The Heart of the Desert (Chapter 5, page 1 of 7)


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Chapter 5

As twilight deepened, Katherine lay in the hammock thankful for the soothing effect of the darkness on her aching eyes. She felt a little troubled about Kut-le. She was very fond of the young Indian. She understood him as did no one else, perhaps, and had the utmost faith in his honor and loyalty. She suspected that Rhoda had had much to do with the young Indian's sudden departure and she felt irritated with the girl, though at the same time she acknowledged that Rhoda had done only what she, Katherine, had advised--had treated Kut-le as if he had been a white man!

She watched the trail for Rhoda's return but darkness came and there was no sign of the frail figure. A little disturbed, she walked to the corral bars and looked down to the lights of the cowboys' quarters. If only John DeWitt and Jack would return! But she did not expect them before midnight. She returned to the house and telephoned to the ranch foreman.

"Don't you worry, ma'am," he answered cheerily. "No harm could come to her! She just walked till it got dark and is just starting for home now, I bet! She can't have got out of sight of the ranch lights."

"But she may have! You can't tell what she's done, she's such a tenderfoot," insisted Katherine nervously. "She may have been hurt!"

It was well that Katherine could not see the foreman's face during the conversation. It had a decided scowl of apprehension, but he managed a cheerful laugh.

"Well, you have got nervous, Mrs. Newman! I'll just send three or four of the boys out to meet her. Eh?"

"Oh, yes, do!" cried Katherine. "I shall feel easier. Good-by!"

Dick Freeman dropped the receiver and hurried into the neighboring bunk-house.

"Boys," he said quietly, "Mrs. Newman just 'phoned me that Miss Tuttle went to walk at sunset, to be gone half an hour. She ain't got back yet. She is alone. Will some of you come with me?"

Every hand of cards was dropped before Dick was half through his statement. In less than twenty minutes twenty cowboys were circling slowly out into the desert. For two hours Katherine paced from the living-room to the veranda, from the veranda to the corral. She changed her light evening gown to her khaki riding habit. Her nervousness grew to panic. She sent Li Chung to bed, then she paced the lawn, listening, listening.

At last she heard the thud of hoofs and Dick Freeman dismounted in the light that streamed from the open door.

"We haven't found her, Mrs. Newman. Has Mr. Newman got back? I think we must get up an organized search."

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