Then he stole a look out of the corner of his eye, and, seeing that her face was hidden from him by the hood, he turned to observe her at better advantage. A long braid of hair hung down her back. In the twilight it gleamed dull gold. She came up to his shoulder. The sleeve nearest him was rolled up to her elbow, revealing a fine round arm. Her hand, like her foot, was brown, strong, and well shaped. It was a hand that had been developed by labor. She was full-bosomed, yet slender, and she walked with a free stride that made Shefford admire and wonder.
They passed several of the little stone and log houses, and women greeted them as they went by and children peered shyly from the doors. He kept trying to think of something to say, and, failing in that, determined to have one good look under the hood before he left her.
“You walk lame,” she said, solicitously. “Let me carry the bucket now—please. My house is near.”
“Am I lame? . . . Guess so, a little,” he replied. “It was a hard ride for me. But I’ll carry the bucket just the same.”
They went on under some pinyon-trees, down a path to a little house identical with the others, except that it had a stone porch. Shefford smelled fragrant wood-smoke and saw a column curling from the low, flat, stone chimney. Then he set the bucket down on the porch. “Thank you, Mr. Shefford,” she said. “You know my name?” he asked. “Yes. Mr. Withers spoke to my nearest neighbor and she told me.”
“Oh, I see. And you—”
He did not go on and she did not reply. When she stepped upon the porch and turned he was able to see under the hood. The face there was in shadow, and for that very reason he answered to ungovernable impulse and took a step closer to her. Dark, grave, sad eyes looked down at him, and he felt as if he could never draw his own glance away. He seemed not to see the rest of her face, and yet felt that it was lovely. Then a downward movement of the hood hid from him the strange eyes and the shadowy loveliness.
“I—I beg your pardon,” he said, quickly, drawing back. “I’m rude. . . . Withers told me about a girl he called—he said looked like a sago-lily. That’s no excuse to stare under your hood. But I—I was curious. I wondered if—”
He hesitated, realizing how foolish his talk was. She stood a moment, probably watching him, but he could not be sure, for her face was hidden.
“They call me that,” she said. “But my name is Mary.”
“Mary—what?” he asked.
“Just Mary,” she said, simply. “Good night.”
He did not say good night and could not have told why. She took up the bucket and went into the dark house. Shefford hurried away into the gathering darkness.
VI. IN THE HIDDEN VALLEY
Shefford had hardly seen her face, yet he was more interested in a woman than he had ever been before. Still, he reflected, as he returned to camp, he had been under a long strain, he was unduly excited by this new and adventurous life, and these, with the mystery of this village, were perhaps accountable for a state of mind that could not last.