KAY WHITE, on the other hand, found relief in her escape from Blaine’s society, which, with the avowal of his love, she had found depressing and embarrassing. Marvel was companionable in that he was silent when she did not wish to talk; or equally willing to uphold his end of the conversation when she felt in the mood for it, though even then the brunt of it fell upon her, to which, being a woman, she was, naturally, not averse.
They had spoken casually of various things of interest along the trail and there had been long silences. It spoke well for the companionship of both of them that no matter how long these silences they never became strained; and then their conversation wandered to their horses, as conversations between horse lovers always do.
“I can’t understand why Lightfoot behaved as he did yesterday,” she said, speaking of her own mount.
“Most any horse loses his head easy,” he said. “They are not like mules or cows. A mule isn’t so nervous. If they get tangled up in something they usually lie still and wait for somebody to untangle them; but a horse will either kick himself free or to death, and he doesn’t seem to care much which it is. Of course, they are not all alike. I saw an old horse once that had stood all night with one foot caught in a wire fence, and he hadn’t moved. He just stood there till I happened along the next morning with a pair of pliers and cut him loose. He was a right old horse, and he must have got wise with age.”
“Maybe if Lightfoot lives long enough he will have as much sense as a mule,” suggested Kay.
“Maybe,” he replied, “and then again maybe he won’t. There are a lot of things, horses and men, too, who would never have any sense if they lived to be a thousand years old.”
“He must have been terribly frightened yesterday,” said the girl, “because he is always so sweet and gentle. Don’t you suppose he would have stopped before the trail dropped off into the ravine?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “You can’t always tell what a horse will do. Some folks say they’re blind when they’re frightened like that. I’ve seen them run right into a rail fence when they were real frightened, without even trying to jump it.”
“It makes me shiver every time I think what might have happened if it hadn’t been for you,” she said.
He glanced up at her quickly. “It makes me feel mighty shaky, too,” he said. “I am sure glad I was there.”
“And you were the only one who thought to do it,” she said.
“I reckon they knew their horses weren’t fast enough,” he said. “You know I knew Baldy could run. I’ve seen him run every morning; and he’s built for speed, too. Anybody could see that. If I hadn’t been sure he could beat Lightfoot, it would have been worse than useless to chase him, for then nothing on earth could have stopped him; and if you had jumped, the other horse might have hurt you.”
“Every time I think of what you did I feel so ashamed of myself,” said the girl.
“What have you got to be ashamed of?” he asked.
“I did you such an injustice,” she said.
“You never did anything to me,” he replied good naturedly.
“I mean in my thoughts,” she explained. “I—it is rather hard to tell you, but I should feel like a hypocrite if I didn’t.”
“You don’t have to,” he said. “I think I know.”
“I was deceived by outward appearances,” she said.
“These clothes are sort of silly,” he said; “I realize that now. Of course, though, when you are a stranger in a country it is hard to tell what to wear. You solved it though by adopting a sort of international garb. I guess overalls are worn everywhere.”
“At least they are practical,” she said, “and I am comfortable in them. It always seemed silly to me to dress up like an actor playing a part, especially when the part is one with which you are not familiar. Hikers who have never hiked, fliers who have never flown, golfers who have never golfed, and riders who have never ridden raid the sport tog shops seeking the last word in equipment and sartorial elegance, no matter how uncomfortable or weird the result. I remember hearing my father telling how he and mother fixed up when they got their first automobile—linen dusters, gauntlets, and goggles; and mama wore a veil with streaming ends that floated out in the wind behind the car. Now they haven’t a single thing specially for motoring.”
“I remember reading a little while ago about some chap who was after some trans-continental non-stop record, who had a special sky-blue uniform made, while Lindbergh was apt to cop off a record any afternoon in a business suit. No, you can’t tell much about people by their clothes.”
“Sometimes people try to deceive through the clothes that they wear,” she remarked.
“Do you think that is wrong?” he asked.
“It depends upon what their purpose is, I suppose.”
“Now Mrs. Talbot has the right idea,” he said with a trace of a smile. “She aint trying to deceive anyone. She’s dressed for hiking, golfing, riding or bridge. You can just take your choice, and I reckon that underneath she’s got on a bathing suit.”
“That’s mean,” she said.
“Oh, no, it aint mean,” he defended himself. “Everybody has been making fun of me as though I was the only funny looking thing around, but perhaps I’m the only one that is dressed sensible and according to what he really is.
“Don’t try to tell me that you are an Eastern polo player, Bruce,” she said.
“I haven’t,” he said.
“But your clothes have tried to tell that,” she insisted.
“But Dora’s clothes just rear up on their hind legs and shout that she’s a cowgirl, when she aint; and I’m sure I wouldn’t be any funnier playing polo than you would be working in a section gang.”
“I guess you’re right,” she said, laughing. “We are all of us fourflushers.”
“Except Bud, perhaps,” he suggested.
“How about Cory and Butts?” she asked. “How do you think they ought to be dressed?”
“If I told you you’d be surprised,” he replied.
“‘And one man in his time plays many parts,”’ he added; “but a lot of us are bum actors.”
“You are an enigma,” she said.
“Why?” he asked.
She shook her head and did not reply. His recognition of her quotation from Shakespeare baffled her, for she had noted the carelessness of his English and his many lapses into Western vernacular; and, like Dora Crowell, with whom she had discussed him, she had come to the conclusion that he was a Westerner playing a part. It was Dora’s theory that he had suddenly made a lot of money in Texas or Oklahoma oil and that, prompted by silly vanity, he was trying to pretend to be something that he was not. The more she saw of him and the longer she talked with him, the more convinced she became, however, that he was genuine at heart; and before they rode into camp that night she would have had to have admitted, had she asked herself the question, that she had found Marvel tremendously congenial and that she was more than a little interested in him.
