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- The Desert Valley - 40/46 -


On the instant Helen had the clear vision to know that in this skirmish she was defeated. She had thought her father would follow her; she knew that she would not go without him. At least not yet. In a moment her anger would get the best of her; she went quickly to the door and outside. Howard came quickly behind her.

'Helen,' he said harshly, 'you've got to listen to me.'

'Well?' She whirled and confronted him, her body drawn up rigidly. 'What have you to say?'

'You mustn't leave like this. You must stay.'

'I am not going to leave,' she retorted. 'I am going to stay!'

'But,' he began, at sea once more, 'I thought----'

'Think what you please, Mr. Howard,' she told him hotly. 'But here's one thing you don't have to speculate upon. I am not going to leave my father in the hands of that Murray woman to do as she pleases with. She can have whatever I don't want,' and he knew she meant Alan Howard, 'but I am not going to give her the satisfaction of having all of the mines and horses in the world named after her.'

The last came out despite her; she could have bitten her tongue to hold back the words which came rushing forth with such vehemence. She did not know what had put that thought into her mind at this crisis; perhaps it had always been there. But it was this which had chief significance for Howard.

'I have a horse named Sanchia,' he said. 'The one I rode the first day I saw you. You think that I named it after her?'

'What if you did?' she demanded. 'Do you suppose that I care?'

'That horse,' he went on steadily, 'I bought a long time ago from Yellow Barbee. It was before I had so much as heard of Sanchia Murray. He named the beast.'

Helen's old familiar sniff was his answer. The matter, he was to know, was of no moment to her. But she knew otherwise, and looked at him swiftly hoping he had something else to say.

'You've got to stay here,' he continued gravely. 'And we both know it. I believe in your father and in his ultimate success. We must watch over him, we must see that Mrs. Murray does not worm his secret out of him again and steal what he finds. And you've got to know that when a man loves a girl as I love you, he is not going to tolerate any further interference from a lying, deceitful jade like that woman in there.'

Helen laughed her disbelief.

'I rode first of all to the place where your cabin used to stand,' he went on, his big hat crumpled in his hands. 'You had left, and I was afraid you had gone East. I rode into the mining-camp to get word of you. I saw Barbee; he said that Sanchia Murray knew where you had moved. I asked her. When she said she was coming up this way, I did not wait for her. She appears to have it in for me; she hates you for standing between her and your father. She knows that I love you, and----'

Longstreet was calling from the door,

'Helen, I want you and Howard to come back. We must talk everything over. Mrs. Murray has much to explain; she hates Jim Courtot and his crowd, she is working against them instead of with them. Be fair, young people; remember these words,' he paused, lifted his hand oratorically and then made his statement with an unusually deep gravity,--'Every one, though appearing guilty, must be given an opportunity to prove himself innocent. That's it and that's fair: _the opportunity to prove his innocence_.' He emphasized the words in repeating them. 'That's all that I ask now. Please let's talk things over.'

Helen returned slowly to the cabin.

'I must go back,' she said to Howard. 'After all, I must keep my head and watch over papa every minute while she is with him.'

'May I come in, too?' he asked gently.

'Won't you believe me, Helen? And won't you let me help you?'

She hesitated. Then she turned her head so that he could see her eyes.

'I am apt to have my hands full,' she admitted. She even smiled a little. 'Maybe there _will_ be work for both of us.'

But when he sought to come to her side, she ran on ahead of him. The face which she presented at the door for Sanchia's vision was radiant. Even Sanchia was at a loss for the amazing alteration. How these two could have come to an understanding in two minutes baffled her. But as Howard presented his own face at the door there was no misdoubting that he and Helen had travelled far along the road which she had thought to close to them.

'What in the world has happened?' Guarded as was the tongue of Sanchia Murray it was human after all.

Helen laughed merrily and gave her eyes for an instant to Howard's. Then, lightly, to Sanchia:

'We were just laughing over a story Alan was telling me. Yellow Barbee has a new girl.'

Sanchia understood, and her face went red. Howard merely knew that for the first time Helen had called him Alan. Of trifles is the world made.

