a feller that way something pops in his head after a while; then he either puts a bullet through his heart or settles down and gits fat. That feller ain't got it in him to put on loco fat."
Dad had slicked himself up pretty well that day before cutting across the range for a chat with Mackenzie. His operations with the sheep-shears on his fuzzy whiskers had not been uniform, probably due to the lack of a mirror. Dad trusted to the feel of it when he had no water by to look into and guide his hand, and this time he had cut close to the skin in several places, displaying his native color beneath the beard. But whatever he lacked in his chin-hedge he made up for in careful arrangement of his truly beautiful hair.
There was a sniff of perfume about him, a nosegay of wild flowers pinned in the pocket of his shirt. Mackenzie marveled over these refinements in the old man's everyday appearance, but left it to his own time and way to tell what plans or expectations prompted them.
"Hector Hall showed up?"
"Reid wouldn't make any more than a snap and a swaller out of that feller, I guess. But it ain't good for a man like him to start out killin'; it goes to his liver too quick and drives him mooney."
"I don't suppose it's very healthy for any man, Dad."
"You said it! I've went fifty miles around a range to skip a feller that was lookin' for my skelp, and I'd go a thousand before I'd crowd a fight. I never was much on the fight, and runnin' sheep took what little was in me out a long time ago."
Dad got out his red box of corn-husk cigarettes, offering it silently to Mackenzie, who shook his head, knowing very well that Dad did it to observe conventions rather than out of a desire to have him help himself. The stock of Mexican smokes was running low; Dad had spoken of it only the day before, and his feet were itching for the road to the border, he said.
"Well, he's got a name and a fame in this country he can travel on," said Dad.
Which was true enough. Mackenzie's fight with Swan Carlson had taken second place, his reputation as a fighting man in the sheeplands had paled almost to nothing, after Reid's swift-handed dealing with Matt Hall. The fame of his exploit ran through the country, fixing his place in it at once, for Matt Hall was known as a man who had the strength of seven in his long, gorilla arms.
Hector Hall, brother of the slain man, seemed to accept the tragedy with a sorrowful resignation in which no shadow of revenge appeared. He let it be known that Matt had been irresponsible at times, given to night-prowlings and outbreaks of violence of strange and fantastic forms. How much truth there was in this excuse for the dead man, Hector alone knew. But no matter for his passivity, Mackenzie did not trust him. He made a requisition on Tim Sullivan at once for revolvers for himself and Reid, which Tim delegated the young man to go to Four Corners and buy.
"Well, I come over to see if you'll lend Reid to me three or four days while I make a trip to town," said Dad. "I've got a little business over there to tend to I've been puttin' off for more than a month."
"Yes, if it's all right with Tim you can have him. What's up, getting married?"
"Kind of arrangin', John, kind of arrangin'. There's a widow-lady over at Four Corners I used to rush that needs a man to help her with her sheep. A man might as well marry a sheep ranch as work on one, I reckon."
"It's a shorter cut, anyhow. When do you want Reid?"
"I was aimin' to rack out this evenin', John."
"I'll send him over this afternoon. I don't know where he is, but he'll be back for dinner."
Dad went away well satisfied and full of cheer, Mackenzie marveling over his marital complexities as he watched him go. Together with Rabbit, and the Mexican woman down El Paso way whom John had mentioned, but of whom Dad never had spoken, and no telling how many more scattered around the country, Dad seemed to be laying the groundwork for a lively roundup one of his days. He said he'd been marrying women off and on for forty years. His easy plan seemed to be just to take one that pleased his capricious temper wherever he found her, without regard to former obligations.
Mackenzie grinned. He did not believe any man was so obscure as to be able to escape many wives. Dad seemed to be a dry-land sailor, with a wife in every town he ever had made in his life. Mackenzie understood about Mexican marriages. If they were priest marriages, they were counted good; if they were merely justice of the peace ones they were subject to wide and elastic infringement on both sides. Probably Indian marriages were similar. Surely Dad was old enough to know what he was about.
Reid came to camp at noontime, and prepared dinner in his quick and handy way. Mackenzie did not take up the question of his acting as relief for Dad while the old scout went off to push his arrangements for marrying a sheep ranch, seeing that Reid was depressed and down-spirited and in no pleasant mood.
They were almost independent of the camp-mover, owing to their light equipment, which they could carry with them from day to day as the sheep ranged. Supplies were all they needed from the wagon, which came around to them twice a week. After dinner Reid began packing up for the daily move, moody and silent, cigarette dangling on his lip.
"It's a one-hell of a life!" said he, looking up from the last knot in the rope about the bundle of tent.
"Have you soured on it already, Earl?"
Reid sat on the bundle of tent, a cloud on his face, hat drawn almost to the bridge of his nose, scowling out over the sheep range as if he would curse it to a greater barrenness.
"Three years of this, and what'll I be? Hell! I can't even find that other Hall."
"Have you been out looking for him?"
"That big Swede over there was tellin' me he's put me down in his book for a killin'. I thought I'd give him a chance to get it over with if he meant it."
"Has Carlson been over?"
"No, I rode over there the other evening. Say, is that the woman you found chained up when you struck this country?"
"She's the one."
Mackenzie looked at Reid curiously as he answered. There was something of quick eagerness in the young man's inquiry, a sudden light of a new interest in his face, in sharp contrast with the black mood of a moment before.
"She looks like an Ibsen heroine," said Reid. "Take that woman out of this country and dress her right, and she'd be a queen."
"You'd better keep away from there," said Mackenzie, dryly.
"Oh, I guess I can take care of Swan if you could," Reid returned, with a certain easy insolence, jerking his hip to hitch his gun around in suggestive movement.
