THE GUESTS retired early that evening, with the exception of Marvel, who sat alone on the veranda smoking. Blaine and Butts were sitting on the top rail of the corral talking. “I’m gettin’ rid of Marvel tomorrow,” said Cory.
“What you so asceared of him for?” demanded Butts. “He’s harmless.”
“He’s sweet on Kay White,” replied Blaine. “I want her for myself.”
“Well, aint you goin’ to get her?”
“Yes, but I think she sort of likes the dude; and if he’s around he may bust it up after I get it fixed.”
“Now that he’s goin’,” said Butts, “I sure would like to make him dance.”
“Nuthin’ doin’,” said Blaine. “Anything like that would give us a bad reputation.”
“I sure would like to take a shot at that dude just the same,” said Butts.
“Well, you aint goin’ to,” said Blaine. “He don’t mean nuthin’ to me except to get him out of the way of Kay White as easy as I can. See that you don’t go mussin’ things up.”
“Just as you say, boss,” replied Butts, “but my trigger finger sure itches every time I look at that son-of-a-gun.”
On the ranch house veranda Marvel had stamped out the fire of his last cigarette and was sitting with his feet on the rail thinking.
“I guess,” he meditated, “that it’s just about as well that I get out of here anyway, for if I don’t I’m going to fall in love with Kay White—if I haven’t already fallen. Of course, I aint give no one else a promise except in my own heart, and I think she knew before she went away that I’d be waiting for her when she came back. It’s a funny world. I wonder what she’ll be like.”
He was sitting in the shadows at the end of the porch when a light step attracted his attention; and looking down the long veranda he saw a slender figure emerge from the house, and as he saw it a little thrill ran through his frame.
He did not speak nor move, fearing perhaps that he might frighten her away. She came slowly along the veranda toward him, reveling in the cool night air and the star-shot heaven against which the black hills stood out in sharply defined silhouette. She was quite close before she discovered him, and when she did she voiced a little exclamation of surprise.
“I didn’t know that there was anyone out here,” she said; and, coming closer, “Oh, it’s you.”
“It’s so much nicer out here,” he said, “that I hated to go into that stuffy little box.”
“That’s the way I felt. I could not sleep.”
“I am glad that you couldn’t.”
“That is not very nice,” she said, smiling.
“You know what I mean,” he said. “Won’t you sit down?” Rising, he drew another chair closer to his own.
“I might for a minute,” she said, “but —’
“But you would rather be alone. I know how that is. Lots of times I feel that way myself, most of the time in fact; but I’ll promise not to talk.”
“I don’t mind if you talk,” she told him, “if you don’t make me talk.”
“Then I reckon it won’t be very noisy out here.”
She settled herself comfortably in her chair. “That will be nice. There are so few people who know when to keep still.”
He smiled contentedly, but made no reply; and, having purposely arranged the chairs to this end, he sat admiring her profile and lazily permitted himself to indulge in thoughts that were not entirely loyal to another girl. It was a long silence that followed—a silence which the girl was first to break.
“Do you think the paper chase will be good sport?” she asked.
“I hope so,” he said.
“Cory has promised that I can be one of the hares,” she continued.
“Do you think you can catch us?”
“I am not going along,” he said.
“Why?” she asked in surprise.
“I’m leaving tomorrow,” he told her.
“Leaving!” she exclaimed, sitting erect and turning toward him. “Not leaving for good?”
“Oh, I am sorry. I thought perhaps that you would be here longer.”
“Cory wants my room. He has other guests coming.”
“Did he ask you to leave?”
“Yes, but I was about ready to go anyway.”
“I don’t see why he couldn’t make room for you,” she said. “Dora and I could double up, or you could go in with Bert Adams.”
“I sort of guess Cory wouldn’t thank anyone for the suggestion.”
“You mean that he doesn’t want you to stay? Why in the world shouldn’t he?”
“Maybe I haven’t paid my bill.”
“I know better than that,” she said. “You paid a week in advance when you came. I heard you and Cory talking about it, and I saw you pay him for Baldy; so I know that you can’t owe him anything.”
“I suppose he’s got his own reasons,” said Bruce.
“I don’t see what they could be.”
“Don’t you?” he asked.
There was a curious inflection to the question that perhaps he did not intend, but she sensed a hidden meaning which piqued her curiosity. “Why should I?” she demanded.
“Oh, nothing,” he said, moving uneasily in his chair.
“It is something,” she insisted. “It sounds as though in some way I were responsible.”
“Oh, you aint to blame. It’s just that Cory has foolish ideas in his head, though perhaps they aint so foolish after all,” he added.
“You have got to tell me,” she said. “I certainly have a right to know if I have done anything.”
“I told you you haven’t done anything.”
“Well, then, I want to know anyway,” she said with finality.
“It’s just that Cory thinks,” he started, and then he gave a nervous cough and started over again. “It’s just that Cory thinks—by golly, Kay, I can’t say it.”
She looked at him, her eyes wide; for he had told her everything in his halting speech and embarrassed manner, though doubtless he would have sworn that he had told her nothing.
She rose slowly from her chair and stood looking out into the night for a moment. Now she was moving away, along the veranda toward the doorway. “Good night,” she said.
She did not reply as she moved rapidly toward her room.
He sat there alone and in silence until midnight, while Kay White tossed sleeplessly upon her bed. Here was another problem, and that it had suddenly become a serious one she recognized now that the man’s unconscious avowal had brought a realization of the depth of her interest in him—an interest that had been constantly mounting since the day of the lion hunt.
She was glad that he was going away on the morrow and that she would never see him again, for something seemed to tell her that he might be a very difficult person to resist; and perhaps, too, she realized he might be almost as equally difficult to forget.
She kept congratulating herself over and over again that she had not fallen in love with him, and thus she fell asleep.
At breakfast the next morning, Bruce Marvel appeared in his street clothes, much to the surprise of every one, except Cory Blaine and Kay White.
“Why the smart togs?” demanded Dora Crowell. “Are they the last word in paper chase raiment?”
“I’m leaving today,” he explained.
“Oh, I think that is real mean,” said Birdie Talbot. “We haven’t had a single game of bridge.”
“We shall certainly be sorry to see you go, Mr. Marvel,” said Miss Pruell.
“Well, we made a horseman of him, anyway, before he left,” chimed in Bert Adams.
“I envy you, Bruce,” said Benson Talbot; “I’d like to get back to God’s country, where there’s a golf course, myself.”
“Butts is goin’ down to the train to meet a party,” announced Blaine. “He’ll take you and your stuff along with him.”
“What are you going to do with Baldy?” asked Dora.
“I’m going to take him along with me,” replied Marvel.
“Want to sell him?” asked Adams. “I’ll give you what you paid Cory for him.”
“I’m not aimin’ ever to sell Baldy,” replied Marvel; and Kay White knew that the words were meant for her.