“I’d give it to you. But aren’t you working for the Hutters?”
“Nope. Not any more. Me an’ Stanton had a row with them.”
How droll and dry he was! His lean, olive-brown face, with its guileless clear eyes and his lanky figure in blue jeans vividly recalled Oak Creek to Carley.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” returned she haltingly, somehow checked in her warm rush of thought. “Stanton? . . . Did he quit too?”
“Yep. He sure did.”
“What was the trouble?”
“Reckon because Flo made up to Kilbourne,” replied Charley, with a grin.
“Ah! I—I see,” murmured Carley. A blankness seemed to wave over her. It extended to the air without, to the sense of the golden sunset. It passed. What should she ask—what out of a thousand sudden flashing queries? “Are— are the Hutters back?”
“Sure. Been back several days. I reckoned Hoyle told you. Mebbe he didn’t know, though. For nobody’s been to town.”
“How is—how are they all?” faltered Carley. There was a strange wall here between her thought and her utterance.
“Everybody satisfied, I reckon,” replied Charley.
“Flo—how is she?” burst out Carley.
“Aw, Flo’s loony over her husband,” drawled Charley, his clear eyes on Carley’s.
“Husband!” she gasped.
“Sure. Flo’s gone an’ went an’ done what I swore on.”
“Who?” whispered Carley, and the query was a terrible blade piercing her heart.
“Now who’d you reckon on?” asked Charley, with his slow grin.
Carley’s lips were mute.
“Wal, it was your old beau thet you wouldn’t have,” returned Charley, as he gathered up his long frame, evidently to leave. “Kilbourne! He an’ Flo came back from the Tonto all hitched up.”
Vague sense of movement, of darkness, and of cold attended Carley’s consciousness for what seemed endless time.
A fall over rocks and a severe thrust from a sharp branch brought an acute appreciation of her position, if not of her mental state. Night had fallen. The stars were out. She had stumbled over a low ledge. Evidently she had wandered around, dazedly and aimlessly, until brought to her senses by pain. But for a gleam of campfires through the cedars she would have been lost. It did not matter. She was lost, anyhow. What was it that had happened?
Charley, the sheep herder! Then the thunderbolt of his words burst upon her, and she collapsed to the cold stones. She lay quivering from head to toe. She dug her fingers into the moss and lichen. “Oh, God, to think— after all—it happened!” she moaned. There had been a rending within her breast, as of physical violence, from which she now suffered anguish. There were a thousand stinging nerves. There was a mortal sickness of horror, of insupportable heartbreaking loss. She could not endure it. She could not live under it.