And Venters thought with lightning swiftness, "I've saved her--I've unlinked her from that old life--she was watching as if I were all she had left on earth--she belongs to me!" The thought was startlingly new. Like a blow it was in an unprepared moment.
The cheery salutation he had ready for her died unborn and he tumbled the pieces of pottery awkwardly on the grass while some unfamiliar, deep-seated emotion, mixed with pity and glad assurance of his power to succor her, held him dumb.
"What a load you had!" she said. "Why, they're pots and crocks!
Where did you get them?"
Venters laid down his rifle, and, filling one of the pots from his canteen, he placed it on the smoldering campfire.
"Hope it'll hold water," he said, presently. "Why, there's an enormous cliff-dwelling just across here. I got the pottery there. Don't you think we needed something? That tin cup of mine has served to make tea, broth, soup--everything."
"I noticed we hadn't a great deal to cook in."
She laughed. It was the first time. He liked that laugh, and though he was tempted to look at her, he did not want to show his surprise or his pleasure.
"Will you take me over there, and all around in the valley--pretty soon, when I'm well?" she added.
"Indeed I shall. It's a wonderful place. Rabbits so thick you can't step without kicking one out. And quail, beaver, foxes, wildcats. We're in a regular den. But--haven't you ever seen a cliff-dwelling?"
"No. I've heard about them, though. The--the men say the Pass is full of old houses and ruins."
"Why, I should think you'd have run across one in all your riding around," said Venters. He spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully, and he essayed a perfectly casual manner, and pretended to be busy assorting pieces of pottery. She must have no cause again to suffer shame for curiosity of his. Yet never in all his days had he been so eager to hear the details of anyone's life "When I rode--I rode like the wind," she replied, "and never had time to stop for anything."
"I remember that day I--I met you in the Pass--how dusty you were, how tired your horse looked. Were you always riding?"
"Oh, no. Sometimes not for months, when I was shut up in the cabin."
Venters tried to subdue a hot tingling.
"You were shut up, then?" he asked, carelessly.
"When Oldring went away on his long trips--he was gone for months sometimes--he shut me up in the cabin."
"Perhaps to keep me from running away. I always threatened that.