Bleeding has broke out again. Can’t stop it. Struve shot me and left me for dead ten miles back. I didn’t kill the guard or know he meant to. J. Kinney.
Neill handed the paper to the ranger, who read it through, folded it, and gave it back to the other.
“Keep that paper. We may need it.” His grave eyes went up the trail to where the dark figure lay motionless in the cold moonlight. “Well, he’s come to the end of the trail— the only end he could have reached. He wasn’t strong enough to survive as a bad man. Poor devil!”
They buried him in a clump of cottonwoods and left a little pile of rocks to mark the spot.
After her precipitate leave-taking of the man whose team she had bought or borrowed, Margaret Kinney nursed the fires of her indignation in silence, banking them for future use against the time when she should meet him again in the event that should ever happen. She brought her whip-lash snapping above the backs of the horses, and there was that in the supple motion of the small strong wrist which suggested that nothing would have pleased her more than having this audacious Texan there in place of the innocent animals. For whatever of inherited savagery lay latent in her blood had been flogged to the surface by the circumstances into which she had been thrust. Never in all her placid life had she known the tug of passion any closer than from across the footlights of a theatre.
She had had, to be sure, one stinging shame, but it had been buried in far-away Arizona, quite beyond the ken of the convention-bound people of the little Wisconsin town where she dwelt. But within the past twelve hours Fate had taken hold of her with both hands and thrust her into Life. She sensed for the first time its roughness, its nakedness, its tragedy. She had known the sensations of a hunted wild beast, the flush of shame for her kinship to this coarse ruffian by her side, and the shock of outraged maiden modesty at kisses ravished from her by force. The teacher hardly knew herself for the same young woman who but yesterday was engrossed in multiplication tables and third readers.
A sinister laugh from the man beside her brought the girl back to the present.
She looked at him and then looked quickly away again. There was something absolutely repulsive in the creature— in the big ears that stood out from the close-cropped head, in the fishy eyes that saw everything without ever looking directly at anything, in the crooked mouth with its irregular rows of stained teeth from which several were missing. She had often wondered about her brother, but never at the worst had she imagined anything so bad as this. The memory would be enough to give one the shudders for years.
“Guess I ain’t next to all that happened there in the mesquite,” he sneered, with a lift of the ugly lip.