"'You can only wait, I suppose,' Higgins said.
"'Well, I've nothing else to do,' Haig replied, with a laugh." Smythe paused.
"That's something to think about," he said musingly. "Who is this 'he'? And why is Haig waiting for him? Well, that was all I heard about that. Higgins next asked Haig if he wouldn't please change his mind about riding down to see them.
"'No,' Haig answered. 'I never go anywhere. I'm not very sociable, no longer a gregarious creature. Ask my neighbors about that!'
"'Oh, hang your neighbors! This is different. We're not living here, and we can't pester you. But you see I got Hail Columbia from my wife for not bringing you to see her in Denver, and she's dead set on getting acquainted with you here. She says you're the most unselfish man in the world. I'd be jealous if—'
"'Oh, come now!' protested Haig, laughing.
"'It's true. So you'll drop this hermit business for once, won't you? It will give my wife much pleasure.'
"There was a little silence.
"'Well, have your own way,' said Haig at last 'I suppose a man's got to humor his lawyer, if he doesn't want to lose a plain case some day. But I warn you. I'm not very amusing, that is, I trust not.'
"'Good!' cried Higgins. 'We'll not keep you long. The day after to-morrow, shall we say? Right! Now good-by! And don't let Huntington pot you—before you've seen Mrs. Higgins.'
"They both laughed at that. Higgins drove off down the valley in his road wagon, and Haig galloped toward home. And then I found a trout had run away with my hook. Big fellow too, and clever as Satan. Scuttled away under a rock and worked loose before I could get after him. But it was a good day's fishing just the same, don't you think?"
She did not reply at once; and Smythe discreetly busied himself tossing stones at an impertinent chipmunk that popped in and out among the rocks and fallen limbs.
"Have you seen this Mrs. Higgins?" asked Marion suddenly.
"No," Smythe answered gravely, though his eyes twinkled wickedly. "But Higgins is sixty at least, and I fancy his wife's too old to be—" A warning look checked him. "But really, Miss Gaylord, you ought not to jump down my throat after I've brought you such an interesting knot for your pretty hands to untie."
She laughed at his lugubrious countenance, then stood up, and reached out a hand to him, letting him hold it for just a breath of time.
"No, you're a good friend. I know it."
"I'm not very deep," he said, with a touch of dejection. "Nobody ever takes me very seriously. But I hope you'll trust me!"
"Indeed I will! But come! We must go back."
So they went slipping and sliding down the hill, digging their heels into the ground, clinging to rocks and trees to check their swift descent, laughing at their wild plunges and gyrations. At the house, when they had rested a while on the veranda, Marion dismissed Smythe as quickly as she could without abruptness; and when he had gone she hastened to her room, and locked the door, and flung herself down on the bed, with her hands clasped behind her head, to stare up at the ceiling in a whirl of thoughts. There was a mystery! There was a motive behind Haig's conduct! "The most unselfish man in the world" And she repeated the words over and over again, and gathered them to her heart.
Huntington soon had his revenge on Marion, though, in his blindness, he never knew it. She and Claire, after an unusually protracted Small Talk the night before, arose late one morning to find the house topsy-turvy from masculine activity. On the veranda they discovered Seth cleaning rifles, surrounded by cartridge boxes, hunting knives, canvas bags and wrappings, rubber coats, leather straps, fishing tackle and what not.
"In the name of goodness, Seth Huntington! What are you doing?" shrilled Claire.
"Guess!" replied Huntington, with a rather heavy attempt at tantalizing.
"Oh, I know! Camping. But you don't mean to-day?"
"But why didn't you ask us?" demanded Claire. "Maybe we don't choose—"
"But you do, though. I promised Marion that as soon as I—"
He stopped, for even his habitually veiled eyes could not miss the look of consternation on Marion's face.
"Why—I thought—" he began uncertainly. "Of course, if you don't want to go—"
The oiled rag dropped from his hand. His descent from elation (he had planned a little surprise) to dejection and chagrin was a tumble that touched Marion's commiseration and disarmed her. She did not want to go camping; she did not want to leave the Park for even a day, an hour; she did not want to miss any opportunity to see Haig. More than ever now was she determined to solve his mystery. So Huntingdon's "surprise" was a greater shock to her than he, simple man, could possibly have foreseen or perceived. But even if she had not been moved by his rather ludicrous disappointment she would not have dared to refuse acquiescence in his programme. She had indeed expressed an ardent—oh, too ardent!—desire to go camping, and any explanation she could think of on the instant would have led her into regions where she could not trust herself.
"Indeed, I want to go!" she cried quickly, though there was a big lump in her throat. "You took me by surprise, that's all."
"I should say so!" said Claire. "Think you're smart, don't you? We might have been all dressed for it if you'd only told us. When do we start, Big Boss?"
Huntington recovered his good spirits quickly, assured that he had succeeded after all.
"I thought we'd ride to Ely's to-day, sleep there to-night, and make Mount Avalanche to-morrow evening."
"Then we must hurry," said Claire. "Come, Marion."
"How long—shall we be gone?" asked Marion, struggling to appear enthusiastic.
"Four or five days, I suppose."
Her heart sank. She could have cried with vexation. But she managed to conceal her real feelings in the bustle of preparation. There were provisions to be packed: cans and jars and bottles; bacon and ham and flour against the possible event of bad luck with the guns and rods; warm clothes and bedding; medicines and bandages. So fully occupied were her hands and brain with these details, and later with her first real experience with the mountain trails, that her heart must perforce keep its peace until some hour of solitude.
Toward five o'clock of the second day they reached their destination,—a grassy shelf a little below timber line on Mount Avalanche. There, in some past age, an avalanche of titanic proportions had carried away part of the mountain itself; and they camped now on the top of the debris, long since concealed by a dense forest growth, as if nature had employed her utmost arts to hide the wound. Marion could not but yield a little to emotions of delight and wonder. On that high platform she stood above a marvelous mountain world, below another mountain world as marvelous. Behind her Avalanche reared sheer and sharp and white against the sky. On either side were snow-clad peaks. At her feet were forests in solid masses of green, now darkening in the twilight. And beyond, far, far beyond, the Park they had left lay bright under the sun's after-glow, with a background of range on range of mountains in their violet haze. On the shelf was forage for the horses; near at hand were moss and balsam for their beds; and at a little distance a rivulet, ice-cold, had shady pools where small trout awaited capture. And the air was like dry wine on the lips, with a tang of resin in the nostrils; and the woods sang a song that even Marion could not resist.
Here they pitched two tents just large enough to cover the beds of balsam boughs and moss and blankets. In the three days they passed in camp Marion learned many things that were to be of incalculable value to her one day, though she never could have guessed that all this too, like the encounter in the Forbidden Pasture, had been ordered in the Beginning, details in the Scheme of Things. She learned surprising secrets of makeshift cookery; she learned the Indian's lesson of a very little fire; she learned the mountaineer's economy of matches and like precious articles. She fished in the small pools that lay hidden away in dark recesses of the forest, practised shooting with her rifle, and on the third day, in the timber below the camp, with Seth at her side, brought down her first deer.
"I told you!" cried Huntington, delighted at the progress of his pupil.
But her heart was not in all this; it was clamoring now to be heard, and would by no means be stilled. Each evening Marion walked apart from the others, to stand at the edge of the lofty platform, and watch her green and violet Elysium swallowed up in night. Each morning she searched for it through her field glasses to assure herself that it had not vanished in the dark. And when the last day of their outing came, the last evening, the last night, she could scarce contain her impatience. To-morrow they would start; and the day after—
She could not sleep that night. Every twig and every needle of her pine mattress seemed to have conspired to torture her. She tossed about until she could no longer endure her bed; and in the middle of the night she crept out of the tent, and sat, wrapped in a blanket, before the smouldering embers of the fire. The hobbled horses grazed not far away; a night bird twitted solitarily in the brush; and from the depths of the forest came the scream of some savage creature out on its kill. Against the star-crowded sky the peaks stood up cold and impassive. What cared they? What did the world care? What did Philip care?
For now she knew that she loved him. Yes, yes, she loved him! In her heart she had known it from the beginning, since that meeting in the Forbidden Pasture, had known it as one knows things without acknowledgment. Her mind had acknowledged only the hundred reasons why she should not, could not love him. He had repelled her; he had not veiled his meaning, had not concealed his antagonism; he had told her plainly, brutally almost, that he would not endure her presence, that she must avoid his side of the Park.
Then she thought of Robert,—Robert, so devoted and so true. What was she doing: throwing away his love that was so unselfishly, so whole-heartedly laid at her feet? Had she been mad to flee from him? Yes, mad! Pride rose to support the fondness and the admiration she had felt for him. And so there ensued a struggle between the two fine spirits that dwelt in her,—the proud little lady of the Fragonard and the Viking with red hair.
The Viking won. Had not her father said to her, in those long talks about her mother, that love is the only thing? And back she came, on swiftest wings of passion, to Philip; and she was glad. She knew now the meaning of her restlessness in the dark days in the unheeding city; she knew whose voice had called, whose arms had held her, though he was unaware. He needed her, though he did not know it. And she had come to him, without understanding. Somewhere she had read a fugitive bit of verse that had meant nothing then, and had been forgotten until now, when it suddenly sang across the years and the spaces like a call to courage:
"The wild wind bloweth The cross of fire. The wild heart knoweth Its own desire."
