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Over the Pass, Page 2

Frederick Palmer



  She faced a situation irritating and vitalizing, and inevitably, underits growing perplexity, her observation of his appearance andcharacteristics had been acute with feminine intuition, which is sofrequently right, that we forget that it may not always be. She imaginedhim with a certain amiable aimlessness turning his pony to one side so asnot to knock down a danger sign, while he rode straight over a precipice.

  What would have happened if Leddy had really drawn? she asked herself.Probably her deliverer would have regarded the muzzle of Leddy's gun instudious vacancy before a bullet sent him to kingdom come. Allspeculation aside, her problem was how to rescue her rescuer. She feltalmost motherly on his account, he was so blissfully oblivious torealities. And she felt, too, that under the circumstances, she ought tobe formal.

  "Now, Mister--" she began; and the Mister sounded odd and stilted in herears in relation to him.

  "Jack is my name," he said simply.

  "Mine is Mary," she volunteered, giving him as much as he had givenand no more. "Now, sir," she went on, in peremptory earnestness, "thisis serious."

  "It _was_," he answered. "At least, unpleasant."

  "It is, _now_. Pete Leddy meant what he said when he said that hewould draw."

  "He ought to, from his repeated emphasis," answered Jack, in agreeableaffirmation.

  "He has six notches on his gun-handle--six men that he has killed!"Mary went on.

  "Whew!" said Jack. "And he isn't more than thirty! He seems a hard workerwho keeps right on the job."

  She pressed her lips together to control her amusement, before she askedcategorically, with the precision of a school-mistress:

  "Do you know how to shoot?"

  He was surprised. He seemed to be wondering if she were not makingsport of him.

  "Why should I carry a six-shooter if I did not?" he asked.

  This convinced her that his revolver was a part of his play cowboycostume. He had come out of the East thinking that desperado etiquette ofthe Bad Lands was _opera bouffe_.

  "Leddy is a dead shot. He will give you no chance!" she insisted.

  "I should think not," Jack mused. "No, naturally not; otherwise theremight have been no sixth notch. The third or the fourth, even the secondobject of his favor might have blasted his fair young career as awood-carver. Has he set any limit to his ambition? Is he going to make itan even hundred and then retire?"

  "I don't know!" she gasped.

  "I must ask," he added, thoughtfully.

  Was he out of his head? Certainly his eye was not insane. Its bluish-graywas twinkling enjoyably into hers.

  "You exasperated him with that whistle. It was a deadly insult to hisdesperado pride. You are marked--don't you see, marked?" she persisted."And I brought it on! I am responsible!"

  He shook his head in a denial so unmoved by her appeal that she was surehe would send Job into an apoplectic frenzy.

  "Pardon me, but you're contradicting your own statement. You just said itwas the whistle," he corrected her. "It's the whistle that gives me CheckNumber Seven. You haven't the least bit of responsibility. The whistlegets it all, just as you said."

  This was too much. Confuting her with her own words! Quibbling with hisown danger in order to make her an accomplice of murder! She lost hertemper completely. That fact alone could account for the audacity of hernext remark.

  "I wonder if you really know enough to come in out of the rain!"she stormed.

  "That's the blessing of living in Arizona," he returned. "It is such adry climate."

  She caught herself laughing; and this only made her the more intense asecond later, on a different tack. Now she would plead.

  "Please--please promise me that you will not go to Little Riversto-night. Promise that you will turn back over the pass!"

  "You put me between the devil and the dragon. What you ask is impossible.I'll tell you why," he went on, confidentially. "You know this is theland of fossil dinosaurs."

  "I had a brute on my hands," she thought; "now I have the Mad Hatter andthe March Hare in collaboration!"

  "There is a big dinosaur come to life on the other side," he proceeded."I just got through the pass in time. I could feel his breath on myback--a hot, gun-powdery breath! It was awful, simply awful and horrible,too. And just as I had resigned myself to be his entree, by great luckhis big middle got wedged in the bottom of the V, and his scales scrapedlike the plates of a ship against a stone pier!"

  To her disgust she was laughing again.

  "If I went back now out of fear of Pete Leddy," he continued, "thatdinosaur would know that I was such insignificant prey he would not eventake the trouble to knock me down with a forepaw. He would swallow mealive and running! Think of that slimy slide down the red upholstery ofhis gullet, not to mention the misery of a total loss of my dignity andself-respect!"

  He had spoken it all as if he believed it true. He made it seemalmost true.

  "I like nonsense as much as anybody," she began, "and I do not forgetthat you did me a great kindness."

  "Which any stranger, any third person coming at the right moment mighthave done," he interrupted. "Sir Walter's age has passed."

  "Yes, but Pete Leddy belongs still farther back. We may laugh at hisruffianly bravado, but no one may laugh at a forty-four calibre bullet!Think what you are going to make me pay for your kindness! I must paywith memory of the sound of a shot and the fall of a body there in thestreets of Little Rivers--a nightmare for life! Oh, I beg of you, thoughit is fun for you to be killed, consider me! Don't go down into thatvalley! I beg of you, go back over the pass!"

  There was no acting, no suspicion of a gesture. She stood quite still,while all the power of her eyes reflected the misery which she picturedfor herself. The low pitch of her voice sounded its depths with thatrestraint which makes for the most poignant intensity. As she reached herclimax he had come out of his languid pose. He was erect and rigid. Shesaw him as some person other than the one to whom she had begun herappeal. He was still smiling, but his smile was of a different sort.Instead of being the significant thing about him in expression of hiscasualness, it seemed the softening compensation for his stubbornness.

  "I'd like to, but it is hardly in human nature for me to do that. Ican't!" And he asked if he might bring up her pony.

  "Yes," she consented.

  She thought that the faint bow of courtesy with which he had accompaniedthe announcement of his decision he would have given, in commonpoliteness, to anyone who pointed at the danger sign before he rode overthe precipice.

  "May I ride down with you, or shall I go ahead?" he inquired, after hehad assisted her to mount.

  "With me!" she answered, quickly. "You are safe while you are with me."

  The decisive turn to her mobile lips and the faint wrinkles of a frown,coming and going in various heraldry, formed a vividly sentient andversatile expression of emotions while she watched his silhouette againstthe sky as he turned to get his own pony.

  "Come, P.D.--come along!" he called.

  In answer to his voice an equine face, peculiarly reflective of trailwisdom, bony and large, particularly over the eyes, slowly turned towardits master. P.D. was considering.

  "Come along! The trail, P.D.!" And P.D. came, but with democraticindependence, taking his time to get into motion. "He is never fast,"Jack explained, "but once he has the motor going, he keeps at it all day.So I call him P.D. without the Q., as he is never quick."

  "Pretty Damn, you mean!" she exclaimed, with a certain spontaneous prideof understanding. Then she flushed in confusion.

  "Oh, thank you! It was so human of you to translate it out loud! It isn'tprofane. Look at him now. Don't you think it is a good name for him?"Jack asked, seriously.

  "I do!"

  She was laughing again, oblivious of the impending tragedy.