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- Wild Youth, Volume 1. - 13/13 -
"This will keep you warm," he said. "It isn't cold to-night. You only feel cold because you're upset and nervous."
"I'm frightened," she answered; "frightened of everything. Listen! Don't you hear something stirring--there!" She peered fearfully into the dusk behind them.
"Probably," he answered. "There are lots of prairie dogs and things about. The more you listen, the more you hear on the prairie, especially at night."
There was silence for a moment, and then he added: "My broncho'll steer straight for Slow Down Ranch, and that'll bring my men. You can be quite sure there'll be a search-party out from Tralee, too, at the first streak of dawn. You can't make the journey, so the only thing to be done is to wait here. That coat will keep you from getting cold, and I'll cut a lot of long grass and make you a bed here. Also, the grass is warm, and I'll cover you with it and with pine branches."
"I can't lie down," she answered. "No, I can't; I'm afraid. It's all so strange, and to-morrow, he--"
"There's nothing to be frightened about," he interrupted. "Nothing at all, Louise."
It was the first time he had ever addressed her by name, and it made her shiver with a new feeling. It seemed to tell a long, long story without words.
"You must do what I ask you to do--whatever I ask you to do," he repeated. "Will you?"
"Yes, anything you ask me I'll do," she answered, and then added quickly, "For you won't ask me to do anything I don't want to do. That's the difference. You understand, Orlando."
A few minutes later he had found a suitable place to make a kind of bed of grass for her, and had prepared it, with his knife, cutting the branches of small shrubs and grass and the scanty branches of the pine. When it was finished, he came to her and said:
"It's all ready. Come and lie down, and I'll cover you up."
She got to her feet slowly, for she was in pain greater than she knew, so absorbed was her mind in this new life suddenly enveloping her, and then she said in a low voice: "No, not yet; I can't yet. I want to sit here. I've never felt the night like this before. It's wonderful, and I'm not nearly so cold now. I know I oughtn't to be cold at all, in the middle of summer like this." She paused, and seemed lost in contemplation of the sky. After a moment she added: "I never knew I could feel so far away from all the world as I do tonight. But the sky seems so near, and the moon and the stars so friendly."
"You haven't slept out of doors as I have hundreds of times," he answered. "The night and I are brothers; the stars are my little cousins; and the moon"--he giggled in his boyish way--"is my maiden aunt. She's so prudish and so kind and friendly, as you say. She's like an aunt I had--Aunt Samantha. She was my father's sister. I used to love her to visit my mother. She always brought me things, and she gave them to me as if they were on silver dishes--like a ceremony. She was so prim, I used to call her Aunt Primrose. She made me feel as if I could do anything I liked and break any law I pleased. But all the time, like a saint in a stained-glass window, she always seemed to be saying, 'Yes, you'd like to, but you mustn't.' She was just like the moon. I'm well acquainted with the moon, and--"
"Hush!" Louise interrupted. "Don't you hear something stirring--there, behind us?"
He laughed. "Of course something's always 'stirring behind us' on the prairie, and things you can't hear at all in the day are almost loud at night. There are thousands of sounds that never get to your ears when the sun is busy, but when Aunt Primrose Moon is saying, 'Hush! Hush!' to the naughty children of this world, you can hear a whole new population at work, cracking away like mad. Say, ain't I letting myself go to- night?" he added, giggling again and sitting down beside her. "I'm going to give you just half an hour, and at the end of that half-hour you've got to go to sleep."
"I can't--I can't," she said scarcely above a whisper. As though in response to an unspoken thought, he said casually: "I'm going to walk awhile when you've lain down, and then--" He pointed to a spot about twenty yards away. "Do you see the two big stones there? Well, when I've finished my walk and my talk with Aunty Primrose"--he laughed up at the moon--"I'm going to sit down there and snooze till daylight." He pointed again: "Right over there beside those two rocks. That's my bed. Do you see?"
She did not reply at once, but a long sigh came from her lips. "You'll be cold," she said.
"No, it's a hot night," he answered. "I'm too hot as it is." And he loosened his heavy red shirt at the throat.
"If I've got to go to bed in half an hour," she said presently, "tell me more about your Aunt Samantha, and about yourself, and your home before you came out here, and what you did when you were a little boy--tell me everything about yourself."
She was forgetting Tralee for the moment, and the man who raised his hand against her yesterday, and the life she had lived. Or was it only that she had grown young during these last two months, and the young can so easily forget!
"You want to hear? You really want to hear?" he asked. "Say, it won't be a very interesting story. Better let me tell you about the broncho- busting today."
"No, I want to hear about yourself." She looked intently at him for an instant, and then her eyes closed and the long lashes touched her cheek. There was something very wilful in her beauty, and her body too had delicate, melancholy lines strange in one so young. She was not conscious that, in her dreamy abstraction, she was leaning towards him.
It was but an instant, though it seemed to him an interminable time, in which he fought the fierce desire to clasp her in his arms, and kiss the lips which, to his ears, said things more wonderful than he had ever dreamed of in his friendship with the night and the primrose moon. He knew, however, that if he did, she would not go back to Tralee to-morrow; that tomorrow she would defy the leviathan; and that tomorrow he would not have the courage to say the things he must say to the evil-hearted master of Tralee, who, he knew, would challenge them with ugly accusations. He must be able to look old Mazarine fearlessly in the face; he would not be the slave of opportunity. He was going to fight clean. She was here beside him in the warm loneliness of the northern world, and he was full-grown in body and brain, with all the human emotions alive in him; yet he would fight clean.
Not for a half-hour, but for nearly an hour he told her what she wished to know, while she listened in a happy dream; and when at last she lay down, she refused his coverlet of dry grass, saying that she was quite warm. She declared that she did not even need the coat he had taken from the saddle of the dead horse, but he wrapped it around her, and, saying "Goodnight" almost brusquely, marched away in the light of the dying moon.
The night wore on. At first Louise's ears were sensitive to every sound, and there were stirrings in the hillock by which she slept, but she comforted herself with the thought that they were the stirrings of lonely little waifs of nature like herself. Though she dared not let the thought take form, yet she feared, too, the sound of human footsteps. By and by, however, in the sweet quiet of the night and the somnolent light of the moon, sleep captured her. When at last Orlando's footsteps did crush the dry grass, the sound failed to reach her ears, for it was then not very far from daylight, and she had slept for several hours. Sleep had not touched Orlando's eyes when, sitting down by the stones which were to mark his resting-place, he waited for Louise to wake.
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