“What—what do you want?” she demanded tremulously, emotion flooding her in waves.
“Why are you saving me, girl?”
“I—don’t know. I’ve told you why.”
“I’m a villain, by your way of it, yet you save my life even while you think me a skunk. I can’t thank you. What’s the use of trying?”
He looked down into her eyes, and that gaze did more than thank her. It told her he would never forget and never let her forget. How it happened she could not afterward remember, but she found herself in his arms, his kiss tingling through her blood like wine.
She thrust him from her—and he was gone.
She sank into a chair beside the kitchen table, her pulses athrob with excitement. Scorn herself she might and would in good time, but just now her whole capacity for emotion was keyed to an agony of apprehension for this prince of scamps. By the beating of her galloping heart she timed his steps. He must have reached the horse now. Already he would have it untied, would be in the saddle. Surely by this time he had eluded the sentries and was slipping out of the danger zone. Before him lay the open road, the hills, and safety.
A cry rang out in the stillness—and another. A shot, the beat of running feet, a panted oath, more shots! The silent night had suddenly become vocal with action and the fierce passions of men. She covered her face with her hands to shut out the vision of what her imagination conjured—a horse flying with empty saddle into the darkness, while a huddled figure sank together lifeless by the roadside.
A GOOD FRIEND
How long she remained there Phyllis did not know. Fear drummed at her heart. She was sick with apprehension. At last her very terror drove her out to learn the worst. She walked round to the front of the house and saw a light in the store. Swiftly she ran across and up the steps to the porch. Three men were inside examining the empty chair by the light of a lantern one held in his hand.
“Did—did he get away?” the girl faltered.
The men turned. One of them was Slim. He held in his hand pieces of the slashed rope and the open pocket-knife that had freed the prisoner.
“Looks like it,” Slim answered. “With some help from a friend. Now, I wonder who that useful friend was and how in time he got in here?”
Her eyes betrayed her. Just for an instant they swept to the cellar door, to make sure it was still shut. But that one glance was enough. Slim, about to speak, changed his mind, and stared at her with parted lips. She saw suspicion grow in his face and resolve itself to certainty, helped to decision by the telltale color dyeing her cheeks.
“Does the cellar stairway from the store connect with the kitchen cellar, Phyllie?” he asked.
He nodded, then laughed without mirth. “I reckon I can tell you, boys, who Mr. Keller’s friend in need is.”