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Title:      Selected Short Works
Author:     Zane Grey
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Title:      Selected Short Works
Author:     Zane Grey





Selected Short Works


by


Zane Grey




Contents

Amber's Mirage (1929)
Bernardo's Revenge (1912)
California Red (1926)
The Camp Robber (1928)
Death Valley (1920)
Don: The Story of a Lion Dog (1925)
The Great Slave (1920)
Lightning (1910)
Lure of the River (1923)
Missouri Schoolmarm (1926)
Monty Price's Nightingale (1924)
Nonnezoshe, the Rainbow Bridge (1915)
The Ranger (1929)
Tappan's Burro (1923)
The Wolf Tracker (1924)




AMBER'S MIRAGE


Now that it was spring again, old Jim Crawford slowly responded to
the call of the desert.  He marked this fact with something of
melancholy.  Every winter took a little more out of him.  Presently
he would forget it, when he was once more out on the lonely and
peaceful wasteland, hunting for the gold he had never found and for
which he had given the best years of his life.

Still, Jim seemed a little more loath to bring in his burros and
pack for the long trail.  He sat on the sunny side of the shack and
pondered.  The peaks were glistening snow-white, the lower slopes
showed patches and streaks of snow under the black pines, but the
foothills were clean and gray, just beginning to green and purple
over.  High time that he be up and doing, if he were ever to find
that treasure at the foot of the rainbow.

"Reckon I've grown fond of this lad, Al Shade," soliloquized the
old prospector, as he refilled his pipe.  "An' I just don't want to
leave for the desert with things the way they are for him."

Jim Crawford's shack stood at the edge of the pinewoods on the
slope opposite the lumber mill and was the last habitation on the
outskirts of Pine, a small town devoted to lumbering and cattle
raising.  The next house toward town was a picturesque log cabin,
just up in the pines and within plain view, as Jim had found to his
sorrow.  Jim's neighbor, Seth Low, was a millhand, a genial and
likable fellow with only one fault--an over-fondness for drink,
which had kept him poor.  He had a complaining wife and five
children, the eldest of whom, Ruby Low, seventeen years old, red-
haired and red-lipped, with eyes of dark wicked fire, had been the
cause of no little contention in the community.

Jim had seen Ruby carrying on with cowboys and lumberjacks in a way
that amused him, even thrilled him a little for his pulses were not
yet dead to the charm of beauty and youth.  But when Ruby attached
Al Shade to her list of admirers, the circumstances had grown
serious for Jim.  And he was thinking of that now, while he
listened to the melodious hum of the great saw, and watched the
yellow smoke arise from the mill stack, and felt the old call of
the desert in the spring, something he had not resisted for thirty
years.

Long ago, in a past slowly growing clear again in memory, he had
been father to a little boy who might have grown into such a fine
lad as Alvin Shade.  That was one reason why he had taken such a
liking to Al.  But there were other reasons, which were always
vivid in mind when Al appeared.

A cowboy galloped by, bright face shining, with scarf flying in the
wind.  Jim did not need to be told he would stop at the Low cabin.
His whistle, just audible to Jim, brought the little slim Ruby out,
her hair matching the boy's scarf.  He was a bold fellow,
unfamiliar to Jim, and without a glance at the open cabin door or
the children playing under the trees, he snatched Ruby off the
ground, her heels kicking up, and, bending, he gave her a great
hug.  Jim watched with the grim thought that this spectacle would
not have been a happy one for Al Shade to see.

The cowboy let the girl down, and, sliding out of his saddle, they
found a seat on a fallen pine, and then presently slipped down to
sit against the tree, on the side hidden from the cabin.  They did
not seem to care that Jim's shack was in sight, not so very far
away.  Most cowboys were lover-like and masterful, not to say bold,
but this fellow either embodied more of these qualities than any
others Jim had seen with Ruby, or else he had received more
encouragement.  After a few moments of keen observation Jim
established that both possibilities were facts.  He saw enough not
to want to see more, and he went into his shack sorrowing for the
dream of his young friend Alvin.

Straightway Jim grew thoughtful.  He had more on his hands than the
problem of getting ready for his annual prospecting trip.  If a
decision had not been wrung from him, it certainly was in the
making.  Dragging his packsaddles and camp equipment out on the
porch, he set morosely to going over them.  He wasted no more
glances in the direction of the Low cabin.

Eventually the mill whistle blew.  The day was Saturday, and the
millhands got off at an early hour.  Not many minutes afterward the
old prospector heard a familiar quick step, and he looked up
gladly.

"Howdy, old-timer," came a gay voice.  "What you-all doin' with
this camp truck?"

"Al, I'm gettin' ready to hit the trail," replied the prospector.

"Aw, no, Jim.  Not so early!  Why, it's only May, an' the snow
isn't off yet," protested the young man, in surprise and regret.

"Set down a while.  Then I'll walk to town with you.  I'm goin' to
buy supplies."

Al threw down his dinner pail and then his old black hat, and stood
a moment looking at Crawford.  He was a tall, rangy young man,
about twenty-one, dressed in overalls redolent of fresh sawdust.
He had a frank, handsome face, keen blue eyes just now shaded with
regret, and a square chin covered by a faint silky down as fair as
his hair.  Then he plumped down on the porch.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"It's good of you, Al, if you mean you'll miss me," replied the
prospector.

"I sure mean that.  But there's somethin' else.  Jim, you're not
growin' any younger, an' you . . . well, these eight-month trips on
the desert must be tough, even for an old desert rat like you.
Forgive me, old-timer.  But I've seen you come back . . . four,
five times now, an' each time you seemed more done up.  Jim, you
might die out there."

"'Course, I might.  It's what I want when my time comes."

"Aw!  But that should be a long while yet, if you've got any sense.
Jim, you've taken the place of my dad."

"Glad to hear it, son," replied Crawford warmly.

"Suppose you come live with mother an' me," suggested Al eagerly.

"An' let you take care of me?"

"No, I don't mean that.  Jim, you can work.  We've got a little
land, even if it is mortgaged.  But if we cultivate it . . . if we
had a couple of horses . . . the two of us. . . ."

"Al, it's not a bad idea.  I've thought of that before.  There's
plenty of work left in me yet.  But I'd only want to tackle that
after I'd made a strike.  Then we could pay off your debts, stock
the place, an' farm right."

"Jim, you've thought of that?" asked Al.

"Lots of times."

"I didn't know you thought so much of me.  Gosh, wouldn't it be
grand!"  Then his face fell, and he added ruefully:  "But you old
prospectors never make a strike."

"Sometimes we do," replied Jim, vehemently nodding.

"Aw, your hopes are like the mirages you tell about."

"Al, I've never told you about Amber's mirage."

"Nope.  That's a new one.  Come on, old-timer . . . if it isn't too
long."

"Not today, son.  Tomorrow, if you come over."

"Well, I'll come.  Ruby has flagged me again for that Raston
cowpuncher," rejoined Shade with a touch of pathos.

"Raston.  Who's he?" queried Jim, looking up.

"Oh, he's a new one.  A flash cowboy, good-lookin' an' the son of a
rich cattleman who has taken over the Babcock ranches."

"Uhn-huh.  Reckon I remember hearin' about Raston.  But he hasn't
paid for those big range interests yet.  Al, is young Raston sweet
on Ruby?"

"Sure.  Same as all those other galoots.  Only he's the latest.
An' Ruby is powerful set up about him."

"HUMPH.  Does she encourage him?" asked Jim, bending to pick up a
saddle cinch.

"She sure does," burst out Al in disgust.  "We've had rows over
that often enough."

"Al, you're deep in love with Ruby?" asked Crawford suddenly.

"Head over heels.  I'm drownin'," replied the lad, with his frank
laugh.

"Are you engaged to her?"

"Well, I am to her, but I guess she isn't to me . . . at least, not
all the time.  Jim, it's this way . . . I just know Ruby likes me
better than any of them.  I don't know why.  She's sure been
thicker with other fellows than with me.  But that's not so much.
Ruby likes conquest.  She loves to ride an' dance an' eat.  She's
full of the devil.  There's been more than one fellow like Raston
come along to take her away from me.  But she always comes back.
She just can't help herself."

"Uhn-huh.  What does your mother think of Ruby?"

The boy hesitated, then replied:  "Ruby often comes over to our
house.  Mother doesn't exactly approve of her.  She says Ruby is
half good an' half bad.  But she believes if I could give Ruby what
she craves . . . why, she'd marry me, an' turn out all right.  Jim,
it's my only hope."

"But you can't afford that on your wages," protested Jim.

"I sure can't.  But I save all the money possible, Jim.  I haven't
even a horse.  Me . . . who was born on a horse!  But I'll get
ahead somehow . . . unless somethin' awful happens.  Jim, now an'
then I'm blue."

"I shouldn't wonder.  Al, do you think Ruby is worth this . . .
this love an' constancy of yours?"

"Sure she is.  But what's that got to do with it?  You don't love
somebody because she or he is so an' so.  You do it because you
can't help yourself."

"Reckon you're right at that," replied Jim slowly.  "But suppose
a . . . a girl is just plain no good?"

"Jim, you're not insinuatin' . . . ?" ejaculated Al, aghast at the
thought.

"No, I'm just askin' on general principles, since you make a
general statement."

Al's face seemed to take on an older and yet gentler expression
than Jim had ever observed there.

"Jim," he said, "it oughtn't to make no difference."

"HUMPH.  Mebbe it oughtn't, but it sure does with most men.  Son,
there's only one way for you to fulfill your dream . . . if it's at
all possible."

"An' how's that?" queried Al sharply.

"You've got to get money quick."

"Lord!  Don't I know that?  Haven't I lain awake at nights thinkin'
about it.  But, Jim, I can't rustle cattle or hold up the mill on
pay day."

"Reckon you can't.  But, Al Shade, I'll tell you what . . . you can
go with me!"

"Jim Crawford!  On your next prospectin' trip?"

"You bet.  The idee just came to me.  Al, I swear I never thought
of it before."

"Gosh almighty!" stammered Al.

"Isn't it a stunnin' idee?" queried Jim, elated.

"I should smile . . . if I only dared!"

"Wal, you can dare.  Between us, we can leave enough money with
your mother to take care of her while we're gone.  An' what else is
there?"

"Jim . . . you ask that!" burst out Al violently.  "There's Ruby
Low, you dreamin' old rainbow chaser!  Leave her for eight months?
It can't be did!"

"Better that than forever," retorted Crawford ruthlessly.  He was
being impelled by a motive he had not yet defined.

"Jim!" cried the young man.

"Al, it's you who's the rainbow chaser.  You've only one chance in
a million to get Ruby.  Be a good gambler an' take it.  Ruby's a
kid yet.  She'll think more of fun than marriage yet a while.
You've just about got time.  What do you say, son?"

"Say!  Man, you take my breath."

"You don't need any breath to think," responded the old prospector,
strangely thrilled by a subtle conviction that he would be
successful.  "Come, I'll walk to town with you."

On the way the sober young man scarcely opened his lips, and Jim
was content to let the magnitude of his suggestion sink deeply.

"Gosh.  I wonder what Ruby would say," murmured Al to himself.

"Wal, here's where I stop," said Jim heartily, as they reached the
store.  "Al, shall I buy grub an' outfit for two?"

"Aw . . . give me time," implored Al.

"Better break it to your mother tonight an' come over tomorrow,"
returned Jim, and left Al standing there, his mouth open, his eyes
dark and startled.

Seldom did the old prospector answer to unconsidered impulse.
But he seemed driven here by something beyond his immediate
understanding.  Through it flashed the last glimpse he had taken of
Ruby Low and the lover whom Jim took to be young Raston.  Jim felt
that he was answering to an inspiration.  One way or another--a
successful quest for gold or failure--he would make Al Shade's
fortune or spare him inevitable heartbreak.  Some vague portent of
Amber's mirage ran like a stream through Jim's thought.

He bought supplies and outfits for two, and generously, for he had
never been careful of his meager funds.  Leaving orders for the
purchase to be sent to his place, Jim started back with quickened
step.

It was a great project.  It had a flourish and allurement that
never before had attended his prospecting trips, although they all
had fascination enough.  He tried to evade queries and rest content
with the present, well knowing that, when once more he had been
claimed by the lonely desert, all his curiosity and doubt would
vanish.  Then came a rush of impatient sensation--a nostalgia for
sight of the long leagues of lonely land, the bleak rocks, the
solemn caons, the dim hazy purple distances, ever calling--smell
of the cedar smoke, the sifting sand, the dry sage, the marvelous
fresh fragrance after rain--sound of the mournful wind, the wailing
coyote, the silence that was appalling, the cry of the nighthawk.

These passed over him like a magic spell.  A rapture pervaded his
soul.  How could he have lingered so long?

A gay voice calling disrupted Jim's meditation.  Already he had
reached the outskirts of town, and he was opposite the Low cabin
with Ruby waylaying him at the gate.  Her red hair flamed, and her
lips were like cherries.  She transfixed him with a dazzling smile.

"Uncle Jim, I was layin' for you," she said archly.  "I hate to ask
you, but I've got to have some money."

Ruby sometimes borrowed, and on at least two occasions Jim
remembered she had paid back.

"Wal, lass, I'm about broke myself," he replied.  "But I can rake
up five wagon wheels.  Will that help?"

"Thanks, Uncle Jim.  It'll sure do.  I just want to buy somethin'
for tonight.  I'm goin' to a party," she said, as she took the
silver, and then ran her arm through his.  "I'll walk over to your
house with you."

Jim could not reproach Ruby for any indifference to him, that was
certain.  She liked him and often told him her troubles, especially
with the boys.

"Another party, huh?  I reckon this time you're goin' with Al,"
rejoined Jim.

"No.  He didn't ask me, an' Joe Raston did.  Besides, Al an' I have
fought like cat an' dog lately.  Al's jealous."

"Wal, hasn't he cause?" asked Jim mildly.

"I 'spose he has, Uncle," she admitted.  "But I'm not . . .
quite . . . altogether engaged to Al.  An' I do like the other
boys, 'specially Joe."

"I see.  It's pretty hard on you an' Al.  Say, Ruby, do you really
care about the boy?  Tell me straight."

"Uncle Jim!" she exclaimed, amazed.

"Wal, I just wondered.  I seen you today over back of that pine
log, an' it looked to me. . . ."

"You saw me . . . with Joe?" she interrupted confusedly.

"I don't know Joe.  But the cowboy wore a scarf as red as your
head."

"That was Joe.  An' you watched us!  I told the big fool. . . ."

"Ruby, I didn't mean to spy on you.  I just happened to be lookin'.
An' when you slipped off that log, I sure didn't look long."

She had no reply for this.  Ruby was nervously clinking the silver
coins in her hand.  They reached Jim's shack, and Ruby sat down on
the porch steps.

"Uncle, did you give me away to Al?" she asked, and a tinge of
scarlet showed under her clear skin.  She was ashamed, yet no
coward.

Jim gazed down upon her, somehow seeing her as never before.  He
realized that he had reason to despise her, but he did not.  At
least he could not when she was actually present in the flesh.
Ruby had seen only seventeen summers, but she did not seem a child.
Her slim form had the contours of a woman.  And like a flaming
wildflower she was beautiful to look at.

"No, Ruby, I didn't give you away to Al," replied Jim presently.

"You're not going to, Uncle?"

"Wal, as to that. . . ."

"Please don't.  It'll only hurt Al, an' not do a bit of good.  He
has been told things before.  But he didn't believe them.  An' he
thrashed Harry Goddard.  Of course, he'd believe you, Uncle Jim.
But it wouldn't make no difference.  An' . . . an' what's the
sense?"

"Ruby, I reckon there wouldn't be much sense in it.  Not now,
anyway, when I'm takin' Al with me on a long prospectin' trip."

"What?"

Jim motioned to the packsaddles and harness strewn upon the floor,
the tools and utensils.

"Oh, no!  Don't take him, Uncle," she cried, and now her cheeks
were pale as pearl.  She caught her breath.  The sloe-black eyes
lost their wicked darts.  They softened and shadowed with pain.
"Oh, Uncle, I . . . I couldn't let Al go."

"Wal, lass, I'm afraid you'll not have anythin' to do with it."

"But Al would never go . . . if I begged him to stay."

Jim believed that was true, although he did not betray it.  He felt
gladness at a proof that Ruby cared genuinely for Al, although no
doubt her motives were selfish.

"Mebbe not, lass.  But you won't beg him."

"I sure will.  I'll crawl at his feet."

"Ruby, you wouldn't stand in the way of Al's coming back home with
a big lot of gold."

"Gold!" she echoed, and a light leaped up in her eyes.  "But,
Uncle, isn't prospectin' dangerous?  Mightn't Al get killed or
starve on the desert?"

"He might, sure, but he's a husky lad, an' here I've been wanderin'
the desert for thirty years."

"How long would you be gone?"

"Till winter comes again."

"Seven . . . eight months!  I . . . I don't . . . believe I could
bear it," she faltered weakly.

"Ruby, you'll make a deal with me not to coax him off . . . or I'll
tell him what I saw today."

"Oh, Uncle Jim," she retorted, although she winced.  "That'd be
mean.  I really love Al."

"Uhn-huh.  You acted like it today," replied Jim dryly.  "Reckon
you're tryin' to tell me you love two fellows at once."

"I'm not tryin' to tell you that," she flushed hotly.  "If you want
to know the truth, I love only Al.  But I like Joe . . . an' the
other boys.  I'd quit them in a minute, if Al had anythin'.  But
he's poor.  An' I don't see why I should give up havin' fun while I
wait for Al."

"Did Al ever try to make you give them up?" queried Jim curiously.

"No.  He's pretty decent, even if he is jealous.  But he doesn't
like me to go with Joe."

"Wal, do we make a bargain, Ruby?"

Her red lips quivered.  "You mean you won't give me away, if I
don't try to keep Al home?"

"That's it."

"Wh . . . when are you leavin'?"

"Wal, I reckon tomorrow sometime . . . late afternoon."

"All right, Uncle, it's a deal," she replied soberly, and with slow
reluctance she laid the five silver dollars on the porch.  "I won't
go to the party tonight.  I'll send for Al."

"Wal, Ruby, that's good of you," said Jim warmly.  "I'm goin' over
to Al's after supper to see his mother, an' I'll fetch him back."

"She'll be glad to have Al go," rejoined Ruby bitterly.  "She
doesn't approve of me."

Jim watched the girl walk slowly down the path, her bright head
bent, and her hands locked behind her.  What a forlorn little
creature.  Suddenly Jim pitied her.  After all, vain and shallow as
she was, he found some excuse for her.  Under happier circumstances
the good in her might have dominated.

The old prospector's mind was active, revolving phases of the
situation he had developed, while he prepared a hasty supper.  It
was dark when he started out for town.  The lights were flickering,
and the wind from the peaks carried a touch of snow.  Al lived on
the other side of town, just outside the limits, on a hundred-and-
sixty-acre farm his father had homesteaded, and which, freed from
debt, would be valuable some day.  Jim vowed the prospecting trip
would clear that land, if it did no more.  A light in the kitchen
of the cottage guided him, and, when he knocked, the door appeared
to fly open, disclosing Al, flushed and excited, with the bright
light of adventure in his blue eyes.  Jim needed no more than that
to set his slow heart beating high.

"Come in, old-timer," shouted Al boisterously.  "No need to tell
you I've knuckled.  An' mother thinks it's a good idea."

Al's mother corroborated this, with reservations.  She seemed
keenly alive to the perils of desert treasure seeking, but she had
great confidence in Jim, and ambition for her son.

"What's this Amber's mirage my boy raves about?" asked Mrs. Shade
presently.

"Wal, it's somethin' I want to tell Al," replied Jim, serious
because he could never think of Amber in any other way.  "I knew a
wonderful prospector once.  An' for twenty years I've looked for
his mirage on the desert."

"Gracious, is that all?  How funny you gold hunters are.  Please
don't graft any of those queer ideas on Al."

"Say, Jim, haven't you seen this Amber's mirage?" asked Al.

"Not yet, son.  But I will this trip.  Wal, good night an' good
bye, Missus Shade.  Don't worry about Al.  He'll come back, an'
mebbe rich."

"Alas!  I wonder if that is not the mirage you mean," returned the
mother, and sighed.

Al accompanied Jim back to town and talked so fast that Jim could
not get a word in, until finally they reached the store.

"No, don't come in with me," said Jim.  "You run out to see Ruby."

"Ruby!  Aw, what'd you want to make me think of her for?  She's
goin' out with Joe Raston tonight."

"Al, she's stayin' home to be with you this last night."

"Gosh!" ejaculated Al rapturously, yet incredulously.  "Did you
tell her?"

"Yes.  An' she sure got riled.  Swore she'd never let you go.  I
reckon she cares a heap for you, Al.  An' I'm bound to confess I
didn't believe it.  But I talked her into seein' the chance for
you, an' she's goin' to let you go."

"Let . . . me go," stammered Al, and he rushed away down the
street.

The old prospector lingered to watch the lithe, vanishing form,
and, while he stroked his beard, he thought sorrowfully of these
two young people, caught in the toils of love and fate.  Jim saw no
happy outcome of their love, but he clung to a glimmering hope for
them both.

An hour later, when he trudged homeward, thoughts of Al and Ruby
magnified.  It was youth that suffered most acutely.  Age had
philosophy and resignation.  Al was in the throes of sweet, wild
passion, fiercer for its immaturity.  He would be constant, too.
Ruby, considered apart from her bewildering presence, was not much
good.  She would fail Al and, failing, save him from ruin, if not
heartbreak.  Yet she, too, had infinite capacity for pain.  Poor
pretty little moth.  Yet she seemed more than a weak, fluttering
moth--just what, Jim could not define.  But they were both facing
an illusion as tragic, if not so beautiful, as Amber's mirage.

Jim felt tired when he reached his shack and was glad to sink upon
the porch.  The excitement and rushing around during the day had
worn upon him.  He bared his head to the cold, pine-scented wind.
The pines were roaring.  The pale peaks stood up into the dark
blue, star-studded sky.  To the south opened the impenetrable gloom
of the desert.  A voiceless call seemed to come up out of the vast
windy space, and that night it made him wakeful.

But he was up at dawn, and, when it was light enough to see, he
went out to hunt up his burros.  They never strayed far.  With the
familiar task at hand again there returned the nameless pleasurable
sensations of the trail.  High up on the slope he found the four
burros, sleek and fat and lazy, and, when he drove them, the first
time for months, he had strange, dark, boding appreciation of the
brevity of life.  That succumbed to the exhilaration of the near
approach of the solemn days and silent nights on the desert.  In a
few hours he would be headed down the road.

The supplies he had ordered came promptly after breakfast, and Jim
was packing when Al bounded in from the porch, so marvelous in his
ecstasy of flamboyant youth that Jim's heart almost failed him.

"Howdy, son," he managed to get out.  And then:  "I see you come
light in heart as well as in pack."

"Old-timer, I could fly this mornin'!" exclaimed Al fervidly.

"Uhn-huh.  Ruby must have sprouted wings on you last night,"
ventured Jim.

"Gosh, she was sweet.  I'm ashamed to death of the things I felt
an' thought.  We said good bye nine hundred times . . . an' I sure
hope it was enough."

"Wal, she'll be over before we leave, you can bet on that."

"Aw, no.  I stayed late last night . . . gosh, it was late.  Mother
waited up for me.  Jim, old-timer, that red-headed kid was hangin'
on to me at one o'clock this mornin'."  Al delivered that amazing
statement with a vast elation.

"You ought to have spanked her."

"Spank Ruby?  Gosh!  It would be like startin' an avalanche or
somethin'.  Now, Jim, you start me packin', an' you'll think an
avalanche hit this shack."

Jim did not require many moments to grasp that Al would be a
helpful comrade.  He was, indeed, no stranger to packing.  But they
had just gotten fairly well started when Ruby entered like an
apparition in distress.  She wore her white Sunday dress and looked
lovely, despite her woeful face and tearful eyes.

"Aw . . . now Ruby," ejaculated Al, overwhelmed.

"Oh, Al!" she wailed, and, throwing her arms around his neck, she
buried her face on his breast.  "I didn't know I loved you so . . .
or I'd been different."

Jim turned his back on them and packed as hurriedly and noisily as
possible.  But they had forgotten his very existence.  And
presently he proceeded with his work almost as if these young
firebrands were not present.  But they were there, dynamic, breath-
arresting with the significance of their words and actions.  Jim
was glad.  Al would have this poignant parting to remember.  He
sensed, and presently saw, a remorse in Ruby.  What had she done?
Or did her woman's intuition read a future alien to her hopes and
longings?  Perhaps, like Al, she lived only in the pangs of the
hour.

Nevertheless, in time he wooed her out of her inconsistent mood and
kissed away her tears and by some magic not in the old prospector's
ken restored her smiles.  She was adorable then.  The Ruby that Jim
had seen did not obtrude here.  She entered into Al's thrilling
expectancy, helped with the packing, although she took occasion now
and then to peck at Al's cheek with her cherry lips, and asked a
hundred questions.

"You'll fetch me a bucketful of gold?"

"I sure will, sweetheart," promised Al with fire and pride.

"A whole bucketful, like that bucket I have to lug full of water
from the spring.  Al, how much would a bucketful of gold buy?"

"I haven't any idea," returned Al, bewildered at the enchanting
prospect.  The light in his eyes, as it shone upon her, hurt the
old prospector so sharply that he turned away.  "Hey, old-timer,
what could I buy Ruby with a bucketful of gold?"

"Wal, a heap of things an' that's no lie," replied Jim profoundly.
"A house an' lot in town, or a ranch.  Hosses, cattle, a wagonload
of pretty clothes, an' then have some left for trinkets, not to
forget a diamond ring."

Ruby screamed her rapture and swung around Al's neck.

It went on this way until at last the burros were packed and ready.
Jim took up his canteen and the long walking stick, and shut the
door of the shack with a strange finality.

"Son, I'll go on ahead," he said thickly.  "You can catch up.  But
don't let me get out of sight down the road.  Ruby, you have my
blessin' an' my prayers.  Good bye."

She kissed him, although still clinging to Al, but she could not
speak.

"Get up, you burros!" called Jim, and he drove them down the road.

After a while he looked back.  The young couple had disappeared and
were very likely in the shack, saying good bye all over again.  Jim
strode on for half a mile before he turned once more.  Ruby's white
form gleamed on the little porch.  Al had started.  He was running
and looking back.  Jim found himself the victim of unaccountable
emotions, one of which seemed a mingling of remorse and reproach.
Would it have been possible to have done better by Al?  He did not
see how.  After a while he gained confidence again, although the
complexity of the situation did not clear.  All might yet be well
for Al, and Ruby, too, if the goddess who guarded the treasure of
gold in the desert smiled quickly.

At the turn of the road Al caught up, panting from his run.  "Gosh,
but . . . that was . . . tough!"

He did not glance back, and neither did Jim.  Soon they turned a
bend between the foothills.  The sun was still high enough to shed
warmth, although the air was cooling.  They were leaving the
mountains and descending into the desert, glimpses of which could
be seen through the passes.  Pions and cedars took the place of
pines, and the sage and bleached grama grass thickened.

Al regained his breath and kept pace with Jim, but he did not have
anything to say.

Jim wanted to reach Cedar Tanks before dark, a campsite that was
well situated for the initiative, for it regulated succeeding stops
just about right.  This first water was down on the flat still some
four or five miles distant.  Jim found a spring in his stride that
had been missing for months.  He was on the heels of the burros,
occasionally giving one a slap.

The last foothill, rather more of a mound than a hill, was bare of
cedars and had a lone pion on top, and the sides were flush with a
weed that took on a tinge of pink.  When this obstruction had been
rounded, the desert lay below.

No doubt Al had seen it before from that vantage point, but never
with the significance of this moment, which halted him stockstill.

The sun was setting red and gold over the western confines, where
the lights were brilliant.  Just below the travelers there were
flats of grass, and belts of cedars, and, farther on, bare plains
of rock, all in the ruddy shadow.  Leagues away buttes and mesas
stood up, sunset-flushed, and, between them and farther on, wild,
broken outlines of desert showed darkly purple.  A bold and open
space it was, not yet forbidding, but with a hint of obscure and
unknown limits.

One long gaze filled Jim Crawford with sustaining strength.  His
eye swept like that of an eagle.  This was a possession of his
soul, and whatever it was that had clamped him in perplexity and
doubt faded away.

It was dark when they reached Cedar Tanks, which consisted of a
water hole at the head of a rocky ravine.  Here Al found his
tongue.  The strain of parting gave precedence to the actuality of
adventure.  While they unpacked the burros, he volleyed questions,
which Jim answered when it was possible.  He remembered the stops
all the way across the border.  Turkey Creek was the next, then
Blackstone, then Green Water, Dry Camp, Greasewood, and on to
Coyote Wells, Papago Springs, Mesquite, and then a nameless trail
that had as its objective the volcanic peak of Pinacate.

Al packed up water and wood, and built a fire while Jim prepared
their first meal, a somewhat elaborate one, he said, to celebrate
the start of their expedition.  Not in many years had Jim Crawford
had a companion in camp.  He had been a lone prospector, but he
found this change a pleasure.  He would not have to talk to the
burros or himself.  After all, the start had been auspicious.

"Jim, have you ever been to Pinacate?" asked Al.

"Yes.  It's an infernal region in midsummer.  But I've never been
to the place we're headin' for."

"An' where's that?"

"Wal, I know an' I don't know.  I call it Three Round Hills.  They
lay somewhere in from the Gulf of California, a couple of hundred
miles below the mouth of the Colorado.  It's in Sonora.  We get
through Yaqui country an' then right into the land of the Seris."

"An' who are the Seris?"

"Wal, they're about the lowest order of humans I know anythin'
about.  A disappearin' Indian tribe.  Cannibals, accordin' to some
prospectors I've met.  They live in the Gulf durin' the dry season.
But when it rains an' the water holes are full, they range far up
an' down the coast an' inland.  So we've got to dodge them."

"Gosh!  You didn't tell mother or Ruby that," remarked Al.

"No, I didn't.  An' I reckon I haven't told you a great deal yet."

"Then there's gold in this Seri country," asserted Al, thrilled.

"There sure is.  All over Sonora for that matter.  But somewhere
close under Three Round Hills a wash starts an' runs six miles or
so down to the Gulf.  I met a prospector who dry-panned gold all
along this wash.  So rich, he never tried to find the lead from
which the gold came.  An' he never dug down.  Gold settles, you
know.  He was afraid the Seris would locate him an' poison his
water hole.  So he didn't stay in long, an' after that he couldn't
find the Three Round Hills again."

"An' you're goin' to find them?"

"Reckon we are, son.  I feel it in my bones.  I believe I can
locate them from Pinacate.  I brought a powerful field glass,
somethin' I never had with me before.  If I can locate them, we'll
travel across country from Pinacate, instead of workin' down to the
Gulf.  That would take weeks.  We'd have to travel at night along
the beach, at low tide, so the water would wash out our tracks.
An' then we couldn't find those hills from the shore.  I've been
savin' this trip for ten years, Al."

"Gosh!  An' where does Amber's mirage come in?" went on Al, who had
forgotten his supper for the moment.

"Wal, it won't come in at all unless we see it."

"Who was Amber, anyhow?"

"I don't know, except he was a prospector like myself.  Queer
character.  I always wondered if he was right in his mind.  But he
knew all about the desert."

"Jim, what was the difference between his mirage an' any other?"

"Son, did you ever see a mirage?" asked Jim.

"Sure.  Lots of them.  All alike, though.  Just sheets of blue
water on flat ground.  Pretty, an' sort of wonderful."

"Wal, you really never saw a mirage, such as I have in mind.  The
great an' rare mirages are in the sky.  Not on the ground.  An'
mostly they're upside down."

"Jim, I never heard of such a thing."

"Wal, it's true.  I've seen some.  Beautiful lakes an' white
cities.  An' once I saw a full-rigged ship."

"No!" exclaimed Al incredulously.

"Sure did.  An' they were sights to behold."

"Gosh!  Come, old-timer, tell me now about Amber's mirage!" cried
the young man impetuously, as if lured on against his will.

The old prospector laid aside his cup, as if likewise impelled,
and, wiping his beard, he bent solemn gaze on the young man, and
told his story.

Al stared.  His square jaw dropped a little, and his eyes reflected
the opal lights of the cedar fire.

"An' Amber died after seein' that mirage!" gasped Al.

"Yes, son.  There's two men livin' besides me who heard him tell
about it an' who saw him die."

"But, old-timer," expostulated Al, sweeping his hand through his
yellow locks, "all that might have been his imagination.  What's a
mirage but an illusion?"

"Sure.  Perhaps it's more of a lyin' trick of the mind than a
sight.  But the strange fact, an' the hard one to get around, is
that soon after Amber's death a great gold strike was made there.
Right on the spot!"

"Jim, you old prospectors must get superstitious," returned Al.

"Reckon so.  But there's no explainin' or understandin' what comes
to a man from years on the desert."

"If that's true of the desert, it's true of the mountains, or any
other place," argued Al.

"No.  The desert is like the earth in the beginnin'," replied the
old prospector sagely.  "After a while it takes a man back to what
he was when he first evolved from some lower organism.  He gets
closer to the origin of life an' the end of life."

"Gosh, old-timer, you're too deep for me," said Al with a laugh.
"But if it's all the same to you, I'd just as lief you didn't see
Amber's mirage this trip."


It was June, and Jim Crawford had been lost in the desert for more
than a week.  At first he had endeavored to conceal the fact from
his young companion, but Al had evidently known from the hour of
the calamity.

One morning from the black slope of desolate Pinacate the old
prospector had located the dim blue Gulf, and the mountain, San
Pedro del Martir, and then, away to the southward, three round
hills.  He had grown tremendously excited, and nothing could have
held him back.  These colorful hills seemed far away to the younger
man, who ventured a suggestion that it might be wise to make for
the cool altitudes instead of taking a risk of being caught in that
dark and terrific empire of the sun.  Even now at midday the naked
hand could not bear contact with the hot rocks.

They went on down into the labyrinth of black craters and red
caons, and across fields of cactus, ablaze with their varied and
vivid blossoms.  The palo verde shone gold in the sun, the ocotillo
scarlet, and the dead palo christi like soft clouds of blue smoke
in the glaring sand washes.  The magnificent luxuriance of the
desert growths deceived the eye, but at every end of a maze of
verdure there loomed the appalling desolation and decay of the rock
fastnesses of the earth.

From time to time the gold seekers caught a glimpse of the three
round hills that began to partake of the deceitfulness of desert
distance.  They grew no closer apparently, but higher, larger,
changing as if by magic into mountains.  These glimpses spurred
Crawford on, and the young prospector, knowing that they were lost,
grew indifferent to the peril and gave himself fully to the
adventure.

They had been marvelously fortunate about locating water holes.
Crawford had all the desert rat's keenness of sight and the
judgment of experience.  Added to this was the fact that one of his
burros, Jenester, could scent water at incredible distances.  But
one night they had to make dry camp.  The next day was hot.  It
took all of it to find water.  And that day Three Round Hills, as
they had come to call them, disappeared as if the desert had
swallowed them.  Cool, sweet desert dawn, with a menacing red in
the east, found the adventurers doubly lost, for now they did not
even have a landmark to strive for.  All points of the compass
appeared about the same--barren mountains, dark cones, stark and
naked shining ridges, blue ranges in the distance.

But Crawford pushed on south, more bowed every day, and lame.  The
burros became troublesome to drive.  Jenester wanted to turn back,
and the others were dominated by her instinct.  Crawford, however,
was ruthless and unquenchable.  Al watched him, no longer with
blind faith, but with the perturbation of one who saw a man guided
by some sixth sense.

Nevertheless, soon he changed their order of travel, in that they
slept in the daytime and went on at night.  The early dawns, soft
and gray and exquisite, the glorious burst of sunrise, seemed to
hold the younger man enthralled, as did the gorgeous sunsets, and
the marvelous creeping twilights.  As for the other hours, he slept
in the shade of an ironwood tree, bathed in sweat and tortured by
nightmares, or he stalked silently after the implacable prospector.

They talked but little.  Once Crawford asked how many days were
left in June, and Al replied that he guessed about half.

"August is the hot month.  We can still get out," said the
prospector, rolling the pebble in his mouth.  And by that he
probably meant they could find gold and still escape from the fiery
furnace of the desert.  But he had ceased to pan sand in the washes
or pick at the rocks.

The days multiplied.  But try as Crawford might he could not drive
the burros in a straight line.  Jenester edged away to the east,
which fact was not manifest until daylight.

Another dry camp, with the last of the water in their canteens used
up, brought the wanderers to extremity.  Crawford had pitted his
judgment against the instinct of Jenester, and catastrophe faced
them.

Darkness brought relief from the sun, if not from overwhelming
dread.  The moon came up from behind black hills, and the desert
became a silvered chaos, silent as death, unreal and enchanting in
its beauty.

This night Crawford gave Jenester her head, and with ears up she
led to the east.  The others followed eagerly.  They went so fast
that the men had to exert themselves to keep up.  At midnight Al
was lending a hand to the older man, and, when dawn broke, the
young man was half supporting the old prospector.  But sight of a
jack rabbit and the sound of a mocking bird in melodious song saved
him from collapse.  Where these living creatures were, it could not
be far to water.

Crawford sank less weightily upon Al's strong arm.  They climbed,
trailing the tracks through the aisles between the cactus thickets,
around the corners of cliffs, up a slow rising ridge above the top
of which three round peaks peeped, and rose, and loomed.  Crawford
pointed with a shaking hand and cried out unintelligibly.  His
spirit was greater than his strength; it was Al's sturdy arm that
gained the summit for him.

"Look, old-timer," panted Al hoarsely.

Three symmetrical mountains, singular in their sameness of size and
contour and magnifying all the mystery and glory of reflected
sunrise, dominated a wild and majestic reach of desert.  But the
exceeding surprise of this sudden and totally unexpected discovery
of the three peaks that had lured and betrayed the prospectors
instantly gave way to an infinitely more beautiful sensation--the
murmur of running water.  A little below them ran a swift, shallow
stream.

Crawford staggered to the shade of a shelving rock and fell with a
groan that was not all thanksgiving.  Al, with a thick whoop, raced
down the gentle declivity.

The water was cold and sweet.  It flowed out of granite or lava
somewhere not far away.  Al filled his canteen and hurried back to
his comrade, who lay with closed eyes and pallid, moist face.

"Sit up, Jim.  Here's water, an' it's good," said Al, kneeling.
But he had to lift Jim's head and hold the canteen to his lips.
After a long drink the old prospector smiled wanly.

"Reckon . . . we didn't . . . find it any . . . too soon," he said
in a weak, but clear, voice.  "Another day would have cooked us."

"Old-timer, we're all right now, thanks to Jenester," replied Al
heartily.  "Even if we are lost."

"We're not lost now, son.  We've found our Three Round Hills."

"Is that so?  Well, it's sure great to know.  But if my eyes aren't
deceivin' me, they're sure darned big for hills," rejoined Al,
gazing up at the three peaks.

"Make camp here . . . we'll rest," said Crawford.

"You take it easy, Jim.  I'll unpack."

The old prospector nodded with the reluctant air of a man who had
no alternative.

By stretching a tarpaulin from the shelving rock where Crawford
reclined, Al made an admirable shelter.  He unrolled his comrade's
bed and helped him on it.  Then he unpacked utensils and some food
supplies, whistling at his work.  The whole world bore a changed
aspect.  What a miracle water could perform!

He built up a stone fireplace, and then, axe on his shoulder, he
sallied down in search for wood.

Late in the afternoon, Al discovered his companion wide awake,
lying with head propped high.

"Gee, I feel like I'd been beaten!" exclaimed Al.  He was wet and
hot.  "Howdy, Old Rainbow Chaser.  Are you hungry?"

"Reckon I am," replied Crawford.

"Gosh, I am too.  I'll rustle a meal pronto.  Whew!  Strikes me
it's warm here."

"Al, looks like the hot weather is comin' early," rejoined Crawford
seriously.

"Comin'?  Say, I think it's been with us for days."

"Wal, what I meant was hot."

"Jim, you're a queer one.  What's the difference between hot an'
hot?"

"Son, when it's hot you can't travel."

Al stared at his old friend.  What was he driving at?  On the
moment the idea of travel apparently refused to stay before Al's
consciousness.  But a sober cast fell upon his countenance.
Without more ado he got up and busied himself around the fireplace.

When the meal was ready, he spread it on a canvas beside Crawford's
bed.  The old man could not sit up far, and he had to be waited
upon, but there was nothing wrong with his appetite.  This pleased
Al and reacted cheerfully upon him.  While they were eating, the
burro Jenester approached, her bell tinkling.

"I'll be darned.  There's Jen.  She's sure well trained," said Al.

"I reckon.  But if you'd lived with burros on the desert as long as
I have, you'd see more in it."

"Aw, she's only lookin' for some tin cans to lick," replied Al.

Nevertheless, the covert significance Crawford attached to the act
of the burro seemed not to be lost upon Al.  While doing the camp
chores he no longer whistled.  The sun grew dusky red and when it
sank behind the mountains, it was as if a furnace door had been
closed.  Presently with the shadows a cool air came across the
desert.  Then twilight fell.  Silence and loneliness seemed
accentuated.

The old prospector lay propped up, his bright eyes upon the peaks.
Al sat with his back to the rock, gazing out to see the moon come
up over the weird formation of desert.

"Jim," said Al suddenly, as if a limit had been passed.  "We spent
weeks gettin' to your three old hills.  Now what're we goin' to do
that we are here?"

"Son, we used up our precious time," replied Crawford sadly.  "We
got lost.  We're lucky to be alive."

"Sure, I'm thankful.  But I'm hopin' you'll be up tomorrow, so we
can look around."

If Crawford nursed a like hope, he did not voice it, which omission
drew a long, steady look from the younger man.  In the gloaming,
however, he could not have gleaned much from his observation.

"Old-timer, I hope, too, that you had more in mind than Amber's
mirage when you headed for these triplet hills."

If Al expected his sole reproach to stir Crawford, he reckoned
without his host, for the old prospector vouchsafed no word on that
score.  Al's attempt to foster conversation, to break the
oppressive silence, resulted in failure.  Crawford was brooding,
aloof.


Another day dawned and with it unrest.

After breakfast Crawford called his young companion to his bedside.

"Set down and let's talk," he said.

"Sure, an' I'll be darn' glad to," returned Al cheerfully, although
his scrutiny of his friend's face noted a subtle change.

"Son, you've a lot on your mind," began Jim with a fleeting smile
that was like a light on the dark, worn face.

"Uhn-huh, I just found it out," replied Al soberly.

"Worried about bein' lost?"

"Sure.  An' a hundred other things."

"Ruby, for one?"

"Well, no, I can't say that.  Ruby seems sort of far off . . . an'
these close things are botherin' me."

"Wal, we'll dispose of them one at a time.  First, then, about
bein' lost.  We are an' we aren't."

"I don't savvy, old-timer."

"Listen . . . I know where we are now, though I've never been
anyways near here.  You recall the prospector who told me about
these Three Round Hills?  Wal, he seen them from a ridge top down
near the Gulf.  He sure described them to a tee.  An' I reckon now
he wasn't ten miles from them.  The wash he dry-panned so much gold
from is almost certainly this one we're on.  Water is scarce down
here.  An' he said water ran down that wash in the flood season.
So I reckon we're now less than ten miles from the Gulf.  This
stream peters out, of course, in the sand below here somewhere.
Probably halfway down, I reckon."

"Uhn-huh.  An' what of all this?" queried Al suspiciously.

"Wal, a fellow could mosey on down, stoppin' in likely places to
shake a pan of gold, an' in a few days reach the Gulf with at least
a couple thousand dollars' worth.  Then he'd have, I reckon, about
six days' travel along the Gulf, bein' careful to go only by night
an' at low tide, to the mouth of the Colorado.  Then Yuma, where he
could cash his gold dust.  An' then if he happened to live in
Arizona, he could get home pronto by stage."

"Sure would be wonderful for that particular fellow," returned Al,
almost with sarcasm.  "Funny, old-timer, now we're sittin' right
under these amazin' Three Rounded Hills, that we don't give a damn
much about the gold diggin's they're supposed to mark?"

"Not funny, son," reproved the grave old prospector, "but sure
passin' strange.  Gold makes men mad, usually.  Though I could
never see that I was, myself.  If we'd only had good luck."

"To my notion we're most darned lucky," declared Al vehemently.

"No.  If that were so, we'd've got here six weeks ago, an' I
wouldn't be on my back.  We'd have had time to fill some sacks an'
then get out before the hot weather came."

"Oh, I see, the hot weather."

"It takes a while to heat up this old desert.  Then after a while
the rock an' sand hold the heat over an' every day grows hotter,
until it's a torrid blastin' hell, an' white men don't dare exert
themselves."

"Uhn-huh.  Then I'd say we haven't many days to waste," said Al
significantly.

"YOU haven't, son," replied the other gently.

"Me!"

"Yes, you, Al."

"I don't get your hunch, old-timer.  You strike me queer lately."

"Wal, even if I do, I've a clear mind now, an' you may be grateful
for it someday.  It may have been my dream of gold that made me
drag you into this hell hole, but I've got intelligence now to get
you out."

"Me!  What about yourself?" demanded Al sharply.

"Too late, Al.  I will never get out."

The younger man rose with passionate gesture and bent eyes of blue
fire down upon his reclining comrade.

"So that's it, old-timer," he asserted fiercely, clenching his
fist.

"What's it, son?" queried Crawford.

"You're knocked out an' need days to rest up.  But you don't want
me to risk waitin', so you'd send me on ahead."

"Al, I meant to lie to you an' tell you that.  But I can't do it,
now I face you."

"What you mean?" flashed Al suddenly, dropping back on his knees.

"Wal, son, I mean I couldn't follow you out."

"Why couldn't you?"

"Because the rest up I'm to do here will be forever," replied
Crawford.

"Jim, you're . . . talkin' queer again," faltered Al, plucking at
his friend.

"No, son.  I overreached my strength.  My body was not up to my
spirit.  I cracked my heart . . . an' now, Al, pretty soon I'm
goin' to die."

"Aw, my God, Jim, you're only out of your mind!" cried Al.

The old prospector shook his shaggy head.  He scarcely needed to
deny Al's poignant assertion.  "Listen," he went on, "you put water
beside me here.  Then pack Jenester an' one other burro.  Pack
light.  But take both canteens.  Start tonight an' keep in the
streambed.  In the mornin' . . . early . . . pan some gold.  But
don't let the madness seize on you.  It might.  That yellow stuff
has awful power over men.  An' remember when you reach the Gulf to
travel at low tide after dark."

"Jim, I couldn't leave you," rejoined Al mournfully, shaking his
head.

"But you must.  It's your only chance.  I'm a tough old bird, an' I
may live for days."

"I won't do it, old-timer," returned Al, his voice gaining.

"Son, you'll make my last days ones of grief an' regret."

"Jim, you wouldn't leave me," said Al stubbornly.

"That would be different.  You have everythin' to live for, an' I
have nothin'."

"I don't care.  I won't . . . I can't do it."

"There's your mother to think of."

"She'd be the last to want me to desert my friend."

"An' Ruby.  You mustn't forget that little red-headed darlin'."

Al dropped his face into his hands and groaned.

"Perhaps I misjudged Ruby.  She really loves you.  An' you can't
risk losin' her."

"Shut up, Jim!"

"Al, if you don't go now, soon it'll be too late.  I won't last
long.  Then you'll be stuck here.  You couldn't stand the torrid
months to come.  You'll go mad from heat an' loneliness.  And if
you did survive them an' started out in the rainy season, you'd be
killed by the Seris."

"I'll stick," rasped out Al, the big drops of sweat standing on his
pallid brow.

"Ruby loves you, but she'll never wait that long," declared
Crawford, ruthless in his intent.

Al's gesture was one of supplication.

"Ruby won't wait even as long as she promised," went on Crawford
inexorably.  "That Joe Raston will get 'round her.  He'll persuade
her you're lost.  An' then he'll marry her."

"Aw, Ruby will wait," rejoined Al, swallowing hard.

"Not very long.  She's weak an' vain.  She needs you to bring out
the good in her.  Joe Raston or some other flash cowboy will work
on that, if you don't hurry home."

"You're lyin, old-timer," replied Al huskily.

"I saw Raston gettin' her kisses," said Crawford.  "That very day
before we left."

"Honest, Jim?" whispered Al.

"I give the word of a dyin' man."

Al leaned against the rock and wrestled with his demon.  Presently
he turned again, haggard and wet of face.  "All right," he said.
"I always was afraid.  But we weren't really engaged till that
Saturday night."

"She can't be true to you unless you're there to hold her.  Go home
now, Al."

"No.  I'll stand by you, an' I'll trust Ruby."

"Go, Al.  I'm beggin' you."

"No."

"For your mother's sake."

"No!"

"Then for Ruby's.  An' for those kisses you'll never . . . never
get . . . unless you go . . . now!" shouted Crawford as, spent with
passion, he sank back on his pillow.

"No!" yelled Al ringingly, and strode away down into the desert.

At length he came to a wide-spreading palo verde where the shade
was dense and had a golden tinge.  Half the yellow blossoms of this
luxuriant tree lay on the ground, and it was that color rather than
the shade that had halted Al.  He cast himself down here, sure,
indeed, of a mocking loneliness.  And in the agony of that hour,
when he fought to be true to his passionate denial of Crawford's
entreaty, he acted like a man overwhelmed by solitude and
catastrophe, yet laboring to victory under the eye of God.  It was
well, indeed, that the old prospector, who had brought him to this
sad pass, could not likewise see him in his extremity.  And what
would it have meant to the wayward girl, whom he was losing in that
bitter hour, to see him ascend the heights?

When it was over, he rose, a man where he had been a boy, and
retraced his steps to camp.  The sun appeared to burn a hole
through his hat.  He found Crawford asleep, or at least he lay with
closed eyes, a tranquility new to his face transforming it.  Al had
the first instance of his reward, outside of his conscience.

That very day the hot weather Crawford had predicted set in with a
vengeance.  Al, awaking out of a torpid slumber, sweltered in his
wet clothes.  And Al began his watchful vigil.  That day dispelled
any hope, if one had really existed, of his old friend recovering.
Crawford drank water often, but he wanted no more food.  Al himself
found hunger mitigating.

"Al," said Crawford, breaking his silence at sunset, "you're stuck
here . . . till the rains come again."

"Looks like it, old-timer," replied Al cheerfully.  "Perhaps that's
just as well.  Don't you worry."

"Quin sabe?" replied the prospector, as if he pierced the veil of
the future.

At night they conversed more freely, as the effort cost less, but
neither again mentioned gold nor Ruby Low.  The oppression of heat
was on their minds.  Crawford had before given stock of his desert
wisdom, but he repeated it.  Where he had been violently solicitous
for Al to go, now he advised against it.

The days passed, wonderful in spite of their terror.  And the
nights were a relief from them.  Al did not leave the old
prospector's side except when absolutely necessary.  And as Jim
imperceptibly faded away, Al made these times more and more
infrequent.

One afternoon upon awakening late, Al became at once aware of a
change in the sky.  Clouds were rare in this section during the hot
dry season, yet the sky appeared obscured by pale, green-yellow,
mushrooming clouds through which the sun burned a fierce magenta
hue.

Al rubbed his eyes, and watched, as had become his habit.  A hard
hot wind that had blown like a blast from a furnace earlier in the
day had gone down with the sinking sun.  The yellow, rolling canopy
was dust and the green tinge a reflection cast by desert foliage.

"What you make of that sky, old-timer?" asked Al, turning to his
companion.  But Crawford, who was usually awake at this hour and
gazing through the wide opening to the desert, did not make any
response.  Al bent quickly, as had become his wont lately, to
scrutinize the mask-like face.

Getting up, Al set about his few tasks.  But the lure of the sky
made him desist from camp work and set him out to drive up the
burros.

Meanwhile, the singular atmospheric conditions had augmented.  The
sun, now duskily gold, set behind Three Round Hills.  And the
canopy of dust, or whatever it was, had begun to lift, so that it
left a band of clear dark air along the desert floor, a transparent
medium like that visible after a flash of lightning.

The phenomenon was so marvelous and new that Al suffered a break in
his idle attention.  This stirred his consciousness to awe and
conjecture as had no other desert aspect he had watched.  Presently
he thought to ask the old prospector what caused it and what it
signified.  To this end he hurried back to camp.

Crawford leaned far forward from his bed, his spare frame strung
like a whipcord, his long lean bare arm outstretched.  He pointed
to the west with quivering hand.

Al wheeled in consternation, and he called in alarm:  "Hold on, old-
timer."

"Look!" cried Crawford exultantly.

"What do you see, Jim?"

"Amber's mirage!"

Al flashed his gaze from the prospector's transfigured countenance
out across the desert to see weird rock and grotesque cacti
exquisitely magnified in the trailing veil of luminous gold.

"Jim, it's only the afterglow of sunset," cried Al, as if to try to
convince himself.

The old prospector had fallen back on the bed.  Al rushed to kneel
beside him.

"Oh, God!  He's dead!  An' I'm left alone!"

Al crouched there a moment, stricken by anguish.  To be prepared
for calamity was not enduring it.  The sudden sense of his terrific
loneliness beat him down like a mace.  Presently when the salt
blindness passed from his sight, he observed that Jim had died with
his eyes wide open.

He closed Jim's eyelids, to have them fly open again.  Al essayed a
gentle force, with like result.  Horrified, he shut the pale lids
down hard.  But they popped up.

"Aw!" he exclaimed, breathing hard.

Al had never seen a dead man, much less a beloved friend, who even
in death persisted in a ghastly counterfeit of life.  Suddenly Al
saw strange shadows in the staring eyes.  He bent lower.  Did he
imagine a perfect reflection of the luminous golden effulgence in
the sky, with its drifting magnifying veil?  Or were there really
images there?  He wiped the dimness from his own sight.  He was
like a man whom shock had gravely afflicted.  There was something
stamped in Jim's eyes.  Perhaps the mirage engraved upon his soul?
Or the sensitive iris mirroring, in its last functioning moment,
the golden glow of a rare sunset.  Al trembled in his uncertainty.

Then he recalled the story of Amber's mirage.  And he sustained
another shock.  According to Jim the miner Amber had died raving
about a mirage of gold, with wide-open eyes in which flamed a proof
of his illusion and which would not stay shut.

"It's only the mind," muttered Al.  A monstrous trick of the
imagination, natural to those mad prospectors, a lie as false as
any mirage itself.  But there shone that beautiful light in
Crawford's sightless eyes.  And the sky had shaded over.  The gold
had vanished.  The mysterious veil might never have transformed the
desert.  Al covered the old prospector's face with a blanket.


That night Al Shade kept reverent vigil beside the body of his
departed friend.  The desert seemed a sepulcher.

With the retreat of the somber shadows came a necessity for
practical tasks.  He ate a meager breakfast.  Then he wrapped Jim
in his blankets and tarpaulin, and bound them securely.  Whereupon
he stalked forth to find a grave.

It would never do to bury Jim in the sand.  Of all the desert
mediums, sand was the most treacherous.  It would blow away, and so
he hunted for a niche in the rocks.  He found many, some too large
and others too small.  At last under a cliff he had overlooked he
discovered a deep depression, clean and dry, as fine a last resting
place as any man could desire.  And it would be sweet to the old
prospector.  It was sheltered from rain and flying sand, yet it
looked out upon the desert.  If properly filled and sealed it would
last there as long as the rocks.

He carried Jim--now how light a burden!--and tenderly deposited him
in the hole.  Then Al tried to remember a prayer, but as he could
not, he made one up.

"To the rocks you loved, old-timer.  May God save your soul."

It was going to take considerable time to fill that deep grave.
Small stones, such as he could lift, were remarkably scarce,
considering it was a region of stone.  It would be necessary to
fill the grave full or the scavengers of the desert would dig out
poor Jim and strew his bones over the sands.

Al went farther afield in search of rocks.  Now he would gather a
sack of small ones, and then he would stagger back under burden of
a heavy one.  He performed Herculean labors.

The time came when his task was almost done.  Only a few more heavy
stones.  But where to find them?  He had sacked the desert of it
loose fragments.

While allaying his thirst at the stream he espied the dull yellow
gleam of a rock out in a little pool, rather deep.

Al waded out to secure it.  His feet sank in the sand, and, as the
water was knee-deep, he had to bend to get the stone.  It lifted
easily enough, until he heaved it out of the water.  Then it felt
like lead.  All this toil in the hot sun had weakened him or else
the stone, which was not large, had exceeding weight; in fact, it
was so burdensome that Al floundered with it and at the shore would
have fallen if he had not let it drop.

Bare flat rock edged on the stream there, and Al's stone, as it
struck, gave forth a curious ring.  He gave it a kick with his wet
boot, shaking off some of the sand that adhered to it.  Dull yellow
and white stripes appeared on this queer-looking stone Al had
carried out of the stream.

Then he scraped his hob-nailed boot hard on the surface.  Bright
thread caught the sunlight.  Frantically he crawled into the stream
and grasped up handfuls of wet sand.  He spread them to the sun,
gazed with piercing eyes.  Specks of gold!  They were as many as
the grains of sand.  Al tore up the bank, his fists tight on his
precious discovery.

"Jim!  Jim!" he shouted, panting with rapture.  "Look a-here!  A
strike!  An' old Three Rounded Hills . . . is her name!"  He got no
response to his wild outcry.  "Jim!"

Silence and loneliness emanated from the camp.  They struck at Al's
heart with reality.  An empty space marked where Jim's bed had lain
in the shade.


A second Christmas had come and far gone when Al Shade set foot in
Pine again.  It was the last of winter and fine weather for that
high country.  It was an unusual circumstance for Pine not to have
a white winter.  The mountain tops were shining, snowy domes, and
that pure smooth white extended far down into the timber, but it
had not yet encroached upon the lower slopes.  A bracing cold wind
blew out of the west, whipping dust down the main street of Pine.

