He was chilled to the marrow, but he answered quietly: “I reckon.”
She was gone, swift-footed as a deer, to meet the descending animal. He saw her swing to the saddle and lean over it as the pace quickened to a gallop.
He did not know her fingers were busy preparing the rawhide lariat that depended from the side of the saddle. On the very bank she brought up with a jerk that dragged her mount together, and at the same moment slipped to the ground.
Running open the noose of the lariat, she dropped it surely over his shoulders. The other end of the rope was fastened to the saddle-horn, and the cow-pony, used to roping and throwing steers, braced itself with wide-planted front feet for the shock.
“Can you get your arm through the loop?” cried the girl.
His arms were like lead, and almost powerless. With one hand he knew he could not hang on. Nor did he try longer than for that one desperate instant when he shot his fist through the loop. The wall of water swept him away, but the taut rope swung him shoreward.
Little hands caught hold of him and fought with the strong current for the body of the almost unconscious man; fought steadily and strongly, for there was strength in the small wrists and compact muscle in the shapely arms. She was waist deep in the water before she won, for from above she could find no purchase for the lift.
The fisherman’s opening eyes looked into dark anxious ones that gazed at him from beneath the longest lashes he had ever seen. He had an odd sense of being tangled up in them and being unable to escape, of being both abashed and happy in his imprisonment. What he thought was: “They don’t have eyes like those out of heaven.” What he said was entirely different.
“Near thing. Hadn’t been for you I wouldn’t have made it.”
At his words she rose from her knees to her full height, and he saw that she was slenderly tall and fashioned of gracious curves. The darkness of her clear skin was emphasized by the mass of blue-black hair from which little ears peeped with exquisite daintiness. The mouth was sweet and candid, red-lipped, with perfect teeth just showing in the full arch. The straight nose, with its sensitive nostrils, proclaimed her pure patrician.
“You are wet,” he cried. “You went in after me.”
She looked down at her dripping skirts, and laughter rippled over her face like the wind in golden grain. It brought out two adorable dimples near the tucked-in corners of her mouth.
“I am damp,” she conceded.
“Why did you do it? The water might have swept you away,” he chided, coming to a sitting posture.
“And if I hadn’t it might have swept you away,” she answered, with a flash of her ivory teeth.
He rose and stood before her.
“You risked your life to save mine.”
“Is it not worth it, sir?”
“That ain’t for me to say. The point is, you took the chance.”