Riders of the Purple Sage
8. Surprise Valley
Back in that strange canyon, which Venters had found indeed a valley of
surprises, the wounded girl's whispered appeal, almost a prayer, not to take her
back to the rustlers crowned the events of the last few days with a confounding
climax. That she should not want to return to them staggered Venters. Presently,
as logical thought returned, her appeal confirmed his first impression--that she
was more unfortunate than bad-- and he experienced a sensation of gladness. If
he had known before that Oldring's Masked Rider was a woman his opinion
would have been formed and he would have considered her abandoned. But his
first knowledge had come when he lifted a white face quivering in a convulsion of
agony; he had heard God's name whispered by blood-stained lips; through her
solemn and awful eyes he had caught a glimpse of her soul. And just now had
come the entreaty to him, "Don't--take--me--back--there!"
Once for all Venters's quick mind formed a permanent conception of this poor
girl. He based it, not upon what the chances of life had made her, but upon the
revelation of dark eyes that pierced the infinite, upon a few pitiful, halting words
that betrayed failure and wrong and misery, yet breathed the truth of a tragic fate
rather than a natural leaning to evil.
"What's your name?" he inquired.
"Bess," she answered.
"That's enough--just Bess."
The red that deepened in her cheeks was not all the flush of fever. Venters
marveled anew, and this time at the tint of shame in her face, at the momentary
drooping of long lashes. She might be a rustler's girl, but she was still capable of
shame, she might be dying, but she still clung to some little remnant of honor.
"Very well, Bess. It doesn't matter," he said. "But this matters--what shall I do with
"Are--you--a rider?" she whispered.
"Not now. I was once. I drove the Withersteen herds. But I lost my place--lost all I
owned--and now I'm--I'm a sort of outcast. My name's Bern Venters."
"You won't--take me--to Cottonwoods--or Glaze? I'd be--hanged."
"No, indeed. But I must do something with you. For it's not safe for me here. I
shot that rustler who was with you. Sooner or later he'll be found, and then my
tracks. I must find a safer hiding-place where I can't be trailed."
"I will not." Venters spoke shortly with a kind of ring in his voice.
"What--do you want--to do--with me?" Her whispering grew difficult, so low and
faint that Venters had to stoop to hear her.
"Why, let's see," he replied, slowly. "I'd like to take you some place where I could
watch by you, nurse you, till you're all right."