DeWitt lifted the slender little figure and held it tensely in his arms a moment, then set her gently down.
“A woman’s magnanimity is a strange thing,” he said.
“Kut-le will suffer,” said Rhoda. “He risked everything and has lost. He has neither friends nor country now.”
“Much he cares,” retorted DeWitt, “except for losing you!”
Rhoda made no answer. She realized that it would take careful pleading on her part to win freedom for Kut-le if ever he were caught. She changed the subject.
“Have you found living off the desert hard? I mean as far as food was concerned?”
“Food hasn’t bothered us,” answered John. “We’ve kept well supplied.”
“Then I can’t tempt you to stop and have some roast mice with me?”
“Thank you,” answered DeWitt. “Try and control your yearning for them, honey girl. We shall be at camp shortly and have some white man’s grub.”
“How long since you have eaten, John?” asked Rhoda. She had been watching the tall fellow’s difficult and slacking steps for some time.
“Well, not since last night, to tell the truth. You see I was so excited when I struck Porter’s trail that I didn’t go back to the camp. I just hiked.”
“So you are faint with hunger,” said Rhoda, “and your feet are blistered, for you have done little tramping in the hot sand before this. John, look at that peak! Are you sure it is the right one?”
DeWitt stared long and perplexedly.
“Rhoda girl,” he said, “I don’t believe it is, after all. I am the blamedest tenderfoot! But don’t you worry. We will find the camp. It’s right in this neighborhood.”
THE HEART’S OWN BITTERNESS
“I’m not worrying,” answered Rhoda stoutly, “except about you. You are shaking with exhaustion while I am as fit as can be.”
“Oh, don’t bother about me!” exclaimed John. “I’m just a little tired.”
But Rhoda was not to be put off.
“How much did you sleep last night?”
“Not much,” admitted DeWitt. “I haven’t been a heavy sleeper at times ever since you disappeared, strange as that may seem!” Then he grinned. It was pleasant to have Rhoda bully him.
Yet the big fellow actually was sinking with weariness. The fearful hardships that he had undergone had worked havoc with him. Now that the agonizing nerve-strain was lifted he was going to pieces. He stood wavering for a minute, then he slowly sat down in the sand.
Rhoda stood beside him uncertainly and looked from the man to the immovably distant mountain peak. She realized that, in stopping, the risk of recapture was great, yet her desert experiences told her that John must regain some of his strength before the sun caught them. She had little faith that they would tumble upon the camp as easily as John thought, and wanted to prepare for a day of desert heat.