When they reached Jim Silent he stared fixedly upon Haines. Then he drew his guns slowly and presented them to his comrade, while his eyes shifted to Kate and he said coldly: “Lady, I hope I ain’t the last one to congratulate you!”
She did not understand, but Haines scowled and coloured. Dan, in the meantime, was swept into the saloon by an influx of the cowpunchers that left only Lee Haines outside with Kate. She had detained him with a gesture.
“Mr. Lee,” she said, “I am going to ask you to do me a favour. Will you?”
His smile was a sufficient answer, and it was in her character that she made no pretext of misunderstanding it.
“You have noticed Dan among the crowd?” she asked, “Whistling Dan?”
“Yes,” he said, “I saw him do some very nice shooting.”
“It’s about him that I want to speak to you. Mr. Lee, he knows very little about men and their ways. He is almost a child among them. You seem—stronger—than most of the crowd here. Will you see that if trouble comes he is not imposed upon?”
She flushed a little, there was such a curious yearning in the eyes of the big man.
“If you wish it,” he said simply, “I will do what I can.”
As he walked beside her towards her horse, she turned to him abruptly.
“You are very different from the men I have met around here,” she said.
“I am glad,” he answered.
“If you find me different, you will remember me, whether for better or worse.”
He spoke so earnestly that she grew grave. He helped her to the saddle and she leaned a little to study him with the same gentle gravity.
“I should like to see you again, Mr. Lee,” she said, and then in a little outburst, “I should like to see you a lot! Will you come to my house sometime?”
The directness, the sudden smile, made him flinch. His voice was a trifle unsteady when he replied.
“I shall!” He paused and his hand met hers. “If it is possible.”
Her eyebrows raised a trifle.
“Is it so hard to do?”
“Do not ask me to explain,” he said, “I am riding a long way.”
“Oh, a ’long-rider’!” she laughed, “then of course—” She stopped abruptly. It may have been imagination, but he seemed to start when she spoke the phrase by which outlaws were known to each other. He was forcing his eyes to meet hers.
He said slowly: “I am going on a long journey. Perhaps I will come back. If I am able to, I shall.”
He dropped his hand from hers and she remained silent, guessing at many things, and deeply moved, for every woman knows when a man speaks from his soul.
“You will not forget me?”
“I shall never forget you,” she answered quietly. “Good-bye, Mr. Lee!”