Part II. The Girl of Lost Valley
Chapter XV. The Texan Pays a Visit
 

From that day Fraser had a new nurse. Arlie disappeared, and her aunt replaced her a few hours later and took charge of the patient. Steve took her desertion as an irritable convalescent does, but he did not let his disappointment make him unpleasant to Miss Ruth Dillon.

"I'm a chump," he told himself, with deep disgust. "Hadn't any more sense than to go scaring off the little girl by handing out a line of talk she ain't used to. I reckon now she's done with me proper."

He continued to improve so rapidly that within the prescribed two weeks he was on horseback again, though still a little weak and washed out. His first ride of any length was to the Dillon ranch. Siegfried accompanied him, and across the Norwegian's saddle lay a very business-like rifle.

As they were passing the mouth of a caņon, the ranger put a casual question: "This Jack Rabbit Run, Sig?"

"Yah. More men wanted bane lost in that gulch than any place Ay knows of."

"That so? I'm going in there to-morrow to find that man Struve," his friend announced carelessly.

The big blonde giant looked at him. "Yuh bain't, Steve? Why, yuh bain't fit to tackle a den uh wild cats." An admiring grin lit the Norwegian's face. "Durn my hide, yuh've got 'em all skinned for grit, Steve. Uh course, Ay bane goin' with yuh."

"If it won't get you in bad with your friends I'll be glad to have you, Sig."

"They bain't my friends. Ay bane shook them, an' served notice to that effect."

"Glad of it."

"Yuh bane goin' in after Struve only?"

"Yes. He's the only man I want."

"Then Ay bane go in, and bring heem out to yuh."

Fraser shook his head. "No, old man, I've got to play my own hand."

"Ay t'ink it be a lot safer f'r me to happen in an' get heem," remonstrated Siegfried.

"Safer for me," corrected the lieutenant, smiling. "No, I can't work that way. I've got to take my own chances. You can go along, though, on one condition. You're not to interfere between me and Struve. If some one else butts in, you may ask him why, if you like.

"Ay bane t'ink yuh von fool, Steve. But Ay bane no boss. Vat yuh says goes."

They found Arlie watering geraniums in front of the house. Siegfried merely nodded to her and passed on to the stables with the horses. Fraser dismounted, offering her his hand and his warm smile.

He had caught her without warning, and she was a little shy of him. Not only was she embarrassed, but she saw that he knew it. He sat down on the step, while she continued to water her flowers.

"You see your bad penny turned up again, Miss Arlie," he said.

"I didn't know you were able to ride yet, Lieutenant Fraser."

"This is my first try at it. Thought I'd run over and say 'Thank you' to my nurse."

"I'll call auntie," she said quickly.

He shook his head. "Not necessary, Miss Arlie. I settled up with her. I was thinking of the nurse that ran off and left me."

She was beginning to recover herself. "You want to thank her for leaving while there was still hope," she said, with a quick little smile.

"Why did you do it? I've been mighty lonesome the past two weeks," he said quietly.

"You would be, of course. You are used to an active outdoor life, and I suppose the boys couldn't get round to see you very often."

"I wasn't thinking of the boys," he meditated aloud.

Arlie blushed; and to hide her embarrassment she called to Jimmie, who was passing: "Bring up Lieutenant Fraser's Teddy. I want him to see how well we're caring for his horse."

As a diversion, Teddy served very well. Horse and owner were both mightily pleased to see each other. While the animal rubbed its nose against his coat, the ranger teased and petted it.

"Hello, you old Teddy hawss. How air things a-comin', pardner?" he drawled, with a reversion to his Texas speech. "Plumb tickled to death to meet up with yore old master, ain't you? How come it you ain't fallen in love with this young lady and forgot Steve?"

"He thinks a lot of me, too," Arlie claimed promptly.

"Don't blame you a bit, Teddy. I'll ce'tainly shake hands with you on that. But life's jest meetin' and partin', old hawss. I got to take you away for good, day after to-morrow."

"Where are you going?" the girl asked quickly. Then, to cover the swift interest of her question: "But, of course, it is time you were going back to your business."

"No, ma'am, that is just it. Seems to me either too soon or too late to be going."

She had her face turned from him, and was busy over her plants, to hide the tremulous dismay that had shaken her at his news.

She did not ask him what he meant, nor did she ask again where he was going. For the moment, she could not trust her voice to say more.

"Too late, because I've seen in this valley some one I'll never forget, and too soon because that some one will forget me, sure as a gun," he told her.

"Not if you write to him."

"It isn't a him. It's my little nurse."

"I'll tell auntie how you feel about it, and I'm sure she won't forget you."

"You know mighty well I ain't talking about auntie."

"Then I suppose you must mean me."

"That's who I'm meaning."

"I think I'll be able to remember you if I try-- by Teddy," she answered, without looking at him, and devoted herself to petting the horse.

"Is it-- would it be any use to say any more, Arlie?" he asked, in a low voice, as he stood beside her, with Teddy's nose in his hands.

"I-- I don't know what you mean, sir. Please don't say anything more about it." Then again memory of the other girl flamed through her. "No, it wouldn't-- not a bit of use, not a bit," she broke out fiercely.

"You mean you couldn't----"

The flame in her face, the eyes that met his, as if drawn by a magnet, still held their anger, but mingled with it was a piteous plea for mercy. "I-- I'm only a girl. Why don't you let me alone?" she cried bitterly, and hard upon her own words turned and ran from the room.

Steve looked after her in amazed surprise. "Now don't it beat the band the way a woman takes a thing."

Dubiously he took himself to the stable and said good-by to Dillon.

An hour later she went down to dinner still flushed and excited. Before she had been in the room two minutes her father gave her a piece of startling news.

"I been talking to Steve. Gracious, gyurl, what do you reckon that boy's a-goin' to do?"

Arlie felt the color leap into her cheeks.

"What, dad?"

"He's a'goin' back to Gimlet Butte, to give himself up to Brandt, day after to-morrow."

"But-- what for?" she gasped.

"Durned if I know! He's got some fool notion about playin' fair. Seems he came into the Cedar Mountain country to catch the Squaw Creek raiders. Brandt let him escape on that pledge. Well, he's give up that notion, and now he thinks, dad gum it, that it's up to him to surrender to Brandt again."

The girl's eyes were like stars. "And he's going to go back there and give himself up, to be tried for killing Faulkner."

Dillon scratched his head. "By gum, gyurl, I didn't think of that. We cayn't let him go."

"Yes, we can."

"Why, honey, he didn't kill Faulkner, looks like. We cayn't let him go back there and take our medicine for us. Mebbe he would be lynched. It's a sure thing he'd be convicted."

"Never mind. Let him go. I've got a plan, dad." Her vivid face was alive with the emotion which spoke in it. "When did he say he was going?" she asked buoyantly.

"Day after to-morrow. Seems he's got business that keeps him hyer to-morrow. What's yore idee, honey?"

She got up, and whispered it in his ear. His jaw dropped, and he stared at her in amazement.