He had never had a girl, to use the word current among his fellows. His scheme of life would, he supposed, include women by and by, but hitherto he had dwelt in a man’s world, in a universe of space and sunshine and blowing wind, under primitive conditions that made for tough muscles and a clean mind trained to meet frontier emergencies. But now, to his disgust, he found slipping into his reveries pictures of a slim, dark girl, arrow-straight, with eyes that held for him only scorn and loathing. The odd thing about it was that when his brain was busy with her a strange exultant excitement tingled through his veins.
One day a queer thing happened. He had never heard of psychic phenomena or telepathy, but he opened his eyes from a day-dream of her to see Jessie McRae looking down at him.
She was on an Indian cayuse, round-bellied and rough. Very erect she sat, and on her face was the exact expression of scornful hatred he had seen in his vision of her.
He jumped to his feet. “You—here!”
A hot color flooded her face with anger to the roots of the hair. Without a word, without another glance at him, she laid the bridle rein to the pony’s neck and swung away.
Unprotesting, he let her go. The situation had jumped at him too unexpectedly for him to know how to meet it. He stood, motionless, the red light in his eyes burning like distant camp-fires in the night. For the first time in his life he had been given the cut direct by a woman.
Yet she wasn’t a woman after all. She was a maid, with that passionate sense of tragedy which comes only to the very young.
It was in his mind to slap a saddle on his bronco and ride after her. But why? Could he by sheer dominance of will change her opinion of him? She had grounded it on good and sufficient reasons. He was associated in her mind with the greatest humiliation of her life, with the stinging lash that had cut into her young pride and her buoyant courage as cruelly as it had into her smooth, satiny flesh. Was it likely she would listen to any regrets, any explanations? Her hatred of him was not a matter for argument. It was burnt into her soul as with a red-hot brand. He could not talk away what he had done or the thing that he was.
She had come upon him by chance while he was asleep. He guessed that Angus McRae’s party had reached Whoop-Up and had stopped to buy supplies and perhaps to sell hides and pemmican. The girl had probably ridden out from the stockade to the open prairie because she loved to ride. The rest needed no conjecture. In that lone land of vast spaces travelers always exchanged greetings. She had discovered him lying in the grass. He might be sick or wounded or dead. The custom of the country would bring her straight across the swales toward him to find out whether he needed help.
Then she had seen who he was—and had ridden away.
A sardonic smile of self-mockery stamped for a moment on his brown boyish face the weariness of the years.