Dan Morgan told himself he would forget Ann Turner .
He was well rid of her .
He certainly didn't want a wife who was fickle as Ann .
If he had married her , he'd have been asking for trouble .
But all of this was rationalization .
Sometimes he woke up in the middle of the night thinking of Ann , and then could not get back to sleep .
His plans and dreams had revolved around her so much and for so long that now he felt as if he had nothing .
The easiest thing would be to sell out to Al Budd and leave the country , but there was a stubborn streak in him that wouldn't allow it .
The best antidote for the bitterness and disappointment that poisoned him was hard work .
He found that if he was tired enough at night , he went to sleep simply because he was too exhausted to stay awake .
Each day he found himself thinking less often of Ann ; ;
each day the hurt was a little duller , a little less poignant .
He had plenty of work to do .
Because the summer was unusually dry and hot , the spring produced a smaller stream than in ordinary years .
The grass in the meadows came fast , now that the warm weather was here .
He could not afford to lose a drop of the precious water , so he spent most of his waking hours along the ditches in his meadows .
He had no idea how much time Budd would give him .
In any case , he had no intention of being caught asleep , so he carried his revolver in its holster on his hip and he took his Winchester with him and leaned it against the fence .
He stopped every few minutes and leaned on his shovel as he studied the horizon , but nothing happened , each day dragging out with monotonous calm .
When , in late afternoon on the last day in June , he saw two people top the ridge to the south and walk toward the house , he quit work immediately and strode to his rifle .
It could be some kind of trick Budd had thought up .
No one walked in this country , least of all Ed Dow or Dutch Renfro or any of the rest of the Bar B crew .
Morgan watched the two figures for a time , puzzled .
When they were closer and he saw that one was a woman , he was more puzzled than ever .
He cleaned his shovel , left it against the fence , picked up his Winchester , and started downstream .
His visitors had crawled through the south fence and were crossing the meadow , angling toward the house .
Now he saw that both the man and woman were moving slowly and irregularly , staggering , as if they found it a struggle to remain on their feet .
Reaching the house ahead of them , he waited with his Winchester in his hands .
They crawled through the north fence and came on toward him , and now he saw that both were young , not more than nineteen or twenty .
They were dirty , their clothes were torn , and the girl was so exhausted that she fell when she was still twenty feet from the front door .
She lay there , making no effort to get back on her feet .
The boy came on to the porch and sat down , his gaze on Morgan as if half expecting him to shoot and not really caring .
Morgan hesitated , thinking that if this was a trick , it was a good one .
He didn't think it was possible for this couple to be pretending .
The boy licked his dry lips .
He asked , `` Could we have a drink '' ? ?
Morgan jerked his head toward the front door .
`` In the kitchen '' , he said .
Leaning his Winchester against the front of the house , he walked to the girl .
`` Get up .
There's water in the house '' .
She didn't move or say anything .
Her eyes were glazed as if she didn't hear or even see him .
She had reached a point at which she didn't even care how she looked .
Her face was very thin , and burned by the sun until much of the skin was dead and peeling , the new skin under it red and angry .
Her blond hair was frowzy , her dress torn in several places , and her shoes were so completely worn out that they were practically no protection .
It must have hurt her even to walk , for the sole was completely off her left foot and Morgan saw that it was bruised and bleeding .
He picked her up , sliding one hand under her shoulders , the other under her knees , and carried her into the house .
She was amazingly light , and so relaxed in his arms that he wasn't even sure she was conscious .
Any lingering suspicion that this was a trick Al Budd had thought up was dispelled .
No girl would go this far to fool a man so she could kill him .
Besides , she had a sweet face that attracted him .
He put her down on the couch , and going into the kitchen , saw that the boy had dropped into a chair beside the table .
They looked a good deal alike , Morgan thought .
Both had blonde hair and blue eyes , and there was even a faint similarity of features .
Morgan filled the dipper from the water bucket on the shelf , went back into the front room , lifted the girl's head , and held the edge of the dipper to her mouth .
She drank greedily , and murmured , `` Thank you '' , as he lowered her head .
He stood looking down at her for a moment , wondering what could have reduced her to this condition .
He had seen a few nester wagons go through the country , the families almost starving to death , but he had never seen any of them on foot and as bad off as these two .
The girl dropped off to sleep .
Morgan returned to the kitchen , built a fire , and carried in several buckets of water from the spring which he poured into the copper boiler that he had placed on the stove .
He brought his Winchester in from the front of the house , then faced the boy .
`` Who are you and what happened to you '' ? ?
He asked .
`` I'm Billy Jones '' , the boy answered .
`` That's my wife Sharon .
We ran out of money and we haven't eaten for two days '' .
`` What are you doing here '' ? ?
`` Are we in Wyoming '' ? ?
Morgan nodded .
`` About five miles north of the line '' .
Jones sighed as if relieved .
`` We've been looking for work , but all the ranchers have turned us down '' .
