He lifted her--what a light burden now!--and stood her upright beside him, and supported her as she essayed to walk with halting steps. She was like a stripling of a boy; the bright, small head scarcely reached his shoulder. But now, as she clung to his arm, the rider's costume she wore did not contradict, as it had done at first, his feeling of her femininity. She might be the famous Masked Rider of the uplands, she might resemble a boy; but her outline, her little hands and feet, her hair, her big eyes and tremulous lips, and especially a something that Venters felt as a subtle essence rather than what he saw, proclaimed her sex.
She soon tired. He arranged a comfortable seat for her under the spruce that overspread the camp-fire.
"Now tell me--everything," she said.
He recounted all that had happened from the time of his discovery of the rustlers in the canyon up to the present moment.
"You shot me--and now you've saved my life?"
"Yes. After almost killing you I've pulled you through."
"Are you glad?"
"I should say so!"
Her eyes were unusually expressive, and they regarded him steadily; she was unconscious of that mirroring of her emotions and they shone with gratefulness and interest and wonder and sadness.
"Tell me--about yourself?" she asked.
He made this a briefer story, telling of his coming to Utah, his various occupations till he became a rider, and then how the Mormons had practically driven him out of Cottonwoods, an outcast.
Then, no longer able to withstand his own burning curiosity, he questioned her in turn.
"Are you Oldring's Masked Rider?"
"Yes," she replied, and dropped her eyes.
"I knew it--I recognized your figure--and mask, for I saw you once. Yet I can't believe it!...But you never were really that rustler, as we riders knew him? A thief--a marauder--a kidnapper of women--a murderer of sleeping riders!"
"No! I never stole--or harmed any one--in all my life. I only rode and rode--"
"But why--why?" he burst out. "Why the name? I understand Oldring made you ride. But the black mask--the mystery--the things laid to your hands--the threats in your infamous name--the night-riding credited to you--the evil deeds deliberately blamed on you and acknowledged by rustlers--even Oldring himself! Why?
Tell me why?"
"I never knew that," she answered low. Her drooping head straightened, and the large eyes, larger now and darker, met Venters's with a clear, steadfast gaze in which he read truth. It verified his own conviction.
"Never knew? That's strange! Are you a Mormon?"
"Is Oldring a Mormon?"
"Do you--care for him?"