Mackenzie dropped the matter without more words, seeing too plainly the humor of the youth. Maybe Dad had diagnosed his ailment aright, but to Mackenzie it appeared something more than plain lonesomeness. The notoriety attending the killing of Matt Hall had not been good for Reid. He wanted more of it, and a bigger audience, a wider field.
If this was a taste of the adventure of the West's past romantic times, Mackenzie felt that he was lucky he had come too late to share it. His own affair with Swan Carlson had been sordid enough, but this unlucky embroilment in which Reid had killed a man was a plain misfortune to the hero of the fight. He told Reid of Dad's request.
"You go and run his sheep for him," Reid suggested. "It'll take you a little nearer Joan."
This he added as with studied sneer, his face flushing darkly, his thin mouth twisted in an ugly grin.
Mackenzie passed it, but not without the hurt of the unkind stab showing in his face. It was so entirely unjustified as to be cruel, for Mackenzie was not in Reid's way even to the extent of one lurking, selfish thought. Since Reid had saved his life from Matt Hall's murderous hands, Mackenzie had withdrawn even his most remote hope in regard to Joan. Before that he had spun his thread of dreams, quite honestly, and with intent that he would not have denied, but since, not at all.
He owed Reid too much to cross him with Joan; he stepped aside, denying himself a thought of her save only in relation of teacher and pupil, trying to convince himself that it was better in the end for Joan. Reid had all the advantage of him in prospects; he could lift up the curtain on his day and show Joan the splendors of a world that a schoolmaster could point out only from afar. Mackenzie seemed to ignore the youth's suggestion that he go and tend Dad's flock.
"If I had a thousand dollars I'd dust it for Mexico tomorrow," said Reid. He turned to Mackenzie, pushing his hat back from his forehead, letting the sun on his savagely knotted face. "I haven't got money to send a telegram, not even a special delivery letter! Look at me! A millionaire's son and sole heir, up against a proposition like this for three years!"
Mackenzie let him sweat it out, offering neither water for his thirst nor wood for his fire. Reid sat in surly silence, running his thumb along his cartridge belt.
"A man's friends forget him out here," he complained; "he's the same to them as dead."
"It's the way everywhere when a man wants to borrow money," Mackenzie told him, not without the shade of a sneer.
"I've let them have enough in my time that they could afford to come across with what I asked for!"
"I think you'd better stick to the sheep business with Tim," Mackenzie advised, not unkindly, ashamed of his momentary weakness and scorn. "A man's prospects don't look very good back home when a bunch of parasites and grafters won't come over with a little loan."
"They can go to the devil! I can live without them."
"And get fat on it, kid. Three years here will be little more to you than as many days, if you get—interested."
Reid exclaimed impatiently, dismissing such assurance with a testy gesture.
"How much will you give me for my chances?" he asked.
"Nobody else can play your hand, kid."
"On the square, Mackenzie. Will you give me a thousand dollars?"
"I'm not sole heir to any millionaire," Mackenzie reminded him, taking the proposal in the jesting spirit that he supposed it was given.
"On the dead, Mackenzie—I mean it. Will you give me a thousand dollars for my place in the sheep game, girl and all? If you will, I'll hit the breeze tonight for Mexico and kick it all over to you, win or lose."
"If I could buy you out for a dime we couldn't trade," Mackenzie told him, a coldness in tone and manner that was more than a reproof.
"Joan ought to be worth that much to you!" Reid sneered.
Mackenzie got up, walked a few steps away, turned back presently, his temper in hand.
"It's not a question open to discussion between gentlemen," he said.
Reid blinked up at him, an odd leer on his sophisticated face, saying no more. He made a pack on his saddle of the camp outfit, and started off along the ridge, leaving Mackenzie to follow as he pleased. A mile or more along Reid pitched upon a suitable camping place. He had himself established long before Mackenzie came to where he sat smoking amid his gloomy, impatient thoughts.
"I'm not going over to relieve that old skunk," Reid announced, "not without orders from Sullivan. If he gets off you'll have to relieve him yourself. I don't want that Hall guy to get it into his nut that I'm runnin' away from him."
"All right, Earl," said Mackenzie, good-naturedly, "I'll go."
"You'll be half an hour nearer Joan's camp—she'll have that much longer to stay," said Reid, his mean leer creeping into his wide, thin lips again.
Mackenzie turned slowly to look him squarely in the eyes. He stood so a few seconds, Reid coloring in hot resentment of the silent rebuke.
"I've heard enough of that to last me the rest of your three years," Mackenzie said, something as hard as stones in a cushion under his calm voice.
Reid jerked his hip in his peculiar twisting movement to shift his pistol belt, turned, and walked away.
If it was the lonesomeness, Mackenzie thought, it was taking a mighty peculiar turn in that fellow. He was more like a cub that was beginning to find itself, and bristle and snarl and turn to bite the hand that had fended it through its helpless stage. Perhaps it would pass in a little while, or perhaps it would get worse on him. In the latter case there would be no living on the range with Reid, for on the range Mackenzie believed Reid was destined to remain. He had been trying to borrow money to get away, with what view in his dissatisfied head Mackenzie could not guess. He hadn't got it; he wouldn't get it. Those who had fattened on him in his prosperity were strangers to him in his time of penance and disgrace.
Mackenzie put off his start to Dad's camp until dusk, knowing the old man would prefer to take the road at night, after his mysterious way. He probably would hoof it over to Sullivan's and borrow a buckboard to make a figure in before the widow-lady upon whom he had anchored his variable heart.
