THE OTHER GUESTS arrived at the corral by the time the horses were saddled, those who were going on the hunt being dressed, each according to his own ideas of what was either comfortable or proper. Bert Adams from Boston and Dora Crowell from Philadelphia might have crept out of the latest Western movie thriller. Mrs. Talbot, who also acted as unofficial chaperon, was resplendent in khaki knickers, white stockings, and high heeled laced shoes, with a silk shirt-waist, and coat to match her breeches, her only acknowledgment to the wild, wild west being a colored bandana tied about her neck and a Stetson hat, that was a size too small for her, perched on top of her bobbed locks. Benson Talbot was dressed for golf, while Kay White still clung to her overalls and workshirt, to which she had added a broad brimmed Stetson and a leather coat, for the chill of the Arizona night was still in the air.
As the cowhands led their horses out, Cory Blaine took Baldy from the corral and mounted him. The horse made a couple of jumps and then ran for a few hundred yards, after which he trotted docile, back to the corral.
Of course, every one had watched the topping of Baldy. Kay White was standing beside Marvel. “Isn’t he a marvelous horseman,” she said.
The man glanced quickly down at her. “Wonderful!” he said.
“He’s perfectly safe now,” said Blaine, reining in beside Marvel and dismounting.
“Thanks awfully,” said Marvel. “But say, haven’t you got an English saddle?”
Blaine looked at him with a pitying expression that he tried to conceal. “No, Mister,” he said.
“I thought I’d ask,” said Marvel. “You see I might not be able to ride in one of these cowboy saddles.”
“Oh, you’ll get used to it,” said Kay. “I ride a flat saddle at home most of the time, but I found that if you can ride a flat saddle you can ride anything.”
“I wish I had brought my own saddle,” said Marvel.
“I’m glad he didn’t,” said Butts in a low tone to Dora Crowell. “He is sure funny enough now, and if he’d brung that I’d like as not have laughed myself to death.”
“Perhaps he will be all right,” said Dora, “when he becomes accustomed to our ways. He doesn’t seem to be a half bad sort of a fellow.”
“He’s too fresh,” said Butts.
Naturally all eyes were upon Marvel as he mounted Baldy. With few exceptions they were hoping that the horse would pitch a little, but he did not. Marvel mounted a little awkwardly, caught his knee on the cantle of the saddle and then sat on it, afterward slipping down into the seat. He also appeared to have trouble in finding his right hand stirrup.
“Good bye, Kay, and be careful of snakes,” called Miss Pruell to her niece, as the party moved away, “and please be sure that she has enough covers at night, Mrs. Talbot.”
“Good bye, Aunt Abbie,” called the girl. “I wish you were coming with us.”
“Heaven forbid I” exclaimed Miss Pruell. “It is quite bad enough here, without riding horseback all day in search of further discomfort.”
“Your aunt has a lot of sense,” said Marvel; “a lot more than we have.”
“You don’t expect to have a good time then?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t say that exactly,” he said, his eyes upon her fresh, young beauty, “but at that nobody with good sense would choose to sleep on the ground if he could sleep in a bed.”
“Oh, you’ll like it after you get used to it,” she told him.
“Perhaps,” was his only comment.
Presently Blaine broke into a trot; and as the others took up the gait, Marvel forged a little ahead of Kay White and she noted, to her dismay, that he rode awkwardly; in fact, his form seemed almost an exact replica of that adopted by Birdie Talbot, who rode just ahead of him. It seemed a pity, she thought; he was so nice looking. His smooth, sunburned face and clear eyes suggested a life spent much out of doors; and when she had seen him in his riding clothes she had been quite certain that he would prove himself a good horseman, in spite of the incongruity of his apparel.
“How am I doing?” he asked, as she moved up to his side.
“Will you mind if I tell you?” she asked.
“Certainly not. I’d like to have you.”
“Then, hold your reins in your left hand,” she said, “and don’t lean forward so much.”
“That is the new army seat,” he explained.
“I can’t help what it is. I don’t like it,” she said. “Let your feet hang naturally. Don’t carry them back, and whatever you do don’t try to post in a stock saddle. Your stirrups are much too long for that, and besides they are not far enough forward.”
