Typically Western, she thought, that in their second meeting he should act like an old friend. Delightfully Western, too! Under his straight-glancing eyes, his open smile of pleasure, new confidence came in Marianne, new self-reliance. The grip of his hand sent strength up her arm and into her heart.
“I’d given you up,” she admitted.
“Mighty sorry it took so long,” said Perris. “You see, I was right in the middle of a little poker game that hung on uncommon long. But when it finished up, me and Shorty come as fast as we could. Eh, Shorty?”
“Huh!” grunted Shorty. Marianne looked to her messenger for the first time.
He sat his saddle loosely, one hand falling heavily on the pommel, and his head bent. He did not raise it to meet her glance, but rolled his eyes up in a gloomy scowl which flitted over her face and then came to a rest on the face of Red Jim Perris. A frown of weariness puckered the brow of Shorty. Purple, bruised places of sleeplessness surrounded his eyes. And every line of age or worry or labor was graven more deeply on his face.
“Huh!” grunted Shorty again, mumbling his words very much like a drunkard. “I’ve killed my Mamie hoss, that’s all!”
And with this gloomy retort, he urged the mare to a down-headed trot. In fact, the staunch little brown mare staggered on tired legs and her sides heaved like bellows. The grey horse of Red Jim Perris was in hardly better condition.
“I wanted you quickly,” said Marianne, a little horrified. “But I didn’t ask you to kill your horses coming.”
“Kill ’em?” said Perris, and he cast a sharp glance of disapproval at her. “Not much! That hoss of mine is a pile fagged. I aim to get her that way. But she’ll be fit as a fiddle in the morning. I ride her till she’s through and never a step more. I know the minute she’s through working on muscle and starts working on her nerve, and when that time comes, I stop. I’ve put up in the middle of nowheres to let her get back her wind. Kill her? Nope, lady, and the only reason Shorty’s hoss was so used up was because he plumb insisted on keeping up with us!”
And Marianne nodded. Ordinarily such a speech would have drawn argument from her. Indeed, her own submissiveness startled her as she found herself gently inviting the fire eater to come into the house and learn in detail the work which lay before him.
FROM THE HIP
Shorty rode for the bunkhouse instead of the corrals and tumbling out of the saddle he staggered through the door. Inside, the cowpunchers sat about enjoying a before-dinner smoke and the coolness which the evening wash had brought to their wind-parched skins. Shorty reeled through the midst of them to his bunk and collapsed upon it.
Not a man stirred. Not an eye followed him. No matter what curiosity was burning in their vitals, etiquette demanded that they ask no questions. If in no other wise, the Indian has left his stamp on the country in the manners of the Western riders.