The wild heart knoweth its own desire! She rose to her feet with a singing and a resurrection of her heart. She scarcely knew that her limbs were stiff and that her body ached with cold. Her spirit was aroused. She could not go and take Philip as her father had taken the one he loved. But there were ways; when had a woman ever failed, in love, of finding them? She set herself to thinking, planning, scheming, while she walked swiftly to and fro before the tents. And presently she stopped her pacing, and looked curiously around her. There had come a subtle alteration in the aspect of the night. A shivering freshness had crept insensibly into the air. Leaves and grass and the very air appeared to be astir, though the silence and the darkness were as before. She looked up eagerly at the sky, and saw that the stars were pale. It was not yet the dawn; it was only the passing of the night. But the dawn was near. The dawn! The dawn!
She did not wish Seth to find her there. He would ask questions, staring at her. She crept stealthily back into her tent, and lay there, shaking with cold, to wait for the noise that Huntington would make as he sought for live embers in the ashes of the fire.
* * * * *
Once out of the mountains and in the foothills, she rode far ahead of Seth and Claire, impatient at the slow progress necessitated by the difficulties of the pack horses. Late in the afternoon she found herself at a fork of the road with which she was familiar. A little way up the less-used of the two branches there was a glade where columbines grew in extraordinary profusion. She had gathered armloads of them there, and seemed scarcely to have touched the edge of that wild garden where nature had been seized with a prodigal impulse. And now, rather to be doing something than to await in irritation for Seth and Claire, she turned her pony's head and rode toward the glade. In five minutes she was fording a little stream, beyond which the road rose slightly to cross the shoulder of a hill, and dipped again to run in a sharp curve along the margin of the glade. She took the rise at a gallop, sped down the other slope, and at the curve of the road reined up her horse with a startled cry. She had come suddenly upon a team hitched at the side of the road,—the sorrels and the trap in which Philip Haig had driven her to Huntington's that terrible evening.
For a moment she was bereft of thought and feeling. At that very instant she had been thinking of him; what instant was she not thinking of him? But the utterly unexpected encounter—for he was there somewhere, in the glade, no doubt—swept away all that courage she had found on Avalanche. She felt suddenly helpless, inert, afraid; and before she could regain her self-possession, call back her high resolve, the bushes at the roadside parted, and Philip stood before her. He bore a great bouquet of columbines, their stems wrapped in damp moss and leaves and tied securely with a string. At sight of her he halted; and that look of annoyance she had seen him wear in the road below his ranch house came again into his pale face. For some seconds they regarded each other in silence.
"True," he said at length, with a smile that tortured her, "this is not my side of the Ridge. I am the trespasser, even though this is public domain. You have as much right here as I—more, since I said the Ridge was the dividing line. So—"
He stepped quickly to her horse's side, pressed the great bunch of pale-blue flowers into her limp but obedient hands, lifted his battered hat, turned on his heel, walked directly to the trap, leaped into the seat, and drove swiftly away. She watched him dully until he was out of sight behind a bend in the road, among the trees; watched the spot where he had disappeared until it became a blur to her aching eyes. Then she looked slowly down at the flowers in her hands. Columbines! Frail, lovely things, the fairest product, she had thought, of nature's laboratory, reflecting the infinite, ineffable blue of God's skies, delicate as the flower that had bloomed with such wonderful, unexpected beauty in her own heart! How she could have treasured them, wept over them, hugged them to her breast, if he had given them to her in another way. Slowly her fingers relaxed. The flowers fell into the dust of the road. She stared down, at them a moment; and then, with a cry, leaped from her horse, picked them up eagerly, clasped them to her breast, buried her face in them, and watered them with her tears.
* * * * *
Seth said he guessed he would ride down to the post-office before supper; yesterday was mail day; might be something. Marion was glad of his departure, and to avoid Claire was not difficult, considering what baths, and changing of linen, and brushing of hair they required after their outing. Refreshed and rested, they had scarcely met before the new-lighted fire at twilight when Seth returned, stamping vigorously into the room.
"You're the lucky one, Marion," he said.
He fumbled in his pockets, and finally produced a letter. She took it, glanced at it, and let it fall into her lap. A great stillness seemed to have come upon the world. She appeared to be looking at Seth and Claire across great distances. She could hear her heart pounding in her bosom, like something that hammered for freedom. Ages seemed to have passed before she was able to rise slowly, to smile, to beg to be excused a moment. In her room she stood quite still, mechanically tore open the envelope, and read:
Dear Marion: You told me not to write, and I have obeyed till now. Don't scold, please! You see I am in Denver. It's business. Honest! A mining deal, just for a flyer. It may mean millions or nothing. I am here for several days, possibly weeks. Won't you please let me run up to see you? Don't say no, Marion. I promise to be good. I have an auto here, and they tell me the roads are O. K. at this season. I'll come away the minute you tell me to. If I can see you only for an hour it will make me very happy.
Yours always, Robert.
She read it twice, while the color slowly returned to her cheeks. Then the letter faded from her sight, and she saw a face that wore a cruel smile, and heard a voice that bade her begone. And suddenly a wave of resentment, of anger, swept over her. To have been scorned, flouted, humiliated by one to whom—And here was a man who wanted her as he wanted nothing else in the world, who would toil for her, die for her, who would treasure every word and smile she should consent to give him, whose one desire was to make her happy. What madness had come over her that she—she the Viking's daughter—Her eyes were drawn, she knew not how, to the columbines that she had carefully, tenderly arranged in a bowl on her dressing table. In a passion she rushed upon them, snatched them up dripping, bore them to the open window, and flung them with all her strength out upon the lawn. A moment she stood looking at them, her hands clutched upon her heaving breast, her whole body quivering with the storm that raged within her. Then she whirled around, flung herself down at her little writing table, and wrote:
Dear Robert: Yes, come. MARION.
Her hand trembled now so that she could scarcely address the envelope, and seal it. But it was done at last. She rose, and paused a moment to collect herself. Her mouth was dry, her forehead was hot under the hand that she pressed upon it. Nervously she poured a glass of water from the crystal pitcher that stood on a little table by the window, and gulped it down. Her eyes, as she did so, fell again upon the bouquet of columbines lying forlorn, their tender faces half buried in the dry grass. A cry rose to her lips, but she forced it back, and with a tightening of her lips, turned and went rapidly out into the room where Seth and Claire awaited her.
"What do you think?" she cried, in a voice that sounded strangely shrill and unmusical in her ears. "It's from Robert—Robert Hillyer—Papa's good friend—and mine. He wants to come up and see me—he's in Denver—on business. He wants to come up—he says—just for a day or two—do you mind—if I ask him?"
"Of course, dear!" cried Claire, with enthusiasm.
"Sure!" seconded Seth. "Tell him he's very welcome."
"I knew you'd say that!" said Marion excitedly. "So—the letter—it's all ready. Can it go out—the stage goes to-morrow, doesn't it?"
"Yes," replied Huntington. "I'll take it down in the morning—before you're up."
She stood a moment, smiling at them. Then her eyes wandered aimlessly around the room. She must do something quick, or she would go to pieces. She saw the piano, and fairly ran to it. Crash! went the chords. Rippling and tumbling on one another came the notes under her nervous fingers. Out of the jumble of unrelated sounds presently emerged a gay and sparkling melody; and then a gayer one; and after that a rollicking song from one of the latest musical comedies. There followed two of the sauciest, most irresponsible tunes that ever made a vaudeville success. She played with abandon, a kind of reckless fury, sitting erect, with her head flung back, an insouciant smile flickering about her lips, her lithe body swaying with the music. Then suddenly, in the midst of a tune, she stopped, arose, faced Seth and Claire with flaming cheeks and eyes unnaturally bright.
"Great, Marion!" cried Seth, slapping his thigh. "Go on, please!"
But Claire had seen what Huntington had not. She turned to him swiftly, with a quick command, as if she had suddenly remembered something.
"I've clean forgot that pie, Seth. Go to the cave and bring me some apples. Quick, now!"
He sensed something a little queer in that order, which would have been very natural and pleasing at any other time, but he did not stop to question. Claire waited until the door had closed behind him, then ran to Marion, with anxiety pictured in her face.
"What is it, Marion?" she exclaimed.
"Oh, Claire, Claire!" cried Marion, breaking. "I'm so—so—unhappy!"
Then she flung herself into Claire's arms, weeping without restraint.
Marion was not alone in her misery; but knowledge of this, had it by any chance come to her, would not have eased her heart, though it might indeed have hardened it a little against more suffering to come.
Toward bedtime of the eighth day after that encounter at the glade of the columbines, Philip Haig sat stiffly silent in his armchair, staring into the fire. His brow was dark with discontent, his cheeks had paled with the slow ebbing of the tide of passion that had swept over him. It had begun to rise, though he was not then aware of it, or barely aware of it, the day Marion had halted him in the road below his ranch house; it had reached its flood as he drove away from her and left the bouquet of columbines in her limp hands.