The weekly stage had but few passengers that day, and Al was one of
them.  He wore a new suit and overcoat, and he carried a small
satchel.  His lean, clean-shaven face was almost as dark as an
Indian's.  He got out to button his coat and turn up the collar.
An icy breath of winter struck through him, coincident with a
recurrent and thrilling, yet poignant, emotion that had beset him
at times on the long journey up from Yuma.

The hour was still a little short of noonday.  Al's first act was
to hurry into the bank.  He approached the teller's window.

"Hardwick, do you remember me?" he asked.

"Can't say I do," replied the teller, after a close scrutiny.  "But
your face seems familiar."

"I'm Al Shade.  You used to cash my check Saturdays, when I worked
for the lumber mill."

"Al Shade?  Now I know you.  But you've changed . . . grown into a
man.  Say, didn't you leave Pine with an old prospector a couple of
years ago?"

"Yes, but it isn't actually that long," replied Al.

"You were reported lost in the desert."

"It was true enough.  But I got out.  Hardwick, I want to deposit
considerable money."

"Glad to hear it," returned the teller heartily.  "Come right into
Mister Babbitt's office."

Babbitt did not recall Al, or the circumstance of his departure
from Pine.

"Mister Babbitt, just lately I drove two burros into Yuma, packed
with gold.  I made the exchange there at the assay office, and I
have the money with me to deposit."

Al emptied the contents of the satchel on the desk before the bank
officials and then he stripped from his waist a thick belt, stuffed
all around with greenbacks.

"I'm sure glad to get rid of this," he said.  "Count it an' give me
a bankbook."

"There's a fortune, young man!" the banker exclaimed, his eyes
alight.  "I congratulate you.  You must have made a rich strike."

"It's little enough for what I went through," Al returned coolly.

"You want this to your credit alone?"

"Yes.  My partner, Jim Crawford, died.  He is buried on the
desert."

"Too bad.  I remember the old fellow.  Shade, you look as if you'd
earned this money.  I hope you use it wisely."

"Reckon I will," replied Al, with richer note in his voice.  "I
promised someone I'd fetch back a bucket of gold."

Al left the bank relieved that this necessary precaution had been
fulfilled.  For many months the possession of gold, and then for
days its equivalent in cash, had been a nuisance and a dread.  Soon
he would need to consider the possession of much gold--Ruby's.  The
moment was at hand.  No word had he heard of her, of mother, of
friends.  He felt a total stranger in his hometown.  His absence
seemed to have been endless.  He judged what might have happened to
them by the age he had been away, and the tragedy that had chained
him to the desert.  Yet a fugitive hope always had hung to the
fringe of his consciousness.  And now it beat at him with
tremendous hammer strokes.

All at once he heard the hum of the saw at the lumber mill.  It cut
into him as if it had actually been at his heart.  He saw the blue
and yellow smoke rising from the huge stack.  He passed on, still
some distance from the mill, and turned off the main street into
the outskirts of town.  Nothing had changed.  The boardwalk
appeared identically as when he had last trod it that fateful
Sunday.  Soon he passed by the last several cottages and came to
the blacksmith's shop.  Ben Wiley, the smith, was busy at his
forge.  The red sparks flew, and the ring of iron came on the cold
air.

Al strode on, past the Mexican gardens, out into the country, to
the edge of the pines.  The white cone-shaped peak pierced the sky.
It looked winter up there, and he had a momentary longing for the
hot dry desert.

Then he espied the gray cabin where Ruby lived and beyond it the
old shack where Jim Crawford had stayed when he was in from a
prospecting trip.  Al wondered if he had expected these habitations
to be gone.

Blue smoke curled up from the cabin chimney.  And, as of old, a
saddled horse stood hitched on the porch side.  It, as well as the
rich trappings on saddle and bridle, gave Al a queer familiar pang.
He strode up on the porch noisily, hurriedly, as if to give himself
courage.  Boldly he knocked.  But his knees were shaking.

The door opened to disclose a woman.  She had the face, the flaming
hair of the girl pictured in Al's mind.

"Al!" she screamed in amazed delight, and rushed out.  "Alive?  We
heard you were dead."

"Ruby!" Al cried, his voice hushed.  Certain it was that his arms
spread wide to envelop her.

"You desert wanderer!" she exclaimed.  "How you've grown . . .
changed!"

Al laughed with a happy wildness and was about to kiss her when out
of the tail of his eye he espied a figure standing in the open
doorway.  Releasing Ruby, he faced around squarely, confusion added
to his rapture.

A sneering man, fastidiously attired in fancy rider's apparel,
stood there, with something familiar about him that stung Al.

"Howdy, Shade.  I see your hunt for gold hasn't improved your
manners," he said mockingly.  "But maybe you didn't know you were
hugging a married woman."

"Joe Raston!" Al burst out in an agony of recognition.

"Sure . . . the same," replied Raston, his white teeth gleaming.
He had the same red face, the same hard blue eyes, with dark puffs
under them.  His attire now smacked of the city dandy, instead of
the cowboy.

Al wheeled to Ruby.  "Is it true . . . you . . . you're . . . ?" he
queried hoarsely, breaking off.

"Yes, but. . . ."

Raston stepped down off the threshold, almost between them.

"Married, with a girl baby," Raston interrupted.  "Another red-
headed girl to make trouble. . . ."

"Hush up, Joe.  Let me tell him," Ruby cried, recovering from glad
surprise to anger.

"My . . . God," choked Al, with horrified stare.  Then he turned
and ran.

"Wait, Al . . . !" Ruby screamed after him.

But Al ran on, blindly at first, down the clattering boardwalk, and
almost into town before he could check his mad flight.  Out of
breath he slowed down near Ben Wiley's blacksmith shop.  Terror at
the thought of being a subject for town gossip and ridicule drove
him to swallow his conflicting emotions.  What an awful blunder he
had made.  But had he not expected that very thing?  He should have
asked questions, have learned something before calling upon Ruby.
That sneering devil Raston!  Ruby married--a baby girl!  Al fought
off a deathly sickness, and in sheer desperation turned in to the
blacksmith's shop.

"Howdy, Ben," he said, confronting the burly, grizzled giant, who
let his hammer fall.

"Jumpin' jack rabbits!  It ain't you, Al?" boomed Wiley.

"Sure is, Ben.  How are you?"

"Son-of-a-gun, if it ain't Al!  Wal, by gum!  I am glad to see
you," replied the blacksmith, and it was well Al possessed a horny,
tough hand.  "So that story of you bein' daid on the desert ain't
so.  You're a healthy-lookin' ghost.  An' shore you're a prosperous-
lookin' gent."

"Ben, I struck it rich.  Jim Crawford took me down into Sonora.  We
got lost.  Jim died, an' afterward I struck gold."

"You don't say!  Thet's staggerin' news.  Sorry old Jim cashed.  He
was the salt of the earth."

"Indeed, he was.  Ben, I've been down the . . . road," Al said
haltingly.  "But not home . . . yet.  How's my mother?"

"Say, Al, haven't you heerd nothin' all this time?" queried Wiley
with concern.

"Not a word."

"Wal, thet's tough.  To come home with a stake an' find . . . all
changed."

"Ben, I didn't expect anythin' else.  Tell me."

"Wal, Al, it's no long story, anyway.  After you left, Raston took
the farm away from your mother.  Mortgage come into his hands
through a deal an'. . . ."

"Raston?  You mean the cattleman who took over the Bar X an' some
of the valley ranches?  Not Joe Raston?"

"Joe's father.  Thet's the man.  Left everythin' to Joe.  He's been
playin' high jinks here, Al.  Owns the lumber mill now an'
Halford's store.  But nobody has any use for him."

"Go on about . . . Mother," Al returned, fortifying himself.

"Wal, she went to Colorado an' . . . an' died there.  Let's see.
Must have been in the summer.  My wife will know.  She read about
it in the paper.  An' this is the first you've heahed about it,
Al?"

"Yes.  But I've been afraid," Al replied huskily as he turned away
his face.

"It's hard, Al.  I'm shore sorry I had to be the one to break it.
I reckon you better come to see my wife.  She was friendly with
your mother."

"Thanks, I will, Ben.  An' Ben, can you tell me anythin' about my
girl, Ruby Low?"

"That red-head?  Wal, I'll be dog-goned!  You're in for more bad
news, Al."

"Uhn-huh.  Come out with it, then."

"Ruby's married."

"Married?  Joe Raston?"

"Haw!  Haw!  Why, Joe Raston wouldn't 'a' married Ruby, as
everybody knows.  Joe is the high-flier 'round town now.  Father
left him all his interests."

"But Ben!" Al ejaculated, aghast.  "I thought Ruby . . . it must be
Joe Raston."

"Wal, like some other folks, an' Ruby herself . . . so they say . . .
you figgered wrong.  Joe jilted Ruby cold.  It went so hard with
her thet she up an' married Luke Boyce."

"Luke!  Why, he and I went to school together.  Luke Boyce!  He was
a pretty nice boy, if I remember.  Younger than me.  So it's Luke.
An' not Raston."

"Luke's not a bad sort.  Used to work for me heah.  Things have
gone ag'in' him, an' thet's no joke.  He was ridin' for the Bar X,
an' broke a leg.  Raston fired him.  After he was able to be about
again, he worked heah an' there, at odd jobs.  But when winter set
in, he was thrown out of work.  An' he's hangin' too much around
the saloons."

"How long has he been married?"

"'Most a year.  Ruby has a baby."

"Things happen . . . even in a short year," Al rejoined
ponderingly.  "Well, Ben, good day.  Remember me to Missus Wiley.
I'll come over some night."

"Do, Al.  We'll be plumb glad to see you.  An' Ma can tell you all
the news."

Returning to town, Al went to the hotel and engaged a room with a
fireplace, before which he huddled the rest of the day.  When
darkness came, he had parted with his mother and the sweet part of
the past in which she had figured.

Al had never been given to drink.  But now an urge to seek oblivion
almost overcame him.  It was memory of old Jim Crawford that gave
him the final strength to abstain.  The sooner he faced the whole
fact of his calamity, the sooner he might consider how to meet it.
He sensed a vague monstrous obstacle between him and the future.
He went out to meet it.

It was in one of the side-street saloons that Al finally
encountered Luke Boyce.  The recognition was instantaneous on Al's
part, but Boyce at first glance failed to see in Al an old
schoolmate.

"Howdy, Luke, don't you know me?"

"I don't, but I'll bet you're Al Shade.  Everybody's talkin' about
you."

They shook hands.  Boyce's surprise and pleasure were short-lived,
owing, no doubt, to shame at his condition and embarrassment before
Ruby Low's old fianc.  Boyce looked like a cowboy long out of a
job and verging on the condition of a tramp.  He tried to pass off
the meeting with a lame remark and to return to his game of pool on
the dingy table.  But Al would have none of that.  "Come on, Luke,
let's get out of here.  I'm sure glad to meet you, an' I want to
talk."

Boyce was not proof against such warmth.  He left the saloon with
Al, and by the time they arrived at the hotel his constraint had
disappeared.

"I reckon you want to talk about Ruby," Boyce queried bluntly.

"Why sure, Luke, but not particular, an' there's no hurry," replied
Al frankly.  "Naturally I want to hear how things are . . . with my
old girl.  I want to know a lot else, too."

Boyce laid aside his hat and turned back the collar of his thin
coat, and held lean blue hands to the fire.  "Let's get it over
then," he said with the same bluntness, but devoid of resentment.
"I didn't double-cross you with Ruby."

"That never entered my mind, Luke," Al rejoined hastily.

"I was always sweet on Ruby, as you know," went on Boyce.  "But I
never had a look-in while you an' other fellows were around.  When
you went away, Ruby quit the boys for a while."

"What?"

"I didn't know it then, Al, but she told me later.  After I married
her.  Ruby didn't go around with anyone for half a year, I guess.
You promised you'd be back that Christmas, she said . . . an' she
was true to you.  But when rumors drifted up from Yuma that you'd
been lost on the desert, she took up with Joe Raston again.  It
didn't last long.  Only a few months.  Joe wasn't the marryin'
kind.  He gave Ruby a dirty deal . . . jilted her.  That took the
starch out of Ruby.  I married her in spite of the fact she swore
she didn't and couldn't love me.  But I loved her.  We got along
fine, while I was earnin' money.  Ruby likes pretty clothes.  She
was gettin' fond of me.  Once she said she liked me better than any
beau she ever had, except you.  Well, I broke my leg, an' that
started us downhill.  Joe Raston had me fired.  I got well again,
but nobody would believe I could ride.  An' I had to take odd jobs
anywhere.  Lately I've been out of work.  Then Ruby had a baby, and
now I reckon she hates the sight of me.  We're poor as dormice.
I've borrowed until my old friends dodge a corner when they see me.
An' if somethin' doesn't show up this spring, I'll sure lose Ruby
an' the baby."

"Somethin' will turn up, Luke," rejoined Al confidently.  "Things
are never so bad as they seem.  Maybe I can help you.  Spring will
be here before long, an' that's the time to get a job or start
somethin'.  Quin sabe?  Your luck may change.  You might even see
Amber's mirage."

"Al, you don't 'pear to have been drinkin'," Boyce said bluntly.
"But your talk is plumb good.  Sounds like music to me.  An' what's
Amber's mirage?"

"I never quite satisfied myself about that," Al replied seriously.
"Old Jim Crawford used to talk as if Amber's mirage was more than
fortune to a man.  I took it to be a real mirage or somethin' he
imagined.  Somethin' close to love an' death . . . somethin' that
proved the passion for gold was terrible an' selfish . . . a waste
of life, unless the strivin' was for some noble purpose.  Anyway,
just before Jim died, he saw the mirage.  Or he was out of his head
an' thought so.  But he didn't seem crazy.  He looked like the
great poet I read about . . . who just before dyin' sat up with
wonderful eyes an' said . . . 'More light!'  Jim's end was like
that."

"Wal!" ejaculated Boyce, deeply stirred.  "It shore must have been
somethin'.  Al, I'll try once more, an' if I can't make a go of it,
an' get Ruby back, I'll leave Pine.  I've stood a heap, but I
couldn't stand to see Raston get Ruby."

"Uhn-huh.  So he's after her now . . . since you're married?"

"Sure is.  Ruby went back to her mother, an' Raston goes there.
Ruby admitted it.  But she doesn't trust him."

"Luke, it strikes me you ought to stop Raston."

"How?  He's powerful here in Pine.  Runs everythin'.  If I thrash
him, I'll get thrown into jail, where I haven't been yet.  What can
I do?"

"I'll say a word to him," said Al.

"Shade, am I to understand you . . . you want to be my friend?"
Boyce asked incredulously.

"I reckon.  What else?  But keep your mouth shut about it."

"I think it fine of you," burst out Boyce.

"I've seen Ruby . . . out at her old home.  Raston was there.
I . . . like a jackass . . . thought he was her husband.  But, Luke,
I'll stand by you, as you stood by Ruby, an' it's not too late to
save her."

Boyce leaped up, radiant, but he could not speak.

"Shake on that.  There," added Al.

"Let me get this straight," gasped Boyce.

"Are you in debt?" Al went on imperturbably.

"Yes, an' pretty deep.  It was a quarrel over debt that made Ruby
leave me.  She would run bills, an' I couldn't pay.  I tell you,
Al, if it wasn't for my hard luck, Ruby would turn out all right."

"How deep are in you in debt, Luke?"

"Somethin' over two hundred," replied Boyce abjectly.

Al laughed.  He had long been apart from the struggles and miseries
of men.  He had no idea of values.  He had seen a million dollars
in gold in the bed of a stream!

"Come in to see me tomorrow mornin'," Al said.  "I want to . . . to
lend you the money to pay those debts."

Long after the bewildered Boyce had left, Al sat there watching the
fire through dimmed eyes.  Then he went out to look for Raston.

The street, the saloons failed to disclose him, but the lobby of
the hotel ended his search.

"Raston, I've been lookin' for you," Al said deliberately.

"Yes?  About the little joke I had on you?" queried the other
maliciously.

"You had no joke on me.  My old friend, Luke Boyce, told me you
were tryin' to ruin his wife."

"That's his business, not yours," snapped Raston.

"Well, I'm sort of footloose, an' I can make most anythin' my
business," went on Al, stepping closer.

"Sure.  And now you'll cut me out.  You're welcome to the red-head
flirt.  She'll be easy for you, now you're lousy with gold.  I told
her so and reminded her. . . ."

Al struck out with all the might of unspent misery and wrath.  The
blow laid Raston his length upon the lobby floor.

"Hold on," Raston called out.

"Get up, you dog!"

Raston rose shakily, not very much the spectacle of a man.  His
hand went to a bleeding and puffing lip.  "Shade, I had some right
to say what I did," he began hurriedly, backing away.  Yet he
appeared resentful, as if he had been wronged.  "I couldn't get
Ruby, by hook or crook.  She always flirted and let me spend my
money on her.  But no more.  And lately, when I lost patience, she
swore there'd never been but one man who could make her disloyal to
Boyce.  And that man was dead.  She meant you, Al Shade."

That staggered Al to an abrupt abandonment of the encounter.

"Raston, you leave Ruby alone now," Al returned passionately, and
went his way.


It was afternoon of the next day, somber and still, with storm out
in the foothills.

Al, running down the road to catch up with his burros, did not look
back, as once he had looked to wave good bye to Ruby.  He had just
knocked loudly on the cabin door, thrilling in his cold, sick heart
to Ruby's voice:  "Come in."  But he had needed only the assurance
of her presence.  Then he had set down a heavy bucket before the
door.  Ruby's bucketful of gold that he had promised to fetch her
from the desert.  It was heavier by far than any bucketful of water
she had ever lugged so complainingly from the spring.  Like a horse
freed from a burden he had sped down the road.

A cry pierced his ears--and, as he ran on--again, but fainter.
Still he ran, soon crowding his pair of lightly packed burros.  As
a criminal in flight or a coward at the end of his tether he ran
until he turned the bend in the road.  Then he strode on, the
panting from his breast like hard sobs.  Free!  The gray hills, the
yellow road, the blue haze of desert far on proclaimed it.

Free from that vise-clamp around his heart!  The gates of locked,
unnatural calm burst at last.  It was not so much that he had held
in his passion, but that it had been only forming, mounting,
damming.  He had brooded, planned, talked, while this unknown and
terrible choice had taken possession of him.

A storm mourned down from the shrouded peaks and enveloped Al, so
black, so furious, that he had to walk beside his burros to keep
from losing them.

Al lifted his face to the elements.  There was an anguished ecstasy
in this kindred spirit, this enveloping and protective storm.  It
was his gratitude for the return to loneliness.  He had escaped
from four walls, from streets and houses, from people, from eyes,
eyes, eyes--curious, pitying, wondering, ridiculing, hateful eyes
that knew his story, yet would never understand.  But he was
pursued still, down the naked shingle of this winding road, by the
tortures he had invited, by the pangs of relinquished love, by the
glory of something too great for him to bear.

As he descended toward the desert, he gradually drew out of the
storm.  Gray space, with a light shining low-down to the west,
confronted him.  Then Cedar Tanks and night halted him.  Habit was
stronger than nature.  Mechanically he performed the first camp
tasks, then sat on a stone, peering into the mocking golden heart
of the fire, then crawled like a dog under the cedars, beaten and
crushed.  Half the night a desert wind wailed the requiem of boyish
dreams; half the night he slept.  And the dawn broke cold, still,
gray.

Al packed and took to the road.

Blackstone, Green Water, Dry Camp, Greasewood--day by day they were
reached and passed.  Coyote Wells, Papago Springs, Mesquite, and
then at last Bitter Seeps, where the seldom-trodden trail headed
off the road toward Pinacate.

Bitter Seeps marked another change--the rebellion of physical
nature against the havoc of grief.  Al Shade lifted his head.
There was a ring in his call to his burros.  He faced the desert
and saw it with clearing eyes.  He was entering the empire of the
sun.  And the desert was abloom with blossoms and sweet with dry
wild fragrance.

Slowly the scales of mortal strife fell from Al Shade's eyes.  And
there came a regurgitation of the dominance of the senses.  Far,
far behind lay Pine and the past.

Four days' travel brought him to the slope of Pinacate.

Next morning he climbed the black slope to the point where Jim
Crawford had made his observation that fatal day long ago.  The
morning was clear.  The heat haze had not come to obscure the
wondrous and appalling panorama.  Below to the west, seemingly
close, lay the blue Gulf, calm and grand, and across it loomed San
Pedro del Martir, dim and purple against the sky.  But it was the
south that held Al Shade's gaze.

The wild desert, like a vivid mosaic, stretched its many leagues of
jagged lava and colored cacti and red stone, down to where three
round hills, pale in outline, infinitely strange, appeared to mark
its limits.

Only the hard bitter life of that wasteland, only the torment of
its heat and thirst, the perils of its labyrinthine confines, only
such loneliness and solitude and desolation and death as were
manifested there could have brought an exultant, welcoming cry from
Al Shade's lips.  He would keep lonely vigil by Jim Crawford's
grave.  He descended to camp, found and packed his burros, and with
a trenchant call he drove them south.

There was peace in the desert.  The pervading stillness engendered
rest in him.  He would have liked to dispense with spiritual
consciousness, as he had with memory.  But it took time for the
desert to perform miracles.

At noon he halted to rest the burros in the shade of an ironwood
tree on the edge of an elevation.  The desert dropped away here.
When he gazed out on a level, he encountered sky and mushrooming
thunderclouds that were rising above a distant range.  It was
drowsily warm, and he fell asleep, leaning against the tree.  He
dreamed of his old friend Jim, and the spell lingered on into his
awakening.

Al rubbed his eyes.  He could not have slept until approach of
sunset, for the sun stood at its zenith.  But there appeared to be
a clear, dark amber glamour over sand and bush, rock and cactus.
Then he gazed straight out from the elevation.

The southern sky had become transfigured by mountains of golden
mushrooming clouds.  They moved almost imperceptibly, rising,
spreading, unfolding.  Then they changed until they were no longer
clouds.  A sharp level line cut across the floor of this golden
mass, and under it shone the clear, dark amber desert, weird only
in that it had color at noonday.

Above it glimmered a long blue ripple of gentle waves, lapping the
line, overcast by golden tinge.  Foliage faintly of the same hue
bordered shoreline far into the dim verge.  And the broad water
spread to the marble steps and balustrades and terraces and doors
and golden walls of a magnificent city.  Empty streets led upward
into halls of pearl and chambers of opal and courts of porphyry,
all burned through with lucent gold.  A lonely city of shining
amber!  Tiers of walls rose one above the other, towering with a
thousand pillared arches and trellises and sculptured images of
lifeless gods and wingless eagles, with niche on niche, and window
on window of shimmering treasure, all rising to flaming turrets
that perished against the pitiless truthful sky.

A mellow drowsy hum of insects seemed to float murmuringly to Al on
the dry air.  The tinkle of a burro bell further emphasized the
silence.  Dark veils of heat, like crinkled transparent lace, rose
from sand and stone.

Had he really seen the mirage or was that shining city in the
clouds the mansion to which the souls of men must climb?




BERNARDO'S REVENGE


"Yes, I've a power over animals.  Look at Tigre there!  But the old
women in Micas say I've found one wild thing I'll never tame."

"And that, seor?" asked Muella.

"My young and pretty wife."

She tossed her small head, so that her black curls rippled in the
sunlight, and the silver rings danced in her ears.

"Bernardo, I'm not a parrot to have my tongue slit, or a monkey to
be taught tricks, or a jungle cat to be trained.  I'm a woman, and--"

"Yes--and I am old," he interrupted bitterly.  "Look Muella--there
on the Micas trail!"

"It's only Augustine, your vaquero."

"Watch him!" replied Bernardo.

Muella watched the lithe figure of a man striding swiftly along the
trail.  He was not going to drive cattle up to the corrals, for in
that case he would have been riding a horse.  He was not going
toward the huts of the other herders.  He faced the jungle into
which ran the Micas trail.

Surely he could not be on his way to Micas!  The afternoon was far
advanced and the village many miles away.  No vaquero ever trusted
himself to the dangers of the jungle at night.  Even Augustine, the
boldest and strongest of Bernardo's many herders, would scarcely
venture so much.  Yet Augustine kept on down the trail, passed the
thatched bamboo fence, went through the grove of palms, and
disappeared in the green wall of jungle.

"He's gone!" cried Bernardo.  "Muella, I sent Augustine away."

She saw a dull red in her husband's cheeks, a dark and sinister
gleam in his eyes; and her surprise yielded to misgiving.

"Why?" she asked.

"He loved you."

"No!  No!  Bernardo, if that's why you sent him away, you've
wronged him.  Of all your vaqueros, Augustine alone never smiled at
me--he cared nothing for me."

"I say he loved you," returned Bernardo hoarsely.

"Bernardo, you are unjust!"

"Would you lie to me?  I know he loves you.  Girl, confess that you
love him.  Tell it!  I won't bear this doubt another day!"

Muella stood rigid in his grasp, her eyes blazing the truth that
her lips scorned to speak.

"I'll make you tell!" he shouted, and ran to a cage of twisted
vines and bamboo poles.

As he fumbled with the fastening of a door, his brown hands shook.
A loud purr, almost a cough, came from the cage; then an enormous
jaguar stepped out into the sunlight.

"Now, girl, look at Tigre!"

Tigre was a huge build, graceful in every powerful line of his
yellow, black-spotted body, and beautiful.  Still, he was terrible
of aspect.  His massive head swung lazily; his broad face had one
set expression of brute ferocity.

The eyes of any jaguar are large, yellow, cold, pale, cruel, but
Tigre's were frightful.  Every instant they vibrated coalesced,
focused, yet seemed always to hold a luminous, far seeing stare.
It was as if Tigre was gazing beyond the jungle horizon which he
knew by instinct.  And then it was as if a film descended to hide
their tawny depths.  Tigre's eyes changed--they were always
changing, only there was not in them the life of vision; for the
jaguar was blind.

Bernardo burst into rapid speech.

"The taunting old crones of Micas were right when they said I could
not tame the woman; but I've tamed every wild creature of the
Taumaulipas jungle.  Look at Tigre!  Who beside Bernardo ever tamed
a jaguar?  Look!  Tigre is my dog.  He loves me.  He follows me, he
guards me, he sleeps under my hammock.  Tigre is blind, and he is
deaf, yet never have I trained any beast so well.  Whatever I put
Tigre to trail, he finds.  He never loses.  He trails slowly, for
he is blind and deaf, but he never stops, never sleeps, till he
kills!"

Bernardo clutched the fur of the great jaguar and leaned panting
against the thatch wall of the cage.

"I'll soon know if you love Augustine!" he went on passionately.
"Look here at the path--the path that leads out to the Micas trail.
See!  Augustine's sandal prints in the dust!  Now, girl, watch!"

He led Tigre to the path and forced the nose of the beast down upon
Augustine's footmarks.  Suddenly the jaguar lost all his lax grace.
His long tail lashed from side to side.  Then, with head low, he
paced down the path.  He crossed the grassy plot, went through the
fence, along the trail into the jungle.

"He's trailing Augustine!" cried Muella.

She felt Bernardo's gaze burning into her face.

"Tigre will trail him--catch him--kill him!" her husband said.

Muella screamed.

"He's innocent!  I swear Augustine does not love me.  I swear I
don't love him!  It's a horrible mistake.  He'll be trailed--ah,
he'll be torn by that blind brute!"  Muella leaped back from her
husband.  "Never!  You jealous monster!  For I'll run after
Augustine--I'll tell him--I'll save him!"

She eluded Bernardo's fierce onslaught, and, fleet as a frightened
deer, she sped down the path.  She did not heed his hoarse cries,
nor his heavy footsteps.

Bernardo was lame.  Muella had so little fear of his catching her
that she did not look back.  She passed the fence, sped through the
grove, and entered the jungle.


The trail was hard-packed earth, and ahead it lost its white line
in the green walls.  Muella ran swiftly, dodging the leaning
branches, bowing her head under the streamers of moss, striking
aside the slender palm leaves.  Gay-plumaged birds flitted before
her, and a gorgeous butterfly crossed her path.  A parrot screeched
over her head.

She strained her gaze for the trailing jaguar.  Then she saw him, a
long black and yellow shape moving slowly under the hanging vines
and creepings.

When Muella caught up with Tigre, she slackened her pace, and
watched for a wide place in the trail where she could pass without
touching him.

"I must pass him," she muttered.  "He can't hear me--I can do it
safely--I must!"

But still she did not take advantage of several wide places.

Presently the trail opened into a little glade.  Twice she started
forward, only to hang back.  Then desperately she went on, seeing
nothing but the great spotted cat just in front of her.

Sharp spear-point palm leaves stung her face, and their rustling
increased her terror.  She flashed by Tigre so close that she
smelled him.

Muella uttered a broken cry and began to run, as if indeed she were
the wild creature Bernardo had called her.  She looked over her
shoulder to see the sinuous yellow form disappear round a bend of
the trail.  Then she gathered courage.  For a long time her flying
feet pattered lightly on the trail.  She was young, supple, strong,
and it took much to tire her.  She ran on and on, until her feet
were heavy, her breath was almost gone, and her side pierced by a
sharp pain.  Then she fell to a walk, caught her breath, and once
more ran.

Fears began to beset her.  Had Augustine left the trail?  How
swiftly he had walked!  It seemed as if she had run several miles.
But that was well, for, the larger the distance the farther she
would get ahead of the jaguar.

Shadows began to gather under the overhanging vines and creepers.
Only the tips of the giant ceibas showed a glint of sunlight.  The
day was fast closing.  Once more she ran on and on; and then, as
she turned a curve, a tall, dark form stood out of the green, and
blurred the trail.

"Augustine!  Wait!  Wait!" she cried.

The man swung round, and ran back.  Muella, panting for breath and
with her hand pressed over her heart, met him.

"Seora!  What has happened?" he exclaimed.

"Wait!  My breath's gone!" she gasped.  "Wait!  But keep on--we--
mustn't stop!"

Muella took a fleeting upward glance at him.  It was so hurried
that she could not be positive, but she thought she had caught a
strange, paling flush of his bronzed face and a startled look of
his dark eyes.  Why should his meeting her unexpectedly cause more
than surprise or concern?

As she trotted along, she shot another quick glance up at him.  He
seemed unmistakably agitated; and this disconcerted her.  She heard
his amazed questions, but they were mostly unintelligible.

She had thought of nothing save to catch up with him and to blurt
out that Tigre was on his trail, and why.  The words now halted on
her lips.  It was not easy to tell him.  What would he say--what
would he do?  A few moments back, he had been only one of
Bernardo's herders--the best, truly, and a man whom it was pleasing
to look upon, but he had been nothing to her.  He alone of the
vaqueros had not smiled at her, and this piquing of her pride had
gained him notice which otherwise he might never have got.

As she pattered on, slowly regaining her breath, the presence of
the man seemed to grow more real.  It was well that she knew
Augustine cared nothing for her, else she could not have told him
of Bernardo's unjust suspicions.

The trail opened into a clearing, where there were several old palm-
thatched huts, a broken-down corral, and a water hole.  The place
had once been used by Bernardo's herders, but was now abandoned and
partly overgrown.  At this point, Augustine, who for a time had
silently stalked beside Muella, abruptly halted her.

"Seora, what is wrong?  Where are you going?"

"Going!"  She uttered a little laugh.  "Why, I don't know.  I
followed--to warn you.  Bernardo put Tigre on your trail."

"Tigre?  Santa Maria!"

"Yes.  I ran, and ran, and passed him.  He must be far back now.
He's slow at first, but he's sure, and he's trailing you.  Hurry
on!  You mustn't stop here!"

"Seora!  You ran--you risked so much to save me?  Oh, may our
Blessed Lady reward you!"

"Man, I tell you, don't stop.  Go on.  You have only your machete.
Why did you start into the jungle without a gun?"

"Bernardo drove me off.  I owned nothing at the hacienda except my
blanket and machete."

"He's selfish--he was beside himself.  Why, Augustine, he was
jealous.  He--he told me he drove you away because you--you cared
for me.  I'm ashamed to tell you.  But, Augustine, he's growing
old.  You mustn't mind--only hurry to get safe from that terrible
brute!"

"I forgive him, seora.  It's his way to fall in a rage; but he
quickly repents.  And you, seora--you must take this old trail
back to the hacienda.  Go swiftly, for soon it will be night."

"I'm not going back," said Muella slowly.  "I won't live any longer
with Bernardo.  Take me to Micas--to my sister's home!"

With one long stride Augustine barred the trail and stood over her.

"You must go back.  It's best you should know the truth.  Bernardo
spoke truth when he told you I loved you."

"No.  Augustine, you're telling a lie--just to frighten me back to
him!"

"No.  Bernardo asked me for the truth; so I told him."

Muella's eyes dilated and darkened with shadows of amaze, wonder,
and pain.

"Oh, why did you tell him?  I didn't know.  Oh, I swore by the
Virgin that you had no thought of me.  He'll believe that I lied."

"Seora, you are innocent, and Bernardo will learn it.  You know
him--how hotheaded he is, how quickly he is sorry.  Go back.  Take
this old cattle road--here--and hurry.  The sun has set.  You must
run.  Have no fear for me."

"I'm not going back to Bernardo."  She straightened up, pale and
composed, but as she stepped forward to pass the vaquero on the
trail she averted her eyes.  "Take me to Micas."

"But, seora, consider.  Darkness is upon us.  Micas is a long way.
You're only a girl.  You can't keep up.  You've forgotten that
Tigre is on my trail."

"I forget nothing," she replied coldly.  "I've begged you to
hurry."

"Muella, go back at once.  Tomorrow--after a night in the jungle--
with me--you can't go.  It'll be too late!"

"It's too late now," breathed the girl.  "I can't go back--now!"

"Go first, then," he said, whipping out the long machete.  "I'll
wait here for Tigre."

"Seor, there are other tigres.  There are panthers, too, and wild
boars.  I may lose the trail.  Will you let me go alone?"


Augustine whispered the name of a saint, and turning his dark face
toward where the trail led out of the clearing, he strode on
without sheathing his machete.

Muella kept close to him, and entered the enclosing walls of jungle
verdure.  She felt indeed that she was the untamed thing Bernardo
had called her, and now she was hunted.  Light as dropping leaves,
her feet pattered in the trail.  Augustine loomed beside her,
striding swiftly, and now and then the naked blade he carried,
striking against a twig or branch, broke the silence with a faint
ring.

The green walls became hovering shadows and turned to gray.  Muella
had an irresistible desire to look back.  The darkening menace of
the gloom before on each side was nothing to that known peril
behind.  She saw nothing, however, but a dull, gray, wavering line
fading into the obscurity of the jungle.  She strained her hearing.
Except for the soft swishing of her skirt on the brush, and the
occasional low ring of Augustine's machete, there was absolutely no
sound.

She noted that her companion never turned his head.  Had he no
fear?  Quick flashes of memory recalled stories of this herder's
daring.  How tall and powerful he was--how swiftly he strode--how
dark and stern and silent he seemed!  He must know full well the
nature of Bernardo's pet, the terrible blind brute that never
failed on a trail.

All at once the jungle grew into two ragged walls of black
separated by a narrow strip of paler shade.  Night had fallen; and
with it came a blinking of stars through dense foliage overhead,
and the lighting of fireflies.  Insects began to hum.  Rustlings in
the brush augmented Muella's sensitiveness.  A strange call of a
night bird startled her, and instinctively she shrank closer to
Augustine.  She wished to speak to him, to make the silence
bearable; but stealthy steps off to the right made her heart leap
and her tongue mute.

Augustine heard, for he struck the leaves with his machete.  From
the enshrouding blackness came the snapping of twigs, pattering
little steps, the rush of animals running through grass or ferns,
and soft rustlings in the brush.  Then the night silence awoke to
strange cries--squall of cat and scream of panther, squeaks and
grunts and squeals of peccaries, and inexpressibly wild sounds, too
remote to distinguish.

"Oh, Augustine!" whispered Muella, fear at last unlocking her lips.
"Listen!  All before us--do you hear?"

"Seora, we have not greatly to fear ahead," he replied.  "But
behind--a trailing tigre warms with the night!  We must not lag!"

"I'm not tired.  I can walk so, all night; but the steps, the
cries, frighten me.  It grows darker, and I stumble."

She fancied she saw him reach out as if to help her, and then draw
suddenly back.  The darkness became so thick that she could
scarcely see him.  Like a tall specter he moved on.

She groped for his arm, found it, and slipped her hand down to his.
Instantly she felt his strong fingers convulsively close round
hers.  The warm clasp helped and cheered her.

So, mile after mile, Muella kept tireless pace with the herder; and
when the jungle creatures ceased their hue and quest and the dead
silence once more settled thickly down, the strange night flight
lost its reality and seemed a dream.  The black shadows lifted and
paled to opaque gloom.  A whiteness stole into the jungle; silver
shafts gleamed through the trees.  The moon was rising.  Muella
hailed it with joy, for it meant that the night was far advanced,
that their way would be lightened.

Soon all about her was a radiant, encompassing world of silver
shadows and gleams.  It was a beautiful night.  The cold fear
weighting her heart lessened, seemed momentarily to be thrilled and
warmed away.  She loved that great, silver-orbed, golden-circled
moon; and now she looked up at it through a streaked and fringed
and laced web.

She wondered if Augustine saw the beauty of the sharp-cut palms,
the delicate-leaved bamboos, and the full-foliaged ceibas, all
festooned with long silver streamers of moss.  Gnarled branches of
a dead monarch of the forest, silhouetted against the deep blue of
the sky, showed orchids and aloes and long, strangling vines--
parasites that had killed it.  Every unshadowed leaf along the
trail glistened white with dew.  The glamour of the white night was
upon Muella.

Augustine's voice broke the spell.

"You are tiring, but we must not lag.  Shall I carry you?"

"No, no!  I can keep up."

His words and the glint of his naked machete brought her back to
actuality.  She slipped her hand from his.

Slowly a haze overspread the moon.  The brightness failed, and then
the moonlit patches imperceptibly merged into the shadows, until
all was gray.  The jungle trees rose dim and weird and lost their
tips in clouds of mist.  A chicolocki burst into song, and the
broken notes heralded the coming of day.

"Augustine, it is near dawn," said Muella.  "Oh, how good the light
will be!  I'm so cold--so wet.  We shall be safe in Micas soon,
shall we not?"

The herder mumbled a reply that she did not understand.


Swiftly upon the gray dawn came the broad daylight.  The clouds of
creamy mist rose and broke and rolled away, letting the sunshine
down into the jungle.  The balmy air rang with the melodies of
birds.  Flocks of parrots passed overhead, screeching discordant
clamor.

Presently it struck Muella that the trail was growing narrow and
rough and overgrown.  She had journeyed to Micas often enough to be
familiar with the trail, and this, so wild and crooked, was not the
right one.

"Augustine, have you missed the way?" she queried anxiously.

Briefly he replied that he was making a short cut.  Muella did not
believe him.  She walked on, and began to look back.  When she
caught Augustine doing likewise, she gave way to dread.

The morning wore on, the sun grew warm, and with the heat of day
came the jungle flies and mosquitoes.  Augustine was inured to
their attacks, but Muella impatiently fought them, thus adding to
her loss of energy.

When, at the crossing of a network of trails, Augustine chose one
at random, Muella was certain of the worst.  She asked him about
it, and he admitted he was off the course, but as he was sure of
his direction there was no need of fear.  He assured her that he
would have her at her sister's home in Micas by noon.

Noon found them threading a matted jungle where they had to bend
low along the deer and peccary trails.  The character of the
vegetation had changed.  It was now dry, thorny, and almost
impenetrable.

Suddenly Muella jerked her hand away from a swinging branch, which
she had intended to brush aside.

"Look, Augustine, on my hand.  Garapatas!  Uhh, how I loathe them!"

Her hand and wrist were dotted with great black jungle ticks.
Augustine removed them, and as he did so, Muella saw his fingers
tremble.  The significance of his agitation did not dawn upon her
until she was free of the pests, and then she fancied that her
touch had so moved him.  It was wonderful, it warmed her blood, and
she stole a glance at him.  But Augustine was ashen pale; his
thoughts were far from the softness and beauty of a woman's hand.

"Augustine!  You have lost your way!" she cried.

Gloomily he dropped his head, and let his silence answer.

"Lost in the jungle!  We're lost!  And Tigre is on our trail!" she
shrieked.

Panic overcame her.  She tottered and fell against him.  Her whole
slender length rippled in a violent trembling.  Then she beat her
hands frantically on Augustine's shoulders, and clutched him tight,
and besought him with inarticulate speech.

"Listen, seora, listen," he kept saying.  "If you give up now, I
can't save you.  We're lost, but there's a way out.  Listen--don't
tear at me so--there's a way out.  Do you hear?  You go on alone--
follow these deer tracks till you come to water.  Soon they'll lead
to water.  That water will be the Santa Rosa.  Follow up the stream
till you come to Micas.  It'll be hard, but you can do it."

"Go on alone!  And you?" she said brokenly.

"I'll turn on our back trail.  I'll meet Tigre and stop him."

"Tigre will kill you!"

"He is blind and deaf.  I shall be prepared.  I've a chance, at
least, to cripple him."

"At the end of a trail Tigre is a demon.  He has been trained to
kill the thing he's put to trail.  You--with only a machete!  Ah,
seor, I've heard that you are brave and strong, but you must not
go back to meet Tigre.  Come!  We'll follow the deer tracks
together.  Then if Tigre catches us--well, he can kill us both!"

"Seora, I can serve you best by going back."

"You think that if you took me to Micas the old women would talk--
that my good name would be gone?" she asked searchingly.

"Seora, we waste time, and time is precious," he protested.

Muella studied the haggard, set face.  This man meant to sacrifice
his life for her.  Deep through the fire of his eyes she saw
unutterable pain and passion.  If she had doubted his love, she
doubted no more.  He must be made to believe that she had followed
him, not alone to save him from Tigre, but because she loved him.
Afterward he would be grateful for her deceit.  And if her avowal
did not break his will, then she would use a woman's charm, a
woman's sweetness.

"Seor, you told Bernardo the truth--and I lied to him," she said.

Stranger than all other sensations of that flight was the thrill in
her as she forced herself to speak.

"What do you mean?" demanded Augustine.

"He asked you if you loved me.  You told the truth.  He asked me if--
if I loved you.  And--I lied!"

"Santa Maria!" the man cried, starting up impulsively.  Then slowly
he fell back.  "Seora, may the saint reward you for your brave
words.  I know!  You are trying to keep me from going back.  We
waste precious time--go now!"

"Augustine, wait, wait!" she cried.

Running blindly, she flung herself into his arms.  She hid her face
in his breast, and pressed all her slender, palpitating body close
to his.  As if he had been turned to stone, he stood motionless.
She twined her arms about him, and her disheveled hair brushed his
lips.  She tried to raise her face--failed--tried again, and raised
it all scarlet, with eyes close shut and tears wet on her cheeks.
Blindly she sought his mouth with her lips--kissed him timidly--
tremendously--and then passionately.

With that, uttering a little gasp, she swayed away and turned from
him, her head bowed in shame, one beseeching hand held backward to
him.

"Don't go.  Don't leave me!"

"Dios!" whispered Augustine.  Presently he took the proffered hand,
and, leading her, once more plunged into the narrow trail.


For hours Muella walked with lowered eyes.  She plodded on, bending
her head under the branches, and constantly using her free hand to
fight the pests.

Her consciousness, for the while, was almost wholly absorbed with a
feeling of an indefinable difference in herself.  She seemed to be
in a condition of trembling change, as if the fibers of her soul
were being unknit and rewoven.  Something illusive and strange and
sweet wavered before her--a promise of joy that held vague portent
of pain.  This inexplicable feeling reminded her of fancies,
longings, dreams of her girlhood.

At length sensations from without claimed full share of Muella's
attention.  The heat had grown intense.  She was becoming
exhausted.  Her body burned, and about her ankles were bands of red
hot fire.  Still she toiled on, because she believed that Micas was
close at hand.

The sun went down, and night approached.  There was no sign of
water.  Augustine failed to hide his distress.  He was hopelessly
lost in the jungle.  All the trails appeared to lead to the same
place--a changeless yellow and gray jungle.

The flies pursued in humming wheel, and clouds of whining
mosquitoes rose from the ground.  The under side of every leaf,
when brushed upward, showed a red spot which instantly disintegrated,
and spilled itself like a bursting splotch of quicksilver upon the
travelers.  And every infinitesimal red pin point was a crawling
jungle pest.  The dead wood and dry branches were black with
innumerable garapatas.

Muella had been born a hill native, and she was not bred to
withstand the savage attack of the jungle vermin.  The time came
when she fell, and implored Augustine to put her out of her misery
with his machete.  For answer he lifted her gently and moved on,
carrying her in his arms.

Night came.  Augustine traveled by the stars, and tried to find
trails that led him in a general direction northward.  By and by
Muella's head rolled heavily, and she slept.

At length the blackness and impenetrable thicket hindered his
progress.  He laid Muella down, covered her with his blanket, and
stood over her with drawn machete till the moon rose.

The light aiding him, he found a trail, and taking up his burden,
he went on.  And that night dragged to dawn.

Muella walked little the next day.  She could hardly stand.  She
had scarcely strength to free her hair from the brush as it caught
in passing.  The burning pain of her skin had given place to a dull
ache.  She felt fever stealing into her blood.

Augustine wandered on, over bare rocks and through dense jungles,
with Muella in his arms.  He was tireless, dauntless, wonderful in
his grim determination to save her.  Worn as she was, sick and
feverish, she yet had moments when she thought of him; and at each
succeeding thought he seemed to grow in her impression of strength
and courage.

But most of her thoughts centered on the trailing Tigre.  The
serpents and panthers and peccaries no longer caused Muella
concern; she feared only the surely gaining jaguar.


Night closed down on them among tangled mats and labyrinthine webs
of heavy underbrush.

"Listen!" whispered Muella suddenly, with great black eyes staring
out of her white face.

From far off in the jungle came a sound that was like a cough and
growl in one.

"Ah!  Augustine, did you hear?"

"Yes."

"Was it a tiger?"

"Yes."

"Yes, but surely that could not have been Bernardo's.  His tigre
would not give cry on a trail."

"Oh, yes.  Tigre is deaf and blind, and he has been trained, but he
has all the jungle nature.  He has Bernardo's cruelty, too."

Again the sound broke on the still night air.  Muella slipped to
the ground with a little gasp.  She heard Augustine cursing against
the fate that had driven them for days under trees, trees, trees,
and had finally brought them to bay in a corner where there was no
tree to climb.  She saw him face about to the trail by which they
had come; and stand there with his naked blade upraised.  He
blocked the dim, narrow passageway.

An interminable moment passed.  Muella stopped breathing, tried to
still the beating of her heart so that she could listen.  There was
no sound save the low, sad hum of insects and the rustle of wind in
leaves.  She seemed to feel Tigre's presence out there in the
blackness.  Dark at it was, she imagined she saw him stealing
closer, his massive head low, his blind eyes flaring, his huge paws
reaching out.

A slight rustling checked all motion of her blood.  Tigre was
there, ready to spring upon Augustine.  Muella tried to warn him,
but her lips were dry and dumb.  Had he lost his own sense of
hearing?

Her head reeled and her sight darkened; but she could not swoon.
She could only wait, wait, while the slow moments wore on.

Augustine loomed over the trail, a dark, menacing figure.  Again
there came a rustling and a stealthy step, this time in another
direction; and Augustine turned toward it.

Long silence followed; even the humming of insects and the moaning
of the wind seemed to grow fainter.  Then came more tickings of the
brush and a padded footfall.  Tigre had found them--was stalking
them.

Muella lay there, helplessly waiting.  In the poignancy of her fear
for Augustine, expecting momentarily to see the huge jaguar leap
upon him, she forgot herself.  There was more in her agony of dread
than the sheer primitive shrinking of the flesh, the woman's horror
of seeing death inflicted.  Through that terrible age-long flight
through the jungle, Augustine had come to mean more than a
protector to her.

She watched him guardedly facing the direction of every soft rustle
in the brush.  He was a man at the end of his resources, ready to
fight and die for a woman.

The insects hummed on, the wind moaned in the leaves, the rustlings
came from one point and another in the brush, but Tigre did not
appear.  The black night lightened and the moon rose.  Muella now
distinctly saw Augustine--disheveled and ragged, white and stern
and wild, with his curved blade bright in the moonlight.

Then the gray mist crept up to obscure the white stars and the
moon, and at last the blue vault.  The rustlings ceased to sound in
the brush.  From far off rasped the cough of a tiger.  It appeared
to come from the same place as when first heard.  Hope appeared to
come in Muella's heart.

Moments like hours passed; the insects ceased to hum and the wind
to moan.  The gray shadows fled before a rosy dawn.

Augustine hewed a lane through the dense thicket that had stopped
him, and presently he came upon a trail.  He hurried back to Muella
with words of cheer.  Strength born of hope returned to her, and
she essayed to get up.

Helping her to her feet, he half led and half carried her into the
trail.  They went on for a hundred paces, to find that the path
suddenly opened into a wide clearing.  To Muella it had a familiar
look, and Augustine's exclamation assured her that he had seen the
place before.  Then she recognized a ruined corral, some old palm-
thatched huts, and a water hole as belonging to the clearing
through which they had long before passed.

"We've traveled back in a circle!" exclaimed Augustine.  "We're
near the hacienda--your home!"

Muella leaned against him and wept.  First of all was the joy of
deliverance.

"Muella, you are saved," Augustine went on.  "The distance is short--
I can carry you.  Bernardo will forgive--you know how he flies
into a passion, and then how he repents."

"Yes--yes.  I'll go back to him--tell him the truth--ask his
mercy!"

From the center of the clearing came a rustling of dry leaves, then
a loud purr, almost a cough.  Augustine stiffened, and Muella
clutched frantically at him.

For a long moment they stood, dark eyes staring into dark eyes,
waiting, listening.  Then Augustine, releasing his hold on the
trembling girl, cautiously stepped upon a log and peered over the
low palms.  Almost instantly he plunged down with arms uplifted.

"Santa Maria!  Tigre!  He's there!" he whispered.  "He's there,
beside the body of something he's killed.  He's been there all
night.  He was there when we first heard him.  We thought he was
trailing.  Muella, I must see closer.  Stay back--you must not
follow!"

But as he crept under the low palms she followed him.  They came to
the open clearing.  Tigre lay across the trail, his beautiful
yellow and black body stretched in lax grace, his terrible
sightless eyes riveted on a dead man beside him.

"Muella--stay back--I fear--I fear!" said Augustine.


He crept yet a little farther, and returned with pale face and
quivering jaw.

"Muella, it's Bernardo!  He's dead--has been dead for days.  When
you started off that day to warn me, Bernardo must have run round
by the old wagon road to head off Tigre.  The blind brute killed
him!"

"Bernardo repented!" moaned Muella.  "He repented."




CALIFORNIA RED


Preface

For years Ben Ide had chased and tried to capture the great
stallion, California Red, probably the noblest of all the fifteen
thousand horses who roamed the northern California plains.  But he
had always been unsuccessful.  Now his chance had come--and he had
to make the devil's bargain with a band of cattle rustlers in order
to realize his greatest ambition.


Bright daylight came while the cavalcade drew close to Ben's ranch.
They passed between the empty pasture and the frozen river.  All
the doors of the barn and the gates of the corral were open.  Ben
was about to declare himself forcibly when he saw Modoc rise in his
stirrups as if to peer across the lake, then duck down quickly.
Ben, sensing something most unusual, rode quickly by the rustlers
to face Modoc, who had turned.  Nevada was peeping over the rise of
ground to the lake.

"What do you see?" demanded Ben.

"Wild red stallion--way out on ice," replied the Indian
impressively.

"California Red . . . ON THE ICE?" cried Ben poignantly.

"Shore's your born, pard," returned Nevada, lowering himself into
his saddle.  "Only six hosses with him.  The lake's frozen 'cept
for circle in centre.  They're takin' a drink.  Look."

"No," whispered Ben, but he had not the will to do what he divined
he should.  Raising himself in the stirrups, he peered over the
edge of the bluff.  Wild Goose Lake was white with ice, and
everywhere tufts of bleached grass stood up.  Far out, perhaps two
miles, he espied horses.  Wild.  He knew the instant his eyes took
in the graceful slim shapes, the flowing manes and tails, the
wonderful posture of these horses.

California Red stood at the edge of the ice.  He was not drinking.
Even at that distance Ben saw the noble wild head high.

"Nevada, watch Hall," said Ben, and fumbled at the leather thongs
which secured his field-glass to the saddle.  He loosened it, got
it out of the case, levelled it.  But his hands shook so he could
see only blurred shapes.  Fiercely he controlled himself and
brought the round magnifying circle of glass to bear upon horse
after horse, until California Red stood clear and beautiful.

Red as flame.  Wilder than a mountain sheep.  Ben saw him clear and
close, limned against the white ice, big and strong, yet clean-
limbed as any thoroughbred racehorse.  While his band drank he
watched.  To what extremity had he been brought by the drought?

Ben fell limp into his saddle.  Any other time in his life but
this.  What irony of fate.  But he knew in another flash that he
could not pass by this opportunity, cost what it might.

"Well, pard, it's shore tougher than any deal we ever got," said
Nevada, in distress.  "California Red on the ice.  We always
dreamed we'd ketch him waterin' on a half-froze lake an' lay a trap
for him, or get enough riders to run him down."

"We can catch him," shouted Ben hoarsely.

"Nope.  We cain't," replied Nevada tragically.

Ben felt something burst within him--a knot of bound emotion--or
riot of blood--or collapse of will--he never knew what.  But with
the spring of a panther he was out of his saddle, confronting
Nevada.

"If it's all the same to you, I will," replied this man,
cheerfully.  "I can't ride hard, but I can yell an' fill up a hole.
I've chased wild horses."

Ben ran back to his mount and with nimble fingers lightened his
saddle, tightened the cinch, and untied his rope.  The rustlers got
off to stretch their legs.

"Cinch up," he panted.  "Nevada, take two men, and go around to the
left.  Keep out of sight.  I'll take--Hall and another man--with
me.  We'll cross the river.  Modoc, you stay here till we both show
on the banks.  Then ride in. . . .  We'll close in on Red slow. . . .
Soon as he gets to running he'll slip--on the ice. . . .  He'll
fall and slide. . . .  That'll demoralize him. . . .  Rest will be
easy."

Nevada rode off with two of the men, while Ben, calling Hall and
Jenks, wheeled back toward the barn and went down to the river.
The ice cracked and swayed, but held the horses.  Once across, Ben
led the way at a swift gallop round to the West of the lake,
keeping out of sight of the wild horses.  When he reached a point
far enough along the lake, he swerved to the height of ground.  As
he surmounted it he saw Nevada with his two riders come into sight
across the lake, and another glance showed Modoc, with his
followers, emerging by the mouth of the river.

"We've got four men here.  With us it makes seven."

"Aw, my Gawd Ben, you wouldn't."

"I would," hissed Ben.  "I'll have that red horse.  Say you'll help
me."

"I'm damned if I will," yelled Nevada shrilly.  His dark face grew
dusky red and his eyes dilated.

"I never minded you of your debt to me," went on Ben, in swift
inexorable speech.  "I remind you now."

"Hell, yes," roared Nevada, "if you put it that way.  But you
locoed idiot, I'll never forgive you."

"Lighten your horses.  Untie your lassoes," ordered Ben, and then,
drawing his clasp knife, he opened it and strode back to Hall.  He
knew that he was under the sway of passion of power of which he had
never before been aware.  It made him unstable as water.  At the
same time it strung him to unquenchable spirit and incalculable
strength.

"Hall, there's a wild stallion out here on the ice.  I've wanted
him for years.  If I promise to let you and your men go free, will
you help me catch him?"

Hall bent his shaggy head to peer the closer into Ben's face, as if
he needed scrutiny to corroborate hearing.

"Yes, I will," he boomed.

Without more ado Ben cut his bonds and passed onto the next
rustler.  Soon he had released them all.

"You needn't go," he said to the cripple.

California Red was a mile out on the ice, coming directly toward
Ben.  His stride was a stilted trot, and he lost it at every other
step.  His red mane curled up in the wind.  The six horses were
strung out behind him.  Discovering Ben, the stallion let out a
piercing whistle and wheeled.  Then his feet flew out from under
him and he fell.  Frantically he tried to rise, but his smooth
hoofs on the slippery ice did not catch hold.

"Ah, my beauty," yelled Ben wildly, with all his might.  "It's no
square chase, but you're mine, you're mine."

The other wild horses wheeled without losing their footing and soon
drew from the slipping, sliding stallion.  At last he got upon four
feet and turned towards his band.  It seemed that he knew he dared
not run.  At every step one of his hoofs slipped out from under
him.  Ben caught the yells of his helpers.  They were running their
horses down the sandy slope toward the ice.  Another wild horse
went down, and then another.  It was almost impossible for them to
rise.  They slid around like tops.

Meanwhile, swift as the wind, Ben was running his fast horse down
to the lake, distancing his followers, who came yelling behind.
Hall's heavy voice pealed out full of the wild spirit of the chase.
Ben reached the ice.  The sharp iron shoes of his horse cut and
broke through the first few rods but, reaching solid ice, they
held.  Ben reined in to wait for the men to spread and form a
circle.  Nevada was far out on the ice now, and he had closed the
one wide avenue to the west.  Soon the eight riders had closed in
to a half-mile arc, with the open lake as an aid.

California Red turned back from the narrowing gap between Nevada
and the lake.  When he wheeled to the west, Modoc's group left a
gateway for the wild horses nearest.  They plunged and ran and slid
and fell, got up to plunge again, and at least earned their
freedom.  This left two besides the stallion on the ice.  He
appeared at terrible disadvantage.  Wild and instinct with
wonderful speed, he could not exercise it.  The riders closed in.
Nevada rode between Red and the open water.  Another of the horses
escaped through a gap.

"Close in, slow now," bawled Ben, swinging the noose of his lasso.

The moment was fraught with a madness of rapture.  How sure the
outcome.  Presently the great stallion would stampede and try to
run.  That was all Ben wanted.  For when Red tried to run on that
glassy ice, his doom was sealed.

