Jean found the padlock key where she had hidden it under a rock ten feet from the door, and let herself into her room. The peaceful familiarity of its four walls, and the cheerful patch of sunlight lying warm upon the faded rag carpet, gave her the feeling of security and of comfort which she seldom felt elsewhere.
She wandered aimlessly around the room, brushing the dust from her books and straightening a tiny fold in the cradle quilt. She ran an investigative forefinger along the seat of her father's saddle, brought the finger away dusty, pulled one of the stockings from the overflowing basket and used it for a dust cloth. She wiped and polished the stamped leather with a painstaking tenderness that had in it a good deal of yearning, and finally left it with a gesture of hopelessness.
She went next to her desk and fumbled the quirt that lay there still. Then she pulled out the old ledger, picked up a pencil, and began to write, sitting on the arm of an old, cane-seated chair while she did so. As I told you before, Jean never wrote anything in that book except when her moods demanded expression of some sort; when she did write, she said exactly what she thought and felt at the time. So if you are permitted to know what she wrote at this time, you will have had a peep into Jean's hidden, inner life that none of her world save Lite knew anything about. She wrote rapidly, and she did not always take the trouble to finish her sentences properly,--as if she never could quite keep pace with her thoughts. So this is what that page held when finally she slammed the book shut and slid it back into the desk:
I don't know what's the matter with me lately. I feel as if I wanted to shoot somebody, or rob a bank or run away--I guess it's the old trouble nagging at me. I KNOW dad never did it. I don't know why, but I know it just the same--and I know Uncle Carl knows it too. I'd like to take out his brain and put it into some scientific machine that would squeeze out his thoughts--hope it wouldn't hurt him--I'd give him ether, maybe. What I want is money --enough to buy back this place and the stock. I don't believe Uncle Carl spent as much defending dad as he claims he did--not enough to take the whole ranch anyway. If I had money I'd find Art Osgood if I had to hunt from Alaska to Africa--don't believe he went to Alaska at all. Uncle Carl thinks so. . . . I'd like the price of that machine I helped drag out of the sand--some people can have anything they want but all I want is dad back, and this place the way it was before. . . .
If I had any brains I could write something wonderful and be rich and famous and do the things I want to do-- but there's no profit in just feeling wonderful things; if I could make the world see and feel what I see and feel-- when I'm here, or riding alone. . . .
If I could find Art Osgood I believe I could make him tell--I know he knows something, even if he didn't do it himself. I believe he did--But what can you do when you're a woman and haven't any money and must stay where you're put and can't even get out and do the little you might do, because somebody must have you around to lean on and tell their troubles to. . . . I don't blame Aunt Ella so much --but thank goodness, I can do without a shoulder to weep on, anyway. What's life for if you've got to spend your days hopping round and round in a cage. It wouldn't be a cage if I could have dad back--I'd be doing things for him all the time and that would make life worth while. Poor dad--four more years is--I can't think about it. I'll go crazy if I do--
It was there that she stopped and slammed the book shut, and pushed it back out of sight in the desk. She picked up her hat and gloves, and went out with blurred eyes, and began to climb the bluff above the little spring, where a faint, little-used trail led to the benchland above. By following a rock ledge to where it was broken, and climbing through the crevice to where the trail marked faintly the way to the top, one could in a few minutes leave the Lazy A coulee out of sight below, and stand on a high level where the winds blew free from the mountains in the west to the mountains in the east.
Some day, it was predicted, the benchland would be cut into squares and farmed,--some day when the government brought to reality a long-talked-of irrigation project. But in the meantime, the land lay unfenced and free. One could look far away to the north, and at certain times see the smoke of passing trains through the valley off there. One could look south to the distant river bluffs, and east and west to the mountains. Jean often climbed the bluff just for the wide outlook she gained. The cage did not seem so small when she could stand up there and tire her eyes with looking. Life did not seem quite so purposeless, and she could nearly always find little whispers of hope in the winds that blew there.