“No. Of course there isn’t. How could there be? I’m only a girl.”
“It ain’t Brill then?”
“No. It’s—it isn’t anybody.” She carried the war, womanlike, into his camp. “And I don’t believe you care for me—that way. It’s just a fancy.”
“One I’ve had two years, little girl.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I do like you, better than any one else. You know that, dear old Jim.”
He smiled wistfully. “If you didn’t like me so well I reckon I’d have a better chance. Well, I mustn’t keep you here. Good night.”
Her ringers were lost in his big fist. “Good night, Jim.” And again she added, “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t you be. It’s all right with me, Phyl. I just thought I’d mention it. You never can tell, though I most knew how it would be. Buenos noches, nina.”
He released her hand, and without once looking back strode to his horse, swung to the saddle, and rode into the night.
She carried into the house with her a memory of his cheerful smile. It had been meant as a reassurance to her. It told her he would get over it, and she knew he would. For he was no puling schoolboy, but a man, game to the core.
The face of another man rose before her, saturnine and engaging and debonair. With the picture came wave on wave of shame. He was a detected villain, and she had let him kiss her. But beneath the self-scorn was something new, something that stung her blood, that left her flushed and tingling with her first experience of sex relations.
A week ago she had not yet emerged fully from the chrysalis of childhood. But in the Southland flowers ripen fast. Adolescence steals hard upon the heels of infancy. Nature was pushing her relentlessly toward a womanhood for which her splendid vitality and unschooled impulses but scantily safeguarded her. The lank, shy innocence of the fawn still wrapped her, but in the heart of this frank daughter of the desert had been born a poignant shyness, a vague, delightful trembling that marked a change. A quality which had lain banked in her nature like a fire since childhood now threw forth its first flame of heat. At sunset she had been still treading the primrose path of youth; at sunrise she had entered upon the world-old heritage of her sex.
A SHOT FROM AMBUSH
From the valley there drifted up a breeze-swept sound. The rider on the rock-rim trail above, shifting in his saddle to one of the easy, careless attitudes of the habitual horseman, recognized it as a rifle shot.
Presently, from a hidden wash rose little balloon-like puffs of smoke, followed by a faint, far popping, as if somebody had touched off a bunch of firecrackers. Men on horseback, dwarfed by distance to pygmy size, clambered to the bank—now one and then another firing into the mesquite that ran like a broad tongue from the roll of hills into the valley.