Coles had advertised the auction sale of the mares to take place immediately after the race and though he would gladly have postponed it he had to live up to his advertisement. Naturally the result was disastrous. The ranchers had seen the ragged Alcatraz win against the imported horses and they felt they could only show their local patriotism by failing to bid. There were one or two mocking offers of a hundred dollars a head for the lot. “Something pretty for my girl to ride,” as one of the ranchers phrased it, laughing. The result was that every one of the mares was knocked down to Marianne at a ludicrously low price; so low that when it was over and Coles strolled about with her to indicate the size of her bargain she felt that she was moving in a dream.
“It’s easy to see that you’re not Western,” he said in the end, “but you have a Western horse to thank for putting this deal through—I mean Alcatraz.”
“He’s too ugly for that,” said Marianne, and yet on her way back to the hotel she realized that the sun-faded chestnut had truly proved a gold mine to her. It had been, she felt, the luckiest day of her business life, for she knew that the price she had paid for the mares was less than half a reasonable valuation of them. Here was her ranch ready stocked, so to speak, with fine horses. It only needed, now, to end the tyrannical sway of Lew Hervey and in that fighting man of men, Red Perris, Marianne felt that the solution lay.
Once in her room at the hotel, she looked about her in some dismay. Of course she was merely an employer receiving a prospective employee to examine his qualifications, but she also remained, in spite of herself, a girl receiving a man. She was glad that no one was there to watch with quizzical eye as she rearranged the furniture; she was doubly glad that he could not watch her at the mirror. She gave herself the most critical examination since she left the East and on the whole she approved of the changes. The stirring life in the open had darkened the olive of her skin, she found, but also had made it more translucent; the curve of her cheek was pleasantly filled; her throat rounder; her head better poised. And above all excitement gave her the vital color.
She paused at this point to wonder why a stray cowpuncher should make her flush but immediately decided that he had nothing to do with it; it was the purchase of the mares that kept alive the little thrill of happiness. But Marianne was essentially honest and when her heart jumped as she heard a swift, light step come down the hall and pause at her door, she admitted at once that horses had nothing to do with the matter.
She wished ardently that she had made the discovery sooner. As it was, before she composed herself, he had knocked, been bidden in and stood before her. She knew, inwardly dismayed, that her eyes were wide, her color high, and her whole expression one of childish expectancy. It comforted her greatly to find that he was hardly more at ease than she. He made futile efforts to rub some dust from his shirt.