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Riders of the Purple Sage

11.
Faith And Unfaith
At Jane Withersteen's home the promise made to Mrs. Larkin to care for little Fay
had begun to be fulfilled. Like a gleam of sunlight through the cottonwoods was
the coming of the child to the gloomy house of Withersteen. The big, silent halls
echoed with childish laughter. In the shady court, where Jane spent many of the
hot July days, Fay's tiny feet pattered over the stone flags and splashed in the
amber stream. She prattled incessantly. What difference, Jane thought, a child
made in her home! It had never been a real home, she discovered. Even the
tidiness and neatness she had so observed, and upon which she had insisted to
her women, became, in the light of Fay's smile, habits that now lost their
importance. Fay littered the court with Jane's books and papers, and other toys
her fancy improvised, and many a strange craft went floating down the little
brook.
And it was owing to Fay's presence that Jane Withersteen came to see more of
Lassiter. The rider had for the most part kept to the sage. He rode for her, but he
did not seek her except on business; and Jane had to acknowledge in pique that
her overtures had been made in vain. Fay, however, captured Lassiter the
moment he first laid eyes on her.
Jane was present at the meeting, and there was something about it which
dimmed her sight and softened her toward this foe of her people. The rider had
clanked into the court, a tired yet wary man, always looking for the attack upon
him that was inevitable and might come from any quarter; and he had walked
right upon little Fay. The child had been beautiful even in her rags and amid the
surroundings of the hovel in the sage, but now, in a pretty white dress, with her
shining curls brushed and her face clean and rosy, she was lovely. She left her
play and looked up at Lassiter.
If there was not an instinct for all three of them in that meeting, an unreasoning
tendency toward a closer intimacy, then Jane Withersteen believed she had been
subject to a queer fancy. She imagined any child would have feared Lassiter.
And Fay Larkin had been a lonely, a solitary elf of the sage, not at all an ordinary
child, and exquisitely shy with strangers. She watched Lassiter with great, round,
grave eyes, but showed no fear. The rider gave Jane a favorable report of cattle
and horses; and as he took the seat to which she invited him, little Fay edged as
much as half an inch nearer. Jane replied to his look of inquiry and told Fay's
story. The rider's gray, earnest gaze troubled her. Then he turned to Fay and
smiled in a way that made Jane doubt her sense of the true relation of things.
How could Lassiter smile so at a child when he had made so many children
fatherless? But he did smile, and to the gentleness she had seen a few times he
added something that was infinitely sad and sweet. Jane's intuition told her that
Lassiter had never been a father, but if life ever so blessed him he would be a
good one. Fay, also, must have found that smile singularly winning. For she
edged closer and closer, and then, by way of feminine capitulation, went to Jane,
from whose side she bent a beautiful glance upon the rider.
Lassiter only smiled at her.
 
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