`` You mean you dragged your wife all over hell's half-acre looking for work '' ? ?
Morgan demanded .
`` The town of Buckhorn's only about six miles from here .
Why didn't you go there '' ? ?
`` We didn't want town work '' , Jones said .
`` This is a mighty empty country '' , Morgan said .
`` There's only one more ranch three miles north of here .
You'd have starved to death if you'd missed both places '' .
`` Then we're lucky we got here .
Could you give us a job , Mr. ''
`` Morgan .
Dan Morgan '' .
He was silent a moment , thinking he could use a man this time of year , and if the girl could cook , it would give him more time in the meadows , but he knew nothing about the couple .
They might kill him in his sleep , thinking there was money in the house .
He dismissed the possibility at once .
The girl's thin face haunted him .
It wasn't the face of a killer .
He wasn't so sure about the boy .
He hadn't shaved for several weeks , his sparse beard giving his face a pathetic , woebegone expression .
There was more to this than Jones had told him .
They were running from something .
He'd be an idiot to let them stay he thought , but he couldn't send them on , either .
`` I could use some help '' , Morgan said finally , `` but I can't afford to pay you anything .
I guess you'd better go on in the morning '' .
`` We'll work for our keep '' , the boy said eagerly .
`` I've been mucking in a mine in the San Juan , but I used to work on a ranch .
Sharon , she's cooked in a restaurant .
We'll work hard , Mr. Morgan '' .
`` I'll see '' , Morgan said .
`` Right now you need a meal and a bath .
Your wife's in terrible shape '' .
`` I know '' , Jones said dejectedly .
Morgan filled the fire box with wood again , then started supper and set the table .
When the meal was ready , he told Jones to wash up , and going into the front room , woke the girl .
He said , `` I've got some supper ready '' .
She rubbed her eyes and stretched , then sat up , her hands going to her hair .
`` I'm a mess '' , she said , and suddenly she was alarmed .
`` Who are you ? ?
How did we get here '' ? ?
`` I'm Dan Morgan .
This is the Rafter Aj .
You fell down in front of the house , and I carried you in .
I gave you a drink and then you went to sleep '' .
`` Oh '' .
She stared at him , her eyes wide as she thought about what he had said ; ;
then she murmured : `` You're very kind , Mr. Morgan .
Do you take in all the strays who come by '' ? ?
`` I don't have many strays coming to my front door '' , he said .
`` Think you can walk to the table '' ? ?
`` Of course '' .
She got to her feet , staggered , and almost fell .
He caught her by an arm and helped her into the kitchen .
She sat down at the table , shaking her head .
`` I'm sorry , Mr. Morgan .
I'm usually a very strong woman , but I'm awfully tired '' .
`` And hungry '' , he said .
`` Start in .
It's not much of a meal , but it's what I eat '' .
`` Not much of a meal '' ? ?
The girl cried .
`` Mr. Morgan , it's the best-looking food I ever saw '' .
He told himself he had never seen two people eat so much .
When they were finally satisfied , Jones said , `` I think he's going to give us work '' .
The grateful way she looked at Morgan made him ashamed of himself .
When he saw the expression in her eyes , he knew he couldn't send them on .
She said , `` I guess the Lord looks out for fools , drunkards , and innocents '' .
Morgan laughed .
`` Which are you '' ? ?
`` We're not drunkards '' , she said .
`` That's all I'm sure of '' .
She helped him with the dishes , then he brought more water in from the spring before it got dark .
He carried the tub from the back of the house where it hung from a nail in the wall .
He said : `` You'll feel a lot better after you have a bath .
Your feet are in bad shape , Mrs. Jones .
You'll have to go to town to see the doc '' .
`` No , she'll be all right '' , Jones said quickly .
`` I mean , we don't have any way to get there and we can't expect you to quit work just to take us to town '' .
`` We'll see '' , Morgan said .
`` Could you find me a needle and thread '' ? ?
The girl asked .
`` My dress needs some work on it '' .
He nodded and , going into the bedroom , brought a needle , thread , and scissors .
He said : `` I'm going to bed '' .
He nodded at the door in front of him .
`` That's my spare bedroom .
The bed isn't made , but you'll find plenty of blankets there '' .
`` You're awfully kind '' , the girl said .
`` We'll pay you back if you'll let us .
Some way '' .
`` It's all right '' , he said .
`` I get up early .
You'd better sleep '' .
Jones followed him into the front room , closing the door behind him .
He said : `` If it's all right with you , Mr. Morgan , I'll sleep out here on the couch .
We haven't slept together since we started .
I just can't take any chances on getting her pregnant , and if we were sleeping together ''
He stopped , embarrassed , and Morgan said , `` I understand that , but I don't savvy why you'd go off and leave your jobs in the first place '' .
`` We got fired '' , Jones said .
`` We had to do something '' .
They were a pair of lost , whipped kids , Morgan thought as he went to bed .