If I hadn’t made my chance any better, I knew I couldn’t very well make it worse; but there was mighty little comfort in that reflection. And what a bluff I had put up! Carry her off and marry her? Lord knows I wanted to, badly enough! But—
On the way back to the ranch I overtook Frosty mooning along at a walk, with his shoulders humped in the way a man has when he’s thinking pretty hard. I had left Frosty with the round-up, and I was pretty much surprised to see him here. I didn’t feel in the mood for conversation, even with him; but, to be decent, I spurred up alongside and said hello, and where had he come from? There was nothing in that for a man to get uppish about, but he turned and actually glared at me.
“I might be an inquisitive son-of-a-gun and ask you the same thing,” he growled.
“Yes, you might,” I agreed. “But, if you did, I’d be apt to tell you to depart immediately for a place called Gehenna—which is polite for hell.”
“Well, same here,” he retorted laconically; and that ended our conversation, though we rode stirrup to stirrup for eight miles.
I can’t say that, after the first shock of surprise, I gave much time to wondering what brought Frosty home. I took it he had had a row with the wagon-boss. Frosty is an independent sort and won’t stand a word from anybody, and the wagon-boss is something of a bully. The gait they were traveling, out there with the wagons, was fraying the nerves of the whole bunch before I left. And that was all I thought about Frosty.
I had troubles of my own, about that time. I had put up my bluff, and I kept wondering what I should do if Beryl King called me. There wasn’t much chance that she would, of course; but, still, she wasn’t that kind of girl who always does the conventional thing and the expected thing, and I had seen a gleam in her eyes that, in a man’s, I should call deviltry, pure and simple. If I should meet her out somewhere, and she even looked a dare—I’ll confess one thing: for a whole week I was mighty shy of riding out where I would be apt to meet her; and you can call me a coward if you like.
Still, I had schemes, plenty of them. I wanted her—Lord knows how I wanted her!—and I got pretty desperate, sometimes. Once I saddled up with the fixed determination of riding boldly—and melodramatically—into King’s Highway, facing old King, and saying: “Sir, I love your daughter. Let bygones be bygones. Dad and I forgive you, and hope you will do the same. Let us have peace, and let me have Beryl—” or something to that effect.
He’d only have done one of two things; he’d have taken a shot at me, or he’d have told me to go to the same old place where we consign unpleasant people. But I didn’t tempt him, though I did tempt fate. I went over to the little butte, climbed it pensively, and sat on the flat rock and gazed forlornly at the mouth of the pass.