Who was this girl? And why had she come to torture him? To him she now appeared as the incarnation of his tragedy. In her the Past, from which he had fled to the far corners of the earth, hiding his trail in seas and deserts and in stagnant backwaters of humanity, had tracked him down at last. And all the grief and bitterness and hatred that he had beaten down, or thought he had beaten down, had returned to rend and tear him.
Two beings he had loved, and to them he had given, to each in a different way, all his heart and soul and mind: his father and—that other. She had come to him at his most susceptible age, when, devoted only to art, he knew nothing of the world—a green boy, the wise ones had called him. She had come to him with all the surprise and wonder of a revelation, a coronation, a fulfillment, a golden epiphany. He had attributed to her such spiritual perfections as should have gone with her beauty and her grace; worshipped her for all that she was not and all that he was himself. And she had deceived him, exploited him, plundered him,—and laughed at him when by chance, one tragic, intolerable night, he found her out. And the next morning, as if his cup were not already full, he had received a cablegram, in his attic studio in Paris, telling him that his father had killed himself in a moment of despair over financial difficulties. So he had killed his father with his excessive demands for money to squander on 'Tonite. To be sure, he did not know—had had no hint from home—had never guessed that his father was in trouble. Nevertheless he had killed him—rather, she had killed him. What a fool he had been! Never such another fool since God placed man and woman together in one world. Cursing himself and her, and in her cursing all her sex, he fled—he knew not where. So stunned and dazed he was that he never really came to himself, found himself, until one day he awoke in Hong Kong.
That was the beginning of the new life, if such it might be called. He became a wanderer, an adventurer, seeking always new faces, new places, new experiences, trying always to forget, hoping always for a blessed knock on the head in some mad undertaking, for a thin knife in the back in some wild adventure. But in all his wanderings the one kind of adventure that he refused, the one excitement that he steadfastly shunned, was the one that, because of his very aloofness, and of something that women ever saw in his eyes, was offered to him the most freely, in every land beneath the sun.
Slim Jim entered, bringing whisky and hot water. Haig turned his head to look at him. Jim never changed, whatever his environment; he was always the Orient, the inscrutable East. And now, slipping in so stealthily, he seemed to bring with him an atmosphere, an odor, a call, and Haig, still looking at Jim, but scarcely seeing him, began to murmur lines that intoxicated him:
"I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are, But man can have the sun for friend, and for his guide a star; And there's no end of voyaging when once the voice is heard, For the river calls and the road calls, and—"
He stopped and sat suddenly erect.
"Jim!" he cried. "Do you remember the night we took old Kwang's girl away from the river rats in Tien-Tsin?"
"Vellee well," answered the Chinaman.
His face was expressionless; he concealed the joy that this mood of his master aroused in his thin breast. Jim did not like the Park, and only the recollection of one day when he had stood tied to a capstan on a pirate junk, with a dozen fiends around him trying to make him tell something he did not know, and Haig had suddenly descended upon them like the foreign devil he was,—well, Jim took his gods where he found them, and from that day Haig had never been able to rid himself of this idolater.
"Tien-Tsin! Tien-Tsin!" Haig repeated, lingering covetously on the words. "But that was a fight, eh!"
"No likee!" replied Jim.
"No likee!" cried Haig. "Why, you hypocritical young ruffian, you! That was one of the happiest nights of your life. You're always trying to make people think you're asleep, or timid. I can see, right now, that long knife of yours slip under my arm, and catch the big fellow in the stomach. He just coughed once, and crumpled up at my feet. In the nick of time, too, Jim, and I let the next one have it. The rest of them took to their heels, and you with your long pigsticker after them. No likee! Jim, you're a moon-faced old liar, and a disgrace to your ten thousand and seven ancestors."
Jim's smile was perfectly noncommittal. He was too wily to appear eager. Besides, he did not really like fighting, which made all the more trouble for somebody when he had to fight. But he was heartily sick of this cold and uneventful life in the Park. Better a thousand times the foolish adventures, the unnecessary battles, the restless wanderings of other days!
"That was a night!" said Haig, flinging himself back in his chair to gaze dreamily into the flames, while Jim, like a blue ghost, stole noiselessly away. And there, in the glow of the dying fire, bright and alluring visions successively took shape: A red-and-yellow temple on a hill, to which a thousand steps led up from a lake the color of a blue heron's breast; a junk with sails of purple creeping out of a morning mist as yellow as saffron; an island with a still lagoon in its center, and coconut palms alive with screaming parrots of every gorgeous hue; a sandy beach where jabbering natives dragged the flotsam of a wrecked steamer out of the breakers; a village on a high plateau, where a drum throbbed incessantly, and naked Indian children peered out from behind the huts; a skirmish line in khaki crawling up to the brow of a shell-swept hill; a dog-team yelping under the long lash of a half-breed Aleut, on a frozen river that sparkled in the sun; a sweating jungle where two bright spots glowed balefully in the gloom.
"God!" groaned Haig, as he sat erect at last, and reached for the glass, now cold. He tasted it, and set it back with a wry face.
"Damn Thursby!" he muttered. "Does he think I'm going to stay here forever, like a bear in a pit?"
He woke the next morning in an ugly humor, having slept little, and then only to dream such dreams as fed his discontent. He berated Jim because the biscuits were cold (which was not Jim's fault), and because the coffee was hot (which was according to his orders). Trivial annoyances, most of them of his own making or imagining, multiplied on all sides, fomenting his irritability until, by the time he strode out of the cottage, his temper was at white heat. What might have happened to the patient, devoted men about the stable and corrals is not difficult of conjecture, but they were saved by Sunnysides. Almost the first object that caught Haig's eye was the yellow outlaw gleaming in the morning sunlight.
"Ah!" he exclaimed.
His inner turmoil of these last few days had banished all thought of the stallion of the San Luis. But now, his eyes gleamed as he quickened his steps toward the stable.
Farrish and Pete were at work among the stalls; Bill stood guard over Sunnysides; and the fourth man, Curly, was mending a saddle in the harness-room.
"Farrish!" Haig called out, striding into the stable. "We'll tackle the yellow fellow this morning."
Farrish and Pete turned, and looked at him curiously.
"All right!" answered Farrish; and then added doubtfully: "Now?"
"Yes. At once."
Farrish, in a manner that showed a certain reluctance, put up the currycomb with which he had been grooming the sorrels, and started toward the rear door. But Pete stood still.
"You too, Pete!" said Haig, impatiently.
"I think you better not—to-day," answered the Indian, in his slow way.
"Why?" snapped Haig.
Pete had seen the expression on Haig's face, and did not like it. But he hesitated to utter what was in his mind.
"Why?" repeated Haig.
"I think you better wait," was all that Pete could say.
"Hell!" cried Haig. "Get your lariat! And be quick about it!"
He had read Pete's thought; his ill-humor had evidently shown itself in his face; but the caution only whetted his purpose. Throwing off his coat as he went, he passed through the rear door of the barn, and climbed into the outlaw's corral, followed by Farrish, Curly, and Pete.
Sunnysides received them with suspicion. His head was high, his nostrils were dilated, his tail swished slowly, like a tiger's. One forefoot was raised a little, resting on the toe, and the muscles of his shoulders quivered under the glossy hide. He had fully recovered from the effects of his rough treatment on the road, and his skin shone with a satin-like luster in the morning sun.
There was a moment's pause, while Haig and the others looked at the horse, and he at them.
"Now then, Farrish! Pete!" commanded Haig.
And the battle began. Farrish and Pete turn by turn flung their lariats at the horse's head and feet, but time after time he dodged, and ducked, and capered away from the whirling noose, or wriggled out of the coil as it tightened around him.
"He's greased lightning!" ejaculated Bill, from his perch on the fence.
"He's hell, that's what he is!" retorted Curly, from a corner of the corral.
Farrish and Pete went silently on with their work. They knew that eventually, dance and squirm as he might, the horse would be caught in one or the other of the relentless loops. And so it proved. While Sunnysides was side-stepping a throw by Farrish, Pete's rope slipped snakily over his head, and tightened around the arched neck. With an artful lunge toward the Indian, and a lowering of his head, the horse struggled to throw off the coil. But it held.
Then followed a mad performance. The horse was over all the corral at once, it seemed: rearing, plunging, leaping, tossing his head, crashing into the fence with such fury that it barely stood up under his onslaughts. Bill was knocked off the fence backward on to his head; Curly, crowded into his corner, barely avoided a vicious kick; and Haig's temper was not improved by the narrow escape he had from being crushed against a post.
"Bill!" he yelled. "Get a rope!"
The man ran into the barn, returned with a lariat, and joined the fray. Plainly chagrined, though unhurt by his fall, Bill took long chances to even up the score; and under the very hoofs of the infuriated animal, he made a throw that brought Sunnysides sprawling on the ground, his forefeet caught in Bill's noose. It was the work of a few seconds then for Farrish to secure the hind feet also; and the horse lay prostrate, panting and half-choked, but defiant still.
