“You sent for me,” he said simply.
“Do you want to do something for me?”
“Will you ride after Webb’s outfit and tell him that two of his men are in hiding on the river just below town. One of them is wounded and can’t sit a horse. So he’d better send a buckboard for him. Let Homer Webb know that if dad or Sanders finds these men, the cottonwoods will be bearing a new kind of fruit. Tell him to burn the wind getting here. The men are in a cave on the left-hand side of the river going down. It is just below the bend.”
Jack Goodheart did not ask her how she knew this or what difference it made to her whether Webb rescued his riders or not. He said, “I’ll be on the road inside of twenty minutes.”
Goodheart was a splendid specimen of the frontiersman. He was the best roper in the country, of proved gameness, popular, keen as an Italian stiletto, and absolutely trustworthy. Since the first day he had seen her Jack had been devoted to the service of Bertie Lee Snaith. No dog could have been humbler or less critical of her shortcomings. The girl despised his wooing, but she was forced to respect the man. As a lover she had no use for Goodheart; as a friend she was always calling upon him.
“I knew you’d go, Jack,” she told him.
“Yes, I’d lie down and make of myself a door-mat for you to trample on,” he retorted with a touch of self-contempt. “Would you like me to do it now?”
Lee looked at him in surprise. This was the first evidence he had ever given that he resented the position in which he stood to her.
“If you don’t want to go I’ll ask some one else,” she replied.
“Oh, I’ll go.”
He turned and strode to his horse. For years he had been her faithful cavalier and he knew he was no closer to his heart’s desire than when he began to serve. The first faint stirrings of rebellion were moving in him. It was not that he blamed her in the least. She was scarcely nineteen, the magnet for the eyes of all the unattached men in the district. Was it reasonable to suppose that she would give her love to a penniless puncher of twenty-eight, lank as a shad, with no recommendation but honesty? None the less, Jack began to doubt whether eternal patience was a virtue.
The Gun-Barrel Road
Jack Goodheart followed the gun-barrel road into a desert green and beautiful with vegetation. Now he passed a blooming azalea or a yucca with clustering bellflowers. The prickly pear and the cat-claw clutched at his chaps. The arrowweed and the soapweed were everywhere, as was also the stunted creosote. The details were not lovely, but in the sunset light of late afternoon the silvery sheen of the mesquite had its own charm for the rider.
Back of the saddle he carried a “hot roll” of blankets and supplies, for he would have to camp out three or four nights. Flour, coffee, and a can of tomatoes made the substance of his provisions. His rifle would bring him all the meat he needed. The one he used was a seventy-three because the bullets fired from it fitted the cylinder of his forty-four revolver.