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Overhead she was singing. The voice was clear and sweet and happy. He did not know the melody; some minor refrain of broken rhythm which seemed always to die away short of fulfillment. A haunting thing of mystery and glamour, such mystery and glamour as had irradiated his long and wonderful night. He heard the door open and then her light footsteps on the stair outside. Hot-eyed and disheveled, he rose, staggering a little at first as he hurried to greet her.
She stood poised on the lower step.
"Good-morning," he said.
She made no return to his accost other than a slow smile. "I thought you were a dream," she murmured.
"No. I'm real enough. Are you better? Your head?"
She put a hand to the bandage. "It's sore. Otherwise I'm quite fit. I've slept like the dead."
"I'm glad to hear it," he replied mechanically. He was drinking her in, all the grace and loveliness and wonder of her, himself quite unconscious of the intensity of his gaze.
She accepted the mute tribute untroubled; but there was a suggestion of puzzlement in the frown which began to pucker her forehead.
"You're really the station-agent?" she asked with a slight emphasis upon the adverb.
"Yes. Why not?"
"Nothing. No reason. Won't you tell me what happened?"
"Come inside." He held open the door against the wind.
"No. It's musty." She wrinkled a dainty nose. "Can't we talk here? I love the feel of the air and the wet. And the world! I'm glad I wasn't killed."
"So am I," he said soberly.
"When my brain wouldn't work quite right yesterday, I thought that some one had hit me. That isn't so, is it?"
"No. Your train was wrecked. You were injured. In the confusion you must have run away."
"Yes. I remember being frightened. Terribly frightened. I'd never been that way before. Outside of that one idea of fear, everything was mixed up. I ran until I couldn't run any more and dropped down."
"I got up and ran again. Have you ever been afraid?"
"Plenty of times."
"I hadn't realized before that there was anything in the world to be afraid of. But the thought of that blow, coming so suddenly from nowhere, and the fear that I might be struck again--it drove me." She flung out her hands in a little desperate gesture that twitched at Banneker's breath.
"You must have been out all night in the rain."'
"No. I found a sort of cabin in the woods. It was deserted."
"Dutch Cal's place. It's only a few rods back in."
"I saw a light from there and that suggested to my muddled brain that I might get something to eat."
"So you came over here."
"Yes. But the fear came on me again and I didn't dare knock. I suppose I prowled."
"Gardner thought he heard ghosts. But ghosts don't steal molasses pie."
She looked at him solemnly. "Must one steal to get anything to eat here?"
"I'm sorry," he cried. "I'll get you breakfast right away. What will you have? There isn't much."
"Anything there is. But if I'm to board with you, you must let me pay my way."
"The company is responsible for that."
Her brooding eyes were still fixed upon him. "You actually are the agent," she mused. "That's quaint."
"I don't see anything quaint about it. Now, if you'll make yourself comfortable I'll go over to the shack and rustle something for breakfast."
"No; I'd rather go with you. Perhaps I can help."
Such help as the guest afforded was negligible. When, from sundry of the Sears-Roebuck cans and bottles, a condensed and preserved sort of meal had been derived, she set to it with a good grace.
"There's more of a kick in tea than in a cocktail, I believe, when you really need it," she remarked gratefully. "You spoke of a Mr. Gardner. Who is he?"
"A reporter who spent night before last here."
She dropped her cracker, oleomargarine-side down. "A reporter?"
"He came down to write up the wreck. It's a bad one. Nine dead, so far."
"Is he still here?"
"No. Gone back to Angelica City."
Retrieving her cracker, the guest finished her meal, heartily but thoughtfully. She insisted on lending a hand to the washing-up process, and complimented Banneker on his neatness.
"You haven't told me your name yet," he reminded her when the last shining tin was hung up.
"No; I haven't. What will you do with it when you get it?"
"Report it to the company for their lists."
"Suppose I don't want it reported to the company?'
"Why on earth shouldn't you?"
"I may have my reasons. Would it be put in the papers?"
"I don't want it in the papers," said the girl with decision.
"Don't you want it known that you're all right? Your people--"
"I'll wire my people. Or you can wire them for me. Can't you?"
"Of course. But the company has a right to know what has happened to its passengers."
"Not to me! What has the company done for me but wreck me and give me an awful bang on the head and lose my baggage and--Oh, I nearly forgot. I took my traveling-bag when I ran. It's in the hut. I wonder if you would get it for me?"
"Of course. I'll go now."
