“Tommy,” he cried, hoarsely, “her horse is back—without her! She rode away into the desert yesterday morning. She is out there yet. Billy, my horse is in the shed. Don’t stop to saddle, but ride like the very devil out to Brayley’s camp. Tell him what has happened. Tell him to rush fifty men on horseback to me. Tell him to see that each man takes two canteens full of water. And, for Heaven’s sake, Billy, hurry!”
Billy Jordan, terror springing up into his own eyes, sped through the door. And Conniston and Garton turned grave faces upon each other.
“Have you any idea,” Garton was asking, and to Conniston his voice seemed to come faintly from a great distance, “which way she rode?”
“North. I don’t know how far. Tommy, have you a horse here I can ride?”
“You are going to look for her?”
He was already at the door, and turned impatiently as Garton called to him:
“It’s up to you, Greek. But—do you think that you could do any more to help her than the men you are sending out?”
“No. But, man, I can’t sit here without knowing—”
“Greek!” There was a note in Tommy’s voice, a look in his eyes which held Conniston. “I know how you feel, old man. And don’t you know that another man might be fool enough to—to love her as much as you do?”
“Yes,” with a hard little smile. “Why not? I’m only half a man, old fellow, but the head and the heart of me are left. And I’ve got to sit here and wait. And,” his tone suddenly stern, “that’s what you’ve got to do! You can’t help by going—and you are the only man who has got to keep his head clear, who has got to stay here and direct the new forces which our good fortune has given to us.”
For a moment Conniston stood staring incredulously. Then he turned, and his frowning eyes ran out toward the north, across the far-stretching solitudes of the desert. Somewhere out there, a mile away, ten miles away, twenty miles away, alone, perhaps tortured with thirst, perhaps famishing, perhaps—He shuddered and groaned aloud as he tried in vain to shut out the pictures which his leaping imagination drew for him. And here Garton’s quiet voice was telling him that he had responsibilities, that he had work to do, that he, to whom she meant more than success or failure, life or death, must hold back from going to her.
“I won’t—I can’t!” he cried, wildly. “She is out there, Tommy, alone. She needs me—and I am going to her! What do I care about your cursed work!”
“There’s a horse and saddle in the shed by the lunch-stand.” Garton turned and hobbled back to his stool.
And Conniston, without a glance over his shoulder, hastened toward the shed. Before he had gone half the distance he stopped, swung about, and went slowly back to the office.