Giving him no time to recover, and no more breath than he actually required, Haig and Curly forced the bit of a bridle into the outlaw's foaming mouth. Then the noose on his hind feet was cautiously removed, one forefoot was freed, and the horse was allowed to rise. The next proceeding appeared to be resented by Sunnysides even more than what he had already been subjected to. While Farrish and Pete held his head, Haig approached him cautiously with a saddle, and dropped it on his back. There was a lightning-like motion, and the saddle was tossed a dozen feet away, while the two men at the horse's head were jerked almost off their feet. Again and again the saddle was laid on his back, to remain there barely an instant. But at the fifth attempt, to the astonishment of all, Sunnysides stood still, as if, being an equine Napoleon, he had changed his plan of battle in the face of the enemy. Without further resistance, he permitted the saddle to be adjusted and cinched, permitted the men to lead him out of the corral into the larger one adjoining it, and permitted Haig to mount him and take the bridle reins in his hand.
"I'll be damned!" said Curly. "You'd think—"
"Shut up!" cried Farrish. "That's a bluff."
"Now then!" ordered Haig, pointing to the rope that still held one forefoot.
The rope was removed.
Pete and Farrish slipped off the lariat that remained noosed around the outlaw's neck, and stepped back.
For some seconds there was no sound, no motion, no sign of any design on the part of Sunnysides. Then, with the swiftness and surprise of a flash of powder in the dark, a shocking thing occurred. Without a preliminary movement, either of lunging or bucking or leaping to one side, or any of the expected tactics, Sunnysides, with incredible suddenness, reared straight up into the air, threw himself over, and fell on his back, pinning Haig to the ground beneath him.
Before any of the men could move, the horse rolled over sprawling, scrambled to his feet, and charged at the fence. There was a crash and the sound of splintering wood. The top plank fell, broken in two jagged pieces, and the horse's forefeet were over the second plank. But before he could leap again, Curley had caught the bridle rein, and swung the outlaw's head around, holding him there until Bill had leaned over the broken fence and roped the forelegs once more. After a moment of furious struggle, Sunnysides appeared to realize that it was useless; and thus the two men held him, with his forefeet still hanging outside the fence, while they turned their eyes toward Haig.
Farrish and the Indian knelt at his side. He lay quite still, unconscious, and for a moment they thought him dead. Pete put his head down on Haig's breast, and listened. Then he rose to his feet.
"Whisky!" he muttered, and ran toward the stable.
In two minutes he was back, bearing a flask, which he uncorked as he ran. Forcing the mouth of it between Haig's lips, he let the scorching liquor trickle down the throat until the flask was half emptied. Then he poured some of the whisky in the palm of his hand, and rubbed it on Haig's face and bared breast and wrists, while Farrish, in his turn, ran to the stable and brought a lap robe, which he folded and placed under Haig's head.
They waited helplessly, without speech. At the fence, Bill and Curley clung to their ropes. Sunnysides, his forefeet still projecting over the plank, and the saddle hanging lopsided from his back, had his head drawn back so far that he could see the group in the middle of the corral. His eyes were bloodshot, foam dripped from his mouth, the breath came whistling through his half-shut windpipe.
But in the cottonwoods the birds sang undisturbed, and the pines far up the hill droned their old tune unchanged. From the ranch house came the rattle of tin pans, and the voice of the cook singing a song of the round-up.
After a long time, Haig stirred. A moan came with the first deep breath; his eyes opened, staring up at the two faces above him; his lips moved, but at first no sound came from them. Pete leaned closer, and listened.
"Did—he—get—away?" came in a whisper.
"No," answered Pete. "He caught."
A smile flickered on Haig's lips, and went out; and at the same time a tiny trickle of blood oozed out, and ran down through the dust on the white cheek. Pete and Farrish looked at each other; and when they turned to Haig again, his eyes were closed, and the pallor of his face had deepened to a bluish, ashen hue.
Pete bent quickly to put his ear again to Haig's breast.
Hillyer's loyal heart was near to bursting with joy. In all the days of his eager courtship Marion had never seemed so close to him, so fairly within his grasp, as now. She had welcomed him with totally unexpected warmth, considering the many times she had rejected him, and considering, too, the letter he had received from her on her departure. Absence, he thought, had advanced his cause for him. A dozen times he was on the point of boldly violating the six months' embargo she had placed upon his pleadings; but as often as the fervent words rose to his lips fear froze them there, and he was silent.
As for Marion, she was for the moment absorbed in a little plan that was not for Robert's knowledge. She was intent upon meeting Philip in Robert's company; she wanted to bow to him, and smile, and let him see that there was one man at least who prized her, if he did not. But the imp of perversity seemed to have come to abide permanently in the Park. Though Marion, in the first two days of Robert's visit, guided him, in the big automobile, everywhere except beyond the Ridge and to the glade of the columbines, she had never a glimpse of Philip. All this maddened her; and if Robert had but spoken, there were times when—But Robert did not speak.
Near noon of the third day they met Smythe in the main valley road a mile or so below the post-office. At sight of him bobbing along toward them, almost lost between his horse and his sombrero, Marion's first impulse was to speed past him without stopping. She was not sure she could trust his discretion; for she had told Robert nothing about Philip Haig. But she did not wish to offend the faithful Smythe; and so, on second thought, she hurriedly acquainted Robert with the identity of the approaching figure, and warned him to control his inevitable mirth.
"He is funny," she said, laughing in spite of herself, "but he can't help that. He's been very good to me, in his way."
In the meantime Smythe's horse was deciding the matter on his own account. This was the first automobile the pony had ever seen, and he made up his mind promptly that he did not like it. He reared and bucked, bolting first to one side and the other of the road, and refused to consider Smythe's well-worded assurance that wise horses were really fond of automobiles, which were taking a great deal of work off their shoulders.
Hillyer stopped the machine, and cut off the power. But the pony's suspicions had been thoroughly aroused, and the sudden silence seemed to him more portentous than even the noise of the motor. Smythe thereupon had his work cut out for him, but he would not compromise either by dismounting, or by turning and riding away. Slowly and patiently he urged the frightened pony toward the automobile until, after many setbacks and panics, he had brought him near enough for conversation.
"There now, Peanuts!" he said to the prancing animal. "You see you were quite mistaken." Then, to Hillyer and Marion: "He's a little like myself. He doesn't really believe in ghosts, but he's dreadfully afraid of them."
"I didn't know you were such an accomplished horseman," said Marion.
"Didn't you? Well, you see—"
At that instant the pony suffered a fresh access of alarm. He bounded suddenly sideways, and at the same time ducked as if he purposed to stand on his head, though what good that would have done only he knew. The movement threw Smythe over the pony's head, and flat on his back in the dust; and in a twinkling Peanuts was dashing up the road, with his tail in the air, and the stirrups flapping at his sides.
For some seconds Smythe lay half-stunned; but before Marion and Hillyer, leaping from the automobile, were able to reach him, he sat up, and began to straighten out his crushed sombrero, eyeing it critically. He was covered with dust, and one end of his white collar, torn from the button, stuck out above his coat. But his aplomb was perfect.
"As I was saying, when interrupted," he began, continuing to minister to the sombrero, "you see I am an accomplished horseman."
Marion and Hillyer broke out in uncontrollable laughter. Then Hillyer hastened to assist Smythe to rise.
"Not hurt, I hope?" said Robert.
"Objectively, no. Subjectively, yes. Sartorially, a wreck."
They laughed now without restraint, which seemed to please Smythe immensely. He proceeded to tuck the end of the torn collar back into its place, where it refused to stay; to brush his clothes; to adjust the abused sombrero in exactly the long-studied angle on his head.
"I hope you'll forgive us for laughing," said Marion, "but—"
"Say no more about it, please!" protested Smythe. "I'd rather make you laugh than weep—assuming that anybody would weep for me."
"Oh, I'd have felt very badly if you'd been hurt," Marion assured him. "And you might have been, too."
"No, a cropper like that's nothing. Peanuts isn't—" He paused just a second to look into Marion's eyes with an expression that arrested her attention sharply. "Peanuts isn't Sunnysides."
"Sunnysides?" she cried out unguardedly.
Smythe's eyes warned her, as he waited to give her time for self-control. He did not know how far Hillyer was in her confidence.
"Is there news—about—Sunnysides?" she faltered, struggling desperately with herself.
"Yes," he answered. Then he continued slowly, in as light a manner as possible, the while he held her with a concentrated gaze: "I'd been down the valley as far as the mouth of the canyon. Coming back, about two miles below where Haig's road joins this, I saw the sorrels in a cloud of dust. 'Hello!' I said. 'Something's up, or the sorrels wouldn't be driven like that.' In a minute or two I made out Bill Craven, one of Haig's men, leaning forward in the seat of a road wagon, and laying on the whip. 'If Haig saw that!' I thought. And so I—"
"Go on, please!" said Marion shrilly.
But Smythe was purposely deliberate; for he saw Hillyer looking at her curiously.
"I wasn't going to let anybody abuse his horses if I could prevent it. Besides, how did I know but Craven was stealing the sorrels? I threw my pony straight across the road. Craven reined the sorrels up on their hind legs, almost on top of me.
"'What in hell?' he yelled.
