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Shot To The Core With Sunlight








From: The Highgrader

The storm had blown itself out before morning. A white world sparkled
with flashes of sunlight when Moya opened the door of the cabin and
gazed out. Looking down into the peaceful valley below, it was hard to
believe that death had called to them so loudly only a few hours
earlier.

Kilmeny emerged from the shaft-house and called a cheerful good-morning
across to her.

"How did you sleep?" he shouted as he crunched across the snow toward
her.

"Not so very well. Joyce slept for both of us."

Their smiles met. They had been comrades in the determination to shield
her from whatever difficulties the situation might hold.

"I'm glad. Is she quite herself this morning? Last night she was very
tired and a good deal alarmed."

"Yes. After you came Joyce did not worry any more. She knew you would
see that everything came right."

The color crept into his bronzed face. "Did she say so?"

"Yes. But it was not what she said. I could tell."

"I'm glad I could do what I did."

The eyes that looked at him were luminous. Something sweet and mocking
glowed in them inscrutably. He knew her gallant soul approved him, and
his heart lifted with gladness. The beauty of her companion fascinated
him, but he divined in this Irish girl the fine thread of loyalty that
lifted her character out of the commonplace. Her slender, vivid
personality breathed a vigor of the spirit wholly engaging.

Joyce joined her friend in the doorway. With her cheeks still flushed
from sleep and her hair a little disheveled, she reminded Jack of a
beautiful crumpled rose leaf. Since her charm was less an expression of
an inner quality, she needed more than Moya the adventitious aids of
dress.

The young woman's smile came out warmly at sight of Kilmeny. It was her
custom always to appropriate the available man. Toward this bronzed
young fellow with the splendid throat sloping into muscular shoulders
she felt very kindly this morning. He had stood between her and trouble.
He was so patently an admirer of Joyce Seldon. And on his own merits the
virility and good looks of him drew her admiration. At sight of the
bruises on his face her heart beat a little fast with pleasurable
excitement. He had fought for her like a man. She did not care if he was
a workingman. His name was Kilmeny. He was a gentleman by birth, worth a
dozen Verinders.

"Mr. Kilmeny, how can we ever thank you?"

He looked at her and nodded gayly. "Forget it, Miss Seldon. I couldn't
have done less."

"Or more," she added softly, her lovely eyes in his.

No change showed in the lean brown face of the man, but his blood moved
faster. It was impossible to miss the appeal of sex that escaped at
every graceful movement of the soft sensuous body, that glowed from the
deep still eyes in an electric current flashing straight to his veins.
He would have loved to touch the soft flushed cheek, the crisp amber
hair clouding the convolutions of the little ears. His eyes were an
index of the man, bold and possessive and unwavering. They announced him
a dynamic American, one who walked the way of the strong and fought for
his share of the spoils. But when she looked at him they softened.
Something fine and tender transfigured the face and wiped out its
sardonic recklessness.

"The pressing question before the house is breakfast. There are bacon
and flour and coffee here. Shall I make a batch of biscuits and offer
you pot luck? Or do you prefer to wait till we can get to Goldbanks?"

"What do you think?" Moya asked.

"I think whatever you think. We'll not reach town much before noon. If
you can rough it for a meal I should advise trying out the new cook. It
really depends on how hungry you are."

"I'm hungry enough to eat my boots," the Irish girl announced promptly.

"So am I. Let's stay--if our hosts won't object," Joyce added.

"I'm quite sure they won't," Kilmeny replied dryly. "All right. A camp
breakfast it is."

"I'm going to help you," Moya told him.

"Of course. You'd better wash the dishes as soon as we get hot water.
They're probably pretty grimy."

He stepped into the cabin and took off his coat. Moya rolled up her
sleeves to the elbows of her plump dimpled arms. Miss Seldon hovered
about helplessly and wanted to know what she could do.

The miner had not "batched" in the hills for years without having
learned how to cook. His biscuits came to the table hot and flaky, his
bacon was done to a turn. Even the chicory coffee tasted delicious to
the hungry guests.

With her milk-white skin, her vivid crimson lips so exquisitely turned,
and the superb vitality of her youth, Joyce bloomed in the sordid hut
like a flower in a rubbage heap. To her bronzed vis-a-vis it seemed
that the world this morning was shimmering romance. Never before had he
enjoyed a breakfast half as much. He and Miss Seldon did most of the
talking, while Moya listened, the star flash in her eyes and the
whimsical little smile on her lips.

Joyce was as gay as a lark. She chattered with the childish artlessness
that at times veiled her sophistication. Jack was given to understand
that she loved to be natural and simple, that she detested the shams of
social convention to which she was made to conform. Her big lovely eyes
were wistful in their earnestness as they met his. It was not wholly a
pose with her. For the moment she meant all she said. A delightful
excitement fluttered her pulses. She was playing the game she liked
best, moving forward to the first skirmishes of that sex war which was
meat and drink to her vanity. The man attracted her as few men ever had.
That nothing could come of it beyond the satisfaction of the hour did
not mitigate her zest for the battle.

They were still at breakfast when one of the Cornishmen pushed open the
door and looked in. He stood looking down on them sullenly without
speaking.

"Want to see me, Peale?" asked Kilmeny.

"Did I say I wanted to see 'ee?" demanded the other roughly.

"Better come in and shut the door. The air's chilly."