Reid was bringing in the sheep when Mackenzie left, too far away for a word. Mackenzie thought of going down to him, for he disliked to part with anything like a shadow between them, feeling that he owed Reid a great debt indeed. More than that, he liked the kid, for there seemed to be a streak of good in him that all his ugly moods could not cover. But he went his way over the hills toward Dad's camp, the thought persisting in him that he would, indeed, be thirty minutes nearer Joan. And it was a thought that made his heart jump and a gladness burn in his eyes, and his feet move onward with a swift eagerness.
But only as a teacher with a lively interest in his pupil, he said; only that, and nothing more. On a hilltop a little way beyond his camp he stopped suddenly, his breath held to listen. Over the calm, far-carrying silence of the early night there came the sound of a woman singing, and this was the manner of her song:
Na-a-fer a-lo-o-one, na-a-fer a-lone. He promise na-fer to leafe me, Na-fer to leafe me a-lone!
ONLY ONE JACOB
Joan came riding over the next morning from Reid's camp, not having heard of Mackenzie's shift to oblige Dad Frazer. She was bareheaded, the sun in her warm hair, hat hanging on her saddle-horn.
"Dad might have come by and told me," she said, flinging to the ground as lightly as a swallow. "It would have saved us half an hour."
"We'll have to work harder to make it up," Mackenzie told her, thinking how much more a woman she was growing every day.
Joan was distrait again that day, her eyes fixed often in dreamy speculation as her teacher explained something that she found hard, against her wonted aptness, to understand. When the rather disjointed lesson came to an end Joan sighed, strapping her books in a way that seemed to tell that she was weary of them.
"Do you still think you'll stick to the sheep business, John?" she asked, not lifting her eyes to his face, all out of her frank and earnest way of questioning.
"I'm only on probation, you know, Joan; something might happen between now and this time next year to change things all around. There's a chance, anyhow, that I may not make good."
"No, nothing will ever happen to change it," said Joan, shaking her head sadly. "Nothing that ought to happen ever happens here. I don't know whether I can stand it to carry out my contract with dad or not. Three years between me and what I'm longing for!"
"It's not very long when one's young, Joan. Well, I don't know of any short cuts to either fame or fortune, or I'd have taken them myself."
"Yes, but you're free to pick up and go whenever you want to. A man don't have to have money to strike out and see the world—I don't see why a woman should. I could work my way as well as anybody."
"They're harder masters out there than the range is to you here, Joan. And there's the insolence of mastery, and the obloquy of poverty and situation that I hope you'll never feel. Wait a little while longer with the probationers among the sheep."
"Earl never will stay it out," she said, lifting her eyes for a moment to his. "He's sick of it now—he'd throw everything over if he had the money to get away."
"He'd be a very foolish young man, then. But it's like breaking off smoking, I guess, to quit the things you've grown up with on short notice like he had."
"Maybe in about a year more my interest will amount to enough to let me out," said Joan, pursuing her thought of winning to freedom in the way she had elected. She seemed innocent of any knowledge of the arrangement whereby Earl Reid was working for his reward. Mackenzie wondered if it could be so.
"If dad'll buy me out then," she said, speculatively, doubtfully, carrying on her thought in a disjointed way. "It would be like him to turn me down, though, if I want to quit before my time's up. And he wouldn't let me divide the sheep and sell my share to anybody else."
No, Joan could not yet know of Tim's arrangement with Earl Reid's father. It would be like Tim, indeed, to bargain her off without considering her in the matter at all. To a man like Tim his sons and daughters were as much his chattels as his sheep, kind as he was in his way. The apprenticeship of Joan to the range was proof of that. Somewhere out in that gray loneliness two younger daughters were running sheep, with little brothers as protectors and companions, beginning their adventures and lessons in the only school they were ever likely to know.
Tim made a great virtue of the fact that he had taught all of them to read and write. That much would serve most of them satisfactorily for a few years, but Mackenzie grinned his dry grin to himself when he thought of the noise there would be one day in Tim Sullivan's cote when the young pigeons shook out their wings to fly away. It was in the breed to do that; it looked out of the eyes of every one.
"I sent and got a Bible from the mail-order house," said Joan, looking up with lively eyes.
"Has it come already?"
"Charley got it yesterday. I found that story about Jacob and Rachel and the weak-eyed girl. It's awful short."
"But it tells a good deal, Joan."
Joan seemed thinking over how much the short story really told, her eyes far away on the elusive, ever-receding blue curtain that was down between her and the world.
"Yes, it tells a lot," she sighed. "But Jake must not have been very bright. Well, he was a cowman, anyhow; he wasn't running sheep."
"I think he went into the sheep business afterwards," Mackenzie said, diverted by her original comment on the old tale.
"Yes, when his girls got big enough to do the work!" The resentment of her hard years was in Joan's voice, the hardness of unforgiving regret for all that had been taken from her life.
Mackenzie felt a sweep of depression engulf him like a leaping wave. Joan was in the humor to profit by any arrangement that would break her bondage to sheep; Tim Sullivan had been bringing her up, unconsciously, but none the less effectively, to fit into this scheme for marrying her to his old friend's rakish son. When the day came for Joan to know of the arrangement, she would leap toward it as toward an open door.
Still, it should not concern him. Once he had believed there was a budding blossom on his hitherto dry branch of romance; if he had been so ungenerous as to take advantage of Joan's loneliness and urge the promise to florescence, they might have been riding down out of the sheeplands together that day.
It would have been a venture, too, he admitted. For contact with the world of men must prove a woman, even as the hardships of the range must prove a man. Perhaps the unlimited variety displayed before her eyes would have made Joan dissatisfied with her plain choice.
At that moment it came to him that perhaps Joan was to be tested and proved here, even as he was being tested in Tim Sullivan's balance for his fitness to become a master over sheep. Here were two fair samples of men out of the world's assorted stock—himself and Reid. One of them, deliberate, calm, assured of his way, but with little in his hand; the other a grig that could reel and spin in the night-lights, and flutter to a merry tune.