He was trotting here, there, back again, head erect, mane curled,
tail sweeping a living flame of horse-flesh.  Terror would soon
master him.  His snorts seemed more piercingly acute, as if he
protested against the apparent desertion of his band.

"Farther around, Modoc," yelled Ben.  "Same for you, Nevada--on
other side.  Keep him in triangle . . .  Now, men, ride in--yell
like hell.  And block him when he runs."

Suddenly, the red horse gathered himself in a knot.  How grandly he
sprang.  And he propelled his magnificent body into a convulsive
run, with every hoof sliding from under him.  Straight toward Ben
he came, his nostrils streaming white, his hoofs cracking like
pistol shots.  It seemed that his wild spirit enabled him to
overcome even this impossible obstacle of ice, for he kept erect
until he was shooting with incomparable speed.

At the height of it he slipped, plunged on his side with a snort of
terror, turned on his back, and as he slid with swift momentum over
the ice, his hoofs in the air, Ben's lasso uncurled like a striking
snake.  The noose fell over the forelegs and tightened.

Lusty yells from leather lungs.  California Red had run into a
rope.  Ben hauled in his skillful horse.  The great stallion
flopped back on his side.  The rope came taut to straighten out his
legs, and stop him short.  He could not rise.  When he raised his
beautiful head the Indian's rope circled his neck.  His race was
run.

Nevada came trotting up, noose in hand, white of face and fierce of
eye.

"Pard, he's ruined us, but he's worth it, or I'm a livin' sinner,"
he shouted.

Ben gazed almost in stupefaction down upon the heaving graceful
animal.  California Red lay helpless, beaten, robbed of his
incomparable speed.  Every red line of him spoke to Ben's thrilling
soul.

"Wal, Ide," boomed Bill Hall, slapping Ben on the shoulder, "I'm
glad you ketched this grand hoss. . . .  You're a good sport.  Put
her thar. . . .  If I had time I'd tell you somethin'.  But I see
riders comin' along the lake an' we must rustle."





THE CAMP ROBBER


"What the deuce!" exclaimed Hoff Manchester, the Selwyn Ranch
foreman.

"Boys, it ain't no joke," said cowhand Slab Jacobs.  "Shore as the
Lord made little apples, we been robbed!"

The boys of the Selwyn Ranch had returned from the Spring
roundup . . . to find their bunkhouse door standing open and their
quarters ransacked.

Yet a quick search, punctuated by an infinite variety of cowboy
speech, revealed only a few valueless trinkets missing; untouched
were a set of silver-mounted spurs, money, and a diamond stickpin.

"Hoof, the laugh's on us.  What's your idea?" Jacobs asked.

"By gum, I think we've had a visit from the camp robber."

"Who's this camp robber?" asked one of the cowboys.

The foreman answered him:

"Wal, I reckon the camp robber always has been a joke round this
range.  But I can conceive of that joke wearin' out.  He's been
crackin' them jokes for a good while now.  I've heard them from all
over, an' this is no slouch of a range.  But for the most part such
stealin' seems to have been confined to Clear Creek, Cottonwood,
an' the Verdi.  Whatever or whoever this thief is, he comes in the
day time, when there's nobody home, an' he takes some fool thing or
other, leaving articles of real value.  This bird sure is a slick
one, whoever he is.  Last year he stole two dolls we know of."

"Dolls?"

"Yes, dolls.  Stimpson over on Clear Creek has a little girl.  She
lost a doll.  Mrs. Stimpson said the kid was sure she never lost it--
that it was took.  Wal, they got her another doll, an' by golly,
not longer after, when the family was all away, thet doll
disappeared, too.

"Now I tax myself, I can remember the darndest lot of things the
loss of which was laid on thet locoed thief.  Comb an' brush,
silver buckles, beads, handkerchiefs, socks, cough medicine, face
powder, lace curtains, towels, mirror, bell, clock.  Oh, Lord,
there's no end to them.  Yet nothin' worth much, so to speak.
Everybody just laughs an' says, 'wal, by gosh, the camp robber has
been here."


Stimpson pushed back his papers on the desk and looked up at the
rider with a keen interest.

"So your name's Wingfield?"

"Yes, sir," was the quiet reply.

The rancher surveyed the lithe figure, dusty and worn, the dark,
lined face and its piercing eyes, with appreciation of the strong
impression they gave.

"Where have you been ridin'?" Stimpson asked.

"I rode for, Stillwell durin' the spring roundup.  But he didn't
need me longer.  I got on at Brandon's.  Lasted only one pay day.
Next got a job at Hall's.  Couldn't stay there.  Then Randall's . . .
An' as I told you I've been ridin' a grub line since."

"Wingfield, tell me just why you couldn't hold a job?" asked
Stimpson.

"It was my fault, sir."

"You don't look like a drinkin' man."

"Well, I hit the bottle pretty stiff some years ago--just after . . .
But I tapered off--an' lately I haven't drank at all."

"Because you were broke?"

"No.  I've a little money left.  I just got sick of it."

"I can understand that.  Now if you want to work for me, come clean
about this trouble you've been havin'.  Tell me why a man of your
evident intelligence an' ability can't hang on here."

Wingfield looked out of the window, across the summer range, where
the heat veils were rising.  His face twitched.  It was somber and
sad.  And when he turned again, Stimpson saw that the dark
lightning of his eyes had dimmed.

"Seems, sir, that I can't stay anywhere long.  I've been restless,
an' I reckon I'm irritable.  Can't make friends.  I don't care
about anythin'.  But I realize now that I've got to correct that.
An' I promise you, if you'll take me on, I'll try to overcome it."

"I'll take you on, Wingfield.  Thanks for your confidence.  I
appreciate it.  I'd like to know more, though.  What happened to
such a fine fellow as you--that you don't care for anythin'?"

"Some years ago I--I lost my wife--an' it knocked me out," said
Wingfield.

"Ahuh.  Too bad! . . .  I didn't take you for a married man.  How
old are you, Wingfield?

"I'm twenty-nine."

"Well, that surprises me.  You look older . . .  All right,
Wingfield, you're on.  An', let us hope, to your advantage as well
as mine.  Report to Neff, an' ask for quarters, by yourself, if you
prefer.  Later today we can talk wages an' what this particular job
is."

That deal was consummated in July.  Wingfield made a valiant effort
to prove worthy of the opportunity Stimpson had placed in his way.
And he succeeded so far as the work was concerned.  He overcame
much to stick to that job, but he could not correct his taciturn
habit, his aloofness, and sharpness of tongue, when he did speak.

Naturally he had not made friends with Stimpson's foreman, Neff.
Signs were not wanting, however, that some of the riders looked
favorably upon him.  He had even been asked to accompany them to
town this Saturday night, which was the end of August, and pay day.

Late that afternoon Wingfield rode back to the ranch, and before he
dismounted in front of Neff's cabin he sensed trouble.  All the
riders were in.  Wingfield went in without greeting any of those
who regarded him curiously.

"Wingfield," spoke up Stimpson, "the payroll is missin'."

"It is, sir? . . .  Well!--How you mean--missin'?" asked Wingfield,
flashing his eyes from Neff to the rancher.

"I don't know how," said Stimpson, slowly, guarded in his speech.
"I just got here . . .  Speak up, Neff."

"It--it was this way, boss," replied Neff, hurriedly.  "Reckon I
got here about ten o'clock.  Straight from the house, when you gave
me the money.  Wally Peters over there helped me count it.  Didn't
you, Wally?"

"Yes, I did," answered a cleancut young cowboy, stepping forward to
confront the rancher.  "There was two thousand, three hundred an'
sixty dollars.  Neff put it in the desk here, shut the drawer--this
one, sir, but he didn't lock it.  Then we went out together."

"Had there been anyone about the place?" inquired Stimpson.

"Yes, sir.  Wingfield must have been in--I found the paper--here
it is--shows the time of his outfit.  I always pay from his
figures . . .  This paper was here when I came back.  But not
when I left," said Neff.

Wingfield spoke up instantly.  "That is correct, sir.  I left my
time paper here about noon.  There was no one in."

A silence ensued that developed from embarrassment to a strained
suspense.

Then Stimpson, seeing that Neff would not or could not accuse
Wingfield to his face burst out impatiently:

"Wingfield, I'm sorry I have to explain.  Neff has charged you with
theft of the payroll!"

Wingfield gave a gasp that sounded like suppression of a cry of
pain.  His dark face went ashen.  With one swift lunge he struck
Neff a terrific blow, knocking him over a chair, to crash into a
corner.  Then Wingfield leaped clear, drawing his gun.

The spectators of that move waved in noisy pell-mell to one side,
leaving Stimpson standing his ground.  With a long stride he got in
front of Wingfield.

"Hold on!" he called, sharply.  "There's no call for gun play."

Indeed there did not appear to be at least at the moment, for Neff
had been completely knocked out.  Wingfield slowly sheathed his
gun.  The fury that had actuated him seemed to shudder out.

"My God--YOU don't believe I stole that money!" he asked Stimpson.

The rancher took one long look at the man's convulsed face.

"No, Wingfield, I don't," he replied, feelingly.  "But Neff does,
an' no doubt he's not the only one.  Somethin' must be done about
it."

"Thank you.  Stimpson," said Wingfield huskily.  "I swear to God I
didn't take the money."

"You need not deny that to me." replied the rancher.  "But you can
see, Wingfield, if you're to stay on here, you must try to PROVE
you didn't."

"Yes.  I see.  An' I've fallen pretty low--when any range rider
dares think me a thief," muttered Wingfield.

"Circumstantial evidence has hanged many a man.  Don't let it beat
you here.  You're valuable to me.  An' it's sure plain, Wingfield--
either you crack an' lose out, or you prove what I think you are."

Winfield raised his bowed head and the harshest of the bitter
darkness left his face.  He made no move to reach the rancher's
half-proffered hand.

"I'll take your hand when I show these men your faith in me is
justified."

That night Wingfield lay dressed on his bed in the darkness and
silence.  All hands had gone to town for the dance.

Lying there in the blackness he waged the battle.  If he had not
become a sore and strange outsider all over the range, if he had
hid the secret of his misery in wholesome labor and friendliness,
he would never have been accused of theft.  That was the last
straw.

He did not choose to sink under that.  He would disprove the
charge, and thereafter regulate his conduct to harmonize with his
environment.  Stimpson had been right--he must mend his character
or crack for good.

But there could never be any mending of his broken heart.  In the
five years since the catastrophe there had never been a single
night, when he was sober, that he had not lain awake, thinking,
remembering, suffering.  He had wronged his wife, and in the shame
of his unworthiness he had augmented the quarrel that had ended in
her leaving him.  It all came back mockingly, and he lived over
again his fruitless search for her, and then his despair.

He beheld for the thousandth time a vision of the bonny head, with
its curly golden locks, and the flower-like blue eyes, and the
frail graceful shape.  Long ago he divined she was dead.  She could
never have borne grief and privation together.  She had never been
strong, though she had gained somewhat after he took her from
school teaching and married her.  He recalled with agony his panic,
his joy, his pride, when she shyly imparted a secret, and how
zealously from that moment he had guarded her health.

Then came his fall, a natural though despicable thing.  Vain
regret!  Sleepless and eternal remorse!  But these pangs were
softening with the years.  He knew that before she died she had
forgiven him, and that if he could have found her they would have
been reunited.

There in the dead hour of midnight he struggled for faith to
believe she might hear his whisper and give him strength to live
better the life that had to be lived.

Sunrise found him out behind Neff's cabin, studying in the clear
light of day some strange tracks he had found.

A faint long flat depression of grass and dust and on each side of
it a small round mark, scarcely a hole.  Wingfield followed the
tracks at a walk into the woods.

In places, where the pine needles formed thick springy mats, devoid
of grass or flowers, he passed quickly on in the direction in which
the trail headed, and sooner or later, on more favorable ground he
would find it again.  It led deeper and deeper into the woods.

In the afternoon on the first clear spot of soft ground that he had
encountered in miles he found the well-defined print of a large
flat foot.  Close on each side was the accompanying little round
mark.

"Ahuh!  He's slipped off that long thing which gave me such
trouble," Wingfield, as he surveyed the trail.  "Quit on me, huh?
Feelin' pretty safe now! . . .  ONE FOOT-TRACK! . . .  By thunder!
I've got it.  He's a cripple.  A one-legged man!  An' these little
round tracks were made by crutches . . .  I'm a locoed son-of-a-
gun!"

With renewed enthusiasm and stronger resolve and curiosity,
Wingfield pressed on; and now, owing to the slackened vigilance of
the man he was trailing, he made fast time.

Almost at his feet showed a narrow trail leading down the
precipitous wall.  And the tracks he was trailing stood out like
print on a page.

Five hundred feet down, the trail emerged from the shade into the
open canyon, where Wingfield's advent scarcely disturbed the
turkeys and deer.

He proceeded slowly and cautiously.  A little gray burro grazed in
the one open glade.  Beyond this, a jutting wall shut off extended
view.

He kept close to the wall, under cover, and soon peeped around the
yellow stone corner.  He was amazed to discover a child playing in
front of an old weatherbeaten cabin.

Wingfield sheathed his gun and stepped out, to approach the little
girl.  She saw him before he spoke.

"Hello, little girl.  Do you live here?"

"Who's you?" she asked, without alarm, though she ceased her play.

"I'm a cowboy.  Where's your mother--an' your daddy?"

"My muvver's dead . . .  I never had no daddy," she said.

She could not have been more than five years old.  She was very
pretty with eyes as blue as cornflowers.  It needed not a second
glance at her crude strange garments for even Wingfield to see that
no woman had made them.  Her little dress had been fashioned from a
cowboy's shirt.

Upon her feet were moccasins made from sheepskin, with the wool
outside; and Wingfield believed that material had come from a range
rider's vest.  Then the thought that had been dammed by his
consciousness burst through--he had stumbled upon the retreat of
the camp robber.

"My grandad's sick," said the little girl, seriously.

"Where is he?" asked Wingfield, thickly.

She pointed toward the cabin.  The door was open and the sunlight
poured in.

An old man, with face as gray as his hair and beard, lay upon a
bed.  His bright eyes fixed in terrible earnestness upon the
visitor.

"Well, old timer, who are you?" burst out Wingfield, taking in the
gaunt form and the wooden leg strapped to a short thigh.

"Did you ever--hear--of Peg-leg Smith?" came the husky response.

"Sure I have.  Old prospector--traveled round with a burro.  I've
heard the cowboys talk . . .  Ahuh!  Are you that hombre?"

"Yes . . .  Did you trail me?"

"I did--old timer.  I'm sorry.  The little girl said you were
sick."

"Aye, I am indeed . . . sick unto death."

"Aw, no.  Don't say that.  Maybe I can do somethin'.  What ails
you?"

"Old age.  Love an'--fear," he returned.

"I don't just savvy the last," said Wingfield, approaching the bed
in quandary.  But pity was paramount.

"Did you trail me?"

"Yes, but you needn't fear me.  Only tell me, old timer."

"You trailed me to get back the money I stole from Stimpson's
ranch?"

"I did, Smith.  You see they accused me of stealin' it."

"It is here--every dollar," hurriedly cried the man, and
laboriously fumbling under his head he found a packet, and held it
out with shaking hand.

"Thanks, old timer.  That'll help a lot," said Wingfield, huskily.
"How'd you come to--to take it?"

"Stranger, I never stole a cent in my life until then.  All I stole
was for the child.  But that day--when was it?--yesterday?  When I
saw the money I had a wild idea.  I would steal that--and with it--
I'd take my little girl away--and find a home and comfort for her--
some one to love her . . .  So I stole it.  And when I got back--I
fell here--it's the end . . .  Thank God, you came.  I can die in
peace."

"Is this child related to you?" asked Wingfield.

"No.  Five years ago--over on the mountain range--I happened to
find a woman along the road . . .  She was a crazed thing--ill--
suffering.  I put her on my burro.  Fetched her here.  She gave
birth to a child . . .  Then she lingered a few days--and died.
The child lived.  Meant to take her--somewhere--to a home.  But I
loved her.  I kept her.  All these years I've kept her.  No cowboy
or hunter ever found me until now.  No one ever dreamed old Peg-leg
Smith had a little angel in his canyon . . .  I stole for her.  I
became the camp robber of the range.  Many's the time I have
laughed over my other name . . .  The camp robber!"

Wingfield fell on his knees beside the bed.

"Old timer, tell me--her name?" he begged, hoarsely, his lean hands
clutching at the blanket.

"Her name is Fay."

"No.  Not the child . . . the woman--her mother . . . her name?"

"I never knew.  She never told.  But in her delirium she would cry
out:  'Lex--LEX!  Oh, Lex, my husband! . . .  An' she died crying
that name.  I've never forgotten."

"Merciful God!" moaned Wingfield, sinking down.  "Man--I was that
husband . . . this is my baby."

"Who are you?" queried Smith, rising upon his elbow, with hope
illuminating his face.

"Lex Wingfield . . .  Her name was Fay Kingsley. . . .  We were
married in Denver . . .  It was here in Arizona--on this range--at
Springer that I--I made her unhappy, and she left me."

"Kingsley--Denver--Springer, yes, she mentioned those names,"
replied Smith eagerly and softly.  "How strange!  I never wanted to
leave this canyon.  Something chained me here . . .  I gave up
prospecting . . .  I took to stealing . . .  So, it was the camp
robber who found little Fay's father."

Wingfield leaped up with a start.  The child had come in.

"Is you better?" she asked, with sweet solicitude.

"No, little Fay . . .  You are losing grandad . . .  But you--are
gaining--your daddy."




DEATH VALLEY


Of the five hundred and fifty-seven thousand square miles of desert
land in the Southwest, Death Valley is the lowest below sea level,
the most arid and desolate.  It derives its felicitous name from
the earliest days of the gold strike in California, when a caravan
of Mormons, numbering about seventy, struck out from Salt Lake, to
cross the Mojave Desert and make a short cut to the gold fields.
All but two of these prospectors perished in the deep, iron-walled,
ghastly sinkholes, which from that time became known as Death
Valley.

The survivors of this fatal expedition brought news to the world
that the somber Valley of Death was a treasure mine of minerals,
and since then hundreds of prospectors and wanderers have lost
their lives there.  To seek gold and to live in the lonely waste
places of the earth have been and ever will be driving passions of
men.

My companion on this trip was a Norwegian named Nielsen.  On most
of my trips to lonely and wild places I have been fortunate as to
comrades or guides.  The circumstances of my meeting Nielsen were
so singular that I think they will serve as an interesting
introduction.  Some years ago I received a letter, brief, clear,
and well-written, in which the writer stated that he had been a
wanderer over the world, a sailor before the mast, and was now a
prospector for gold.  He had taken four trips alone down into the
desert of Sonora, and in many other places of the Southwest, and
knew the prospecting game.  Somewhere he had run across my story
DESERT GOLD in which I told about a lost gold mine.  And the point
of his letter was that, if I could give him some idea as to where
the lost mine was located, he would go find it and give me half.
His name was Sievert Nielsen.  I wrote him that to my regret the
lost gold mine existed only in my imagination, but, if he would
come to Avalon to see me, perhaps we might both profit by such a
meeting.  To my surprise, he came.  He was a man of about thirty-
five, of magnificent physique, weighing about one hundred and
ninety, and he was so enormously broad across the shoulders that he
did not look his five feet ten.  He had a wonderful head, huge,
round, solid, like a cannonball.  And his bronzed face, his regular
features, square, firm jaw, and clear gray eyes, fearless and
direct, were singularly attractive to me.  Well-educated, with a
strange calm poise and a cool courtesy, not common in Americans, he
evidently was a man of good family, by his own choice a rolling
stone and adventurer.

Nielsen accompanied me on two trips into the wilderness of Arizona,
on one of which he saved my life, and on the other he rescued all
our party from a most uncomfortable and possibly hazardous
situation--but these are tales I may tell elsewhere.  In January
1919, Nielsen and I traveled around the desert of southern
California from Palm Springs to Picacho, and in March we went to
Death Valley.

Nowadays a little railroad, the Tonapah and Tidewater Railroad,
runs northward, from the Santa F over the barren Mojave, and it
passes within fifty miles of Death Valley.

It was sunset when we arrived at Death Valley Junction--a weird,
strange sunset in drooping curtains of transparent cloud lighting
up dark mountain ranges, some peaks of which were clear-cut and
black against the sky, and others veiled in trailing storms, and
still others white with snow.  That night in the dingy little store
I heard prospectors talk about float, which meant gold on the
surface, and about high grade ores, zinc, copper, silver, lead,
manganese, and about how borax was mined thirty years ago, and
hauled out of Death Valley by teams of twenty mules.  Next morning,
while Nielsen packed the outfit, I visited the borax mill.  It was
the property of an English firm, and the work of hauling, grinding,
roasting borax ore went on day and night.  Inside, it was as dusty
and full of powdery atmosphere as an old-fashioned flour mill.  The
ore was hauled by train from some twenty miles over toward the
valley, and was dumped from a high trestle into shutes that fed the
grinders.  For an hour I watched this constant stream of borax as
it slid down into the hungry crushers, and I listened to the chalk-
faced operator who yelled in my ear.  Once he picked a piece of
gypsum out of the borax.  He said the mill was getting out twenty-
five hundred sacks a day.  The most significant thing he said was
that men did not last long at such labor, and in the mines six
months appeared to be the limit of human endurance.  How soon I had
enough of that choking air in the room where the borax was ground!
And the place where the borax was roasted in huge round revolving
furnaces--I found that intolerable.  When I got out into the cool
clean desert air, I felt an immeasurable relief.  And that relief
made me thoughtful of the lives of men who labored, who were
chained by necessity, by duty or habit, or by love, to the hard
tasks of the world.  It did not seem fair.  These laborers of the
borax mines and mills, like the stokers of ships, and coal-diggers,
and blast-furnace hands--like thousands and millions of men, killed
themselves outright or impaired their strength, and, when they were
gone or rendered useless, others were found to take their places.
Whenever I come in contact with some phase of this problem of life,
I take the meaning or the lesson of it to myself.  And as the years
go by my respect and reverence and wonder increase for these men of
elemental lives, these horny-handed toilers with physical things,
these uncomplaining users of brawn and bone, these giants who
breast the elements, who till the earth and handle iron, who fight
the natural forces with their bodies.

That day about noon I looked back down the long gravel and
greasewood slope that we had ascended, and I saw the borax mill now
only a smoky blot on the desert floor.  When we reached the pass
between the Black Mountains and the Funeral Mountains, we left the
road, and were soon lost to the works of man.  How strange a
gladness, a relief!  Something dropped away from me.  I felt the
same subtle change in Nielsen.  For one thing, he stopped talking,
except an occasional word to the mules.

The blunt end of the Funeral Range was as remarkable as its name.
It sheered up very high, a saw-toothed range with colored strata
tilted at an angle of forty-five degrees.  Zigzag veins of black
and red and yellow, rather dull, ran through the great drab-gray
mass.  This end of the range, an iron mountain, frowned down upon
us with hard and formidable aspect.  The peak was draped in streaky
veils of rain from low-dropping clouds that appeared to have lodged
there.  All below lay clear and cold in the sunlight.

Our direction lay to the westward, and at that altitude, about
three thousand feet, how pleasant to face the sun!  For the wind
was cold.  The narrow shallow wash leading down from the pass
deepened, widened, almost imperceptibly at first, and then
gradually until its proportions were striking.  It was a gully
where the gravel washed down during rains, and where a scant
vegetation, greasewood, and few low cacti and scrubby sage
struggled for existence.  Not a bird or lizard or living creature
in sight!  The trail was getting lonely.  From time to time I
looked back, because as we could not see far ahead all the superb
scene spread and towered behind us.  By and by our wash grew to be
a wide caon, winding away from under the massive, impondering wall
of the Funeral Range.  The high side of this magnificent and
impressive line of mountains faced west--a succession of unscalable
slopes of bare ragged rock, jagged and jutted, dark drab, rusty
iron, with gray and oblique strata running through them far as eye
could see.  Clouds soared around the peaks.  Shadows sailed along
the slopes.

Walking in loose gravel was as hard as trudging along in sand.
After about fifteen miles I began to have leaden feet.  I did not
mind hard work, but I wanted to avoid over-exertion.  When I am
extremely wearied, my feelings are liable to be colored somewhat by
depression or melancholy.  Then it always bothered me to get tired
while Nielsen kept on with his wonderful stride.

"Say, Nielsen, do you take me for a Yaqui?" I complained.  "Slow up
a little."

Then he obliged me, and to cheer me up he told me about a little
tramping experience he had in Baja, California.  Somewhere on the
east slope of Sierra Madre his burros strayed or were killed by
mountain lions, and he found it imperative to strike at once for
the nearest ranch below the border, a distance of one hundred and
fifty miles.  He could carry only so much of his outfit, and, as
some of it was valuable to him he discarded all his food except a
few biscuits, and a canteen of water.  Resting only a few hours,
without sleep at all, he walked the hundred and fifty miles in
three days and nights.  I believed that Nielsen, by telling me such
incidents of his own wild experience, inspired me to more endurance
than I knew I possessed.

As we traveled on down the caon, its dimensions continued to grow.
It finally turned to the left, and opened out wide into a valley
running west.  A low range of hills faced us, rising in a long
sweeping slant of earth, like the incline of a glacier, to rounded
spurs.  Halfway up this slope, where the brown earth lightened,
there showed an outcropping of clay--amber and cream and cinnamon
and green, all exquisitely vivid and clear.  This bright spot
appeared to be isolated.  Far above it rose other clay slopes of
variegated hues, red and russet and mauve and gray, and colors
indescribably merged, all running in veins through this range of
hills.  We faced the west again and, descending this valley, were
soon greeted by a region of clay hills, bare, cone-shaped,
fantastic in shade, slope, and ridge, with a high sharp peak
dominating all.  The colors were mauve, taupe, pearl-gray, all
stained by a descending band of crimson, as if a higher slope had
been stabbed to let its life blood flow down.  The softness, the
richness, and beauty of this texture of earth amazed and delighted
my eyes.

Quite unprepared, at time approaching sunset, we reached and
rounded a sharp curve, to see down and far away, and to be held
mute in our tracks.  Between a white-mantled mountain range on the
left and the dark-striped lofty range on the right I could see far
down into a gulf, a hazy void, a vast stark valley that seemed
streaked and ridged and caoned, an abyss into which veils of rain
were dropping and over which broken clouds hung, pierced by red and
gold rays.

Death Valley!  Far down and far away still, yet confounding at
first sight!  I gazed spellbound.  It oppressed my heart.  Nielsen
stood like a statue, silent, absorbed for a moment, then he strode
on.  I followed, and every second saw more and different aspects,
that could not, however, change the first stunning impression.
Immense, unreal, weird!  I went on down the widening caon, looking
into that changing void.  How full of color!  It smoked.  The
traceries of streams or shining white washes brightened the floor
of the long dark pit.  Patches and plains of white, borax flats or
alkali, showed up, like snow.  A red haze, sinister and somber,
hung over the eastern ramparts of this valley, and over the western
drooped gray veils of rain, like thinnest lacy clouds, through
which gleams of the sun shone.

Nielsen plodded on, mindful of our mules.  But I lingered, and at
last checked my reluctant steps at an open high point with
commanding and magnificent view.  As I did not attempt the
impossible--to write down thoughts and sensations--afterward I
could remember only a few.  How desolate and grand!  The faraway,
lonely, and terrible places of the earth are the most beautiful and
elevating.  Life's little day seemed so easy to understand, so
pitiful.  As the sun began to set and the storm clouds moved across
it, this wondrous scene darkened, changed every moment, brightened,
grew full of luminous red light and then streaked by golden gleams.
The tips of the Panamint Mountains came out silver above the purple
clouds.  At sunset the moment was glorious--dark, forbidding, dim,
weird, dismal, yet still tinged with gold.  Not like any other
scene!  Dante's Inferno!  Valley of Shadows!  Caon of Purple
Veils!

When the sun had set and all that upheaved and furrowed world of
rock had received a mantle of gray, and a slumberous, sulphurous,
ruddy haze slowly darkened to purple and black, then I realized
more fully that I was looking down into Death Valley.

Twilight was stealing down when I caught up with Nielsen.  He had
selected for our camp a protected nook near where the caon floor
bore some patches of sage, the stalks and roots of which would
serve for firewood.  We unpacked, fed the mules some grain, pitched
our little tent, and made our bed all in short order.  During the
meal we talked a little, but afterward, when the chores were done
and the mules had become quiet and the strange thick silence had
settled down upon us, we did not talk at all.

The night was black, with sky mostly obscured by clouds.  A pale
haze marked the west where the afterglow had faded; in the south
one radiant star crowned a mountain peak.  I strolled away in the
darkness and sat down upon a stone.  How intense the silence!
Dead, vast, sepulcher-like, dreaming, waiting, a silence of ages,
burdened with the history of the past, awful!  I strained my ears
for sound of insect or rustle of sage or drop of weathered rock.
The soft, cool desert wind was soundless.  This silence had
something terrifying in it, making me a man alone on the earth.
The great spaces, the wild places as they had been millions of
years before!  I seemed to divine how through them man might
develop from savage to a god, and how alas! he might go back again.

When I returned to camp, Nielsen had gone to bed and the fire had
burned low.  I threw on some branches of sage.  The fire blazed up.
But it seemed different from other campfires.  No cheer, no glow,
no sparkle.  Perhaps it was owing to scant and poor wood.  Still I
thought it was owing as much to the place.  The sadness, the
loneliness, the desolateness of this place weighed upon the
campfire the same as it did upon my heart.

We got up at five-thirty.  At dawn the sky was a cold leaden gray,
with a dull gold and rose in the east.  A hard wind, eager and
nipping, blew up the caon.  At six o'clock the sky brightened
somewhat, and the day did not promise so threatening.

An hour later we broke camp.  Traveling in the early morning was
pleasant, and we made good time down the winding caon, arriving at
Furnace Creek about noon, where we halted to rest.  This stream of
warm water flowed down from a gully that headed up in the Funeral
Mountains.  It had a disagreeable taste, somewhat acrid and soapy.
A green thicket of brush was, indeed, welcome to the eye.  It
consisted of a rank, coarse kind of grass, and arrowweed, mesquite,
and tamarack.  The last-named bore a pink, fuzzy blossom, not
unlike pussy willow, which was quite fragrant.  Here the deadness
of the region seemed further enlivened by several small birds,
speckled and gray, two ravens, and a hawk.  They all appeared to be
hunting food.  On a ridge above Furnace Creek, we came upon a
spring of poison water.  It was clear, sparkling, with a greenish
cast, and it deposited a white crust on the margins.  Nielsen,
kicking around in the sand, unearthed a skull, bleached and yellow,
yet evidently not so very old.  Some thirsty wanderer had taken his
last drink at that deceiving spring.  The gruesome and the
beautiful, the tragic and the sublime, go hand in hand down the
naked shingle of this desolate desert.

While tramping around in the neighborhood of Furnace Creek, I
happened upon an old, almost obliterated trail.  It led toward the
ridges of clay, and, when I had climbed it a little way, I began to
get an impression that the slopes on the other side must run down
into a basin or caon.  So I climbed to the top.

The magnificent scenes of desert and mountain, like the splendid
things of life, must be climbed for.  In this instance I was
suddenly and stunningly confronted by a yellow gulf of cone-shaped
and fan-shaped ridges, all bare, crinkly clay, of gold, of amber,
of pink, of bronze, of cream, all tapering down to round-knobbed
lower ridges, bleak and barren, yet wonderfully beautiful in their
stark purity of denudation; until at last far down between two
widely separated hills shone, dim and blue and ghastly with shining
white streaks like silver streams--the Valley of Death.  Then
beyond it climbed the league-long red slope, merging into the iron-
buttressed base of the Panamint Range, and here line on line, and
bulge on bulge, rose the bold benches, and on up the unscalable
outcroppings of rock, like colossal ribs of the earth, on and up
the steep slopes to where their density of blue-black color began
to thin out with streaks of white, and thence upward to the last
noble height, where the cold pure snow gleamed against the sky.

I descended into this yellow maze, this world of gullies and ridges
where I found it difficult to keep from getting lost.  I did lose
my bearings, but, as my boots made deep imprints in the soft clay,
I knew it would be easy to back track my trail.  After a while this
labyrinthine series of channels and dunes opened into a wide space
enclosed on three sides by denuded slopes, mostly yellow.  These
slopes were smooth, graceful, symmetrical, with tiny tracery of
erosion, and each appeared to retain its own color, yellow or
cinnamon or mauve.  But they were always dominated by a higher one
of a different color.  And this mystic region sloped and slanted to
a great amphitheater that was walled on the opposite side by a
mountain of bare earth of every hue, and of a thousand ribbed and
scalloped surfaces.  At its base the golds and russets and yellows
were strongest, but ascending its slopes were changing colors--a
dark beautiful mouse color on one side and a strange pearly cream
on the other.  Between these great corners of the curve climbed
ridges of gray and heliotrope and amber, to meet wonderful veins of
green--green as the sea in sunlight--and tracery of white--and on
the bold face of this amphitheater, high up, stood out a zigzag
belt of dull red, the stain of which had run down to tinge the
other hues.  Above all this wondrous coloration upheaved the bare
breast of the mountain, growing darker with earthy browns, up to
the gray old rock ramparts.

This place affected me so strangely, so irresistibly that I
remained there a long time.  Something terrible had happened there
to men.  I felt that.  Something tragic was going on right then--
the wearing down, the devastation of the old earth.  How plainly
that could be seen!  Geologically it was more remarkable to me than
the absolutely indescribable beauty that overcame me.  I thought of
those who had been inspiration to me in my work, and I suffered a
pang that they could not be there to see and feel with me.

On my way out of this amphitheater a hard wind swooped down over
the slopes, tearing up the colored dust in sheets and clouds.  It
seemed to me each gully had its mystic pall of color.  I lost no
time climbing out.  What a hot, choking ordeal!  But I never would
have missed it even had I known I would get lost.  Looking down
again, the scene was vastly changed.  A smoky, weird, murky hell
with the dull sun gleaming magenta-hued through the shifting pall
of dust!

In the afternoon we proceeded leisurely, through an atmosphere
growing warmer and denser, down to the valley, reaching it at dusk.
We followed the course of Furnace Creek and made camp under some
cottonwood trees, on the west slope of the valley.

The wind blew a warm gale all night.  I lay awake a while and slept
with very little covering.  Toward dawn the gale died away.  I was
up at five-thirty.  The morning broke fine, clear, balmy.  A flare
of pale, gleaming light over the Funeral Range heralded the
sunrise.  The tips of the higher snow-capped Panamints were rose-
colored, and below them the slopes were red.  The bulk of the range
showed dark.  All these features gradually brightened until the sun
came up.  How blazing and intense!  The wind began to blow again.
Under the cottonwoods with their rustling leaves and green so
soothing to the eye, it was very pleasant.

Beyond our camp stood green and pink thickets of tamarack, and some
dark velvety-green alfalfa fields, made possible by the spreading
of Furnace Creek over the valley slope.  A man lived there, and
raised this alfalfa for the mules of the borax miners.  He lived
there alone, and his was, indeed, a lonely, wonderful, and terrible
life.  At this season a few Shoshone Indians were camped near,
helping him in his labors.  This lone rancher's name was Denton,
and he turned out to be a brother of a Denton, hunter and guide,
whom I had met in Lower California.

Like all desert men used to silence, Denton talked with difficulty,
but the content of his speech made up for its brevity.  He told us
about the wanderers and prospectors he had rescued from death by
starvation and thirst; he told us about the incredible and horrible
midnight furnace gales that swept down the valley.  With the
mercury at one hundred and twenty-five degrees at midnight, below
the level of the sea, when these furnace blasts bore down upon him,
it was just all he could do to live.  No man could spend many
summers there.  As for white women--Death Valley was fatal to them.
The Indians spent the summers up on the mountain.  Denton said heat
affected men differently.  Those who were meat eaters or alcohol
drinkers could not survive.  Perfect heart and lungs were necessary
to stand the heat and density of atmosphere below sea level.  He
told of a man who had visited his cabin, and had left early in the
day, vigorous and strong.  A few hours later he was found near the
oasis unable to walk, crawling on his hands and knees, dragging a
full canteen of water.  He never knew what ailed him.  It might
have been heat, for the thermometer registered one hundred and
thirty-five, and it might have been poison gas.  Another man,
young, of heavy and powerful build, lost seventy pounds weight in
less than two days, and was nearly dead when found.  The heat of
Death Valley quickly dried up blood, tissue, bone.  Denton told of
a prospector who started out at dawn strong and rational, to return
at sunset so crazy that he had to be tied to keep him out of the
water.  To have drunk his fill then would have killed him!  He had
to be fed water by spoonful.  Another wanderer came staggering into
the oasis, blind, with horrible face, and black swollen tongue
protruding.  He could not make a sound.  He also had to be roped,
as if he were a mad steer.

I met only one prospector during my stay in Death Valley.  He
camped with us.  A rather undersize man he was, yet muscular, with
brown wrinkled face and narrow dim eyes.  He seemed to be smiling
to himself most of the time.  He liked to talk to his burros.  He
was exceedingly interesting.  Once he nearly died of thirst, having
gone from noon one day till next morning without water.  He said he
fell down often during this ordeal, but did not lose his senses.
Finally the burros saved his life.  This old fellow had been across
Death Valley every month in the year.  July was the worst.  In that
month, crossing should not be attempted during the middle of the
day.

I made the acquaintance of the Shoshone Indians, or rather through
Nielsen I met them.  Nielsen had a kindly, friendly way with
Indians.  There were half a dozen families, living in squalid
tents.  The braves worked in the fields for Denton, and the squaws
kept to the shade with their numerous children.  They appeared to
be poor.  Certainly they were a ragged, unpicturesque group.
Nielsen and I visited them, taking an armload of canned fruit and
boxes of sweet crackers, which they received with evident joy.
Through this overture I got a peep into one of the tents.  The
simplicity and frugality of the desert Piute or Navajo were here
wanting.  These children of the open wore white men's apparel and
ate white men's food, and they even had a cook stove and a sewing
machine in their tent.  With all that they were trying to live like
Indians.  For me the spectacle was melancholy.  Another
manifestation added to my long list of degeneration of the Indians
by the whites.  The tent was a buzzing beehive of flies.  I never
before saw so many.  In a corner I saw a naked Indian baby asleep
on a goat skin, all his brown warm-tinted skin spotted black with
flies.

Later in the day one of the Indian men called upon us at our camp.
I was surprised to hear him use good English.  He said he had been
educated in a government school in California.  From him I learned
considerable about Death Valley.  As he was about to depart, on the
way to his labor in the fields, he put his hand in his ragged
pocket and drew forth an old beaded hatband, and with calm dignity,
worthy of any gift, he made me a present of it.  I had been kind.
The Indian was not to be outdone.  How that reminded me of the many
instances of pride in Indians!  Who yet has ever told the story of
the Indian--the truth, the spirit, the soul of his tragedy?

Nielsen and I climbed high up the west slope to the top of a gravel
ridge swept clean and packed hard by the winds.  Here I sat down
while my companion tramped curiously around.  At my feet I found a
tiny flower, so tiny as to almost defy detection.  The color
resembled sage gray, and it had the fragrance of sage.  Hard to
find and wonderful to see--was its tiny blossom!  The small leaves
were perfectly formed, very soft, veined and scalloped, with a fine
fuzz and a glistening sparkle.  That desert flower of a day, in its
isolation and fragility, yet its unquenchable spirit to live, was
as great to me as the tremendous reddening bulk of the Funeral
Mountains looming so sinisterly over me.

Then I saw some large bats with white heads flitting around in
zigzag flights--assuredly new and strange creatures to me.

I had come up here to this high ridge to take advantage of the
bleak, lonely spot commanding a view of valley and mountains.
Before I could compose myself to watch the valley, I made the
discovery that near me were six low gravelly mounds.  Graves!  One
had two stones at head and foot.  Another had no mark at all.  The
one nearest me had for the head a flat piece of board, with
lettering so effaced by weather that I could not decipher the
inscription.  The bones of a horse lay littered about between the
graves.  What a lonely place for graves!  Death Valley seemed to be
one vast sepulcher.  What had been the lives and deaths of these
people buried here?  Lonely, melancholy, nameless graves upon the
windy desert slope.

By this time the long shadows had begun to fall.  Sunset over Death
Valley!  A golden flare burned over the Panamints--long, tapering,
notched mountains with all their rugged conformation showing.
Above floated gold and gray and silver-edged clouds--below shone a
whorl of dusky, ruddy bronze haze, gradually thickening.  Dim veils
of heat still rose from the pale desert valley.  As I watched, all
before me seemed to change and be shrouded in purple.  How bold and
desolate a scene!  What vast scale and tremendous dimension!  The
clouds paled, turned rosy for a moment with the afterglow, then
deepened into purple gloom.  A somber smoky sunset, as if this
Death Valley was the gateway of hell, and its sinister shades were
upflung from fire.

The desert day was done, and now the desert twilight descended.
Twilight of hazy purple fell over the valley of shadows.  The black
bold lines of mountains ran across the sky and down into the valley
and up on the other side.  A buzzard sailed low in the foreground--
fitting emblem of life in all that wilderness of suggested death.
This fleeting hour was tranquil and sad.  What little had it to do
with the destiny of man!  Death Valley was only a ragged rent of
the old earth, from which men in their folly and passion had sought
to dig forth golden treasure.  The air had a solemn stillness.
Peace!  How it rested my troubled soul!  I felt that I was myself
here, far different from my habitual self.  Why had I longed to see
Death Valley?  What did I want of the desert that was naked, red,
sinister, somber, forbidding, ghastly, stark, dim and dark and
dismal, the abode of silence and loneliness, the proof of death,
decay, devastation, and destruction, the majestic sublimity of
desolation?  The answer was that I sought the awful, the appalling
and terrible because they harked me back to a primitive day where
my blood and bones were bequeathed their heritage of the elements.
That was the secret of the eternal fascination the desert exerted
upon all men.  It carried them back.  It inhibited thought.  It
brought up the age-old sensations, so that I could feel, although I
did not know it then, once again the all-satisfying state of the
savage in nature.

When I returned to camp, night had fallen.  The evening star stood
high in the pale sky, all alone and difficult to see, yet the more
beautiful for that.  The night appeared to be warmer or perhaps it
was because no wind blew.  Nielsen got supper, and ate most of it,
for I was not hungry.  As I sat by the campfre, a flock of little
bats, the smallest I had ever seen, darted from the woodpile nearby
and flew right in my face.  They had no fear of man or fire.  Their
wings made a soft swishing sound.  Later I heard the trill of
frogs, which was the last sound I might have expected to hear in
Death Valley.  A sweet high-pitched melodious trill, it reminded me
of the music made by frogs in the Tamaulipa Jungle of Mexico.
Every time I awakened that night, and it was often, I heard this
trill.  Once, too, sometime late, my listening ear caught faint
mournful notes of a killdeer.  How strange, and still sweeter than
the trill!  What a touch to the infinite silence and loneliness.  A
killdeer--bird of the swamps and marshes--what could he be doing in
arid and barren Death Valley?  Nature is mysterious and
inscrutable.

Next morning the marvel of nature was exemplified even more
strikingly.  Out on the hard gravel-strewn slope I found some more
tiny flowers of a day.  One was a white daisy, very frail and
delicate on long thin stem with scarcely any leaves.  Another was a
yellow flower, with four petals, a pale miniature California poppy.
Still another was a purple-red flower, almost as large as a
buttercup, with dark green leaves.  Last and tiniest of all were
infinitely fragile pink-and-white blossoms, on very flat plants,
smiling wanly up from the desolate earth.

Nielsen and I made known to Denton our purpose to walk across
the valley.  He advised against it.  Not that the heat was intense
at this season, he explained, but there were other dangers,
particularly the brittle salty crust of the sinkhole.  Nevertheless,
we were not deterred from our purpose.

So with plenty of water in canteens and a few biscuits in our
pockets we set out.  I saw the heat veils rising from the valley
floor at that point one hundred and seventy-eight feet below sea
level.  The heat lifted in veils, like thin smoke.  Denton had told
us that in summer the heat came in currents, in waves.  It blasted
leaves, burned trees to death as well as men.  Prospectors watched
for the leaden haze that thickened over the mountains, knowing then
no man could dare the terrible sun.  That day would be a hazed and
glaring hell, leaden, copper, with sun blazing a sky of molten
iron.

A long sandy slope of mesquite extended down to the bare crinkly
floor of the valley, and here the descent to a lower level was
scarcely perceptible.  The walking was bad.  Little mounds in the
salty crust made it hard to place a foot on the level.  This crust
appeared fairly strong.  But when it rang hollow under our boots,
then I stepped very cautiously.  The color was a dirty gray and
yellow.  Far ahead I could see a dazzling white plain that looked
like frost or a frozen river.  The atmosphere was deceptive, making
this plain seem far away and then close at hand.

The excessively difficult walking and the thickness of the air
tired me, so I plumped myself down to rest, and used my notebook as
a means to conceal from the tireless Nielsen that I was fatigued.
Always I found this a very efficient excuse, and for that matter it
was profitable for me.  I have forgotten more than I have ever
written.

Rather overpowering, indeed, was it to sit on the floor of Death
Valley, miles from the slopes that appeared so far away.  It was
flat, salty, alkali, or borax ground, crusted and cracked.  The
glare hurt my eyes.  I felt moist, hot, oppressed in spite of a
rather stiff wind.  A dry odor pervaded the air, slightly like
salty dust.  Thin dust devils whirled on the bare flats.  A valley-
wide mirage shone clear as a mirror along the desert floor to the
west, strange, deceiving, a thing both unreal and beautiful.  The
Panamints towered a wrinkled red grisly mass, broken by rough
caons, with long declines of talus like brown glaciers.  Seamed
and scarred!  Indestructible by past ages, yet surely wearing to
ruin!  From this point I could not see the snow on the peaks.  The
whole mountain range seemed an immense red barrier of beetling
rock.  The Funeral Range was farther away and, therefore, more
impressive.  Leagues of brown chocolate slopes, scarred by splashes
of yellow and cream, and shadowed black by sailing clouds, led up
to the magnificently peaked and jutted summits.

Splendid as this was and reluctant as I felt to leave, I soon
joined Nielsen, and we proceeded onward.  At last we reached the
white, winding plain that had resembled a frozen river, and which
from afar had looked so ghastly and stark.  We found it to be a
perfectly smooth stratum of salt glistening as if powdered.  It was
not solid, not stable.  At pressure of a boot it shook like jelly.
Under the white crust lay a yellow substance that was wet.  Here
appeared an obstacle we had not calculated upon.  Nielsen ventured
out on it, and his feet sank in several inches.  I did not like
the wave of the crust.  It resembled thin ice under a weight.
Presently I ventured to take a few steps, and did not sink in so
deeply or make such depression in the crust as Nielsen.  We
returned to the solid edge and deliberated.  Nielsen said that by
stepping quickly we could cross without any great risk, although it
appeared reasonable that, by standing still, a person would sink
into the substance.

"Well, Nielsen, you go ahead," I said, with an attempt at
lightness.  "You weigh one hundred and ninety.  If you go through,
I'll turn back!"

Nielsen started with a laugh.  The man courted peril.  The bright
face of danger must have been beautiful and alluring to him.  I
started after him--caught up with him--and stayed beside him.  I
could not have walked behind him over that strip of treacherous
sinkhole.  If I could have done so, the whole adventure would have
been meaningless to me.  Nevertheless, I was frightened.  I felt
the prickle of my skin, the stiffening of my hair, as well as the
cold tingling thrills along my veins.

This place was the lowest point of the valley, in that particular
location, and must have been upwards of two hundred feet below sea
level.  The lowest spot, called the Sink Hole, lay some miles
distant, and was the terminus of this river of salty white.

We crossed it in safety.  On the other side extended a long flat of
upheaved crusts of salt and mud, full of holes and pitfalls, an
exceedingly toilsome and painful place to travel, and, for all we
could tell, dangerous, too.  I had all I could do to watch my feet
and find surfaces to hold my steps.  Eventually we crossed this
broken field, reaching the edge of the gravel slope, where we were
very glad, indeed, to rest.

Denton had informed us that the distance was seven miles across the
valley at the mouth of Furnace Creek.  I had thought it seemed much
less than that.  But after I had toiled across it, I was convinced
that it was much more.  It had taken us hours.  How the time had
sped!  For this reason we did not tarry long on that side.

Facing the sun, we found the return trip more formidable.  Hot,
indeed, it was--hot enough for me to imagine how terrible Death
Valley would be in July or August.  On all sides the mountains
stood up dim and obscure and distant in haze.  The heat veils
lifted in ripples, and any object not near at hand seemed illusive.
Nielsen set a pace for me on this return trip.  I was quicker and
surer of foot than he, but he had more endurance.  I lost strength,
while he kept his unimpaired.  So often he had to wait for me.
Once, when I broke through the crust, he happened to be close at
hand and quickly hauled me out.  I got one foot wet with some acid
fluid.  We peered down into the murky hole.  Nielsen quoted a
prospector's saying:  "Forty feet from hell!"  That broken, sharp
crust of salt afforded the meanest traveling I had ever
experienced.  Slopes of weathered rock that slip and slide are bad;
cacti, and especially cholla cacti, are worse; the jagged and
corrugated surfaces of lava are still more hazardous and painful.
But this cracked floor of Death Valley, with its salt crusts
standing on end, like pickets of a fence, beat any place for hard
going that either Nielsen or I ever had encountered.  I ruined my
boots, skinned my shins, cut my hands.  How those salt cuts stung!
We crossed the upheaved plain, then the strip of white, and reached
the crinkly floor of yellow salt.  The last hour taxed my endurance
almost to the limit.  When we reached the edge of the sand and the
beginning of the slope, I was hotter and thirstier than I had ever
been in my life.  It pleased me to see Nielsen wringing wet and
panting.  He drank a quart of water apparently in one gulp.  And it
was significant that I took the longest and deepest drink of water
that I had ever had.

We reached camp at the end of this still hot summer day.  Never had
camp seemed so welcome!  What a wonderful thing it was to earn and
appreciate and realize rest!  The cottonwood leaves were rustling;
bees were humming in the tamarack blossoms.  I lay in the shade,
resting my burning feet and aching bones, and I watched Nielsen as
he whistled over the camp chores.  Then I heard the sweet song of a
swamp blackbird.  These birds evidently were traveling north and
had tarried at the oasis.

Lying there, I realized that I had come to love the silence, the
loneliness, the serenity, even the tragedy of this valley of
shadows.  Death Valley was one place that could never be popular
with men.  It had been set apart for the hardy diggers for earthen
treasure, and for the wanderers of the wastelands--men who go forth
to seek and to find and to face their souls.  Perhaps most of them
found death.  But there was a death in life.  Desert travelers
learned the secret that men lived too much in the world--that in
silence and loneliness and desolation there was something infinite,
something hidden from the crowd.



DON

THE STORY OF A LION DOG


It has taken me years to realize the greatness of a dog; and often
as I have told the story of Don--his love of freedom and hatred of
men--how I saved his life and how he saved mine--it never was told
as I feel it now.

I saw Don first at Flagstaff, Arizona, where arrangements had been
made for me to cross the desert with Buffalo Jones and a Mormon
caravan en route to Lee's Ferry on the Colorado River.

Jones had brought a pack of nondescript dogs.  Our purpose was to
cross the river and skirt the Vermillion Cliffs, and finally work
up through Buckskin Forest to the north rim of the Grand Caon,
where Jones expected to lasso mountain lions, and bring them back
alive.  The most important part of our outfit, of course, was the
pack of hounds.  Never had I seen such a motley assembly of
canines.  They did not even have names.  Jones gave me the
privilege of finding names for them.

Among them was a hound that seemed out of place because of his
superb proportions, his sleek dark smooth skin, his noble head, and
great solemn eyes.  He had extraordinarily long ears, thick-veined
and faintly tinged with brown.  Here was a dog that looked to me
like a Thoroughbred.  My friendly overtures to him were unnoticed.
Jones said he was part bloodhound and had belonged to an old
Mexican don in southern California.  So I named him Don.

We were ten days crossing the Painted Desert, and protracted
horseback riding was then so new and hard for me that I had no
enthusiasm left to scrape acquaintance with the dogs.  Still I did
not forget and often felt sorry for them as they limped along,
clinking their chains under the wagons.  Even then I divined that
horses and dogs were going to play a great part in my Western
experience.

At Lee's Ferry we crossed the Colorado, and I was introduced to the
weird and wild caon country, with its golden-red walls and purple
depths.  Here we parted with the caravan and went on with Jones's
rangers, Jim and Emmet, who led our outfit into such a wonderful
region as I had never dreamed of.

We camped several days on a vast range where Jones let his buffalo
herd run wild.  One day the Arizonians put me astride a white
mustang that apparently delighted in carrying a tenderfoot.  I did
not know then what I was soon to learn--that the buffalo always
chased this mustang off the range.  When I rode up on the herd, to
my utter amaze and terror, they took after me and--but I am
digressing, and this is a dog story.

Once across the river, Jones had unchained the dogs and let them
run on ahead or lag behind.  Most of them lagged.  Don for one,
however, did not get sore feet.

Beyond the buffalo range we entered the sage, and here Jones began
to train the dogs in earnest.  He carried on his saddle on old
blunderbuss of a shotgun, about which I had wondered curiously.  I
had supposed he meant to use it to shoot small game.

Moze, our black-and-white dog, and the ugliest of the lot, gave
chase to a jack rabbit.

"Hyar, you Moze, come back!" bawled Jones in stentorian tones.

But Moze paid no attention.  Jones whipped out the old shotgun, and
before I could utter a protest, he had fired.  The distance was
pretty far--seventy yards or more--but Moze howled piercingly and
came sneaking and limping back.  It was remarkable to see him
almost crawl to Jones's feet.

"Thar!  That'll teach you not to chase rabbits.  You're a lion
dog!" shouted the old plainsman as if he were talking to a human.

At first I was so astounded and furious that I could not speak.
But presently I voiced my feeling.

"Wal, it looks worse than it is," he said, with his keen gray-blue
eyes on me.  "I'm usin' fine birdshot, an' it can't do any more
than sting.  You see, I've no time to train these dogs.  It's
necessary to make them see quick that they're not to trail or chase
any varmints but lions."

There was nothing for me to do but hold my tongue, although my
resentment appeared to be shared by Jim and Emmet.  They made
excuses for the old plainsman.

"He shore can make animals do what he wants," Jim said.  "But I
never seen the dog or hoss that cared two bits for him."

We rode on through the beautiful purple sageland, gradually uphill,
toward a black-fringed horizon that was Buckskin Forest.  Jack
rabbits, cottontails, coyotes and foxes, prairie dogs and pack rats
infested the sage and engaged the attention of our assorted pack of
hounds.

All the dogs except Don fell victim to Jones's old blunderbuss; and
surely stubborn Moze received a second peppering, this time at
closer range.  I spied drops of blood upon his dirty white skin.
After this it relieved me greatly to see that not even Moze
transgressed again.

Jones's method was cruel, but effective.  He had captured and
subdued wild animals since his boyhood.  In fact, that had been the
driving passion of his life, but no sentiment entered into it.

"Reckon Don is too smart to let you ketch him," Jim once remarked
to our leader.

"Wal, I don't know," responded Jones dubiously.  "Mebbe he just
wouldn't chase this sage trash.  But wait till we jump some deer.
Then we'll see.  He's got bloodhound in him, and I'll bet he'll run
deer.  All hounds will, even the best ones trained on bear an'
lion."

Not long after, we entered the wonderful pine forest and the
reckoning of Don came as Jones had predicted.  Several deer bounded
out of a thicket and crossed ahead of us, soon disappearing in the
green blur.

"Uhn-huh!  Now we'll see," ejaculated Jones, deliberately pulling
out the old shotgun.

The hounds trotted along beside our horses, unaware of the danger
ahead.  Soon we reached the deer tracks.  All the hounds showed
excitement.  Don let out a sharp yelp and shot away like a streak
on the trail.

"Don, come hyar!" yelled Jones, at the same time extending his gun.

Dan gave no sign he had heard.  Then Jones pulled the trigger and
shot him.  I saw the scattering of dust and pine needles all around
Don.  He doubled up and rolled.  I feared he might be injured
badly.  But he got up and turned back.  It seemed strange that he
did not howl.

Jones drew his plunging horse to a halt and bade us all stop.

"Don, come back hyar," he called in a loud, harsh, commanding
voice.

The hound obeyed, not sneakingly or cringingly.  He did not put his
tail between his legs.  But he was frightened and no doubt pretty
badly hurt.  When he reached us, I saw that he was trembling all
over and that drops of blood dripped from his long ears.  What a
somber sullen gaze in his eyes.

"See hyar," bellowed Jones, "I knowed you was a deer chaser!  Wal,
now you're a lion dog."

Later that day, when I had recovered sufficiently from my
disapproval, I took Jones to task about this matter of shooting the
dogs.  I wanted to know how he expected the hounds to learn what he
required of them.

"Wal, that's easy," he replied curtly.  "When we strike a lion
trail, I'll put them on it . . . let them go.  They'll soon learn."

It seemed plausible, but I was so incensed that I doubted the
hounds would chase anything, and I resolved that, if Jones shot Don
again, I would force the issue and end the hunt unless assured
there would be no more of such training methods.

Soon after this incident we made camp on the edge of a beautiful
glade where a snow bank still lingered and a stream of water
trickled down into a green swale.  Before we got camp pitched, a
band of wild horses thudded by, thrilling me deeply.  My first
sight of wild horses!  I knew I should never forget that splendid
stallion, the leader, racing on under the trees, looking back at us
over his shoulder.

At this camp I renewed my attempts to make friends with Don.  He
had been chained apart from the other dogs.  He ate what I fetched
him, but remained aloof.  His dignity and distrust were such that I
did not risk laying a hand on him then.  But I resolved to win him
if it were possible.  His tragic eyes haunted me.  There was a
story in them I could not read.  He always seemed to be looking
afar.  On this occasion I came to the conclusion that he hated
Jones.