The battered face of his companion loomed over the shoulder of Peale. To
Kilmeny it was plain that they had come with the idea of making
themselves disagreeable. Very likely they had agreed to force their
company upon the young women for breakfast. But the sight of their
dainty grace, together with Jack's cheerful invitation, was too much for
their audacity. Peale grumbled something inaudible and turned away,
slamming the door as he went.

The young miner laughed softly. If he had shown any unwillingness they
would have pushed their way in. His urbanity had disarmed them.

"They're not really bad men, you know--just think they are," he
explained casually.

"I'm afraid of them. I don't trust them," Joyce shuddered.

"Well, I trust them while they're under my eye. The trouble with men of
that stripe is that they're yellow. A game man gives you a fighting
chance, but fellows of this sort hit while you're not looking. But you
needn't worry. They're real tame citizens this morning."

"Yes, they looked tame," Moya answered dryly. "So tame I'm sure they'd
like to crucify you."

"I daresay they would, but in this world a man can't get everything he
would like. I've wanted two or three pleasures myself that I didn't
get."

His gaze happened to turn toward Joyce as he was speaking. He had been
thinking of nothing definite, but at the meeting of their eyes something
flashed into birth and passed from one to the other like an electric
current. Jack knew now something that he wanted, but he did not admit
that he could not get it. If she cared for him--and what else had her
eyes told him in the golden glow of that electric moment?--a hundred
Verinders and Lady Farquhar could not keep them apart.

His heart sang jubilantly. He rose abruptly and left the room because he
was afraid he could not veil his feeling.

Joyce smiled happily. "Where is he going?" she asked innocently.

Moya looked at her and then turned her eyes away. She had understood the
significance of what she had seen and a door in her heart that had been
open for weeks clanged shut.

"I don't know, unless to get the horses," she said quietly.

A few minutes later he returned, leading the animals. From the door of
the shaft-house the Cornishmen watched them mount and ride away. The men
smoked in sullen silence.


THE SNOW SPARKLED AND GLEAMED WITH IT. (p. 177)]

Before they had ridden a hundred yards Joyce was in gay talk with
Kilmeny. She had forgotten the very existence of the miners. But Moya
did not forget. She had seen the expression of their faces as the horses
had passed. If a chance ever offered itself they would have their
revenge.

It was a day winnowed from a lifetime of ordinary ones. They rode
through a world shot to the core with sunlight. The snow sparkled and
gleamed with it. The foliage of the cottonwoods, which already had
shaken much of their white coat to the ground, reflected it in greens
and golds and russets merged to a note of perfect harmony by the Great
Artist. Though the crispness of early winter was in the air, their
nostrils drew in the fragrance of October, the faint wafted perfume of
dying summer.

Beneath a sky of perfect blue they pushed along the shoulder of the
hill, avoiding the draw into which snow had drifted deep. Life stormed
in their veins, glowed in their flushed cheeks, rang in the care-free
laughter of at least two of them. Jack broke trail, turning often in the
saddle with a lithe twist of his lean muscular body, to suggest a word
of caution at the bad places. Always then he discovered the deep violet
eyes of Joyce Seldon with their smoldering fire. To let himself dwell
upon her loveliness of fine-textured satiny skin, set off by the
abundant crown of lustrous bronze hair, was to know again a quickened
pulse of delight.

When he spoke it was with the languid drawl of the Western plainsman. In
humor he feigned to conceal his passion, but Joyce knew him to be
alertly conscious of her every word, every turn of her pliant body.

They reached the road, where two could ride abreast. Sometimes he was
with the one, again with the other. Moya, who had not much to say this
morning, made it easy for him to be with Joyce. She did not need to be
told that he was under the allure of that young woman's beauty; and not
alone of her beauty, but of that provocative stimulating something that
can be defined only as the drag of sex. All men responded to it when
Joyce chose to exert herself, many when she did not.

Once he turned to point out to Moya some snow-covered mounds above the
road.

"Graves of a dozen mule-skinners killed by Indians nearly thirty years
ago. My father was the only one of the party that escaped."

Half a mile from town they met two men on horseback and exchanged news.
All Goldbanks had been searching for them through the night. The
Farquhar party were wild with anxiety about them.

Kilmeny gave prompt quiet orders. "Get back to town, boys, and tell Lady
Farquhar that it's all right. We'll be along in a few minutes."

The news of their safety spread as by magic. Men and women and children
poured into the streets to welcome them. It was as much as Kilmeny
could do to keep back the cheering mob long enough to reach the hotel.
Verinder, Lady Jim, and India came down the steps to meet them, Captain
Kilmeny and Lord Farquhar both being away at the head of search parties.
India and Lady Farquhar broke down without shame and cried as they
embraced the returned wanderers.

"We thought ... we thought...." India could not finish in words, but
Moya knew what she meant.

"It was very nearly that way, dear, but everything is all right now,"
her friend smiled through a film of tears.

"It was Moya saved us--and afterward Mr. Kilmeny," Joyce explained
between sobs.

The crowd below cheered again and Moya borrowed India's handkerchief to
wave. It touched her to see how glad these people were to know they had
been rescued.

Lady Farquhar thanked Kilmeny with a gulp in her throat. "We'll want to
hear all about it and to get a chance to thank you properly. Will you
come to dinner this evening? Joyce and Moya should be rested by then."

Jack accepted promptly. "I'll be very glad to come."





Next: Prove It! Prove It!

Previous: Out Of The Storm A Man



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