With Mackenzie the rewards of life would come to her slowly, but with a sweet savor of full understanding and appreciation as they were won. Many of them most desired might never be attained; many more might be touched and withdrawn in the mockery that fate practices so heartlessly upon men. Reid could convey her at once over the rough summits which men and women wear their hearts threadbare to attain. With Reid the journey would begin where, with the best hoping, it must in his own company almost end.
"It was unlucky for Earl that he killed Matt Hall," said Joan, taking up another thread of thought in her discursive, unfixed humor of that day.
"It's unfortunate for any man to have to kill another, I guess. But it has to be done sometimes."
"Matt deserved it, all right—he ought have been killed for his mean face long ago—but it's turned Earl's head, haven't you noticed? He thinks he's got one foot on each side of this range, herdin' everybody between his legs."
"He'll get over it in a little while."
"He's not got brains enough to hold him down when the high winds begin to blow. If he's a fair sample of what they've got in Omaha, I'll cross it off my map when I begin to travel."
"Dad says he's got the lonesomeness."
"More of the cussedness."
Her words warmed Mackenzie like a precious cordial. At every one of them in derogation of Reid his heart jumped, seeming to move him by its tremendous vibration a little nearer to her. He felt that it was traitorous exultation at the expense of one who had befriended him to a limit beyond which it is hard for a man to go, but he could not drown the exhilaration of a reborn hope in even the deepest waters of his gratitude.
Somebody ought to tell Joan what they had designed for her in company with Earl Reid; somebody ought to tell her, but it was not his place. It was strange that she had read the young man's weakness so readily. Mackenzie had noted more than once before in his life that those who live nearest to nature are the most apt in reading all her works.
"He'll never stay here through a winter," Joan predicted, with certainty that admitted no argument. "Give him a touch of twenty-two below, and a snow on a high wind, and send him out to bed down the sheep where it'll blow over them! I can see him right now. You'll do it, all right, and I'll have to, like I have done many a time. But we're not like Earl. Earl's got summer blood."
Mackenzie took her hand, feeling it tremble a little, seeing her face grow pale. The sun was red on the hill, the sheep were throwing long shadows down the slope as they grazed lazily, some of them standing on knees to crop the lush bunch grass.
"Yes, Joan, you and I are of different blood," he said. "We are of the blood of the lonesome places, and we'll turn back to them always from our wandering and seeking contentment among the press of men. He can't have you—Earl Reid can't have you—ever in this world!"
So it was out, and from his own mouth, and all his reserve was nothing, and his silent pledging but as an idle word. Joan was looking at him with wide and serious eyes.
"Earl Reid," he nodded. "I'd be a coward to give you up to him."
Joan was not trembling now. She put her free hand over Mackenzie's where it gripped her fingers so hard that Earl Reid might have been on the opposite side of her, trying to rive her away from him by force; she looked up into his eyes and smiled. And there were flecks of golden brown in Joan's eyes, like flakes of metal from her rich hair. They seemed to increase, and to sparkle like jewels struck through placid water by strong sunbeams as she looked up into his face.
"I thought dad had made some kind of a deal with him," she said, nodding in her wise way, a truant strand of hair on her calm forehead. "They didn't tell me anything, but I knew from the way dad looked at me out of the corners of his eyes that he had a trade of some kind on. Tell me about it, John."
There was no explanation left to Mackenzie but the degrading truth, and he gave it to her as Tim Sullivan had given it to him.
"They had their nerve!" said Joan, flushed with resentment.
"It's all off, as far as it affects you and me," Mackenzie said, fetching his brows together in a frown of denial. "Reid can't have you, not even if he comes into two million when the old man dies."
"No," said Joan softly, her hand stroking his, her eyes downcast, the glow of the new-old dawn upon her cheek; "there's only room for one Jacob on this range."
"I thought I owed it to Reid, as a matter of honor between men, to step aside and let him have you, according to the plan. But that was a mistake. A man can't pay his debts by robbing his heart that way."
"I saw something was holding you back, John," said the wise Joan.
Mackenzie started as if she had thrust him with a needle, felt his telltale blood flare red in his face, but grinned a little as he turned to her, meeting her eye to eye.
"So, you saw through me, did you, Joan?"
"When you called me Rachel that day."
"I nearly told you that time," he sighed.
"You might have, John," said she, a bit accusingly; "you didn't owe him anything then—that was before he came."
"I respected you too much to take advantage of your coming to me that way for your lessons day by day, Joan. I had to fight to keep it back."
"I tried to pull it out of you," Joan said, as serious as a penitent, although there was a smile breaking on her lips as she turned her face away.
"I'd never want to do anything, or say anything, that would lower your respect for me one little degree, Joan," he said, still clinging to her hand as though he feared he had not quite won her, and must hold her fast by his side for the final word.
"I know you wouldn't, John," said she, her voice shaking a little, and low beneath her breath.
"I wouldn't want to—to—go as far as Jacob went that first time he saw Rachel," said he in desperation, his grip tightening on her fingers, sweat bursting on his brow. "I wouldn't want to—I'd want to, all right, but I wouldn't even—even——"
Joan looked up at him with calm, placid eyes, with pale cheeks, with yearning lips, a flutter in her heart that made her weak. She nodded, anxious to help him to his climax, but not bold, not bolder than himself, indeed, and he was shaking like a sick man in the sun.
"Unless I could make it holy, unless you could understand it so, I wouldn't even—I wouldn't so much as——" He took her face between his hands, and bent over her, and a glad little sob trembled between Joan's lips as she rested her hands on his shoulders for the benediction of his kiss.
