The car steered badly. The girl stopped it and beckoned to Lorry.
“There’s something wrong with the steering-gear. Are the roads good from here to the next town?”
“Not too good. There’s some heavy sand about a mile west.”
She bit her lip. “Well, I suppose we’ll have to turn back.”
“You could get to Stacey, ma’am. You could get your car fixed, and my mother runs the hotel there. It’s a good place to stop.”
“About eight miles. Three miles back the road forks and the left-hand road goes to town. The regular automobile road don’t go to Stacey.”
“Well, I suppose there is nothing else to do. I’ll try and turn around.” And the girl backed the car and swung round in a wavering arc. When the car faced the east she stopped it.
Lorry rode alongside. She thanked him for his services. “And please don’t do anything to that man,” she pleaded. “He has been punished enough. You almost killed him. He looked so wretched. Can’t you give him a good talking to and let him go?”
“I could, ma’am. But it ain’t right. He’ll try this here stunt again. There’s a reward out for him.”
“But won’t you—please!”
Lorry flushed. “You got a good heart all right, but you ain’t been long in the West. Such as him steals hosses and holds up folks and robs trains—”
“But you’re not an officer,” she said, somewhat unkindly.
“I reckon any man is an officer when wimmin-folk is gettin’ robbed. And I aim to put him where he belongs.”
“Thank you for helping us,” said the girl’s mother.
“You’re right welcome, ma’am.” And, raising his hat, Lorry turned and rode to where the man lay.
The car crept up the slope. Lorry watched it until it had topped the ridge. Then he dismounted and turned the man over.
“What you got to say about my turnin’ you loose?” he queried as the other sat up.
“All right. Get a movin’—and don’t try to run. I got my rope handy.”
The man’s rusty black coat was torn and wrinkled. His cheap cotton shirt was faded and buttonless. His boots were split at the sole, showing part of a bare foot. He was grimy, unshaven, and puffed unhealthily beneath the eyes. Lorry knew that he was but an indifferent rider without seeing him on a horse. He was a typical railroad tramp, turned highwayman.
“Got another gun on you?” queried Lorry.
The man shook his head.
“Where’d you steal that horse?”
“Who says I stole him?”
“I do. He’s a Starr horse. He was turned out account of goin’ lame. Hop along. I’ll take care of him.”
The man plodded across the sand. Lorry followed on Gray Leg, and led the other horse. Flares of noon heat shot up from the reddish-gray levels. Lorry whistled, outwardly serene, but inwardly perturbed. That girl had asked him to let the man go and she had said “please.” But, like all women, she didn’t understand such things.