"Oh, Laddy, don't lie! You've lied before. I know you're hurt. Come in to mother."
"Shore, Nell, it's only a scratch. My bronch throwed me."
"Laddy, no horse every threw you." The girl's words and accusing eyes only hurried the ranger on to further duplicity.
"Mebbe I got it when I was ridin' hard under a mesquite, an' a sharp snag--"
"You've been shot!...Mama, here's Laddy, and he's been shot!....Oh, these dreadful days we're having! I can't bear them! Forlorn River used to be so safe and quiet. Nothing happened. But now! Jim comes home with a bloody hole in him--then Dick--then Laddy!....Oh, I'm afraid some day they'll never come home."
The morning was bright, still, and clear as crystal. The heat waves had not yet begun to rise from the desert.
A soft gray, white, and green tint perfectly blended lay like a mantle over mesquite and sand and cactus. The canyons of distant mountain showed deep and full of lilac haze.
Nell sat perched high upon the topmost bar of the corral gate. Dick leaned beside her, now with his eyes on her face, now gazing out into the alfalfa field where Belding's thoroughbreds grazed and pranced and romped and whistled. Nell watched the horses. She loved them, never tired of watching them. But her gaze was too consciously averted from the yearning eyes that tried to meet hers to be altogether natural.