She walked with him into the shade of the cottonwoods.
"What do you mean?"
"Miss Withersteen, I went to my mother's house last night. While there, some one knocked, an' a man asked for me. I went to the door. He wore a mask. He said I'd better not ride any more for Jane Withersteen. His voice was hoarse an' strange, disguised I reckon, like his face. He said no more, an' ran off in the dark."
"Did you know who he was?" asked Jane, in a low voice.
Jane did not ask to know; she did not want to know; she feared to know. All her calmness fled at a single thought "Thet's why I'm packin' guns," went on Judkins. "For I'll never quit ridin' for you, Miss Withersteen, till you let me go."
"Judkins, do you want to leave me?"
"Do I look thet way? Give me a hoss--a fast hoss, an' send me out on the sage."
"Oh, thank you, Judkins! You're more faithful than my own people.
I ought not accept your loyalty--you might suffer more through it. But what in the world can I do? My head whirls. The wrong to Venters--the stolen herd--these masks, threats, this coil in the dark! I can't understand! But I feel something dark and terrible closing in around me."
"Miss Withersteen, it's all simple enough," said Judkins, earnestly. "Now please listen--an' beggin' your pardon--jest turn thet deaf Mormon ear aside, an' let me talk clear an' plain in the other. I went around to the saloons an' the stores an' the loafin' places yesterday. All your riders are in. There's talk of a vigilance band organized to hunt down rustlers. They call themselves 'The Riders.' Thet's the report--thet's the reason given for your riders leavin' you. Strange thet only a few riders of other ranchers joined the band! An' Tull's man, Jerry Card-he's the leader. I seen him en' his hoss. He 'ain't been to Glaze. I'm not easy to fool on the looks of a hoss thet's traveled the sage. Tull an' Jerry didn't ride to Glaze!...Well, I met Blake en' Dorn, both good friends of mine, usually, as far as their Mormon lights will let 'em go. But these fellers couldn't fool me, an' they didn't try very hard. I asked them, straight out like a man, why they left you like thet. I didn't forget to mention how you nursed Blake's poor old mother when she was sick, an' how good you was to Dorn's kids. They looked ashamed, Miss Withersteen. An' they jest froze up--thet dark set look thet makes them strange an' different to me. But I could tell the difference between thet first natural twinge of conscience an' the later look of some secret thing. An' the difference I caught was thet they couldn't help themselves. They hadn't no say in the matter. They looked as if their bein' unfaithful to you was bein' faithful to a higher duty. An' there's the secret. Why it's as plain as--as sight of my gun here."