“I’m riding just like Mrs. Talbot,” he said.
“Well for heaven’s sake, don’t copy her. She was never on a horse before in her life until she came here two weeks ago.”
“Is this better?”
“Keep your seat. Don’t bounce so.”
“I’m trying not to,” he said.
“Look at that damn dude,” said Butts to one of the other cowhands, who was riding with him in rear of the party. “Polo, my foot! I don’t believe that guy ever seen a horse before.”
“Him and Birdie must have takin’ riding lessons from the same correspondence school,” said his companion.
“Well, Birdie is a woman; and you can’t expect nuthin’ from them,” said Butts, “but it sure gives me a pain to see anything that calls itself a man ride like that.”
“They is all a bunch of freaks,” said the other. “I’d sure hate to have my poor old paw see me with this outfit.”
“Look at Bert ride. I’ll bet he’s got corns now.”
“When he gets back to Boston he’ll have to eat off the mantelpiece.”
“Well, I don’t mind the others so much,” said Butts. “I got kinda used to ’em; but that dude that blew in last night, him and me aint goin’ to be no pals. Every time I look at his panties I want to hit him.”
“Why don’t you then? He invited you to.”
“I can’t on Cory’s account. We got to treat a payin’ customer decent whether we like him or not. But I’m goin’ to get that guy just the same, only he won’t know who done it.”
“I never took no college degree,” replied his companion, “but if I know anything, I know enough not to monkey with a guy with eyes like that dude.”
“Looks don’t mean nuthin’ with them Eastern dudes,” said Butts; “that’s all they got.”
For three days the party rode deeper into a wilderness of mountains and meadows until they reached their destination, a tiny shack beside a leaping trout stream in a valley hemmed by lofty mountains, where lived Hi Bryam, the owner of four good lion dogs that the party was to use in the forthcoming hunt. The chuck wagon had met them at Mill Creek and had been able to accompany them as far as Bryam’s.
Beyond this point there was no wagon road; but lion were known to be plentiful in the mountains all about them, and Blaine had planned that they were to arrange their hunts from this camp so that they could return at night.
Before they had reached Bryam’s, Bruce Marvel was well acquainted with his companions; and had found them a democratic and likeable lot, who had cast aside all formalities, including titles and surnames.
An instinctive diffidence had made it difficult for him to call the women by their first names; but he had finally been badgered into it, though it still required a distinct moral effort to call the fat Mrs. Talbot Birdie. Kay and Dora came much more easily to his lips—especially Kay. The girl from Philadelphia seemed rather mannish to him; but Kay White, in spite of her overalls and self reliance, was essentially feminine. During the long rides and the evenings in camp he had learned much concerning her and the other members of the party. He had learned, for instance, though not from Kay, that her father was a wealthy California banker; that her mother was dead and that shortly after the lion hunt, she expected her father to join her at the home ranch.
He had also surmised from what he had seen that Cory Blaine was much interested in Kay White; and that troubled him, for he did not like Blaine. There was something about the man that made Marvel think he was playing a part and that he was not at all at heart what he appeared to be. Butts, who seemed to be Blaine’s right hand man, remained tacitly antagonistic to Marvel, but Bud, the other cowhand who accompanied the party, was inclined to be friendly.
Toward Hi Bryam he conceived an immediate and instinctive dislike. The fellow was tall and lanky, with a peculiarly repellent face and a surly manner that invited no familiarities.
Three days of hunting brought no success; and on the fourth day Marvel found himself paired off with Dora Crowell, while Blaine and Kay White followed him. Hi Bryam, with the other two dogs, led Dora and Bruce along the opposite ridge, the parties joining where the two ridges met some ten miles above camp. Bert Adams, sore and lame, remained in camp with the Talbots.
Cory Blaine was unusually silent as he led the way up the steep and rocky trail toward the summit of the ridge, and even when they stopped occasionally on some leveler and more favorable spot to blow their horses he seemed strangely preoccupied.
“You seem worried this morning, Cory,” observed the girl, as they halted again, this time near the summit of the ridge.
“I reckon I am,” said the man.
“What’s the matter?”
