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"I could manage for that long. You'd take it on then?"

"Yes—I would. And I would do my best for you." He hesitated. "Those young fellows who said Hugh was with them—they seem a good stamp. They "

Big Dan chuckled.

"Micky an' Jeff look after him like a couple of old hens. You've no call to worry about Hugh. An' my wife keeps her eye on him—to say nothin' of Nita. The boy's got plenty of friends."

Russell stood up.

"Well—ril be off."

"Aren't you goin' to stay an' see Hugh?"

"I can't. My train goes at six in the morning, and I must be back. And it wouldn't be fair to wake him up. It would only unsettle him to see me—better leave him in peace. I can stick it, now that I know he's happy."

Big Dan feit a pang of pity. The dark eyes that stared at him were hungry. He thought of Nita, and winced.

"Well—as you like," he said awkwardly. "Come over to my wagon an' have a drink."

"I won't, thanks. I'd rather get away." He forced a smile. "It's not too easy... to be so near the boy."

They shook hands, and Big Dan watched him go. At the entrance to the tent Russell looked back.

"Better not teil him I came. I'll write to him."

He went off, striding heavily, not trusting himself to glance towards the little tent under the trees, near which Jeff and Micky stood on guard. The dusty road leading