HERVEY TAKES A TRICK
The night before, when Perris rode off from the ranchhouse after defying Hervey and his men, his hoofbeats had no sooner faded to nothing than the cowpunchers swarmed out from the patio and into the open; as though they wished to put their heads together and plan the battle which the command of Hervey, to-night, had postponed. All of that was perfectly clear to Marianne. Her call brought Hervey back to her and she led him at once off the veranda and to the living room where she could talk secure of interruption or of being overheard. There he slumped uninvited into the first easy chair and sat twirling his sombrero on his finger-tips, obviously well satisfied with himself and the events of the evening. She herself remained standing, carefully turning her back to the light so that her face might, as much as possible, be in shadow. For she knew it was pale and the eyes unnaturally large.
Hervey must not see. He must not guess at the torment in her mind and all the self-revelations which had been pouring into her consciousness during the past few moments. Greatest of all was one overshadowing fact: she loved Red Jim Perris! What did it matter that she had seen him so few times, and spoke to him so few words? A word might be a thunderclap; a glance might carry into the very soul of a man. And indeed she felt that she had seen that proud, gay, impatient soul in Jim. What he thought of her was another matter. That he found a bar between them was plain. But on the night of his first arrival at the ranch, when she sang to him, had she not felt him, once, twice and again, leaning towards her, into her life. And if they met once more, might he not come all the way? But no matter. The thing now was to use all her cunning of mind, all her strength of body, to save him from imminent danger; and the satisfied glint of Hervey’s eye convinced her that the danger was imminent indeed. Why he should hate Jim so bitterly was not clear; that he did so hate the stranger was self-evident. The more she studied her foreman the more her terror grew, the more her lonely sense of weakness increased.
“Mr. Hervey,” she said suddenly. “What’s to be done?”
Her heart fell. He had avoided her eyes.
“I dunno,” said Hervey. “You seen to-night that I treated him plumb white. I put my cards on the table. I warned him fair and square. And that after I’d given him a week’s grace. A gent couldn’t do any more than that, I guess!”
He was right, in a way. At least, the whole populace of the mountains would agree that he had given Red Jim every chance to leave the ranch peaceably. And if he would not go peaceably, who could raise a finger against Hervey for throwing the man off by force?
“But something more has to be done,” she said eagerly. “It has to be done!”