"'That's what I want to know,' I answered.
"'Can't you see I'm in a hurry, damn you?' he shouted angrily.
"'That's exactly what I do see,' I replied. 'But Haig never whips those horses.'
"'That's none of your business, and Haig ain't carin' much now,' he fired back at me. 'Get out o' my way, or I'll—'
"'Now just keep cool!' I told him. 'What's the trouble?'
"Craven snorted, but he told me, as the quickest way out of it. Haig had been hurt—trying to ride Sunnysides. He's—"
"Hurt? How?" asked Marion; and Smythe was relieved to detect a new steadiness in her voice. She had passed the danger point.
"The horse went over backwards, pinning him to the ground, with the saddle horn in his stomach. Craven's gone for the doctor."
She gave him one long, searching look, as if to pluck out anything he might have been hiding from her. Then she turned swiftly toward the automobile.
"Come, Robert! Quick!" she commanded.
She climbed quickly into the machine, followed by Hillyer, who was puzzled and alarmed by what he had seen in Marion's face.
"You too, Mr. Smythe. Hurry!" cried Marion.
"But my horse?" objected Smythe.
"He'll run home," answered Marion impatiently. "Come! We may need you."
Smythe obeyed, and jumped into the tonneau, while Robert cranked up and threw in the clutch.
"Fast!" cried Marion.
Hillyer glanced at her. She was very white; her lips were pressed together, her eyes were fixed on the road ahead. The machine lurched under them.
"Faster!" urged Marion, in another minute.
The machine, with a kind of shudder, responded to Hillyer's hand, and shot out with fresh speed.
Another brief silence.
"The cut-out!" she ordered.
Hillyer bent to the mechanism, and the engine, with the muffler off, roared and shrieked as it took the smooth white road, with every bar and rivet throbbing under the pressure. Only then did Marion turn, and motion to Smythe. He leaned forward, clinging to the back of her seat.
"The doctor?" she shouted in his ear.
"Craven had started for Tellurium," he yelled back. "Said he'd kill the sorrels. I told him there was a doctor at Lake Cobalt—Doctor Norris of Omaha—just arrived, with his family. 'You're not such a fool after all,' said Craven. (I'll talk with him about that later.) 'Thanks!' I said, and pulled my horse out of the way. 'That saves two days.' He gave the horses the whip again, and I started for Huntington's to tell you—Watch out! There's the turn!" he shouted in Hillyer's ear.
The wheels tore up the sand as the machine, with the power off but still going at more than half-speed under its momentum, skidded and scraped around the turn into Haig's road.
"Now!" cried Marion.
Again the automobile shivered, and plunged, and went clamoring like a mad thing up the little valley, the hills echoing back its roar. The white road leaped up at them, gulping them in. A red steer, astray from some pasture, crossed the road far ahead of them, and Marion closed her eyes as the machine, with a sickening swerve, missed it by inches. The next instant she was pointing to the group of buildings squatting under the hill; and then she was out of the automobile, and running to Farrish at the door of the barn. His face confirmed her worst fears.
"Where is he?" she asked, with a swift look around.
He pointed toward the larger of the two cottages. With Hillyer and Smythe silently following, she ran to the cottage, and through the open door. There she found herself in a bare, uncarpeted room, furnished only with two chairs and a table. On the table lay a faded and battered gray hat. For an instant her gaze rested on it, and a lump rose in her throat. But she resolutely turned away, tightening her lips.
There were two inner doors, one of which, ajar, revealed a glimpse of brightly polished pans hanging on the wall. The other door was closed. After an instant of hesitation, she walked straight toward it.
"Marion!" called Hillyer warningly.
She did not heed him, but turned the knob, softly opened the door, and with Robert and Smythe at her heels, stepped into a dimly lighted room where the aroma of a pine log blazing in the fireplace mingled with the pungent odor of ammonia. Smythe was quick to observe, over Marion's shoulder, that the room was a sort of library and bedroom combined, carpeted in dark red, the walls papered in red also, and the windows curtained with heavy tapestry silk of the same rich hue. There were low bookcases on two sides of the room, with pictures above them; several marble statuettes on the bookcases; and a little jade Buddha beside a two-foot bronze god of terrifying aspect on the mantelpiece. In the middle of the apartment stood a solid library table, of which the cover was a curious strip of faded yellow silk embroidered with a dragon in green, a fragment of an old Chinese banner.
At the left of the door, its head against the wall, was a brass bed in which a figure moved restlessly under the covers. Near the head of the bed, on the side nearest the door, stood the Indian, his stolid, bronzed face turned toward Marion as she entered. On the other side, holding one of Haig's hands, knelt Slim Jim in his blue silks, his yellowish face as expressionless as Pete's, except for an alert and questioning look in his eyes. There was no sound except the low crackling of the fire, and the rasp of heavy breathing, with sharp catches in it that spoke eloquently of pain.
Marion stepped to Pete's side, and looked down into the face of Philip Haig. In the dim light it had the pallor of death, with the parted lips and the staring eyes of the dead, or the dying. But he breathed; and presently her steady, searching, pitying gaze brought his eyes to meet her own, and she saw that they were living eyes, though clouded and darkened with agony. Almost was she on her knees, weeping over him, regardless of those in the doorway watching her. And it was not their presence so much as the necessity for action that restrained and steadied her. She did not even speak his name; but after her one long look, she turned away, and with every outward sign of calm, removed her gloves and hat and coat, and placed them on a chair in a corner of the room. Then she beckoned to Pete, who followed her, with Smythe and Hillyer, into the bare outer room.
"Close the door, please!" she commanded quietly.
Smythe closed it.
"Where is he hurt?" she asked the Indian.
"Here." He laid a hand on his stomach.
"Was he unconscious?"
"Yes. Long time."
"How long has he been like that—awake?"
"Maybe two hours."
"What have you done? What have you given him?"
"Water. Ammonia on face and breast."
"Was there blood?"
"Yes. From mouth."
She had another struggle then, and the tears started in spite of all that she could do. But she conquered them.
"No. Little, only at first."
"Thank you, Pete." Then, turning to Hillyer: "I want you, Robert, please, to drive home, and tell Mrs. Huntington to make up a bundle of the things I shall need. Wait! A pencil and a bit of paper, please."
For a moment he did not move to comply.
"What are you going to do, Marion?" he asked, his voice shaking slightly with the effort of speaking calmly.
"I'm going to nurse him," she replied, meeting his look without flinching.
"But, Marion! I don't—"
"Pencil and paper, Robert!" she said firmly.
He tore a leaf from a notebook, and gave it to her with his pencil.
"Thank you," she said; and seated herself at the table to write.
But there was the dilapidated hat again—so stained and soiled, a crumpled, tragic, intimate thing—arresting her. How it had filled her dreams! How she had laughed at it, fondly, tenderly, as a mother smiles at the battered school hat of her boy! Once, she had fancied it hanging on the pink wall in her room, a trophy, with a ribbon tied around its sweated band. And now she wanted to grab it up, and hug it to her breast. But she only lifted it gently, and placed it a little farther away, on the other side of the table. Then she made her notes.
"There, Robert!" she said, rising, and handing the list to him. "Claire will know where to find them."
He took the paper mechanically, his eyes fixed on Marion.
"Will you come down, to the car for a moment?" he asked.
She saw the look, and softened under it. But she could not answer his questions then.
"No," she said. "Later, if you wish it."
For a moment he hesitated. But he could say no more in the presence of Smythe and Pete, though they were talking together at the other side of the room. So he moved slowly away, but was suddenly stopped by a cry from Marion.
"Oh! Oh!" she exclaimed. "Why didn't somebody—why didn't I think of it before? The car? Run, Robert! Drive down the road toward the lake. You'll overtake the sorrels—or meet them. Bring the doctor in the car. Fast, please!"
Hillyer, without another word, ran and leaped into the automobile, and was soon bringing the echoes out of the hills again. He sank low in the seat, and fixed his eyes on the road that stretched out blinding white in the sunlight.
COALS OF FIRE
Seth was oiling a pair of boots on the veranda, while Claire talked to him about Hillyer, who had pleased her immeasurably by his devotion to Marion, and even more, of course, by his generous compliments to herself. She was delicately calling Seth's attention to the pleasure, the profits, and the sanctity of politeness, when she caught sight of Hillyer's automobile emerging slowly and silently from the trees that concealed the road at a little distance from the corrals.
"There he is now!" she exclaimed. And then, an instant later: "Why, he's alone!"
She stood up excitedly, and Seth also, dropping a half-oiled boot on the floor.
"What the devil?" ejaculated Huntington.
So they stood, waiting and wondering, while Hillyer alighted from the automobile, and walked, with exasperating slowness—with reluctance, if they had but known it—up the graveled path among the flower beds. Something in the look of him caused Claire to clutch a post of the veranda for support.
"Where's Marion?" she cried.
"She's all right," replied Hillyer, as he mounted the steps. "That is, nothing has happened to her. But there's been an accident." He hesitated. "Who is this Philip Haig?"
"Haig? What about Haig?" demanded Huntington.
"He's been hurt. A horse threw him."