Buckskin Forest was well named.  It appeared to be full of deer,
the large black-tailed species known as mule deer.  This species
must be related to the elk.  The size and beauty of them, the way
they watched with long ears erect and then bounded off as if on
springs, never failed to thrill me with delight.

As we traveled on, the forest grew wilder and more beautiful.  In
the park-like glades a bleached white grass waved in the wind and
bluebells smiled wanly.  Wild horses outnumbered the deer, and that
meant there were some always in sight.  A large gray grouse flew up
now and then; most striking of the forest creatures to fascinate me
was a magnificently black squirrel, with long, bushy, white tail,
and tufted ears, and a red stripe down its glossy sides.

We rode for several days through this enchanting wilderness,
gradually ascending, and one afternoon we came abruptly to a break
in the forest.  It was the north rim of the Grand Caon.  My
astounded gaze tried to grasp an appalling abyss of purple and gold
and red, a chasm too terrible to understand all at once.  The
effect of that moment must have been tremendous, for I have never
recovered from it.  To this day the thing that fascinates me most
is to stand upon a great height--caon wall, or promontory, or peak--
and gaze down into the mysterious colorful depths.

Our destination was Powell's Plateau, an isolated cape jutting out
into the caon void.  Jones showed it to me--a distant, gold-
rimmed, black-fringed promontory, seemingly inaccessible and
unscalable.  The only trail leading to it was a wild horse hunter's
trail, seldom used, exceedingly dangerous.  It took two days over
this caon trail to reach the Saddle--a narrow strip of land
dipping down from the plateau and reaching up to the main rim.  We
camped under a vast, looming, golden wall, so wonderful that it
kept me from sleeping.

That night lions visited out camp.  The hounds barked for hours.
This was the first chance I had to hear Don.  What a voice he had!
Deep, ringing, wild, like the bay of a wolf!

Next morning we ascended the Saddle, from the notch of which I
looked down into the chasm still asleep in purple shadows; then we
climbed a narrow deer trail to the summit of the plateau.  Here,
indeed, was the grand wild isolated spot of my dreams.  Indeed, I
was in an all-satisfying trance of adventure.

I wanted to make camp on the rim, but Jones laughed at me.  We rode
through the level stately forest of pines until we came to a ravine
on the north side of which lay a heavy bank of snow.  This was very
necessary, for there was no water in the plateau.  Jones rode off
to scout while the rest of us pitched camp.

Before we had completed our tasks, a troop of deer appeared across
the ravine, and motionless they stood, watching us.  There were big
and little deer, blue-gray in color, sleek and graceful, so tame
that to me it seemed brutal to shoot at them.

Don was the only one of the dogs that espied the deer.  He stood up
to gaze hard at them, but did not bark or show any desire to chase
them.  Yet there seemed to be a strange yearning light in his dark
eyes.  I had never failed to approach Don, whenever opportunity
afforded, to continue my overtures of friendship.  But now, as
always, Don turned away from me.  He was cold and somber.  I had
never seen him wag his tail or whine eagerly, as was common with
most hounds.

Jones returned to camp jubilant and excited, as far as it was
possible for the old plainsman to be.  He had found lion trails and
lion tracks, and he predicted a great hunt for us.

The plateau resembled in shape the ace of clubs.  It was perhaps
six miles long and three or four wide.  The body of it was covered
with a heavy growth of pine, and the capes that sloped somewhat
toward the caon were thick with sage and cedar.  This lower part,
with its numerous swales and ravines and gorges, all leading down
into the jungle of splintered crags and thicketed slopes of the
Grand Caon, turned out to be a paradise for deer and lion.

We found many lion trails leading down from the cedared broken rim
to the slopes of yellow and red.  These slopes really constituted a
big country, and finally led to the sheer perpendicular precipices,
three thousand feet lower.

Deer were numerous and as tame as cattle on a range.  They grazed
with our horses.  Herds of a dozen or more were common.  Once we
saw a very large band.  Down in the sage and under the cedars and
in ravines we found many remains of deer.  Jones called these lion-
kills.  And he frankly stated that the number of deer killed yearly
upon the plateau would be incredible to anyone who had not seen the
actual signs.

In two days we had three captive lions tied to pine saplings near
camp.  They were two-year-olds.  Don and I had treed the first
lion; I had taken pictures of Jones lassoing him; I had jumped off
a ledge into a cedar to escape another; I had helped Jones hold a
third; I had scratches from lion claws on my chaps, and--but I keep
forgetting that this is not a story about lions.  Always before
when I have told it, I have slighted Don.


One night, a week or more after we had settled in camp, we sat
around a blazing red fire and talked over the hunt of the day.  We
all had our part to tell.  Jones and I had found where a lioness
had jumped a deer.  He showed me where the lioness had crouched
upon a little brushy knoll, and how she had leaped thirty feet to
the back of the deer.

He showed me the tracks the deer had made--bounding, running,
staggering with the lioness upon its back--and where, fully a
hundred paces beyond, the big cat had downed prey and killed it.
There had been a fierce struggle.  Then the lioness had dragged the
carcass down the slope, through the sage, to the cedar tree where
her four two-year-old cubs waited.  All that we found of the deer
were the ragged hide, some patches of hair, cracked bones, and two
long ears.  There were still warm.

Eventually we got the hounds on this trail and soon put up the
lions.  I found a craggy cliff under the rim and sat there,
watching and listening for hours.  Jones rode to and fro above me,
and at last dismounted to go down to join the other men.

The hounds treed one of the lions.  How that wild caon slope rang
with the barks and bays and yells!  Jones tied up his lion.  Then
the hounds worked up the ragged slope toward me, much to my
gratification and excitement.  Somewhere near me the lions had
taken to cedars or crags, and I strained my eyes searching for
them.

At last I located a lion on top of an isolated crag right beneath
me.  The hounds, with Don and Ranger leading, had been on the right
track.  My lusty yells brought the men.  Then the lion stood up--a
long, slender, yellowish cat--and spat at me.  Next it leaped off
that crag, fully fifty feet to the slope below, and bounded down,
taking the direction from which the men had come.  The hounds gave
chase, yelping and baying.  Jones bawled at them, trying to call
them off, for what reason I could not guess.  But I was soon to
learn.  They found the lion Jones had captured and left lying tied
under a cedar, and they killed it, then took the trail of the
other.  They treed it far down in the rough jumble of rocks and
cedars.

One by one we had ridden back to camp that night, tired out.  Jim
was the last in, and he told his story last.  And what was my
amazement and fright to learn that all the three hours I had sat
upon the edge of the caverned wall, the lioness had crouched on a
bench above me.

Jim on his way up had seen her, and then located her tracks in the
dust back of my position.  When this fact burst upon me, I
remembered how I had at first imagined I heard faint panting
breaths near me somewhere.  I had been too excited to trust my
ears.

"Wal," said Jones, standing with the palms of his hands to the
fire, "we had a poor day.  If we had stuck to Don, there'd have
been a different story.  I haven't trusted him.  But now, I reckon,
I'll have to.  He'll make the greatest lion dog I ever had.
Strikes me queer, too, for I never guessed it was in him.  He has
faults, though.  He's too fast.  He outruns the other hounds, and
he's goin' to be killed because of that.  Someday he'll beat the
pack to a mean old Tom or a lioness with cubs, and he'll get his
everlastin'.

"Another fault is, he doesn't bark often.  That's bad, too.  You
can't stick to him.  He's got a grand bay, shore, but he saves his
breath.  Don wants to run an' trail an' fight alone.  He's got more
nerve than any hound I ever trained.  He's too good for his own
sake . . . an' it'll be his death."

Naturally I absorbed all that Buffalo Jones said about dogs,
horses, lions, everything pertaining to the West, and I believed it
as if it had been gospel.  But I observed that the others,
especially Jim, did not always agree with our chief in regard to
the hounds.  A little later, when Jones had left the fire, Jim
spoke up with his slow Texas drawl:  "Wal, what does he know about
dawgs?  I'll tell you right heah, if he hadn't shot Don, we'd had
the best hound that ever put his nose to a track.  Don is a wild
strange hound, shore enough.  Mebbe he's like a lone wolf.  But
it's plain he's been mistreated by men.  An' Jones has just made
him wuss."

Emmet inclined to Jim's point of view.  And I respected this giant
Mormon who was famous on the desert for his kindness to men and
animals.  His ranch at Lee's Ferry was overrun with dogs, cats,
mustangs, burros, sheep, and tamed wild animals that he had
succored.

"Yes, Don hates Jones and, I reckon, all of us," said Emmet.
"Don's not old, but he's too old to change.  Still, you can never
tell what kindness will do to animals.  I'd like to take Don home
with me and see.  But Jones is right.  That hound will be killed."

"Now I wonder why Don doesn't run off from us?" inquired Jim.

"Perhaps he thinks he'll get shot again," I ventured.

"If he ever runs away, it'll not be here in the wilds," replied
Emmet.  "I take Don to be about as smart as any dog ever gets.  And
that's pretty close to human intelligence.  People have to live
lonely lives with dogs before they understand them.  I reckon I
understand Don.  He's either loved one master once and lost him, or
else he has always hated all men."

"Humph!  That's shore an idee," ejaculated Jim dubiously.  "Do you
think a dog can feel like that?"

"Jim, I once saw a little Indian shepherd dog lie down on its
master's grave and die," returned the Mormon sonorously.

"Wal, dog-gone me!" exclaimed Jim in mild surprise.


One morning Jim galloped in, driving the horses pell-mell into
camp.  Any deviation from the Texan's usual leisurely manner of
doing things always brought us up short with keen expectation.

"Saddle up!" called Jim.  "Shore that's a chase on.  I seen a big
red lioness up heah.  She must have come down out of the tree whar
I hang my meat.  Last night I had a haunch of venison.  It's gone.
Say, she was a beauty!  Red as a red fox."

In a very few moments we were mounted and riding up the ravine,
with the eager hounds sniffing the air.  Always over-anxious in my
excitement, I rode ahead of my comrades.  The hounds trotted with
me.  The distance to Jim's meat tree was a short quarter of a mile.
I knew well where it was, and, as of course the lion trail would be
fresh, I anticipated a fine opportunity to watch Don.  The other
hounds had come to regard him as their leader.  When we neared the
meat tree that was a low-branched oak shaded by thick silver
spruce, Don elevated his nose high in the air.  He had caught a
scent, even at a distance.  Jones had said more than once that Don
had a wonderful nose.  The other hounds, excited by Don, began to
whine and yelp and run around with noses to the ground.

I had eyes only for Don.  How instinct he was with life and fire!
The hair on his neck stood up like bristles.  Suddenly he let out a
wild bark and bolted.  He sped away from the pack and like a flash
passed that oak tree, running his head high.  The hounds strung out
after him, and soon the woods seemed full of a baying chorus.  My
horse, Black Bolly, well knew the meaning of that medley and did
not need to be urged.  He broke into a run and swiftly carried me
up out of the hollow and through a brown-aisled, pine-scented strip
of forest to the caon.

I rode along the edge of one of the deep indentations on the main
rim.  The hounds were bawling right under me at the base of a low
cliff.  They had jumped the lioness.  I could not see them, but
that was not necessary.  They were running fast toward the head of
this cove, and I had hard work to hold Black Bolly to a safe gait
along that tricky rim.  Suddenly she shied, and then reared, so
that I fell out of the saddle as much as I dismounted.  But I held
the bridle, and then jerked my rifle from the saddle sheath.  As I
ran toward the rim, I heard the yells of the men coming up behind.

At the same instant I was startled and halted by sight of something
red and furry flashing up into a tree right in front of me.  It was
the red lioness.  The dogs had chased her into a pine, the middle
branches of which were on a level with the rim.

My skin went tight and cold, and my heart fluttered.  The lioness
looked enormous, but that was because she was so close.  I could
have touched her with a long fishing pole.  I stood motionless for
an instant, thrilling in every nerve, reveling in the beauty and
wildness of that great cat.

She did not see me.  The hounds below engaged all her attention.
But when I let out a yell that I could not stifle, she jerked
spasmodically to face me.  Then I froze again.  What a tigerish
yellow flash of eyes and fangs.  She hissed.  She could have sprung
from the tree to the rim and upon me in two bounds.  But she leaped
to a ledge below the rim, glided along that, and disappeared.

I ran ahead and with haste and violence clambered out upon a
jutting point of the rim, from which I could command the situation.
Jones and the others were riding and yelling back where I had left
my horse.  I called for them to come.

The hounds were baying along the base of the low cliff.  No doubt
they had seen the lioness leap out of the tree.  My eyes roved
everywhere.  This cove was a shallow V-shaped gorge, a few hundred
yards deep and as many across.  Its slopes were steep with patches
of brush and rock.

All at once my quick eye caught a glimpse of something moving up
the opposite slope.  It was a long, red, pantherish shape.  The
lioness!  I yelled with all my might.  She ran up the slope, and at
the base of the low wall she turned to the right.  At that moment
Jones strode heavily over the rough loose rocks of the promontory
toward me.

"Where's the cat?" he boomed, his gray eyes flashing.  In a moment
more I had pointed her out.  "Ha!  I see . . . don't like that
place.  The caon boxes.  She can't get out.  She'll turn back."

The old hunter had been quick to grasp what had escaped me.  The
lioness could not find any break in the wall, and manifestly she
would not go down into the gorge.  She wheeled back along the base
of this yellow cliff.  There appeared to be a strip of bare clay or
shale rock against which background her red shape stood out
clearly.  She glided along, slowing her pace, and she turned her
gaze across the gorge.

Then Don's deep bay rang out from the slope to our left.  He had
struck the trail of the lioness.  I saw him running down.  He
leaped in long bounds.  The other hounds heard him and broke for
the brushy slope.  In a moment they had struck the scent of their
quarry and given tongue.  As they started down, Don burst out of
the willow thicket at the bottom of the gorge and bounded up the
opposite slope.  He was five hundred yards ahead of the pack.  He
was swiftly climbing.  He would run into the lioness.

Jones gripped my arm in his powerful hand.  "Look!" he shouted.
"Look at that fool hound!  Runnin' uphill to get that lioness.  She
won't run.  She's cornered.  She'll meet him.  She'll kill him. . . .
Shoot her!  Shoot her!"

I scarcely needed Jones's command to stir me to save Don, but it
was certain that the old plainsman's piercing voice made me
tremble.  I knelt and leveled my rifle.  The lioness showed red
against the gray--a fine target.  She was gliding more and more
slowly.  She saw or heard Don.  The gun sight wavered.  I could not
hold steady.  But I had to hurry.  My first bullet struck two yards
below the beast, puffing the dust.  She kept on.  My second bullet
hit behind her.  Jones was yelling in my ear.  I could see Don out
of the tail of my eye.  Again I shot.  Too high!  But the lioness
jumped and halted.  She lashed with her tail.  What a wild picture!
I strained--clamped every muscle, and pulled the trigger.  My
bullet struck under the lioness, scattering a great puff of dust
and gravel in her face.  She bounded ahead a few yards and up into
a cedar tree.

An instant later Don flashed over the bare spot where she had
waited to kill him, and in another his deep bay rang out under the
cedar.

"Treed, by gosh!" yelled Jones, joyfully pounding me on the back
with his huge fist.  "You saved that fool dog's life.  She'd have
killed him shore. . . .  Wal, the pack will be here pronto, and all
we've got to do is go over and tie her up.  But it was a close
shave for Don."

That night in camp Don was not in the least different from his
usual somber self.  He took no note of my proud proprietorship or
my hovering near him while he ate the supper I provided, part of
which came from my own plate.  My interest and sympathy had
augmented to love.

Don's attitude toward the captured and chained lions never ceased
to be a source of delight and wonder to me.  All the other hounds
were upset by the presence of the big cats.  Moze, Sounder, Tige,
Ranger would have fought these collared lions.  Not so Don!  For
him they had ceased to exist.  He would walk within ten feet of a
hissing lioness without the slightest sign of having seen or heard
her.  He never joined in the howling chorus of the dogs.  He would
go to sleep close to where the lions clanked their chains, clawed
the trees, whined and spat and squalled.


Several days after that incident of the red lioness we had a long
and severe chase through the brushy cedar forest on the left wing
of the plateau.  I did well to keep the hounds within earshot.
When I arrived at the end of that run, I was torn and blackened by
the brush, wet with sweat, and hot as fire.  Jones, lasso in hand,
was walking around a large cedar tree under which the pack of
hounds was clamoring.  Jim and Emmet were seated on a stone, wiping
their red faces.

"Wal, I'll rope him before he rests up," declared Jones.

"Wait till . . . I get . . . my breath," panted Emmet.

"We shore oozed along this mawnin'," drawled Jim.

Dismounting, I untied my camera from the saddle, and then began to
peer up into the bushy cedar.

"It's a Tom lion," declared Jones.  "Not very big, but he looks
mean.  I reckon he'll mess us up some."

"Haw!  Haw!" shouted Jim sarcastically.  The old plainsman's
imperturbability sometimes wore on our nerves.

I climbed a cedar next to the one in which the lion had taken
refuge.  From a topmost fork, swaying to and fro, I stood up to
photograph our quarry.  He was a good-size animal, tawny in hue,
rather gray of face, and a fierce-looking brute.  As the distance
between us was not far, my situation was as uncomfortable as
thrilling.  He snarled at me and spat viciously.  I was about to
abandon my swinging limb when the lion turned away from me to peer
down through the branches.

Jones was climbing into the cedar.  Low and deep the lion growled.
Jones held in one hand a long pole with a small fork at the end,
upon which hung the noose of his lasso.  Presently he got up far
enough to reach the lion.  Usually he climbed close enough to throw
the rope, but evidently he regarded this beast as dangerous.  He
tried to slip the noose over the head of the lion.  One sweep of a
big paw sent pole and noose flying.  Patiently Jones made ready and
tried again, with similar result.  Many times he tried.  His
patience and perseverance seemed incredible.  One attribute of his
great power to capture and train wild animals here asserted itself.
Finally the lion grew careless or tired, at which instant Jones
slipped the noose over its head.  Drawing the lasso tight, he threw
his end over a thick branch and let it trail down to the men below.

"Wait now!" he yelled, and quickly backed down out of the cedar.
The hounds were leaping eagerly.

"Pull him off that fork and let him down easy so I can rope one of
his paws."

It turned out, however, that the lion was hard to dislodge.  I
could see his muscles ridge and bulge.  Dead branches cracked, the
treetop waved.  Jones began to roar in anger.  The men replied with
strained hoarse voices.  I saw the lion drawn from his perch, and,
clawing the branches, springing convulsively, he disappeared from
my sight.

Then followed a crash.  The branch over which Jones was lowering
the beast had broken.  Wild yells greeted my startled ears and a
perfect din of yelps and howls.  Pandemonium had broken loose down
there.  I fell more than I descended from that tree.

As I bounded erect, I espied the men scrambling out of the way of a
huge furry wheel.  The hounds and one lion comprised that brown
whirling ball.  Suddenly out of it a dog came hurtling.  He rolled
to my feet, staggered up.

It was Don.  Blood was streaming from him.  Swiftly I dragged him
aside, out of harm's way.  And I forgot the fight.  My hands came
away from Don wet and dripping with hot blood.  It shocked me.
Then I saw that his throat had been terribly torn.  I thought his
jugular vein had been severed.

Don lay down and stretched out.  He looked at me with those great
somber eyes.  Never would I forget!  He was going to die right
there before my eyes.

"Oh, Don!  Don!  What can I do?" I cried in horror.

As I sank beside Don, one of my hands came in contact with snow.
It had snowed that morning, and there were still white patches of
it in shady places.  Like a flash I ripped off my scarf and bound
it around Don's neck.  Then I scraped up a double handful of snow
and placed that in my bandanna handkerchief.  This also I bound
tightly around his neck.  I could do no more.  My hope left me
then, and I had not the courage to sit there beside him until he
died.

All the while I had been unaware of a bedlam near at hand.  When I
looked, I saw a spectacle for a hunter.  Jones, yelling at the top
of his stentorian voice, seized one hound after the other by the
hind legs and, jerking him from the lion, threw him down the steep
slope.

Jim and Emmet were trying to help while at the same time they
avoided close quarters with that threshing beast.  At last they got
the dogs off and the lion stretched out.  Jones got up, shaking his
shaggy head.  Then he espied me, and his hard face took on a look
of alarm.

"Hyar . . . you're all . . . bloody," he panted plaintively, as if
I had been exceedingly remiss.

Whereupon I told him briefly about Don.  Then Jim and Emmet
approached, and we all stood looking down on the quiet dog and the
patch of bloody snow.

"Wal, I reckon he's a goner," said Jones, breathing hard.  "Shore I
knew he'd get his everlastin'."

"Looks powerful like the lion has about got his, too," added Jim.

Emmet knelt by Don and examined the bandage round his neck.
"Bleeding yet," he muttered thoughtfully.  "You did all that was
possible.  Too bad!  The kindest thing we can do is leave him
here."

I did not question this, but I hated to consent.  Still, to move
him would only bring on more hemorrhage and to put him out of his
agony would have been impossible for me.  Moreover, while there was
life, there was hope!  Scraping up a goodly ball of snow, I rolled
it close to Don so that he could lick it if he chose.  Then I
turned aside and could not look again.  But I knew that tomorrow or
the following day I would find my way back to this wild spot.

The accident to Don and what seemed the inevitable issue weighed
heavily upon my mind.  Don's eyes haunted me.  I very much feared
that the hunt had reached an unhappy ending for me.


Next day the weather was threatening, and, as the hounds were
pretty tired, we rested in camp, devoting ourselves to needful
tasks.  A hundred times I thought of Don, alone out there in the
wild brakes.  Perhaps merciful death had relieved him of suffering.
I would surely find out on the morrow.

But the indefatigable Jones desired to hunt in another direction
next day, and, as I was by no means sure I could find the place
where Don had been left, I had to defer that trip.  We had a
thrilling hazardous luckless chase, and I for one gave up before it
ended.

Weary and dejected I rode back.  I could not get Don off my
conscience.  The pleasant woodland camp did not seem the same
place.  For the first time the hissing, spitting, chain-clinking,
tail-lashing lions caused me irritation and resentment.  I would
have none of them.  What was the capture of a lot of spiteful
vicious cats to the life of a noble dog?  Slipping my saddle off, I
turned Black Bolly loose.

Then I imagined I saw a beautiful black long-eared hound enter the
glade.  I rubbed my eyes.  Indeed, there was a dog coming.  "Don!"
I shouted my joy and awe.  Running like a boy, I knelt by him,
saying I knew not what.  Don wagged his tail.  He licked my hand!
These actions seemed as marvelous as his return.

He looked sick and weak, but he was all right.  The handkerchief
was gone from his neck, but the scarf remained, and it was stuck
tight where his throat had been lacerated.

Later Emmet examined Don and said we had made a mistake about the
jugular vein being severed.  Don's injury had been serious,
however, and without the prompt aid I had so fortunately given he
would soon have bled to death.

Jones shook his gray old locks and said:  "Reckon Don's time hadn't
come.  Hope that will teach him sense."


In a couple of days Don had recovered, and on the next he was back
leading the pack.

A subtle change had come over Don in his relation to me.  I did not
grasp it so clearly then.  Thought and memory afterward brought the
realization to me.  But there was a light in his eyes for me that
had never been there before.

One day Jones and I treed three lions.  The largest leaped and ran
down into the caon.  The hounds followed.  Jones strode after
them, leaving me alone with nothing but a camera to keep those two
lions up that tree.  I had left horse and gun far up the slope.

I protested.  I yelled after him:  "What'll I do if they start
down?"

Jones turned to gaze up at me.  His grim face flashed in the
sunlight.  "Grab a club and chase them back," he replied.

Then I was left alone with two ferocious-looking lions in a pion
tree scarcely thirty feet high.  While they heard the baying of the
hounds, they paid no attention to me, but after that ceased they
got ugly.  Then I hid behind a bush and barked like a dog.  It
worked beautifully.  The lions grew quiet.  I barked and yelped and
bayed until I lost my voice.  Then they got ugly again.  They
started down.  With stones and clubs I kept them up there, while
all the time I was wearing to collapse.

When at last I was about to give up in terror and despair, I heard
Don's bay, faint and far away.  The lions had heard it before I
had.  How they strained!  I could see the beating of their hearts
through their lean sides.  My own heart leaped.  Don's bay floated
up, wild and mournful.  He was coming.  Jones had put him on the
back trail of the lion that had leaped from the tree.

Deeper and clearer came the bays.  How strange that Don should vary
from his habit of seldom baying.  There was something uncanny in
this change.  Soon I saw him far down the rocky slope.  He was
climbing fast.  It seemed I had long to wait, yet my fear left me.
On and up he came, ringing out that wild bay.  It must have curdled
the blood of those palpitating lions.  It seemed the herald of that
bawling pack of hounds.

Don espied me before he reached the pion in which were the lions.
He bounded right past it and up to me with the wildest demeanor.
He leaped up and placed his forepaws on my breast.  And as I leaned
down, excited and amazed, he licked my face.  Then he whirled back
to the tree, where he stood up and fiercely bayed the lions.

When I sank down to rest, overcome, the familiar baying chorus of
the hounds floated up from below.  As usual they were behind the
fleet Don, but they were coming as fast as they could.


Another day I found myself alone on the edge of the huge cove that
opened down into the main caon.  We were always getting lost from
one another.  And so were the hounds.  There were so many lion
trails that the pack would split, some going one way, some another,
until it appeared each dog finally had a lion to himself.

Then as I sat there, absorbed and chained, the spell of enchantment
was broken by Don.  He had come to me.  His mouth was covered with
froth.  I knew what that meant.

Rising, I got my canteen from the saddle and poured water into the
crown of my sombrero.  Don lapped it.  As he drank so thirstily, I
espied a bloody scratch on his nose.

"Aha!  A lion has batted you one, this very morning!" I cried.
"Don . . . I fear for you."

He rested while I once more was lost in contemplation of the glory
of the caon.  What significant hours these on the lonely heights!
But then I only saw and felt.

Presently I mounted my horse and headed for camp, with Don trotting
behind.  When we reached the notch of the cove, the hound let out
his deep bay and bounded down a break in the low wall.  I
dismounted and called.  Only another deep bay answered me.  Don had
scented a lion or crossed one's trail.  Suddenly several sharp deep
yelps came from below, a crashing of brush, a rattling of stones.
Don had jumped another lion.

Quickly I threw off sombrero and coat and chaps.  I retained my
left glove.  Then, with camera over my shoulder and revolver in my
belt, I plunged down the break in the crag.  My boots were heavy
soled and studded with hobnails.  The weeds on these rocky slopes
had trained me to fleetness and sure-footedness.  I plunged down
the sliding slant of weathered stone, crashed through the brush,
dodged under the cedars, leaped from boulder to ledge and down from
ledge to bench.

Reaching a dry streambed, I espied in the sand the tracks of a big
lion, and beside them smaller tracks that were Don's.  As I ran, I
yelled at the top of my lungs, hoping to help Don tree the lion.
What I was afraid of was that the beast might wait for Don and kill
him.

Such strenuous exertion required a moment's rest now and then,
during which I listened for Don.  Twice I heard his bay, and the
last one sounded as if he had treed the lion.  Again I took to my
plunging, jumping, sliding descent, and I was not long in reaching
the bottom of that gorge.

Ear and eye had guided me unerringly, for I came to an open space
near the main jump-off into the caon, and here I saw a tawny shape
in a cedar tree.  It belonged to a big Tom lion.  He swayed the
branch and leaped to a ledge, and from that down to another, and
then vanished around a corner of wall.

Don could not follow down those high steps.  Neither could I.  We
worked along the ledge, under cedars, and over huge slabs of rock
toward the corner where our quarry had disappeared.  We were close
to the great abyss.  I could almost feel it.  Then the glaring
light of a void struck my eyes like some tangible thing.  At last I
worked out from the shade of rocks and trees, and, turning the
abrupt jut of wall, I found a few feet of stone ledge between me
and the appalling chasm.  How blue, how fathomless!  Despite my
pursuit of a lion I was suddenly shocked into awe and fear.

Then Don returned to me.  The hair on his neck was bristling.  He
had come from the right, from around the corner of wall where the
ledge ran, and where surely the lion had gone.  My blood was up,
and I meant to track that beast to his lair, photograph him, if
possible, and kill him.

So I strode onto the ledge and around the point of wall.  Soon I
espied huge cat tracks in the dust, close to the base.  A well-
defined lion trail showed there.  And ahead I saw the ledge--
widening somewhat and far from level--stretch before me to another
corner.

Don acted queerly.  He followed me, close at my heels.  He whined.
He growled.  I did not stop to think then what he wanted me to do.
But it must have been that he wanted to go back.  The heat of youth
and the wildness of adventure had gripped me, and fear and caution
were not in me.

Nevertheless, my sensibilities were remarkably acute.  When Don got
in front of me, there was something that compelled me to go slowly.
Soon, in any event, I should have been forced to that.  The ledge
narrowed.  Then it widened again to a large bench with cavernous
walls overhanging it.

I passed this safe zone to turn onto a narrowing edge of rock that
disappeared around another corner.  When I came to this point, I
must have been possessed, for I flattened myself against the wall
and worked around it.

Again the way appeared easier.  But what made Don go so cautiously?
I heard his growls; still, no longer did I look at him.  I felt
this pursuit was nearing an end.  At the next turn I halted short,
suddenly quivering.  The ledge ended--and there lay the lion,
licking a bloody paw.

Tumultuous, indeed, were my emotions, yet on that instant I did not
seem conscious of fear.  Jones had told me never, in close
quarters, to take my eyes off a lion.  I forgot.  In the wild
excitement of a chance for an incomparable picture I forgot.  A few
precious seconds were wasted over the attempt to focus my camera.

Then I heard quick thuds.  Don growled.  With a start I jerked up
to see the lion had leaped or run half the distance.  He was
coming.  His eyes blazed purple fire.  They seemed to paralyze me,
yet I began to back along the ledge.  Whipping out my revolver, I
tried to aim.  But my nerves had undergone such a shock that I
could not aim.  The gun wobbled.  I dared not risk shooting.  If I
wounded the lion, it was certain he would knock me off that narrow
ledge.

So I kept on backing, step by step.  Don did likewise.  He stayed
between me and the lion.  Therein lay the greatness of that hound.
He easily could have dodged by me to escape along that ledge!

A precious opportunity presented when I reached the widest part of
the bench.  Here I had a chance, and I recognized it.  Then, when
the overhanging wall bumped my shoulder, I realized too late.  I
had come to the narrowing part of the ledge.  Not reason but fright
kept me from turning to run.  Perhaps that would have been the best
way out of the predicament.  I backed along the strip of stone that
was only a foot wide.  A few more blind steps meant death.  My
nerve was gone.  Collapse seemed inevitable.  I had a camera in one
hand and a revolver in the other.

That purple-eyed beast did not halt.  My distorted imagination gave
him a thousand shapes and actions.  Bitter, despairing thoughts
flashed through my mind.  Jones had said mountain lions were
cowards, but not when cornered--never when there was no avenue of
escape!

Then Don's haunches backed into my knees.  I dared not look down,
but I felt the hound against me.  He was shaking, yet he snarled
fiercely.  The feel of Don there, the sense of his courage caused
my cold thick blood to burst into hot gushes.  In another second he
would be pawed off the ledge or he would grapple with this hissing
lion.  That meant destruction for both, for they would roll off the
ledge.

I had to save Don.  That mounting thought was my salvation.
Physically he could not have saved me or himself, but this grand
spirit somehow pierced to my manhood.  Leaning against the wall, I
lifted the revolver and steadied my arm with my left hand, which
still held the camera.  I aimed between the purple eyes.  That
second was an eternity.  The gun crashed.  The blaze of one of
those terrible eyes went out.

Up leaped the lion, beating the wall with heavy, thudding paws.
Then he seemed to propel himself outward, off the ledge into space--
a tawny figure that careened majestically over and over, down--
down--down to vanish in the blue depths.

Don whined.  I stared at the abyss, slowly becoming unlocked from
the grip of terror.  I staggered a few steps forward to a wider
part of the ledge, and there I sank down, unable to stand longer.
Don crept to me, put his head in my lap.

I listened.  I strained my ears.  How endlessly long seemed that
lion in falling!  But all was magnified.  At last puffed up a
sliding roar, swelling and dying until again the terrific silence
of the caon enfolded me.

Presently Don sat up and gazed into the depths.  How strange to see
him peer down!  Then he turned his sleek dark head to look at me.
What did I see through the somber sadness of his eyes?  He whined
and licked my hand.  It seemed to me Don and I were more than man
and dog.  He moved away then around the narrow ledge, and I had to
summon energy to follow.

Shuddering, I turned my back on that awful chasm and held my breath
while I slipped around the perilous place.  Don waited there for
me, then trotted on.  Not until I had gotten safely off that ledge
did I draw a full breath.  Then I toiled up the steep, rough slope
to the rim.  Don was waiting beside my horse.  Between us we drank
the rest of the water in my canteen, and, when we reached camp,
night had fallen.  A bright fire and a good supper broke the gloom
of my mind.

My story held those rugged Westerners spellbound.  Don stayed close
to me, followed me of his own accord, and slept beside me in my
tent.


There came a frosty morning when the sun rose over the ramparts of
colored rock.  We had a lion running before the misty shadows
dispersed from the caon depths.  The hounds chased him through the
sage and cedar into the wild brakes of the north wing of the
plateau.  This lion must have been a mean old Tom, for he did not
soon go down the slopes.

The particular section he at last took refuge in was impassable for
man.  The hounds gave him a grueling chase, then one by one they
crawled up, sore and thirsty.  All returned but Don.  He did not
come home.

Buffalo Jones rolled out his mighty voice that pealed back in
mocking hollow tones.  Don did not come.  At noonday Jones and the
men left for camp with the hounds.

I remained.  I had a vigil there on the lofty rim, alone, where I
could peer down the yellow-green slope and beyond to the sinister
depths.  It was a still day.  The silence was overpowering.  When
Don's haunting bay floated up, it shocked me.  At long intervals I
heard it, fainter and fainter.  Then no more!

Still I waited and watched and listened.  Afternoon waned.  My
horse neighed piercingly from the cedars.  The sinking sun began to
fire the Pink Cliffs of Utah, and then the hundred miles of immense
chasm over which my charmed gaze held dominion.  How lonely, how
terrifying that stupendous rent in the earth!

Lion and hound had no fear.  But the thinking, feeling man was
afraid.  What did they mean--this exquisitely hued and monstrous
caon--the setting sun--the wildness of a lion, the grand spirit of
a dog--and the wondering sadness of man?

I rode home without Don.  Half the night I lay awake waiting,
hoping.  But he did not return by dawn nor through that day.  He
never came back.





THE GREAT SLAVE


A voice on the wind whispered to Siena the prophecy of his birth.
"A chief is born to save the vanishing tribe of Crows!  A hunter to
his starving people!"

While he listened, at his feet swept swift waters, the rushing,
green-white, thundering Athabasca, spirit-forsaken river; and it
rumbled his name and murmured his fate.  "Siena!  Siena!  His bride
will rise from a wind kiss on the flowers in the moonlight!  A new
land calls to the last of the Crows!  Northward where the wild
goose ends its flight Siena will father a great people!"

So Siena, a hunter of the leafy trails, dreamed his dreams; and at
sixteen he was the hope of the remnant of a once powerful tribe, a
stripling chief, beautiful as a bronzed autumn god, silent, proud,
forever listening to voices on the wind.

All the signs of a severe winter were in the hulls of the nuts, in
the fur of the foxes, in the flight of water-fowl.  Siena was
spearing fish for winter store.  None so keen of sight as Siena, so
swift of arm; and as he was the hope, so he alone was the provider
for the starving tribe.  Siena stood to his knees in a brook where
it flowed over its gravelly bed into the Athabasca.  Poised high
was his wooden spear.  It glinted downward swift as a shaft of
sunlight through the leaves.  Then Siena lifted a quivering
whitefish and tossed it upon the bank where his mother Ema, with
other women of the tribe, sun-dried the fish upon a rock.

Again and again, many times, flashed the spear.  The oldest squaw
could not remember such a run of fish.  Ema sang the praises of her
son; the other women ceased the hunger chant of the tribe.

Suddenly a hoarse shout pealed out over the waters.

Ema fell in a fright; her companions ran away; Siena leaped upon
the bank, clutching his spear.  A boat in which were men with white
faces drifted down toward him.

"Palefaces," he whispered, trembling, yet stood his ground ready to
fight for his mother.  He remembered stories of an old Indian who
had journeyed far to the south and had crossed the trails of the
dreaded white men.  There stirred in him vague memories of strange
Indian runners telling camp-fire tales of white hunters with
weapons of lightning and thunder.

As the boat beached on the sand Siena saw men lying with pale faces
upward to the sky, and voices in an unknown tongue greeted him.
The tone was friendly, and he lowered his threatening spear.  Then
a man came up the bank, his hungry eyes on the pile of fish, and he
began to speak haltingly in mingled Cree and Chippewayan language.

"Boy--we're white friends--starving--let us buy fish--trade for
fish--we're starving and we have many moons to travel."

"Siena's tribe is poor," replied the lad; "sometimes they starve
too.  But Siena will divide his fish and wants no trade."

Whereupon he portioned out a half of the fish.  The white men built
a fire and sat around it feasting like famished wolves around a
fallen stag.  When they had appeased their hunger they packed the
remaining fish in the boat, whistling and singing the while.  Then
the leader made offer to pay, which Siena refused, though the
covetous light in his mother's eyes hurt him sorely.

"Chief," said the leader, "the white man understands; now he offers
presents as one chief to another."

Thereupon he proffered bright beads and tinseled trinkets, yards of
calico and strips of cloth.  Siena accepted with a dignity in
marked contrast to the way in which the greedy Ema pounced upon the
glittering heap.  Next the paleface presented a knife which, drawn
from its scabbard, showed a blade that mirrored its brightness in
Siena's eyes.

"Chief, your woman complains of a starving tribe," went on the
white man.  "Are there not many moose around this part of the
country?"

"Yes.  But seldom can Siena creep within range of his arrow."

"A-ha!  Siena will starve no more," replied the man, and from the
boat he took a long iron tube with a wooden stick.

"What is that?" asked Siena.

"The wonderful shooting stick.  Here, boy, watch!  See the bark on
the camp fire.  Watch!"

He raised the stick to his shoulder.  Then followed a streak of
flame, a puff of smoke, a booming report and the bark of the camp
fire flew into bits.

The children dodged into the wigwams with loud cries; the women ran
screaming.  Ema dropped in the grass wailing that the end of the
world had come, while Siena, unable to move hand or foot, breathed
another prayer to Naza of the northland--his god of gods.

The white man laughed and patting Siena's arm, he said:  "No fear."
Then he drew Siena away from the bank, and began to explain the
meaning and use of the wonderful shooting stick.  He reloaded it
and fired again and yet again, until Siena understood and was all
aflame at the possibilities of such a weapon.

Patiently the white man taught the Indian how to load it, sight,
and shoot, and how to clean it with ramrod and buckskin.  Next he
placed at Siena's feet a keg of powder, a bag of lead bullets, and
boxes full of caps.  Then he bade Siena farewell, entered the boat
with his men and drifted round a bend of the swift Athabasca.

Siena stood alone upon the bank, the wonderful shooting stick in
his hands, and the wail of his frightened mother in his ears.  He
comforted her, telling her the white men were gone, that he was
safe, and that the prophecy of his birth had at last begun its
fulfillment.  He carried the precious ammunition to a safe hiding
place in a hollow log near his wigwam and then he plunged into the
forest.

Siena bent his course toward the runways of the moose.  Soon he was
there--a bull moose in sight, far out of range of a hunter's arrow.

"Naza!" whispered Siena in his swelling throat.

He rested the shooting stick on the log and tried to see over the
brown barrel.  But his eyes were dim.  Again he whispered a prayer
to Naza.  His sight cleared, his shaking arms stilled, and with his
soul waiting, hoping, doubting, he aimed and pulled the trigger.

Boom!

High the moose flung his ponderous head, to crash down upon his
knees, to roll in the water and churn a bloody foam, and then lie
still.

"Siena!  Siena!"

Shrill the young chief's exultant yell pealed over the listening
waters, piercing the still forest, to ring back in echo from Old
Stoneface.  It was Siena's triumphant call to his forefathers,
watching him from the silence.

When Siena stood over the dead moose his doubts fled; he was indeed
god-chosen.  No longer chief of a starving tribe!  Reverently and
with immutable promise he raised the shooting stick to the north,
toward Naza who had remembered him; and on the south, where dwelt
the enemies of his tribes, his dark glance brooded wild and proud
and savage.

Eight times the shooting stick boomed out in the stillness and
eight moose lay dead in the wet grasses.  In the twilight Siena
wended his way home and placed eight moose tongues before the
whimpering squaws.

"Siena is no longer a boy," he said.  "Siena is a hunter.  Let his
women go bring in the meat."

Before the ice locked the ponds Siena killed a hundred moose and
reindeer.  Meat and fat and oil and robes changed the world for the
Crow tribe.

Spring went by, summer grew into blazing autumn, and Siena's fame
and the wonder of the shooting stick spread through the length and
breadth of the land.

Another year passed, then another, and Siena was the great chief of
the rejuvenated Crows.  He had grown into a warrior's stature, his
face had the beauty of the god-chosen, his eye the falcon flash of
the Sienas of old.  Long communion in the shadow of Old Stoneface
had added wisdom to his other gifts; and now to his worshiping
tribe all that was needed to complete the prophecy of his birth was
the coming of the alien bride.

It was another autumn, with the wind whipping the tamaracks and
moaning in the pines, and Siena stole along a brown, fern-lined
trail.  The dry smell of fallen leaves filled his nostrils; he
tasted snow in the keen breezes.  The flowers were dead, and still
no dark-eyed bride sat in his wigwam.  Siena sorrowed and
strengthened his heart to wait.  He saw her flitting in the shadows
around him, a wraith with dusky eyes veiled by dusky windblown
hair, and ever she hovered near him, whispering from every dark
pine, from every waving tuft of grass.

To her whispers he replied:  "Siena waits."

A snapping of twigs alarmed Siena and he whirled upon the
defensive, but too late to save himself.  A band of Indians pounced
upon him and bore him to the ground.  One wrestling heave Siena
made, then he was overpowered and bound.  Looking upward, he knew
his captors, though he had never seen them before; they were the
life-long foes of his people, the fighting Crees.

A sturdy chief, bronze of face and sinister of eye, looked grimly
down upon his captive.  "Baroma makes Siena a slave."

Siena and his tribe were dragged far southward to the land of the
Crees.  The young chief was bound upon a block in the center of the
village where hundreds of Crees spat upon him, beat him, and
outraged him in every way their cunning could devise.  Siena's gaze
was on the north and his face showed no sign that he felt the
torments.

At last Baroma's old advisers stopped the spectacle, saying:  "This
is a man!"

Siena and his people became slaves of the Crees.  In Baroma's
lodge, hung upon caribou antlers, was the wonderful shooting stick
with Siena's powder horn and bullet pouch, objects of intense
curiosity and fear.

None knew the mystery of this lightning-flashing, thunder-dealing
thing; none dared touch it.

Because of his strength Siena was worked like a dog at hauling
packs and carrying wood; because of his fame he was set to cleaning
fish and washing vessels with the squaws.  Seldom did he get to
speak a word to his mother or any of his people.  Always he was
driven.

One day, when he lagged almost fainting, a maiden brought him water
to drink.  Siena looked up and all about him suddenly brightened,
as when sunlight bursts from cloud.

"Who is kind to Siena?" he asked, drinking.

"Baroma's daughter," replied the maiden.

"What is her name?"

Quickly the maiden bent her head, veiling dusky eyes with dusky
hair.  "Emihiyah."

"Siena has wandered on lonely trails and listened to voices not
meant for other ears.  He has heard the music of Emihiyah on the
winds.  Let the daughter of Siena's great foe not fear to tell of
her name."

"Emihiyah means a wind kiss on the flowers in the moonlight," she
whispered shyly and fled.

Love came to the last of the Sienas and it was like a glory.  Death
shuddered no more in Siena's soul.  He saw into the future, and out
of his gloom he rose again, god-chosen in his own sight, with such
added beauty to his stern face and power to his piercing eye and
strength to his lofty frame that the Crees quailed before him and
marveled.

Siena's people saw him strong and patient, and they toiled on,
unbroken, faithful.  While he lived, the pride of Baroma was
vaunting.  "Siena waits" were the simple words he said to his
mother, and she repeated them as wisdom.  But the flame of his eye
was like the leaping Northern Lights, and it kept alive the fire
deep down in their breasts.

In the winter when the Crees lolled in their wigwams, when less
labor fell to Siena, he set traps in the snow trails for silver fox
and marten.  No Cree had ever been such a trapper as Siena.

In the long months he captured many furs, with which he wrought a
robe the like of which had not before been the delight of a
maiden's eye.  He kept it by him for seven nights, and always
during this time his ear was turned to the wind.  The seventh night
was the night of the midwinter feast, and when the torches burned
bright in front of Baroma's lodge Siena took the robe and, passing
slowly and stately till he stood before Emihiyah, he laid it at her
feet.

Emihiyah's dusky face paled, her eyes that shone like stars drooped
behind her flying hair, and all her slender body trembled.

"Slave!" cried Baroma, leaping erect.  "Come closer that Baroma may
see what kind of a dog approaches Emihiyah."

Siena met Baroma's gaze, but spoke no word.  His gift spoke for
him.  The hated slave dared to ask in marriage the hand of the
proud Baroma's daughter.  Siena towered in the firelight with
something in his presence that for a moment awed beholders.  Then
the passionate and untried braves broke the silence with a clamor
of the wolf pack.

Tillimanqua, wild son of Baroma, strung an arrow to his bow and
shot it into Siena's hip, where it stuck, with feathered shaft
quivering.

The spring of the panther was not swifter than Siena; he tossed
Tillimanqua into the air and, flinging him down, trod on his neck
and wrenched the bow away.  Siena pealed out the long-drawn war
whoop of his tribe that had not been heard for a hundred years, and
the terrible cry stiffened the Crees in their tracks.

Then he plucked the arrow from his hip and, fitting it to the
string, pointed the glory flint head at Tillimanqua's eyes and
began to bend the bow.  He bent the tough wood till the ends almost
met, a feat of exceeding great strength, and thus he stood with
brawny arms knotted and stretched.

A scream rent the suspense.  Emihiyah fell upon her knees.  "Spare
Emihiyah's brother!"

Siena cast one glance at the kneeling maiden, then, twanging the
bow string, he shot the arrow toward the sky.

"Baroma's slave is Siena," he said, with scorn like the lash of a
whip.  "Let the Cree learn wisdom."

Then Siena strode away, with a stream of dark blood down his thigh,
and went to his brush tepee, where he closed his wound.

In the still watches of the night, when the stars blinked through
the leaves and the dew fell, when Siena burned and throbbed in
pain, a shadow passed between his weary eyes and the pale light.
And a voice that was not one of the spirit voices on the wind
called softly over him, "Siena!  Emihiyah comes."

The maiden bound the hot thigh with a soothing balm and bathed his
fevered brow.  Then her hands found his in tender touch, her dark
face bent low to his, her hair lay upon his check.

"Emihiyah keeps the robe," she said.

"Siena loves Emihiyah," he replied.

"Emihiyah loves Siena," she whispered.  She kissed him and stole
away.  On the morrow Siena's wound was as if it had never been; no
eye saw his pain.  Siena returned to his work and his trapping.
The winter melted into spring, spring flowered into summer, summer
withered into autumn.

That autumn the north wind came a moon before the Crees expected
it; the reindeer took their annual march farther south; the moose
herded warily in open groves; the whitefish did not run, and the
seven-year pest depleted the rabbits.

When the first snow fell Baroma called a council and then sent his
hunting braves far and wide.

One by one they straggled back to camp, footsore and hungry, and
each with the same story.  It was too late.

A few moose were in the forest, but they were wild and kept far out
of range of the hunter's arrows, and there was no other game.

A blizzard clapped down upon the camp, and sleet and snow whitened
the forest and filled the trails.  Then winter froze everything in
icy clutch.  The old year drew to a close.

It was then that the stubborn Baroma yielded to his advisers and
consented to let Siena save them from starvation by means of his
wonderful shooting stick.  Accordingly Baroma sent word to Siena to
appear at his wigwam.

Siena did not go, and said to the medicine men:  "Tell Baroma soon
it will be for Siena to demand."

Then the Cree chieftain stormed and stamped in his wigwam and swore
away the life of his slave.  Yet again the wise medicine men
prevailed.  Siena and the wonderful shooting stick would be the
salvation of the Crees.  Baroma, muttering deep in his throat like
distant thunder, gave sentence to starve Siena until he volunteered
to go forth to hunt, or let him be the first to die.

The last scraps of meat, except a little hoarded in Baroma's lodge,
were devoured, and then began the boiling of bones and skins to
make a soup to sustain life.  The cold days passed and a silent
gloom pervaded the camp.  Sometimes a cry of a bereaved mother,
mourning for a starved child, wailed through the darkness.  Siena's
people, long used to starvation, did not suffer or grow weak so
soon as the Crees.  They were of hardier frame, and they were
upheld by faith in their chief.  When he would sicken it would be
time for them to despair.

But Siena walked erect as in the days of his freedom, nor did he
stagger under the loads of firewood, and there was a light on his
face.  The Crees, knowing of Baroma's order that Siena should be
the first to perish of starvation, gazed at the slave first in awe,
then in fear.  The last of the Sienas was succored by the spirits.

But god-chosen though Siena deemed himself, he knew it was not by
the spirits that he was fed in this time of famine.  At night in
the dead stillness, when even no mourning of wolf came over the
frozen wilderness, Siena lay in his brush tepee close and warm
under his blanket.  A shadow passed between his eyes and the pale
light.

"Emihiyah comes," whispered the shadow and knelt over him.

She tendered a slice of meat which she had stolen from Baroma's
scant hoard as he muttered and growled in uneasy slumber.  Every
night since her father's order to starve Siena, Emihiyah had made
this perilous errand.

And now her hand sought his and her dusky hair swept his brow.
"Emihiyah is faithful," she breathed low.

"Siena only waits," he replied.

She kissed him and stole away.


Cruel days fell upon the Crees before Baroma's pride was broken.
Many children died and some of the mothers were beyond help.

At last Baroma went to Siena.  "Siena may save his people and the
Crees."

Siena regarded him long, then replied:  "Siena waits."

Baroma roared in his fury and bade his braves lash the slave.  But
the blows fell from feeble arms and Siena laughed at his captors.

Then, like a wild lion unleashed from long thrall, he turned upon
them:  "Starve!  Cree dogs!  Starve!  When the Crees all fall like
leaves in autumn, then Siena and his people will go back to the
north."

Baroma's arrogance left him then, and on another day, when Emihiyah
lay weak and pallid in his wigwam and the pangs of hunger gnawed at
his own vitals, he again sought Siena.  "Let Siena tell for what he
waits."

Siena rose to his lofty height and the leaping flame of the
Northern Lights gathered in his eyes.  "Freedom!"  One word he
spoke and it rolled away on the wind.

"Baroma yields," replied the Cree, and hung his head.

"Send the squaws who can walk and the braves who can crawl out upon
Siena's trail."

Then Siena went to Baroma's lodge and took up the wonderful
shooting stick and, loading it, he set out upon snowshoes into the
white forest.  He knew where to find the moose yards in the
sheltered corners.  He heard the bulls pounding the hard-packed
snow and cracking their antlers on the trees.  The wary beasts
would not have allowed him to steal close, as a warrior armed with
a bow must have done, but Siena fired into the herd at long range.
And when they dashed off, sending the snow up like a spray, a huge
black bull lay dead.

Siena followed them as they floundered through the drifts, and
whenever he came within range he shot again.  When five moose were
killed he turned upon his trail to find almost the whole Cree tribe
had followed him and were tearing the meat and crying out in a kind
of crazy joy.

That night the fires burned before the wigwams, the earthen pots
steamed, and there was great rejoicing.  Siena hunted the next day,
and the next, and for ten days he went into the white forest with
his wonderful shooting stick, and eighty moose fell to his unerring
aim.

The famine was broken and the Crees were saved.

When the mad dances ended and the feasts were over, Siena appeared
before Baroma's lodge.

"Siena will lead his people northward."

Baroma starving was a different chief from Baroma well fed and in
no pain.  All his cunning had returned.  "Siena goes free.  Baroma
gave his word.  Siena's people remain slaves."

"Siena has demanded freedom for himself and his people."

"Baroma heard no word of Siena's tribe.  He would not have granted
freedom to them.  Siena's freedom was enough."

"The Cree twists the truth.  He knows Siena would not go without
his people.  Siena might have remembered Baroma's cunning.  The
Crees were ever liars."

Baroma stalked before his fire with haughty presence.  About him in
the circle of light sat his medicine men, his braves and squaws.
"The Cree is kind.  He gave his word.  Siena is free.  Let him take
his wonderful shooting stick and go back to the north."

Siena laid the shooting stick at Baroma's feet and likewise the
powder horn and bullet pouch.  "Siena stays."

Baroma started in amaze and anger.  "Siena makes Baroma's word
idle.  Begone!"

"Siena stays!"

The look of Siena, the pealing reply, for a moment held the chief
mute.  Slowly Baroma stretched wide his arms and lifted them, while
from his face flashed a sullen wonder.  "Great Slave!" he
thundered.

So was respect forced from the soul of the Cree, and the name thus
wrung from his jealous heart was one to live forever in the lives
and legends of Siena's people.

From that day insult was never offered to Siena, nor word spoken to
him by the Crees, nor work given.  He was free to come and go where
he willed, and he spent his time in lessening the tasks of his
people.

The trails of the forest were always open to him, as were the
streets of the Cree village.  If a brave met him, it was to step
aside; if a squaw met him, it was to bow her head; if a chief met
him, it was to face him as warriors faced warriors.

Once in the late autumn Siena sat brooding in the twilight by Ema's
tepee.  That night all who came near him were silent.  Again Siena
was listening to voices on the wind, voices that had been still for
long, which he had tried to forget.

In the darkness when the camp slumbered, Siena faced the steely
north.  As he looked a golden shaft, arrow-shaped and arrow-swift,
shot to the zenith.

"Naza!" he whispered to the wind.  "Siena watches."

Then the gleaming, changing Northern Lights painted a picture of
gold and silver bars, of flushes pink as shell, of opal fire and
sunset red; and it was a picture of Siena's life from the moment
the rushing Athabasca rumbled his name, to the far distant time
when he would say farewell to his great nation and pass forever to
the retreat of the winds.  God-chosen he was, and had power to read
the story in the sky.

Seven nights Siena watched in the darkness; and on the seventh
night, when the golden flare and silver shafts faded in the north,
he passed from tepee to tepee, awakening his people.  "When Siena's
people hear the sound of the shooting stick let them cry greatly:
'Siena kills Baroma!  Siena kills Baroma!'"

With noiseless stride Siena went among the wigwams and along the
lanes until he reached Baroma's lodge.  Entering in the dark he
groped with his hands upward to a moose's antlers and found the
shooting stick.  Outside he fired it into the air.

Like a lightning bolt the report ripped asunder the silence, and
the echoes clapped and reclapped from the cliffs.  Sharp on the
dying echoes Siena bellowed his war whoop, and it was the second
time in a hundred years for foes to hear that terrible, long-drawn
cry.

Then followed the shrill yells of Siena's people:  "Siena kills
Baroma . . .  Siena kills Baroma!"

In the din of confusion and terror when the Crees were lamenting
the supposed death of Baroma and screaming in each other's ears,
"The Great Slave takes his freedom!" Siena ran to his people and,
pointing to the north, drove them before him.

Single file, like a long line of flitting specters, they passed out
of the fields into the forest.  Siena kept close on their trail,
ever looking backward, and ready with the shooting stick.

The roar of the stricken Crees softened in his ears and at last
died away.

All night Siena hurried them northward and with every stride his
heart beat higher.  Only he was troubled by a sound like the voice
that came to him on the wind.

But the wind was now blowing in his face, and the sound appeared to
be at his back.  It followed on his trail as had the step of
destiny.  When he strained his ears he could not hear it, yet when
he had gone on swiftly, persuaded it was only fancy, then the voice
that was not a voice came haunting him.

In the gray dawn Siena halted on the far side of a gray flat and
peered through the mists on his back trail.  Something moved out
among the shadows, a gray shape that crept slowly, uttering a
mournful cry.

"Siena is trailed by a wolf," muttered the chief.

Yet he waited, and saw that the wolf was an Indian.  He raised the
fatal shooting stick.

As the Indian staggered forward, Siena recognized the robe of
silver fox and marten, his gift to Emihiyah.  He laughed in
mockery.  It was a Cree trick.  Tillimanqua had led the pursuit
disguised in his sister's robe.  Baroma would find his son dead on
the Great Slave's trail.

"Siena!" came the strange, low cry.

It was the cry that had haunted him like the voice on the wind.  He
leaped as a bounding deer.

Out of the gray fog burned dusky eyes half-veiled by dusky hair,
and little hands that he knew wavered as fluttering leaves.
"Emihiyah comes," she said.

"Siena waits," he replied.

Far to the northward he led his bride and his people, far beyond
the old home on the green-white, thundering Athabasca, god-forsaken
river; and there, on the lonely shores of an inland sea, he
fathered the Great Slave Tribe.




LIGHTNING


Reward:  $500 WILL BE PAID FOR THE DEATH OF LIGHTNING, LEADER OF
THE SEVIER RANGE OF WILD HORSES.  UTAH CATTLE COMPANY.

This notice, with a letter coming by stage and messenger to the
Stewarts, brightened what had been a dull prospect.  Seldom did a
whole year's work, capturing and corralling mustangs in the canyons
and on the plateaus, pay them half as much as the reward offered
for this one stallion.  The last season had been a failure
altogether.  A string of pintos and mustangs, representing months
of hazardous toil, had climbed out of a canyon corral and escaped
to their old haunts.  So on the strength of this opportunity the
brothers packed and rode out of Fredonia across the Arizona line
into Utah.

