Lite Comes Out Of The Background





For hours Jean had sat staring out at the drear stretches of desert

dripping under the dismal rain that streaked the car windows. The

clouds hung leaden and gray close over the earth; the smoke from the

engine trailed a funereal plume across the grease-wood covered plain.

Away in the distance a low line of hills stretched vaguely, as though

they were placed there to hold up the sky that was so heavy and dank.

Alongside the track every ditch ran full of clay-colored water that

wrapped little, ragged wreaths of dirty foam around every obstruction,

like the tawdry finery of the slums.



From the smoking-room where he had been for the past two hours with Art

Osgood, Lite came unsteadily down the aisle, heralded as it were by the

muffled scream of the whistle at a country crossing. Jean turned

toward him a face as depressed as the desert out there under the rain.

Lite, looking at her keenly, saw on her cheeks the traces of tears. He

let himself down wearily into the seat beside her, reached over calmly,

and took her hand from off her lap and held it snugly in his own.



"This is likely a snowstorm, up home," he said in his quiet,

matter-of-fact way. "I guess we'll have to make our headquarters in

town till I get things hauled out to the ranch. That's it, when you

can't look ahead and see what's coming. I could have had everything

ready to go right on out, only I thought there wouldn't be any use,

before spring, anyway. But if this storm ain't a blizzard up there, a

couple of days will straighten things out."



Jean turned her head and regarded him attentively. "Out where?" she

asked him bluntly. "What are you talking about? Have you and Art been

celebrating?" She knew better than that. Lite never indulged in liquid

celebrations, and Jean knew it.



Lite reached into his pocket with the hand that was free, and drew

forth a telegram envelope. He released her hand while he drew out the

message, but he did not hand it to her immediately. "I wired Rossman

from Los Angeles," he informed her, "and told him what was up, and

asked him to put me up to date on that end of the line. So he did. I

got this back there at that last town." He laid his hand over hers

again, and looked down at her sidelong.



"Ever since the trouble," he began abruptly, but still in that quiet,

matter-of-fact way, "I've been playing a lone hand and kinda holding

back and waiting for something to drop. I had that idea all along that

you've had this summer: getting hold of the Lazy A and fixing it up so

your dad would have a place to come back to. I never said anything,

because talking don't come natural to me like it does to some, and I'd

rather do a thing first and then talk about it afterwards if I have to.



"So I hung on to what money I had saved up along; I was going to get me

a bunch of cattle and fix up that homestead of mine some day, and maybe

have a little home." His eyes went surreptitiously to her face, and

lingered there wistfully. "So after the trouble I buckled down to work

and saved a little faster, if anything. It looked to me like there

wasn't much hope of doing anything for your dad till his sentence ran

out, so I never said anything about it. Long as Carl didn't try to

sell it to anybody else, I just waited and got together all the money I

could. I didn't see as there was anything else to do."



Jean was chewing a corner of her lip, and was staring out of the

window. "I didn't know I was stealing your thunder, Lite," she said

dispiritedly. "Why didn't you tell me?"



'Wasn't anything to tell--till there was something to tell. Now, this

telegram here,--this is what I started out to talk about. It'll be

just as well if you know it before we get to Helena. I showed it to

Art, and he thought the same as I did. You know,--or I reckon you

don't, because I never said anything,--away last summer, along about

the time you went to work for Burns, I got to thinking things over, and

I wondered if Carl didn't have something on his mind about that

killing. So I wrote to Rossman. I didn't much like the way he handled

your dad's case, but he knew all the ins and outs, so I could talk to

him without going away back at the beginning. He knew Carl, too, so

that made it easier.



"I wrote and told him how Carl was prowling around through the house

nights, and the like of that, and to look up the title to the Lazy A--"



"Why wouldn't you wait and let me buy it myself?" Jean asked him with

just a shade of sharpness in her voice. "You knew I wanted to."



"So I got Rossman started, quite a while back. He thought as I did,

that Carl was acting mighty funny. I was with Carl more than you was,

and I could tell he had something laying heavy on his mind. But then,

the rest of us had things laying pretty heavy on our minds, too, that

wasn't guilt; so there wasn't any way to tell what was bothering Carl."

Lite made no attempt to answer the question she had asked.



"Now, here's this wire Rossman sent me. You don't want to get the

wrong idea, Jean, and feel too bad about this. You don't want to think

you had anything to do with it. Carl was gradually building up to

something of this kind,--has been for a long time. His coming over to

the ranch nights, looking for that letter that he had hunted all over

for at first, shows he wasn't right in his mind on the subject. But--"



"Well, heavens and earth, Lite!" Jean's tone was exasperated more than

it was worried. "Why don't you say what you want to say? What's it

all about? Let me read that telegram and be done with it. I--I should

think you'd know I can stand things, by this time. I haven't shown any

weak knees, have I?"



"Well, I hate to pile on any more," Lite muttered defensively. "But

you've got to know this. I wish you didn't, but--"



Jean did not say any more. She reached over and with her free hand

took the telegram from him. She did not pull away the hand Lite was

holding, however, and the heart of him gave an exultant bound because

she let it lie there quiet under his own. She pinched her brows

together over the message, and let it drop into her lap. Her head went

back against the towel covered head-rest, and for a minute her eyes

closed as if she could not look any longer upon trouble.



Lite waited a second, pulled her head over against his shoulder, and

picked up the telegram and read it through slowly, though he could have

repeated it word for word with his eyes shut.



L Avery,



En Route Train 23, S. L. & D. R. R.



Carl Douglas suicided yesterday, leaving letter confessing murder of

Croft. Had just completed transfer of land and cattle to your name.

Am taking steps placing matter before governor immediately expect him

to act at once upon pardon. Bring your man my office at once

deposition may be required.



J. W. ROSSMAN.





"Now, I told you not to worry about this," Lite reminded the girl

firmly. "Looks to me like it takes a load off our hands,--Carl's doing

what he done. Saves us dragging it all through court again; and, Jean,

it'll let your dad out a whole lot quicker. Sounds kinda cold-blooded,

maybe, but if you could look at it as good news,--that's the way it

strikes me."



Jean did not say a word, just then. She did what you might not expect

Jean to do, after all her strong-mindedness and her independence: She

made an uncertain movement toward sitting up and facing things calmly,

man-fashion; then she leaned and dropped her very independent brown

head back upon Lite's shoulder, and behind her handkerchief she cried

quietly while Lite held her close.



"Now, that's long enough to cry," he whispered to her, after a season

of mental intoxication such as he had never before experienced. "I

started out three years ago to be the boss. I ain't been working at it

regular, as you might say, all the time. But I'm going to wind up that

way. I hate to turn you over to your dad without some little show of

making good at the job."



Jean gave a little gurgle that may have been related to laughter, and

Lite's lips quirked with humorous embarrassment as he went on.



"I don't guess," he said slowly, "that I'm going to turn you over at

all, Jean. Not altogether. I guess I've just about got to keep you.

It--takes two to make a home, and--I've got my heart set on us making a

home outa the Lazy A again; you and me, making a home for us and your

dad. How--how does that sound to you, Jean?"



Jean was wiping her eyes as unobtrusively as she might. She did not

answer.



"How does it sound, you and me making a home together?" Lite was

growing pale, and his hands trembled. "Tell me."



"It sounds--good," said Jean unsteadily.



For several minutes Lite did not say a word. They sat there holding

hands quite foolishly, and stared out at the drenched desert.



"Soon as your dad comes," he said at last, very simply, "we'll be

married." He was silent another minute, and added under his breath

like a prayer, "And we'll all go--home."





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