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And The Villain Pursued Her








From: Jean Of The Lazy A

The young man called Gil,--to avoid wasting time in saying Gilbert
James Huntley,--mounted in haste and rode warily up the coulee some
distance behind Jean. At that time and in that locality he was quite
anxious that she should not discover him. Gil was not such a bad
fellow, even though he did play "heavies" in all the pictures which
Robert Grant Burns directed. A villain he was on the screen, and a bad
one. Many's the man he had killed as cold-bloodedly as the Board of
Censorship would permit. Many's the girlish, Western heart he had
broken, and many's the time he had paid the penalty to brother, father,
or sweetheart as the scenario of the play might decree. Many's the
time he had followed girls and men warily through brush-fringed gullies
and over picturesque ridges, for the entertainment of shop girls and
their escorts sitting in darkened theaters and watching breathlessly
the wicked deeds of Gilbert James Huntley.

But in his everyday life, Gil Huntley was very good-looking, very
good-natured, and very harmless. His position and his salary as
"heavy" in the Great Western Company he owed chiefly to his good acting
and his thick eyebrows and his facility for making himself look
treacherous and mean. He followed Jean because the boss told him to do
so, in the first place. In the second place, he followed her because
he was even more interested in her than his director had been, and he
hoped to have a chance to talk with her. In his workaday life, Gil
Huntley was quite accustomed to being discovered in some villainy, and
to having some man or woman point a gun at him with more or less
antagonism in voice and manner. But he had never in his life had a
girl ride up and "throw down on him" with a gun, actually believing him
to be a thief and a scoundrel whom she would shoot if she thought it
necessary. There was a difference. Gil did not take the time or
trouble to analyze the difference, but he knew that he was glad the
boss had not sent Johnny or Bill in his place. He did not believe that
either of them would have enough sense to see the difference, and they
might offend her in some way,--though Gil Huntley need not have worried
in the least over any man's treatment of Jean, who was eminently
qualified to attend to that for herself.

He grinned when he saw her turn the cattle loose down the very next
coulee and with a final flip of her rope loop toward the hindermost
cow, ride on without them. He should have ridden in haste then to tell
Robert Grant Burns that the cattle could be brought back in twenty
minutes or so and the picture-making go on as planned. It was not
likely that the girl would come back; they could go on with their work
and get permission from the girl's uncle afterward. But he did not
turn and hurry back. Instead, he waited behind a rock-huddle until
Jean was well out of sight,--and while he waited, he took his
handkerchief and rubbed hard at the make-up on his face, which had made
him look sinister and boldly bad. Without mirror or cold cream, he was
not very successful, so that he rode on somewhat spotted in appearance
and looking even more sinister than before. But he was much more
comfortable in his mind, which meant a good deal in the interview which
he hoped by some means to bring about.

With Jean a couple of hundred yards in advance, they crossed a little
flat so bare of concealment that Gil Huntley was worried for fear she
might look back and discover him. But she did not turn her head, and
he rode on more confidently. At the mouth of Lazy A coulee, just where
stood the cluster of huge rocks that had at one time come hurtling down
from the higher slopes, and the clump of currant bushes beneath which
Jean used to hide her much-despised saddle when she was a child, she
disappeared from view. Gil, knowing very little of the ways of the
range folk, and less of the country, kicked his horse into a swifter
pace and galloped after her.

Fifty yards beyond the currant bushes he heard a sound and looked back;
and there was Jean, riding out from her hiding-place, and coming after
him almost at a run. While he was trying to decide what to do about
it, she overtook him; rather, the wide loop of her rope overtook him.
He ducked, but the loop settled over his head and shoulders and pulled
tight about the chest. Jean took two turns of the rope around the
saddle horn and then looked him over critically. In spite of herself,
she smiled a little at his face, streaked still with grease paint, and
at his eyes staring at her from between heavily penciled lids.

"That's what you get for following," she said, after a minute of
staring at each other. "Did you think I didn't know you were trailing
along behind me? I saw you before I turned the cattle loose, but I
just let you think you were being real sly and cunning about it. You
did it in real moving-picture style; did your fat Mr. Robert Grant
Burns teach you how? What is the idea, anyway? Were you going to
abduct me and lead me to the swarthy chief of your gang, or band, or
whatever you call it?"

Having scored a point against him and so put herself into a good humor
again, Jean laughed at him and twitched the rope, just to remind him
that he was at her mercy. To be haughtily indignant with this
honest-eyed, embarrassed young fellow with the streaky face and
heavily-penciled eyelids was out of the question. The wind caught his
high, peaked-crowned sombrero and sent it sailing like a great,
flapping bird to the ground, and he could not catch it because Jean had
his arms pinioned with the loop.

She laughed again and rode over to where the hat had lodged. Gil
Huntley, to save himself from being dragged ignominiously from the
saddle, kicked his horse and kept pace with her. Jean leaned far over
and picked up the hat, and examined it with amusement.

"If you could just live up to your hat, my, wouldn't you be a villain,
though!" she commented, in a soft, drawling voice. "You don't look so
terribly blood-thirsty without it; I just guess I'd better keep it for
a while. It would make a dandy waste-basket. Do you know, if your
face were clean, I think you'd look almost human,--for an outlaw."

She started on up the trail, nonchalantly leading her captive by the
rope. Gil Huntley could have wriggled an arm loose and freed himself,
but he did not. He wanted to see what she was going to do with him.
He grinned when she had her back turned toward him, but he did not say
anything for fear of spoiling the joke or offending her in some way.
So presently Jean began to feel silly, and the joke lost its point and
seemed inane and weak.

She turned back, threw off the loop that bound his arms to his sides,
and coiled the rope. "I wish you play-acting people would keep out of
the country," she said impatiently. "Twice you've made me act
ridiculous. I don't know what in the world you wanted to follow me
for,--and I don't care. Whatever it was, it isn't going to do you one
particle of good, so you needn't go on doing it."

She looked at him full, refused to meet half-way the friendliness of
his eyes, tossed the hat toward him, and wheeled her horse away.
"Good-by," she said shortly, and touched Pard with the spurs. She was
out of hearing before Gil Huntley could think of the right thing to
say, and she increased the distance between them so rapidly that before
he had quite recovered from his surprise at her sudden change of mood,
she was so far away that he could not have overtaken her if he had
tried.

He watched her out of sight and rode back to where Burns mouthed a big,
black cigar, and paced up and down the level space where he had set the
interrupted scene, and waited his coming.

"Rode away from you, did she? Where'd she take the cattle to? Left
'em in the next gulch? Well, why didn't you say so? You boys can
bring 'em back, and we'll get to work again. Where'd you say that
spring was, Gil? We'll eat before we do anything else. One thing
about this blamed country is we don't have to be afraid of the light.
Got to hand it to 'em for having plenty of good, clear sunlight,
anyway?"

He followed Gil to the feeble spring that seeped from under a huge
boulder, and stooped uncomfortably to fill a tin cup. While he waited
for the trickle to yield him a drink, he cocked his head sidewise and
looked up quizzically at his "heavy."

"You must have come within speaking distance, Gil," he guessed
shrewdly. "Got any make-up along? You look like a mild case of the
measles, right now. What did she have to say, anyhow?"

"Nothing," said Gil shortly. "I didn't talk to her at all. I didn't
want to run my horse to death trying to say hello when she didn't want
it that way."

"Huh!" grunted Robert Grant Burns unbelievingly, and fished a bit of
grass out of the cup with his little finger. He drank and said no more.





Next: Robert Grant Burns Gets Help

Previous: Jean Rides Into A Small Adventure



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