“Perhaps it’s your local friend.”
“That’s my guess.”
“Please understand this, Mr. Banneker,” she said with an obstinate outthrust of her little chin. “I don’t know who your friend is and I don’t care. If you make it necessary, I can go to the hotel in town; but while I stay here I won’t have my affairs or even my presence discussed with any one else.”
“You’re too late,” said Banneker.
Out from a hardly discernible opening in the brush shouldered a big roan. Tossing up his head, he stretched out in the long, easy lope of the desert-bred, his rider sitting him loosely and with slack bridle.
“That’s Miss Van Arsdale,” said Banneker.
Seated in her saddle the newcomer hailed Banneker.
“What news, Ban? Is the wreck cleared up?”
“Yes. But the track is out twenty miles east. Every arroyo and barranca is bank-high and over.”
He had crossed the platform to her. Now she raised her deep-set, quiet eyes and rested them on the girl. That the station should harbor a visitor at that hour was not surprising. But the beauty of the stranger caught Miss Van Arsdale’s regard, and her bearing held it.
“A passenger, Ban?” she asked, lowering her voice.
“Yes, Miss Camilla.”
“Left over from the wreck?”
He nodded. “You came in the nick of time. I don’t quite know what to do with her.”
“Why didn’t she go on the relief train?”
“She didn’t show up until last night.”
“Where did she stay the night?”
“In your office?”
“In my room. I worked in the office.”
“You should have brought her to me.”
“She was hurt. Queer in the head. I’m not sure that she isn’t so yet.”
Miss Van Arsdale swung her tall form easily out of the saddle. The girl came forward at once, not waiting for Banneker’s introduction, with a formal gravity.
“How do you do? I am Irene Welland.”
The older woman took the extended hand. There was courtesy rather than kindliness in her voice as she asked, “Are you much hurt?”
“I’m quite over it, thank you. All but the bandage. Mr. Banneker was just speaking of you when you rode up, Miss Van Arsdale.”
The other smiled wanly. “It is a little startling to hear one’s name like that, in a voice from another world. When do you go on?”
“Ah, that’s a point under discussion. Mr. Banneker would, I believe, summon a special train if he could, in his anxiety to get rid of me.”
“Not at all,” disclaimed the agent.
But Miss Van Arsdale interrupted, addressing the girl:
“You must be anxious, yourself, to get back to civilization.”
“Why?” returned the girl lightly. “This seems a beautiful locality.”
“Were you traveling alone?”