Joan did not stay to help him bring in the sheep that day, for there was nothing left for her to wonder over, or stand wistfully by her saddle waiting to receive. Neither was there any sound of weeping as she rode up the hill, for the male custom of expressing joy in that way had gone out of fashion on the sheep ranges of this world long before John Mackenzie's day.
Nothing that he could owe a man could equal what he had gained that hour, Mackenzie thought, standing there with heart as light as the down of cottonwood. With his great debt paid to Earl Reid, even to the measure of his own life, he would still leave the world a rich man. He had come into the fresh pastures of romance at last.
Joan waved him good-bye from the hilltop and went on, the understanding of his fortune growing on him as he recalled her eyes in that moment when she closed them to his salute upon her lips. She gave up that first kiss that she ever had yielded to any man as though he had reached down and plucked it out of her heart.
Let them go on planning for years of labor, let them go on scheming for inheritances, and piece their broken arrangements together as they might when they found he had swept Joan out of their squalid calculations as a rider stoops and lifts a kerchief from the ground. There would be bitterness and protestations, and rifts in his own bright hopes, as well.
But if Tim Sullivan would not give her up to him with the good grace of a man, Mackenzie said, smiling and smiling like a daft musician, he would take her from both of them and ride away with her into the valleys of the world which she was so hungry in her young heart to behold.
He rounded his sheep to their hillside, and made his fire, a song in his heart, but his lips sealed, for he was a silent man. And at dusk there came riding into his camp a man, whose coat was at his cantle, who was belted with pistols, who roved his eye with cautious look as he halted and gave the shepherd good evening. Mackenzie invited him down to the hospitality of the camp, which the stranger accepted with hearty grace.
"I was lookin' for a young feller by the name of Reid; you're not the man," the stranger said with finality, after one more shrewd look into Mackenzie's face.
"My name's Mackenzie—Reid's running a band of sheep for the same outfit about five miles east of here."
The stranger said nothing more, being busy at that moment unsaddling his horse, which he hobbled and turned to graze. He came over to the fire where Mackenzie was baking biscuits in a tilted pan, and sat down, dusty from his day's ride.
"I'm the sheriff of this county," he announced, not going into the detail of his name. Mackenzie nodded his acknowledgment, the sheriff keeping his hungry eye on the pan. "I took a cut across here from servin' some subpoenas in a murder case on some fellers up on Farewell Creek," he explained, "to see how that feller Reid's behavin'."
"I haven't heard any complaint," Mackenzie told him, wondering why this official interest. The sheriff seemed satisfied with what he heard, and made no further inquiry or explanation until after he had eaten his supper. As he smoked a cracked cigar which he took from the pocket of his ornate vest, he talked.
"I didn't know anything about that boy when Sullivan put him in here on the range," he said, "but the other day I got a letter from the sheriff in Omaha askin' me to keep my eye on him. The news of Reid's killin' Matt Hall got over to Omaha. You know Reid, he's under sentence of three years in the pen."
"I didn't know."
"Yeah. Daddy got him paroled to Sullivan's sheep ranch to serve it. If he breaks over here he goes to the pen. That's the way he stands."
"In that case, he'll more than likely stay it out."
"He will if he's wise. He's been a kind of a streak of wildness, the sheriff in Omaha said. Sent me his full history, three pages. Married somebody a year or so ago, but the old man got him out of that by buyin' off the girl. Then he started out forgin', and pushed it so hard the old man refused to make good any more. But he didn't want to see the kid go to the pen, and he's here. I got to keep my eye on him to see he don't break over."
The sheriff stretched out when he had finished his cigar and went to sleep in a blanket provided by his host. He was up with dawn, ready to resume his journey. Mackenzie pressed him to stay for breakfast, but he said he wanted to make a start before the sun and reach Sullivan's ranch-house.
"Does Sullivan know how things stand with Reid?" Mackenzie inquired.
"I reckon he must. If he don't he soon will. Kind of watch that feller, will you, and slip me word if he shows any signs of streakin' out of the country."
"No, I've got my eye full looking after two thousand sheep. That's up to Sullivan, he's responsible for Reid."
The sheriff turned a sharp look of suspicion on Mackenzie, but said nothing. He led his horse down to the little stream for water, and came leading it back, a cast of disfavor in his face.
"You're a bad bunch up in here," he said, "you and Carlson and Hall. If there's any more killin' and fightin' up this way I'll come in and clean you all out. Where did you say that feller was at?"
Mackenzie told him again, and he rode off to take a look at Reid, and put what caution into his ear he had a mind to give. Mackenzie saw him blend into the gloom of early morning with a feeling of self-felicitation on his act of yesterday. He was inspired yesterday when he took Joan under his protection and laid claim to her in his own right.
REID BEGINS HIS PLAY
Dad Frazer came back after five days, diminished in facial outline on account of having submitted his stubble beard to the barber at Four Corners. In reverse of all speculation on Mackenzie's part, this operation did not improve the old man's appearance. Dad's face was one of the kind that are built to carry a beard; without it his weaknesses were too apparent to the appraising eye.
Dad made glowing report of his success with the widow at Four Corners. Preliminaries were smoothed; he had left the widow wearing his ring.
"We'll jump the broomstick in about a month from now," Dad said, full of satisfaction for his business stroke. "I aim to settle down and quit my roamin', John."
"And your marrying, too, I hope, you old rascal!"
"Yes, this one will be my last, I reckon. I don't mind, though; I've had doin's enough with women in my day."
"Is she a good looker, Dad?"
"Well, I've seen purtier ones and I've seen uglier ones, John. No, she ain't what you might call stylish, I guess, but she's all right for me. She's a little off in one leg, but not enough to hurt."
"That's a slight blemish in a lady with money in the bank, Dad."