Two days took them beyond and above the Pink Cliffs to the White
Sage plateau, and there the country became new to them.  From time
to time a solitary sheepherder, encountered with his flocks on a
sage slope, set them in the right direction, and on the seventh day
they reached Bain, the most southerly of the outposts of the big
Utah ranches.  It consisted of a water hole, a corral, a log cabin,
and some range riders.

Lee and Cuth Stewart were tall, lean Mormons, as bronzed as desert
Navajos, cool, silent, gray-eyed, still-faced.  Both wore crude
homespun garments much the worse for wear; boots that long before
had given the best in them; laced leather wristbands thin and shiny
from contact with lassoes; and old gray slouch hats that would have
disgraced cowboys.

But this threadbare effect did not apply to the rest of the outfit,
which showed a care that must have been in proportion to its hard
use.  And the five beautiful mustangs, Bess in particular, proved
that the Stewarts were Indians at the end of every day, for they
certainly had camped where there were grass and water.  The pack of
hounds shared interest with the mustangs, and the leader, a great
yellow, somber-eyed hound, Dash by name, could have made friends
with everybody had he felt inclined.

"We calculated, boys," held forth the foreman, "that if anybody
could round up Lightnin' an' his bunch it'd be you.  Every ranger
between here an' Marysvale has tried an' failed.  Lightnin' is a
rare cute stallion.  He has more than hoss sense.  For two years
now no one has been in rifle shot of him, for the word has long
since gone out to kill him.

"It's funny to think how many rangers have tried to corral him,
trap him, or run him down.  He's been a heap of trouble to all the
ranchers.  He goes right into a bunch of hosses, fights an' kills
the stallions, an' leads off what he wants of the rest.  His band
is scattered all over, an' no man can count 'em, but he's got at
least five hundred hosses off the ranges.  An' he's got to be
killed or there won't be a safe grazin' spot left in Sevier
County."

"How're we to know this hoss's trail when we do cross it?" asked
Lee Stewart.

"You can't miss it.  His right foretrack has a notch that bites in
clean every step he takes.  One of my rangers came in yesterday an'
reported fresh sign of Lightnin' at Cedar Springs, sixteen miles
north along the red ridge there.  An' he's goin' straight for his
hidin' place.  Whenever he's been hard chased he hits it back up
there an' lays low for a while.  It's rough country, though I
reckon it won't be to you canyon fellers."

"How about water?"

"Good chances for water beyond Cedar, I reckon, though I don't know
any springs.  It's rare an' seldom any of us ever work up as far as
Cedar.  A scaly country up that way--black sage, an' that's all."


The Stewarts reached Cedar Springs that afternoon.  It was a hot
place; a few cedars, struggling for existence, lifted dead twisted
branches to the sun; a scant growth of grass greened the few shady
spots, and a thin stream of water ran between glistening borders of
alkali.  A drove of mustangs had visited the spring since dawn and
had obliterated all tracks made before.

While Cuth made camp Lee rode up the ridge to get a look at the
country.  "We're just on the edge of wild-hoss country," he said to
Cuth when he returned.  "That stallion probably had a picked bunch
an' was drivin' them higher up.  It's gettin' hot these days and
the browse is witherin'.  I see old deer sign on the ridge, an'
cougar, an' coyote sign trailin' after.  They're all makin' fer
higher up.  I reckon we'll find 'em all on Sevier plateau."

"Did you see the plateau?" asked Cuth.

"Plain.  Near a hundred miles away yet.  Just a long flat ridge
black with timber.  Then there's the two snow peaks, Terrill an'
Hilgard, pokin' up their cold noses.  I reckon the plateau rises
off these ridges, an' the Sevier River an' the mountains are on the
other side.  So we'll push on for the plateau.  We might come up
with Lightnin' and his bunch."

Sunset found them halting at a little water hole among a patch of
cedars and boulders.

Cuth slipped the packs and Lee measured out the oats for the
mustangs.  Then the brothers set about getting supper for
themselves.

Cuth had the flour and water mixed to a nicety and Lee had the
Dutch oven on some red-hot coals when, moved by a common instinct,
they stopped work and looked up.

The five mustangs were not munching their oats; their heads were
up.  Bess the keenest of the quintet, moved restlessly and then
took a few steps toward the opening in the cedars.

"Bess!" called Lee, sternly.  The mare stopped.

"She's got a scent," whispered Cuth, reaching for his rifle.
"Mebbe it's a cougar."

"Mebbe, but I never knowed Bess to go lookin' up one. . . .  Hist!
Look at Dash."

The yellow hound had risen from among his pack and stood warily
shifting his nose.  He sniffed the wind, turned round and round,
and slowly stiffened with his head pointing up the ridge.  The
other hounds caught something, at least the manner of their leader,
and became restless.

"Down, Dash, down," said Lee, and then with a smile to Cuth, "Did
you hear it?"

"Hear what?"

"Listen!"

The warm breeze came down in puffs from the ridge: it rustled the
cedars and blew fragrant whiffs of smoke into the hunters' faces,
and presently it bore a call, a low, prolonged call.

Cuth rose noiselessly to his feet and stood still.  So horses,
hounds, and men waited listening.  The sound broke the silence
again, much clearer, a keen, sharp whistle.  The third time it rang
down from the summit of the ridge, splitting the air, strong,
trenchant, the shrill, fiery call of a challenging stallion.

Bess reared an instant straight up and came down quivering.

"Look!" whispered Lee, tensely.

On the summit of the bare ridge stood a noble horse clearly
silhouetted against the purple and gold of sunset sky.  He was an
iron-gray, and he stood wild and proud, with long silver-white mane
waving in the wind.

"Lightnin'!" exclaimed Cuth.

He stood there one moment, long enough to make a picture for the
wild horse hunters that would never be forgotten; then he moved
back along the ridge and disappeared.  Other horses, blacks and
bays, showed above the sage for a moment, and they, too passed out
of sight.


Before daylight the brothers were up and at dawn filed out of the
cedar grove.  The trained horses scarcely rattled a stone, and the
hounds trotted ahead mindful of foxes and rabbits brushed out of
the sage as they held back their chase.

The morning passed and the afternoon waned.  Green willows began to
skirt the banks of a sandy wash and the mustangs sniffed as if they
smelled water.  Presently the Stewarts entered a rocky corner
refreshingly bright and green with grass, trees, and flowers and
pleasant with the murmur of bees and fall of water.

A heavily flowing spring gushed from under a cliff, dashed down
over stones to form a pool, and ran out to seep away and lose
itself in the sandy wash.  Flocks of blackbirds chattered around
the pool and rabbits darted everywhere.

"It'd take a hull lot of chasin' to drive a mustang from comin'
regular to that spring," commented Cuth.

"Sure, it's a likely place, an' we can make a corral here in short
order."

In a day's hard work, they completed the corral.  The pool was
enclosed, except on the upper side where the water tumbled over a
jumble of rocks, a place no horse could climb out, and on the lower
side where they left the opening for the ponderous pine-log gate
which would trap the mustangs once they had entered the corral.

At nightfall they were ready and waiting for their quarry.  At
midnight the breeze failed and a dead stillness set in.  It was not
broken until the afterpart of the night and then, suddenly, by the
shrill, piercing neigh of a mustang.  The Stewarts raised
themselves sharply and looked at each other thoughtfully in the
dark.

"Did you hear thet?" asked Lee.

"I just did.  Sounded like Bess."

"It was Bess, darn her black hide.  She never did that before."

"Mebbe she's winded Lightnin'."

"Mebbe.  But she ain't hobbled, an' if she'd whistle like thet for
him she's liable to make off after him.  Now, what to do?"

"It's too late.  I warned you before.  We can't spoil what may be a
chance to get the stallion.  Let Bess alone.  Many's the time she's
had a chance to make off an' didn't do it.  Let's wait."

"Reckon it's all we can do now.  If she called thet stallion, it
proves one thing--we can't never break a wild mare perfectly.  The
wild spirit may sleep in her blood, mebbe for years, but some time
it'll answer to--"

"Shut up--listen!" interrupted Cuth.

From far up on the ridge came down the faint rattling of stones.

"Mustangs--an' they're comin' down," said Lee.

"I see 'em!" whispered Cuth.

It was an anxious moment, for the mustangs had to pass hunters and
hounds before entering the gate.  A black bobbing line wound out of
the cedars.  Then the starlight showed the line to be the mustangs
marching in single file.  They passed with drooping heads, hurrying
a little toward the last and unsuspiciously entered the corral
gate.

"Twenty-odd," whispered Lee, "but all blacks an' bays.  The leader
wasn't in that bunch.  Mebbe it wasn't his--"

Among the cedars rose the peculiar halting thump of hobbled horses
trying to cover ground, and following that snorts and crashings of
brush and the pound of plunging hoofs.  Then out of the cedars
moved two shadows, the first a great gray horse with snowy mane,
the second a small, graceful, shiny black mustang.

Lightning and Bess!

The stallion, in the fulfillment of a conquest such as had made him
famous on the wild ranges, was magnificent in action and mien.
Wheeling about her, whinnying, cavorting, he arched his splendid
neck and pushed his head against her.  His importunity was that of
a master.

Suddenly Bess snorted and whirled down the trail.  Lightning
whistled one short blast of anger or terror and thundered after the
black.  Bess was true to her desert blood at the last.  They
vanished in the gray shadow of the cedars, as a stream of
frightened mustangs poured out of the corral in a clattering roar.

Gradually the dust settled.  Cuth looked at Lee and Lee looked at
Cuth.  For a while neither spoke.  Cuth generously forbore saying:
"I told you so."  The failure of their plan was only an incident of
horse wrangling and in no wise discomfited them.  But Lee was angry
at his favorite.

"You was right, Cuth," he said.  "That mare played us at the
finish.  Ketched when she was a yearling, broke the best of any
mustang we ever had, trained with us for five years, an' helped
down many a stallion--an' she runs off wild with that big, white-
maned brute!"

"Well, they make a team an' they'll stick," replied Cuth.  "An'
so'll we stick, if we have to chase them to the Great Salt Basin."

Next morning when the sun tipped the ridge rosy red, Lee put the
big yellow hound on the notched track of the stallion, and the long
trail began.  At noon the hunters saw him heading his blacks across
a rising plain, the first step of the mighty plateau stretching to
the northward.

As they climbed, grass and water became more frequent along the
trail.  For the most part Lee kept on the tracks of the mustang
leader without the aid of the hound; Dash was used in the grass and
on the scaly ridges where the trail was hard to find.

The succeeding morning Cuth spied Lightning watching them from a
high point.  Another day found them on top of the plateau, among
the huge brown pine trees and patches of snow and clumps of aspen.
It took two days to cross the plateau--sixty miles.  Lightning did
not go down, but doubled on his trail.  Rimming a pleateau was
familiar work for the hunters, and twice they came within sight of
the leader and his band.

Sometimes for hours the hunters had him in sight, and always beside
him was the little black they knew to be Bess.  There was no
mistaking her.

There came a day when Lightning cut out all of his band except
Bess, and they went on alone.  They made a spurt and lost the
trailers from sight for two days.  Then Bess dropped a shoe and the
pursuers came up.

As she grew lamer and lamer, the stallion showed his mettle.  He
did not quit her, but seemed to grow more cunning as pursuit closed
in on them, choosing the open places where he could see far and
browsing along, covering rods where formerly he had covered miles.

One day the trail disappeared on stony ground, and there Dash came
in for his share.  Behind them the Stewarts climbed a very high
round-topped mesa, buttressed and rimmed by cracked cliffs.

It was almost insurmountable.  They reached the summit by a narrow
watercourse to find a wild and lonesome level rimmed by crags and
gray walls.  There were cedars and fine thin grass growing on the
plateau.

"Corralled!" said Lee, laconically, as his keen eye swept the
surroundings.  "He's never been here before an' there's no way off
this mesa except by the back trail, which we'll close."

After fencing the split in the wall the brothers separated and rode
around the rim of the mesa.  Lightning had reached the end of his
trail; he was caught in a trap.

Lee saw him flying like a gleam through the cedars, and suddenly
came upon Bess limping painfully along.  He galloped up, roped her,
and led her, a tired and crippled mustang, back to the place
selected for camp.

"Played out eh?" said Cuth, as he smoothed the dusty neck.  "Well,
Bess, you can rest up an' help us ketch the stallion.  There's good
grazin' here, an' we can go down for water."

For their operations the hunters chose the highest part of the
mesa, a level cedar forest.  Opposite a rampart of the cliff wall
they cut a curved line of cedars, dropping them close together to
form a dense, impassable fence.  This enclosed a good space free
from trees.  From the narrowest point, some twenty yards wide, they
cut another line of cedars running diagonally back a mile into the
center of the mesa.  What with this labor and going down every day
to take the mustangs to water, nearly a week elapsed.

"It'd be somethin' to find out how long thet stallion could go
without waterin'," said Lee.  "But we'll make his tongue hang out
tomorrow!  An' just for spite we'll break him with Black Bess."

Daylight came cool and misty; the veils unrolled in the valleys,
the purple curtains of the mountains lifted to the snow peaks and
became clouds; and then the red sun burned out of the east.

"If he runs this way," said Lee, as he mounted Black Bess, "drive
him back.  Don't let him in the corral till he's plumb tired and
worn out."

The mesa sloped slightly eastward and the cedar forest soon gave
place to sage and juniper.  At the extreme eastern point of the
mesa Lee jumped Lightning out of a clump of bushes.  A race ensued
for half the length of the sage flat, then the stallion made into
the cedars and disappeared.

Lee slowed down, trotting up the easy slope, and cut across
somewhat to the right.  Not long afterwards he heard Cuth yelling
and saw Lightning tearing through the scrub.  Lee went on to the
point where he had left Cuth and waited.

Soon the pound of hoofs thudded through the forest, coming nearer
and nearer.  Lightning appeared straight ahead, running easily.  At
sight of Lee and the black mare he snorted viciously and, veering
to the left, took to the open.

Lee watched him with sheer admiration.  He had a beautiful stride
and ran seemingly without effort.  Then Cuth galloped up and reined
in a spent and foam-flecked mustang.

"That stallion can run some," was his tribute.

"He sure can.  Change hosses now an' be ready to fall in line when
I chase him back."

With that Lee coursed away and soon crossed the trail of Lightning
and followed it at a sharp trot, threading in and out of the aisles
and glades of the forest.  He passed through to the rim and circled
half the mesa before he saw the stallion again.  Lightning stood on
a ridge looking backward.  When the hunter yelled, the stallion
leaped as if he had been shot and plunged down the ridge.

Lee headed to cut him off from the cedars, but he forged to the
front, gained the cedar level, and twinkled in and out of the clump
of trees.  Again Lee slowed down to save his mustang.

Bess was warming up and Lee wanted to see what she could do at
close range.  Keeping within sight of Lightning the hunter chased
him leisurely round and round the forest, up and down the sage
slopes, along the walls, at last to get him headed for the only
open stretch on the mesa.  Lee rode across a hollow and came out on
the level only a few rods behind him.

"Hi!  Hi!  Hi!" yelled the hunter, spurring Bess forward like a
black streak.

Uttering a piercing snort of terror the gray stallion lunged out,
for the first time panic-stricken, and lengthened his stride in a
way that was wonderful to see.  Then at the right moment Cuth
darted from his hiding place, whooping at the top of his voice and
whirling his lasso.  Lightning won that race down the open stretch,
but it cost him his best.

At the turn he showed his fear and plunged wildly first to the left
then to the right.  Cuth pushed him relentlessly, while Lee went
back, tied up Bess, and saddled Billy, a wiry mustang of great
endurance.

Then the two hunters remorselessly hemmed Lightning between them,
turned him where they wished, at last to run him around the corner
of the fence of cut cedars down the line through the narrow gate
into the corral prepared for him.

"Hold hard," said Lee to Cuth.  "I'll go in an' drive him round an'
round till he's done; then when I yell you stand to one side an'
rope him as he goes out."

Lightning ran around the triangular space, plunged up the steep
walls, and crashed over the dead cedars.  Then as sense and courage
gave way more and more to terror he broke into desperate headlong
flight.  He ran blindly, and every time he passed the guarded
gateway, his eyes were wilder and his stride more labored.

"Hi!  Hi!  Hi!" yelled Lee.

Cuth pulled out of the opening and hid behind the line of cedars,
his lasso swinging loosely.  Lightning saw the vacated opening and
sprang forward with a hint of his old speed.  As he passed through,
a yellow loop flashed in the sun, circling, shimmering, and he
seemed to run right into it.  The loop whipped close around the
glossy neck and the rope stretched taut.  Cuth's mustang staggered
under the violent shock, went to his knees, but struggled up and
held.  Lightning reared aloft.

Then Lee, darting up in a cloud of dust, shot his lasso.  The noose
nipped the right foreleg of the stallion.  He plunged and for an
instant there was a wild straining struggle, then he fell heaving
and groaning.  In a twinkling Lee sprang off and, slipping the rope
that threatened to strangle Lightning replaced it by a stout halter
and made this fast to a cedar.

Whereupon the Stewarts stood back and gazed at their prize.
Lightning was badly spent, but not to a dangerous extent, dabbled
with foam but no fleck of blood appeared; his superb coat showed
scratches, but none cut the flesh.  He was up after a while,
panting heavily and trembling in all his muscles.  He was a beaten
horse, but he showed no viciousness, only the wild fear of a
trapped animal.  He eyed Bess, then the hunters, and last the
halter.

"Lee, will you look at him!  Will you just look at thet mane!"
ejaculated Cuth.

"Well," replied Lee, "I reckon that reward, an' then some, can't
buy him."




LURE OF THE RIVER


Iquitos was a magnet for wanderers and a safe hiding place for
men who must turn their faces from civilization.  Rubber drew
adventurers and criminals to this Peruvian frontier town as gold
lured them to the Klondike.

Among the motley crowd of rubber hunters boarding the Amazonas for
the up-river trip was a Spaniard, upon whom all eyes were trained.
At the end of the gangplank, Captain Valdez stopped him and tried
to send him back.  The rubber hunter, however, appeared to be a man
whom it would be impossible to turn aside.

"There's my passage," he shouted.  "I'm going aboard."

No one in Iquitos knew him by any other name than Manuel.  He
headed the list of outlaw rubber hunters, and was suspected of
being a slave hunter as well.  Beyond the Andes was a government
which, if it knew aught of the slave traffic, had no power on that
remote frontier.  Valdez and the other boat owners, however, had
leagued themselves together and taken the law into their own hands,
for the outlaws destroyed the rubber trees instead of tapping them,
which was the legitimate work, and thus threatened to ruin the
rubber industry.  Moreover, the slave dealers alienated the
Indians, and so made them hostile.

Captain Valdez how looked doubtfully at Manuel.  The Spaniard was
of unusual stature; his cavernous eyes glowed from under shaggy
brows; his thin beard, never shaven, showed the hard lines of his
set jaw.  In that crowd of desperate men he stood out conspicuously.
He had made and squandered more money than any six rubber hunters
on the river; he drank chicha and had a passion for games of chance;
he had fought and killed his men.

"I'm going aboard," he repeated, pushing past Valdez.

"One more trip, then, Manuel," said the captain slowly.  "We're
going to shut down on you outlaws."

"They're all outlaws.  Every man who has nerve enough to go as far
as the Pachitier is an outlaw.  Valdez, do you think I'm a slaver?"

"You're suspected--among others," replied the captain warily.

"I never hunted slaves," bellowed Manuel, waving his brawny arms.
"I never needed to sell slaves.  I always found cowcha more than
any man on the river."

"Manuel, I'll take you on your word.  But listen--if you are ever
caught with Indians, you'll get the chain gang or be sent adrift
down the Amazon."

"Valdez, I'll take my last trip on those terms," returned Manuel.
"I'm going far--I'll come in rich."

Soon after that the Amazonas cast off.  She was a stern-wheeler
with two decks--an old craft as rough-looking as her cargo of human
freight.  On the upper deck were the pilot house, the captain's
quarters, and a small, first-class cabin, which was unoccupied.
The twenty-four passengers on board traveled second-class, down on
the lower deck.  Forward it was open, and here the crew and
passengers slept, some in hammocks and the rest sprawled on the
floor.  Then came the machinery.  Wood was the fuel used, and stops
were made along the river when a fresh supply was needed.

Aft was the dining saloon, a gloomy hole, narrow and about twelve
feet long, with benches running on two sides.  At meal times, the
table was lowered from the ceiling by a crude device of ropes and
pulleys.

The night of the departure this saloon was a spectacle.  The little
room, with its dim, smelly lamp and blue haze of smoke, seemed
weirdly set between the vast reaches of the black river.  The
passengers crowded there, smoking, drinking, gambling.  These
hunters, when they got together, spoke in very loud tones, for in
the primeval silence and solitude of the Amazonian wilderness they
grew unaccustomed to the sound of their own voices.  Many languages
were spoken, but Spanish was the one that gave them general
intercourse.

It was a muggy night, and the stuffy saloon reeked with the odors
of tobacco and perspiration and the fumes of chicha.  The unkempt
passengers sat coatless, many of them shirtless, each one adding to
the din around the gambling board.

Presently the door of the saloon was filled by the form of a
powerful man.  From his white face and blond hair he might have
been taken for an Englishman.  The several gambling groups
boisterously invited him to play.  He had a weary, hunted look that
did not change when he began to gamble.  He played indifferently,
spoke seldom, and lost at every turn of the cards.  There appeared
to be no limit to his ill luck or his supply of money.

Players were attracted from other groups.  The game, the stakes,
the din, the flow of chicha--all increased as the night wore on.

Like the turn of the tide, the silent man's luck changed.  After
nearly every play he raked in the stakes.  Darker grew those faces
about the board, and meaning glances glittered.  A knife gleamed
low behind the winner's back, clutched in a lean hand of one of the
gamesters.  Murder might have been done then, but a big arm swept
the gamester off his feet and flung him out of the door, where he
disappeared in the blackness.

"Fair play!" roared Manuel, his eyes glowing like phosphorus in the
dark.  The sudden silence let in the chug of machinery, the
splashing of the paddle wheel, the swishing of water.  Every eye
watched the giant Spaniard.  Then the game recommenced, and, under
Manuel's burning eyes, continued on into the night.

At last he flipped a gold piece on the table and ordered chicha for
all.

"Men, drink to Manuel's last trip up the river," he said.  "I'm
coming in rich."

"Rubber or Indians?" sarcastically queried a weasel-featured
Spaniard.

"Bustos, you lie in your question," replied Manuel hotly.  "You
can't make a slave hunter of me.  I'm after rubber.  I'll bring in
canoes full of rubber."

Most of the outlaws, when they could not find a profitable rubber
forest, turned their energies to capturing Indian children and
selling them into slavery in the Amazonian settlements.

"Manuel, where will you strike out?" asked one.

"For the headwaters of the Palcazu.  Who'll go with me?"

Few rubber hunters besides Manuel had ever been beyond the junction
of the Pachitea and the Ucayali; and the Palcazu headed up in the
foothills of the Andes.  Little was known of the river, more than
that it marked the territory of the Cashibos, a mysterious tribe of
cannibals.  None of the men manifested a desire to become Manuel's
partner.  He leered scornfully at them, and cursed them for a pack
of cowards.

After that night he had little to do with his fellow passengers,
used tobacco sparingly, drank not at all, and retreated sullenly
within himself.  Manuel never went into the jungle out of
condition.

The Amazonas turned into the Ucayali, and day and night steamed up
that thousand-mile river, stopping often for fuel, and here and
there to let off the rubber hunters.  All of them bade Manuel good-
by with a jocund finality.  At La Boca, which was the mouth of the
Pachitea and the end of Captain Valdez's run, there were only three
passengers left of the original twenty-four--Bustos, Manuel, and
the stranger who seemed to have nothing in common with the rubber
hunters.

"Manuel," said Bustos, "you've heard what the Palcazu is--fatal
midday sun, the death dews, the man-eating Cashibos.  You'll never
come in.  Adios!"

Then Captain Valdez interrogated Manuel.

"Is it true you are going out to the Palcazu?"

"Yes, captain."

"That looks bad, Manuel.  We know Indians swarm up there--the
Chunchus of the Pachitea, and farther out the Cashibos.  We've
never heard of rubber there."

"Would I go alone into a cannibal country if I hunted slaves?"

"What you couldn't do has yet not been proven.  Remember, Manuel--
if we catch you with Indian children, it's the chain gang or the
Amazon."

Manuel, cursing low, lifted his pack and went own the gangplank.
As he stepped upon the dock a man accosted him.

"Do you still want a partner?"

The question was put by the blond passenger.  Manuel looked at him
keenly for the first time, discovering a man as powerfully built as
himself, whose gray eyes had a shadow, and about whom there was a
hint of recklessness.

"You're not a rubber hunter?" asked Manuel.

"No."

"Why do you want to go with me?  You heard what kind of a country
it is along the Palcazu?"

"Yes, I heard.  That's why I want to go."

"Ha, ha!" laughed Manuel curiously.  "Seor, what shall I call
you?"

"It's no matter."

"Very well, it shall be Seor."

Manuel carried his pack to a grove of palms bordering the river,
where there was a fleet of canoes.  Campas Indians lounged in the
shade, waiting for such opportunity to trade as he presented.
Evidently Manuel was a close trader, for the willing Indians hauled
up several canoes, from which he selected one.  For a canoe, its
proportions were immense; it had been hollowed from the trunk of a
tree, was fifty feet long, three wide, and as many deep.

"Snor, I'm starting," said Manuel, throwing his pack into the
canoe.

"Let's be off, then," replied Seor.

"But--you still want to go?"

"Yes."

"I've taken out strangers to these parts--and they never came
back."

"That's my chance."

"Snor, up the Pachitea the breeze seldom blows.  It's hot.  Sand
flies humming all day long--mosquitoes thicker than smoke--creeping
insects--spiders, snakes, crocodiles, poison dews, and fevers--and
the Cashibos.  If we get back at all, it will be with tons of
rubber.  I ask no questions.  I, too, have gone into the jungle and
kept my secret.  Seor, do you go?"

Seor silently offered his hand; and these two, outlaw and
wanderer, so different in blood and the fortunes of life, exchanged
the look that binds men in the wilderness.  Whereupon Manuel gave
one of the eighteen-foot, wide-bladed paddles to his companion,
and, pushing the canoe off the sand, began to pole upstream close
to the bank.  None but the silent Campas Indians saw their
departure, and soon they, and the grove of palms, and the thatched
huts disappeared behind a green bend of the river.

The Pachitea, with its smooth current, steamed under the sun.  The
voyagers kept close to the shady side.  The method of propelling
the canoe permitted only one to work at a time.  Beginning at the
bow, he sunk his paddle to the bottom, and, holding it firmly
imbedded, he walked the length of the canoe.  When he completed his
walk to the stern, his companion had passed to the bow.  Thus the
momentum of their canoe did not slacken, and they made fast time.

Gradually the strip of shade under the full-foliaged bank receded
until the sun burned down upon them.  When the tangled balls of
snakes melted off the branches, and the water smoked and the
paddles were too hot to handle, Manuel shoved the canoe into the
shade of overhanging vines.  It was a time when all living things,
except the heat-born sand flies, hid from the direct rays of the
midday sun.  While the Spaniard draped a net over the bow of the
canoe these sand flies hummed by like bullets.  Then Manuel
motioned his comrade to crawl with him under cover, and there they
slept away those hours wherein action was forbidden.

About the middle of the afternoon they awoke to resume their
journey; leisurely at first, and then, as the sun declined with
more energy.  Fish and crocodiles rippled one surface of the river,
and innumerable wild fowl skimmed its green width.

Toward sunset Manuel beached on a sandy bank, where there was a
grove of siteka trees.  He had gone into the jungle at this point
and brought out rubber.  The camp site was now waist deep in
vegetation, which Manuel mowed down with his machete.  Then he
built two fires of damp leaves and wood, so they would smoke and
somewhat lessen the scourge of mosquitoes.  After that he carried
up the charcoal box from the canoe and cooked the evening meal.

Manuel found it good to unseal the fountain of speech, that always
went dry when he was alone in the jungle.  It took him a little
while to realize that he did all the talking, that Seor was a
silent man who replied only to direct questions, and then mostly in
monosyllables.  Slowly this dawned upon the voluble Spaniard, and
slowly he froze into the silence natural to him in the wilderness.

They finished the meal, eating under their head nets, and then sat
a while over the smoky fires, with the splash of fish and the
incessant whining hum of mosquitoes in their ears.  When the stars
came out, lightening the ebony darkness, they manned the canoe
again, and for long hours poled up the misty gloom of the river.

In the morning they resumed travel, slept through the sweltering
noon, and went on in the night.  At the end of the fifth day's
advance, Manuel pointed out the mouth of a small tributary.

"So far I've been.  Beyond here all is strange to me.  White men
from Lima have come down the river; but of those who have gone up
farther than this, none have ever returned."

What a light flashed from the eyes of his partner!  Manuel was slow
to see anything singular in men.  But this served to focus his mind
on the strangest companion with whom he had ever traveled.

Seor was exceedingly strong and implacably tireless; a perfect
fiend for action.  He minded not the toil, nor the flies, nor the
mosquitoes, nor the heat; nothing, concerned him except standing
still.  Seor never lagged, never shirked his part of the labor,
never stole the bigger share of food, which was more than
remarkable in the partner of a rubber hunter.

So Manuel passed through stages of attention, from a vague stirring
of interest to respect and admiration, and from these to wonder and
liking, emotions long dormant within him.  The result was for him
to become absorbed in covert observation of his strange comrade.

Seor ate little, and appeared to force that.  He slept only a few
hours every day, and his slumbers were restless, broken by turning
and mumbling.  Sometimes Manuel awakened to find him pacing the
canoe or along a sandy strip of shore.  All the hot hours of their
toil he bent his broad shoulders to the paddle, wet with sweat.
Indeed, he invited the torture of the sun and flies.  His white
face, that Manuel likened to a woman's, was burned red and bitten
black and streaked with blood.

When Manuel told him to take the gun and kill wild fowl, he reached
instinctively for it with the action of a man used to sport, and
then he drew back and let his companion do the shooting.  He never
struck at one of the thousands of snakes, or slapped at one of the
millions of flies, or crushed one of the millions of flies, or one
of the billions of mosquitoes.

When Manuel called to Seor, as was frequently necessary in the
management of the canoe, he would start as if recalled from
engrossing thought.  Then he would work like an ox, so that it
began to be vexatious for Manuel to find himself doing the lesser
share.  Slowly he realized Seor's intensity, the burning in him,
the tremendous driving power that appeared to have no definite end.

For years Manuel had been wandering in wild places, and, as the men
with whom he came in contact were brutal and callous, answering
only to savage impulses, so the evil in him, the worst of him, had
risen to meet its like.  But with this man of shadowed eye Manuel
felt the flux and reflux of old forces, dim shades drawn from old
memories, the painful resurrection of dead good, the rising of the
phantom of what had once been the best in him.

The days passed, and the Pachitea narrowed and grew swifter, and
its green color took on a tinge of blue.

"Aha!" cried Manuel.  "The Palcazu is blue.  We must be near the
mouth.  Listen."

Above the hum of the sand flies rose a rumble, like low thunder,
only a long, unending roll.  It was the roar of rapids.  The men
leaned on their paddles and trudged the length of the canoe,
steadily gliding upstream, covering the interminable reaches,
winding the serpentine bends.  The rumble lulled and swelled, and
then, as they turned a bend, burst upon their ears with clear
thunder.  The Palcazu entered the larger river by splitting round a
rocky island.  On one side tumbled a current that raced across the
Pachitea to buffet a stony bluff.  On the other side sloped a long
incline of beautiful blue-green water, shining like painted glass.

Manuel poled up the left shore as far as possible, then leaped out
to wade at the bow.  Seor waded at the stern, and thus they strove
against the current.  It was shallow, but so swift that it made
progress laboriously slow, and it climbed in thin sheets up the
limbs of the travelers.  Foot by foot they ascended the rapid, at
last to surmount it and beach the canoe in a rocky shore.

"Water from the Andes!" exclaimed Manuel.  "It's years since I felt
such water.  Here's a bad place to float a canoe full of rubber."

"You'll have jolly sport shooting this rapid," replied Seor.

"We're entering Cashibos country now.  We must eat fish--no firing
the guns."

Wild cane grew thick on the bank; groves of the white sitekas led
to the dark forest where the giant capirona trees stood out, their
tall trunks bare and crimson against the green; and beyond ranged
densely wooded hills to far distant purple outline of mountains or
clouds.

"There's cowcha here, but not enough," said Manuel.

They rested, as usual during the blistering noon hours, then faced
up the Palcazu.  Before them stretched a tropical scene.  The blue
water reflected the blue sky and the white clouds, and the hanging
vines and leaning orchid-tufted, creeper-covered trees.  Green
parrots hung back downward from the branches, feeding on pods;
macaws of gaudy plumage wheeled overhead; herons of many hues took
to lumbering flight before the canoe.

The placid stretch of river gave place to a succession of rapids,
up which the men had to wade.  A downpour of rain joined forces
with the stubborn current in hindering progress.  The supplies had
to be covered with palm leaves; stops had to be made to bail out
the canoe; at times the rain was a blinding sheet.  Then the clouds
passed over and the sun shone hot.  The rocks were coated with a
slime so slippery that sure footing was impossible.

Manuel found hard wading; and Seor, unaccustomed to such
locomotion, slid over the rocks and fell often.  The air was humid
and heavy, difficult to breathe; the trees smoked and the river
steamed.  Another chute, a mill race steep as the ingenuity of the
voyagers, put them to tremendous exertions.  They mounted it and
rested at the head, eyes down the glancing descent.

"What jolly sport you'll have shooting that one!" exclaimed Seor;
and he laughed for the first time; not mirthfully, rather with a
note that rang close to envy.

Manuel gazed loweringly from under his shaggy brows.  This was
the second time Seor had spoken of the return trip.  Manuel's
sharpening wits divined a subtle import--Seor's consciousness that
for himself there would be no return.  The thing fixed itself on
Manuel's mind and would not be shaken.  Blunt and caustic as he
was, something withheld his speech; he asked only himself, and knew
the answer.  Seor was another of those men who plunge into the
unbroken fastnesses of a wild country to leave no trace.  Wanderers
were old comrades to Manuel.  He had met them going down to the sea
and treading the trails; and he knew there had been reasons why
they had left the comforts of home, the haunts of men, the lips of
women.  Derelicts on the drifting currents had once been stately
ships; wanderers in the wilds had once swung with free stride on
sunny streets.

"He's only another ruined man," muttered Manuel, under his breath.
"He's going to hide.  After a while he will slink out of the jungle
to become like all the others--like me!"

But Manuel found his mind working differently from its old habit;
the bitterness that his speech expressed could not dispel a
yearning which was new to him.

While making camp on a shelf of shore he was absorbed in his new
thoughts, forgetting to curse the mosquitoes and ants.

When the men finished their meal, twilight had shaded to dusk.
Owing to the many rapids, travel by night had become impossible.
Manuel drooped over one smoky fire and Seor sat by another.  After
sunset there never was any real silence in the jungle.  This hour
was, nevertheless, remarkably quiet.  It wore, shaded, blackened,
into wild, lonely night.  The remoteness of that spot seemed to
dwell in the sultry air, in the luminous fog shrouding the river,
in the moving gloom under the black trees, in the odor of decaying
vegetable life.

Manuel nodded and his shoulders sagged.  Presently Seor raised his
head, as if startled.

"Listen!" he whispered, touching his comrade's arm.

Then in the semidarkness they listened.  Seor raised his head net
above his ears.

"There!  Hear it?" he breathed low.  "What on earth--or in hell?
What is it?"

"I hear nothing," replied Manuel.

Seor straightened his tall form and stood with clenched hands.

"If that was fancy--then--"  He muttered deep in his chest.  All at
once he swayed to one side.  And became strung in the attitude of
listening.  "Again!  Hear it!  Listen!"

Out of the weird darkness wailed a soft, sad note, to be followed
by another, lower, sweeter, and then another still fainter.

"I hear nothing," repeated Manuel.  This time, out of curiosity and
indefinable portent, he lied.

"No!  You're sure?" asked Seor huskily.  He placed a shaking hand
on Manuel.  "You heard no cry--like--like--"  He drew up sharply.
"Perhaps I only thought I heard something--I'm fanciful at times."

He stirred the camp fire and renewed it with dry sticks.  Evidently
he wanted light.  A slight blaze flickered up, intensifying the
somber dusk.  A vampire bat wheeled in the lighted circle.  Manuel
watched his companion, studying the face, somehow still white
through the swollen fly blotches and scorch of sun, marveling at
its expression.  What had Seor imagined he had heard?

Again the falling note!  Clearer than the clearest bell, sweeter
than the saddest music, wailed out of a succession of melancholy,
descending tones, to linger mournfully, to hold the last note in
exquisite suspense, to hush away, and leave its phantom echo in the
charged air.  A woman, dying in agony and glad to die, not from
disease or violence, but from unutterable woe, might have wailed
out that last note to the last beat of a broken heart.

Seor gripped Manuel's arm.

"You heard that--you heard it?  Tell me!"

"Oh, is that what you meant?  Surely I heard it," replied Manuel.
"That's only the Perde-alma."

"Perde-alma?" echoed Seor.

"Bird of the Lost Soul.  Sounded like a woman, didn't it?  We
rubber hunters like his song.  The Indians believe he sings only
when death is near.  But that signifies nothing.  For above the
Pachitea life and death are one.  Life is here, and a step there is
death!  Perde-alma sings seldom.  I was years on the river before I
heard him."

"Bird of the Lost Soul!  A bird!  Manuel, I did not think that cry
came from any living thing."

He spoke no more, and paced to and fro in the waning camp-fire
glow, oblivious to the web of mosquitoes settling on his
unprotected head.

Manuel pondered over the circumstances till his sleepy mind refused
to revolve another idea.  In the night he awoke and knew from the
feeling of his unrested body that he had not slept long.  He had
been awakened by his comrade talking in troubled slumber.

"Lost soul--wandering--never to return!  Yes!  Yes!  But oh let me
forget!  Her face!  Her voice!  Could I have forgotten if I had
killed her?  Driven, always driven--never to find--never--"

So Seor cried aloud, and murmured low, and mumbled incoherently,
till at last, when the black night wore gray, he lay silent.

"A woman!" thought Manuel.  "So a woman drove him across the seas
to the Palcazu.  Driven--driven!  How mad men are!"

Seor had turned his face from his world, to drift with the eddying
stream of wanderers who follow no path and find no peace, to be
forgotten, to end in evil, to die forlorn--all for a woman.

In the darkness of this Peruvian forest, Seor lay amid the
crawling vermin unconsciously muttering of a woman.  Night spoke
aloud thoughts deep hidden by day.  Seor had a sailor's eye, a
soldier's mien; he had not shrunk from the racking toil, the
maddening insects, the blood-boiling heat; he was both strong and
brave; yet he was so haunted by a woman that he trembled to hear
the fancied voice of his ghost of love in the wailing note of a
jungle bird.  That note was the echo of his haunting pain.  Seor's
secret was a woman.

Manuel understood now why he had been inexplicably drawn to this
man.  A ghost had risen out of his own dead years.  It rolled back
time for Manuel, lifting from the depths a submerged memory, that,
like a long-sunken bell, rang the muffled music of its past.

Out of the gray jungle gloom glided the wraith of one he had loved
long ago.  She recalled sunny Spain--a grassy hill over the blue
bay--love--home--dark in his inner eye.  And the faint jungle
murmuring resembled a voice.  Thus after absence of years, Manuel's
ghost of love and life had come to him again.  It had its
resurrection in the agony of his comrade.  For Manuel there was
only that intangible feeling, the sweetness of remembered pain.
Life had no more shocks to deal him, he thought; that keen ache in
the breastbone, that poignant pang could never again be his.
Manuel was lifeworn.  He felt an immunity from further affliction,
and consciousness of age crept across the line of years.

How different from other mornings in the past was the breaking of
this gray dawn!  The mist was as hard to breathe, the humidity as
oppressive, the sun as hot, and the singing spiteful, invisible,
winged demons stung with the same teeth of poisoned fire--all the
hardship of jungle travel was as before, yet it seemed immeasurably
lessened.

For many years Manuel had slaved up these smoky rivers, sometimes
with men who hated him, and whom he learned to hate.  But no man
could have hated Seor.  In these enterprises of lonely peril,
where men were chained together in the wilderness, with life
strained to the last notch, there could be no middle course of
feeling.  A man must either hate his companion and want to kill
him, or love him and fight to save him.

So Manuel loved Seor, and laughed at the great white wonder of it,
lightening it all; and once again the sealed fountain of his speech
broke and flowed.  Back in the settlement chicha had always loosed
Manuel's tongue, liberated wild mirth, incited fierce passions;
here in the jungle the divining of another's pain, such as had
seared him years before, pierced to the deeps of his soul, and
brought forth kind words that came haltingly through lips long
grimly set to curse.

In the beginning of that new kinship, Seor looked in amaze upon
his changed comrade, and asked if he had fever.  Manuel shook his
shaggy head.  Seor then fell silent; but he listened, he had to
listen, and, listening, forgot himself.  A new spirit fused the
relation of these men.

"Seor, we are hunters," said Manuel.  "I for gold that I do not
want and shall easily find, you for--"

"Peace, Manuel, peace, that I ceaselessly want, but will never
find."

Onward the voyagers poled and waded up the blue Palcazu.  The
broken waters held them to five miles a day.  Only giants could
have made even so many.  The slimy rocks over which floundered the
hydra-headed balls of snakes, the stench of hot ponds behind the
bars, the rush of current to be fought inch by inch, the torrents
of rain, the bailing of the canoe, the merciless heat, and the ever-
whirling, steel-colored bands of venomous flies--these made day a
hell, rest a time of pain, sleep a nightmare; but the hunters, one
grim the other gay, strengthened with the slow advance.

Often Manuel climbed the banks, to return saying there was cowcha,
more than he had seen, yet still not enough.  They must go higher,
to richer soil.  They camped where sunset overtook them.  As they
sat over the smoky fires or fished in the river or lay side by side
under the tent, Manuel talked.  He had gone over the vast fund of
his wilderness knowledge, experience in that sun-festered world,
stories of river and jungle, of fights and fevers.  Circling back
on his seafaring life, as castaway, mariner, smuggler, he dredged
memory of the happenings of those years till he reached the
catastrophe that had made him a wanderer.

"What made me a caucho outlaw?" he queried, whipping his big hand
through the flying swarm about his face.  "A woman!  What sends
most wandering men down the false trails of the world?  What drove
you, comrade?  Perhaps a woman!  Quien sabe?  I loved a girl.  She
had eyes like night--lips of fire--she was as sweet as life.  See
my hand tremble!  Seor, it was years ago--five, maybe ten, I don't
remember--what are years?  We were married, and had a cottage on a
grassy hill above the bay, where the wind blew, and we could see
the white ripples creeping up the sand.  Then a sailor came from
over the sea; a naval man, Seor, of your country.  He had seen the
world; he could fascinate women--and women change their love.  She
walked with me along the beach in the twilight.  The wind tossed
her hair.  I repeated gossip, accused her of loving this man I had
never seen.  She acknowledged her love; proudly, I thought bravely;
surely without shame.  Seor, with these same hands I forced her to
her knees, stifled her cry--and slowly, slowly watched the great
staring eyes grow fixed and awful--the lips fall wide--"

"You strangled her?" burst from Seor in passionate force.

"I was a fiend," went on the Spaniard.  "I felt nothing except that
her love had changed.  I fled over the seas.  For long my mind was
dark, but clearness came, and with it truth.  How I knew it I can't
say--these things abide in mystery--but my girl was innocent.  Then
hell gaped for me.  Burning days--endless nights under the hateful
stars--no rest--her last cry, like the Perde-alma, Seor--her
great, wide eyes--the beat, the beat, the eternal beat of pain,
made him you see a thing of iron and stone.

"What was left, Seor?  Only a wild life.  You see the wanderer
with crimes on him thick as his gray hairs.  Ah!  What I might have
done--might have been!  I see that in your eyes.  What a man might
have been!  Holy Mercy!  A braver part no man ever had chance to
play.  I could have left her free.  I would not have heard the
hound of remorse ever baying my trail.  I could have hidden like a
stricken deer, and died alone.  But I was a blind coward.  Men see
differently after years go by.  What is love?  What is this thing
that makes one woman all of life to a man?  Constant or fickle, she
is fair to him.  Bound or free, she answers to nameless force.

"Where did you--all this happen?" asked Seor hurriedly and low.

"It was at Malaga, on the Mediterranean."

Seor stalked off into the gloom, whispering.

Manuel did not notice his comrade's agitation; he was in the rude
grip of unfamiliar emotions.  His story had been a deliberate lie,
yet it contained truth enough to recall the old feeling out of its
grave.  He thought he had divined Seor's secret, his sacrifice,
the motive behind his wandering in a Godforsaken land.  He believed
it was to leave a woman free and to forget.  He felt the man's
burning regret that he had not spilled blood in vengeance.  So he
had lied, had made himself a murderer, that by a somber contrast
Seor might see in forgiveness and mercy the nobler part.

Deep in Manuel's bitter soul he knew how he had lied--for that
woman of his youth had not been innocent; he had not harmed her,
and he had left her free.  Seor would believe his fabricated
tragedy, and, looking on this hulk of a man, this wandering wretch,
haunted by what he might have been, and, thanking God for his clean
hands, might yet see the darkness illumined.

More days the hunters poled and pulled up the Palcazu, to enter, at
length, the mouth of a deep estuary coming from the north.

This water was a blue-green reflection of sky and foliage.  It was
a beautiful lane, winding between laced and fringed, woven and
flowered walls.  The heavy perfume of overluxuriance was sickening.
Life was manifold.  The estuary dimpled and swelled and splashed--
everywhere were movements and sounds of water creatures.  Gorgeous
parrots screeched from the trailing vines; monkeys chattered from
the swishing branches.  Myriads of bright-plumaged birds, flitting
from bank to bank, gave the effect of a many-colored net stretched
above the water.  Dreamy music seemed to soar in the rich, thick
atmosphere.

The estuary widened presently into a narrow, oval lake, with a
sandy shore on the north.  Crocodiles basked in the sun, and, as
Manuel turned the canoe shoreward, they raised themselves on stumpy
legs, jaws wide, grotesque and hideous, and lunged for the water.

"Cayman!  I never saw so many," exclaimed Manuel, striking right
and left with his paddle.  "Where I find caymans, there's always
cowcha.  Seor, I believe here is the place."

They ascended the bank, and threaded a maze of wild cane rising to
higher ground.  The soil was a rich alluvial.  Manuel dug into it
with his hands, as if, indeed, he expected to find gold there.  The
ridge they mounted was not thickly forested.  Manuel made two
discoveries--they were on the borderland of the eastern Andes, and
all about them were rubber trees.  Whether or not Manuel cared for
the fortune represented by one hundredth part of the rubber he
could see, certain it was that he ran from one tree to another
clasping each in a kind of ecstasy.

"Iquitos will go mad," he cried.  "A thousand tons of cowcha in
sight!  It's here.  Look at the trees--fifty, sixty feet high!
Seor, we shall go in rich, rich, rich!"

They packed the supplies up from the river to escape the sand
flies, and built a shack, elevating it slightly on forked sticks to
evade the marching ants and creeping insects.  Inside the palm-leaf
walls they hung the net, fitting it snugly in the cramped space.
By clearing away the underbrush and burning the ground bare, they
added still more to the utility of their camp site, and, as far as
it was possible in that jungle, approached comfort.

A troop of monkeys took refuge in the tops of some palms and set up
a resentful chattering; parrots and macaws swelled the unwelcoming
chorus; a boa wound away from the spot, shaking a long line of
bushes; and an anteater ran off into the sitekas.

Manuel caught up his gun, making as if to pursue the beast, then
slowly laid the weapon down.

"I'd forgotten.  We're in Cashibos country now.  I've seen no
signs, but we had best be quiet.  At that we may have to shoot the
jaguars.  They stalk a man."

The rubber hunters worked from dawn till the noonday heat, rested
through the white, intense hours, resumed their tasks in the
afternoon, and continued while the light lasted.  The method of
honest rubber hunters was to tap a tree in the evening and visit it
the next morning to get the juice.  This was too slow a process for
Manuel--as it took several days for a flow of a few ounces.

He was possessed with exceeding skill in the construction of clay
vessels to catch the milky juice and in extracting rubber.  He
carried water from the river and fashioned large clay repositories,
one for so many rubber trees; also he made small vessels and
troughs.  These baked hard in the sun.  Then he cut the trees so
the sap would flow freely.  They would die; but that was of no
moment to the outlaw.  He had brought a number of kettles, in which
he made a thick steam by heating palm nuts.  Taking a stick with a
clay mold on the end, he dipped it first in the milk, and then
dried the milk in the stream.  From a vessel full of milk, he got
one third its weight in rubber.

"Seor," he said proudly, "I can make a hundred pounds of rubber in
a day."

It was a toil-filled time, in which the united efforts of Manuel
and Seor were given to making an immense cargo of rubber.  Swiftly
the days passed into weeks, the weeks summed months, and the rainy
season was at hand.  Soon the rubber hunters must expect a daily
deluge, a flooded, sticky forest, intolerable humidity, and sun
like an open furnace door.

Manuel awoke from his lust for rubber.

"The canoe won't hold another layer," he said.  "She'll be loggy
enough now.  We can rest and drift clear to Iquitos.  How good!  We
must be starting."

Like a flitting shadow, a strange, sad smile crossed Seor's face.
It's meaning haunted Manuel, and recalled the early days of the
trip, before the craze for rubber had driven all else from his
mind.  A wonderful change had come over Seor.  He gave all his
strength to the gathering of rubber, but no longer with a madness
for sheer action.  He no longer invited the torture of the stinging
pests.  He ate like a hungry man, and his sleep was untroubled.
Even his silence had undergone change.  The inward burning, the
intensity of mind forever riveted upon the thing that had been the
dividing spear of his life, had given place to austere tranquility.

Other enlightenment flashed into Manuel's darksome thought.  The
fancy grew upon him that he had come to be to Seor what Seor was
to him.  He sensed it, felt it, finally realized it.

Pondering this man's deep influence, he tried to judge what it
meant.  Something shook his pulse, some power from without; some
warm, living thing drew him to Seor.  It was more than the
intimate bond of men of like caliber, alone in the wilds, facing
peril carelessly, dependent upon one another.  Too subtle it was
for Manuel, to mysterious for his crude reasoning; always it kept
aloof, in the fringe of his mind.  He floundered in thought, and
seemed to go wandering in the realms of imagery, to become lost in
memory, where the unreal present mingled with the actual past,
through both of which ran Seor's baffling, intangible hold on his
heartstrings.

"Maybe I've got a touch of fever," he soliloquized.

Another day went by, and still he hesitated to speak the word for
departure.  More and more the task grew harder, for added watching,
thought, realization, strengthened his conviction that Seor
intended to remain alone on the Palcazu.  Had the man come to hide
in the jungle, to face his soul in the solitude, to forget in the
extremes of endurance?  Yes, but more!  He sought the end--
annihilation!

Manuel had never feared to use his tongue, yet now he could not
speak.  It was midday, and he lay beside Seor in the shack,
sheltered from the torrid heat.  Usually absolute silence prevailed
at this hour.  On this day, however, gentle gusts of wind beat the
fronds of the palms.  What a peculiar sound!  It had no similarity
to the muffled beating of the heart heard in the ear; yet it
suggested that to Manuel, and wrought ominously upon his
superstition.

He listened.  Sudden, soft gust--gentle beat, beat, beat hastening
at the end!  Was it the wind?  How seldom had he heard wind in the
jungle!  Was it the fronds of the palms or the beating of his heart
or of Seor's?  His blood did beat thick in his ears.  Then a chill
passed over him, a certainty of some calamity about to be, beyond
his comprehension; and he wrenched decision out of his wavering
will, and swore that he would start down the Palcazu on the morrow,
if not with this strange companion, then alone.

Manuel fell into a doze.  He awakened presently, and sat up, drowsy
and hot.  He was alone in the shack.  Then a hand protruded under
the flap of the netting and plucked at him.

"Hurry!  Hurry!" came the hoarse whisper.  "Don't speak--don't make
a noise!"

Wide awake in a second, Manuel swept aside the flap and
straightened up outside.  Seor stood very close to him.  On the
instant, low, whirring sounds caught his ear.  From the green wall
of cane streaked little things that he took for birds.  Bright and
swift the glints of light shot through the yellow sunshine.  All
about him they struck with tiny, pattering thuds and spats.
Suddenly the shack appeared to be covered with quivering
butterflies.  They were gaudy, feathered darts from blowguns of the
cannibals.

"Cashibos!" yelled Manuel.

"Run!  Run!" cried Seor.  He thrust his coat over Manuel and
turned him with a violent push.  "Run for the river!"

The frenzy of his voice and will served almost to make Manuel act
automatically.  But he looked back, then stood with suspended
breath and leaden feet.

Bronze shadows darted through the interstices of the cane.  Then
the open sunlight burnished small, naked savages, lean, wild, as
agile and bounding as if they were made of the rubber of their
jungle home.

Seor jerked Manuel's machete from a log of firewood, and rushed to
meet them.  His back was covered with gaudy butterfly darts.  The
sight held Manuel stricken in his tracks.  Seor had made his broad
body a shield, had stood buffer between his comrade and the
poisoned darts of the Cashibos.

Like a swarm of copper bees shining in the sun, the cannibals
poured out of the cane, incredibly swift and silent, leveling their
blowguns and brandishing their spears.

Seor plunged at them, sweeping the machete.  A row of nimble
bodies wilted before him, went down as grain before a scythe.
Again the blade swept backward, to whistle forward and describe a
circle through tumbling, copper-colored bodies.

Rooted in horror, Manuel saw the first spear point come out of
Seor's back.  Another and another!  They slipped out as easily as
if coming through water.  Seor dropped the machete, and swaying,
upheld by spears, he broke that silent fight with a terrible cry.
It pealed out, piercingly shrill with pain, horrible in its human
note of death, but strange and significant in its ringing triumph.
Then he fell, and the Cashibos hurdled his body.

Animal instinct to survive burst the bonds that held Manuel as
paralyzed.  One leap carried him behind the shack, another into the
cane, where he sprang into headlong flight.  The cane offered
little resistance to his giant bounds.  Soon he reached the bank of
the river.  The canoe was gone.  Rows of caymans lay along the
beach.  So swiftly he leaped down that he beat them into the water.
Then, drawing Seor's coat tight around his head and shoulders, he
plunged out with powerful strokes.

He had gained the middle of the estuary, when he saw arrowy gleams
glance before him.  Like hissing hail, a shower of darts struck the
water.  Then it seemed that gaudy butterflies floated about his
face.  Diving deep, he swam until compelled to rise for breath.

As he came up, a crocodile rolled menacingly near.  Manuel hit it a
blow with his fist, and dove again.  The coat hindered rapid
swimming under water.  He rose again to hear the crocodile swirling
behind him.  Darts splashed big drops on his cheeks, tugged at his
head covering, streaked beyond him to skitter along the surface of
the estuary.

Reaching shallow water, he crawled into the reeds.  White-mouthed
snakes struck at him.  The bank was low and overhung with rank
growths.  Manuel scrambled through to solid ground; and then turned
to have a look at his pursuers.

Up and down the sandy beach a hundred or more Cashibos were
running.  How wild they were, how springy and fleet!  How similar
to the hungry, whirling sand flies!  For a moment the disturbed
caymans threshed about in the estuary, holding the cannibals back.
Presently several of the most daring waded in above the commotion;
then others entered below.

Manuel breasted the dense jungle.  Before him rose an apparently
impenetrable wall of green.  He dove into it, tore through it,
leaving a trail of broken branches, twisted vines, and turned
leaves.  In places he ran encumbered by clinging creepers; in
others he parted the thick growths with his hands and leaped high
to separate them.  Again he bent low to crawl along the peccary
trails.

Despite the obstacles, he went so swiftly that the jungle pests
could not get at him; the few which did could not keep their hold,
because of the scraping brush.  Soon he ran out of a vine-webbed
cane-brake into a grove of sitekas, rubber trees, and palms.  At
every bound he sank into the moist earth, still he kept on running.
He heard a scattering of animals before him, and saw a blur of
flapping birds.

The day seemed to darken.  He looked up to see trees branching at a
height of two hundred feet, and intermingling their foliage to
obscure sun and sky.  Here was the dim shade of the great forest of
the Amazon tributaries.  Sheering off to the right, he ran until
the clinging earth clogged his feet.

The forest was like a huge, dim hall full of humming life.  Lines
of shrieking monkeys hung on the ropelike vines that reached from
the ground to green canopy overhead.  Birds of paradise sailed like
showers of gold through the thick, hazy air.  Before him fled boas,
peccaries, ant-eaters, spotted cats, and beasts that he could not
name.

Manuel chose the oozy ground, for there the underbrush was not
higher than his knees.  On and on he wallowed through the moist
labyrinth of intricate thickets, of aisles lined by the red
capironas, of peccary trails worn in the earth, of glades starry
with exquisite orchids.  A fragrance of nauseous sweetness, like
that of rotting jessamine and tuberose, mingled with fetid odor of
wet, hot earth, of ripe life and luxuriance.  The forest was
steeped in a steam from overheat, overmoisture, overgrowth.

The gloom deepened.  Somewhere back of Manuel rasped out the cough
of a jaguar.  He quickened his weary steps, soon to strike rising
ground and pass out of the dark forest into groves of sitekas.  The
day was waning.  He ascended a ridge, following the patches of open
ground where the baked clay shone white.  This hard ground would
hide his trail from the cannibals, but he had no hope of eluding
the jaguars.  Still, he could climb out of reach of the hunting
cats.  It was the little, winged devils, the tiny, creeping fiends
that most menaced his life.

