“All the Olneys are precocious. My mother was an Olney, a first cousin of Mrs. Willis Enderby, you know.”
“Yes; I remember now.”
The malicious smile on the girl’s delicate lips faded. “I wish I, hadn’t said that,” she cried impulsively. “I hate Cousin Mabel. I always have hated her. She’s a cat. And I think the way she, acted in—in the—the—well, about Judge Enderby and—“.
“Please!” Miss Van Arsdale’s tone was peremptory. “Here is my place.” She indicated a clearing with a little nest of a camp in it.
“Shall I go back?” asked Io remorsefully.
Miss Van Arsdale dismounted and, after a moment’s hesitancy, the other followed her example. The hostess threw open the door and a beautiful, white-ruffed collie rushed to her with barks of joy. She held out a hand to her new guest.
“Be welcome,” she said with a certain stately gravity, “for as long as you will stay.”
“It might be some time,” answered Io shyly. “You’re tempting me.”
“When is your wedding?”
“Wedding! Oh, didn’t I tell you? I’m not going to marry Carter Holmesley either.”
“You are not going—”
“No. The bump on my head must have settled my brain. As soon as I came to I saw how crazy it would be. That is why I don’t want to go on West.”
“I see. For fear of his overbearing you.”
“Yes. Though I don’t think he could now. I think I’m over it. Poor old Del! He’s had a narrow escape from losing me. I hope he never hears of it. Placid though he is, that might stir him up.”
“Then you’ll go back to him?”
The girl sighed. “I suppose so. How can I tell? I’m only twenty, and it seems to me that somebody has been trying to marry me ever since I stopped petting my dolls. I’m tired of men, men, men! That’s why I want to live alone and quiet for a while in the station-agent’s shack.”
“Then you don’t consider Mr. Banneker as belonging to the tribe of men?”
“He’s an official. I could always see his uniform, at need.” She fell into thought. “It’s a curious thing,” she mused.
Miss Van Arsdale said nothing.
“This queer young cub of a station-agent of yours is strangely like Carter Holmesley, not as much in looks as in—well—atmosphere. Only, he’s ever so much better-looking.”
“Won’t you have some tea? You must be tired,” said Miss Van Arsdale politely.
Somewhere within the soul of civilized woman burns a craving for that higher power of sensation which we dub sensationalism. Girls of Io Welland’s upbringing live in an atmosphere which fosters it. To outshine their rivals in the startling things which they do, always within accepted limits, is an important and exciting phase of existence. Io had run away to marry the future Duke of Carfax, partly through the charm which a reckless, headlong, and romantic personality imposed upon her, but largely for the excitement of a reckless, headlong, and romantic escapade. The tragic interposition of the wreck seemed to her present consciousness, cooled and sobered by the spacious peace of the desert, to have been providential.