"That's good of you. And for your own self, but not your old company, I'll tell you my name. I'm--"
"Wait a moment. Whatever you tell me I'll have to report."
"You can't," she returned imperiously. "It's in confidence."
"I won't accept it so."
"You're a most extraordinary sta--a most extraordinary sort of man. Then I'll give you this much for yourself, and if your company collects pet names, you can pass it on. My friends call me Io."
"Yes. I know. You're I.O.W."
"How do you know that? And how much more do you know?"
"No more. A man on the train reported your initials from your baggage."
"I'll feel ever so much better when I have that bag. Is there a hotel near here?"
"A sort of one at Manzanita. It isn't very clean. But there'll be a train through to-night and I'll get you space on that. I'd better get a doctor for you first, hadn't I?"
"No, indeed! All I need is some fresh things."
Banneker set off at a brisk pace. He found the extravagant little traveling-case safely closed and locked, and delivered it outside his own door which was also closed and, he suspected, locked.
"I'm thinking," said the soft voice of the girl within. "Don't let me interrupt your work."
Beneath, at his routine, Banneker also set himself to think; confused, bewildered, impossibly conjectural thoughts not unmingled with semi-official anxiety. Harboring a woman on company property, even though she were, in some sense, a charge of the company, might be open to misconceptions. He wished that the mysterious Io would declare herself.
At noon she did. She declared herself ready for luncheon. There was about her a matter-of-fact acceptance of the situation as natural, even inevitable, which entranced Banneker when it did not appall him. After the meal was over, the girl seated herself on a low bench which Banneker had built with his own hands and the Right-and-Ready Tool Kit (9 T 603), her knee between her clasped hands and an elfish expression on her face.
"Don't you think," she suggested, "that we'd get on quicker if you washed the dishes and I sat here and talked to you?"
"It isn't so easy to begin, you know," she remarked, nursing her knee thoughtfully. "Am I--Do you find me very much in the way?'"
"Don't suppress your wild enthusiasm on my account," she besought him. "I haven't interfered with your duties so far, have I?"
"No," answered Banneker wondering what was coming next.
"You see"--her tone became ruminative and confidential--"if I give you my name and you report it, there'll be all kinds of a mix-up. They'll come after me and take me away."
Banneker dropped a tin on the floor and stood, staring.
"Isn't that what you want?"
"It's evident enough that it's what you want," she returned, aggrieved.
"No. Not at all," he disclaimed. "Only--well, out here--alone--I don't understand."
"Can't you understand that if one had happened to drop out of the world by chance, it might be desirable to stay out for a while?"
"For you? No; I can't understand that."
"What about yourself?" she challenged with a swift, amused gleam. "You are certainly staying out of the world here."
"This is my world."
Her eyes and voice dropped. "Truly?" she murmured. Then, as he made no reply, "It isn't much of a world for a man."
To this his response touched the heights of the unexpected. He stretched out his arm toward the near window through which could be seen the white splendor of Mount Carstairs, dim in the wreathing murk.
"Lo! For there, amidst the flowers and grasses, Only the mightier movement sounds and passes, Only winds and rivers, Life and death," he quoted.
Her eyes glowed with sheer, incredulous astonishment. "How came you by that Stevenson?" she demanded. "Are you poet as well as recluse?"
"I met him once."
"Tell me about it."
"Some other time. We've other things to talk of now."
"Some other time? Then I'm to stay!"
"Manzanita? No. Here."
"In this station? Alone? But why--"
"Because I'm Io Welland and I want to, and I always get what I want," she retorted calmly and superbly.
"Welland," he repeated. "Miss I.O. Welland. And the address is New York, isn't it?"
Her hands grew tense across her knee, and deep in her shadowed eyes there was a flash. But her voice suggested not only appeal, but almost a hint of caress as she said:
"Are you going to betray a guest? I've always heard that Western hospitality--"
"You're not my guest. You're the company's."
"And you won't take me for yours?"
"Be reasonable, Miss Welland."
"I suppose it's a question of the conventionalities," she mocked.
"I don't know or care anything about the conventionalities--"
"Nor I," she interrupted. "Out here."
"--but my guess would be that they apply only to people who live in the same world. We don't, you and I."
"That's rather shrewd of you," she observed.
"It isn't an easy matter to talk about to a young girl, you know."
"Oh, yes, it is," she returned with composure. "Just take it for granted that I know about all there is to be known and am not afraid of it. I'm not afraid of anything, I think, except of--of having to go back just now." She rose and went to him, looking down into his eyes. "A woman knows whom she can trust in--in certain things. That's her gift, a gift no man has or quite understands. Dazed as I was last night, I knew I could trust you. I still know it. So we may dismiss that."