He strode on till the shadows warned him of approaching night.
Selecting a group of palms with tops interlocking, he climbed one,
and perched in the midst of the stems of the leaves.  Laboriously
he broke stem after stem, bent and laid them crosswise in the
middle of the tree.  Then he straddled another stem, let his feet
hang down, and lay back upon the rude floor he had constructed.
Finally, wrapping head and face in Seor's coat and hiding his
hands, he composed himself to rest.

He was dripping wet, hot as fire, pulsating, seething, aching, his
whole body inflamed.  Gradually the riot of his nerves, the race of
hot blood subsided and cooled.  Night set in, and the jungle awoke
to the hue and cry of its bloody denizens.  Mosquitoes swarmed
around his perch with a continuous hum not unlike the long, low
roll of a drum.  Huge bats whizzed to and fro, brushing the palm
leaves.  Light steps on the hard clay, rustling of brush and
snapping of twigs attested to the movement of peccaries.  These
sounds significantly ceased at the stealthy, padded tread of a
jaguar.  From distant points came the hungry snarl, the fighting
squall, the ominous cough of the jungle cats.

Sometime late in the night Manuel fell asleep.  When he awoke the
fog clouds were mustering, bulging, mushrooming all in a swirl as
they lifted.  Like a disk of molten silver, the sun glared through
the misty curtain.  The drip, drip, drip of dew was all the sound
to break the silence.  Manuel's cramped muscles made descending to
the ground an awkward task.

He estimated that his flight had taken him miles into the interior.
Evidently for the time being he had eluded the Cashibos.  However,
his situation was gravely critical, and he would never be safe
until he got clear of Palcazu territory.  It was impossible for him
to protect himself from the jungle parasites.  His instant and
inflexible determination was to make his way back to the river,
find his canoe, or steal one from the cannibals, and, failing both,
lash some logs together and trust to the current.

The rains were due; soon the rivers would be raging floods; he
would make fast time.  Manuel had no fear of starvation, of the
deadly heat, the fatal dews, the rainy-season fever, or of the
Cashibos.  What he feared was the infernal flies, ticks, ants,
mosquitoes--the whole blood-sucking horde.  Well he knew that they
might bite him blind, poison his blood, drive him mad, actually
kill him before he got out of the jungle.

As he was about to start, a small leather pocket-book fell from
Seor's coat.  Manuel picked it up.  He saw again those broad
shoulders covered with the gaudy butterfly darts.  He drew his
breath with a sharp catch.  Fingering the little book, unaccountably
impelled, he opened it.  Inside was a picture.

He looked down into the dark, challenging eyes, the piquant,
alluring face of the woman who had been his sweetheart wife!

Manuel smiled dreamily.  How clear was the vision!  But almost
instantly he jerked up his head, hid the picture, and gazed
furtively about him, trembling and startled.  The glaring jungle
was no lying deceit of the fancy.

Slowly he drew forth the picture.  Again the proud, dark eyes, the
sweet lips, the face arch with girl's willfulness, importunate with
woman's charm!

Manuel shifted his straining gaze to Seor's coat.

"Seor!  He was the man--that sailor from over the sea--whom she
loved at Malaga!  What does it all mean?  I felt his secret--I lied--
I hatched that murderous story to help him.  But he knew I did not
kill her!"

Manuel pitched high his arms, quivering, riven by the might of the
truth.

"He recognized me!  He knew me all the time!  He saved my life!"

Manuel fell backward and lay motionless, with his hands shutting
out the light.  An hour passed.  At last he arose, half dazed,
fighting to understand.

With Seor's coat and the picture before him, he traced the
wonderful association between them and him.  There were the plain
facts, as clear in his sight as the pictured face of the woman who
had ruined him, but they were bewildering: he could feel but not
comprehend them.  They obscured their meaning in mystery, in the
inscrutable mystery of human life.  He had freed her, had left her
to be happy with the man she loved.

Had she betrayed him, too?  It was not impossible that a woman who
had ceased to love one man would cease to love his successor.  Some
subtle meaning pervaded the atmosphere of that faded coat, that
leather book, that woman's face, with its smile, and by the meaning
Manuel knew Seor had suffered the same stunning stroke that had
blighted him.  Seor had cried out in the night:  "Oh God, let me
forget!"

It was the same story--hell in the mind, because one day on a
woman's face shone that mysterious thing, a light, a smile for him
alone, and on the next day it vanished.  Fever in the blood,
madness to forget, wandering, a hunt for peace, and the wasting
years--how he knew them!

Manuel thought of Seor, of his magnificent strength, of the lion
in him as he sprang to meet the Cashibos, of the gaudy butterfly
darts imbedded in his back, of the glory and pathos of his death.
What his life might have been!  A strung cord snapped in Manuel's
breast; his heart broke.  Bitter salt tears flowed for Seor, for
himself, for all miserable wretches for all time.  In that
revealing moment he caught a glimpse of the infinite.  He saw the
helplessness of man, the unintelligible fatality of chance, motive,
power, charm, love--all that made up the complexity of life.

How little it mattered, from the view of what made life significant
to him, that he was a rubber hunter, lost in the jungle, hunted by
cannibals, tortured by heat, thirst, hunger, vermin!  His real life
was deep-seated in the richly colored halls of memory; and when he
lived at all, it was when he dreamed therein.  His outside
existence, habits of toil, and debauchery were horrors that he
hated.  On the outside he was a brutalized rubber hunter, unkempt
and unwashed, a coarse clod, given over to gaming and chicha.  In
that inner life he lived on a windy hill, watching white sails on a
blue sea, listening to a woman's voice.

But some change had come that would now affect his exterior life;
something beautiful crowned the hideous span of years.  His
companionship with Seor had softened him, and the tragedy, with
its divine communications of truth, was a lightning flash into the
black gulf of his soul.

By its light he felt pity for her, for Seor, for himself, for all
who lived and loved and suffered.  By its light he divined the
intricate web and tangle and cross and counter-cross of the
instincts and feelings of human nature--all that made love
transient in one heart, steadfast in another, fleeting as the
shadow of a flitting wing--wonderful, terrible, unquenchable as the
burning sun.

By its light he saw woman, the mother of life, the source of love,
the fountain of joy, the embodiment of change--nature's tool to
further her unfathomable design, forever and ever to lure man by
grace and beauty, to win him, to fetter him in unattainable, ever-
enthralling desires.  By its light he saw himself another man, a
long-tried, long-failing man, faithful to his better self at the
last.

Manuel set forth toward the river, keeping in the shade of trees,
walking cautiously, with suspicious eyes ever on the outlook.  He
walked all day, covering twice the distance he calculated he had
fled inland.  When night fell, he went on by the light of the stars
until the fog obscured them.  The rest of the night he walked round
a tree with covered head.  In the morning the sun rose on the side
he had thought was west.  He had become lost in the jungle.

Heretofore panic had always seized him on a like occasion; this
time it did not.  Taking the direction he thought right, he pressed
on till the midday sun boiled his blood.  Succulent leaves and the
pith of small palms served as food.  He moistened his parching
mouth with the sap of trees.  Lying down, he covered himself with
the coat and a pile of brush and slept; then awoke to trudge on,
fighting the flies.

He entered the great jungle forest, and sought his back trail, but
did not find it.  Swampy water allayed his thirst, and a snake for
meat.  The jaguars drove him out of the forest.  He began to wander
in a circle; and that night and the following day and the next were
but augmented repetitions of what had gone before.

The rains did not come.  The fronds of the palms beat in the still
air.  Manuel heard in them a knell.  Bitten blind, hayed alive by
pests, he fell at last with clouded mind.  The whizzing wheel of
flies circled lower; the armies of marching ants spread over him;
the red blotches of ticks on the leaves spilled themselves upon him
like quick-silver.  He crawled on through the hot bushes.  The
light of his mind wavered, and he raved of infernal fires.  He was
rolling in fire; forked tongues of flame licked at his flesh; red
sparks ate into his brain.  Down, down under the heated earth,
through hot vapors blown by fiery gusts!  It was a jungle with
underbrush of flame, trees in the image of pillars of fire,
screeching red monkeys in service as imps, birds of dazzling coals;
and over all and under all and through all a vast humming horde of
living embers that bit with white-hot teeth.

As Manuel's reason flickered, ready to go out forever, the rain
descended, and it cooled him and washed him clean of insects.  It
slaked his thirst and soothed his blinded eyes.  At length the
tropical cloudburst roared away, leaving the jungle drenched.
Manuel followed a rushing stream of water that he knew would lead
him to the river.  In him resurged effort and resistance.

By nightfall he had come to the border of cane.  Like an eel
through grass, he slipped between the stalks to the river.  On the
opposite shore faint lights twinkled.  At first he took them for
fireflies.  But dark forms moving across the lights told him he had
stumbled upon an encampment of the Cashibos.

The river seemed uneasy, stirring.  It was rising fast.  By dawn it
would be bank full with a swift current.  Under the pale stars the
water shimmered, steely black in the shade of overhanging shore,
dead silver in the center, where the fish swirled and the
crocodiles trailed dimpling wakes.

Without hesitation, Manuel stepped into the water, noiselessly
sinking himself to his neck.  With his ear level with the surface,
he subordinated every sense to that of hearing.  The river was a
sounding board, augmenting the faint jungle sounds.  Crossing would
be as safe for him then as it would ever be.

Grim as death, Manuel trusted himself to the river.  He glided off
the shoal without making a ripple, and swam deep with guarded
strokes.  Fish sported before him; spiders and snakes grazed his
cheeks; caymans floated by with knotty snout parting the current,
and lines of bubbles bursting with hollow sound betrayed the
underwater passage of more of the lazy reptiles.

Once Manuel felt the swirl and heave of water disturbed by a
powerful force.  A soft river breeze wafted to him the smell of
burning wood and the dull roar of distant rapids.  He crossed the
shimmering space between the shadows of shore.  Looking backward,
he descried a circle of black snouts lazily closing in upon him.
He quickened his strokes.  The twinkling lights disappeared.  All
before him was black.  He felt slimy reeds touch his face, and,
lowering his feet, found the bottom, and cautiously waded out.
Then he crouched down to rest to gather all his wit and strength
for the final move.

Toward the bank he could not see his hand before his face;
riverward there was a glancing sheen of water that made the gloom
opaque.  He began to crawl, feeling in the darkness for a canoe.
Moving downstream, he worked out of the marshy sedge to ground worn
smooth and hard.  It was a landing place for canoes.

He strained his eyes.  All about him were shadowy, merging shades
without shape.  The low murmur of strange voices halted him; he was
within hearing of the cannibals.  Then in him awoke the stealth and
savage spirit of a jaguar stalking prey.  Gliding up the trail, he
peeped over the bank.  Fires flickered back in the blackness,
lighting wan circles that were streaked and shadowed by moving,
dark forms.  With fateful eyes Manuel watched.

Below him a slight splash drew his attention.  He fancied it too
thin, too hard and dead, to be made by water creature.  Again it
broke the silence, unnatural to his trained ear.  It was the splash
of a paddle.  Soundless as the shadows about him, Manuel glided
down to the edge of the river and lay flat, hugging the sand.

A long, low canoe, black against the background of the river gloom,
swept in to the landing gloom, swept in to the landing, grated on
the sand, and spread gentle, lapping waves against the beach.  A
slender form, smooth and wild in outline, stepped out within a yard
of Manuel.

Like a specter Manuel loomed up, and his hands closed vise-tight
around the neck of the cannibal.  He lifted him clear of the
ground, and there held him, wrestling, wriggling till fierce
struggles ceased in spasmodic convulsions and these subsided in a
slow, trembling stretch.

When the body hung limp, Manuel laid it down, and looked up the dim
trail leading to the camp of the Cashibos.  Upon him was the spell
to kill.  He saw again the gaudy butterfly darts in Seor's back;
he heard again that strange, terrible cry of triumph.  Over him
surged Seor's grand disdain of life.  Almost he yielded to an
irresistible impulse to make that the end.

"If I had my machete--" he thought.  Then he threw off the
insidious thrall, and, stepping into the canoe, picked up the
paddle and pushed out into the river.  The twinkling lights
vanished in the foliage.  There was no sound of pursuit; the dreamy
jungle hum remained unbroken.  He paddled the light canoe swiftly
with the current.

The moon rose, whitening the river lane.  A breeze bore the boom of
the Palcazu in flood.  Once upon that river of rapids, Manuel would
scorn pursuit.  Slackening current told him that backwater had
swelled the estuary.  Soon his ears filled with the rumbling of
waters, and he turned out of the estuary into the sliding, moon-
blanched Palcazu.

As he dipped into the glistening channel of the first rapid, the
canoe, quivering and vibrating, seemed to lurch into the air.
Shock on shock kept the bow leaping.  Manuel crouched low in the
stem.  It took all the strength of his brawny arms to keep the
canoe straight.  Whirling suck holes raced with him; frothy waves
curled along the gunwales.  One rapid led into another, until the
Palcazu was a thundering succession of broken waters.  It ran wild
for freedom.  In the plunging inclines, the silver-crested
channels, the bulging billows, were the hurry and spirit of the
river.  The current, splitting on black-headed stones, hissed its
hatred of restraint.  Manuel guided the canoe from side to side,
glancing along the gulfs, fringing the falls, always abreast of the
widest passages.

A haze crept over the moon and thickened to gray fog.  Shadows
shrouded the river, hanging lower and lower, descending to mingle
with the spray.  Manuel paddled on while the hours passed.

The fog curtain lightened to the coming of dawn.  Manuel evinced no
surprise to find himself gazing upon the misty flood of the wide
Pachitea.  He had run the Palcazu in one night.  Paddling ashore,
he beached the canoe to bail out water he had shipped in that wild
ride.

All night he had felt a balancing of some kind of cargo in the bow.
Upon investigating, he found the bottom of the bow covered with
palm leaves.  These he lifted to discover two naked little savages
cowering on a mat of woven reeds.

"Cashibos!" ejaculated Manuel.  "Boy and girl.  They were in the
canoe last night when I strangled that fellow, their father,
probably.  What's to be done with them?"

The boy was a dark copper color; his hair grew straight down over
his low forehead; he was potbellied and altogether ugly.  The girl
was younger, lighter in color, slim and graceful, and pretty in a
wild way, like a bronze elf of the jungle.

"What'll I do with them?" repeated Manuel.  "I can't kill them, or
leave them here to starve or be eaten by jaguars.  I'll take them
down the Pachitea and turn them over to a Campas tribe."

Having decided, Manuel folded a palm leaf and used it to bail out
the canoe.  In the bottom he found a bunch of dwarfish bananas and
some dried fish.  Here was good fortune in the way of food.  He
arranged the palm leaves across the gunwales, making a sun, rain,
and dew shield.  Then, pushing off, he paddled into the swollen
current.

The blazing sun rose; the sand flies wheeled with the drifting
canoe; the afternoon rain poured; night came, with its cloud of
singing mosquitoes, its poison dews and fogs.

That day passed, and another like it.  Every hour the canoe drifted
speedy as the current.  The Cashibos children lost their fear of
Manuel.  The boy jabbered and played; the girl smiled at Manuel,
which persuaded him not to give them to a Campas tribe, but to take
them home and care for them himself.

Three more days and nights the canoe drifted.  Manuel's strength
had returned, but it troubled him to think.  Something had happened
up the river.  He had for his pillow a ragged coat that fascinated
him, and which he treasured.

Early the next morning he turned the green bend at La Boca to come
abruptly upon the Amazonas, lying at the dock.  Men shouted from
her decks; there was a thudding of bare feet.

"Look!  Look!"

"Is it the outlaw?"

"No--no!"

"Yes--yes.  Those shoulders and arms--it's he!"

Manuel's blotched face, swollen out of all proportions, was
unrecognizable.

Captain Valdez leaned hard over the rail.  "Manuel, is it you?"

"Yes, captain."

"Where's you cowcha?"

"Lost, captain, lost!  A great rubber forest, captain--I had tons
of cowcha--it's lost--all lost!"

"I suppose so," replied Valdez ironically.  "That's a fine cargo to
pay you--two half-grown Indian kids.  The nerve of you, Manuel,
dropping into La Boca with slaves."

"Slaves!" echoed from Manuel.  His gaze traveled from Valdez's face
to the little bronze Cashibos, once more huddling, frightened, in
the bow.  "Slaves?  Ha!  Ha!  Ha!"

"Manuel, you had your choice," went on the captain, "and now you
must abide by it.  I've caught some of you slave hunters this trip.
There's Bustos in irons.  Your choice Manuel--the chain gang, or
the river?"

"The river for me!" said Manuel.  "Only up instead of down!"

The rubber hunter faced up the wide Pachitea.  His stentorian cry
froze the words upon Captain Valdez's lips.  It rolled out, a
strange, trenchant call to something beyond the wild, silent river.

"Fever," whispered one of the fettered slave dealers.

"Bitten crazy," said another.

Manuel started the canoe upstream.  He did not look back.

Captain and crew and prisoners on the boat thrilled to Bustos's
mocking farewell.

"Adios, Manuel!"




A MISSOURI SCHOOLMARM


With jingling spurs a tall cowboy stalked out of the post office to
confront three punchers who were just then crossing the wide street
from the saloon opposite.

"Look heah," he said, shoving a letter under their noses.  "Which
one of you longhorns wrote her again?"

From a gay, careless trio his listeners suddenly looked blank, then
intensely curious.  They stared at the handwriting on the letter.

"Tex, I'm a son-of-a-gun if it ain't from Missouri!" exclaimed Andy
Smith, his lean red face bursting into a smile.

"It shore is," declared Nevada.

"From Missouri!" echoed Panhandle Hanes.

"Well?" asked Tex, almost with a snort.

The three cowboys drew back to look from Tex to one another, and
then back at Tex.

"It's from HER," went on Tex, his voice hushing on the pronoun.
"You all know that handwritin'.  Now how about this deal?  We swore
none of us would write to this schoolmarm.  But some one of you has
double-crossed the outfit."

Loud and simultaneous protestations of innocence arose from them.
But it was evident that Tex did not trust them, and that they did
not trust him or each other.

"Say boys," said Panhandle suddenly.  "I see Beady Jones in here
lookin' darn sharp at us.  Let's get off in the woods somewhere."

"Back to the bar," said Nevada.  "I reckon we'll all need bracers."

"Beady!" exclaimed Tex as they turned across the street.  "He could
be to blame as much as any of us.  An' he was still at Stringer's
when we wrote the first letter."

"Shore.  It'd be more like Beady," said Nevada.  "But Tex, your
mind ain't workin'.  Our lady friend from Missouri wrote before
without gettin' any letter from us."

"How do we know thet?" asked Tex suspiciously.  "Shore the boss'
typewriter is a puzzle, but it could hide tracks.  Savvy, pards?"

"Doggone it, Tex, you need a drink," said Panhandle peevishly.

They entered the saloon and strode up to the bar, where from all
appearances Tex was not the only one to seek artificial strength.
Then they repaired to a corner, where they took seats and stared at
the letter Tex threw down before them.

"From Missouri, all right," said Panhandle, studying the postmark.
"Kansas City, Missouri."

"It's her writin'," said Nevada, in awe.  "Shore I'd know that out
of a million letters."

"Ain't you goin' to read it to us?" asked Andy Smith.

"Mr. Frank Owens," said Tex, reading from the address on the
letter.  "Springer's Ranch, Beacon, Arizona. . . .  Boys, this
Frank Owens is all of us."

"Huh!  Mebbe he's a darn sight more," added Andy.

"Looks like a lowdown trick we're to blame for," resumed Tex,
seriously shaking his hawklike head.  "Heah we reads in a Kansas
City paper about a schoolteacher wantin' a job out in dry Arizona.
An' we writes her an' gets her ararin' to come.  Then when she
writes and tells us she's NOT OVER FORTY--then we quits like yellow
coyotes.  An' we four anyhow shook hands on never writin' her agin.
Well, somebody did, an' I reckon you all think me as big a liar as
I think you are.  But that ain't the point.  Heah's another letter
to Mr. Owens an' I'll bet my saddle it means trouble."

Tex impressively spread out the letter and read laboriously:


Kansas City, Mo.
June 15

Dear Mr. Owens:

Your last letter has explained away much that was vague and
perplexing in your other letters.

It has inspired me with hope and anticipation.  I shall not take
time now to express my thanks, but hasten to get ready to go west.
I shall leave tomorrow and arrive at Beacon on June 19, at 4:30
p.m.  You see I have studied the timetable.

Yours very truly,
Jane Stacey


Profound silence followed Tex's reading of the letter.  The cowboys
were struck completely dumb.  Then suddenly Nevada exploded:

"My Gawd, fellers, today's the nineteenth!"

"Well, Springer needs a schoolmarm at the ranch," finally spoke up
the more practical Andy.  "There's half dozen kids growin' up
without schoolin', not to talk about other ranches.  I heard the
boss say so himself."

Tex spoke up.  "I've an idea.  It's too late now to turn this poor
schoolmarm back.  An' somebody'll have to meet her.  You all come
with me.  I'll get a buckboard.  I'll meet the lady and do the
talkin'.  I'll let her down easy.  And if I cain't head her back to
Missouri we'll fetch her out to the ranch an' then leave it up to
Springer.  Only we won't tell her or him or anybody who's the real
Frank Owens."

"Tex, that ain't so plumb bad," said Andy admiringly.

"What I want to know is who's goin' to do the talkin' to the boss,"
asked Panhandle.  "It mightn't be so hard to explain now.  But
after drivin' up to the ranch with a woman!  You all know
Springer's shy.  Young an' rich, like he is, an' a bachelor--he's
been fussed over so he's plumb afraid of girls.  An' here you're
fetchin' a middle-aged schoolmarm who's romantic an' mushy!--My
Gawd; . . . I say send her home on the next train."

"Pan, you're wise as far as hosses an' cattle goes, but you don't
know human nature, an' you're dead wrong about the boss," said Tex.
"We're in a bad fix, I'll admit.  But I lean more to fetchin' the
lady up than sendin' her back.  Somebody down Beacon way would get
wise.  Mebbe the schoolmarm might talk.  She'd shore have cause.
An' suppose Springer hears about it--that some of us or all of us
has played a lowdown trick on a woman.  He'd be madder at that than
if we fetched her up.

"Likely he'll try to make amends.  The boss may be shy on girls but
he's the squarest man in Arizona.  My idea is that we'll deny any
of us is Frank Owens, and we'll meet Miss--Miss--what was her name?--
Miss Jane Stacey and fetch her up to the ranch, an' let her do the
talkin' to Springer."

During the next several hours while Tex searched the town for a
buckboard and team he could borrow, the other cowboys wandered from
the saloon to the post office and back again, and then to the
store, the restaurant and back again, and finally settled in the
saloon.

When they emerged some time later they were arm in arm, and far
from steady on their feet.  They paraded up to one main street of
Beacon, not in the least conspicuous on a Saturday afternoon.  As
they were neither hilarious nor dangerous, nobody paid any
particular attention to them.  Springer, their boss, met them,
gazed at them casually, and passed by without sign of recognition.
If he had studied the boys closely he might have received an
impression that they were clinging to a secret, as well as to each
other.

In due time the trio presented themselves at the railroad station.
Tex was there, nervously striding up and down the platform, now and
then looking at his watch.  The afternoon train was nearly due.  At
the hitching rail below the platform stood a new buckboard and a
rather spirited team of horses.

The boys, coming across the wide square, encountered this evidence
of Tex's extremity, and struck a posture before it.

"Livery shtable outfit, my gosh," said Andy.

"Shon of a gun if it ain't," added Panhandle with a huge grin.

"Thish here Tex shpendin' his money royal," agreed Nevada.

Then Tex saw them.  He stared.  Suddenly he jumped straight up.
Striding to the edge of the platform, with face red as a beet, he
began to curse them.

"Whash masher, ole pard?" asked Andy, who appeared a little less
stable than his two comrades.

Tex's reply was another volley of expressive profanity.  And he
ended with:  "--you all yellow quitters to get drunk and leave me
in the lurch.  But you gotta get away from here.  I shore won't
have you about when the train comes in."

"But pard, we jist want to shee you meet our Jane from Missouri,"
said Andy.

"If you all ain't a lot of four-flushers I'll eat my chaps!" burst
out Tex hotly.

Just then a shrill whistle announced the arrival of the train.

"You can sneak off now," he went on, "an' leave me to face the
music.  I always knew I was the only gentleman in Springer's
outfit."

The three cowboys did not act upon Tex's sarcastic suggestion, but
they hung back, looking at once excited and sheepish and hugely
delighted.

The long gray dusty train pulled into the station and stopped with
a complaining of brakes.  There was only one passenger for Springer--
a woman--and she alighted from the coach near where the cowboys
stood waiting.  She wore a long linen coat and a brown veil that
completely hid her face.  She was not tall and she was much too
slight for the heavy valise the porter handed down to her.

Tex strode swaggeringly toward her.

"Miss--Miss Stacey, ma'am?" he asked, removing his sombrero.

"Yes," she replied.  "Are you Mr. Owens?"

Evidently the voice was not what Tex had expected and it
disconcerted him.

"No, ma'am, I--I'm not Mister Owens," he said.  "Please let me take
your bag . . . I'm Tex Dillon, one of Springer's cowboys.  An' I've
come to meet you--and fetch you out to the ranch."

"Thank you, but I--I expected to be met by Mr. Owens," she replied.

"Ma'am, there's been a mistake--I've got to tell you--there ain't
any Mister Owens," blurted out Tex manfully.

"Oh!" she said, with a little start.

"You see, it was this way," went on the confused cowboy.  "One of
Springer's cowboys--not ME--wrote them letters to you, signin' his
name Owens.  There ain't no such named cowboy in this whole
country.  Your last letter--an' here it is--fell into my hands--all
by accident, ma'am, it shore was.  I took my three friends heah--I
took them into my confidence.  An' we all came down to meet you."

She moved her head and evidently looked at the strange trio of
cowboys Tex pointed out as his friends.  They shuffled forward, not
too eagerly, and they still held on to each other.  Their
condition, not to consider their state of excitement, could not
have been lost even upon a tenderfoot from Missouri.

"Please return my--my letter," she said, turning again to Tex, and
she put out a small gloved hand to take it from him.  "Then--there
is no Mr. Frank Owens?"

"No ma'am, there shore ain't," said Tex miserably.

"Is there--no--no truth in his--is there no schoolteacher wanted
here?" she faltered.

"I think so, ma'am," he replied.  "Springer said he needed one.
That's what started us answerin' the advertisement an' the letters
to you.  You can see the boss an'--an' explain.  I'm shore it will
be all right.  He's one swell feller.  He won't stand for no joke
on a poor old schoolmarm."

In his bewilderment Tex had spoken his thoughts, and his last slip
made him look more miserable than ever, and made the boys appear
ready to burst.

"Poor old schoolmarm!" echoed Miss Stacey.  "Perhaps the deceit has
not been wholly on one side."

Whereupon she swept aside the enveloping veil to reveal a pale yet
extremely pretty face.  She was young.  She had clear gray eyes and
a sweet sensitive mouth.  Little curls of chestnut hair straggled
down from under her veil.  And she had tiny freckles.

Tex stared at this lovely apparition.

"But you--you--the letter says she wasn't over forty," he
exclaimed.

"She's not," rejoined Miss Stacey curtly.

Then there were visible and remarkable indication of a
transformation in the attitude of the cowboy.  But the approach of
a stranger suddenly seemed to paralyze him.  The newcomer was very
tall.  He strolled up to them.  He was booted and spurred.  He
halted before the group and looked expectantly from the boys to the
strange young woman and back again.  But for the moment the four
cowboys appeared dumb.

"Are--are you Mr. Springer?" asked Miss Stacey.

"Yes," he replied, and he took off his sombrero.  He had a deeply
tanned frank face and keen blue eyes.

"I am Jane Stacey," she explained hurriedly.  "I'm a schoolteacher.
I answered an advertisement.  And I've come from Missouri because
of letters I received from a Mr. Frank Owens, of Springer's Ranch.
This young man met me.  He has not been very--explicit.  I gather
there is no Mr. Owens--that I'm the victim of a cowboy joke . . .
But he said that Mr. Springer wouldn't stand for a joke on a poor
old schoolmarm."

"I sure am glad to meet you, Miss Stacey," said the rancher, with
an easy Western courtesy that must have been comforting to her.
"Please let me see the letters."

She opened a handbag, and searching in it, presently held out
several letters.  Springer never even glanced at his stricken
cowboys.  He took the letters.

"No, not that one," said Miss Stacey, blushing scarlet.  "That's
one I wrote to Mr. Owens, but didn't mail.  It's--hardly necessary
to read that."

While Springer read the others she looked at him.  Presently he
asked her for the letter she had taken back.  Miss Stacey
hesitated, then refused.  He looked cool, serious, businesslike.
Then his keen eyes swept over the four ill-at-ease cowboys.

"Tex, are you Mr. Frank Owens?" he asked sharply.

"I--shore--ain't," gasped Tex.

Springer asked each of the other boys the same question and
received decidedly maudlin but negative answers.  Then he turned to
the girl.

"Miss Stacey, I regret to say that you are indeed the victim of a
lowdown cowboy trick," he said.  "I'd apologize for such heathen if
I knew how.  All I can say is I'm sorry."

"Then--then there isn't any school to teach--any place for me--out
here?" she asked, and there were tears in her eyes.

"That's another matter," he said, with a pleasant smile.  "Of
course there's a place for you.  I've wanted a schoolteacher for a
long time.  Some of the men out at the ranch have kids and they
sure need a teacher badly."

"Oh, I'm--so glad," she murmured, in evident relief.  "I was afraid
I'd have to go all the way back.  You see I'm not so strong as I
used to be--and my doctor advised a change of climate--dry Western
air."

"You don't look sick," he said, with his keen eyes on her.  "You
look very well to me."

"Oh, indeed, but I'm not very strong," she said quickly.  "But I
must confess I wasn't altogether truthful about my age."

"I was wondering about that," he said, gravely.  There seemed just
a glint of a twinkle in his eye.  "Not over forty."

Again she blushed and this time with confusion.

"It wasn't altogether a lie.  I was afraid to mention that I was
only--young.  And I wanted to get the position so much. . . .  I'm
a good--a competent teacher, unless the scholars are too grown-up."

"The scholars you'll have at my ranch are children," he replied.
"Well, we'd better be starting if we are to get there before dark.
It's a long ride."


A few weeks altered many things at Springer's Ranch.  There was a
marvelous change in the dress and deportment of the cowboys when
off duty.  There were some clean and happy and interested children.
There was a rather taciturn and lonely young rancher who was given
to thoughtful dreams and whose keen blue eyes kept watch on the
little adobe schoolhouse under the cottonwoods.  And in Jane
Stacey's face a rich bloom and tan had begun to drive out the city
pallor.

It was not often that Jane left the schoolhouse without meeting one
of Springer's cowboys.  She met Tex most frequently, and according
to Andy, that fact was because Tex was foreman and could send the
boys off to the end of the range when he had the notion.

One afternoon Jane encountered the foreman.  He was clean-shaven,
bright and eager, a superb figure of a man.  Tex had been lucky
enough to have a gun with him one day when a rattlesnake had
frightened the schoolteacher and he had shot the reptile.  Miss
Stacey had leaned against him in her fright; she had been grateful;
she had admired his wonderful skill with a gun and had murmured
that a woman always would be safe with such a man.  Thereafter Tex
packed his gun, unmindful of the ridicule of his rivals.

"Miss Stacey, come for a little ride, won't you?" he asked eagerly.

The cowboys had already taught her how to handle a horse and to
ride; and if all they said of her appearance and accomplishment
were true she was indeed worth watching.

"I'm sorry," said Jane.  "I promised Nevada I'd ride with him
today."

"I reckon Nevada is miles and miles up the valley by now," replied
Tex.  "He won't be back till long after dark."

"But he made an engagement with me," protested the schoolmistress.

"An' shore he has to work.  He's ridin' for Springer, an' I'm
foreman of this ranch," said Tex.

"You sent him off on some long chase," said Jane severely.  "Now
didn't you?"

"I shore did.  He comes crowin' down to the bunk-house--about how
he's goin' to ride with you an' how we all are not in the runnin'."

"Oh! he did--And what did you say?"

"I says, 'Nevada, I reckon there's a steer mired in the sand up in
Cedar Wash.  You ride up there and pull him out.'"

"And then what did he say?" inquired Jane curiously.

"Why, Miss Stacey, shore I hate to tell you.  I didn't think he was
so--so bad.  He just used the most awful language as was ever heard
on this here ranch.  Then he rode off."

"But was there a steer mired up in the wash?"

"I reckon so," replied Tex, rather shamefacedly.  "Most always is
one."

Jane let scornful eyes rest upon the foreman.  "That was a mean
trick," she said.

"There's been worse done to me by him, an' all of them.  An' all's
fair in love an' war . . .  Will you ride with me?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because I think I'll ride off alone up Cedar Wash and help Nevada
find that mired steer."

"Miss Stacey, you're shore not goin' to ride off alone.  Savvy
that."

"Who'll keep me from it?" demanded Jane with spirit.

"I will.  Or any of the boys, for that matter.  Springer's orders."

Jane started with surprise and then blushed rosy red.  Tex, also,
appeared confused at his disclosure.

"Miss Stacey, I oughtn't have said that.  It slipped out.  The boss
said we needn't tell you, but you were to be watched an' taken care
of.  It's a wild range.  You could get lost or thrown from a hoss."

"Mr. Springer is very kind and thoughtful," murmured Jane.

"The fact is, this ranch is a different place since you came," went
on Tex as if suddenly emboldened.  "An' this beatin' around the
bush doesn't suit me.  All the boys have lost their heads over
you."

"Indeed?  How flattering!" said Jane, with just a hint of mockery.
She was fond of all her admirers, but there were four of them she
had not yet forgiven.

The tall foreman was not without spirit.  "It's true all right, as
you'll find out pretty quick." he replied.  "If you had any eyes
you'd see that cattle raisin' on this ranch is about to halt till
somethin' is decided.  Why, even Springer himself is sweet on you!"

"How dare you!" flashed Jane blushing furiously.

"I ain't afraid to tell the truth," said Tex stoutly.  "He is.  The
boys all say so.  He's grouchier than ever.  He's jealous.  Lord!
he's jealous!  He watches you--"

"Suppose I told him you had dared to say such things?" interrupted
Jane, trembling on the verge of a strange emotion.

"Why, he'd be tickled to death.  He hasn't got nerve enough to tell
you himself."

Jane shook her head, but her face was still flushed.  This cowboy,
like all his comrades, was hopeless.  She was about to change the
topic of conversation when Tex suddenly took her into his arms.
She struggled--and fought with all her might.  But he succeeded in
kissing her cheek and then the tip of her ear.  Finally she broke
away from him.

"Now--" she panted.  "You've done it--you've insulted me!  Now I'll
never ride with you again--never even speak to you."

"Shore I didn't insult you," replied Tex.  "Jane--won't you marry
me?"

"No."

"Won't you be my sweetheart--till you care enough to--to--"

"No."

"But, Jane, you'll forgive me, an' be good friends with me again?"

"Never!"

Jane did not mean all she said.  She had come to understand these
men of the range--their loneliness--their hunger for love.  But in
spite of her sympathy and affection she needed sometimes to appear
cold and severe with them.

"Jane, you owe me a great deal--more than you got any idea of,"
said Tex seriously.

"How so?"

"Didn't you ever guess about me?"

"My wildest flight at guessing would never make anything of you,
Texas Jack."

"You'd never have been here but for me," he said solemnly.

Jane could only stare at him.

"I meant to tell you long ago.  But I shore didn't have the nerve.
Jane I--I was that there letter-writin' feller.  I wrote them
letters you got.  I am Frank Owens."

"No!" exclaimed Jane.

She was startled.  That matter of Frank Owens had never been
cleared up to her satisfaction.  It had ceased to rankle within her
breast, but it had never been completely forgotten.  She looked up
earnestly into the big fellow's face.  It was like a mask.  But she
saw through it.  He was lying.  He was brazen.  Almost, she
thought, she saw a laugh deep in his eyes.

"I shore am that lucky man who found you a job when you was sick
an' needed a change . . .  An' that you've grown so pretty an' so
well you owe all to me."

"Tex, if you really were Frank Owens, THAT would make a great
difference; indeed I do owe him everything, I would--but I don't
believe you are he."

"It's shore honest Gospel fact," declared Tex.  "I hope to die if
it ain't!"

Jane shook her head sadly at his monstrous prevarication.  "I don't
believe you," she said, and left him standing there.

It might have been coincidence that the next few days both Nevada
and Panhandle waylaid the pretty schoolteacher and conveyed to her
intelligence by divers and pathetic arguments the astounding fact
that each was none other than Mr. Frank Owens.  More likely,
however, was it attributable to the unerring instinct of lovers who
had sensed the importance and significance of this mysterious
correspondent's part in bringing health and happiness into Jane
Stacey's life.  She listened to them with both anger and amusement
at their deceit, and she had the same answer for both.  "I don't
believe you."

Because of these clumsy machinations of the cowboys, Jane had begun
to entertain some vague, sweet, and disturbing suspicions of her
own as to the identity of that mysterious cowboy, Frank Owens.

It came about that a dance was to be held at Beacon during the late
summer.  The cowboys let Jane know that it was something she could
not very well afford to miss.  She had not attended either of the
cowboy dances which had been given since her arrival.  This next
one, however, appeared to be an annual affair, at which all the
ranching fraternity for miles around would be attending.

Jane, as a matter of fact, was wild to go.  However, she felt that
she could not accept the escort of any one of her cowboy admirers
without alienating the others.  And she began to have visions of
this wonderful dance fading away without a chance of her attending,
when Springer accosted her one day.

"Who's the lucky cowboy to take you to our dance?" he asked.

"He seems to be as mysterious and doubtful as Mr. Frank Owens,"
replied Jane.

"Oh, you still remember him," said the rancher, his keen dark eyes
quizzically on her.

"Indeed I do," sighed Jane.

"Too bad!  He was a villain . . .  But you don't mean you haven't
been asked to go?"

"They've all asked me.  That's the trouble."

"I see.  But you mustn't miss it.  It'd be pleasant for you to meet
some of the ranchers and their wives.  Suppose you go with me?"

"Oh, Mr. Springer, I--I'd be delighted," replied Jane.

Jane's first sight of that dance hall astonished her.  It was a big
barnlike room, crudely raftered and sided, decorated with colored
bunting which took away some of the bareness.  The oil lamps were
not bright, but there were plenty of them hung in brackets around
the room.  The volume of sound amazed her.  Music and the trample
of boots, gay laughter, the deep voices of men, and the high-
pitched voices of the children--all seemed to merge into a loud,
confused uproar.  A swaying, wheeling horde of dancers circled past
her.

"Sure it's something pretty fine for old Bill Springer to have the
prettiest girl here," her escort said.

"Thank you--but, Mr. Springer--I can easily see that you were a
cowboy before you became a rancher," she replied archly.

"Sure I was.  And that you will be dead sure to find out," he
laughed.  "Of course I could never compete with--say--Frank Owens.
But let's dance.  I shall have little enough of you in this
outfit."

So he swung her into the circle of dancers.  Jane found him easy to
dance with, though he was far from expert.  It was a jostling mob,
and she soon acquired a conviction that if her gown did outlast the
entire dance her feet never would.  Springer took his dancing
seriously and had little to say.  She felt strange and uncertain
with him.  Presently she became aware of the cessation of hum and
movement.  The music had stopped.

"That sure was the best dance I ever had," said Springer, with a
glow of excitement on his dark face.  "An' now I must lose you to
this outfit just coming."

Manifestly he meant his cowboys, Tex, Nevada, Panhandle, and Andy,
who were presenting themselves four abreast shiny of hair and face.

"Good luck," he whispered.  "If you get into a jam, let me know."

What he meant quickly dawned upon Jane.  Right then it began.  She
saw there was absolutely no use in trying to avoid or refuse these
young men.  The wisest and safest course was to surrender, which
she did.

"Boys, don't all talk at once.  I can dance with only one of you at
a time.  So I'll take you in alphabetical order.  I'm a poor old
schoolmarm from Missouri, you know.  It'll be Andy, Nevada,
Panhandle, and Tex."

Despite their protests she held rigidly to this rule.  Each one of
the cowboys took shameless advantage of his opportunity.
Outrageously as they all hugged her, Tex was the worst offender.
She tried to stop dancing, but he carried her along as if she had
been a child.  He was rapt, and yet there seemed a devil in him.

"Tex--how dare--you!" she panted, when at last the dance ended.

"Well, I reckon I'd about dare anythin' for you, Jane," he replied,
towering over her.

"You ought to be--ashamed," she went on.  "I'll not dance with you
again."

"Aw, now," he pleaded.

"I won't, Tex, so there.  You're no gentleman."

"Ahuh!" he retorted drawing himself up stiffly.  "All right I'll go
out an' get drunk, an' when I come back I'll clean out this hall so
quick that you'll get dizzy watchin'."

"Tex!  Don't go," she called hurriedly, as he started to stride
away.  "I'll take that back.  I will give you another dance--if you
promise to--to behave."

With this hasty promise she got rid of him, and was carried off by
Mrs. Hartwell to be introduced to the various ranchers and their
wives, and to all the girls and their escorts.  She found herself a
center of admiring eyes.  She promised more dances than she could
ever hope to remember or keep.

Her next partner was a tall handsome cowboy named Jones.  She did
not know quite what to make of him.  But he was an unusually good
dancer, and he did not hold her in such a manner that she had
difficulty in breathing.  He talked all the time.  He was witty and
engaging, and he had a most subtly flattering tongue.  Jane could
not fail to grasp that he might even be more outrageous than Tex,
but at least he did not make love to her with physical violence.

She enjoyed that dance and admitted to herself that the singular
forceful charm about this Mr. Jones was appealing.  If he was a
little too bold of glance and somehow too primitively self-assured
and debonair, she passed it by in the excitement and joy of the
hour, and in the conviction that she was now a long way from
Missouri.  Jones demanded, rather than begged for, another dance,
and though she laughingly explained her predicament in regard to
partners he said he would come after her anyhow.

Then followed several dances with new partners, and Jane became
more than ever the center of attraction.  It all went to the
schoolteacher's head like wine.  She was having a perfectly
wonderful time.  Jones claimed her again, in fact whirled her away
from the man to whom she was talking and out on the floor.  Twice
again before the supper hour at midnight she found herself dancing
with Jones.  How he managed it she did not know.  He just took her,
carrying her off by storm.

She did not awaken to this unpardonable conduct of hers until she
suddenly recalled that a little before she had promised Tex his
second dance, and then she had given it to Jones, or at least had
danced it with him.  But, after all, what could she do when he had
walked right off with her?  It was a glimpse of Tex's face, as she
whirled past in Jones' arms, that filled Jane with sudden remorse.

Then came the supper hour.  It was a gala occasion, for which
evidently the children had heroically kept awake.  Jane enjoyed the
children immensely.  She sat with the numerous Hartwells, all of
whom were most pleasantly attentive to her.  Jane wondered why Mr.
Springer did not put in an appearance, but considered his absence
due to numerous duties on the dance committee!

When the supper hour ended and the people were stirring about the
hall again, and the musicians were tuning up, Jane caught sight of
Andy.  He looked rather pale and almost sick.  Jane tried to catch
his eye, but failing that she went to him.

"Andy, please find Tex for me.  I owe him a dance, and I'll give
him the very first, unless Mr. Springer comes for it."

Andy regarded her with an aloofness totally new to her.

"Well, I'll tell him.  But I reckon Tex ain't presentable just now.
An' all of us boys are through dancin' for tonight."

"What's happened?" asked Jane swift to divine trouble.

"There's been a little fight."

"Oh, no!" cried Jane.  "Who?  Why?--Andy, please tell me."

"Well, when you cut Tex's dance for Beady Jones, you shore put our
outfit in bad," replied Andy coldly.  "At that there wouldn't have
been anything come of it here if Beady Jones hadn't got to shootin'
off his chin.  Tex slapped his face an' that shore started a fight.
Beady licked Tex, too, I'm sorry to say.  He's a pretty bad hombre,
Beady is, an' he's bigger'n Tex.  Well, we had a hell of a time
keepin' Nevada out of it.  That would have been a worse fight.  I'd
like to have seen it.  But we kept them apart till Springer come
out.  An' what the boss said to the outfit was sure aplenty.

"Beady Jones kept talkin' back, nasty-like--you know he was once
foreman for us--till Springer got good an' mad.  An' he said:
'Jones, I fired you once because you were a little too slick for
our outfit, an' I'll tell you this, if it come to a pinch I'll give
you the damnedest thrashin' any smart-aleck cowboy ever got.' . . .
Judas, the boss was riled.  It sort of surprised me, an' tickled me
pink.  You can bet that shut Beady Jones's loud mouth and mighty
quick!"

After his rather lengthy speech, Andy left her unceremoniously
standing there alone.  She was not alone long, but it was long
enough for her to feel a rush of bitter dissatisfaction with
herself.

Jane looked for Springer, hoping yet fearing he would come to her.
But he did not.  She had another uninterrupted dizzy round of
dancing until her strength completely failed.  By four o'clock she
was scarcely able to walk.  Her pretty dress was torn and mussed;
her white stockings were no longer white; her slippers were worn
ragged.  And her feet were dead.  She dragged herself to a chair
where she sat looking on, and trying to keep awake.  The wonderful
dance, that had begun so promisingly, had ended sadly for her.

At length the exodus began, though Jane did not see many of the
dancers leaving.  She went out to be received by Springer, who had
evidently made arrangements for their leaving.  He seemed decidedly
cool to the remorseful Jane.

All during the long ride to the ranch he never addressed her or
looked toward her.  Daylight came, appearing cold and gray to Jane.
She felt as if she wanted to cry.

Springer's sister, and the matronly housekeeper were waiting for
them, with a cheery welcome, and an invitation to a hot breakfast.

Presently Jane found herself momentarily alone with the taciturn
rancher.

"Miss Stacey," he said, in a voice she had never heard, "your crude
flirting with Beady Jones made trouble for the Springer outfit last
night."

"MR. SPRINGER!" she exclaimed, her head going up.

"Excuse me," he returned, in a cutting, dry tone that recalled Tex.
After all, this Westerner was still a cowboy, just exactly like
those who rode for him, only a little older, and therefore more
reserved and careful of his speech.  "If it wasn't that--then you
sure appeared to be pretty much taken with Mr. Beady Jones."

"If that was anybody's business, it might have appeared so," she
cried, tingling all over with some feeling which she could not
control.

"Sure.  But are you denying it?" he asked soberly, eyeing her with
a grave frown and obvious disapproval.  It was this more than his
question that roused hot anger and contrariness in Jane.

"I admired Mr. Jones very much," she replied haughtily.  "He was a
splendid dancer.  He did not maul me like a bear.  I really had a
chance to breathe during my dances with him.  Then too he could
talk.  He was a gentleman."

Springer bowed with dignity.  His dark face paled.  It dawned upon
Jane that the situation had become serious for everyone concerned.
She began to repent her hasty pride.

"Thanks," he said.  "Please excuse my impertinence.  I see you have
found your Mr. Frank Owens in this cowboy Jones, and it sure is not
my place to say any more."

"But--but--Mr. Springer--" faltered Jane, quite unstrung by the
rancher's amazing speech.

However, he merely bowed again and left her.  Jane felt too
miserable and weary for anything but rest and a good cry.  She went
to her room, and flinging off her hateful finery, she crawled into
bed, and buried her head in her pillow.

About mid-afternoon Jane awakened greatly refreshed and relieved
and strangely repentant.  She invaded the kitchen, where the good-
natured housekeeper, who had become fond of her, gave her some wild-
turkey sandwiches and cookies and sweet rich milk.  While Jane
appeased her hunger the woman gossiped about the cowboys and
Springer, and the information she imparted renewed Jane's concern
over the last night's affair.

From the kitchen Jane went out into the courtyard, and naturally,
as always, gravitated toward the corrals and barns.  Springer
appeared in company with a rancher Jane did not know.  She expected
Springer to stop her for a few pleasant words as was his wont.
This time, however, he merely touched his sombrero and passed on.
Jane felt the incident almost as a slight.  And it hurt.

As she went on down the land she became very thoughtful.  A cloud
suddenly had appeared above the horizon of her happy life there at
the Springer ranch.  It did not seem to her that what she had done
deserved the change in everyone's attitude.  The lane opened out
onto a wide square, around which were the gates to the corrals, the
entrances to several barns, the forge, granaries, and the
commodious bunkhouse of the cowboys.

Jane's sharp eyes caught sight of the boys before they saw her.
But when she looked up again every broad back was turned.  They
allowed her to pass without any apparent knowledge of her
existence.  This obvious snub was unprecedented.  It offended her
bitterly.  She knew that she was being unreasonable, but could not
or would not help it.  She strolled on down to the pasture gate and
watched the colts and calves.

Upon her return she passed even closer to the cowboys.  But again
they apparently did not see her.  Jane added resentment to her
wounded vanity and pride.  Yet even then a still small voice
tormented and accused her.  She went back to her room, meaning to
read or sew, or prepare school work.  But instead she sat down in a
chair and burst into tears.

Next day was Sunday.  Heretofore every Sunday had been a full day
for Jane.  This one, however, bade fair to be an empty one.
Company came as usual, neighbors from nearby ranches.  The cowboys
were off duty and other cowboys came over to visit them.

Jane's attention was attracted by sight of a superb horseman riding
up the lane to the ranch house.  He seemed familiar, somehow, but
she could not place him.  What a picture he made as he dismounted,
slick and shiny, booted and spurred, to doff his huge sombrero!
Jane heard him ask for Miss Stacey.  Then she recognized him.
Beady Jones!  She was at once horrified and yet attracted to this
cowboy.  She remembered now he had asked if he might call Sunday
and she had certainly not refused to see him.  But for him to come
here after the fight with Tex and the bitter scene with Springer!

It seemed almost an unparalleled affront.  What manner of man was
this cowboy Jones?  He certainly did not lack courage.  But more to
the point what idea he had of her?  Jane rose to the occasion.  She
had let herself in for this, and she would see it through, come
what might.  Looming disaster stimulated her.  She would show these
indifferent, deceitful, fire-spirited, incomprehensible cowboys!
She would let Springer see that she had indeed taken Beady Jones
for Mr. Frank Owens.

With this thought in mind, Jane made her way down to the porch to
greet her cowboy visitor.  She made herself charming and gracious,
and carried off the embarrassing situation--for Springer was
present--just as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
And she led Jones to one of the rustic benches farther down the
porch.

Obvious, indeed, was it in all his actions that young Jones felt he
had made a conquest.  He was the most forceful and bold person Jane
had ever met, quite incapable of appreciating her as a lady.  It
was not long before he was waxing ardent.  Jane had become
accustomed to the sentimental talk of cowboys, but this fellow was
neither amusing nor interesting.  He was dangerous.  When she
pulled her hand, by main force, free from his, and said she was not
accustomed to allow men such privileges, he grinned at her like the
handsome devil he was.  Her conquest was only a matter of time.

"Sure, sweetheart, you have missed a heap of fun," Beady Jones
said.  "An' I reckon I'll have to break you in."

Jane could not really feel insulted at this brazen, conceited fool,
but she certainly could feel enraged with herself.  Her instant
impulse was to excuse herself and abruptly leave him.  But Springer
was close by.  She had caught his dark, speculative, covert
glances.  And the cowboys were at the other end of the long porch.
Jane feared another fight.  She had brought this situation upon
herself, and she must stick it out.  The ensuing hour was an
increasing torment.

At last it seemed to her that she could not bear the false
situation any longer.  And when Jones again importuned her to meet
him out on horseback some time, she stooped to deception to end the
interview.  She really did not concentrate her attention on his
plan or really take stock of what she was agreeing to do, but she
got rid of him with ease and dignity in the presence of Springer
and the others.  After that she did not have the courage to stay
out there and face them, and stole off to the darkness and
loneliness of her room.


The school teaching went on just the same, and the cowboys thawed
out perceptibly, and Springer returned somewhat to his friendly
manner, but Jane missed something from her work and in them, and
her heart was sad the way everything was changed.  Would it ever be
the same again?  What had happened?  She had only been an emotional
little tenderfoot, unused to Western ways.  After all, she had not
failed, at least in gratitude and affection, though now it seemed
they would never know.

There came a day, when Jane rode off toward the hills.  She forgot
the risk and all of the admonitions of the cowboys.  She wanted to
be alone to think.

She rode fast until her horse was hot and she was out of breath.
Then she slowed down.  The foothills seemed so close now.  But they
were not really close.  Still she could smell the fragrant dry
cedar aroma on the air.

Then for the first time she looked back toward the ranch.  It was a
long way off--ten miles--a mere green spot in the gray.  Suddenly
she caught sight of a horseman coming.  As usual, some one of the
cowboys had observed her, let her think she had slipped away, and
was now following her.  Today it angered Jane.  She wanted to be
alone.  She could take care of herself.  And as was unusual with
her, she used her quirt on the horse.  He broke into a gallop.

She did not look back again for a long time.  When she did it was
to discover that the horseman had not only gained, but was now
quite close to her.  Jane looked intently, but she could not
recognize the rider.  Once she imagined it was Tex and again Andy.
It did not make any difference which one of the cowboys it was.
She was angry, and if he caught up with her he would be sorry.

Jane rode the longest and fastest race she had ever ridden.  She
reached the low foothills, and without heeding the fact that she
might speedily become lost, she entered the cedars and began to
climb.

What was her amazement when she heard a thud of hoofs and crackling
of branches in the opposite direction from which she was expecting
her pursuer, and saw a rider emerge from the cedars and trot his
horse toward her.  Jane needed only a second glance to recognize
Beady Jones.  Surely she had met him by chance.  Suddenly she knew
he was not the pursuer she had been so angrily aware of.  Jones's
horse was white.  That checked her mounting anger.

Jones rode straight at her, and as he came close Jane saw his bold
tanned face and gleaming eyes.  Instantly she realized that she had
been mad to ride so far into the wild country, to expose herself to
something from which the cowboys on the ranch had always tried to
save her.

"Howdy, sweetheart," sang out Jones, in his cool, devil-may-care
way.  "Reckon it took you a long time to make up your mind to meet
me as you promised."

"I didn't ride out to meet you, Mr. Jones," said Jane spiritedly.
"I know I agreed to something or other, but even then I didn't mean
it."

"Yes, I had a hunch you were just playin' with me," he said darkly,
riding his white mount right up against her horse.

He reached out a long gloved hand and grasped her arm.

"What do you mean, sir?" demanded Jane, trying to wrench her arm
free.

"Shore I mean a lot," he said grimly.  "You stood for the
lovemakin' of that Springer outfit.  Now you're goin' to get a
taste of somethin' not quite so easy."

"Let go of me--you--you utter fool!" cried Jane, struggling
fiercely.  She was both furious and terrified.  But she seemed to
be a child in the grasp of a giant.

"Hell!  Your fightin' will only make it more interestin'.  Come
here, you sassy little cat."

And he lifted her out of her saddle over onto his horse in front of
him.  Jane's mount, that had been frightened and plunging, ran away
into the cedars.  Then Jones proceeded to embrace Jane.  She
managed to keep her mouth from contact with his, but he kissed her
face and neck, kisses that seemed to fill her with shame and
disgust.

"Jane, I'm ridin' out of this country for good," he said.  "An'
I've just been waitin' for this chance.  You bet you'll remember
Beady Jones."

Jane realized that Jones would stop at nothing.  Frantically she
fought to get away from him, and to pitch herself to the ground.
She screamed.  She beat and tore at him.  She scratched his face
till the blood flowed.  And as her struggles increased with her
fright, she gradually slipped down between him and the pommel of
his saddle, with head hanging down on one side and her feet on the
other.  This position was awkward and painful, but infinitely
preferable to being crushed in his arms.  He was riding off with
her as if she had been a half-empty sack.

Suddenly Jane's hands, while trying to hold on to something to
lessen the severe jolting her position was giving her, came in
contact with Jones's gun.  Dare she draw it and try to shoot him?
Then all at once her ears filled with the approaching gallop of
another horse.  Inverted as she was, she was able to see and
recognize Springer riding directly at Jones and yelling hoarsely.

Next she felt Jones's hard jerk at his gun.  But Jane had hold of
it, and suddenly her little hands had the strength of steel.  The
fierce energy with which Jones was wrestling to draw his gun threw
Jane from the saddle.  And when she dropped clear of the horse the
gun came with her.

"Hands up, Beady!" she heard Springer call out, as she lay
momentarily face down in the dust.  Then she struggled to her
knees, and crawled to get away from the danger of the horses'
hoofs.  She still clung to the heavy gun.  And when breathless and
almost collapsing she fell back on the ground, she saw Jones with
his hands above his head and Springer on foot with leveled gun.

"Sit tight, cowboy," ordered the rancher, in a hard tone.  "It'll
take damn little more to make me bore you."

Then while still covering Jones, evidently ready for any sudden
move, Springer spoke again.

"Jane, did you come out here to meet this cowboy?" he asked.

"Oh, no!  How can you ask that?" cried Jane, almost sobbing.

"She's a liar, boss," spoke up Jones coolly.  "She let me make love
to her.  An' she agreed to ride out an' meet me.  Well it shore
took her a spell, an' when she did come she was shy on the love-
makin'.  I was packin' her off to scare some sense into her when
you rode in."

"Beady, I know your way with women.  You can save your breath, for
I've a hunch you're going to need it."

"Mr. Springer," faltered Jane, getting to her knees.  "I--I was
foolishly attracted to this cowboy--at first.  Then--that Sunday
after the dance when he called on me at the ranch--I saw through
him then.  I heartily despised him.  To get rid of him I did say
I'd meet him.  But I never meant to.  Then I forgot all about it.
Today I rode alone for the first time.  I saw someone following me
and thought it must be Tex or one of the boys.  Finally I waited,
and presently Jones rode up to me . . .  And, Mr. Springer, he--he
grabbed me off my horse--and handled me shamefully.  I fought him
with all my might, but what could I do?"

Springer's face changed markedly during Jane's long explanation.
Then he threw his gun on the ground in front of Jane.

