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- FOUND AT BLAZING STAR - 4/8 -
fingers had touched over the handle--and looked white in the moonlight. He made no reply, but sank back again in his seat with a singular sensation in the fingers that had touched hers. He was in the shadow, and, without being seen, could abandon his reserve and glance at her face. It struck him that he had never really seen her before. She was not so tall as she had appeared to be. Her eyes were not large, but her pupils were black, moist, velvety, and so convex as to seem embossed on the white. She had an indistinctive nose, a rather colorless face--whiter at the angles of the mouth and nose through the relief of tiny freckles like grains of pepper. Her mouth was straight, dark, red, but moist as her eyes. She had drawn herself into the corner of the back seat, her wrist put through and hanging over the swinging strap, the easy lines of her plump figure swaying from side to side with the motion of the coach. Finally, forgetful of any presence in the dark corner opposite, she threw her head a little farther back, slipped a trifle lower, and placing two well-booted feet upon the middle seat, completed a charming and wholesome picture.
Five minutes elapsed. She was looking straight at the moon. Cass Beard felt his dignified reserve becoming very much like awkwardness. He ought to be coldly polite.
"I hope you're not flustered, Miss, by the--by the--" he began.
"I?" She straightened herself up in the seat, cast a curious glance into the dark corner, and then, letting herself down again, said: "Oh, dear, no!"
Another five minutes elapsed. She had evidently forgotten him. She might, at least, have been civil. He took refuge again in his reserve. But it was now mixed with a certain pique.
Yet how much softer her face looked in the moonlight! Even her square jaw had lost that hard, matter-of-fact, practical indication which was so distasteful to him, and always had suggested a harsh criticism of his weakness. How moist her eyes were--actually shining in the light! How that light seemed to concentrate in the corner of the lashes, and then slipped--a flash--away! Was she? Yes, she was crying.
Cass melted. He moved. Miss Porter put her head out of the window and drew it back in a moment, dry-eyed.
"One meets all sorts of folks traveling," said Cass, with what he wished to make appear a cheerful philosophy.
"I dare say. I don't know. I never before met any one who was rude to me. I have traveled all over the country alone, and with all kinds of people ever since I was so high. I have always gone my own way, without hindrance or trouble. I always do. I don't see why I shouldn't. Perhaps other people mayn't like it. I do. I like excitement. I like to see all that there is to see. Because I'm a girl I don't see why I cannot go out without a keeper, and why I cannot do what any man can do that isn't wrong, do you? Perhaps you do--perhaps you don't. Perhaps you like a girl to be always in the house dawdling or thumping a piano or reading novels. Perhaps you think I'm bold because I don't like it, and won't lie and say I do."
She spoke sharply and aggressively, and so evidently in answer to Cass's unspoken indictment against her, that he was not surprised when she became more direct.
"You know you were shocked when I went to fetch that Hornsby, the coroner, after we found the dead body."
"Hornsby wasn't shocked," said Cass, a little viciously.
"What do you mean?" she said, abruptly.
"You were good friends enough until--"
"Until he insulted me just now, is that it?"
"Until he thought," stammered Cass, "that because you were--you know--not so--so--so careful as other girls, he could be a little freer."
"And so, because I preferred to ride a mile with him to see something real that had happened, and tried to be useful instead of looking in shop windows in Main Street or promenading before the hotel--"
"And being ornamental," interrupted Cass. But this feeble and un- Cass-like attempt at playful gallantry met with a sudden check.
Miss Porter drew herself together, and looked out of the window. "Do you wish me to walk the rest of the way home?"
"No," said Cass, hurriedly, with a crimson face and a sense of gratuitous rudeness.
"Then stop that kind of talk, right there!"
There was an awkward silence. "I wish I was a man," she said, half bitterly, half earnestly. Cass Beard was not old and cynical enough to observe that this devout aspiration is usually uttered by those who have least reason to deplore their own femininity; and, but for the rebuff he had just received, would have made the usual emphatic dissent of our sex, when the wish is uttered by warm red lips and tender voices--a dissent, it may be remarked, generally withheld, however, when the masculine spinster dwells on the perfection of woman. I dare say Miss Porter was sincere, for a moment later she continued, poutingly:
"And yet I used to go to fires in Sacramento when I was only ten years old. I saw the theatre burnt down. Nobody found fault with me then."
Something made Cass ask if her father and mother objected to her boyish tastes. The reply was characteristic if not satisfactory,--
"Object? I'd like to see them do it."
The direction of the road had changed. The fickle moon now abandoned Miss Porter and sought out Cass on the front seat. It caressed the young fellow's silky moustache and long eyelashes, and took some of the sunburn from his cheek.
"What's the matter with your neck?" said the girl, suddenly.
Cass looked down, blushing to find that the collar of his smart "duck" sailor shirt was torn open. But something more than his white, soft, girlish skin was exposed; the shirt front was dyed quite red with blood from a slight cut on the shoulder. He remembered to have felt a scratch while struggling with Hornsby.
The girl's soft eyes sparkled. "Let ME," she said, vivaciously. "Do! I'm good at wounds. Come over here. No--stay there. I'll come over to you."
She did, bestriding the back of the middle seat and dropping at his side. The magnetic fingers again touched his; he felt her warm breath on his neck as she bent toward him.
"It's nothing," he said, hastily, more agitated by the treatment than the wound.
"Give me your flask," she responded, without heeding. A stinging sensation as she bathed the edges of the cut with the spirit brought him back to common sense again. "There," she said, skillfully extemporizing a bandage from her handkerchief and a compress from his cravat. "Now, button your coat over your chest, so, and don't take cold." She insisted upon buttoning it for him; greater even than the feminine delight in a man's strength is the ministration to his weakness. Yet, when this was finished, she drew a little away from him in some embarrassment--an embarrassment she wondered at, as his skin was finer, his touch gentler, his clothes cleaner, and--not to put too fine a point upon it--he exhaled an atmosphere much sweeter than belonged to most of the men her boyish habits had brought her in contact with--not excepting her own father. Later she even exempted her mother from the possession of this divine effluence. After a moment she asked, suddenly, "What are you going to do with Hornsby?"
Cass had not thought of him. His short-lived rage was past with the occasion that provoked it. Without any fear of his adversary he would have been content and quite willing to meet him no more. He only said, "That will depend upon him."
"Oh, you won't hear from him again," said she, confidently, "but you really ought to get up a little more muscle. You've no more than a girl." She stopped, a little confused.
"What shall I do with your handkerchief?" asked the uneasy Cass, anxious to change the subject.
"Oh, keep it, if you want to, only don't show it to everybody as you did that ring you found." Seeing signs of distress in his face, she added: "Of course that was all nonsense. If you had cared so much for the ring you couldn't have talked about it, or shown it. Could you?"
It relieved him to think that this might be true; he certainly had not looked at it in that light before.
"But did you really find it?" she asked, with sudden gravity. "Really, now?"
"And there was no real May in the case?"
"Not that I know of," laughed Cass, secretly pleased.
But Miss Porter, after eying him critically for a moment jumped up and climbed back again to her seat. "Perhaps you had better give me that handkerchief back."
Cass began to unbutton his coat.
"No! no! Do you want to take your death of cold?" she screamed. And Cass, to avoid this direful possibility, rebuttoned his coat again over the handkerchief and a peculiarly pleasing sensation.
Very little now was said until the rattling, bounding descent of the coach denoted the approach to Red Chief. The straggling main street disclosed itself, light by light. In the flash of glittering windows and the sound of eager voices Miss Porter
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