“Why did you tell him?” Phyllis asked. “It will only anger them. Now they will seek vengeance on you.”
The man shrugged his shoulders. “Search me. Perhaps I wanted to prove to myself that a man may be a mean bully, and not all coyote. Perhaps I wanted to get under his hide. Who knows?”
She knew, in part. He had treated her abominably, and wanted blindly to pay for it in the first way that came to his mind. Half savage as he sometimes was, that way had been to stand up to personal punishment, to invite retaliation from his enemies.
“You must have your face looked to. Shall I call Josephine?”
“No,” he answered harshly.
“I think I will. We can help it, I’m sure.”
That “we” saved the day. He let her call the Mexican woman, and order warm water, towels, dressings, and adhesive plaster. It seemed to him more than a fancy that there was healing in the cool, soft fingers which washed his face and adjusted the bandages. His eyes, usually so hard, held now the dumb hunger one sees in those of a faithful dog. They searched hers for something which he knew he would never find in them.
INTO THE ENEMY’S COUNTRY
A man lay on the top of Flat Rock, stretched at supple ease. By his side was a carbine; in his hand a pair of field glasses. These last had been trained upon Twin Star Ranch for some time, but were now focused upon a pair of approaching riders. At the edge of the young willow grove the two dismounted and came forward leisurely.
“Looks like the mountains are coming to Mahomet this trip,” the watcher told himself.
One figure was that of a girl—a brown, light-stepping nymph, upon whom the checkered sunlight filtered through the leaves. The other was a finely built man, strong as an ox, but with the sap of youth still in his blood and the spring of it in his step, in spite of his nearly twoscore years. He stopped at the foot of Flat Rock, and turned to his companion.
“I’ve been wondering why you went riding with me yesterday and again to-day, Miss Phyllis. I reckon I’ve hit on the reason.”
“I like to ride.”
“Yes, but I expect you don’t like to ride with me so awful much.”
“Yet you see I do,” answered the girl with her swift, shy smile.
“And the reason is that you know I would be riding, anyway. You don’t want any of your people from the hills to use me as a mark. With you along, they couldn’t do it.”
“My people don’t shoot from ambush,” she told him hotly. It was easy to send her gallant spirit out in quick defense of her kindred.
He looked at his arm, still resting in a sling, and smiled significantly.
She colored. “That was an impulse,” she told him.
“And you’re guarding me from any more family impulses like it.” He grinned. “Not that it flatters me so much, either. I’ve got a notion tucked in the back of my head that you’re watching me like a hen does her one chick, for their sake and not for mine. Right guess, I’ll bet a dollar. How about it, Miss Sanderson?”