The footsteps passed from there into the kitchen and stopped in the corner where stood the old-fashioned cupboard with perforated tin panels in the doors and at the sides, and the little drawers at the top,--the kind that old people call a "safe." She heard a drawer pulled out. Without giving any conscious thought to it, she knew which drawer it was; it was the one next the wall, --the one that did not pull out straight, and so had to be jerked out. What was her dad . . . ?
Jean thrilled then with a tremor of fear. She had wakened fully enough to remember. That was not her dad, out there in the kitchen. She did not know who it was; it was some strange man prowling through the house, hunting for something. She felt again the tremor of fear that is the heritage of womanhood alone in the dark. She pulled the Navajo blanket up to her ears with the instinct of the woman to hide, because she is not strong enough to face and fight the danger that comes in the dark. She listened to the sound of that drawer being pushed back, and the other drawer being pulled out, and she shivered under the blanket.
Then she reached out her hand and got hold of her six-shooter which she had laid down unthinkingly upon a chair near the couch. She wondered if she had locked the outside door when she came in. She could not remember having done so; probably she had not, since it is not the habit of honest ranch-dwellers to lock their doors at night. She wanted to get up and see, and fasten it somehow; but she was afraid the man out there might hear her. As it was, she reasoned nervously with herself, he probably did not suspect that there was any one in the house. It was an empty house. And unless he had seen Pard in the closed stall. . . . She wondered if he had heard Pard there, and had investigated and found him. She wondered if he would come into this room. She remembered how securely she had nailed up the door from the kitchen, and she breathed freer. She remembered also that she had her gun, there under her hand. She closed her trembling fingers on the familiar grip of it, and the feel of it comforted her and steadied her.
Yet she had no desire, no slightest impulse to get up and see who was there. She was careful not to move, except to cover the doorway to the kitchen with her gun.
After a few minutes the man came and tried the door, and Jean lifted herself cautiously upon her elbow and waited in grim desperation. If he forced that door open, if he came in, she certainly would shoot; and if she shot,--well, you remember the fate of that hawk on the wing.
The man did not force the door open, which was perhaps the luckiest thing that ever happened to him. He fussed there until he must have made sure that it was fastened firmly upon the inside, and then he left it and went into what had been the living-room. Jean did not move from her half-sitting position, nor did she change the aim of her gun. He might come back and try again.
She heard him moving about in the living-room. Surely he did not expect to find money in an empty house, or anything else of any commercial value. What was he after? Finally he came back to the kitchen, crossed it, and stood before the barred door. He pushed against it tentatively, then stood still for a minute and finally went out. Jean heard him step upon the porch and pull the kitchen door shut behind him. She knew that squeal of the bottom hinge, and she knew the final gasp and click that proved the latch was fastened. She heard him step off the porch to the path, she heard the soft crunch of his feet in the sandy gravel as he went away toward the stable. Very cautiously she got off the couch and crept to the window; and with her gun gripped tight in her hand, she looked out. But he had moved into a deep shadow of the bluff, and she could see nothing of him save the deeper shadow of his swift-moving body as he went down to the corral. Jean gave a long sigh of nervous relaxation, and crept shivering under the Navajo blanket. The gun she slid under the pillow, and her fingers rested still upon the cool comfort of the butt.
Soon she heard a horse galloping, and she went to the window again and looked out. The moon hung low over the bluff, so that the trail lay mostly in the shadow. But down by the gate it swung out in a wide curve to the rocky knoll, and there it lay moon-lighted and empty. She fixed her eyes upon that curve and waited. In a moment the horseman galloped out upon the curve, rounded it, and disappeared in the shadows beyond. At that distance and in that deceptive light, she could not tell who it was; but it was a horseman, a man riding at night in haste, and with some purpose in mind.