He did not understand the contradictions of her and they worried him a little. Billie had told him that she could rope and shoot as well as any man. He had seen for himself that she was an expert rider. Her nerves were good enough to sit beside him at quiet ease within a stone’s throw of three sprawling bodies from which she had seen the lusty life driven scarce a half-hour since. Already he divined the boyish camaraderie that was so simple and direct an expression of good-will. And yet there was something about her queer little smile he could not make out. It hinted that she was really old enough to be his mother, that she was heiress of wisdom handed down by her sex through all the generations. As yet he had not found out that he was only a boy and she was a woman.
Pauline Roubideau knew the frontier code. She evinced no curiosity about the past of this boy-man who had come into her life at the nick of time. None the less she was eager to know what connection lay between him and the renegade her brother had killed. She had heard Jim Clanton say that he had waited four years for his revenge and had followed the man all over the West. Why? What motive could be powerful enough with a boy of fourteen to sway so completely his whole life toward vengeance?
She set herself to find out without asking. Inside of ten minutes the secret which had been locked so long in his warped soul had been confided to her. The boy broke down when he told her the story of his sister’s death. He was greatly ashamed of himself for his emotion, but the touch of her warm sympathy melted the ice in his heart and set him sobbing.
Quickly she came across to him and knelt down by his side.
“You poor boy! You poor, poor boy!” she murmured.
Her arm crept round his shoulders with the infinitely tender caress of the mother that lies, dormant or awake, in all good women.
“I—I—I’m nothing but a baby,” he gulped, trying desperately to master his sobs.
“Don’t talk foolishness,” she scolded to comfort him. “I wouldn’t think much of you if you didn’t love your sister enough to cry for her.”
There were tears in her own eyes. Her lively young imagination pictured vividly the desolation of the young hill girl betrayed so cruelly, the swift decline of her stern, broken-hearted father. The thought of the half-grown boy following the betrayers of his sister across the continent, his life dedicated for years to vengeance, was a dreadful thing to contemplate. It shocked her sense of all that was fitting. No doubt his mission had become a religion with him. He had lain down at night with that single purpose before him. He had risen with it in the morning. It had been his companion throughout the day. From one season to another he had cherished it when he should have been filled with the happy, healthy play impulses natural to his age.