“Bad news, pardner?”
She nodded, choking. Her eyes, frank and direct, met those of her friend without evasion. It was a heritage of her life in the open that in her relations with men she showed a boylike unconcern of sex.
“Esther’s in trouble. She—she—” Rose caught her breath in a stress of emotion.
“If there’s anything I can do—”
The girl flung aside the rug that covered her and rose from the chair. She began to pace up and down the room. Presently her thoughts overflowed in words.
“She doesn’t say what it is, but—I know her. She’s crazy with fear—or heartache—or something.” Wild Rose was always quick-tempered, a passionate defender of children and all weak creatures. Now Lane knew that the hot blood was rushing stormily to her heart. Her little sister was in danger, the only near relative she had. She would fight for her as a cougar would for its young. “By God, if it’s a man—if he’s done her wrong—I’ll shoot him down like a gray wolf. I’ll show him how safe it is to—to—”
She broke down again, clamping tight her small strong teeth to bite back a sob.
He spoke very gently. “Does she say—?”
His sentence hung suspended in air, but the young woman understood its significance.
“No. The letter’s just a—a wail of despair. She—talks of suicide. Kirby, I’ve got to get to Denver on the next train. Find out when it leaves. And I’ll send a telegram to her to-night telling her I’ll fix it. I will too.”
“Sure. That’s the way to talk. Be reasonable an’ everything’ll work out fine. Write your wire an’ I’ll take it right to the office. Soon as I’ve got the train schedule I’ll come back.”
“You’re a good pal, Kirby. I always knew you were.”
For a moment her left hand fell in his. He looked down at the small, firm, sunbrowned fist. That hand was, as Browning has written, a woman in itself, but it was a woman competent, unafraid, trained hard as nails. She would go through with whatever she set out to do.
As his eyes rested on the fingers there came to him a swift, unreasoning prescience of impending tragedy. To what dark destiny was she moving?
NOT ALWAYS TWO TO MAKE A QUARREL
Kirby put Wild Rose on the morning train for Denver. She had escaped from the doctor by sheer force of will. The night had been a wretched one, almost sleepless, and she knew that her fever would rise in the afternoon. But that could not be helped. She had more important business than her health to attend to just now.
Ordinarily Rose bloomed with vitality, but this morning she looked tired and worn. In her eyes there was a hard brilliancy Kirby did not like to see. He knew from of old the fire that could blaze in her heart, the insurgent impulses that could sweep her into recklessness. What would she do if the worst she feared turned out to be true?