Chapter XXIII

The Will-o'-the-Wisp

For the hour, if for no longer, the tables plainly were turned upon Sanchia. The high content which so abruptly had enveloped Helen and Howard was comparable to the old magic armour of the fairy tales which the fortunate prince found always at his time of need. Through it venomed glance and bitter tongue might not pass; as Sanchia's anger rose the two lovers looked into each other's eyes and laughed. Again Sanchia bit her lips and sat back.

'Dear old pops,' said Helen, going to her father's side and slipping both arms about his neck, ruffling his scant hair and otherwise making free with his passive person, thereby achieving the dual result of coming between him and Sanchia and giving a joyous outlet to a new emotion. 'I am not going to leave you, after all. And the West is the nicest country in the world, too. And Alan and I were wrong to run off and leave you as we did. We'll stay right with you now, and it will be so much jollier that way; won't it, Mrs. Murray?'

Longstreet patted her hand; Sanchia Murray measured her anew.

'And I too,' ran on Helen, 'must take more interest in your work, your books. Now that we live right on the spot where the things are, the strata and eroded canons and--and relics of monster upheavals and fossils of the Pliocene age and all that--it will be so much fun to study about them, all together. Alan thinks so, I'm sure. Don't you agree, Mrs. Murray?'

Helen's eyes were dancing, Longstreet imagined with newly inspired interest, Alan knew with the light of battle; Sanchia's eyes were angry. The girl had stated her plan of campaign as though in so many words. If time came when Longstreet had a second golden secret to tell, she meant to hear it and to have Alan hear it at least not an instant later than Mrs. Murray; thereafter, with odds two to one against the widow, they should see what they would see.

Sanchia did much thinking and little talking. She remained an hour. During the last half-hour she developed a slight but growingly insistent cough. Before she left she had drawn the desired query from Longstreet. Oh, hadn't he noticed before? It had been coming on her for a month. The doctors were alarmed for her--but she smiled bravely. They had even commanded that she move away from the dust and noise of a town; that she pitch a tent somewhere on the higher lands and live out-doors all of the time. Helen saw what was coming before the actual words were spoken. It was Longstreet who was finally led to extend the invitation! Why didn't she move into a tent near them? And with a look in which gratitude seemed blurred in a mist of tears, Sanchia accepted. She would move to-morrow and pitch her tent right up there near the spring.

'If you don't mind, Helen dear?' she said. 'Your little summer house by the spring may be sacred ground?'

Promptly Helen made her a present of it. All that she wanted were some things she had left there, a pair of spurs and a bridle; Sanchia was perfectly welcome to the rest.

They all went out together for Sanchia's horse. And Sanchia, accepting the altered battle-ground to which Helen's tactics had driven her, seeing that she was to have little opportunity of getting Longstreet off to herself, began a straight drive at her main objective. She laid an affectionate hand on his arm as though thrown upon that necessity by the irregularities of the trail in which she had stumbled, and turned the battery of her really very pretty eyes upon him. With her eyes she said, boldly yet timidly: 'You splendid man, you have touched my heart! You noble creature, you have made Sanchia Murray love you! Generous man, you have come to mean everything to a poor little woman who is lonely!'

It is much to be said in a glance, but Sanchia had never travelled so far on her chosen road of life if she had not learned, long ago, how to put into a look all that she did not feel. And she did not stop with the one look; again she appeared to stumble, again her eyelids fluttered upward, her glance melted into his; again she flashed sufficient message to redden Longstreet's cheeks and make his own eyes burn with embarrassment. And since it was obvious that henceforward the combat must be waged in the open, she did not await the unlikely opportunity of some distant tete-a-tete to emphasize her intention. Before she mounted she managed to allow the glowingly embarrassed man to hold her two hands; and she told him whisperingly:

'I would to God that you had come a few years earlier into the life of Sanchia Murray!' She sighed and squeezed his hands. Then she smiled a wan little smile. 'You have come to mean so much, oh, so much, in my poor little lonely existence.'

The Desert Valley - 40/46

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