"Sunnysides?" cried Huntington excitedly.
"I believe so."
"He will, will he?" chuckled Huntington. "That serves—"
"But Marion?" interrupted Claire. "What about Marion?"
Hillyer looked doubtfully from one to the other, in much embarrassment. What did they know? Or were they as ignorant as he of the situation that had been revealed to him as if by the flash of a thunderbolt? And how much should he disclose to them, in loyalty to Marion? But in his pocket was Marion's list.
"She's there—with him," he said at length.
"There? Where?" thundered Huntington.
"At his house."
They stood stock-still, staring at him.
"She wishes Mrs. Huntington to make up a bundle of these things for me to take to her."
He handed the list to Claire, who took it, and held it at arm's length, regarding it curiously, as if she had not understood.
"You mean that—" she began, and stopped.
"She says she's going to nurse him."
"She's going to—what?" Claire's voice rose almost to a shriek.
"And you've left her there with that—"
Huntington was going to say "ruffian," but was checked by a sudden recollection, as well as by the look that Hillyer flashed at him. For a moment the two men faced each other, the one with anger boiling up inside of him, the other struggling to put down the resentment aroused by Huntington's belligerent tone. Claire crushed the slip of paper in her hand, and watched them fearfully.
"I judge from your manner," said Hillyer at length, when he had controlled himself, "that you dislike her being there as much as I do. But as I am all in the dark, I'll be greatly obliged to you if you will answer my question. Who is Philip Haig?"
"That's what I'd like to know!" blurted out Huntington.
Hillyer made a gesture of impatience.
"But he's your neighbor," he said curtly.
"And that's about all I know of him," Huntington replied, "except that we ought to have run him out of the Park long ago, and will do it yet, so help me God!"
"Why?" asked Hillyer shortly.
Then, as clearly as he could in his rage, Seth gave Hillyer a brief account of the events of the four years that Haig had been in the Park,—an account that satisfied Hillyer as little as it had satisfied Marion. He had meant, in the beginning, to ask how Marion had come to know Haig, and if they had been much together; but he now surmised that Huntington and his wife were as ignorant as himself of that acquaintanceship, or friendship, or whatever it was that could have made possible the astounding emotions he had seen on Marion's face. Hillyer's situation was difficult. If Marion had a secret he must guard it for her, whatever it might cost him. Yet now he needed help, and no one could help him but Huntington and his wife. And at the first words on the subject, Huntington had (more in the tone of his speech than the matter) shown him that little help could be expected in that quarter. Last of all, and not to be forgotten, he was the Huntingtons' guest.
"How bad's he hurt?" asked Huntington.
Hillyer shook his head dubiously.
"It's impossible to say just yet. Doctor Norris fears that the pancreas is ruptured. In that case—" He shrugged his shoulders. "At any rate, the pancreas and the stomach are temporarily paralyzed by the blow of the saddle horn—the horse seems to have gone over backward on him. If he gets over the shock there's still the danger of inflammation. There ought to be ice packs. Cold water will have to do. They must be changed every minute. Doctor Norris told me—" He paused to look intently at Claire—"Doctor Norris told me that nothing but the most careful nursing can save him."
"Let the Chinaman do it!" Huntington blurted out.
Hillyer shook his head.
"No. Norris says he will not trust him. You see, Haig's pleading for water must be denied. He can command the Chinaman, and that—Besides, all this is not to the point. Marion has made up her mind, and I assure you—Please get the things she asks for, Mrs. Huntington."
"You don't mean you're going to take them!" shouted Huntington.
"Certainly. She's asked for them."
"And you're going to let her stay there—with him?"
Hillyer smiled. Having abandoned all hope of assistance from Huntington, he was thinking of other measures, and was scarcely as attentive as he might have been to the increasing truculence of his host.
"What would you do?" he asked quietly.
"I'd bring her away!"
"Would you care to go and try it?"
This was a keener thrust than Hillyer had any intention of delivering, provoked though he was by Huntington's behavior; for Seth had not included in his narrative any reference to the affair at the post-office, or to Haig's visit to his house. Huntington's face became purple; and if he had been apoplectic in disposition he would surely have suffered a seizure in that moment of choking rage.
"I'll go there right enough!" he bellowed. "I'll go, when I get ready. I'll go when he's able to stand up and take what's coming to him. As for her—you can take her things, and her trunks too, while you're about it."
Hillyer gazed at him dumbfounded for just a breath of time. Then his own face flamed.
"Quite right, Mr. Huntington!" he said, taking a step toward him. "I haven't seen much of Haig, but from what I've seen of you, I think his house can be no worse place for Miss Gaylord than yours. What's more, you're an—" He caught himself, whirled on his heel, and addressed Claire. "May I ask you, please, to pack Marion's trunks. I'll attend to mine."
Claire had stood quite silent, with her blue eyes opening wider and wider, for the moment helpless, but trusting more to Hillyer's resources of diplomacy than to her husband's self-control. Now her face crimsoned with mortification, and she stood up with all the inches of her five foot two.
"You'll do no such thing!" she cried, and one little heel came down on the floor with a jolt. "The idea! The very idea! Oh!"
For a moment she stood poised, like a butterfly in a rage, if one can imagine it; then she tripped straight to Huntington, clasped the lapels of his coat, and drew herself up on tiptoes, trying to meet his eyes.
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" she cried.
"No, I'm not!" he growled.
But he was, or at least was dimly conscious of his egregious misbehavior; for he looked neither at Hillyer nor his wife, and was red now where he had been purple.
"But you are, though!" She turned her face toward Hillyer, without loosing her hold on Seth's coat. "Don't you mind him, Mr. Hillyer! He's just a big bear. And Haig has been a trial to us. Marion's my guest, and—" She looked up into Seth's beard again—"If you think you're going to send her away like this—"
She stopped short, as on a sudden thought, and then, with a giggle, buried her face in his flannel shirt. And the next thing, as unexpected as her blue-eyed rage, she dropped her hands from his coat, stooped to catch up the hem of her skirt between thumb and forefinger of each hand, and began to pirouette around the room.
"Oh, ho!" she exclaimed, laughing triumphantly, her little body swaying as she tripped, with low curtsies to Seth and Hillyer, who for the moment forget their animosity in wonder at this feminine diversion. "Beautiful! Gorgeous! Oh, splendid!"
She stopped, at length, in front of Seth, dropped to one knee, bowed till her golden head almost touched the floor, and rose again to stand with her hands on her hips, her arms akimbo, her face flushed with excitement.
"Seth Huntington!" she cried ecstatically. "Do you know what we're going to do?"
He merely stared.
"We're going to heap coals of fire on his head."
"What do you mean?" demanded Huntington uneasily.
"Marion's going to nurse Haig. There's no way any of us can stop her. She's our cousin and guest, and we've got to show it. If they want to talk, we'll give them something to talk about. I'll go and nurse Haig too!"
"Ah!" cried Hillyer.
"You'll not!" roared Huntington.
"Watch me!" retorted Claire, turning swiftly, and running toward her bedroom. But halfway there she stopped. "No, don't watch me! You just go and look after the cattle. Leave this Mr. Haig to us, and he'll be the best friend you ever had before Marion and I get through with him."
Hillyer, recovering from his amazement, stepped smiling to where she stood, and reached both his hands to her.
"Mrs. Huntington," he said warmly. "You're a peach!"
She laughed gaily, and put both her tiny hands in his, for just an instant.
This was the last straw. Seth snorted like a baited animal, whirled around, bolted from the house, and ran blindly to the barn.
"Saddle Nigger!" he yelled to Williams, who obeyed with stumbling alacrity, while Huntington strode up and down before the door.
From the window of the ranch house Claire and Hillyer, silent, watched him until he had flung himself into the saddle, dug the spurs into the flanks of his favorite and now astonished black horse, and disappeared up the hill.
"Where's he going?" asked Hillyer, suspicious that Huntington meant mischief.
Claire drew back from the window with a sigh of relief.
"He's going to—" She laughed softly, but with just a little tremor in her voice—"He's going to—look after the cattle."
Hillyer saw that her blue eyes were moist.
"He's the best man in the world, and—I love him," she said, looking at Hillyer with a soft appeal. "You believe that, don't you?"
"Indeed I do, Mrs. Huntington," Hillyer answered heartily.
"Then you must forgive him; he has such a temper!"
"I'm sorry we had any misunderstanding," Hillyer was able to say sincerely. "I'll talk it over with him—later."
"Please!" urged Claire.
"But I must go now. Those things for Marion, please."
"I'll have them ready in a minute. And I've only to slip on another dress, and—"
"But you don't mean—You're not going?"
"Of course I am!" she answered, with a look of surprise.
"I think you'd better not," he said quietly.
"Now think a minute, Mrs. Huntington. Your husband objects to your going. It will not only anger him more, but it will hurt him. Isn't that so?"
"Yes," she admitted reluctantly.
Her coals of fire had kindled her imagination. Such a romantic idea! There would be such talk, such a sensation!
"It would be another matter if there were anything you could do," Hillyer went on. "But there isn't. And I know very well that Marion would send you back if you did go."
That was true enough, on reflection; but it was a disappointment!
