"I'm afraid it is," said the other girl with a touch of sadness. "Dear old Ronicky, but such a wild man!"
She continued in the reading: "But I've got a scheme on now by which I'll sure get a stake and come back, and then you and me can get married, as soon as you feel like saying the word. The scheme is to find a lost mine--"
"A lost mine!" shouted Bill Gregg, his practical miner's mind revolting at this idea. "My guns, is Ronicky plumb nutty? That's all he's got to do--just find a 'lost mine?' Well, if that ain't plenty, may I never see a yearling ag'in!"
"Find a lost mine," went on Caroline, her voice trembling between tears and laughter, "and sink a new shaft, a couple of hundred feet to find where the old vein--"
"Sink a shaft a couple of hundred feet!" said Bill Gregg. "And him broke! Where'll he get the money to sink the shaft?"
"When we begin to take out the pay dirt," went on Caroline, "I'll either come or send for you and--"
"Hush up!" said Bill Gregg softly.
Caroline looked up and saw the tears streaming down the face of Ruth Tolliver. "I'm so sorry, poor dear!" she whispered, going to the other girl. But Ruth Tolliver shook her head.
"I'm only crying," she said, "because it's so delightfully and beautifully and terribly like Ronicky to write such a letter and tell of such plans. He's given away a lot of money to help some spendthrift, and now he's gone to get more money by finding a lost mine!' But do you see what it means, Caroline? It means that he doesn't love me--really!"
"Don't love you?" asked Bill Gregg. "Then he's a plumb fool. Why--"
"Hush, Bill," put in Caroline. "You mustn't say that," she added to Ruth. "Of course you have reason to be sad about it and angry, too."
"Sad, perhaps, but not angry," said Ruth Tolliver. "How could I ever be really angry with Ronicky? Hasn't he given me a chance to live a clean life? Hasn't he given me this big free open West to live in? And what would I be without Ronicky? What would have happened to me in New York?
Oh, no, not angry. But I've simply waked up, Caroline. I see now that Ronicky never cared particularly about me. He was simply in love with the danger of my position. As a matter of fact I don't think he ever told me in so many words that he loved me. I simply took it for granted because he did such things for me as even a man in love would not have done. After the danger and uniqueness were gone Ronicky simply lost interest."
"Don't say such things!" exclaimed Caroline.
"It's true," said Ruth steadily. "If he really wanted to come here--well, did you ever hear of anything Ronicky wanted that he didn't get?"
"Except money," suggested Bill Gregg. "Well, he even gets that, but most generally he gives it away pretty p.r.o.nto."
"He'd come like a bullet from a gun if he really wanted me," said Ruth.
"No, the only way I can bring Ronicky is to surround myself with new dangers, terrible dangers, make myself a lost cause again. Then Ronicky would come laughing and singing, eager as ever. Oh, I think I know him!"
"And what are you going to do?" asked Caroline.
"The only thing I can do," said the other girl. "I'm going to wait."
Far, far north two hors.e.m.e.n came at that same moment to a splitting of the trail they rode. The elder, bearded man, pointed ahead.
"That's the roundabout way," he said, "but it's sure the only safe way.
We'll travel there, Ronicky, eh?"
Ronicky Doone lifted his head, and his bay mare lifted her head at the same instant. The two were strangely in touch with one another.
"I dunno," he said, "I ain't heard of anybody taking the short cut for years--not since the big slide in the canyon. But I got a feeling I'd sort of like to try it. Save a lot of time and give us a lot of fun."
"Unless it breaks our necks."
"Sure," said Ronicky, "but you don't enjoy having your neck safe and sound, unless you take a chance of breaking it, once in a while."
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