AFTER BREAKFAST Bruce watched the party get away on the paper chase. He saw Cory and Kay and Bud start up the valley fifteen minutes ahead of the others. At the last minute the girl had come and given him her hand in parting. “Good bye, Bruce,” she said. “I’m sorry that you are not going to be here when my father comes. He will be sorry not to have been able to thank you for what you did that day.”
“I didn’t do it for thanks, Kay,” he said.
“They are taken for granted anyway. Anyhow, Kay, he couldn’t be any more thankful than I.”
“Hurry up!” growled Blaine. “If we want to get back tonight, we better get started.”
Marvel pressed the girl’s hand. “Good bye, Kay,” he said, and a moment later she was gone.
When the rest of the party had ridden away, Marvel and Butts found themselves alone at the corral.
The cowboy turned toward the city man. “We’ll be leavin’ right after dinner, Mister,” he said. “The train’s due about three.”
“I’ll be ready,” said Marvel, and turned back toward the house, where Miss Pruell was sitting on the veranda, her embroidery lying in her lap, her eyes strained up the valley following the dust of the riders.
Marvel joined her. “Rather lonesome for you, Miss Pruell,” he said.
“Oh, I don’t mind it a bit,” she replied, “only that I worry so much about Kay. I shall be glad when her father gets here, because I don’t like the idea of her riding off alone with strange men.”
“Mrs. Talbot and Dora are along.”
“But Kay and Cory and Bud started fifteen minutes ahead of the others, and I don’t think it’s proper at all. I just can’t get used to the ways of modern young people, Mr. Marvel. I’m too old-fashioned, and I always shall be.”
“I guess I’m a little bit old-fashioned myself, Miss Pruell. I would rather have seen one of the other ladies go along with Kay.”
“Do you think there is any danger?” she asked, perturbed.
“Oh, my no,” he assured her. “It is you and I probably who are wrong.”
“Well, I suppose so,” she admitted. “That is what Kay is always telling me. It would just about kill her father and me if anything happened to Kay. She is all we have left. My sister, who was Kay’s mother, died when Kay was a little girl; and I have always had the care of her; so that she is just as dear to me as though she were my own.”
“I can see how that is,” said Marvel. “You sure ought to be mighty proud of yourself, Miss Pruell,” he added.
“Why?” she asked. “What do you mean?”
“Kay is such a fine girl,” he explained.
“She is a fine girl,” said Miss Pruell, “whether I had anything to do with making her one or not; but the trouble with Kay is she is too trusting. She thinks everybody is just as fine as she is. She is self reliant enough; but somehow she doesn’t seem to be as sophisticated as some of the other girls, and I am always afraid that she is going to be imposed upon.”
“Now no-one would have to worry if Dora Crowell was riding without a chaperon,” suggested Marvel, “and she’s a mighty nice girl, too.”
“Dora impresses one as being able to take care of herself,” said Miss Pruell.
“Well, Kay can take care of herself, too,” said Marvel. “Oh shucks, Miss Pruell, she’ll be all right.”
“Oh, I know it,” admitted the woman, “but just the same I’d feel safer if you’d been along, Mr. Marvel.”
He looked at her in surprise. “But I’m more of a stranger than Cory,” he reminded her.
“I know what Kay thinks of you,” she said. “We have both felt that she was so much safer when you were along—since what you did that day.”
“I’m very glad to know that you have confidence in me,” said the man.
“Yes, we both have a lot of confidence in you, Mr. Marvel, especially Kay. She was all broken up this morning when she told me you were going away.”
He made no reply; but he was thinking that the girl had very successfully hidden her regret from him; but then girls were funny. He had read enough about them in books to know that. Everyone said they were funny.
“I guess I won’t ever understand them,’ he said.
“Who?” she asked.
“Did I say anything? I must have been thinking out loud.” He was looking out across the ranch yard down the valley; but his thoughts were in the other direction, where a golden haired girl in overalls rode with a man he did not trust. “Here comes a car,” he said. “You don’t see many cars up here.”
Miss Pruell looked up. “Why bless my heart,” she exclaimed, “I believe that’s Mr. White. Yes, that’s Kay’s father. I recognize his roadster.”
The two sat watching the approaching car as it came swiftly up the rough road and, slowing down, turned into the ranch yard. Then Miss Pruell stood up and waved her hand, and as the car stopped before the house she went down the steps to greet a well built man of fifty with graying hair that accentuated the bronze of his tanned face.
“Hello Abbie,” he said.
“I am so glad you’ve come, John.”
“Where is Kay?” he demanded.
“She’s out for the day—gone on a paper chase.” He had opened up the rumble seat and was getting out his bags.
“Can’t I help you, sir?” asked Marvel, coming down the steps.
“John, this is Mr. Marvel,” said Miss Pruell. “This is Kay’s father, Mr. Marvel.”
The two men shook hands; and in the brief keen scrutiny of the instant, each saw something in the other that he liked.
“Mr. Marvel saved Kay’s life the other day, John.”
“They are going to make a good story of that before they get through with it,” said Marvel laughing; but he had to listen again to a detailed narration of the whole affair.
“I’m sorry that I can’t tell you how I feel about this,” said John White; “but until you are a father yourself you can’t understand what I owe you.”
