“Would a brave man break the pride of a high-spirited boy for such a mean motive?” she countered.
“His pride will have to look out for itself. He took his chance of it when he tried to assault me. What he’ll get is only what’s coming to him.”
“Please don’t! I’ll—I’ll be different to you. Take it out on me,” she begged.
He laughed harshly. “Do you suppose I’m such a fool as not to know that the way to take it out on you is to take it out of him?”
She had come nearer, a step at a time. Now she threw her hand out in a gesture of abandon.
“Be generous! Don’t punish me that way. Something dreadful will come of it.”
She broke down and struggled with her tears. He watched her for a moment without speaking.
“Good enough. I’ll be generous and let you pay his debt for him, if you want to do it.”
Her eyes were glad with the swift joy that leaped into them.
“That is good of you! And how shall I pay?” she cried.
“With a kiss.”
She drew back as if he had struck her, all the sparkling eagerness driven from her face.
“Oh!” she moaned.
“Just one kiss—I don’t ask anything more. Give me that, and I’ll turn him loose. Honor bright.”
He held her startled gaze as a snake holds that of a fascinated bird.
“Choose,” he told her, in his masterful way.
Her imagination conceived a vision of her young brother being tortured by this man. She had not the least doubt that he would do what he said, and probably would think the boy got only what he deserved.
“Take it,” she told him, and waited.
Perhaps he might have spared her had it not been for the look of deep contempt that bit into his vanity.
He kissed her full on the lips.
Instantly she woke to life, struck him on the cheek with her little, brown fist, and, with a sob of woe, turned and ran from the room.
Weaver cursed himself in a fury of anger. He felt himself to be a hound because of the thing he had done, and he hated the instinct in him that drove him to master her. He had insulted and trampled on her. Yet he knew in his heart that he would have killed another man for doing it.
[Illustration: SHE DREW BACK AS IF HE HAD STRUCK HER, ALL THE SPARKLING EAGERNESS DRIVEN FROM HER FACE. Page 116]
The cattleman strode into the bunk house, where young Sanderson sat sulkily on a bed under the persuasion of Curly’s rifle.
“Have this boy’s horse saddled and brought around, Curly.”
“You’re the doctor,” answered the cowboy promptly, and forthwith vanished outdoors to obey instructions.
Phil looked sullenly at his captor, and waited for him to begin. One of his hands was under the pillow of the cot upon which he sat. His fingers circled the butt of a revolver he had found there, where one of the riders had chanced to leave it that morning.