They rolled themselves in their blankets, the starry sky roofing their bedroom. Within five minutes every man of them was asleep except the night herders—and one other.
Healy lay a little apart from the rest, partially screened by some boxes of provisions and a couple of sacks of flour. His jaw was clamped tight. He looked into the deep velvet sky without seeing. For a long time he did not move. Then, noiselessly, he sat up, glanced around carefully to make sure he was not observed, rose, and stole into the darkness, carrying with him his saddle and bridle.
One of his ponies was hobbled in the mesquite. Swiftly he saddled. Leading the animal very carefully so as to avoid rustling the brush, he zigzagged from the camp until he had reached a safe distance. Here he swung himself on and rode into the blur of night, at first cautiously, but later with swift-pounding hoofs. He went toward the northwest in a bee line without hesitation or doubt. Only when the lie of the ground forced a detour did he vary his direction.
So for hours he travelled until he reached a canon in which squatted a little log cabin. He let his voice out in the howl of a coyote before he dismounted. No answer came, save the echo from the cliff opposite. Again that mournful call sounded, and this time from the cabin found an answer.
A man came sleepily to the door and peered out. “Hello! That you, Brill?”
Healy swung off, trailed his rein, and followed the man into the cabin. “Don’t light up, Tom. No need.”
For ten minutes they talked in low tones. Healy emerged from the cabin, remounted, and rode back to the cow camp. He reached it just as the first, faint streaks of gray tinged the eastern sky.
Silently he unsaddled, hobbled his pony, and carried his saddle back to the place where he had been lying. Once more he lay down, glanced cautiously round to see all was quiet, and fell asleep as soon as his head touched the saddle.
From all over the Malpais country, from the water-sheds where Bear and Elk and Cow creeks head, from the halfway house far out in the desert where the stage changes horses, men and women dribbled to the Frying Pan for the big dance after the round-up. Great were the preparations. Many cakes and pies and piles of sandwiches had been made ready. Also there was a wash boiler full of coffee and a galvanized tub brimming with lemonade. For the Frying Pan was doing itself proud.
Phil and his sister drove over together. The boy had asked Bess to go with him, but Cuffs had beaten him to it. The distance was only twenty-five miles, a neighborly stroll in that country of wide spaces and desert stretches filled with absentees.
When Phyllis came into the big room where the dancing was in progress, her dark eye swept the room without finding him for whom she looked. There were many there she knew, not more than two or three whom she had never met, but among them all she looked at none who was a magnet for her eyes. Keller had not yet arrived.