She was going to buy back the Lazy A from her Uncle Carl, and she was going to tear away that atmosphere of emptiness and desolation which it had worn so long. She was going to prove to all men that her father never had killed Johnny Croft. She was going to do it! Then life would begin where it had left off three years ago. And when this deadening load of trouble was lifted, then perhaps she could do some of the glorious, great things she had all of her life dreamed of doing. Or, if she never did the glorious, great things, she would at least have done something to justify her existence. She would be content in her cage if she could go round and round doing things for dad.
A level stretch of country lay at the foot of the long bluff, which farther along held the Lazy A coulee close against its rocky side. The high ridges stood out boldly in the moonlight, so that she could see every rock and the shadow that it cast upon the ground. Little, soothing night noises fitted themselves into her thoughts and changed them to waking dreams. Crickets that hushed while she passed them by; the faint hissing of a half- wakened breeze that straightway slept upon the grasses it had stirred; the sleepy protest of some bird which Pard's footsteps had startled.
She came into Lazy A coulee, half fancying that it was a real home-coming. But when she reached the gate and found it lying flat upon the ground away from the broad tread of the picture-people's machine, her mind jarred from dreams back to reality. From sheer habit she dismounted, picked up the spineless thing of stakes and barbed wire, dragged it into place across the trail, and fastened it securely to the post. She remounted and went on, and a little of the hopefulness was gone from her face.
"I'll just about have to rob a bank, I guess," she told herself with a grim humor at the tremendous undertaking to which she had so calmly committed herself. "This is what dad would call a man-sized job, I reckon." She pulled up in the white-lighted trail and stared along the empty, sagging-roofed sheds and stables, and at the corral with its open gate and warped rails and leaning posts. "I'll just about have to rob a bank,--or write a book that will make me famous."
She touched Pard with a rein end and went on slowly. "Robbing a bank would be the quickest and easiest," she decided whimsically, as she neared the place where she always sheltered Pard. "But not so ladylike. I guess I'll write a book. It should be something real thrilly, so the people will rush madly to all the bookstores to buy it. It should have a beautiful girl, and at least two handsome men,--one with all the human virtues, and the other with all the arts of the devil and the cruel strength of the savage. And--I think some Indians and outlaws would add several dollars' worth of thrills; or else a ghost and a haunted house. I wonder which would sell the best? Indians could steal the girl and give her two handsome men a chance to do chapters of stunts, and the wicked one could find her first and carry her away in front of him on a horse (they do those things in books!) and the hero could follow in a mad chase for miles and miles--
"But then, ghosts can be made very creepy, with tantalizing glimpses of them now and then in about every other chapter, and mysterious hints here and there, and characters coming down to breakfast with white, drawn faces and haggard eyes. And the wicked one would look over his shoulder and then utter a sardonic laugh. Sardonic is such an effective word; I don't believe Indians would give him any excuse for sardonic laughter."
She swung down from the saddle and led Pard into his stall, that was very black next the manger and very light where the moon shone in at the door. "I must have lots of moonlight and several stormy sunsets, and the wind soughing in the branches. I shall have to buy a new dictionary,--a big, fat, heavy one with the flags of all nations and how to measure the contents of an empty hogshead, and the deaf and dumb alphabet, and everything but the word you want to know the meaning of and whether it begins with ph or an f."
She took the saddle off Pard and hung it up by a stirrup on the rusty spike where she kept it, with the bridle hung over the stirrup, and the saddle blanket folded over the horn. She groped in the manger and decided that there was hay enough to last him till morning, and went out and closed the door. Her shadow fell clean cut upon the rough planks, and she stood for a minute looking at it as if it were a person. Her Stetson hat tilted a little to one side, her hair fluffed loosely at the sides, leaving her neck daintily slender where it showed above the turned-back collar of her gray sweater; her shoulders square and capable and yet not too heavy, and the slim contour of her figure reaching down to the ground. She studied it abstractedly, as she would study herself in her mirror, conscious of the individuality, its likeness to herself.