"Jones, I'm going to beat you within an inch of your life," he said
grimly; and leaping at the cowboy, he jerked him out of the saddle
and sent him sprawling on the ground.  Next Springer threw aside
his sombrero, his vest, his spurs.  But he kept on his gloves.  The
cowboy rose to one knee, and he measured the distance between him
and Springer, and then the gun that lay on the ground.  Suddenly he
sprang toward it.  Springer intercepted him with a powerful kick
that tripped Jones and laid him flat.

"Jones, you're sure about as low-down as they come," he said, in a
tone of disgust.  "I've got to be satisfied with beating you when I
ought to kill you!"

"Ahuh!  Well, boss, it ain't any safe bet that you can do either,"
cried Beady Jones sullenly, as he got up.

As they rushed together Jane had wit enough to pick up the gun, and
then with it and Jones's, to get back a safe distance.  She wanted
to run away out of sight.  But she could not keep her fascinated
gaze from the combatants.  Even in her distraught condition she
could see that the cowboy, young and active and strong as he was,
could not hold his own with Springer.  They fought all over the
open space, and crashed into the cedars and out again.  The time
came when Jones was on the ground about as much as he was erect.
Bloody, dishevelled, beaten, he kept on trying to stem the
onslaught of blows.

Suddenly he broke off a dead branch of cedar, and brandishing it
rushed at the rancher.  Jane uttered a cry, closed her eyes, and
sank to the ground.  She heard fierce muttered imprecations and
savage blows.  When at length she opened her eyes again, fearing
something dreadful, she saw Springer erect, wiping his face with
the back of one hand and Jones lying on the ground.

Then Jane saw him go to his horse, untie a canteen from the saddle,
remove his bloody gloves, and wash his face with a wet scarf.  Next
he poured some water on Jones's face.

"Come on, Jane," he called.  "I reckon it's all over."

He tied the bridle of Jones's horse to a cedar, and leading his own
animal turned to meet Jane.

"I want to compliment you on getting that cowboy's gun," he said
warmly.  "But for that there'd sure have been something bad.  I'd
have had to kill him, Jane. . . .  Here, give me the guns. . . .
You poor little tenderfoot from Missouri.  No, not tenderfoot any
longer.  You became a Westerner today."

His face was bruised and cut, his clothes dirty and bloody, but he
did not appear the worse for such a desperate fight.  Jane found
her legs scarcely able to support her, and she had apparently lost
her voice.

"Let me put you on my saddle till we find your horse," he said, and
lifted her lightly as a feather to a seat crosswise in the saddle.
Then he walked with a hand on the bridle.

Jane saw him examining the ground, evidently searching for horse
tracks.  "Here we are."  And he led off in another direction
through the cedars.  Soon Jane saw her horse, calmly nibbling at
the bleached grass.

Springer stood beside her with a hand on her horse.  He looked
frankly into her face.  The keen eyes were softer than usual.  He
looked so fine and strong and splendid that she found herself
breathing with difficulty.  She was afraid of her betraying eyes
and looked away.

"When the boys found out that you were gone, they all saddled up to
find you," he said.  "But I asked them if they didn't think the
boss ought to have one chance.  So they let me come."

Right about then something completely unforeseen happened to Jane's
heart.  She was overwhelmed by a strange happiness that she knew
she ought to hide, but could not.  She could not speak.  The
silence grew.  She felt Springer there, but she could not look at
him.

"Do you like it out here in the West?" he asked presently.

"Oh, I love it!  I'll never want to leave it," she replied
impulsively.

"I reckon I'm glad to hear you say that."

Then there fell another silence.  He pressed closer to her and
seemed now to be leaning against the horse.  She wondered if he
heard the thunderous knocking of her heart against her side.

"Will you be my wife an' stay here always?" he asked simply.  "I'm
in love with you.  I've been lonely since my mother died. . . .
You'll sure have to marry some of us.  Because, as Tex says, if you
don't, ranchin' can't go on much longer.  These boys don't seem to
get anywhere with you.  Have I any chance--Jane?"

He possessed himself of her gloved hand and gave her a gentle tug.
Jane knew it was gentle because she scarcely felt it.  Yet it had
irresistible power.  She was swayed by the gentle pull.  She moved
into his arms.

A little later he smiled at her and said, "Jane, they call me Bill
for short.  Same as they call me Boss.  But my two front names are
Frank Owens."

"Oh!" cried Jane.  "Then you--"

"Yes, I'm the guilty one," he said happily.  "It happened this way.
My bedroom, you know is next to my office.  I often heard the boys
pounding the typewriter.  I had a hunch they were up to some trick.
So I spied upon them--heard about Frank Owens and the letters to
the little schoolmarm.  At Beacon I got the postmistress to give me
your address.  And, of course, I intercepted some of your letters.
It sure has turned out great."

"I--I don't know about you or those terrible cowboys," said Jane
dubiously.  "How did THEY happen on the name Frank Owens?"

"That's sure a stumper.  I reckon they put a job up on me."

"Frank--tell me--did YOU write the--the love letters?" she asked
appealingly.  "There were two kinds of letters.  That's what I
never could understand."

"Jane, I reckon I did," he confessed.  "Something about your little
notes made me fall in love with you clear back there in Missouri.
Does that make it all right?"

"Yes, Frank, I reckon it does--now," she said.

"Let's ride back home and tell the boys," said Springer gayly.
"The joke's sure on them.  I've corralled the little 'under-forty
schoolmarm from Missouri.'"




MONTY PRICE'S NIGHTINGALE


Around camp fires they cursed him in hearty cowboy fashion, and
laid upon him the ban of their ill will.  They said that Monty
Price had no friend--that no foreman or rancher ever trusted him--
that he never spent a dollar--that he would not keep a job--that
there must be something crooked about a fellow who bunked and
worked alone, who quit every few months to ride away, no one knew
where, and who returned to the ranges, haggard and thin and shaky,
hunting for another place.

He had been drunk somewhere, and the wonder of it was that no one
in the Tonto Forest Ranges had ever seen him drink a drop.  Red
Lake and Gallatin and Bellville knew him, but no more of him than
the ranges.  He went farther afield, they said, and hinted darker
things than a fling at faro or a fondness for red liquor.

But there was no rancher, no cowboy from one end of the vast range
country to another who did not admit Monty Price's preeminence in
those peculiar attributes of his calling.  He was a magnificent
rider; he had an iron and cruel hand with a horse, yet he never
killed or crippled his mount; he possessed the Indian's instinct
for direction; he never failed on the trail of lost stock; he could
ride an outlaw and brand a wild steer and shoe a vicious mustang as
bragging cowboys swore they could; and supreme test of all he would
endure, without complaint, long toilsome hours in the piercing wind
and freezing sleet and blistering sun.

"I'll tell you what," said old Abe Somers, "I've ranched from the
Little Big Horn to the Pecos, an' I've seen a sight of cow-punchers
in my day.  But Monty Price's got 'em all skinned.  It shore is too
bad he's onreliable--packin' off the way he does, jest when he's
the boy most needed.  Some mystery about Monty."

The extra duty, the hard task, the problem with stock or tools or
harness--these always fell to Monty.  His most famous trick was to
offer to take a comrade's night shift.

So it often happened that while the cowboys lolled round their camp
fire, Monty Price, after a hard day's riding, would stand out the
night guard, in rain and snow.  But he always made a bargain.  He
sold his service.  And the boys were wont to say that he put his
services high.

Still they would never have grumbled at that if Monty had ever
spent a dollar.  He saved his money.  He never bought any fancy
boots or spurs or bridles or scarfs or chaps; and his cheap jeans
and saddles were the jest of his companions.

Nevertheless, in spite of Monty's shortcomings, he rode in the
Tonto on and off for five years before he made an enemy.

There was a cowboy named Bart Muncie who had risen to be a foreman,
and who eventually went to ranching on a small scale.  He acquired
a range up in the forest country where grassy valleys and parks lay
between the wooded hills, and here in a wild spot among the pines
he built a cabin for his wife and baby.

It came about that Monty went to work for Muncie, and rode for him
for six months.  Then, in a dry season, with Muncie short of help
and with long drives to make, Monty quit in his inexplicable way
and left the rancher in dire need.  Muncie lost a good deal of
stock that fall, and he always blamed Monty for it.

Some weeks later it chanced that Muncie was in Bellville the very
day Monty returned from his latest mysterious absence.  And the two
met in a crowded store.

Monty appeared vastly different from the lean-jawed, keen-eyed,
hard-riding cowboy of a month back.  He was haggard and thin and
shaky and spiritless and somber.

"See here, Monty Price," said Muncie, with stinging scorn, "I
reckon you'll spare me a minute of your precious time."

"I reckon so," replied Monty.

Muncie used up more than the allotted minute in calling Monty every
bad name known to the range.

"An' the worst of all you are is that you're a liar!" concluded the
rancher passionately.  "I relied on you an' you failed me.  You
lost me a herd of stock.  Put me back a year!  An' for what?  God
only knows what!  We ain't got you figgered here--not that way.
But after this trick you turned me, we all know you're not square.
An' I go on record callin' you as you deserve.  You're no good.
You've got a streak of yellow, an' you sneak off now an' then to
indulge it.  An' most of all you're a liar!  Now, if it ain't all
so--flash your gun!"

But Monty Price did not draw.

The scorn and abuse of the cowboys might never have been, for all
the effect it had on Monty.  He did not see it or feel it.  He
found employment with a rancher named Wentworth, and went at his
work in the old, inimitable manner, that was at once the admiration
and despair of his fellows.  He rolled out of his blankets in the
gray dawn, and he was the last to roll in at night.

In a week all traces of his weakened condition had vanished, and he
grew strong and dark and hard, once more like iron.  And then again
he was up to his old tricks, more intense than ever, eager and
gruff at bargaining his time, obsessed by the one idea--to make
money.


To Monty the long, hot, dusty, blasting days of summer were as
moments.  Time flew for him.  The odd jobs; the rough trails; the
rides without water or food; the long stands in the cold rain; the
electric storms when the lightning played around and cracked in his
horse's mane, and the uneasy herd bawled and milled--all these
things that were the everlasting torment of his comrades were as
nothing to Monty Price.

And when the first pay day came and Monty tucked away a little roll
of greenbacks inside his vest, and kept adding to it as one by one
his comrades paid him for some bargained service--then in Monty
Price's heart began the low and insistent and sweetly alluring call
of the thing that had ruined him.  Thereafter sleeping or waking,
he lived in a dream, with that music in his heart, and the hours
were fleeting.

On the mountain trails, in the noonday heat of the dusty ranges, in
the dark, sultry nights with their thunderous atmosphere he was
always listening to that song of his nightingale.  To his comrades
he seemed a silent, morose, greedy cowboy, a demon for work, with
no desire for friendship, no thought of home or kin, no love of a
woman or a horse or anything, except money.  To Monty himself, his
whole inner life grew rosier and mellower and richer as day by day
his nightingale sang sweeter and louder.

And that song was a song of secret revel--far away--where he gave
up to this wind of flame that burned within him--where a passionate
and irresistible strain in his blood found its outlet--where wanton
red lips whispered, and wanton eyes, wine dark and seductive, lured
him, and wanton arms twined around him.


The rains failed to come that summer.  The gramma grass bleached on
the open ranges and turned yellow up in the parks.  But there was
plenty of grass and water to last out the fall.  It was fire the
ranchers feared.  And it came.

One morning above the low, gray-stoned and black-fringed mountain
range rose clouds of thick, creamy smoke.  There was fire on the
other side of the mountain.  But unless the wind changed and drew
fire in over the pass there was no danger on that score.  The wind
was right; it seldom changed at that season, though sometimes it
blew a gale.  Still the ranchers grew more anxious.  The smoke
clouds rolled up and spread and hid the top of the mountain, and
then lifted slow, majestic columns of white and yellow toward the
sky.

On the day that Wentworth, along with other alarmed ranchers, sent
men up to fight the fire in the pass, Monty Price quit his job and
rode away.  He did not tell anybody.  He just took his little pack
and his horse, and in the confusion of the hour he rode away.  For
days he felt that his call might come at any moment, and finally it
had come.  It did not occur to him that he was quitting Wentworth
at a most critical time.  It would not have made any difference to
him if it had occurred to him.

He rode away with bells in his heart.  He felt like a boy at the
prospect of a wonderful adventure.  He felt like a man who had
toiled and slaved, whose ambition had been supreme, and who had
reached the pinnacle where his longing would be gratified.

His road led to the right away from the higher ground and the
timber.  To his left the other road wound down the ridge to the
valley below and stretched on through straggling pines and clumps
of cedar toward the slopes and the forests.  Monty had ridden that
road a thousand times.  For it led to Muncie's range.  And as
Monty's keen eye swept on over the parks and the thin wedges of
pine to the black mass to timber beyond he saw something that made
him draw up with a start.

Clearly defined against the blueblack swelling slope was a white-
and-yellow cloud of smoke.  It was moving.  At thirty miles
distance, that it could be seen to move at all was proof of the
great speed with which it was traveling.

"She's caught!" he ejaculated.  "Way down on this side.  An' she'll
burn over.  Nothin' can save the range!"

He watched, and those keen, practiced eyes made out the changing,
swelling columns of smoke, the widening path, the creeping dim red.

"Reckon that'll surprise Wentworth's outfit," soliloquized Monty
thoughtfully.  "It doesn't surprise me none.  An' Muncie, too.  His
cabin's up there in the valley."

It struck Monty suddenly that the wind blew hard in his face.  It
was sweeping straight down the valley toward him.  It was bringing
that fire.  Swift on the wind!

"One of them sudden changes of wind!" he said.  "Veered right
around!  An' Muncie's range will go.  An' his cabin!"

Straightway Monty grew darkly thoughtful.  He had remembered seeing
Muncie with Wentworth's men on the way to the pass.  In fact,
Muncie was the leader of this fire-fighting brigade.

"Sure he's fetched down his wife an' the baby," he muttered.  "I
didn't see them.  But sure he must have."

Monty's sharp gaze sought the road for tracks.  No fresh track
showed!  Muncie must have taken his family over the short-cut
trail.  Certainly he must have!  Monty remembered Muncie's wife and
child.  The woman had hated him.  But little Del with her dancing
golden curls and her blue eyes--she had always had a ready smile
for him.

It came to Monty then suddenly, strangely, that little Del would
have loved him if he had let her.  Where was she now?  Safe at
Wentworth's, without a doubt.  But then she might not be.  Muncie
had certainly no fears of fire in the direction of home, not with
the wind in the north and no prospect of change.  It was quite
possible--it was probable that the rancher had left his family at
home that morning.

Monty experienced a singular shock.  It had occurred to him to ride
down to Muncie's cabin and see if the woman and child had been
left.  And whether or not he found them there the matter of getting
back was a long chance.  That wind was strong--that fire was
sweeping down.  How murky, red, sinister the slow-moving cloud!

"I ain't got a lot of time to decide," he said.  His face turned
pale and beads of sweat came out upon his brow.

That sweet little golden-haired Del, with her blue eyes and her
wistful smile!  Monty saw her as if she had been there.  Then like
lightning flashed back the thought that he was on his way to his
revel.  And the fires of hell burst in his veins.  And more deadly
sweet than any siren music rang the song of his nightingale in his
heart.  Neither honor nor manliness had ever stood between him and
his fatal passion.

He was in a swift, golden dream, with the thick fragrance of wine,
and the dark, mocking, luring eyes on him.  All this that was more
than life to him--to give it up--to risk it--to put if off an hour!
He felt the wrenching pang of something deep hidden in his soul,
beating its way up, torturing him.  But it was strange and mighty.

In that terrible moment it decided for him; and the smile of a
child was stronger than the unquenchable and blasting fire of his
heart.

Monty untied his saddle pack and threw it aside; and then with
tightshut jaw he rode down the steep descent to the level valley.
His horse was big and strong and fast.  He was fresh, too, and in
superb condition.

Once down on the hard-packed road he broke into a run, and it took
an iron arm to hold him from extending himself.  Monty calculated
on saving the horse for the run back.  He had no doubt that would
be a race with fire.  And he had been in forest fires more than
once. . . .

Muncie's cabin was a structure of logs and clapboards, standing in
a little clearing, with the great pines towering all around.  Monty
saw the child, little Del, playing in the yard with a dog.  He
called.  The child heard, and being frightened ran into the cabin.
The dog came barking toward Monty.  He was a big, savage animal, a
trained watchdog.  But he recognized Monty.

Hurrying forward, Monty went to the open door and called Mrs.
Muncie.  There was no response.  He called again.  And while he
stood there waiting, listening, above the roar of the wind he heard
a low, dull, thundering sound, like a waterfall in a flooded river.
It sent the blood rushing back to his heart, leaving him cold.  He
had not a single instant to lose.

"Mrs. Muncie," he called louder.  "Come out!  Bring the child!
It's Monty Price.  There's forest fire!  Hurry!"

He stepped into the cabin.  There was no one in the big room--or
the kitchen.  He grew hurried now.  The child was hiding.  Finally
he found her in the clothespress, and he pulled her out.  She was
frightened.  She did not recognize him.

"Del, is your mother home?" he asked.

The child shook her head.

With that Monty picked her up, along with a heavy shawl he saw,
and, hurrying out, he ran down to the corral.  Muncie's horses were
badly frightened now.  Monty set little Del down, threw the shawl
into a watering trough, and then he let down the bars of the gate.

The horses pounded out in a cloud of dust.  Monty's horse was
frightened, too, and almost broke away.  There was now a growing
roar on the wind.  It seemed right upon him.  Yet he could not see
any fire or smoke.  The dog came to him, whining and sniffing.

With swift hands Monty soaked the shawl thoroughly in the water,
and then wrapping it round little Del and holding her tight, he
mounted.  The horse plunged and broke and plunged again--then
leaped out straight and fast down the road.  And Monty's ears
seemed pierced and filled by a terrible, thundering roar.

He had to race with fire.  He had to beat the wind of flame to the
open parks.  Ten miles of dry forest, like powder!  Though he had
never seen it, he knew fire backed by heavy wind could rage through
dry pine faster than a horse could run.

Yet something in Monty Price welcomed this race.  He goaded the
horse.  Then he looked back.

Through the aisles of the forest he saw a strange, streaky, murky
something, moving, alive, shifting up and down, never an instant
the same.  It must have been the wind, the heat before the fire.
He seemed to see through it, but there was nothing beyond, only
opaque, dim, mustering clouds.

Ahead of him, down the road, low under the spreading trees, floated
swiftly some kind of a medium, like a transparent veil.  It was
neither smoke nor air.  It carried pin points of light, sparks,
that resembled atoms of dust floating in sunlight.  It was a wave
of heat propelled before the storm of fire.  Monty did not feel
pain, but he seemed to be drying up, parching.  All was so strange
and unreal--the swift flight between the pines, now growing ghostly
in the dimming light--the sense of rushing, overpowering force--and
yet absolute silence.  But that light burden against his breast--
the child--was not unreal.

He must have been insane, he thought, not to be overcome in spirit.
But he was not.  He felt loss of something, some kind of sensation
he ought to have had.  But he rode that race keener and better than
any race he had ever before ridden.  He had but to keep his saddle--
to dodge the snags of the trees--to guide the maddened horse.  No
horse ever in the world had run so magnificent a race.

He was outracing wind and fire.  But he was running in terror.  For
miles he held that long, swift, tremendous stride without a break.
He was running to his death whether he distanced the fire or not.
For nothing could stop him now except a bursting heart.  Already he
was blind, Monty thought.

And then, it appeared to Monty, although his steed kept fleeting on
faster and faster, that the wind of flame was gaining.  The air was
too thick to breathe.  It seemed ponderous--not from above, but
from behind.  It had irresistible weight.  It pushed Monty and his
horse onward in their fight--straws on the crest of a cyclone.

Ahead there was light through the forest.  He made out a white,
open space of grass.  A park!  And the horse, like a demon, hurtled
onward, with his smoothness of action gone, beginning to break.

A wave of wind, blasting in its heat, like a blanket of fire,
rolled over Monty.  He saw the lashing tongues of flame above him
in the pines.  The storm had caught him.  It forged ahead.  He was
riding under a canopy of fire.  Burning pine cones, like torches,
dropped all around him, upon him.

A terrible blank sense of weight, of agony, of suffocation--of the
air turning to fire!  He was drooping, withering when he flashed
from the pines out into an open park.  The horse broke and plunged
and went down, reeking, white, in convulsions, killed on his feet.
There was fire in his mane.  Monty fell with him, and lay in the
grass, the child in his arms.

Fire in the grass--fire at his legs roused him.  He got up.  The
park was burning over.  It was enveloped in a pall of smoke.  But
he could see.  Drawing back a fold of the wet shawl, he looked at
the child.  She appeared unharmed.  Then he set off running away
from the edge of the forest.  It was a big park, miles wide.  Near
the middle there was bare ground.  He recognized the place, got his
bearings, and made for the point where a deep ravine headed out of
this park.

Beyond the bare circle there was more fire, burning sage and grass.
His feet were blistered through his boots, and then it seemed he
walked on red-hot coals.  His clothes caught fire, and he beat it
out with bare hands.

Then he stumbled into the rocky ravine.  Smoke and blaze above him--
the rocks hot--the air suffocating--it was all unendurable.  But
he kept on.  He knew that his strength failed as the conditions
bettered.  He plunged down, always saving the child when he fell.
His sight grew red.  Then it grew dark.  All was black, or else
night had come.  He was losing all pain, all sense when he stumbled
into water.  That saved him.  He stayed there.  A long time passed
till it was light again.  His eyes had a thick film over them.
Sometimes he could not see at all.

But when he could, he kept on walking, on and on.  He knew when he
got out of the ravine.  He knew where he ought to be.  But the
smoky gloom obscured everything.  He traveled the way he thought he
ought to go, and went on and on, endlessly.  He did not suffer any
more.  The weight of the child bore him down.  He rested, went on,
rested again, went on again till all sense, except a dim sight,
failed him.  Through that, as in a dream, he saw moving figures,
men looming up in the gray fog, hurrying to him.


Far south of the Tonto Range, under the purple shadows of the
Peloncillos, there lived a big-hearted rancher with whom Monty
Price found a home.  He did little odd jobs about the ranch that by
courtesy might have been called work.  He would never ride a horse
again.  Monty's legs were warped, his feet hobbled.  He did not
have free use of his hands.  And seldom or never in the presence of
any one did he remove his sombrero.  For there was not a hair on
his head.  His face was dark, almost black, with terrible scars.

A burned-out, hobble-footed wreck of a cowboy! but, strangely,
there were those at the ranch who learned to love him.  They knew
his story.




NONNEZOSHE, THE RAINBOW BRIDGE


John Wetherill, one of the famous Wetherill brothers and trader at
Kayenta, Arizona, is the man who discovered Nonnezoshe, which is
probably the most beautiful and wonderful natural phenomenon in the
world.  Wetherill owes the credit to his wife, who, through her
influence with the Indians, finally, after years, succeeded in
getting the secret of the great bridge.

After three trips to Marsh Pass and Kayenta with my old guide, Al
Doyle of Flagstaff, I finally succeeded in getting Wetherill to
take me in to Nonnezoshe.  This was in the spring of 1913, and my
party was the second one, not scientific, to make the trip.  Later
this same year Wetherill took in the Roosevelt party and after that
the Kolb brothers.  It is a safe thing to say that this trip is one
of the most beautiful in the West.  It is a hard one and not for
everybody.  There is no guide except Wetherill, who knows how to
get there.  And after Doyle and I came out, we admitted that we
would not care to try to return over our back trail.  We doubted if
we could find the way.  This is the only place I have ever visited
which I am not sure I could find again alone.

My trip to Nonnezoshe gave me the opportunity to see also Monument
Valley, and the mysterious and labyrinthine Caon Segi with its
great prehistoric cliff-dwellings.

The desert beyond Kayenta spread out impressively, bare red flats
and plains of sage leading to the rugged, vividly colored, and wind-
sculptured sandstone heights typical of the Painted Desert of
Arizona.  Laguna Creek, at that season, became flooded after every
thunderstorm, and it was a treacherous, red-mired quicksand where I
convinced myself we would have stuck forever had it not been for
Wetherill's Navajos.

We rode all day, for the most part closed in by ridges and bluffs,
so that no extended view was possible.  It was hot, too, and the
sand blew and the dust rose.  Travel in northern Arizona is never
easy, and this grew harder and steeper.  There was one long slope
of heavy sand that I felt sure would prove too much for Wetherill's
pack mules.  But they surmounted it, apparently less breathless
than I was.  Toward sunset a storm gathered ahead of us to the
north with a promise of cooling and sultry air.

At length we turned into a long caon with straight rugged red
walls, and a sandy floor with quite a perceptible ascent.  It
appeared endless.  Far ahead I could see the black storm clouds,
and by and by began to hear the rumble of thunder.  Darkness had
overtaken us by the time we had reached the head of this caon, and
my first sight of Monument Valley came with a dazzling flash of
lightning.  It revealed a vast valley, a strange world of colossal
shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing
isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.  When the sheet lightning
flared across the sky showing the monuments silhouetted black
against that strange horizon, the effect was marvelously beautiful.
I watched until the storm died away.

Dawn, with the desert sunrise, changed Monument Valley, bereft it
of its night gloom and weird shadow, and showed it in another
aspect of beauty.  It was hard for me to realize that those
monuments were not the works of man.  The great valley must once
have been a plateau of red rock from which the softer strata had
eroded, leaving the gentle league-long slopes marked here and there
by upstanding pillars and columns of singular shape and beauty.  I
rode down the sweet-scented sage slopes under the shadow of the
lofty Mittens, and around and across the valley, and back again to
the height of land.  And when I had completed the ride, a story had
woven itself into my mind; the spot where I stood was to be the
place where Lin Slone taught Lucy Bostil to ride the great stallion
Wildfire.

Two days' ride took us across country to the Segi.  With this
wonderful caon I was familiar, that is, as familiar as several
visits could make a man with such a bewildering place.  In fact, I
had named it Deception Pass.  The Segi had innumerable branches,
all more or less the same size, and sometimes it was difficult to
tell the main caon from one of its tributaries.  The walls were
rugged and crumbling, of a red or yellow hue, upward of a thousand
feet in height, and indented by spruce-sided notches.

There were a number of ruined cliff-dwellings, the most accessible
of which was Keet Seel.  I could imagine no more picturesque spot.
A huge, wind-worn cavern with a vast, slanted, stained wall held
upon a projecting ledge or shelf the long line of cliff-dwellings.
These silent little stone houses with their vacant, black, eye-like
windows had strange power to make me ponder, and then dream.

Next day, upon resuming our journey, it pleased me to try to find
the trail to Betatakin, the most noted, and surely the most
wonderful and beautiful ruin in all the West.  In many places there
was no trail at all, and I encountered difficulties, but in the end
without much loss of time I entered the narrow, ragged entrance of
the caon I had named Surprise Valley.  Sight of the great dark
cave thrilled me as I thought it might have thrilled Bess and
Venters, who had lived for me their imagined lives of loneliness
here in this wild spot.  With the sight of those lofty walls and
the scent of the dry sweet sage there rushed over me a strange
feeling that RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE was true.  My dream people
of romance had really lived there once upon a time.  I climbed high
upon the huge stones, and along the smooth red walls where Fay
Larkin once had glided with swift sure steps, and I entered the
musty cliff-dwellings, and called out to hear the weird and
sonorous echoes, and I wandered through the thickets and upon the
grassy spruce-shaded benches, never for a moment free of the story
I had conceived there.  Something of awe and sadness abided with
me.  I could not enter into the merry pranks and investigations of
my party.  Surprise Valley seemed a part of my past, my dreams, my
very self.  I left it, haunted by its loneliness and silence and
beauty, by the story it had given me.

That night we camped at Bubbling Spring, which once had been a
geyser of considerable power.  Wetherill told a story of an old
Navajo who had lived there.  For a long time, according to the
Indian tribe, the old chief resided there without complaining of
this geyser that was wont to inundate his fields.  But one season
the unreliable waterspout made great and persistent endeavor to
drown him and his people and horses.  Whereupon the old Navajo took
his gun, and shot repeatedly at the geyser, and thundered aloud his
anger to the Great Spirit.  The geyser ebbed away, and from that
day never burst forth again.

Somewhere under the great bulge of Navajo Mountain I calculated
that we were coming to the edge of the plateau.  The white, bobbing
pack horses disappeared and then our extra mustangs.  It is no
unusual thing for a man to use three mounts on this trip.  Then two
of our Indians disappeared.  But Wetherill waited for us and so did
Nas Ta Bega, the Paiute who first took Wetherill down into
Nonnezoshe Boco.  As I came up, I thought we had, indeed, reached
the end of the world.

"It's down in there," said Wetherill with a laugh.

Nas Ta Bega made a slow, sweeping gesture.  There is always
something so significant and impressive about an Indian when he
points anywhere.  It is as if he says:  "There, way beyond, over
the ranges, is a place I know, and it is far."  The fact was that I
looked at the Paiute's dark, inscrutable face before I looked out
into the void.

My gaze then seemed impelled and held by things afar, a vast yellow
and purple corrugated world of distance, apparently now on a level
with my eyes.  I was drawn by the beauty and grandeur of that
scene, and then I was transfixed, almost by fear, by the
realization that I dared to venture down into this wild and upflung
fastness.  I kept looking afar, sweeping the three-quarter circle
of horizon till my judgment of distance was confounded and my sense
of proportion dwarfed one moment and magnified the next.

Wetherill was pointing and explaining, but I had not grasped all he
said.

"You can see two hundred miles into Utah," he went on.  "That
bright rough surface, like a washboard, is wind-worn rock.  Those
little lines of cleavage are caons.  There are a thousand caons
down there, and only a few have we been in.  That long, purple,
ragged line is the Grand Caon of the Colorado.  And there, that
blue fork in the end, that's where the San Juan comes in.  And
there's Escalante Caon."

I had to adopt the Indian's method of studying unlimited spaces in
the desert--to look with slow, contracted eyes from near to far.

The pack train and the drivers had begun to zigzag down a long
slope, bare of rock, with scant strips of green, and here and there
a cedar.  Half a mile down, the slope merged in what seemed a green
level.  But I knew it was not level.  This level was a rolling
plain, growing darker green, with lines of ravines and thin,
undefined spaces that might be mirage.  Miles and miles it swept
and rolled and heaved, to lose its waves in apparent darker level.
Round red rocks stood isolated.  They resembled huge, grazing
cattle.  But as I gazed these rocks were strangely magnified.  They
grew and grew into mounds, castles, domes, crags, great, red, wind-
carved buttes.  One by one they drew my gaze to the wall of upflung
rock.  I seemed to see a thousand domes of a thousand shapes and
colors, and among them a thousand blue clefts, each of which was a
caon.

Beyond this wide area of curved lines rose another wall, dwarfing
the lower, dark, red, horizon-long, magnificent in frowning
boldness, and because of its limitless deceiving surfaces
incomprehensible to the gaze of man.  Away to the eastward began a
winding, ragged, blue line, looping back upon itself, and then
winding away again, growing wider and bluer.  This line was San
Juan Caon.  I followed that blue line all its length, a hundred
miles, down toward the west where it joined a dark, purple, shadowy
cleft.  And this was the Grand Caon of the Colorado.  My eye swept
along with that winding mark, farther and farther to the west,
until the cleft, growing larger and closer, revealed itself as a
wild and winding caon.  Still farther westward it split a vast
plateau of red peaks and yellow mesas.  Here the caon was full of
purple smoke.  It turned, it closed, it gaped, it lost itself and
showed again in that chaos of a million cliffs.  And then it faded,
a mere purple line, into deceiving distance.

I imagined there was no scene in all the world to equal this.  The
tranquility of lesser spaces was here not manifest.  This happened
to be a place where so much of the desert could be seen, and the
effect was stupendous.  Sound, movement, life seemed to have no
fitness here.  Ruin was there and desolation and decay.  The
meaning of the ages was flung at me.  A man became nothing.  But
when I gazed across that sublime and majestic wilderness, in which
the Grand Caon was only a dim line, I strangely lost my terror,
and something came to me across the shining spaces.

Then Nas Ta Bega and Wetherill began the descent of the slope, and
the rest of us followed.  No sign of a trail showed where the base
of the slope rolled out to meet the green plain.  There was a level
bench a mile wide, then a ravine, and then an ascent, and after
that rounded ridge and ravine, one after the other, like huge
swells of a monstrous sea.  Indian paint brush vied in its scarlet
hue with the deep magenta of cactus.  There was no sage.  Soap weed
and meager grass and a bunch of cactus here and there lent the
green to that barren, and it was green only at a distance.

Nas Ta Bega kept on at a steady gait.  The sun climbed.  The wind
rose and whipped dust from under the mustangs.  There is seldom
much talk on a ride of this nature.  It is hard work and everybody
for himself.  Besides, it is enough just to see, and that country
is conducive to silence.  I looked back often, and the farther out
on the plain we rode, the higher loomed the plateau we had
descended.  As I faced ahead again, the lower sank the red-domed
and castled horizon to the fore.

It was a wild place we were approaching.  I saw pion patches under
the circled walls.  I ceased to feel the dry wind in my face.  We
were already in the lee of a wall.  I saw the rock squirrels
scampering to their holes.  Then the Indian disappeared between two
rounded corners of cliff.

I rode around the corner into a widening space thick with cedars.
It ended in a bare slope of smooth rock.  Here we dismounted to
begin the ascent.  It was smooth and hard, although not slippery.
There was not a crack.  I did not see a broken piece of stone.  Nas
Ta Bega and Wetherill climbed straight up for a while, and then
wound around a swell, to turn this way and that, always going up.
I began to see similar mounds of rock all around me, of every shape
that could be called a curve.  There were yellow domes far above
and small red domes far below.  Ridges ran from one hill of rock to
another.  There were no abrupt breaks, but holes and pits and caves
were everywhere, and occasionally deep down an amphitheatre green
with cedar and pion.  We found no vestige of trail on those bare
slopes.

Our guides led to the top of the wall, only to disclose to us
another wall beyond, with a ridged, bare, and scalloped depression
between.  Here footing began to be precarious for both man and
beast.  Our mustangs were not shod, and it was wonderful to see
their slow, short, careful steps.  They knew a great deal better
than we what the danger was.  It has been such experiences as this
that have made me see in horses something besides beasts of burden.
In the ascent of the second slope it was necessary to zigzag up,
slowly and carefully, taking advantage of every bulge and
depression.

Then before us twisted and dropped and curved the most dangerous
slopes I had ever seen.  We had reached the height of the divide,
and many of the drops on this side were perpendicular and too steep
for us to see the bottom.

At one bad place Wetherill and Nas Ta Bega, with Joe Lee, a Mormon
cowboy with us, were helping one of the pack horses, named Chub.
On the steepest part of this slope Chub fell and began to slide.
His momentum jerked the rope from the hands of Wetherill and the
Indian.  But Joe Lee held on.  Joe was a giant, and being a Mormon
he could not let go of anything he had.  He began to slide with the
horse, holding back with all his might.

It seemed that both man and beast must slide down to where the
slope ended in a yawning precipice.  Chub was snorting or screaming
in terror.  Our mustangs were frightened and rearing.  It was not a
place to have trouble with horses.

I had a moment of horrified fascination, in which Chub turned clear
over.  Then he slid into a little depression that, with Joe's hold
on the lasso, momentarily checked his descent.  Quick as thought
Joe ran sidewise and down to the bulge of rock and yelled for help.
I got to him a little ahead of Wetherill and Nas Ta Bega, and
together we pulled Chub up out of danger.  At first we thought he
had been choked to death.  But he came to, and got up, a bloody,
skinned horse, but alive and safe.  I have never seen a more
magnificent effort than Joe Lee's.  Those fellows are built that
way.  Wetherill has lost horses on those treacherous slopes, and
that risk is the only thing about the trip that is not splendid.

We got over that bad place without further incident, and presently
came to a long swell of naked stone that led down to a narrow green
split.  This one had straight walls and wound away out of sight.
It was the head of a caon.

"Nonnezoshe Boco," said the Indian.

This, then, was the Caon of the Rainbow Bridge.  When we got down
into it, we were a happy crowd.  The mode of travel here was a
selection of the best levels, the best places to cross the brook,
the best places to climb, and it was a process of continual
repetition.  There was no trail ahead of us, but we certainly left
one behind.  And as Wetherill picked out the course and the
mustangs followed him, I had all freedom to see and feel the
beauty, color, wildness, and changing character of Nonnezoshe Boco.

My experiences in the desert did not count much in the trip down
this strange, beautiful, lost caon.  All caons are not alike.
This one did not widen, although the walls grew higher.  They began
to lean and bulge, and the narrow strip of sky above resembled a
flowing blue river.  Huge caverns had been hollowed out by water or
wind.  And when the brook ran close under one of these overhanging
places, the running water made a singular, indescribable sound.  A
crack from a hoof on a stone rang like a hollow bell and echoed
from wall to wall.  And the croak of a frog--the only living
creature I noted in the caon--was a weird and melancholy thing.

"We're sure gettin' deep down," said Joe Lee.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"Here are the pink and yellow sego lilies.  Only the white ones are
found above."

I dismounted to gather some of these lilies.  They were larger than
the white ones of higher altitudes, of a most exquisite beauty and
fragility, and of such rare pink and yellow hues as I had never
seen.

"They bloom only where it's always summer," explained Joe.

That expressed their nature.  They were the orchids of the summer
caons.  They stood up everywhere star-like out of the green.  It
was impossible to prevent the mustangs treading them under foot.
And as the caon deepened, and many little springs added their tiny
volume to the brook, every grassy bench was dotted with lilies,
like a green sky star-spangled.  And this increasing luxuriance
manifested itself in the banks of purple moss and clumps of
lavender daisies and great mounds of yellow violets.  The brook was
lined by blossoming buck brush; the rocky corners showed the
crimson and magenta of cactus; and there were ledges of green with
shining moss that sparkled with little white flowers.  The hum of
bees filled the fragrant, dreamy air.

But by and by this green and colorful and verdant beauty, the
almost level floor of the caon, the banks of soft earth, the
thickets and clumps of cottonwood, the shelving caverns and bulging
walls--these features were gradually lost, and Nonnezoshe began to
deepen in bare red and white stone steps.  The walls sheered away
from one another, breaking into sections and ledges, and rising
higher and higher, and there began to be manifested a dark and
solemn concordance with the nature that had created this old rent
in the earth.

There was a stretch of miles where steep steps in hard red rock
alternated with long levels of round boulders.  Here, one by one,
the mustangs went lame, and we had to walk.  And we slipped and
stumbled along over these loose, treacherous stones.  The hours
passed; the toll increased; the progress diminished; one of the
mustangs failed and was left.  All the while the dimensions of
Nonnezoshe Boco were magnified and its character changed.  It
became a thousand-foot walled caon, leaning, broken, threatening,
with great yellow slides, blocking passage, with huge sections
split off from the main wall, with immense dark and gloomy caverns.
Strangely it had no intersecting caons.  It jealously guarded its
secret.  Its unusual formations of cavern and pillar and half arch
led me to expect any monstrous stone shape left by avalanche or
cataclysm.

Down and down we toiled.  And now the streambed was bare of
boulders and the banks of earth.  The floods that had rolled down
that caon had here borne away every loose thing.  All the floor,
in places, was bare red and white stone, polished, glistening,
slippery, affording treacherous foothold.  And the time came when
Wetherill abandoned the streambed to take to the rock-strewn and
cactus-covered ledges above.

The caon widened ahead into a great, ragged, iron-lined
amphitheatre, and then apparently turned abruptly at right angles.
Sunset rimmed the walls.

I had been tired for a long time, and now I began to limp and lag.
I wondered what on earth would make Wetherill and the Indians
tired.  It was with great pleasure that I observed the giant Joe
Lee plodding slowly along.  And when I glanced behind at my
straggling party, it was with both admiration for their gameness
and glee for their disheveled and weary appearance.  Finally I got
so that all I could do was to drag myself onward with eyes down on
the rough ground.  In this way I kept on until I heard Wetherill
call me.  He had stopped--was waiting for me.  The dark and silent
Indian stood beside him, looking down the caon.

I saw past the vast jutting wall that had obstructed my view.  A
mile beyond, all was bright with the colors of sunset, and spanning
the caon in the graceful shape and beautiful hues of the rainbow
was a magnificent natural bridge.

"Nonnezoshe," said Wetherill simply.

This Rainbow Bridge was the one great natural phenomenon, the one
grand spectacle that I had ever seen that did not at first give
vague disappointment, a confounding of reality, a disenchantment of
contrast with what the mind had conceived.

This thing was glorious.  It absolutely silenced me.  My body and
brain, weary and dull from the toil of travel, received a singular
and revivifying freshness.  I had a strange, mystic perception that
this rosy-hued, tremendous arch of stone was a goal I had failed to
reach in some former life, but had now found.  Here was a rainbow
magnified even beyond dreams, a thing not transparent and ethereal,
but solidified, a work of ages, sweeping up majestically from the
red walls, its iris-hued arch against the blue sky.

Then we plodded on again.  Wetherill worked around to circle the
huge amphitheatre.  The way was a steep slant, rough and loose and
dragging.  The rocks were as hard and jagged as lava, and cacti
hindered progress.  Soon the rosy and golden lights had faded.  All
the walls turned pale and steely, and the bridge loomed darkly.

We were to camp that night under the bridge.  Just before we
reached it, Nas Ta Bega halted with one of his singular motions.
He was saying his prayer to this stone god.  Then he began to climb
straight up the steep slope.  Wetherill told me the Indian would
not pass under the arch.

When we got to the bridge and unsaddled and unpacked the lame
mustangs, twilight had fallen.  The horses were turned loose to
fare for what scant grass grew on bench and slope.  Firewood was
even harder to find than grass.  When our simple meal had been
eaten, there was gloom gathering in the caon, and stars had begun
to blink in the pale strip of blue above the lofty walls.  The
place was oppressive, and we were mostly silent.

Presently I moved away into the strange, dark shadow cast by the
bridge.  It was a weird black belt, where I imagined I was
invisible, but out of which I could see.  There was a slab of rock
upon which I composed myself, to watch, to feel.

A stiffening of my neck made me aware that I had been continually
looking up at the looming arch.  I found that it never seemed the
same any two moments.  Near at hand it was too vast a thing for
immediate comprehension.  I wanted to ponder on what had formed it--
to reflect upon its meaning as to age and force of nature.  Yet it
seemed that all I could do was to see.  White stars hung along the
dark, curved line.  The rim of the arch appeared to shine.  The
moon was up there somewhere.  The far side of the caon was now a
blank black wall.  Over its towering rim showed a pale glow.  It
brightened.  The shades in the caon lightened, then a white disk
of moon peeped over the dark line.  The bridge turned to silver.

It was then that I became aware of the presence of Nas Ta Bega.
Dark, silent, statuesque, with inscrutable face uplifted, with all
that was spiritual of the Indian suggested by a somber and tranquil
knowledge of his place there, he represented to me that which a
solitary figure of human life represents in a great painting.
Nonnezoshe needed life, wild life, life of its millions of years--
and here stood the dark and silent Indian.

Long afterward I walked there alone, to and fro, under the bridge.
The moon had long since crossed the streak of star-fired blue
above, and the caon was black in shadow.  At times a current of
wind, with all the strangeness of that strange country in its moan,
rushed through the great stone arch.  At other times there was
silence such as I imagined might have dwelt deep in the center of
the earth.  And again an owl hooted, and the sound was nameless.
It had a mocking echo.  An echo of night, silence, gloom,
melancholy, death, age, eternity!

The Indian lay asleep with his dark face upturned, and the other
sleepers lay calm and white in the starlight.  I seemed to see in
them the meaning of life and the past--the illimitable train of
faces that had shone under the stars.  There was something nameless
in that caon, and whether or not it was what the Indian embodied
in the great Nonnezoshe, or the life of the present, or the death
of the ages, or the nature so magnificently manifested in those
silent, dreaming, waiting walls--the truth was that there was a
spirit.

I did sleep a few hours under Nonnezoshe, and, when I awoke, the
tip of the arch was losing its cold darkness and beginning to
shine.  The sun had just risen high enough over some low break in
the wall to reach the bridge.  I watched.  Slowly, in wondrous
transformation, the gold and blue and rose and pink and purple
blended their hues, softly, mistily, cloudily, until once more the
arch was a rainbow.

I realized that long before life had evolved upon the earth this
bridge had spread its grand arch from wall to wall, black and
mystic at night, transparent and rosy in the sunrise, at sunset a
flaming curve limned against the heavens.  When the race of man had
passed, it would, perhaps, stand there still.  It was not for many
eyes to see.  The tourist, the leisurely traveler, the comfort-
loving motorist would never behold it.  Only by toil, sweat,
endurance, and pain could any man ever look at Nonnezoshe.  It
seemed well to realize that the great things of life had to be
earned.  Nonnezoshe would always be alone, grand, silent,
beautiful, unintelligible; and as such I bade it a mute, reverent
farewell.




THE RANGER


I


Periodically of late, especially after some bloody affray or other,
Vaughn Medill, Ranger of Texas, suffered from spells of depression
and longing for a ranch and a wife and children.  The fact that few
rangers ever attained these did not detract from their growing
charm.  At such times the long service to his great state, which
owed so much to the rangers, was apt to pall.

Vaughn sat in the shade of the adobe house, on the bank of the slow-
eddying, muddy Rio Grande, outside the town of Brownsville.  He was
alone at this ranger headquarters, for the very good reason that
his chief, Captain Allerton, and two comrades were laid up in the
hospital.  Vaughn, with his usual notorious luck, had come out of
the Cutter rustling fight without a scratch.

He had needed a few days off, to go alone into the mountains, and
there get rid of the sickness killing always engendered in him.  No
wonder he got red in the face and swore when some admiring tourist
asked him how many men he had killed.  Vaughn had been long in the
service.  Like other Texas youths, he had enlisted in this famous
and unique state constabulary before he was twenty, and he refused
to count the years he had served.  He had the stature of the born
Texan.  And the lined, weathered face, the resolute lips--grim
except when he smiled--and the narrowed eyes of gray fire, and the
tinge of white over his temples, did not tell the truth about his
age.

Vaughn watched the yellow river that separated his state from
Mexico.  He had reason to hate that strip of dirty water and the
hot mesquite-and-cactus land beyond.  Like as not, this very day or
tomorrow he would have to go across and arrest some Mexican or
fetch back a stolen calf or shoot it out with Quinela and his band,
who were known to be on American soil.  Vaughn shared, in common
with all Texans, a supreme contempt for Mexicans.  His father had
been a soldier in both Texas wars, and Vaughn had inherited his
conviction that all Mexicans were greasers.  He knew that this was
not really true.  Villa was an old acquaintance, and he had listed
among men to whom he owed his life, Martiniano, one of the greatest
of Texas vaqueros.

Brooding never got Vaughn anywhere, except in deeper.  This drowsy
summer day he got in very deep, indeed, so deep that he began to
mourn over the several girls he might--at least he believed he
might--have married.  That seemed long ago, when he was on fire
with the ranger spirit, and would not have sacrificed any girl to
the agony of waiting for her ranger to come home--knowing that
someday he would not come.  Since then, sentimental affairs had
been few and far between; and the last, dating to this very hour,
concerned Roseta, daughter of Uvalde, foreman for the big Glover
ranch just down the river.

Uvalde was a Mexican of quality, claiming descent from the Spanish
soldier of that name.  He had an American wife, owned many head of
stock, and, in fact, was partner with Glover in several cattle
deals.  The black-eyed Roseta, his daughter, had been born on the
American side of the river, and had shared advantages of school and
contact seldom the lot of seoritas.

Vaughn ruminated over these few facts as excuse for his
infatuation.  For a Texas ranger to fall in love with an ordinary
greaser girl was unthinkable.  Certainly it had happened, but it
was something not to think about.  Roseta, however, was
extraordinary.

She was pretty, and slight of stature--so slight that Vaughn felt
ludicrous, despite his bliss, while dancing with her.  If he had
stretched out his long arm and she had walked under it, he would
have had to lower his hand to touch her glossy black head.  She was
roguish and coquettish, yet had the pride of her Spanish forebears.
Lastly, she was young, rich, the belle of Las Animas, and the
despair of cowboy and vaquero alike.

When Vaughn had descended to the depths and end of his brooding, he
discovered, as he had before, that there were but slight grounds
for hopes which had grown serious.  The sweetness of a haunting
dream was all that could be his.  Only this time it hurt more.  He
should not have let himself in for such a catastrophe.  But as he
groaned in spirit and bewailed his state, he could not help
recalling Roseta's smiles, her favors of dances when scores of
admirers were thronging after her, the way she would single him out
on occasions.  "Un seor grande," she had called him, and likewise
"handsome gringo," and once, with mystery and havoc in her sloe-
black eyes . . . "You Texas Ranger . . . you bloody gunman . . .
killer of Mexicans!"

Flirt Roseta was, of course, and doubly dangerous by reason of her
mixed blood, her Spanish lineage and her American development.
Uvalde had been quoted as saying that he would never let his
daughter marry across the Rio Grande.  Some rich rancher's son
would have her hand bestowed upon him; maybe young Glover would be
the lucky one.  It was madness of Vaughn even to dream of winning
her.  Yet there still abided that much boy in him.

Sound of wheels and hoofs interrupted the ranger's reverie.  He
listened.  A buggy had stopped out in front.  Vaughn got up and
looked round the corner of the house.  Significant was it that he
instinctively stepped out sideways, his right hand low where the
heavy gun-sheath hung.  A ranger never presented his full front to
bullets; it was a trick of old hands in the service.

Someone was helping a man out of the buggy.  Presently Vaughn
recognized Colville, a ranger comrade, who came in assisted,
limping, and with his arm in a sling.

"How are you, Bill?" asked Vaughn solicitously, as he helped the
driver lead Colville into the large whitewashed room.

"All right . . . fine, in fact . . . only a . . . little light-
headed," panted the other.  "Lost a sight of blood."

"You look it.  Reckon you'd have done better to stay at the
hospital."

"Medill, there ain't half enough rangers to go . . . 'round,"
replied Colville.  "Cap Allerton is hurt bad . . . but he'll
recover.  An' he thought so long as I could wag I'd better come
back to headquarters."

"Uhn-huh.  What's up, Bill?" rejoined the ranger quietly.  He
really did not need to ask.

"Shore I don't know.  Somethin' to do with Quinela," replied
Colville.  "Help me out of my coat.  It's hot and dusty. . . .
Fetch me a cold drink."

"Bill, you should have stayed in town if it's ice you want," said
Vaughn, as he filled a dipper from the water bucket that stood in a
corner of the room.  "Haven't I run this shebang many a time?"

"Medill, you're slated for a run across the Rio . . . if I don't
miss my guess.  Something's on foot, shore as shootin'."

"You say . . . alone?"

"How else, unless the rest of our outfit rides in from the
Brazos. . . .  Anyway, don't they call you the 'lone-star ranger'?
Haw! Haw!"

"Shore you don't have a hunch what's up?" inquired Vaughn.

"Honest, I don't.  Allerton had to wait for more information.  Then
he'll send instructions.  But we know Quinela was hangin' 'round,
with some deviltry afoot."

"Bill, that outfit is plumb bold these days," said Vaughn
reflectively.  "I wonder, now."

"We're all guessin'.  But Allerton swears Quinela is daid set on
revenge.  Lopez was some relation, we heah from Mexicans on this
side.  An' when we busted up the Lopez gang, we riled Quinela.  I
reckon he's laid that to you, Vaughn."

"Nonsense," blurted out Vaughn.  "Quinela has another raid on hand,
or some other bandit job."

"But didn't you kill Lopez?" queried Colville.

"I shore didn't," declared Vaughn testily.  "Reckon I was there
when it happened, but I wasn't the only ranger."

"Wal, you've got the name of it, an' that's as bad.  Not that it
makes much difference.  You're used to bein' laid for.  But I
reckon Cap wanted to tip you off."

"Uhn-huh. . . .  Say, Bill," replied Vaughn, dropping his head,
"I'm shore tired of this ranger game."

"Good Lord, who ain't?  But, Vaughn, you couldn't lay down on
Captain Allerton right now."

"No.  But I've a notion to resign when he gets well an' the boys
come back from the Brazos."

"An' that'd be all right, Vaughn, although we'd hate to lose you,"
returned Colville earnestly.  "We all know . . . in fact, everybody
who has followed the ranger service knows . . . you should have
been a captain long ago.  But them pigheaded officials at Houston!
Vaughn, your gun record, the very name an' skill that makes you a
great ranger, have operated against you there."

"Reckon so.  But I never wanted particularly to be a captain . . .
leastways of late years," replied Vaughn moodily.  "I'm just tired
of bein' eternally on my guard.  Lookin' to be shot at from every
corner or bush!  Why, I near killed one of my good friends, all
because he came sudden-like out of a door, pullin' at his
handkerchief."

"It's the price we pay.  Texas could never have been settled at all
but for the buffalo hunters first, an' then us rangers.  We don't
get much credit, Vaughn.  But we know someday our service will be
appreciated. . . .  In your case, everythin' is magnified.  Suppose
you did quit the service?  Wouldn't you still stand 'most the same
risk?  Wouldn't you need to be on your guard, sleepin' an' wakin'?"

"Wal, I suppose so, for a time.  But somehow I'd be relieved."

"Vaughn, the men who are lookin' for you now will always be
lookin', until they're daid."

"Shore.  But, Bill, that class of men don't live long on the Texas
border."

"Hell!  Look at Wes Hardin', Kingfisher, Poggin . . . gunmen that
took a long time to kill.  An' look at Cortina, at Quinela . . .
an' Villa. . . .  Nope, I reckon it's the obscure relations an'
friends of men you've shot that you have most to fear.  An' you
never know who an' where they are.  It's my belief you'd be shore
of longer life by stickin' to the rangers."

"Couldn't I get married an' go 'way off somewhere?" queried Vaughn
belligerently.

Colville whistled in surprise, and then laughed.  "Uhn-huh?  So
that's the lay of the land?  A gal!  Wal, if the Texas Ranger
service is to suffer, let it be for that one cause."


Toward evening a messenger brought a letter from Captain Allerton,
with the information that a drove of horses had been driven across
the river west of Brownsville, at Rock Ford.  They were in charge
of Mexicans and presumably had been stolen from some ranch inland.
The raid could be laid to Quinela, although there was no proof of
it.  It bore his brand.  Medill's instructions were to take the
rangers and recover the horses.

"Reckon Cap thinks the boys have got back from the Brazos or he's
had word they're comin'," commented Colville.  "Wish I was able to
ride.  We wouldn't wait."

Vaughn scanned the short letter again and then filed it away among
a stack of others.

"Strange business, this ranger service," he said ponderingly.
"Horses stolen . . . fetch them back!  Cattle raid . . . recover
stock!  Drunken cowboy shootin' up the town . . . arrest him!
Bandits looted the San 'Tone stage . . . fetch them in!  Little
Tom, Dick, or Harry lost . . . find him!  Farmer murdered . . .
string up the murderer!"

"Wal, come to think about it, you're right," replied Colville.
"But the rangers have been doin' it for thirty or forty years.  You
cain't help havin' pride in the service, Medill.  Half the job's
done when these hombres find a ranger's on the trail.  That's
reputation.  But I'm bound to admit the thing is strange an' shore
couldn't happen nowhere else but in Texas."

"Reckon I'd better ride up to Rock Ford an' have a look at that
trail."

"Wal, I'd wait till mawnin'.  Mebbe the boys will come in.  An'
there's no sense in ridin' it twice."


The following morning, after breakfast, Vaughn went out to the
alfalfa pasture to fetch in his horse.  Next to his gun, a ranger's
horse was his most valuable asset.  Indeed, a horse often saved a
ranger's life when a gun could not.  Star was a big-boned chestnut,
not handsome except as to his size, but for speed and endurance
Vaughn had never owned his like.  They had been on some hard jaunts
together.  Vaughn fetched Star into the shed and saddled him.

Presently Vaughn heard Colville shout, and, upon hurrying out, he
saw a horseman ride furiously away from the house.  Colville stood
in the door, waving.

Vaughn soon reached him:  "Who was that fellow?"

"Glover's man, Uvalde.  You know him."

"Uvalde!" exclaimed Vaughn, startled.  "He shore was in a hurry.
What'd he want?"

"Captain Allerton, an' in fact all the rangers in Texas.  I told
Uvalde I'd send you down pronto.  He wouldn't wait.  Shore was
excited."

"What's wrong with him?"

"His gal is gone."

"Gone!"

"Shore.  He cain't say whether she'd eloped or was kidnapped.  But
it's a job for you, old man.  Haw!  Haw!"

"Yes, it would be . . . if she eloped," replied Vaughn
constrainedly.  "An' I reckon not a bit funny, Bill."

Vaughn hurriedly mounted his horse and spurred him into the road.


II


Vaughn's personal opinion, before he arrived at Glover's ranch, was
that Roseta Uvalde had eloped, and probably with a cowboy or
vaquero with whom her father had forbidden her to associate.  In
some aspects Roseta resembled the vain daughter of a proud don.  In
the main, she was American bred and educated, but she had that
strain of blood which might well have burned secretly to break the
bonds of conventionality.  Uvalde himself had been a vaquero in his
youth.  Any Texan could have guessed this, seeing Uvalde ride a
horse.

There was excitement in the Uvalde household.  Vaughn could not get
any clue out of the weeping folks, except that Roseta had slept in
her bed, had arisen early to take her morning horseback ride.  All
Mexicans were of a highly excitable temperament, and Uvalde was an
example.  Vaughn could not get much out of him.  Roseta had not
been permitted to ride off the ranch, which was something
that surprised Vaughn.  She was not allowed to go anywhere
unaccompanied.  This certainly was a departure from the freedom
accorded Texan girls; nevertheless, any girl of good sense would
give the river a wide berth.

"Did she ride out alone?" queried Vaughn in his slow Spanish,
thinking he could get at Uvalde better in his own tongue.

"Yes, seor.  Pedro saddled her horse.  No one else saw her."

