She stood there in thoughtful perplexity, oblivious to all else in her strange surroundings, watching the dark shadow of his burly figure disappear through the dim light. There was a strength of purpose, a grim, unchangeable earnestness about the man which impressed her greatly, which won her admiration. He was like some great faithful dog, ready to die at his master’s bidding. Down in her heart she wondered what would be the tragic end of this night’s confidence.
“There goes a good friend,” she said slowly, under her breath, “and a bad enemy.” Then she turned away, aroused to her own insistent mission of warning, and entered the silent hotel.
The night clerk, a mere boy with pallid cheeks and heavy eyes bespeaking dissipation, reclined on a couch behind the rough counter, reading a Denver paper. He was alone in the room, excepting a drunken man noisily slumbering in an arm-chair behind the stove. Miss Norvell, clasping her skirts tightly, picked her way forward across the littered floor, the necessity for immediate action rendering her supremely callous to all ordinary questions of propriety.
“Can you inform me if Mr. Winston is in his room?” she questioned, leaning across the counter until she could see the clerk’s surprised face.
The young fellow smiled knowingly, rising instantly to his feet.
“Not here at all,” he returned pleasantly. “He left just before noon on horseback. Heard him say something ’bout an engineering job he had up Echo Canyon. Reckon that ’s where he ’s gone. Anything important, Miss Norvell?”
THE COVER OF DARKNESS
Beth Norvell did not remember ever having fainted in her life, yet for a moment after these words reached her, all around grew dark, and she was compelled to grasp the counter to keep from falling. The strain of the long night, coupled with such unexpected news proving she had arrived too late with her warning, served to daze her brain, to leave her utterly unable either to think or plan. The clerk, alarmed by the sudden pallor of her face, was at her side instantly, holding eagerly forth that panacea for all fleshly ills in the West, a bottle of whiskey.
“Good Lord, Miss, don’t faint away!” he cried excitedly. “Here, just take a swig of this; there ’s plenty of water in it, and it’s the stuff to pull you through. There, that’s better. Great Scott, but I sure thought you was goin’ to flop over that time.” He assisted her to a convenient chair, then stepped back, gazing curiously into her face, the black bottle still in his hand. “What’s the trouble, anyhow?” he questioned, his mind filled with sudden suspicion. “That—that fellow did n’t throw you, did he?”
Miss Norvell, her fingers clasping the chair arm for support, rose hurriedly to her feet, a red flush sweeping into her pallid cheeks. For an instant her intense indignation held her speechless.