“But I don’t want to go to the Mal Pais mines. I want to go to Fort Lincoln. As to this gentleman, I have no claims on him and shall not trouble him to burden himself with me.”
Steve laughed. “I don’t reckon he would think, it a terrible burden, ma’am. And about the Mal Pais— this is how it is. Fort Lincoln is all of sixty miles from here as the crow flies. The mines are about seventeen. My notion was you could get there and take the stage to-morrow to your town.”
“What shall I do for a horse?”
“I expect Mr. Neill will let you ride his. He can walk beside the hawss.”
“That won’t do at all. Why should I put him to that inconvenience? I’ll walk myself.”
The ranger flashed his friendly smile at her. He had an instinct that served him with women. “Any way that suits you and him suits me. I’m right sorry that I’ve got to leave you and take out after that hound Struve, but you may take my word for it that this gentleman will look after you all right and bring you safe to the Mal Pais.”
“He is a stranger to me. I’ve only met him once and on that occasion not pleasantly. I don’t like to put myself under an obligation to him. But of course if I must I must.”
“That’s the right sensible way to look at it. In this little old world we got to do a heap we don’t want to do. For instance, I’d rather see you to the Mal Pais than hike over the hills after this fellow,” he concluded gallantly.
Neill, who had been packing the coffee-pot and the frying-pan, now sauntered forward with his horse.
“Well, what’s the program?” he wanted to know.
“It’s you and Miss Kinney for the Mal Pais, me for the trail. I ain’t very likely to find Mr. Struve, but you can’t always sometimes tell. Anyhow, I’m going to take a shot at it,” the ranger answered.
“And at him?” his friend suggested.
“Oh, I reckon not. He may be a sure-enough wolf, but I expect this ain’t his day to howl.”
Steve whistled to his pony, swung to the saddle when it trotted up, and waved his hat in farewell.
His “Adios!” drifted back to them from the crown of the hill just before he disappeared over its edge.
Somebody’s acting mighty foolish.
Larry Neill watched him vanish and then turned smiling to Miss Kinney.
“All aboard for the Mal Pais,” he sang out cheerfully.
Too cheerfully perhaps. His assurance that all was well between them chilled her manner. He might forgive himself easily if he was that sort of man; she would at least show him she was no party, to it. He had treated her outrageously, had manhandled her with deliberate intent to insult. She would show him no one alive could treat her so and calmly assume to her that it was all right.
Her cool eyes examined the horse, and him.