After helping White in with his bags, Marvel left the two and strolled down to the stable, guessing that they might probably have much of a personal nature to discuss; so that he did not see them again until dinner was served at noon.
During the conversation at the table, Marvel learned that John White had started in life as a cowpuncher, that he had become foreman of a big ranch in California and then a partner; and that with the accumulation of wealth and the growth of the community in which he lived, he had drifted into banking. It seemed almost like a fairy story to Marvel, and he wanted to ask a great many questions; but his natural reticence prevented, and presently the conversation drifted to other topics; and soon the meal was over and Butts was calling him from the veranda.
“You better shake a leg, Mister, if you’re goin’ along with me,” he said.
“Just a moment, my man,” replied Marvel; but he rose from the table. “I’ll say goodbye before I leave,” he said to Miss Pruell and White. “It will take a few minutes to get my baggage roped on to the buckboard.”
When he reached the veranda, Butts met him with a surly scowl. “Give me a hand with my stuff, Butts,” he said.
“Hustle it yourself,” growled the cowpuncher. “I aint flunkyin’ for no tenderfoot.”
“Have it your own way,” said Marvel. “I aint in any hurry to leave; but I don’t leave without my trunk, and I aint goin’ to carry it alone. If Blaine finds me here when he gets back he’s goin’ to be peeved at you.”
Butts hesitated for a moment, and then he growled something under his breath.
“Come on then,” he said. “Where is it? I don’t want to see you around here no longer than I have to.”
Together they went to Bruce’s room and carried his trunk and bag out to the buckboard; and while Butts was roping the baggage on to the vehicle, Marvel returned to the house and bid Miss Pruell and Mr. White goodbye.
“I hope I see you again some time, young man,” said White, as they parted.
“You don’t hope it half as much as I do,” thought Marvel as he turned and left them.
“Well, are you about ready?” demanded Butts.
“Just as soon as I get Baldy,” said Marvel.
“What you goin’ to do with Baldy?” demanded the cowpuncher.
“I’m goin’ to lead him down to the railroad.”
“Who said so?”
“You aint goin’ to lead him behind this buckboard,” said Butts.
“Then I stay right here. Take my trunk off.”
“Well you got me again,” said Butts, “but you’re sure goin’ to be sorry for it.”
“Not if I know it,” replied Marvel.
“Goodbye, Mr. Marvel,” called Miss Pruell, who had come out onto the veranda. “I hope you have a pleasant trip.”
“I’m expecting to,” replied Bruce.
Butts drove down to the stable; and Marvel went in and led Baldy out, taking him up close to the side of the off horse.
“What you doin’ there?” demanded Butts.
“I’m goin’ to tie him up here where you can’t get funny and lose him,” replied Marvel.
“You know too damned much for a tenderfoot,” said Butts.
“He’ll travel better up here anyway,” said Marvel, “besides removin’ all temptation from your soul.”
After he had tied Baldy’s halter rope to the ring in the snaffle bit of the off horse, he came back and climbed into the buckboard and Butts started the team toward town.
At first Baldy was inclined to make things awkward; and Butts indulged in much grumbling and profanity, but after awhile the horse settled down to the gait of his fellows and thereafter travelled easily.
From the ranch stable to the little town sprawling along the railroad, two and a half hours away, neither man spoke, except that at the end of the journey Marvel told Butts to leave him and his stuff off at the hotel; for the next eastbound train did not leave until early in the morning.
The westbound train on which Butts expected his passengers was late—how late the station agent could not tell. All he knew was that it was held up by a wrecked freight train, and that it might be several hours before the track was cleared.
Marvel got a room in the hotel and took Baldy to the livery stable.
The proprietor of the livery was a bleary eyed, red nosed individual, who appeared much interested in Marvel’s clothes.
“I reckon you be one of Cory Blaine’s dudes,” he said.
“Do you?” inquired Marvel politely.
“Your horse?” asked the proprietor.
“Yes. You haven’t got a saddle and bridle you want to sell, have you?”
“I’ve got an outfit I’ve been holdin’ for a board bill for more’n a year now,” replied the proprietor. He took the halter rope from Marvel and led Baldy into a stall.
“What you feedin’?” asked Marvel.
“I got some good alfalfa hay.”
“Nothing else?” asked Bruce.
“What you want for this cayuse? T-bone steaks?”
“I seen some oat hay stacked in the shed when I come in,” said Marvel. “Give him that.”
“You’re sure particular.”
“Just like you would be with one of your horses,” said Bruce. “I know a horseman when I see him, and I’ll bet yours get nothing but the best.”
The bleary eyed one swelled perceptibly. “You’re dead right, young feller,” he said.
“And where’s your grain?” demanded Marvel.
“Sure. You can’t never make me think a man like you don’t grain his horses. Oh, I see. It’s in that bin back there. You fork him in some of that oat hay, and I’ll get the grain;” and he started toward the end of the barn where the grain bin stood.
The proprietor hesitated; then he shook his head and went outside to fork the hay into Baldy’s manger. When he returned Bruce had already measured out a generous ration of oats for his horse.
“Now let me see that outfit,” he said.
Ten minutes later he had purchased an old but serviceable saddle, to the pommel of which was tied a forty foot hemp rope, had also acquired a bridle of sorts, and was on his way back to his hotel room.