Nor was she alone the troubled victim of an awakened interest. Perhaps a consciousness of the girl’s personality had been developing within Marvel during the several days that he had known her, but it had not been until this afternoon that it had made itself objectively felt by him. It came suddenly, like an awakening, and with it a realization that this girl, a type such as he had never before met, had achieved a place in his thoughts that he had believed reserved forever for another.
The man’s loyalty was inherent and almost entirely apart from any objective mental processes, so that the realization of his interest in Kay came at first in the nature of a distinct shock. He tried to put her out of his mind by conjuring the features of the girl to whom he believed he owed all the loyalty of his heart and mind; but if the features of the absent one faded easily to be replaced by those of a little blonde in blue overalls, it was not entirely surprising, for the one was close and very real, while the other he had not seen for years.
When she had gone away there had been no understanding, only in his own heart; but to that understanding he had always been loyal, and upon it had been built a secret dream castle of hope and longing.
Some day she would come back and he would claim her, or, if she did not, he would go after her wherever she might be; and so it was when he looked at Kay and thoughts that he could not govern came into his mind, he felt a distinct sense of disloyalty to the other; and then Fate stepped in and upset the applecart, for she caused him to recall the moment that the girl had clung to him with both arms about his neck. He felt again the soft, lithe body pressed against his own; and in that instant he was lost. But he tried not to admit it even to himself; and inwardly he swore that he would never speak of it to her, or, at least, until he had laid his heart at the feet of the other girl. If she would not have it; then he could take it to Kay White with a clear conscience. But these were only dreams. When he brought his reason to bear upon the subject, he smiled cynically for he knew that there was little likelihood that Kay White would want his heart after he had brought it to her.
“A guy sure looks funny,” he thought, “running around with his heart in his hand, offering it to different girls. That’s what comes of reading poetry, I guess.”
As the party sat around the fire that night after supper spinning yarns and discussing the events of the trip, it was noticeable that Cory Blaine had lost some of the suave and courteous manner of the host, and that he was especially short and almost disagreeable in the few remarks he was forced to address to Marvel.
The latter expressed his liking for Baldy. “Want to sell him, Blaine?” he asked.
“No,” replied Cory shortly.
“I’ve taken a sort of fancy to him,” said Bruce. “I’ll give you more than he’s worth.”
“He wouldn’t be much good to you,” said Butts, “unless you hired me to go along and top him for you every morning.”
“Maybe I could learn to ride him,” said Bruce. “I’ve learned lots of things since I’ve been up here. I’ll give you seventy-five dollars for him, Blaine; and he aint worth over fifty, with the way the cattle business is today.”
“What do you know about the cattle business?” demanded Blaine.
“Just what I hear,” replied Marvel, “and since I’ve been out here I aint heard anything very good about it.”
“That Baldy horse is worth a hundred dollars if he’s worth a cent,” said Cory, his avarice getting the better of his ill temper.
Marvel reached in his pocket and drew out a roll of bills. He handed Blaine five twenties. “Here you are,” he said.
Blaine hesitated a moment and then reached out and took the money. “Baldy’s yourn,” he said.
As Bruce returned the roll of bills to his pocket, he commenced a hurried search of all the pockets in his clothes.
“Lost something?” asked Bud.
“Yes, I can’t find my lucky tooth. I thought I had it this morning.”
“Lucky tooth?” asked Dora.
“Sure,” said Bruce. “Horse’s tooth-better than a rabbit’s foot.”
“I never heard of such a thing,” said Birdie Talbot.
“Live and learn,” Marvel told her. “Now I’ll have to find another one. Wouldn’t do without a horse’s tooth for anything.”
One by one the members of the party rose and sought their blankets until only Kay White and Bruce Marvel were left sitting gazing into the glowing embers of the cook fire; but neither one felt the silence, and so they sat for some time until Kay finally roused herself and rose. “We both better go to bed,” she said; “we have a long, hard ride tomorrow.”
“Yes,” he said, rising.
As she turned to go she paused. “Why did you buy Baldy?” she asked.
“He saved your life,” he said simply.
She stood looking at him for a moment, the firelight playing on her golden hair and upon his bronzed face. Then she turned and walked away into the darkness, making no comment.
Marvel lit a cigarette, strolled over to the chuck wagon and picked up his bedroll; then he walked over and put it down close to where Cory Blaine lay.
After he had unrolled it, he went back to the fire and threw some more wood upon it before he removed his boots and crawled into his blankets.
Silence had fallen upon the camp, a silence broken only by the heavy breathing of some of the sleepers and the distant yapping of a coyote.
A half hour passed. The fire was still burning merrily. Bruce Marvel rose upon one elbow and listened attentively. Slowly he sat up and looked about the camp; then he reached over and picked up one of Cory Blaine’s boots, where it lay under the edge of the sleeper’s blankets. Taking careful and deliberate aim, he threw the boot into the fire; then he shouted loudly, “Get out of here, you!” whereupon Blaine and the other men awoke and sat up on their blankets.
“What’s eatin’ you?” demanded Blaine.
“There was a coyote sneaking around right in camp here,” said Marvel, “and I threw my boot at him.”
Blaine grunted and lay down again; and once more quiet reigned over the sleeping camp, and the smell of burning leather rose upward from the dying camp fire.