"That is true," said Banneker, "so far as it goes."
"What farther is there? If it's a matter of the inconvenience--"
"No. You know it isn't that."
"Then let me stay in this funny little shack just for a few days," she pleaded. "If you don't, I'll get on to-night's train and go on and--and do something I'll be sorry for all the rest of my life. And it'll be your fault! I was going to do it when the accident prevented. Do you believe in Providence?"
"Not as a butt-in," he answered promptly. "I don't believe that Providence would pitch a rock into a train and kill a lot of people, just to prevent a girl from making a foo--a bad break."
"Nor I," she smiled. "I suppose there's some kind of a General Manager over this queer world; but I believe He plays the game fair and square and doesn't break the rules He has made Himself. If I didn't, I wouldn't want to play at all!... Oh, my telegram! I must wire my aunt in New York. I'll tell her that I've stopped off to visit friends, if you don't object to that description as being too compromising," she added mischievously. She accepted a pad which he handed her and sat at the table, pondering. "Mr. Banneker," she said after a moment.
"If the telegram goes from here, will it be headed by the name of the station?"
"So that inquiry might be made here for me?"
"It might, certainly."
"But I don't want it to be. Couldn't you leave off the station?"
"Not very well."
"Just for me?" she wheedled. "For your guest that you've been so insistent on keeping," she added slyly.
"The message wouldn't be accepted."
"Oh, dear! Then I won't send it."
"If you don't notify your family, I must report you to the company."
"What an irritating sense of duty you have! It must be dreadful to be afflicted that way. Can't you suggest something?" she flashed. "Won't you do a thing to help me stay? I believe you don't want me, after all."
"If the up-train gets through this evening, I'll give your wire to the engineer and he'll transmit it from any office you say."
Childlike with pleasure she clapped her hands. "Of course! Give him this, will you?" From a bag at her wrist she extracted a five-dollar bill. "By the way, if I'm to be a guest I must be a paying guest, of course."
"You can pay for a cot that I'll get in town," he agreed, "and your share of the food."
"But the use of the house, and--and all the trouble I'm making you," she said doubtfully. "I ought to pay for that."
"Do you think so?" He looked at her with a peculiar expression which, however, was not beyond the power of her intuition to interpret.
"No; I don't," she declared.
Banneker answered her smile with his own, as he resumed his dish-wiping. Io wrote out her telegram with care. Her next observation startled the agent.
"Are you, by any chance, married?"
"No; I'm not. What makes you ask that?"
"There's been a woman in here before."
Confusedly his thoughts flew back to Carlotta. But the Mexican girl had never been in the shack. He was quite absurdly and inexplicably glad now that she had not.
"A woman?" he said. "Why do you think so?"
"Something in the arrangement of the place. That hanging, yonder. And that little vase--it's good, by the way. The way that Navajo is placed on the door. One feels it."
"It's true. A friend of mine came here one day and turned everything topsy-turvy."
"I'm not asking questions just for curiosity. But is that the reason you didn't want me to stay?"
He laughed, thinking of Miss Van Arsdale. "Heavens, no! Wait till you meet her. She's a very wonderful person; but--"
"Meet her? Does she live near here, then?"
"A few miles away."
"Suppose she should come and find me here?"
"It's what I've been wishing."
"Is it! Well, it isn't what I wish at all."
"In fact," continued the imperturbable Banneker, "I rather planned to ride over to her place this afternoon."
"Why, if you please?"
"To tell her about you and ask her advice."
Io's face darkened rebelliously. "Do you think it necessary to tattle to a woman who is a total stranger to me?"
"I think it would be wise to get her view," he replied, unmoved.
"Well, I think it would be horrid. I think if you do any such thing, you are--Mr. Banneker! You're not listening to me."
"Some one is coming through the woods trail," said he.
"Perhaps it's your local friend."
"That's my guess."
"Please understand this, Mr. Banneker," she said with an obstinate outthrust of her little chin. "I don't know who your friend is and I don't care. If you make it necessary, I can go to the hotel in town; but while I stay here I won't have my affairs or even my presence discussed with any one else."
"You're too late," said Banneker.
Out from a hardly discernible opening in the brush shouldered a big roan. Tossing up his head, he stretched out in the long, easy lope of the desert-bred, his rider sitting him loosely and with slack bridle.
"That's Miss Van Arsdale," said Banneker.
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