As Nack-yal appeared to be the safest mustang for her to ride, Shefford helped her upon him and then attended to the stirrups. When he had adjusted them to the proper length he drew the bridle over Nack-yal’s head and, upon handing it to her, found himself suddenly looking into her face. She had taken off the hood, too. The instant there eyes met he realized that she was strangely afraid to meet his glance, as he was to meet hers. That seemed natural. But her face was flushed and there were unmistakable signs upon it of growing excitement, of mounting happiness. Save for that fugitive glance she would have been the Fay Larkin of yesterday. How he had expected her to look he did not know, but it was not like this. And never had he felt her strange quality of simplicity so powerfully.
“Have you ever been here—through this little canyon?” he asked.
“Oh yes, lots of times.”
“You’ll be able to lead us to Surprise Valley, you think?”
“I know it. I shall see Uncle Jim and Mother Jane before sunset!”
“I hope—you do,” he replied, a little shakily. “Perhaps we’d better not tell them of the—the—about what happened last night.”
Her beautiful, grave, and troubled glance returned to meet his, and he received a shock that he considered was amaze. And after more swift consideration he believed he was amazed because that look, instead of betraying fear or gloom or any haunting shadow of darkness, betrayed apprehension for him—grave, sweet, troubled love for him. She was not thinking of herself at all—of what he might think of her, of a possible gulf between them, of a vast and terrible change in the relation of soul to soul. He experienced a profound gladness. Though he could not understand her, he was happy that the horror of Waggoner’s death had escaped her. He loved her, he meant to give his life to her, and right then and there he accepted the burden of her deed and meant to bear it without ever letting her know of the shadow between them.
“Fay, we’ll forget—what’s behind us,” he said. “Now to find Surprise Valley. Lead on. Nack-yal is gentle. Pull him the way you want to go. We’ll follow.”
Shefford mounted the other saddled mustang, and they set off, Fay in advance. Presently they rode out of this canyon up to level cedar-patched, solid rock, and here Fay turned straight west. Evidently she had been over the ground before. The heights to which he had climbed with her were up to the left, great slopes and looming promontories. And the course she chose was as level and easy as any he could have picked out in that direction.
When a mile or more of this up-and-down travel had been traversed Fay halted and appeared to be at fault. The plateau was losing its rounded, smooth, wavy characteristics, and to the west grew bolder, more rugged, more cut up into low crags and buttes. After a long, sweeping glance Fay headed straight for this rougher country. Thereafter from time to time she repeated this action.