"Then--there--there must be a--a woman!" Dark red mantled the clear tan of temple and cheek and neck. Her eyes were eyes of shame, upheld a long moment by intense, straining search for the verification of her fear. Suddenly they drooped, her head fell to her knees, her hands flew to her hot cheeks.
"Bess--look here," said Venters, with a sharpness due to the violence with which he checked his quick, surging emotion.
As if compelled against her will--answering to an irresistible voice-- Bess raised her head, looked at him with sad, dark eyes, and tried to whisper with tremulous lips.
"There's no woman," went on Venters, deliberately holding her glance with his. "Nothing on earth, barring the chances of life, can keep me away."
Her face flashed and flushed with the glow of a leaping joy; but like the vanishing of a gleam it disappeared to leave her as he had never beheld her.
"I am nothing--I am lost--I am nameless!"
"Do you want me to come back?" he asked, with sudden stern coldness. "Maybe you want to go back to Oldring!"
That brought her erect, trembling and ashy pale, with dark, proud eyes and mute lips refuting his insinuation.
"Bess, I beg your pardon. I shouldn't have said that. But you angered me. I intend to work--to make a home for you here--to be a--a brother to you as long as ever you need me. And you must forget what you are-- were--I mean, and be happy. When you remember that old life you are bitter, and it hurts me."
"I was happy--I shall be very happy. Oh, you're so good that--that it kills me! If I think, I can't believe it. I grow sick with wondering why. I'm only a let me say it--only a lost, nameless--girl of the rustlers. Oldring's Girl, they called me.
That you should save me--be so good and kind--want to make me happy--why, it's beyond belief. No wonder I'm wretched at the thought of your leaving me. But I'll be wretched and bitter no more. I promise you. If only I could repay you even a little--"
"You've repaid me a hundredfold. Will you believe me?"
"Believe you! I couldn't do else."
"Then listen!...Saving you, I saved myself. Living here in this valley with you, I've found myself. I've learned to think while I was dreaming. I never troubled myself about God. But God, or some wonderful spirit, has whispered to me here. I absolutely deny the truth of what you say about yourself. I can't explain it. There are things too deep to tell. Whatever the terrible wrongs you've suffered, God holds you blameless. I see that--feel that in you every moment you are near me. I've a mother and a sister 'way back in Illinois. If I could I'd take you to them--to-morrow."