The Cottonwoods

I do not know how long I stayed there alone. It was the Virginian who came back, and as he stood at the foot of my blankets his eye, after meeting mine full for a moment, turned aside. I had never seen him look as he did now, not even in Pitchstone Canyon when we came upon the bodies of Hank and his wife. Until this moment we had found no chance of speaking together, except in the presence of others.

“Seems to be raining still,” I began after a little.

“Yes. It’s a wet spell.” He stared out of the door, smoothing his mustache.

It was again I that spoke. “What time is it?” He brooded over his watch. “Twelve minutes to seven.” I rose and stood drawing on my clothes.

“The fire’s out,” said he; and he assembled some new sticks over the ashes. Presently he looked round with a cup.

“Never mind that for me,” I said

“We’ve a long ride,” he suggested.

“I know. I’ve crackers in my pocket.” My boots being pulled on, I walked to the door and watched the clouds. “They seem as if they might lift,” I said. And I took out my watch.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“A quarter of--it’s run down.” While I wound it he seemed to be consulting his own.

“Well?” I inquired.

“Ten minutes past seven.” As I was setting my watch he slowly said:

“Steve wound his all regular. I had to night-guard him till two.” His speech was like that of one in a trance: so, at least, it sounds in my memory to-day.

Again I looked at the weather and the rainy immensity of the plain. The foot-hills eastward where we were going were a soft yellow. Over the gray-green sage-brush moved shapeless places of light--not yet the uncovered sunlight, but spots where the storm was wearing thin; and wandering streams of warmth passed by slowly in the surrounding air. As I watched the clouds and the earth, my eyes chanced to fall on the distant clump of cottonwoods. Vapors from the enfeebled storm floated round them, and they were indeed far away; but I came inside and began rolling up my blankets.

“You will not change your mind?” said the Virginian by the fire. “It is thirty-five miles.” I shook my head, feeling a certain shame that he should see how unnerved I was.

He swallowed a hot cupful, and after it sat thinking; and presently he passed his hand across his brow, shutting his eyes. Again he poured out a cup, and emptying this, rose abruptly to his feet as if shaking himself free from something

“Let’s pack and quit here,” he said.

Our horses were in the corral and our belongings in the shelter of what had been once the cabin at this forlorn place. He collected them in silence while I saddled my own animal, and in silence we packed the two packhorses, and threw the diamond hitch, and hauled tight the slack, damp ropes. Soon we had mounted, and as we turned into the trail I gave a look back at my last night’s lodging.

The Virginian noticed me. “Good-by forever!” he interpreted.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.