“It’s nothing,” she told him, a little hysterically.
For an instant her mind flashed back to the time when Buck Weaver had drawn the cactus spines out of that same hand.
His voice was rough with feeling. “I can see it isn’t. And you got it for me—putting out the fire in my clothes. I reckon I cayn’t thank you, you poor little tortured hand.” He lifted the fingers to his lips and kissed them.
“Don’t,” she cried brokenly.
“Has it got to be this way always, Phyllie—you giving and me taking?” His hand tightened on hers ever so slightly, and a spasm of pain shot across her face. He looked at the burned fingers again tenderly. “Does it hurt pretty bad, girl?”
“I wish it was ten times as bad!” she broke out, with a sob. “You saved Phil’s life—at the risk of your own. I wish I could tell you how I feel, what I think of you, how splendid you are.” In default of which ability, she began to cry softly.
He wasted no more time. He did not ask her whether he might. With a gesture, his arm went around her and drew her to him.
“Let me tell what I think of you, instead, girl o’ mine. I cayn’t tell it, either, for that matter, but I reckon I can make out to show you, honey.”
“I didn’t mean—that way,” she protested, between laughter and tears.
“Well, that’s the way I mean.”
Neither spoke again for a minute. Than: “Do you really—love me?” she murmured.
“What do you think?” He laughed with the sheer unconquerable boyish delight in her.
“I think you’re pretending right well,” she smiled.
“If I am making believe.”
“If you are.” Her arms slipped round his neck with a swift impulse of love. “But you’re not. Tell me you’re not, Larry.”
He told her, in the wordless way lovers have at command, the way that is more convincing than speech.
So Phyllis, from the troubled waters of doubt, came at last to safe harborage.
AT THE RODEO
There was an exodus from Seven Mile the second day after the fire. Keller went up Bear Creek, Phyllis accepted the invitation of Bess to stay with her at the Fiddleback, and her brother returned to the round-up.
The riders were now combing the Lost Creek watershed. Phil knew the camp would be either at Peaceful Valley or higher up, near the headwaters of the creek. Before he reached the valley the steady bawl of cattle told him that the outfit was camped there. He topped the ridge and looked down upon Cattleland at its busiest. Just below him was the remuda, the ponies grazing slowly toward the hills under the care of three half-grown boys.
Beyond were the herded cattle. Here all was activity. Within the fence of riders surrounding the wild creatures the cutting out and the branding were being pushed rapidly forward. Occasionally some leggy steer, tail up and feet pounding, would make a dash to break the cordon. Instantly one of the riders would wheel in chase, head off the animal, and drive it back.