"I look at it that way, on the sensible side. Good looks is all right in a woman, but that ain't all a man needs to make him easy in his mind. Well, she did lose the sight of her left eye when she was a girl, but she can see a dollar with the other one further than I can see a wagon wheel."
"No gentleman would stop at the small trifle of an eye. What else, Dad?"
"Nothing else, only she's carryin' a little more meat right now than a woman likes to pack around in hot weather. I don't mind that; you know, I like mine fat; you can't get 'em too fat for me."
"I've heard you say so. How much does she weigh?"
"Well, I guess close to three hundred, John. If she was taller, it wouldn't show so much on her—she can walk under my arm. But it's surprisin' how that woman can git around after them sheep!"
Dad added this hopefully, as if bound to append some redeeming trait to all her physical defects.
"How many does she own?"
"About four thousand. Not much of a band, but a lot more than I ever could lay claim to. She's got a twelve-thousand acre ranch, owns every foot of it, more than half of it under fence. What do you think of that? Under fence! Runs them sheep right inside of that bull-wire fence, John, where no wolf can't git at 'em. There ain't no bears down in that part of the country. Safe? Safer'n money in the bank, and no expense of hirin' a man to run 'em."
"It looks like you've landed on a feather bed, Dad."
"Ain't I? What does a man care about a little hobble, or one eye, or a little chunk of fat, when he can step into a layout like that?"
"Why didn't you lead her up to the hitching-rack while you were there? Somebody else is likely to pick your plum while your back's turned."
"No, I don't reckon. She's been on the tree quite a spell; she ain't the kind you young fellers want, and the old ones is most generally married off or in the soldiers' home. Well, she's got a little cross of Indian and Mexican in her, anyway; that kind of keeps 'em away, you know."
It was no trouble to frame a mental picture of Dad's inamorata. Black, squat, squint; a forehead a finger deep, a voice that would carry a mile. Mackenzie had seen that cross of Mexican and Indian blood, with a dash of debased white. They were not the kind that attracted men outside their own mixed breed, but he hadn't a doubt that this one was plenty good enough, and handsome enough, for Dad.
Mackenzie left the old man with this new happiness in his heart, through which a procession of various-hued women had worn a path during the forty years of his taking in marriage one month and taking leave the next. Dad wasn't nervous over his prospects, but calm and calculative, as became his age. Mackenzie went smiling now and then as he thought of the team the black nondescript and the old fellow would make.
He found Reid sitting on a hilltop with his face in his hands, surly and out of sorts, his revolver and belt on the ground beside him as if he had grown weary of their weight. He gave a short return to Mackenzie's unaffected greeting and interested inquiry into the conduct of the sheep and the dogs during his absence.
Reid's eyes were shot with inflamed veins, as if he had been sitting all night beside a smoky fire. When Mackenzie sat near him the wind bore the pollution of whisky from his breath. Reid made a show of being at his ease, although the veins in his temples were swollen in the stress of what must have been a splitting headache. He rolled a cigarette with nonchalance almost challenging, and smoked in silence, the corners of his wide, salamander mouth drawn down in a peculiar scoffing.
"I suppose that guy told you the whole story," he said at last, lifting his eyes briefly to Mackenzie's face.
"The sheriff, you mean?"
"Who else?" impatiently.
"I don't know whether he told me all or not, but he told me plenty."
"And you've passed it on to Joan by now!"
Reid faced around, a flush over his thin cheeks, a scowl in his eyes. He took up his belt; Mackenzie marked how his hands trembled as he buckled it on.
"Well, you keep out of it, you damned pedagogue!" Reid said, the words bursting from him in vehement passion. "This is my game; I'll play it without any more of your interference. You've gone far enough with her—you've gone too far! Drop it; let her alone."
Mackenzie got up. Reid stood facing him, his color gone now, his face gray. Mackenzie held him a moment with stern, accusing eyes. Then:
"Have you been over there spying on me?"
Reid passed over the question, leaving Mackenzie to form his own conclusions. His face flushed a little at the sting of contempt that Mackenzie put into his words. He fumbled for a match to light his stub of cigarette before he spoke:
"I played into your hands when I let you go over there, and you knew I'd play into them when you proposed it. But that won't happen twice."
"I'll not allow any man to put a deliberately false construction on my motives, Reid," Mackenzie told him, hotly. "I didn't propose going over to let Dad off, and you know it. I wanted you to go."
"You knew I wouldn't," Reid returned, with surly word.
"If you've been leaving the sheep to go over there and lie on your belly like a snake behind a bush to spy on Joan and me, and I guess you've been doing it, all right—you're welcome to all you've found out. There aren't any secrets between Joan and me to keep from anybody's eyes or ears."
Reid jerked his thin mouth in expression of derision.
"She's green, she's as soft as cheese. Any man could kiss her—I could have done it fifteen minutes after I saw her the first time."
If Reid hoped to provoke a quarrel leading up to an excuse for making use of the gun for which his hand seemed to itch, he fell short of his calculations. Mackenzie only laughed, lightly, happily, in the way of a man who knew the world was his.
"You're a poor loser, Earl," he said.
"I'm not the loser yet—I'm only takin' up my hand to play. There won't be room on this range for you and me, Mackenzie, unless you step back in your schoolteacher's place, and lie down like a little lamb."
"It's a pretty big range," Mackenzie said, as if he considered it seriously; "I guess you can shift whenever the notion takes you. You might take a little vacation of about three years back in a certain state concern in Nebraska."
"Let that drop—keep your hands off of that! You don't know anything about that little matter; that damned sheriff don't know anything about it. If Sullivan's satisfied to have me here and give me his girl, that's enough for you."
