Hicks chuckled behind his beard.
“Shore we have thet—all ther comforts o’ home. Nice place fer a picnic, ain’t it? But I reckon as how them gals will have ter take pot-luck with the rest o’ us. Leastways, I don’t see no chance now ter get shuck o’ ’em. I ’ll tell ye how it happened, Mr. Winston; it ’d take Stutter, yere, too blame long ter relate ther story, only I hope he won’t fly off an’ git mad if I chance ter make mention o’ his gal ’long with the other. He ‘s gittin’ most damn touchy, is Stutter, an’ I ’m all a-tremble fer fear he ’ll blow a hole cl’ar through me. It’s hell, love is, whin it gits a good hol’ on a damn fool. Wal, these yere two bloomin’ females came cavortin’ up the trail this mornin’, just afore daylight. Nobody sent ’em no invite, but they sorter conceived they had a mission in ther wilderness. I wa’nt nowise favorable ter organizin’ a reception committee, an’ voted fer shovin’ ‘em back downhill, bein’ a bit skeery o’ that sex, but it seems that, all unbeknownst ter me, Stutter, yere, hed bin gittin’ broke ter harness. An’ what did he do but come prancin’ inter the argument with a gun, cussin’ an’ swearin’, and insistin’ they be received yere as honored guests. Oh, he ’s got it bad. He ’ll likely ’nough go down ter San Juan soon as ever ther road is cl’ar, an’ buy one o’ them motters ‘God Bless Our Home’ ter hang on ther cabin wall, an’ a door-mat with ‘Welcome’ on it. That’s Stutter—gone cl’ar bug-house jist ‘cause a little black-haired, slim sort o’ female made eyes at him. Blame a fool, anyhow. Wal, one o’ them two was Stutter’s catch, a high-kickin’ Mexican dancin’ gal down ter San Juan. I ain’t goin’ ter tell yer what I think o’ her fer fear o’ gittin’ perforated. She hed ’long with her another performer, a darn good-looker, too, as near as I could make out in the dark. Wal, them two gals was purtendin’ ter be huntin’ arter you; wanted ter warn yer agin Farnham, er some sich rot. You was down ther mine, jist then, so that’s the whole o’ it up ter date.”
“Where are they now?”
“In the cabin yonder, sleepin’ I reckon.”
Winston turned hastily toward Brown, his lips quivering, his eyes grown stern.
“Who was it with Mercedes?” he questioned sharply. “Did you learn her name?”
“Sh-she told me d-d-down at San Juan,” replied Stutter, striving hard to recollect. “It w-w-was N-N-Nor-vell.”
With the utterance of the word the young engineer was striding rapidly toward the cabin.
Through the single unglazed window Beth Norvell saw him coming, and clutched at the casing, trembling violently, half inclined to turn and fly. This was the moment she had so greatly dreaded, yet the moment she could not avoid unless she failed to do her duty to this man. In another instant the battle had been fought and won, the die cast. She turned hastily toward her unconscious companion, grasping her arm.