“I’m worried because I’m such an ignorant cuss,” said Blaine.
The girl laughed lightly. “What makes you think you’re ignorant?” she demanded.
“You know I am,” he said. “I aint got no book learning.”
“You are far from ignorant,” she told him. “There is a lot of knowledge in the world that is not in any book. Some of the most ignorant people in the world are scholars.”
“That seems funny,” he said. “But maybe ignorant aint the word I mean. What I mean is that I don’t know how to do and say things the way, well, Bert Adams does, for instance. He’s what they call a gentleman, and I’m not. I got sense enough to see that.”
“It takes something more than a knowledge of English to constitute a gentleman, Cory,” she told him.
“Yes, I suppose so,” he agreed; “but there is a difference that I can’t explain. I know it’s there, and you know it’s there. I’m not the same as you and Dora Crowell and Bert Adams. I’m not the kind that you people would associate with.”
“Why how could you say that, Cory Blaine?” she exclaimed. “Has any one of us said or done anything to make you think that he thought he was better than you?”
“Of course not; but nevertheless you know it, and I know it.”
“There aint no nonsense about it, Kay;” insisted the man, “and I could prove it.”
“By asking you one question.”
“What is it?” Instantly the words were spoken she regretted them, but it was too late.
“Would you marry a feller like me?”
“Don’t be foolish,” she said. “How in the world does a girl know whom she will marry?”
“But you wouldn’t marry any ignorant cow puncher?” he insisted.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I suppose that I am no different from any other woman. If I loved a man, I would not care what he was—I mean that I would marry him no matter what he was.”
“But you would rather that he wouldn’t be an ignorant cow puncher?” he insisted.
“I don’t see why you keep harping on that,” she said. “It isn’t fair, Cory.”
“Well,” he said, “I’ve got my answer.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean that you’ve told me that you’d never marry an ignorant cow puncher.”
“I’ve told you nothing of the kind. I’d marry Hi Bryam if I loved him.”
The man relapsed into silence as they started again along the trail. The girl was troubled. She was sorry that he had spoken, for she knew now what was in his heart; but she did not know her own.
Kay White was a normal young woman. She had been attracted by other men in the past, but her compulsion at such times had never been of such a nature as to convince her that she had been in love. She conceived of love as a devastating passion, compelling and unreasoning; and certainly no man had ever aroused such an emotion in her breast; but she realized that perhaps she might be mistaken, and she also realized that she had been undeniably attracted toward Cory Blaine. That love might start this way she had little doubt, but inwardly she shrank from the thought that she might love Blaine.
As she recalled their recent conversation she realized that she was now not at all sure that she had actually meant what she said. The statement that she would marry Hi Bryam if she loved him had been an emotional nonsensicality, and this admission raised the question as to whether she would marry Cory Blaine if she loved him.
She was not a snob, but she was endowed with more than an average amount of good sense. She had known some and heard of many girls who trod the same walk of life as she who had married stable managers or chauffeurs; and very few of these matches had turned out happily, not because of the positions that the men held, but because everything in their training and environment and in the training and environment of their friends had been so different from that to which the girls had been accustomed that neither could find comfort nor happiness in the social sphere of the other.
The result of this thoughtful deliberation was to arouse regret for the statements that she had made; for she saw that they might, in a way, be construed as encouraging a hope within his breast; and that he might harbor such a hope seemed evident not only by his words but by the many attentions he had shown her since she had come to the TF Ranch.
But had he not also been attentive to Dora Crowell? Perhaps it was Dora he wanted, and perhaps he had only been sounding her to ascertain the attitude of a girl in a social sphere similar to that to which Dora belonged. Kay wondered, and as she considered the matter she also wondered if she would be pleased or disappointed should this prove to be a correct interpretation of his motives.
Where the trail widened again Blaine drew rein. “We’ll rest here a minute,” he said, and as she stopped her horse beside him he reached out and seized her hand. “I love you, Kay,” he said. “Don’t you think you could learn to love me?”
“I have been thinking about that for the last few minutes, Cory,” she replied, “and I shall be perfectly honest with you. I do not want to love you. Please do not say anything more about it.”
“I am going to make you love me,” he said.