“And I thought all the time you were doing it for me,” she laughed, and on the heels of it made her little confession: “And I was blaming you for giving way.”
“I’ll know now that the way to please you is not to do what you want me to do.”
“You know a lot about girls, don’t you?” she mocked.
“Me, I’m a wiz,” he agreed with her derision.
Keller spoke absently, considering whether this might be the propitious moment to try his luck. They had been comrades together in an adventure well concluded. Both were thinking of what Dixon had said. It seemed to Larrabie that it would be a wonderful thing if they might ride back through the warm sunlight with this new miracle of her love in his life. It was at the meeting of their fingers, when he gave her the bridle, that he spoke.
“I’ve got to say it, Miss Phyllis. I’ve got to know where I stand.”
She understood him of course. The touch of their eyes had warmed her even before he began. But “Stand how?” she repeated feebly.
“With you. I love you! We both know that. What about you? Could you care for me? Do you?”
Her shy, deep eyes met his fairly. “I don’t know. Sometimes I think I do, and then sometimes I think I don’t—that way.”
The touch of affection that made his face occasionally tender as a woman’s, lit his warm smile.
“Couldn’t you make that first sometimes always, don’t you reckon, Phyllis?”
“Ah! If I knew! But I don’t—truly, I don’t. I—I want to care,” she confessed, with divine shyness.
“That’s good listening. Couldn’t you go ahead on those times you do, honey?”
“No!” She drew back from his advance. “No—give me time. I’m—I’m not sure—I’m not at all sure. I can’t explain, but——”
“Can’t decide between me and another man?” he suggested, by way of a joke, to lighten her objection.
Then, in a flash, he knew that by accident he had hit the truth. The startled look of doubt in her eyes told him. Perhaps she had not known it herself before, but his words had clarified her mind. There was another man in the running—one not to be thrust aside easily.
Phyllis’ first impulse was to be alone. She turned her face away and busied herself with a stirrup leather.
“Don’t say anything more now—please. I’m such a little goose! I don’t know—yet. Won’t you wait and—forget it till—say, till next week?”
He promised to wait, but he did not promise to forget it. As they rode home, he made cheerful talk on many subjects; but the one in both their minds was that which had been banned. Every silence was full charged with it. Its suppression ran like quicksilver through every spoken sentence.
Almost imperceptibly, Buck Weaver’s relation to his jailers changed. It was still understood that their interests differed, but the personal bitterness was largely gone. He went riding occasionally with the boys, rather as a guest than as a prisoner.