His drollness, his dry contemplation of the specimen, and his absurdly gay and unpractical attire, formed a combination of elements suddenly grouped into an effect that touched her reflex nerves after the strain with the magic of humor. She could not help herself: she burst out laughing. At this, he looked away from the specimen; looked around puzzled, quizzically, and, in sympathetic impulse, began laughing himself. Thus a wholly unmodern incident took a whimsical turn out of a horror which, if farcical in the abstract, was no less potent in the concrete.
“Quite like the Middle Ages, isn’t it?” he said.
“But Walter Scott ceased writing in the thirties!” she returned, quick to fall in with his cue.
“The swooning age outlasted him—lasted, indeed, into the era of hoop-skirts; but that, too, is gone.”
“They do give medals,” she added.
“For rescuing the drowning only; and they are a great nuisance to carry around in one’s baggage. Please don’t recommend me!”
Both laughed again softly, looking fairly at each other in understanding, twentieth-century fashion. She was not to play the classic damsel or he the classic rescuer. Yet the fact of a young man finding a young woman brutally annoyed on the roof of the world, five or six miles from a settlement—well, it was a fact. Over the bump of their self-introduction, free of the serious impression of her experience, she could think for him as well as for herself. This struck her with sudden alarm.
“I fear I have made you a dangerous enemy,” she said. “Pete Leddy is the prize ruffian of our community of Little Rivers.”
“I thought that this would be an interesting valley,” he returned, in bland appreciation of her contribution of information about the habits of the specimen.
DINOSAUR OR DESPERADO
She faced a situation irritating and vitalizing, and inevitably, under its growing perplexity, her observation of his appearance and characteristics had been acute with feminine intuition, which is so frequently right, that we forget that it may not always be. She imagined him with a certain amiable aimlessness turning his pony to one side so as not to knock down a danger sign, while he rode straight over a precipice.
What would have happened if Leddy had really drawn? she asked herself. Probably her deliverer would have regarded the muzzle of Leddy’s gun in studious vacancy before a bullet sent him to kingdom come. All speculation aside, her problem was how to rescue her rescuer. She felt almost motherly on his account, he was so blissfully oblivious to realities. And she felt, too, that under the circumstances, she ought to be formal.
“Now, Mister—” she began; and the Mister sounded odd and stilted in her ears in relation to him.
“Jack is my name,” he said simply.
“Mine is Mary,” she volunteered, giving him as much as he had given and no more. “Now, sir,” she went on, in peremptory earnestness, “this is serious.”