Miss Cahill gave a tremulous cry and caught the injured hand to her lips.
Her father snatched it from her roughly.
“Let go!” he growled. “It serves me right.”
A few minutes later Mary Cahill, bearing liniment for her father’s hand, knocked at his bedroom and found it empty. When she peered from the top of the stairs into the shop-window below she saw him busily engaged with his one hand buckling the stirrup-straps of his saddle.
When she called, he sprang upright with an oath. He had faced her so suddenly that it sounded as though he had sworn, not in surprise, but at her.
“You startled me,” he murmured. His eyes glanced suspiciously from her to the saddle. “These stirrup-straps—they’re too short,” he announced. “Pete or somebody’s been using my saddle.”
“I came to bring you this ‘first-aid’ bandage for your hand,” said his daughter.
Cahill gave a shrug of impatience.
“My hand’s all right,” he said; “you go to bed. I’ve got to begin taking account of stock.”
“There’s no time by day. Go to bed.”
For nearly an hour Miss Cahill lay awake listening to her father moving about in the shop below. Never before had he spoken roughly to her, and she, knowing how much the thought that he had done so would distress him, was herself distressed.
In his lonely vigil on the veranda, Ranson looked from the post down the hill to where the light still shone from Mary Cahill’s window. He wondered if she had heard the news, and if it were any thought of him that kept sleep from her.
“You ass! you idiot!” he muttered. “You’ve worried and troubled her. She believes one of her precious army is a thief and a murderer.” He cursed himself picturesquely, but the thought that she might possibly be concerned on his account, did not, he found, distress him as greatly as it should. On the contrary, as he watched the light his heart glowed warmly. And long after the light went out he still looked toward the home of the post-trader, his brain filled with thoughts of his return to his former life outside the army, the old life to which he vowed he would not return alone.
The next morning Miss Cahill learned the news when the junior officer came to mess and explained why Ranson was not with them. Her only comment was to at once start for his quarters with his breakfast in a basket. She could have sent it by Pete, but, she argued, when one of her officers was in trouble that was not the time to turn him over to the mercies of a servant. No, she assured herself, it was not because the officer happened to be Ranson. She would have done as much, or as little, for any one of them. When Curtis and Haines were ill of the grippe, had she not carried them many good things of her own making?