"You don't want Joan," said Mackenzie, speaking slowly, "you only want what's conditioned on taking her. So you'd just as well make a revision in your plans right now, Reid. You and Sullivan can get together on it and do what you please, but Joan must be left out of your calculations. I realize that I owe you a good deal, but I'm not going to turn Joan over to you to square the debt. You can have my money any day you want it—you can have my life if you ever have to draw on me that far—but you can't have Joan."
Mackenzie walked away from Reid at the conclusion of this speech, which was of unprecedented length for him, and of such earnestness that Reid was not likely to forget it soon, no matter for its length. The dogs left Reid to follow him.
That Reid had been fraternizing with Swan Carlson, Mackenzie felt certain, drinking the night out with him in his camp. Carlson had a notoriety for his addiction to drink, along with his other unsavory traits. With Reid going off in two different directions from him, Mackenzie saw trouble ahead between them growing fast. More than likely one of them would have to leave the range to avoid a clash at no distant day, for Reid was in an ugly mood. Loneliness, liquor, discontent, native meanness, and a desire to add to the fame in the sheep country that the killing of Matt Hall had brought him, would whirl the weak fellow to his destruction at no distant day.
Yet Reid had stood by him like a man in that fight with Matt Hall, when he could have sought safety in withdrawal and left him to his unhappy end. There was something coming to him on that account which a man could not repudiate or ignore. Whatever might rise between them, Mackenzie would owe his life to Reid. Given the opportunity, he stood ready and anxious to square the debt by a like service, and between men a thing like that could not be paid in any other way.
Reid remained a while sitting on the hilltop where Mackenzie had found him, face in his hands, as before. After a time he stretched out and went to sleep, the ardent sun of noonday frying the lees of Swan Carlson's whisky out of him. Toward three o'clock he roused, got his horse, saddled it, and rode away.
Mackenzie believed he was going to hunt more whisky, and went to the rise of a ridge to see what course he took. But instead of striking for Carlson's, Reid laid a course for Sullivan's ranch-house. Going to Tim with a complaint against him, Mackenzie judged, contempt for his smallness rising in him. Let him go.
Tim Sullivan might give him half his sheep if he liked him well enough, but he could not give him Joan.
Swan Carlson or his woman was running a band of sheep very close to the border of Tim Sullivan's lease. All afternoon Mackenzie had heard the plaint of lambs; they had lifted their wavering chorus all during Joan's lesson, giving her great concern that Carlson designed attempting a trespass on her father's land.
Joan had come shortly after Reid's unexplained departure, and had gone back to her flock again uninformed of Reid's criminal career. Mackenzie felt that he did not need the record of his rival to hold Joan out of his hands. The world had changed around for him amazingly in the past few days. Where the sheeplands had promised little for him but a hard apprenticeship and doubtful rewards a little while ago, they now showered him with unexpected blessings.
He ruminated pleasantly on this sudden coming round the corner into the fields of romance as he went to the top of the hill at sunset to see what Swan Carlson was about. Over in the next valley there spread a handful of sheep, which the shepherd was ranging back to camp. Mackenzie could not make sure at that distance whether the keeper was woman or man.
Reid had not returned when Mackenzie plodded into camp at dusk. His absence was more welcome, in truth, than his company; Mackenzie hoped he would sulk a long time and stay away until he got his course in the sheep country plainly before his eyes. If he stayed his three years there it would be on account of sheep, and whatever he might win in his father's good graces by his fidelity. Joan was not to figure thenceforward in any of his schemes.
Three years on the sheep range with no prospect of Joan! That was what Reid had ahead of him now.
"I think I'd take mine in the pen," Mackenzie said, leaning back to comfort with his pipe. Night came down; the dogs lay at his feet, noses on forepaws. Below him the sheep were still. So, for a long time, submerged in dreams.
One of the dogs lifted its head, its bristles rising, a low growl in its throat. The other rose cautiously, walking away crouching, with high-lifted feet. Mackenzie listened, catching no noise to account for their alarm. A little while, and the sound of Hertha Carlson's singing rose from the hill behind him, her song the same, the doleful quality of its air unmodified.
Na-a-fer a-lo-o-one, na-a-fer a-lone, He promise na-fer to leafe me, Na-fer to leafe me a-lone!
"Strange how she runs on that," Mackenzie muttered, listening for her to repeat, as he had heard her the night her singing guided him to her melancholy door. A little nearer now the song sounded, the notes broken as if the singer walked, stumbling at times, so much sadness in it, so much longing, such unutterable hopelessness as to wring the listener's heart.
Swan was beating her again, neglecting her, subjecting her to the cruelties of his savage mind; there was no need for the woman to come nearer to tell him that. Only grief for which there was no comfort, despair in which there was no hope, could tune a human note to that eloquent expression of pain. Perhaps she was wandering in the night now for the solace of weariness, pouring out the three lines of her song in what seemed the bitterness of accusation for a promise unfulfilled.
The dogs came back to Mackenzie's side, where they sat with ears lifted, but with no expression of hostility or alarm in their bearing now. They were only curious, as their master was curious, waiting to see if the wandering singer would come on into camp.
There was no glow of lantern to guide her, and no moon, but she came straight for where Mackenzie sat. A little way off she stopped.
"Hello!" she hailed, as if uncertain of her welcome.
Mackenzie requested her to come on, lighting the lantern which he had ready to hand. Mrs. Carlson hesitated, drawing back a little when she saw his face.
"I thought it was Earl," she said.
"Earl's not here tonight. Sit down and rest yourself, Mrs. Carlson. You don't remember me?"
"I remember. You are the man who cut my chain."
"I thought you'd forgotten me."
"No, I do not forget so soon. A long time I wanted to kill you for the blow you gave Swan that night."
"As long as Swan was good to you," said he, "of course you would. How do you feel about it now?"
