It was the moment when the last ruddy rays of the sunset brightened momentarily before yielding to twilight. And for Venters the outlook before him was in some sense similar to a feeling of his future, and with searching eyes he studied the beautiful purple, barren waste of sage. Here was the unknown and the perilous. The whole scene impressed Venters as a wild, austere, and mighty manifestation of nature. And as it somehow reminded him of his prospect in life, so it suddenly resembled the woman near him, only in her there were greater beauty and peril, a mystery more unsolvable, and something nameless that numbed his heart and dimmed his eye.
"Look! A rider!" exclaimed Jane, breaking the silence. "Can that be Lassiter?"
Venters moved his glance once more to the west. A horseman showed dark on the sky-line, then merged into the color of the sage.
"It might be. But I think not--that fellow was coming in. One of your riders, more likely. Yes, I see him clearly now. And there's another."
"I see them, too."
"Jane, your riders seem as many as the bunches of sage. I ran into five yesterday 'way down near the trail to Deception Pass.
They were with the white herd."
"You still go to that canyon? Bern, I wish you wouldn't. Oldring and his rustlers live somewhere down there."
"Well, what of that?"
"Tull has already hinted to your frequent trips into Deception Pass."
"I know." Venters uttered a short laugh. "He'll make a rustler of me next. But, Jane, there's no water for fifty miles after I leave here, and the nearest is in the canyon. I must drink and water my horse. There! I see more riders. They are going out."
"The red herd is on the slope, toward the Pass."
Twilight was fast falling. A group of horsemen crossed the dark line of low ground to become more distinct as they climbed the slope. The silence broke to a clear call from an incoming rider, and, almost like the peal of a hunting-horn, floated back the answer. The outgoing riders moved swiftly, came sharply into sight as they topped a ridge to show wild and black above the horizon, and then passed down, dimming into the purple of the sage.
"I hope they don't meet Lassiter," said Jane.
"So do I," replied Venters. "By this time the riders of the night shift know what happened to-day. But Lassiter will likely keep out of their way."
"Bern, who is Lassiter? He's only a name to me--a terrible name."
"Who is he? I don't know, Jane. Nobody I ever met knows him. He talks a little like a Texan, like Milly Erne. Did you note that?"