“May I go in?” asked Ruth.
“Reckon so,” replied Henninger, scratching his head. He appeared to be tractable, and probably was good-natured under pleasant conditions. “She ought to have somethin’ to eat. An’ nobody ’pears—to have remembered that—we’re so set up.”
He unbarred the huge, clumsy door and allowed Ruth to pass in.
“Joe, you can go in if you want,” he said. “But hurry out before Elder Smith comes back from his dinner.”
Joe mumbled something, gave a husky cough, and then went in.
Shefford experienced great difficulty in presenting to this mild Mormon a natural and unagitated front. When all his internal structure seemed to be in a state of turmoil he did not see how it was possible to keep the fact from showing in his face. So he turned away and took aimless steps here and there.
“‘Pears like we’d hev rain,” observed Henninger. “It’s right warm an’ them clouds are onseasonable.”
“Yes,” replied Shefford. “Hope so. A little rain would be good for the grass.”
“Joe tells me Shadd rode in, an’ some of his fellers.”
“So I see. About eight in the party.”
Shefford was gritting his teeth and preparing to endure the ordeal of controlling his mind and expression when the door opened and Joe stalked out. He had his sombrero pulled down so that it hid the upper half of his face. His lips were a shade off healthy color. He stood there with his back to the door.
“Say, what Mary needs is quiet—to be left alone,” he said. “Ruth says if she rests, sleeps a little, she won’t get fever. . . . Henninger, don’t let anybody disturb her till night.”
“All right, Joe,” replied the Mormon. “An’ I take it good of Ruth an’ you to concern yourselves.”
A slight tap on the inside of the door sent Shefford’s pulses to throbbing. Joe opened it with a strong and vigorous sweep that meant more than the mere action.
“Ruth—reckon you didn’t stay long,” he said, and his voice rang clear. “Sure you feel sick and weak. Why, seeing her flustered even me!”
A slender, dark-garbed woman wearing a long black hood stepped uncertainly out. She appeared to be Ruth. Shefford’s heart stood still because she looked so like Ruth. But she did not step steadily, she seemed dazed, she did not raise the hooded head.
“Go home,” said Joe, and his voice rang a little louder. “Take her home, Shefford. Or, better, walk her round some. She’s faintish . . . . And see here, Henninger—”
Shefford led the girl away with a hand in apparent carelessness on her arm. After a few rods she walked with a freer step and then a swifter. He found it necessary to make that hold on her arm a real one, so as to keep her from walking too fast. No one, however, appeared to observe them. When they passed Ruth’s house then Shefford began to lose his fear that this was not Fay Larkin.