“I’ll go and look her up,” Van Alen offered; but he found that he was not to go alone, for Otto was waiting for him at the gate.
“I ain’t got nothin’ else to do,” the boy said; “everything is held up by the rain.”
It was when they came to the little stream that Van Alen had forded the night before that they saw Mazie Wetherell.
“I can’t get across,” she called from the other side.
The bridge, which had been covered when Van Alen passed, was now washed away, and the foaming brown waters overflowed the banks.
“I’ll carry you over,” Otto called, and straightway he waded through the stream, and the water came above his high boots to his hips.
He lifted her in his strong arms and brought her back, with her bright hair fluttering against his lips, and Van Alen, raging impotently, stood and watched him.
It seemed to him that Otto’s air was almost insultingly triumphant as he set the girl on her feet and smiled down at her. And as she smiled back, Van Alen turned on his heel and left them.
Presently he heard her running after him lightly over the sodden ground.
And when she reached his side she said: “Your book was wonderful.”
“But he carried you over the stream.”
Her eyes flashed a question, then blazed. “There, you’ve come back to it,” she said. “What makes you?”
“Because I wanted to carry you myself.”
“Silly,” she said; “any man could carry me across the stream—but only you could write that chapter in the middle of the book.”
“You liked it?” he cried, radiantly.
“Like it?” she asked. “I read it once, and then I read it again—on my knees.”
Her voice seemed to drop away breathless. Behind them Otto Brand tramped, whistling; but he might have been a tree, or the sky, or the distant hills, for all the thought they took of him.
“I wanted to beg your pardon,” the girl went on, “for what I said the other day—it is a great thing to write a book like that—greater than fighting a battle or saving a life, for it saves people’s ideals; perhaps in that way it saves their souls.”
“Then I may sleep in the canopy bed?” His voice was calm, but inwardly he was much shaken by her emotion.
Her eyes, as she turned to him, had in them the dawn of that for which he had hoped.
“Why not?” she said, quickly. “You are greater than your grandfather—you are—” She stopped and laughed a little, and, in this moment of her surrender, her beauty shone like a star.
“Oh, little great man,” she said, tremulously, “your head touches the skies!”
“No man,” said O-liver Lee, “should earn more than fifteen dollars a week. After that he gets—soft.”
O-liver sat on a box in front of the post-office. He was lean and young and without a hat. His bare head was one of the things that made him unique. The other men within doors and without wore hats—broad hats that shielded them from the California sun; or, as in the case of Atwood Jones, who came from the city, a Panama of an up-to-the-minute model.