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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 work- aday 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.
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