An hour later the secretary announced to the three men in the Pullman the decision of his chief.
“Mr. Graham has instructed me to tell you gentlemen he’ll look into your proposition. I am wiring an oil expert in Denver to return with you to Malapi. If his report is favorable, Mr. Graham will cooperate with you in developing the field.”
TWO ON THE HILLTOPS
It was the morning after his return. Emerson Crawford helped himself to another fried egg from the platter and shook his knife at the bright-eyed girl opposite.
“I tell you, honey, the boy’s a wonder,” he insisted. “Knows what he wants and goes right after it. Don’t waste any words. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t let any one bluff him out. Graham says if I don’t want him he’ll give him a responsible job pronto.”
The girl’s trim head tilted at her father in a smile of sweet derision. She was pleased, but she did not intend to say so.
“I believe you’re in love with Dave Sanders, Dad. It’s about time for me to be jealous.”
Crawford defended himself. “He’s had a hard row to hoe, and he’s comin’ out fine. I aim to give him every chance in the world to make good. It’s up to us to stand by him.”
“If he’ll let us.” Joyce jumped up and ran round the table to him. They were alone, Keith having departed with a top to join his playmates. She sat on the arm of his chair, a straight, slim creature very much alive, and pressed her face of flushed loveliness against his head. “It won’t be your fault, old duck, if things don’t go well with him. You’re good—the best ever—a jim-dandy friend. But he’s so—so—Oh, I don’t know—stiff as a poker. Acts as if he doesn’t want to be friends, as if we’re all ready to turn against him. He makes me good and tired, Dad. Why can’t he be—human?”
“Now, Joy, you got to remember—”
“—that he was in prison and had an awful time of it. Oh, yes, I remember all that. He won’t let us forget it. It’s just like he held us off all the time and insisted on us not forgetting it. I’d just like to shake the foolishness out of him.” A rueful little laugh welled from her throat at the thought.
“He cayn’t be gay as Bob Hart all at onct. Give him time.”
“You’re so partial to him you don’t see when he’s doing wrong. But I see it. Yesterday he hardly spoke when I met him. Ridiculous. It’s all right for him to hold back and be kinda reserved with outsiders. But with his friends—you and Bob and old Buck Byington and me—he ought not to shut himself up in an ice cave. And I’m going to tell him so.”
The cattleman’s arm slid round her warm young body and drew her close. She was to him the dearest thing in the world, a never-failing, exquisite wonder and mystery. Sometimes even now he was amazed that this rare spirit had found the breath of life through him.