With plain misgivings, he left her, and presently she heard the sound of his galloping horse. It seemed to her for a moment as if she must call him back, but she strangled the cry in her throat. She locked the door and bolted it, then turned back to the bed, upon which the wounded man was beginning to moan in his delirium.
Arlie knew nothing of wounds or their treatment. All she could do was to wash the shoulder in cold water and bind it with strips torn from her white underskirt. When his face and hands grew hot with the fever, she bathed them with a wet towel. How badly he was hurt— whether he might not even die before Dick’s return— she had no way of telling. His inconsequent babble at first frightened her, for she had never before seen a person in delirium, nor heard of the insistence with which one harps upon some fantasy seized upon by a diseased mind.
“She thinks you’re a skunk, Steve. So you are. She’s dead right— dead right— dead right. You lied to her, you coyote! Stand up in the corner, you liar, while she whangs at you with a six-gun! You’re a skunk— dead right.”
So he would run on in a variation of monotony, the strong, supple, masterful man as helpless as a child, all the splendid virility stricken from him by the pressure of an enemy’s finger. The eyes that she had known so full of expression, now like half-scabbarded steel, and now again bubbling from the inner mirth of him, were glazed and unmeaning. The girl had felt in him a capacity for silent self-containment; and here he was, picking at the coverlet with restless fingers, prattling foolishly, like an infant.
She was a child of impulse, sensitive and plastic. Because she had been hard on him before he was struck down, her spirit ran open-armed to make amends. What manner of man he was she did not know. But what availed that to keep her, a creature of fire and dew, from the clutch of emotions strange and poignant? He had called himself a liar and a coyote, yet she knew it was not true, or at worst, true in some qualified sense. He might be hard, reckless, even wicked in some ways. But, vaguely, she felt that if he were a sinner he sinned with self-respect. He was in no moral collapse, at least. It was impossible to fit him to her conception of a spy. No, no! Anything but that!
So she sat there, her fingers laced about her knee, as she leaned forward to wait upon the needs she could imagine for him, the dumb tragedy of despair in her childish face.
The situation was one that made for terror. To be alone with a wounded man, his hurt undressed, to hear his delirium and not to know whether he might not die any minute— this would have been enough to cause apprehension. Add to it the darkness, her deep interest in him, the struggle of her soul, and the dread of unseen murder stalking in the silent night.