“’Tain’t, now, Kla’uns, it’s only a split spoon,” said Susy.
But Mrs. Peyton, in her rapt admiration, took small note of these irregularities, plying the child with food, forgetting her own meal, and only stopping at times to lift back the forward straying curls on Susy’s shoulders. Mr. Peyton looked on gravely and contentedly. Suddenly the eyes of husband and wife met.
“She’d have been nearly as old as this, John,” said Mrs. Peyton, in a faint voice.
John Peyton nodded without speaking, and turned his eyes away into the gathering darkness. The man “Harry” also looked abstractedly at his plate, as if he was saying grace. Clarence wondered who “she” was, and why two little tears dropped from Mrs. Peyton’s lashes into Susy’s milk, and whether Susy might not violently object to it. He did not know until later that the Peytons had lost their only child, and Susy comfortably drained this mingled cup of a mother’s grief and tenderness without suspicion.
“I suppose we’ll come up with their train early tomorrow, if some of them don’t find us to-night,” said Mrs. Peyton, with a long sigh and a regretful glance at Susy. “Perhaps we might travel together for a little while,” she added timidly.
Harry laughed, and Mr. Peyton replied gravely, “I am afraid we wouldn’t travel with them, even for company’s sake; and,” he added, in a lower and graver voice, “it’s rather odd the search party hasn’t come upon us yet, though I’m keeping Pete and Hank patrolling the trail to meet them.”
“It’s heartless—so it is!” said Mrs. Peyton, with sudden indignation. “It would be all very well if it was only this boy, who can take care of himself; but to be so careless of a mere baby like this, it’s shameful!”
For the first time Clarence tasted the cruelty of discrimination. All the more keenly that he was beginning to worship, after his boyish fashion, this sweet-faced, clean, and tender-hearted woman. Perhaps Mr. Peyton noticed it, for he came quietly to his aid.
“Maybe they knew better than we in what careful hands they had left her,” he said, with a cheerful nod towards Clarence. “And, again, they may have been fooled as we were by Injin signs and left the straight road.”
This suggestion instantly recalled to Clarence his vision in the mesquite. Should he dare tell them? Would they believe him, or would they laugh at him before her? He hesitated, and at last resolved to tell it privately to the husband. When the meal was ended, and he was made happy by Mrs. Peyton’s laughing acceptance of his offer to help her clear the table and wash the dishes, they all gathered comfortably in front of the tent before the large camp fire. At the other fire the rest of the party were playing cards and laughing, but Clarence no longer cared to join them. He was quite tranquil in the maternal propinquity of his hostess, albeit a little uneasy as to his reticence about the Indian.