"But Marion! There alone!" she said, making her last stand.
"I shall be there," replied Hillyer. "The Chinaman's going to fix a bed for me. I'll look after Marion."
So she yielded, and was glad of it when she had time to think it over. She gave Hillyer the bundle for Marion, and watched him go, waving a good-by from the veranda. Then she hastened to the kitchen to make apple dumplings for supper. If there was one thing that could always be counted on to soothe Seth it was apple dumplings.
* * * * *
Meanwhile it was indeed a black day for Huntington. Fate was against him. Tearing himself, mangled in spirit, out of one trap, he rode blindly into another. Far up in the hills, riding savagely, he knew not where, nor cared, vowing dark vengeance on Haig, his attention was drawn at last by the weird and ominous bellowing of cattle. Following the sound, he came to a little hollow where a hundred or more cattle were gathered, like the rapt spectators in an amphitheater, around two bulls engaged in mortal combat. One, as Seth quickly saw, was a red Hereford, his best thoroughbred; the other, a black Angus, and even more valuable, was Haig's. The red bull, bleeding from many wounds, was plainly being worsted in the encounter. With a roar of rage, Huntington drew his revolver, urged his unwilling horse down into the arena where the turf was torn up for many yards around the combatants, circled about until he could take sure aim, and emptied every chamber of the gun into the head and neck of the Angus. The bull sank to the ground, head first, in a lumbering mass that kicked once or twice, shivered, and lay still.
But the Hereford, red-eyed with blood and fury, turned on Huntington, and drove him, barely escaping being gored, into the thick timber. In a place of safety Huntington jerked his horse around, and sat limp in the saddle, staring down at the scene of his final humiliation.
"That's it! That's it!" he bellowed. "Even my own bull turns on me. Haw! Haw!" His hollow, hoarse, and unmirthful laughter echoed among the pines. "Great joke! Haig will like that. And the rest of them. Hell!"
But Haig! And the Angus! Well, there'd got to be a show-down anyhow pretty soon. He dismounted, and seated himself on a fallen tree trunk, and gave himself up to reflections upon which it is only the most obvious kindness and discretion to draw the curtain.
THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW
The days dragged by under the burdens of doubt and torture, and out of the Valley of the Shadow came Philip Haig, with some new and disquieting thoughts to occupy him in his convalescence. Toiling up out of the darkness, where foul fiends seemed to have torn and mangled his body with their fiery claws, his fingers were still warm from the pressure of a soft, guiding hand; there was a haunting memory of kisses on his forehead, of a cheek laid close to his; and he could still hear the gentle but commanding voice that told him to be patient—to be still—that life was coming back to him.
Life! As if he cared for life! Had he not spent years on years in seeking what just now had been in his very grasp, only to be withdrawn by two caressing hands? And Doctor Morris, on the day of his final visit, had left him no possibility of misunderstanding.
"Miss Gaylord has saved your life," he said. "I could do little. It was her nursing that pulled you through."
He wanted much to tell the doctor just how much value he placed on that life. But to what purpose? Doctors lived in their own peculiar atmosphere of conceit and self-deception, crowing like a hen over a new-laid egg whenever they chanced to bring back a soul to the miseries from which it had struggled to escape. It would be a waste of words, for Norris would never understand. Would Marion? Cold terror seized him at the thought of the coming, the inevitable scene with her. She, he realized vaguely, was different from—from all the others he had ever seen and looked down upon from his safe heights of cynical hatred and contempt. She was not selfish or mercenary—not consciously selfish or mercenary. And she was not vile. But she was all the more dangerous because her heart was pure. She was too high-bred, too fine, to demand payment of his debt; but her very reticence and delicacy, he foresaw, would make his repudiation of that debt—that factitious debt—more difficult. Twice or thrice, as he struggled with his problem, he was conscious of a curious, disturbing thrill. She loved him. There had been a time, long, long ago—But now he was a man; he had learned his lesson; and he knew that the chains would be no less hateful because they were made of gold.
There came a day when he sat, wrapped in blankets, in an armchair near the window, where he could see the grass waving in the sunlight on the slope above the cottage, and the pines bending in the breeze high up the hill. Marion, near him, her hands folded in her lap, looked sometimes out of the window but more often at him, though his eyes avoided hers. She was scarcely less pale than he, and very tired and worn. Despite Hillyer's protestations she had slept little in the ten days of Philip's peril; for she would trust no one but herself to do with iron determination exactly what the doctor had commanded. Philip's pitiable pleading for water in his semi-delirium her love alone was strong enough to resist. But this was the last day of her watch over him. In an hour she must go. She had frankly asked Robert to let her have this last afternoon alone with Philip; and had promised him that he should then have the answer to every question that he had loyally put aside for her.
They sat a long time silent, while the shadow of the cottage lengthened on the grass.
"It wasn't worth it, Miss Gaylord," Haig said at length.
"I—I don't understand," she faltered.
"Doctor Norris tells me that you saved my life."
"I'm glad if he thinks I helped a little," she answered, trying to smile.
"He left me no room for doubt. Very plain-spoken is Doctor Norris."
"I'm afraid he exaggerated," she protested gently.
"Jim's all right in his way, but he couldn't have done it."
"I am paid," she said simply.
"Yes. Knowing that you live."
"No. You think you mean that, perhaps, but you don't."
"I don't mean what?" she asked in surprise.
"You don't mean that you are paid."
She turned away, and looked out the window, her heart throbbing.
"I must tell you something, Miss Gaylord," he went on resolutely. "I'm not grateful."
"I mean, I'm not glad to owe my life to you."
"But I haven't asked—"
"No. Not directly." He hesitated a moment. "It's like this: If a man had saved my life, I could pay him. There would be a clasp of the hand, and a look from man to man. Or I should save his life in turn, or do him some service. Or—there are other ways. There's Pete's way and Jim's way—of paying. But I can't pay you in any of the ways I could pay a man. And I can't pay in the only way a woman knows."
"Don't," she cried. "Don't, please!"
She was right, he thought. He was doing it brutally. He must try another method. There followed a long silence, while he tried to frame a speech that would tell her, and would not hurt too much; for now, strangely, he found himself reluctant to give her pain, even to put himself in a false light before her—to be misunderstood. At last he leaned toward her—forced her to meet his gaze.
"Could you—if you had ever loved one man with all your heart and soul—held him as dear to you as life—dearer than life itself—without whom life would be impossible—could you ever love another?"
For all her anguish she was able to detect the trap that he had set for her. "Yes" would cheapen the quality and deny the finality of her love for him; "no" would be an acceptance of the doom and tragedy she saw shadowing his eyes. She did not answer.
"You see, you dare not answer that," he went on. "I suppose I ought to tell you the story. But I won't. It's long, and not a pretty story at all. But this much I will tell you. I gave one woman all I had to give. She threw it away—and laughed at me. I have nothing more."
She took it very bravely and very quietly, as it seemed to him. He felt a certain admiration. There was good blood in the girl. Her father must have been worth knowing. His thoughts would have taken a different direction—would have been nothing so complacent if he had known just what she was thinking. His speech, terrifying at first, had actually renewed a hope that had fallen very low. She did not believe a word of what he had said, that is, of his having nothing more to give. Whenever did woman believe any such thing as that, no matter how solemnly, on what stoutest oaths, with what tragic air a man has told it to her? Love is not love that doubts its own compelling power. And Marion, gazing fondly at Philip now, felt somewhat as a mother feels who smilingly indulges some childhood tragedy of her boy, knowing that it will pass as the cloud upon an April sky. If this was the worst he had to say to her—
But it was not the worst. Philip felt an intense relief to see her accept the situation with such unexpected calm. He admired her consciously now,—for her intelligence. He began to think that he might almost take her hand, and thank her, as he would thank a man for doing him a service, however mistakenly. But something held him back from that folly. He wondered a little at her silence, and it was by way of breaking it before it should become embarrassing that he searched for something safe and commonplace to say to her.
"It was my own fault, you know, that I was injured."
"Why your own fault?"
"I was in a bad humor. I lost my self-control. And I got what I deserved."
He thought she would ask him why he had been in a bad humor, and he purposed to say that he was raging in discontent, longing for the white road again. It would be safe enough now, no doubt, to tell her in this fashion that if ever she should come to the Park again she would not find him there. But his words had suggested something entirely different to her mind.
"What are you going to do with him?" she asked, in sudden vague anxiety.
"Do with him?"
"Yes—Sunnysides? I wish you'd please sell him."
"Sell him? Sell Sunnysides?" His voice betrayed his astonishment.
"But I haven't ridden him yet."
"You don't mean—" Her voice failed.
"That I'm going to ride him? Just as soon as I get well."
For some seconds she sat dazed. It was so utterly unexpected. The thought had not once occurred to her that he would try again what had all but cost him his life. It is at some such point as this that man's and woman's natures make one of their many departures from the parallel. To Haig the taming of Sunnysides now meant everything; to Marion it seemed a useless, a worse than useless risk, a wicked waste. What had been the worth, then, of all her labor of love, if it was to be thrown away? He would be killed the next time. And in the horror with which she foresaw that tragic end of all that she had planned and builded, her courage and confidence fell away from her, and left her weak and helpless. She uttered a thin, little cry, and slipped to the floor on her knees, clasping his emaciated hand that lay on an arm of the chair.
