“You’ll go into the pit.”
Meldrum knew as he looked into that white, set face that he had come to his day of judgment. But he mumbled a last appeal.
“I’m an old man, Mr. Beaudry. I ain’t got many years—”
“Have you made your choice?” cut in Roy coldly.
“I’d do anything you say—go anywhere—give my Bible oath never to come back.”
“Perhaps I’d better call Rutherford.”
The bad man made a trembling clutch toward him. “Don’t you, Mr. Beaudry. I’ll—I’ll go into the pit,” he sobbed.
“Get in, then.”
“I know you wouldn’t leave me there to starve. That would be an awful thing to do,” the killer begged.
“You’re finding that out late. It didn’t worry you when Dave Dingwell was being starved.”
“I hadn’t a thing to do with that—not a thing, Mr. Beaudry. Hal Rutherford, he give the order and it was up to me to go through. Honest, that was the way of it.”
“And you could starve a girl who needed your help. That was all right, of course.”
“Mr. Beaudry, I—I was only learning her a lesson—just kinder playing, y’ understand. Why, I’ve knowed Miss Beulah ever since she was a little bit of a trick. I wouldn’t do her a meanness. It ain’t reasonable, now, is it?”
The man fawned on Roy. His hands were shaking with fear. If it would have done any good, he would have fallen on his knees and wept. The sight of him made Roy sick. Was this the way he looked when the yellow streak was showing?
“Jump into that pit,” he ordered in disgust. “That is, unless you’d rather I would call Rutherford.”
Meldrum shambled to the edge, sat down, turned, and slid into the prospect hole.
“I know it’s only yore little joke, Mr. Beaudry,” he whined. “Mebbe I ain’t jest been neighborly with you-all, but what I say is let bygones be bygones. I’m right sorry. I’ll go down with you to Battle Butte and tell the boys I done wrong.”
“No, you’ll stay here.”
Beaudry turned away. The muffled scream of the bad man followed him as far as the aspens.
Two and a Camp-Fire
Roy worked his way through the aspens and returned to the place where he had left Beulah. She was still sleeping soundly and did not stir at his approach. Quietly he built a fire and heated water for coffee. From his saddlebags he took sandwiches wrapped in a newspaper. Beside the girl he put his canteen, a pocket comb, a piece of soap, and the bandanna he wore around his neck. Then, reluctantly, he awakened her.
“Supper will be served in just five minutes,” he announced with a smile.
She glanced at the scant toilet facilities and nodded her head decisively. “Thank you, kind sir. I’ll be on hand.”
The young woman rose, glanced in the direction of the aspens, gathered up the supplies, and fled to the grove. The eyes of Beaudry followed her flight. The hour of sleep had been enough to restore her resilience. She moved with the strong lightness that always reminded him of wild woodland creatures.