"I only cry now because he did not die. He was different a little while after he got well, but again he forgets. He beats me; he leaves me alone with the sheep."
"I knew he was beating you again," Mackenzie nodded, confirming his speculation of a little while before.
"Sheep!" said she. "Swan thinks only of sheep; he is worse since he bought Hall's flock. It is more than I can endure!"
Mrs. Carlson was worried and worn, fast losing all she had gained in flesh and color during Swan's period of kindness when she had thrown herself into his wild ways and ridden the range like a fighting woman at his side. Much of her comeliness remained in her sad face and great, luminous, appealing eyes, for it was the comeliness of melancholy which sorrow and hard usage refined. She would carry her grace with her, and the pale shred of her youthful beauty, down to the last hard day. But it was something that Swan was insensible to; it could not soften his hand toward her, nor bend his wild thoughts to gentleness. Now he had denied her again the little share he had granted her in his wild life, and must break the thing he had made, going his morose way alone.
"I hadn't heard he'd bought Hall's sheep," Mackenzie said. "Is he going to run them on this range?"
"No, he says I shall go there, where the wolves are many and bold, even by daylight, to watch over them. There I would be more alone than here. I cannot go, I cannot go! Let him kill me, but I will not go!"
"He's got a right to hire a man to run them; he can afford it."
"His money grows like thistles. Where Swan touches the earth with the seed of it, money springs. Money is a disease that he spreads when he walks, like the scales that fall from a leper. Money! I pray God night and day that a plague will sweep away his flocks, that a thief will find his hiding place, that a fire will burn the bank that locks in his gold, and make him poor. Poor, he would be kind. A man's proud heart bends down when he is poor."
"God help you!" said Mackenzie, pitying her from the well of his tender heart.
"God is deaf; he cannot hear!" she said, bitter, hopeless, yet rebellious against the silence of heaven and earth that she could not penetrate with her lamentations and bring relief.
"No, you shouldn't let yourself believe any such thing," he chided, yet with a gentleness that was almost an encouragement.
"This land is a vacuum, out of which sound cannot reach him, then," she sighed, bending her sad head upon her hands. "I have cried out to him in a sorrow that would move a stone on the mountain-side, but God has not heard. Yes, it must be that this land is a vacuum, such as I read of when I was a girl in school. Maybe—" looking up with eager hopefulness—"if I go out of it a little way, just on the edge of it and pray, God will be able to hear my voice?"
"Here, as well as anywhere," he said, moved by her strange fancy, by the hunger of her voice and face.
"Then it is because there is a curse on me—the curse of Swan's money, of his evil ways!" She sprang up, stretching her long arms wildly. "I will pray no more, no more!" she cried. "I will curse God, I will curse him as Job cursed him, and fling myself from the rocks and die!"
Mackenzie was on his feet beside her, his hand on her shoulder as if he would stay her mad intention.
"No, no!" he said, shocked by the boldness of her declaration. "Your troubles are hard enough to bear—don't thicken them with talk like this."
She looked at him blankly, as if she did not comprehend, as though her reason had spent itself in this rebellious outbreak against the unseen forces of her sad destiny.
"Where is your woman?" she asked.
"I haven't any woman."
"I thought she was your woman, but if she is not, Swan can have her. Swan can have her, then; I do not care now any more. Swan wants her, he speaks of her in the night. Maybe when he takes her he will set me free."
Mrs. Carlson sat again near the lantern, curling her legs beneath her with the facility of a dog, due to long usage of them in that manner, Mackenzie believed, when chained to the wall in her lonely house among the trees. Mackenzie stood a little while watching her as she sat, chin in her hands, pensive and sad. Presently he sat near her.
"Where is Swan tonight?" he asked.
"Drinking whisky beside the wagon with Hector Hall. They will not fight. No."
"No," he echoed, abstractedly, making a mental picture of Carlson and Hall beside the sheep-wagon, the light of a lantern on their faces, cards in their fists, a jug of whisky in the middle ground within reach from either hand. It was such diversion as Swan Carlson would enjoy, the night around him as black as the shadows of his own dead soul.
"Earl did not come to me this night," she said, complaining in sad note. "He promised he would come."
"Has he been going over there to see you?" Mackenzie asked, resentful of any advantage Reid might be seeking over this half-mad creature.
"He makes love to me when Swan is away," she said, nodding slowly, looking up with serious eyes. "But it is only false love; there is a lie in his eyes."
"You're right about that," Mackenzie said, letting go a sigh of relief.
"He tries to flatter me to tell him where Swan hides the money he brought from the bank," she said, slowly, wearily, "but him I do not trust. When I ask him to do what must first be done to make me free, he will not speak, but goes away, pale, pale, like a frightened girl."
"You'd better tell him to stay away," Mackenzie counseled, his voice stern and hard.
"But you would not do that," she continued, heedless of his admonition. She leaned toward him, her great eyes shining in the light, her face eager in its sorrowful comeliness; she put out her hand and touched his arm.
"You are a brave man, you would not turn white and go away into the night like a wolf to hear me speak of that. Hush! hush! No, no—there is no one to hear."
She looked round with fearful eyes, crouching closer to the ground, her breath drawn in long labor, her hand tightening on his arm. Mackenzie felt a shudder sweep coldly over him, moved by the tragedy her attitude suggested.
"Hush!" she whispered, hand to her mouth. And again, leaning and peering: "Hush!" She raised her face to him, a great eagerness in her burning eyes. "Kill him, kill Swan Carlson, kind young man, and set me free again! You have no woman? I will be your woman. Kill him, and take me away!"
"You don't have to kill Swan to get away from him," he told her, the tragedy dying out of the moment, leaving only pity in its place. "You can go on tonight—you never need to go back."