"No! No!" she cried frantically. "Please, Philip! Please promise me you won't do that!"
Then she broke down completely, her head drooped, and she sank down in a heap, with her face between her hands.
Haig was stunned. He had blundered again. Fool, not to have let her go away from him in silence, in calm! He looked down at that crumpled figure, at the mass of tawny hair, with the red-gold lights in it, the enticing soft whiteness of her neck where the hair curved cleanly upward, the graceful slope of the shoulders that now shook with sobs. And something stirred in him, something deep, too deep to be reached and overpowered. It grew until it sang through all his being, a feeling such as he had never known before. She was fine and beautiful; she was a thing to be desired; and he had only to reach out, and take her for his own. Before he was aware of it, he had stretched out his hand until it almost touched her hair. Then from across the years a mocking voice rang out shrill and cold and cruel: "Now don't you go mussing up my apartment, Pipo!"
He drew back his hand with a jerk, and clutched the chair; and sat bolt upright, while every nerve rang with the alarm.
Minutes passed. The sobs gradually subsided; the figure on the floor slowly ceased its convulsive movements; and again a deep silence enveloped the room. Out on the brown-green slope the sun's rays were slanting low, the shadow of the cottage climbed the hill.
Well, Haig thought, he had bungled the business after all. That was what came of trying to do it nicely, with delicacy. Hard words were the kindest in the end, because the quickest understood.
She had not yet lifted her head when he turned to look at her again; and that made it easier.
"I can't leave the ranch—just now," he said slowly. "If I could, I would. So I think—I think you ought to go back home—to New York, I mean—at once."
She did not answer. And it was only after another silence that she looked up at him, and he saw that her eyes were still filled with tears, and there was a curious little puckering of her chin.
"You said you wished you could repay me," she said. "Do you?"
"Yes," he answered, wondering. "But I told you—"
"But there is a way!"
"Promise me you will not ride Sunnysides."
He shook his head.
"No. I can't promise that."
"That's one of the things you couldn't possibly understand."
"But it's such a little thing!"
"If I gave you that, I should indeed have nothing left. You would have all."
It was true that she could not in the least understand. But she knew she could not move him.
"Then promise me," she pleaded, "that you'll not try it until you are quite, quite well!"
"Oh. I promise you that!" he replied, with a grim smile.
Presently she arose, and looked down at him with a long, lingering gaze that seemed to be searching for something in his features.
"You'll take just what Jim gives you?" she asked anxiously.
"And not try to—boss him about the medicines and the food?"
"I promise to obey orders."
"And you'll be very careful?"
She moved slowly toward the door. But halfway there she stopped, and turned to look at him again. How could she leave him now? She couldn't! She couldn't! He was gazing away from her, out through the window. Wasn't he going to say a word to her—of farewell? She came back unsteadily, and stood behind his chair, her hands stretched out above his head. Then suddenly, impulsively, not touching him with her hands, she leaned down, and kissed his forehead.
"Good-by!" she said, her voice breaking.
"Good-by!" he answered gently, but without turning his head.
He heard the door opened and closed, very softly. After that he sat a long time in silence. Well, she was gone! It had been a trying afternoon, and he was glad to have it ended. And yet the room seemed to be extraordinarily empty, as it had never been before his illness. The stillness rather oppressed him. Damn it all, sickness did strange things to a man! Took a lot out of him! He straightened himself in his chair.
Presently Jim entered.
"Well, Jim!" said Haig. "Here we are again, eh? I'm hungry."
"You eat, she come back," Jim answered shrewdly.
Haig looked at him sharply, but the Chinaman's face was like a paper mask.
"Shut up!" he cried savagely.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Hillyer was waiting for her at the barn when she came at last, with a smile that eased his anxiety, if only in an inconsiderable degree. But he saw, as he took her handbag and bundle, and placed them in the automobile, that she had been crying. This gladdened while it angered him, and he was lost among the many interpretations that might be put upon those signs of distress. Had she come to the end of her infatuation? Had she been subjected to insults as the reward of her service? He dared not ask her such questions—not yet; but he was resolved (and there were material reasons, too, for that decision) to have his own case settled, one way or another, at once.
Neither of them spoke more than a conventional word or two until Hillyer, after full speed down Haig's road to the junction, slowed up on the main highway along the Brightwater. It was the serenest of summer evenings, very still and fragrant, with a touch of autumn in the air. The eastern sky was filled with pale golds and pinks, and the foothills were warm with purples. Marion's face was averted from Hillyer, and her eyes were fixed, not on the soft alternations of color in the sky, but on Thunder Mountain, where the only clouds to be seen in all the expanse of blue lay low upon its uncompromising head.
"Marion!" said Hillyer, at length.
She did not miss the note in his voice that exposed his intention, but long preparation for this moment enabled her to face him calmly.
"Yes, I know, Robert," she said. "You have much to say to me."
"I'm going to-morrow," he began abruptly. "Will you go with me?"
"To-morrow? Go with you?" she repeated, with a little start of surprise.
"Yes. Will you go with me?"
"But I don't understand, Robert."
"I must be in Denver the day after to-morrow."
"I—I didn't know your time was so short. I'm afraid—I've spoiled your visit."
"That doesn't matter, Marion, if you'll go back with me."
"But I can't—just yet."
"I'm not ready. I haven't half finished my visit with Claire."
She was, after all, somewhat confused, for she had not expected him to approach the subject in just this way.
"But the summer is almost gone. It's near the end of August," persisted Hillyer.
"There's another month of good weather. And September, Claire says, is the most beautiful of all."
"That may be, unless Huntington's right. He told me only yesterday that it's going to be an early winter. There's come a chill in the air even since I've been here."
"Nonsense!" she replied, recovering her composure. "I'll go out with the last stage."
"And get caught in an avalanche or something!"
"I suppose Seth does want to get rid of me!" she said, with a faint laugh.
"That's not it at all."
"Well, I'm not afraid."
"But suppose you stay too late, and get caught. You'd have to remain here all winter. The Park, Huntington says, is as tight as a jail after the snows come."
"Claire stays here through the winter sometimes."
He felt a fresh alarm, and showed it. It would be just like her! he thought.
"See here, Marion!" he said, plunging at last. "I've obeyed your order not to say anything about—the future. I meant not to say anything until the time was up. But you must see I can't keep silent now, after—what's happened. You must know I can't go away and leave you without knowing what—it all means. You said you'd tell me as soon as you'd finished nursing—him. No, wait, please! Let me say it at once. You know I love you. I want you to marry me. I need you, Marion. There's never been an hour, a minute that I haven't thought of you. I can't work—I can't do anything without you. I love you more than—"
"Stop, Robert!" she cried. "You're making it harder for both of us."
"Harder—for—both of us?" he repeated slowly.
There was a moment's silence. Hillyer, while he spoke, had half-consciously stopped the automobile, which stood now, humming softly, in the middle of the road that stretched white and empty ahead of them and behind them. The night breeze had risen, blowing cold from the snows, and the shadows were creeping down into the valley, as if they came from dark caverns in the hills.
"Robert," she said sadly. "It's no use. I must tell you. I—I can't marry you."
"You make me say it!" she cried. "Well, Robert, I—I don't love you."
"I'm not asking you to love me!" he rejoined, almost savagely. "I only ask you—"
"Listen!" she interrupted, placing a hand on his arm. "That's not all."
She stopped him with a pressure on his arm.
"Once, not knowing, I almost consented," she went on. "But something checked me—held me back. You remember how restless I was—how troubled. You would have laughed at me if I had told you. But something seemed to be calling me—a voice from a long distance. I laughed at myself for a foolish girl—at first. I said it was nerves, and I fought against it. And it was then that I came nearest to saying yes to you, thinking that I was indeed foolish in holding back. I liked you. I've always liked you, Robert. You'd been such a splendid friend, and I was grateful. I wanted to repay you—"
She stopped suddenly, and a flush mounted swiftly into her pale cheeks. Repay! The word recalled sharply to her, acutely and painfully, all that Haig had said about paying her. Were they, then, in the same dreadful situation, she and Haig, with debts they could never pay? For the first time some sense of the terrible finality of his decision struck in upon her secret hopes.
"Don't talk of that!" Robert was saying, seizing the moment of silence. "I never—"
"But always, when I was about to yield—I couldn't. I didn't know why then. But now I do."
"You mean—Haig?" he asked hoarsely.
"You don't—" He could not bring himself to speak the word.
"Yes, Robert. I love him."
It took all the courage she possessed. But she owed it to him and to herself.
"I don't believe it!" he blurted out. "I won't believe it! You are not yourself, Marion. You are worn out. You have been fascinated. He's strange—different—new to you. It's your imagination, not your heart, that's been—won. He's led you on by—"
"No!" she broke in. "You're quite wrong. It's not his fault at all. He doesn't love me."
"Of course not. I know that kind of fellow. You didn't need to leave New York to find plenty like him. He only wants to—"