“I’m comin’ back to see you some day. Mebbe you’ll feel different then,” he said.
“I might,” she admitted.
They rounded the bend. Clanton, on horseback, caught sight of them. He waved his hat and cantered forward.
“Say, Billie, how much bacon do you reckon we need to take with us?”
In front of the house Pauline slipped from her horse and left them discussing the commissary.
On the Trail
The convalescents rode away into a desert green with spring. The fragrant chaparral thickets were bursting into flower. Spanish bayonets studded the plains. Everywhere about them was the promise of a new life not yet burnt by hot summer suns to a crisp.
During the day they ran into a swamp country and crossed a bayou where cypress knees and blue gums showed fantastic in the eerie gloom of the stagnant water. From this they emerged to a more wooded region and made an early camp on the edge of a grove of ash trees bordering a small stream where pecans grew thick.
Shortly after daybreak they were jogging on at a walk-trot, the road gait of the Southwest, into the treeless country of the prairie. They nooned at an arroyo seco, and after they had eaten took a siesta during the heat of the day. Night brought with it a thunderstorm and they took refuge in a Mexican hut built of palisades and roofed with grass sod. A widow lived alone in the jacal, but she made them welcome to the best she had. The young men slept in a corner of the hut on a dry cowskin spread upon the mud floor, their saddles for pillows and their blankets rolled about them.
While she was cooking their breakfast, Prince noticed the tears rolling down her cheeks. She was a comely young woman and he asked her gallantly in the bronco Spanish of the border if there was anything he could do to relieve her distress.
She shook her head mournfully. “No, senor,” she answered in her native tongue. “Only time can do that. I mourn my husband. He was a drunken ne’er-do-well, but he was my man. So I mourn a fitting period. He died in that corner of the room where you slept.”
“Indeed! When?” asked Billie politely.
“Ten days ago. Of smallpox.”
The young men never ate that breakfast. They fled into the sunlight and put many hurried miles between them and their amazed hostess. At the first stream they stripped, bathed, washed their clothes, dipped the saddles, and lay nude in the warm sand until their wearing apparel was dry.
For many days they joked each other about that headlong flight, but underneath their gayety was a dread which persisted.
“I’m like Dona Isabel with her grief. Only time can heal me of that scare she threw into Billie Prince,” the owner of that name confessed.
“Me too,” assented Clanton, helping himself to pinole. “I’ll bet I lost a year’s growth, and me small at that.”