"What time this morning?"

"Before sunrise."

Vaughn questioned the lean, dark vaquero about what clothes the
girl had worn and how she had looked and acted.  The answer was
that Roseta had dressed in vaquero garb, looked very pretty, and
full of the devil.  Vaughn reflected that this was easy to believe.
Next he questioned the stable boys and other vaqueros.  Then he
rode out to the Glover ranch house and got hold of some of the
cowboys, and lastly young Glover.  Nothing further was to be
elicited from them, except that this thing had happened before.
Vaughn hurried back to Uvalde's house.

Uvalde himself was the only one here who roused a doubt in Vaughn's
mind.  This Americanized Mexican had a terrible fear that he did
not divine he was betraying.  Vaughn conceived the impression that
Uvalde had an enemy, and he had only to ask him if he knew Quinela
to get on the track of something.  Uvalde was probably lying when
he professed to fear Roseta had eloped.

"You think she ran off with a cowboy or some young fellow from
town?" inquired Vaughn.

"No, seor.  With a vaquero or a peon," came the amazing reply.

Vaughn gave up here, seeing he was losing time.

"Pedro, show me Roseta's horse tracks," he requested.

"Seor, I will give you ten thousand dollars if you bring my
daughter back . . . alive," said Uvalde.

"Rangers don't accept money for services," replied Vaughn briefly,
further mystified by the Mexican's intimation that Roseta might be
in danger of foul play.  "I'll fetch her back . . . one way or
another . . . unless she has eloped.  If she's gotten married, I
can do nothing."

Pedro showed the ranger small hoof tracks made by Roseta's horse.
He studied them a few moments, and then, motioning those following
him to stay back, he led his own horse and walked out of the
courtyard, down the lane, through the open gate into the field.

He rode across Glover's broad acres, through the pecans, to where
the ranch bordered on the desert.  Roseta had not been bent on an
aimless morning ride.

Under a clump of trees someone had waited for her.  Here Vaughn
dismounted to study tracks.  A mettlesome horse had been tethered
to one tree.  In the dust were imprints of a riding boot, not the
kind left by cowboy or vaquero.  Heel and toe were broad.  He found
the butt of a cigarette, smoked that morning.  Roseta's clandestine
friend was not a Mexican, much less a peon or vaquero.  There were
signs he had waited on other mornings.

Vaughn got back on his horse, strengthened in the elopement theory,
although not wholly convinced.  Maybe Roseta was just having a
lark.  Maybe she had a lover Uvalde would have none of.  This idea
grew as Vaughn saw where the horses had walked close together, so
their riders could hold hands.  Perhaps more!  Vaughn's silly hope
oozed out and died.  And he swore at his ridiculous vain
importunities.  It was all right for him to be young enough to have
an infatuation for Roseta Uvalde, but to have entertained a dream
of winning her was laughable.  He laughed, although mirthlessly.
And jealous pangs consumed him.

"Reckon I'd better get back to rangerin' instead of moonin'," he
soliloquized grimly.

The tracks led in a roundabout way through the mesquite to the
river trail.  This was two miles or more from the line of the
Glover Ranch.  The trail was broad and lined by trees.  It was a
lonely and unfrequented place for lovers to ride.  Roseta and her
companion still walked their horses.  On this beautiful trail,
which invited a gallop or at least a canter, only love-making could
account for the gait.  Also the risk!  Whoever Roseta's lover might
be, he was either a fool or crooked.  Vaughn swore lustily as the
tracks led on and on, deeper into the timber that bordered the Rio
Grande.

Suddenly Vaughn drew up sharply with an exclamation.  Then he slid
out of his saddle, to bend over a marked change in the tracks he
was trailing.  Both horses had reared, to come down hard on
forehoofs, and then jump sideways.

"A hold-up!" ejaculated Vaughn in sudden dark passion.

Sandal tracks in the dust.  A bandit had hid behind a thicket in
ambush.  Vaughn swiftly tracked the horses off the trail, to an
open glade on the bank, where hoof tracks of other horses joined
them and likewise boot tracks.  Vaughn did not need to see that
these new marks had been made by Mexican boots.

Roseta had either been led into a trap by the man she had met or
they had both been ambushed by three bandits.  It was a common
thing along the border for Mexican marauders to make away with
Mexican girls.  The instances of abduction of American girls had
been few and far between, although Vaughn remembered several whom
he had helped to rescue.  Roseta being the daughter of rich Uvalde
would be held for ransom and through that might escape the usual
terrible treatment.  Vaughn's sincere and honest love for Roseta
occasioned an agony of grief at the fate that had overtaken her
heedless steps.  This was short-lived, for the flashing of the
ruthless ranger spirit burned it out.

"Three hours' start on me," he muttered, consulting his watch.
"Reckon I can come up on them before dark."

Whereupon he followed the broad fresh trail that wound down through
timber and brush to the river bottom.  A border of arrowweed
stretched out across a sandbar.  All at once he halted stockstill,
then moved as if to dismount.  But it was not necessary.  He read
another story in the sand, and one spot of reddish color--blood--on
the slender white stalk of arrowweed, a heavy furrow, and then a
line of demarcation through the green to the river--these added a
sinister nature to the abduction of Roseta Uvalde.  It cleared
Roseta's comrade of all complicity, except heedless risk.  And it
began to savor somewhat of Quinela's work.  Vaughn wondered if
Quinela could be, by any chance, the menace Uvalde had betrayed a
fear of.  If so, God help Roseta!

Vaughn took time enough to dismount and trail the line where the
murderers had dragged the body.  They had been bold and careless.
Vaughn picked up a cigarette case, a glove, a watch, and he made
sure by the latter he could identify Roseta's companion on this
fatal ride.  A point of gravel led out to a deep current, to which
the body had been consigned.  It would be days and far below where
the Rio Grande would give up its dead.

The exigencies of the case prevented Vaughn from going back after
food and canteen.  Many a time had he been caught thus.  He had
only his horse, a gun, and a belt full of cartridges.

Hurrying back to Star, he led him along the trail to the point
where the bandits had gone into the river.  The Rio was treacherous
with quicksand, but it was always safe to follow Mexicans, provided
one could imitate them.  Vaughn spurred Star, plunged across the
oozy sand, and made deep water just in the nick of time.  The
current, however, was nothing for the powerful horse to breast.
Vaughn emerged where the bandits had climbed out.

Again Vaughn loped Star on the well-defined tracks of five horses.
At this gait he knew he gained two miles on them while they were
going one.  He calculated they should be about fifteen miles ahead,
unless rough country had slowed them, and by early afternoon he
ought to be close on their heels.  If their trail had worked down
the river toward Rock Ford he might have connected these three with
the marauders mentioned in Captain Allerton's letter.  But it led
straight south of the Rio Grande and showed a definite object.

Vaughn rode for two hours before he began to climb out of level
river valley.  Then he struck rocky hills covered with cactus and
separated by dry gorges.  There was no difficulty in following the
trail, but he had to go slower.  He did not intend that Roseta
Uvalde should spend a night in the clutches of these Mexicans.
Toward noon the sun grew hot, and Vaughn began to suffer from
thirst.  Star sweat copiously, but showed no sign of distress.

He came presently to a shady spot where the abductors had halted,
probably to eat and rest.  The remains of a small fire showed in a
circle of stones.  Vaughn got off to put his hand on the mesquite
ashes.  They were hot.  Two hours behind, perhaps a little more or
less!

He resumed the pursuit, making good time everywhere and a swift
lope on all possible stretches.

There was a sameness of brushy growth and barren hill and rocky dry
ravine, although the country grew rougher.  He had not been through
this section before.  He crossed no trails.  And he noted that the
tracks of the riders gradually headed from south to west.  Sooner
or later they would join the well-known Rock Ford trail.  Vaughn
was concerned about this.  And he pondered.  Should he push Star to
the limit until he knew he was close behind them?  It would not do
to let them see or hear him.  If he could surprise them, the thing
would be easy.  While he revolved these details of the problem, he
kept traveling deeper into Mexico.

He passed an Indian cornfield, and then a hut of adobe and brush.
The tracks he was hounding kept straight on, and led off the desert
onto a road--not, however, the Rock Ford road.  Vaughn here urged
Star to action, and in half an hour he headed into a well-defined
trail.  He did not need to get off to see that no horses but the
five he was tracking had passed this point since morning.
Moreover, they were not many miles ahead.

Vaughn rode on a while at a gallop, then, turning off the trail, he
kept Star to that gait in a long detour.  Once he crossed a stream-
bed up which there would be water somewhere.  Then he met the trail
again, finding to his disappointment and chagrin that the tracks
had passed.  He had hoped to head them and lie in wait for them.

Mid-afternoon was on him.  He decided not to force the issue at
once.  There was no ranch or village within half a night's ride of
this spot.  About sunset, the bandits would halt to rest and eat.
They would build a fire.

Vaughn rode down into a rocky defile where he found a much needed
drink for himself and Star.  He did not relish the winding trail
ahead.  It kept to the gorge.  It was shady and cool, but afforded
too many places where he might be waylaid.  Still he had to go on.
He had no concern that the three bandits would ambush him.  But if
they fell in with others!

Vaughn approached a rocky wall.  He was inured to danger.  And his
ranger luck was proverbial.  It was only the thought of Roseta that
occasioned misgivings.  And he turned the corner of the wall to
face a line of leveled rifles.

"Hands up, gringo ranger!"


III


Vaughn was as much surprised by the command in English as at the
totally unexpected encounter with a dozen or more peones.  He knew
the type.  These were Quinela's bandits.

Vaughn elevated his hands.  Why this gang leader held him up,
instead of shooting on sight, was beyond Vaughn's ken.  The
Mexicans began to jabber angrily.  If ever Vaughn expected death,
it was then.  He had about decided to pull his gun and shoot it out
with them, and finish as many a ranger had before him.  But a
shrill authoritative voice deterred him.  Then a swarthy little
man, lean-faced and beady-eyed, stepped out between the threatening
rifles and Vaughn.  He silenced the others.

"It's the gringo ranger, Texas Medill," he shouted in Spanish.
"It's the man who killed Lopez.  Don't shoot.  Quinela will pay
much gold for him alive.  Quinela will strip off the soles of his
feet and drive him with hot irons to walk on the chaya."

"But it's the dreaded gun-ranger, seor," protested a one-eyed
bandit.  "The only safe way is to shoot his cursed heart out here."

"We had our orders to draw this ranger across the river," returned
the leader harshly.  "Quinela knew his man and the hour.  The
Uvalde girl brought him.  And here we have him . . . alive!
Garcia, it'd cost your life to shoot this ranger."

"But I warn you, Juan, he is not alone," returned Garcia.  "He is
but a leader of rangers.  Best kill him quick, and hurry on.  I
have told you already that gringo vaqueros are on the trail.  We
have many horses.  We cannot travel fast.  Night is coming.  Best
kill Texas Medill."

"No, Garcia.  We obey orders," returned Juan harshly.  "We take him
to Quinela."

Vaughn surveyed the motley group with speculative eyes.  He could
kill six of them at least, and, with Star charging and the poor
marksmanship of Mexicans, he might break through.  Coldly Vaughn
weighed the chances.  They were a hundred to one that he would not
escape.  Yet he had taken such chances before.  But these men had
Roseta, and when there was life, there was always some hope.  With
tremendous effort of will he forced aside the deadly impulse and
applied his wits to the situation.

The swarthy Juan turned to cover Vaughn with a cocked gun.  Vaughn
read doubt and fear in the beady eyes.  He knew Mexicans.  If they
did not kill him at once, there was hope.  At a significant motion,
Vaughn carefully shifted a long leg and stepped face front, hands
high, out of the saddle.

Juan addressed him in Spanish

"No savvy, seor," replied the ranger.

"You speak Spanish?" repeated the questioner in English.

"Very little.  I understand some of your Mexican lingo."

"You trailed Manuel alone?"

"Who's Manuel?"

"My vaquero.  He brought Seorita Uvalde across the river."

"After murdering her companion.  Yes, I trailed him and two other
men, I reckon.  Five horses.  The Uvalde girl rode one.  The fifth
horse belonged to her companion."

"Ha!  Did Manuel kill?" exclaimed the other, and it was certain
that was news to him.

"Yes.  You have murder as well as kidnapping to answer for."

The bandit cursed under his breath.  "Where are your rangers?" he
went on.

"They got back from the Brazos last night with news of your raid,"
said Vaughn glibly.  "And this morning they joined the cowboys who
were trailing the horses you stole."

Vaughn realized then that somewhere there had been a mix-up in
Quinela's plans.  The one concerning the kidnapping of Roseta
Uvalde and Vaughn's taking the trail had worked out well.  But
Juan's dark corded face, his volley of unintelligible maledictions
at his men betrayed a hitch somewhere.  Again Vaughn felt the urge
to draw and fight it out.  What passionate fiery-headed fools these
fellows were!  Juan had lowered his gun to heap abuse on Garcia.
That individual turned green of face.  Some of the others still
held leveled rifles on Vaughn, but were looking at their leader and
his lieutenant.  Vaughn saw a fair chance to get away, and his gun
hand itched.  A heavy-booming revolver--Juan and Garcia dead--a
couple of shots at the others--that would have stampeded them.  But
Vaughn caught no glimpse of Roseta.  He abandoned the grim cold
impulse and awaited eventualities.

The harangue went on, soon to end in Garcia being cursed down.

"I'll take them to Quinela," rasped Juan shrilly, and began
shouting orders.

Vaughn's gun belt was removed.  His hands were tied behind his
back.  He was forced upon one of the horses, and his feet were
roped to the stirrups.  Juan appropriated his gun belt, which he
put on with the Mexican's love of vainglory, and then mounted Star.
The horse did not like this exchange of riders, and, right there,
followed evidence of the cruel iron hand of the bandit.  Vaughn's
blood leaped, and he veiled his eyes lest someone see his intent to
kill.  When he raised his head, two of the squat-shaped, motley-
garbed and wide-sombreroed crew were riding by, and the second led
a horse upon which sat Roseta Uvaldo.

She was bound to the saddle, but her hands were free.  She turned
her face to Vaughn.  With what terrible earnest dread did he gaze
at it!  Vaughn needed only to see it flash white toward him, to
meet the passionate eloquence of gratitude in her dark eyes, to
realize that Roseta was still unharmed.  She held the small proud
head high.  Her spirit was unbroken.  For the rest--what to Vaughn
mattered the dusky disheveled hair, the mud-spattered and dust-
covered vaquero riding garb she wore?  What mattered anything so
long as she was safe?  Vaughn flashed her a look that brought the
blood to her pale cheeks.

Juan prodded Vaughn in the back.  "Ride, gringo."  Then he gave
Garcia a last harsh command.  As Vaughn's horse followed that of
Roseta and her two guards into the brook, there rose a clattering,
jabbering mle among the bandits left behind.  It ended in a roar
of pounding hoofs.  Soon this died out on top.

The brook was shallow and ran swiftly over gravel and rocks.
Vaughn saw at once that Juan meant to hide his trail.  An hour
after the cavalcade would have passed a given point here, no
obvious trace would show.  The swift water would have cleared as
well as have filled with sand the hoof tracks.

"Juan, you were wise to desert your gang of horse thieves," said
Vaughn coolly.  "There's a hard-riding outfit on their trail.  And
some of them will be dead before sundown."

"Quin sabe?  But it's sure, Texas Medill will be walking choya on
bare-skinned feet manaa," replied the Mexican.

Vaughn pondered.  Quinela's rendezvous, then, was not many hours
distant.  Travel such as this, up a rocky gorge, was necessarily
slow.  Probably this brook would not afford more than a few miles
of going.  Then Juan would head out on the desert and essay in
other ways to hide his tracks.  So far as Vaughn was concerned,
whether he hid them or not made no difference.  The cowboys and
rangers in pursuit were but fabrications of Vaughn's to deceive his
captors.  He knew how to work on their primitive feelings.  But
Vaughn realized the peril of the situation and the brevity of time
left him.

"Juan, you've got my gun," said Vaughn, his keen mind striving.
"You say I'll be dead in less than twenty-four hours.  What's it
worth to untie my hands so I can ride in comfort?"

"Seor, if you have money on you, it will be mine anyway," replied
Quinela's lieutenant.

"I haven't any money with me.  But I've got my checkbook that shows
a balance of some thousand dollars in an El Paso bank," replied
Vaughn, and he turned around.

Juan showed gleaming white teeth in derision.  "What's that to me?"

"Some thousands in gold, Juan.  You can get it easily.  News of my
death will not get across the border very soon.  I'll give you a
check and a letter, which you can take to El Paso, or send by
messenger."

"How much gold, seor?" Juan asked.

"Over three thousand."

"Seor, you would bribe me into a trap.  No.  Juan loves the
glitter and clink of your American gold, but he is no fool."

"Nothing of the sort.  I'm trying to buy a little comfort in my
last hours.  And possibly a little kindness to the seorita, there.
It's worth a chance.  You can send a messenger.  What do you care
if he shouldn't come back?  You don't lose anything."

"No gringo can be trusted, much less Texas Medill of the rangers,"
rejoined the Mexican.

"Sure.  But take a look at my checkbook.  You know figures when you
see them."

Juan rode abreast of Vaughn, dominated by curiosity.  How his beady
eyes glittered!

"Inside vest pocket," directed Vaughn.  "Don't drop the pencil."

Juan procured the checkbook and opened it.  "Seor, I know your
bank," he said, vain of his ability to read, which to judge by his
laborious task was very limited.

"Uhn-huh.  Well, how much balance have I left?" queried Vaughn.

"Three thousand, four hundred."

"Good.  Now, Juan, you may as well get that money.  I've nobody to
leave it to.  I'll buy a little comfort for myself . . . and
kindness to the seorita."

"How much kindness, seor?" asked the bandit craftily.

"That you keep your men from handling her rough . . . and soon as
the ransom is paid send her back safe."

"Seor, the first I have seen to.  The second is not mine to grant.
Quinela will demand ransom . . . yes . . . but never will he send
the seorita back."

"But I . . . thought . . .?"

"Quinela was wronged by Uvalde."

Vaughn whistled his reception of that astounding revelation.  He
had divined correctly the fear Uvalde had revealed.  The situation
then for Roseta was vastly more critical.  Death would be merciful
compared to what the half-breed peon Quinela would deal her.
Vaughn cudgeled his brains in desperation.  Why had he not shot it
out with these malefactors?  But passion could not further Roseta's
cause.

Meanwhile, the horses splashed and cracked the rocks in single file
up the narrowing gorge.  The shady walls gave place to brushy
slopes that let the hot sun down.  Roseta looked back at Vaughn
with appeal and trust--and something more in her black eyes, that
tortured him.

Vaughn did not have the courage to meet her gaze, except for that
fleeting instant.  It was natural that he sank in spirit.  Never in
his long ranger service had he encountered such a diabolically
baffling situation.  More than once he had faced what seemed
inevitable death, where there had been presented not the slightest
chance to escape.  Vaughn was not of a temper to resign.  He would
watch till the very last second.  For Roseta, however, he endured
agonies.  He had looked at the mutilated, outraged body of more
than one girl victim of bandits.  As a last resource he could only
pray for a recurrence of such unheard-of and incredible luck as had
made ranger history.

When at length the gully narrowed to a mere crack in the hill, and
the water failed, Juan put his men to the ascent of a steep brush
slope.  And before long they broke out into a trail.

Presently a peon came in sight astride a mustang, and leading a
burro.  He got by the two guards, although they crowded him into
the brush.  But Juan halted him, and got off Star to see what was
in the pack on the burro.  With an exclamation of great
satisfaction he pulled out what appeared to Vaughn to be a jug or
demijohn covered with wickerwork.  Juan pulled out the stopper and
smelled the contents.

"Canyu!" he said, and his white teeth gleamed.  He took a drink,
then smacked his lips.  When the guards, who had stopped to watch,
made a move to dismount, he cursed them vociferously.  Sullenly
they slid back in their saddles.  Juan stuffed the demijohn into
the right saddlebag of Vaughn's saddle.  Here the peon protested,
in a mixed dialect that Vaughn could not translate.  But the
content was obvious.  Juan kicked the ragged fellow's sandaled
foot, and ordered him on with a significant touch of Vaughn's big
gun, which he wore so pompously.  The peon lost no time riding off.
Juan remounted and drove the cavalcade on.

Vaughn turned as his horse started, and again he encountered
Roseta's dark, intent eyes.  They seemed telepathic this time, as
well as soulful with unutterable promise.  She had read Vaughn's
thought.  If there were anything that had dominance of the peon's
nature, it was the cactus liquor, canyu.  Ordinarily he was
volatile, unstable as water, flint one moment and wax the next.
But with the burn of canyu in his throat he had the substance of
mist.

Vaughn felt the lift and pound of his leaden heart.  He had prayed
for the luck of the ranger, and lo! a peon had ridden up, packing
canyu.


IV


Canyu was a distillation from the maguey cactus, a plant similar to
the century plant.  The peon brewed it.  But in lieu of the brew,
natives often cut into the heart of a plant and sucked the juice.
Vaughn had once seen a native sprawled in the middle of a huge
maguey, his head buried deep in the heart of it, and his legs
hanging limp.  Upon examination he appeared to be drunk, but it
developed that he was dead.

This liquor was potential fire.  The lack of it made peones surly;
the possession of it made them gay.  One drink changed the mental
and physical world.  Juan whistled after the first drink; after the
second he began to sing "La Paloma."

Almost at once the pace of travel that had been maintained slowed
perceptibly.  Vaughn felt like a giant.  He believed he could break
the thongs that bound his wrists.  As he had prayed for his ranger
luck, so he prayed for anything to delay this bandit on the trail.

The leader Juan either wanted the canyu for himself or was too
crafty to share with his two men, probably both.  With all three of
them, the center of attention had ceased to be in Uvalde's girl and
the hated gringo ranger.  It lay in that demijohn.  If a devil
lurked in this white liquor for them, there was likewise for the
prisoners a watching angel.

The way led into a shady rocky glen.  As of one accord the horses
halted, without, so far as Vaughn could see, any move or word from
their riders.  This was proof that the two guards in the lead had
ceased to ride with the sole idea in mind of keeping to a steady
gait.  Vaughn drew a deep breath, as if to control suspense.  No
man could foretell the variety of canyu effects, but certain it
must be that something would happen.

Juan had mellowed.  A subtle change had occurred in his
disposition, although he was still the watchful leader.  Vaughn
felt that he was now in more peril from this bandit than before the
advent of the canyu.  This, however, would not last long.  He could
only bide his time, watch, and think.  His luck had begun.  He
divined it, trusted it with mounting passion.

The two guards turned their horses across the trail, and that
maneuver blocked Roseta's mount while Vaughn's came up alongside.
If he could have stretched out his hand, he could have touched
Roseta.  Many a time he had been thrilled and softened and
bewildered in her presence, not to say frightened, but he had never
felt as now.  Roseta contrived to touch his bound foot with her
stirrup, and the deliberate move made Vaughn tremble.  Still he did
not yet look directly down at her.

The actions of the three guards were as clear to Vaughn as an inch
of crystal water.  If he had seen one fight among peones over
canyu, he had seen a hundred.  First, the older of the two guards
leisurely got off his horse.  His wide, straw sombrero hid all his
face, except a peaked, yellow chin, scantily covered with black
whiskers.  His garb hung in rags, and a cartridge belt was slung
loosely over his left shoulder.  He had left his rifle in its
saddle sheath, and his only weapon was a bone-handled machete stuck
in a dilapidated scabbard on his belt.

"Juan, we are thirsty and have no water," he said.

"Gonzalez, one drink and no more," returned Juan, and lifted out
the demijohn.

With eager cry the peon tipped it to his lips.  And he gulped until
Juan jerked it away.  Then the other peon tumbled off his horse and
gaily besought Juan for a drink, if only one precious drop.  Juan
complied, but this time he did not let go of the demijohn.

Vaughn felt a touch--a gentle pressure on his knee.  Roseta had
laid her gloved hand there.  Then he had to avert his gaze from the
Mexicans.

"Oh, Vaughn, I KNEW you would come to save me," she whispered.
"But they have caught you. . . .  For God's sake, do something."

"Roseta, I reckon I can't do much at this sitting," replied Vaughn,
smiling down at her.  "Are you . . . all right?"

"Yes, except I'm tired and my legs ache.  I was frightened badly
enough before you happened along.  But now . . . it's terrible. . . .
Vaughn, they are taking us to Quinela.  He is a monster.  My
father told me so. . . .  If you can't save me, you must kill me."

"I shall save you, Roseta," he whispered low, committing himself on
the altar of the luck that had never failed him.

Her eyes held his, and there was no doubt about the warm pressure
of her hand on his knee.  But even through this sweet stolen
moment, Vaughn had tried to attend to the argument of the bandits.
He heard their mingled voices, all high-pitched and angry.  In
another moment they would jump at each other like dogs.

A wrestling sound, trample of hoofs, a shrill--"Santa Maria!"--and
a sodden blow preceded the startling crash of a gun.

As Vaughn's horse plunged, he saw Roseta's rear into the brush,
with her screaming, and Star lunge out of a cloud of blue smoke.
Next moment Vaughn found himself tearing down the trail.  He was
helpless, but he squeezed the scared horse with his knees and kept
calling:  "Whoa, there . . . whoa, boy!"

Not for a hundred yards or more did the animal slow up.  It
relieved Vaughn to hear a clatter of hoofs behind him, and he
turned to see Juan tearing in pursuit.  Presently he crashed into
the brush and, getting ahead of Vaughn, turned into the trail again
to stop the horse.

Juan jerked the heaving horse out of the brush into the trail, then
led him back toward the scene of the shooting.  But before they
reached it, Vaughn espied one of the guards coming with Roseta and
a riderless horse.  Juan grunted his satisfaction, and let them
pass without a word.

Roseta seemed less terrorized and shaken than Vaughn had feared she
would be.  Her dilated eyes, as she passed, said as plainly as any
words could have done, that they had one less captor to contend
with.

The journey was resumed.  Vaughn drew a deep breath and endeavored
to contain himself.  The sun was still only halfway down toward the
western horizon.  Hours of daylight yet!  And he had an ally more
deadly than bullets, more subtle than any man's wit, sharper than
the tooth of a serpent.

Perhaps in a quarter of an hour, Vaughn, turning his head ever so
slightly, out of the tail of his eye saw Juan take another drink of
canyu.  And it was a good stiff drink.  Vaughn thrilled as he
possessed his soul in patience.  Presently Juan's latest deed would
be as if it had never been.  Canyu was an annihilation of the past.

"Juan, I'll fall off this horse pronto," began Vaughn.

"Very good, seor.  Fall off," replied Juan amiably.

"I am most damned uncomfortable with my hands tied back this way.
I can't sit straight.  I'm cramped.  Be a good fellow, Juan, and
untie my hands."

"Seor Texas Medill, if you are uncomfortable now, what will you be
when you tread the fiery cactus on your peeled feet?"

"But that will be short.  No man lives through such torture long,
does he, Juan?"

"The chaya kills quickly, seor."

"Juan, have you reflected upon the gold lying in the El Paso bank?
Gold that can be yours for the ride.  It will be long before my
death is reported across the river.  You have ample time to get to
El Paso with my check and a letter.  I can write it on a sheet of
paper out of my notebook.  Surely you have a friend or acquaintance
in El Paso who can identify you at the bank as Juan . . . whatever
your name is."

"Yes, seor, I have.  And my name is Juan Mendoz."

"Have you thought about what you could do with three thousand
dollars?  Not Mexican pesos, but real gringo gold!"

"I have not thought, seor, because I hate to give in to dreams."

"Juan, listen.  You are a fool.  I know I am as good as dead.  What
have I been a ranger all these years for?  It's worth this gold to
me to be free of this miserable cramp . . . and to feel that I have
tried to buy some little kindness for the seorita there.  She is
part Mexican, Juan.  She has Mexican blood in her, don't forget
that. . . .  Well, you are not betraying Quinela.  And you will be
rich.  You will have my horse and saddle, if you are wise enough to
keep Quinela from seeing them.  You will buy silver spurs . . .
with the long Spanish rowels.  You will have jingling gold in your
pocket.  You will buy a vaquero's sombrero.  And then think of your
chata . . . your sweetheart, Juan. . . .  Ah, I knew it.  You have
a chata.  Think of what you can buy her.  A Spanish mantilla, and a
golden cross, and silver-buckled shoes for her little feet.  Think
how she will love you for that!  Then, Juan, best of all, you can
go far south of the border . . . buy a hacienda, horses, and
cattle, and live there happily with your chata.  You will only get
killed in Quinela's service . . . for a few dirty pesos. . . .  You
will raise mescal on your hacienda, and draw your own canyu. . . .
And all for so little, Juan!"

"Seor not only has gold in a bank but gold on his tongue. . . .
It is, indeed, little you ask and little I risk."

Juan rode abreast of Vaughn and felt in his pockets for the
checkbook and pencil, which he had neglected to return.  Vaughn
made of his face a grateful mask.  This peon had become
approachable, as Vaughn had known canyu would make him, but he was
not yet under its influence to an extent which justified undue
risk.  Still Vaughn decided, if the bandit freed his hands and gave
him the slightest chance he would jerk Juan out of that saddle.
Vaughn did not lose sight of the fact that his feet would still be
tied.  He calculated exactly what he would do in case Juan's
craftiness no longer operated.  As the other stopped his horse and
reined in Vaughn's, the girl happened to turn around, as she often
did, and she saw them.  Vaughn caught a flash of big eyes and a
white little face as Roseta vanished around a turn in the trail.
Vaughn was glad for two things, that she had seen him stop and that
she and her guard would be unable to see what took place.

All through these tingling, cold-nerved moments Juan appeared to be
studying the checkbook.  If he could read English, it surely was
only familiar words.  The thought leaped to Vaughn's mind to write
a note to the banker quite different from what he had intended.
Most assuredly, if the El Paso banker ever saw that note, Vaughn
would be dead, and it was clearly possible that it might fall under
his hands.

"Seor, you may sign me the gold in your El Paso bank," at length
said Juan.

"Fine.  You're a good fellow, Juan.  But I can't hold a pencil with
my teeth."

Juan kicked the horse Vaughn bestrode and moved him across the
trail so that Vaughn's back was turned.

"There, seor," said the bandit, and his lean dark hand slipped
book and pencil into Vaughn's vest pocket.

The cunning, thought Vaughn, in sickening disappointment!  He had
hoped Juan would free his bonds and then hand over the book.  But
Vaughn's ranger luck did not yet ride so high.

He felt Juan tugging at the thongs around his wrists.  They were
tight--a fact Vaughn surely could attest to.  He heard the bandit
mutter a little and then curse.

"Juan, do you blame me for wanting those rawhides off my wrists?"
asked Vaughn.

"Seor Medill is strong.  It is nothing," returned the Mexican.

Suddenly the painful tension on Vaughn's wrists relaxed.  He felt
the thongs fall.

"Muchas gracias, seor!" he exclaimed.  "Aghh!  That feels good."

Vaughn brought his hands around in front to rub each swollen and
discolored wrist.  But all the time he was gathering his forces,
like a tiger about to leap.  Had the critical moment arrived?

"Juan, that was a little job to make a man rich . . . now wasn't
it?" went on Vaughn pleasantly.  And leisurely, but with every
muscle taut, he turned to face his guard.


V


The bandit was out of reach of Vaughn's tense hands.  He sat back
in the saddle with an expression of interest upon his swarthy face.
The ranger could not be sure, but he would have gambled that Juan
did not suspect his deadly intentions.  Star was a mettlesome
horse; Vaughn did not like the other's horse, upon which he sat
bound; there were at least several feet between them.  If Vaughn
had been free to leap he might have, probably would have, done so.

He swallowed his eagerness and began to rub his wrists again.
Presently he removed pencil and book from his vest pocket.  It was
not pretense that occasioned a few labored moments in writing out a
check for Juan Mendoz, for the three thousand and odd dollars in
his balance at the bank.

"There, Juan.  There it is . . . all made out and signed.  May some
gringo treat your chata as you treat Seorita Uvalde," said Vaughn,
handing the check over to the Mexican.

"Gracias, seor," replied Juan, his black eyes burning upon the bit
of colored paper.  "Uvalde's daughter then is your chata?"

"Yes.  And I'll leave a curse upon you, if she is mistreated."

"Ranger, I had my orders from Quinela.  You would not have asked
more."

"What has Quinela got against Uvalde?" queried Vaughn.

"They were vaqueros together years ago.  But I don't know the
reason for Quinela's hate.  It is great and just. . . .  Now,
seor, the letter to your banker."

Vaughn tore a leaf out of his notebook.  On second thought he
decided to write the letter in the notebook, which would serve in
itself to identify him.  In case this letter ever was presented at
the bank in El Paso he wanted it to mean something.  Then it
occurred to Vaughn to try out his captor.  So he wrote a few lines.

"Read this, Juan," he said, handing over the book.

The bandit scanned the lines, which might as well have been Greek.

"Texas Medill does not write as well as he shoots," said Juan.

"Let me have the book.  I can do better.  I forgot something."

Receiving it back, Vaughn tore out the page and wrote another as
follows:


Dear Mr. Jarvis:

If you ever see these lines you will know that I have been murdered
by Quinela.  Have the bearer arrested and wire to Captain Allerton,
of the Rangers, at Brownsville.  At this moment I am a prisoner of
Juan Mendoz, lieutenant of Quinela.  Miss Roseta Uvalde is also a
prisoner.  She will be held for ransom and revenge.  The place is
in the hills somewhere east and south of Rock Ford trail.

                                                              Medil


Vaughn, reading aloud to Mendoz, improvised a letter which
identified him, and cunningly made mention of the gold.

"Juan, isn't that better?" he said as he handed the book back.
"You'll do well not to show this to Quinela or anyone else.  Go
yourself at once to El Paso."

As Vaughn had expected, the other did not scan this letter.

Placing the check in the book, he deposited it in an inside pocket.
Then without a word he drove Vaughn's horse forward on the trail
and, following close behind, soon came up with Roseta and her
guard.

The girl looked back.  Vaughn contrived, without making it obvious,
to show her that his hands were free.  A radiance crossed her wan
face.  The exertion and suspense had begun to tell markedly.  She
sagged in the saddle.

Juan appeared bent on making up for lost time, as he drove the
horses at a trot.  But this did not last long.  Vaughn, looking at
the ground, saw the black shadow of the bandit as he raised the
demijohn to drink.  What a sinister shadow!  It forced Vaughn to
think of what now should be his method of procedure.  Sooner or
later he was going to get his hand on his gun, which stuck out in
back of Juan's hip and hung down.  That moment would see the end of
the fellow.  But Vaughn remembered how this horse he bestrode had
bolted at the other gunshot.  He would risk more, shooting from the
back of this horse than by the hands of the other Mexican.
Vaughn's feet were tied in the stirrups, with the rope passing
underneath the horse.  If he were thrown sideways out of the
saddle, it would be a perilous and very probably a fatal accident.
He decided that at the critical time he would grip the horse with
his legs so tightly that he could not be dislodged, and let the
moment decide what to do about the other man.

After Juan had a second drink, Vaughn slowly retarded the gait of
his horse until that of Juan came up to his flank.  Vaughn was
careful to keep to the right of the trail.  One glance at his
captor's eyes sent a gush of hot blood over Vaughn.  The canyu had
been slow on this tough fellow, but at last it was working.

"Juan, I'm powerful thirsty," said Vaughn.

"We come to water hole bime-by," replied Juan thickly.

"But won't you spare me a nip of canyu?"

"Our mescal drink is bad for gringos."

"I'll risk it, Juan.  Just a nip.  You're a good fellow, and I
like you.  I'll tell Quinela how you had to fight your men back
there, when they wanted to kill me.  I'll tell him Garcia provoked
you. . . .  Juan, you can see I may do you a turn."

Juan came up alongside Vaughn and halted.  Vaughn reined his horse
just head and head with Juan's.  The Mexican was sweating; his
under lip hung a little; he sat loosely in his saddle.  His eyes
had lost the beady light and appeared to have filmed over.

Juan waited till the man ahead had turned a curve in the trail with
Roseta.  Then he lifted the demijohn from the saddlebag and
extended it to Vaughn.

"A drop . . . seor," he said.

Vaughn pretended to drink.  The hot stuff was like vitriol on his
lips.  He returned the vessel, making a great show of the effect of
the canyu, when as a cold fact he was calculating distance.  Almost
he yielded to the temptation to lean and sweep a long arm.  But a
ranger did not make mistakes.  If Juan's horse had been a little
closer. . . .

"Ah-h-h!  Great stuff, Juan!" Vaughn exclaimed, and relaxed again;
the moment for action would reveal itself.

They rode on, and Juan either forgot to drop behind or did not
think it needful.  The trail was wide enough for two horses.  Soon
Roseta's bright red scarf burned against the gray-green again.  She
was looking back.  So was her escort.  And their horses were
walking.  Juan did not appear to make note of slower progress.  He
had passed the faculty of minute observation.  Presently he would
take another swallow of canyu.

Vaughn began to talk, to express more gratitude to Juan, to dwell
with flowery language on the effect of good drink--of which canyu
was the sweetest and fieriest in the world--of its power to make
fatigue as if it were not, to alleviate pain and grief, to render
the dreary desert of mesquite and stone a region of color and
beauty and melody--even to resign a doomed ranger to his fate.

"Ai, seor . . . canyu is the Blessed Virgin's gift to the peones,"
said Juan, and emphasized this tribute by taking another drink.

They rode on.  Vaughn asked only for another mile or two of lonely
trail, of uninterruption.

"How far, Juan?" queried Vaughn.  "I cannot ride much farther with
my feet tied under this horse."

"Till sunset, seor . . . which will be your last," replied the
other.

Juan could still speak intelligibly, but he was no longer alert.

They rode on, and Vaughn made a motion to Roseta that she must not
turn to look back.  Perhaps she interpreted it to mean more, for
she immediately began to engage her guard in conversation--
something Vaughn had observed she had not done before.  Soon the
guard dropped back until his horse walked beside Roseta's.  He was
a peon, and a heavy drink of canyu had addled the craft in his
wits.  Vaughn saw him bend over and loosen the rope that bound
Roseta's left foot to the stirrup.  Juan did not see this
significant action.  His gaze was fixed to the trail.  He was
singing:  "Ai, querida chata mia."

Roseta's guard took a long look back.  Evidently Juan's posture
struck him apprehensively, yet did not wholly overcome the interest
that Roseta had suddenly taken in him.  When he gave her a playful
pat, she returned it.  He caught her hand.  Roseta did not pull
very hard to release it, and she gave him a saucy little slap.  He
was reaching for her when they passed out of Vaughn's sight around
a corner of the green-bordered trail.

Vaughn gradually and almost imperceptibly guided his horse closer
to Juan.

"Juan, the curse of canyu is that once you taste it you must have
more . . . or die," said Vaughn.

"It is . . . so . . . seor," replied Juan.

"You have plenty left.  Will you let me have one more little
drink. . . .  My last drink of canyu, Juan!  I didn't tell you,
but it has been my ruin.  My father was a rich rancher.  He
disowned me because of evil habits.  That's how I became a ranger."

"Take it, seor.  Your last drink."

Vaughn braced every nerve and fiber of his being.  He leaned a
little.  His left hand went out--leisurely.  But his eyes flashed
like cold steel over the unsuspecting Mexican.  Then, as a striking
snake, his hand snatched the bone-handled gun from its sheath.
Vaughn pulled the trigger.  The hammer fell upon an empty chamber.

Juan turned.  The gun crashed.  "Dios!" he screamed in a strangled
death cry.

The leap of the horses was not quicker than Vaughn.  He lunged to
catch the bandit--to keep him upright in the saddle.  "Hold, Star!"
he called sternly.  "Hold!"

Star came down.  But the other horse plunged and dragged him up the
trail.  Vaughn had his gun hand fast on the cantle and his other
holding Juan upright.  But for this grasp the frantic horse would
have unseated him.

It was the ranger's job to manage both horses and look out for the
other guard.  He appeared on the trail riding fast, his carbine
held high.

Vaughn let go of Juan and got the gun in his right hand.  With the
other, then, he grasped the Mexican's coat and held him straight to
the saddle.  He drooped himself over his pommel, to make it appear
he had been the one shot.  Every second also he increased the iron
leg grip on the horse he straddled.  Star had halted and was being
dragged.

The other bandit came at a gallop, yelling.  When he got within
twenty paces, Vaughn straightened up and shot him through the
heart.  He threw the carbine and, pitching out of his saddle, went
thudding to the ground.  His horse bumped hard into the one Vaughn
rode, and that was fortunate, for it checked his first mad leap.

In the mle that ensued Juan fell off Star, to be trampled under
hoofs.  Vaughn hauled with all his might on the bridle.  But he
could not hold the horse, and he feared that he would break the
bridle.  Bursting through the brush the horse ran wildly.  But
presently he got the horse under control and back onto the trail.

Some rods down he espied Roseta, safe in her saddle, her head bowed
with her hands covering her face.  Then Vaughn called eagerly, as
he reached her.

"Oh, Vaughn!" she cried, lifting a convulsed and blanched face.  "I
knew you'd . . . kill them. . . .  But, my God . . . how awful!"

"Brace up," he said sharply.

Then he got out his clasp knife and in a few slashes freed his feet
from the stirrups.  He leaped off the horse.  His feet felt numb.

He cut the ropes that bound Roseta's feet to her stirrups.  She
swayed out of the saddle into his arms.  Her eyes closed.

"It's no time to faint," he said sternly, and carried her out off
the trail to set her on her feet.

"I . . . I won't," she whispered, her eyes opening, strained and
dilated.  "But hold me . . . just a moment."

Vaughn enfolded her in his arms, and the moment she asked was so
sweet and precious that it almost overcame the will of a ranger in
a desperate plight.

"Roseta . . . we're free, but not yet safe," he replied.  "We're
close to a hacienda . . . maybe where Quinela is waiting. . . .
Come now.  We must get out of here."

Half carrying her, Vaughn hurried through the brush along the
trail.  The moment she could stand alone he whispered:  "Wait
here."  He ran onto the trail.  He still held his gun.  Star stood
waiting, his head up.  Both horses had disappeared.  Vaughn looked
up and down the trail.  Star whinnied.  Vaughn hurried to bend over
Juan.  The Mexican lay on his face.  Vaughn unbuckled the gun belt
Juan had appropriated from him, and put it on.  Next he secured his
notebook.  Then he sheathed his gun.  With that he grasped the
bridle of Star and led him off the trail into the mesquite, back to
where Roseta stood.  She seemed all right now, only pale.  But
Vaughn avoided her eyes.  He mounted Star.

"Come, Roseta," he said.  "Up behind me."

He swung her up and settled her on the saddle skirt.

"There.  Put your arms around me.  Hold tight, for we're going to
ride."

When she had complied, he grasped her left hand with his where it
fastened in his coat.  On the moment he heard voices up the trail
and the clip-clop of hoofs.  Roseta heard them, too.  Vaughn felt
her shake.

"Don't fear, Roseta.  Just hang on.  Here's where Star shines,"
whispered Vaughn, and, guiding the nervous horse onto the trail, he
let him have a loose rein.  Star needed not the shrill cries of
peones to spur him into action.


VI


As the fleeing ranger sighted the peones, a babel of shrill voices
arose.  But no shots.  In half a dozen jumps, Star was going swift
as the wind, and in a moment a bend of the trail hid him from any
possible marksman.  Vaughn's poignant concern for Roseta broke and
gradually lessened.

At the end of a long straight stretch he looked back again.  To his
intense relief there was no one in sight.

"False alarm, Roseta," he said, craning his neck so he could see
her face, pressed cheek against his shoulder.

"Let 'em come," she said, smiling up at him.  Her face was pale,
but it was not fear he read in her eyes.  It was fight.

Vaughn laughed in sheer surprise.  He had not expected that, and it
gave him such a thrill as he had never felt in his life.  He let go
of Roseta's arm and took her hand, which was fastened in his coat.
And he squeezed it with far more than reassurance.  The answering
pressure was unmistakable.  A singular elation mounted in Vaughn's
heart.

It did not quite render him heedless.  As Star turned a corner,
Vaughn's keen glance took in a widening of the trail blocked by the
motley crew of big-sombreroed Mexicans and horses he had been
separated from not long before that day.

"Hold tight!" he cried warningly to Roseta as he swerved Star to
the left.  He threw his gun and fired two quick shots.  He needed
not to see that they took effect, for a wild cry pealed up,
followed by angry yells.

Star beat the answering rifle shots into the brush.  Vaughn heard
the sing and twang of bullets.  Crashings through the mesquites
behind, added to the gunshots, lent wings to Star.  This was a
familiar situation to the great horse.  Then for Vaughn it became a
strenuous job to ride him, and doubly fearful owing to Roseta.  But
Star appeared gradually to be distancing his pursuers.  The desert
grew more open with level gravel floor.  Here Vaughn urged Star to
his limit.

Roseta stuck like a leech, and the ranger had to add admiration to
his other feelings toward her.  Vaughn put his hand back to grasp
and steady her.  And it did not take much time for the giant
strides of the horse to cover miles.  Finally Vaughn pulled him to
a gallop and then a lope.

"Chata, are you all right?" he asked, afraid to look back, after
using that compelling epithet.

"Yes.  But can't . . . hold on . . . much longer," she panted.  "If
they catch us . . . shoot me first."

"Roseta, they will never catch us," he protested.

"But . . . promise," she entreated.

"I promise they'll never take us alive.  But, child, keep up your
nerve.  It's sunset soon . . . and then dark.  We'll get away
sure."

Again they raced across the desert, this time in less of a straight
line, although still to the north.  The dry wind made tears dim
Vaughn's eyes.  He kept to open lanes and patches to avoid being
struck by branches.  And he spared Star only when he heard the
heaves of distress, but at length Vaughn got him down to a walk.

"We're . . . far . . . far . . . ahead," he panted.  "They'll trail
us till dark."  He peered back across the yellow and green desert,
slowly darkening in the sunset.  "But we're safe . . . thank God."

"Oh, what a glorious ride," cried Roseta between breaths.  "I felt
that . . . even with death close. . . .  Vaughn, I'm such a
little . . . fool.  I longed . . . for excitement. . . .  But for
you. . . ."

"Save your breath.  We may need to run again."

She said no more.  Vaughn walked Star until the horse had regained
his wind, and then urged him into a lope.

The sun sank red in the west; twilight stole under the mesquite and
the palo verde; dusk came upon its heels; the heat tempered to a
slight breeze.  When the stars came out, Vaughn took his direction
from them, and pushed on for miles.

The moon brightened the open patches and the swales.  Vaughn halted
the tireless horse in a spot where grass caught the moonlight.

"We'll rest a bit," he said, sliding off, but still holding to the
girl.  "Come."

She fell into his arms; when he let her feet down, she leaned
against him.

"Can you stand?  You'd better wait a little," he said.

"My legs are dead."

"I want to go a few steps and listen.  The night is still.  I could
hear horses at a long distance."

"Please, don't go far," she entreated.

Vaughn went back out of earshot of the heaving, creaking horse, and
turned his keen ear to the gentle breeze.  It blew from the south.
Only a very faint rustle of leaves disturbed the desert silence.
He held his breath and listened intensely.  No sound!  He returned
to Roseta.

"No sound.  It is as I expected.  Night has saved us," he said.

"Night and canyu.  Oh, I watched you, ranger man."

"You helped, Roseta.  That bandit who led your horse was
suspicious.  But when you looked at him . . . he forgot.  Small
wonder. . . .  Have you stretched your legs?"

"I tried.  I walked some, then flopped here. . . .  Oh, I want to
rest and sleep."

"I don't know about your sleeping, but you can rest riding," he
replied and, removing his coat, folded it around the pommel of his
saddle, making a flat seat there.  "Give me your hand. . . .  Put
your foot in the stirrup.  Now."  He caught her and lifted her in
front of him, and, settling her comfortably upon the improvised
seat, he put his left arm around her.  Many a wounded comrade had
he packed this way.  "How is . . . that?" he asked unsteadily.

"It's very nice," she replied, her dark eyes inscrutable in the
moonlight.  And she relaxed against his arm and shoulder.

Vaughn headed Star north at a brisk walk.  He could not be more
than six hours from the river in a straight line.  Caons and rough
going might deter him.  But even so he could make the Rio Grande
before dawn.  Then and then only did he surrender to the
astonishing presence of Roseta Uvalde, to the indubitable fact that
he had saved her, and then to thoughts wild and whirling.

"Vaughn, was it that guard or you . . . who called me chata?" she
asked dreamily.

"It was I . . . who dared," he replied huskily.

"Dared!  Then you were not just carried away . . . for the moment?"

"No, Roseta. . . .  I confess I was as . . . as bold as that poor
devil."

"Vaughn, do you know what chata means?" she asked gravely.

"It is the name a vaquero has for his sweetheart."

"You meant it, seor?" she queried imperiously.

"Lord help me, Roseta, I did, and I do. . . .  I've loved you
long."

"But you never told me!" she exclaimed with wonder and reproach.
"Why?"

"What hope had I?  A poor ranger.  Texas Medill!  Didn't you call
me 'killer of Mexicans'?"

"I reckon I did.  And because you ARE that, I'm alive to thank God
for it.  Vaughn, I always liked you, respected you as one of Texas'
great rangers . . . feared you, too.  I never know my real
feelings. . . .  But I . . . I love you NOW."


In the gray of dawn, Vaughn lifted Roseta down from the weary horse
upon the bank of the Rio Grande.

"We are here, Roseta," he said gladly.  "It will soon be light
enough to ford the river.  Star came out just below Brownsville.
There's a horse, Roseta!  He shall never be risked again.  In a
hour you will be home."

"Home?  Oh, how good!  But what shall I say, Vaughn?" she replied,
evidently awakening to facts.

"Dear, who was the fellow you ran . . . rode off with yesterday
morning?"

"Didn't I tell you?"  And she laughed.  "It happened to be Elmer
Wase . . . that morning. . . .  Oh, he was the unlucky one.  The
bandits beat him with quirts, dragged him off his horse.  Then they
led me away toward the river, and I didn't see him again."

Vaughn had no desire to acquaint her with the tragic end that had
overtaken that young man.

"You were not . . . eloping?"

"VAUGHN!  It was only fun."

"Uvalde thinks you eloped.  He was wild.  He raved."

"The devil he did!" ejaculated Roseta rebelliously.  "Vaughn, what
did you think?"

"Dearest, I . . . I was only concerned with tracking you," he
returned, and even in the gray gloom of the dawn those big dark
eyes gave him a start.

"Vaughn, I have peon blood in me," she said, and she might have
been a princess for the pride with which she confessed it.  "My
father always feared I'd run true to the Indian.  Are you afraid of
your chata?"

"No, darling."

"Then I shall punish Uvalde. . . .  I shall elope."

"Roseta!" expostulated Vaughn.

"Listen."  She put her arms around his neck, and that was a long
reach for her.  "Will you give up the ranger service?  I . . .
couldn't bear it, Vaughn.  You have earned release from the service
all Texans are proud of."

"Yes, Roseta.  I'll resign," he replied with boyish, eager shyness.
"I've some money . . . enough to buy a ranch."

"Far from the border?" she entreated, as if thrilled.

"Yes, far.  I know just the valley . . . 'way north, under the
Llano Estacado. . . .  But, Roseta, I shall have to pack a gun . . .
till I'm forgotten."

"Very well, I'll not be afraid . . . 'way north," she replied.
Then her sweet gravity changed.  "We will punish Father, Vaughn,
we'll elope right now!  We'll cross the river . . . get married . . .
and drive out home to breakfast. . . .  How Dad will rave!  But
he would have me elope, though he'd never guess I'd choose a
ranger."

Vaughn swung her up on Star, and leaned close to peer up at her, to
find one last assurance of the joy that had befallen him.  He was
not conscious of asking what she bent her head to bestow upon his
lips.





TAPPAN'S BURRO


I


Tappan gazed down upon the newly-born little burro with something
of pity and consternation.  It was not a vigorous offspring of the
redoubtable Jennie, champion of all the numberless burros he had
driven in his desert-prospecting years.  He could not leave it
there to die.  Surely it was not strong enough to follow its
mother.  And to kill it was beyond him.

"Poor little devil," soliloquized Tappan.  "Reckon neither Jennie
nor I wanted it to be born. . . .  I'll have to hold up in this
camp a few days.  You can never tell what a burro will do.  It
might fool us an' grow strong all of a sudden."

Whereupon Tappan left Jennie and her tiny, gray, lop-eared baby to
themselves, and leisurely set about making permanent camp.  The
water at this oasis was not much to his liking, but it was
drinkable, and he felt he must put up with it.  For the rest the
oasis was desirable enough as a camping site.  Desert wanderers
like Tappan favored the lonely water holes.  This one was up under
the bold brow of the Chocolate Mountains, where rocky wall met the
desert sand, and a green patch of palo verdes and mesquites proved
the presence of water.  It had a magnificent view down a many-
leagued slope of desert growths, across the dark belt of green and,
the shining strip of red that marked the Rio Colorado, and on to
the upflung Arizona land, range lifting to range until the saw-
toothed peaks notched the blue sky.

Locked in the iron fastnesses of these desert mountains was gold.
Tappan, if he had any calling, was a prospector.  But the lure of
gold did not bind him to this wandering life any more than the
freedom of it.  He had never made a rich strike.  About the best he
could ever do was to dig enough gold to grubstake himself for
another prospecting trip into some remote corner of the American
desert.  Tappan knew the arid Southwest from San Diego to the Pecos
River and from Picacho on the Colorado to the Tonto Basin.  Few
prospectors had the strength and endurance of Tappan.  He was a
giant in build, and at thirty-five had never yet reached the limit
of his physical force.

With hammer and pick and magnifying glass Tappan scaled the bare
ridges.  He was not an expert in testing minerals.  He knew he
might easily pass by a rich vein of ore.  But he did his best, sure
at least that no prospector could get more than he out of the
pursuit of gold.  Tappan was more of a naturalist than a
prospector, and more of a dreamer than either.  Many were the idle
moments that he sat staring down the vast reaches of the valleys,
or watching some creature of the wasteland, or marveling at the
vivid hues of desert flowers.

Tappan waited two weeks at this oasis for Jennie's baby burro to
grow strong enough to walk.  And the very day that Tappan decided
to break camp he found signs of gold at the head of a wash above
the oasis.  Quite by chance, as he was looking for his burros, he
struck his pick into a place no different from a thousand others
there, and hit into a pocket of gold.  He cleaned out the pocket
before sunset, the richer for several thousand dollars.

"You brought me luck," said Tappan, to the little gray burro
staggering round its mother.  "Your name is Jenet.  You're Tappan's
burro, an' I reckon he'll stick to you."

Jenet belied the promise of her birth.  Like a weed in fertile
ground she grew.  Winter and summer Tappan patrolled the sand beats
from one trading post to another, and his burros traveled with him.
Jenet had an especially good training.  Her mother had happened to
be a remarkably good burro before Tappan had bought her.  And
Tappan had patience; he found leisure to do things, and he had
something of pride in Jenet.  Whenever he happened to drop into
Ehrenberg or Yuma, or any freighting station, some prospector
always tried to buy Jenet.  She grew as large as a medium-sized
mule, and a three-hundred-pound pack was no load to discommode her.

Tappan, in common with most lonely wanderers of the desert, talked
to his burro.  As the years passed this habit grew, until Tappan
would talk to Jenet just to hear the sound of his voice.  Perhaps
that was all which kept him human.

"Jenet, you're worthy of a happier life," Tappan would say, as he
unpacked her after a long day's march over the barren land.
"You're a ship of the desert.  Here we are, with grub an' water, a
hundred miles from any camp.  An' what but you could have fetched
me here?  No horse.  No mule.  No man.  Nothin' but a camel, an' so
I call you ship of the desert.  But for you an' your kind, Jenet,
there'd be no prospectors, and few gold mines.  Reckon the desert
would be still an unknown waste. . . .  You're a great beast of
burden, Jenet, an' there's no one to sing your praise."

And of a golden sunrise, when Jenet was packed and ready to face
the cool, sweet fragrance of the desert, Tappan was wont to say:

"Go along with you, Jenet.  The mornin's fine.  Look at the
mountains yonder callin' us.  It's only a step down there.  All
purple an' violet.  It's the life for us, my burro, an' Tappan's as
rich as if all these sands were pearls."

But sometimes at sunset, when the way had been long and hot and
rough, Tappan would bend his shaggy head over Jenet, and talk in a
different mood.

"Another day gone, Jenet, another journey ended--an' Tappan is only
older, wearier, sicker.  There's no reward for your faithfulness.
I'm only a desert rat, livin' from hole to hole.  No home.  No face
to see. . . .  Some sunset, Jenet, we'll reach the end of the
trail.  An' Tappan's bones will bleach in the sands.  An' no one
will know or care."

When Jenet was two years old she would have taken the blue ribbon
in competition with all the burros of the Southwest.  She was
unusually large and strong, perfectly proportioned, sound in every
particular, and practically tireless.  But these were not the only
characteristics that made prospectors envious of Tappan.  Jenet had
the common virtues of all good burros magnified to an unbelievable
degree.  Moreover, she had sense and instinct that to Tappan
bordered on the supernatural.

During these years Tappan's trail crisscrossed the mineral region
of the Southwest.  But, as always, the rich strike held aloof.  It
was like the pot of gold buried at the foot of the rainbow.  Jenet
knew the trails and the water holes better than Tappan.  She could
follow a trail obliterated by drifting sand or cut out by running
water.  She could scent at long distance a new spring on the desert
or a strange water hole.  She never wandered far from camp so that
Tappan had to walk far in search of her.  Wild burros, the bane of
most prospectors, held no charm for Jenet.  And she had never yet
shown any especial liking for a tame burro.  This was the strangest
feature of Jenet's complex character.  Burros were noted for their
habit of pairing off, and forming friendships for one or more
comrades.  These relations were permanent.  But Jenet still
remained fancy-free.

Tappan scarcely realized how he relied upon this big, gray, serene
beast of burden.  Of course, when chance threw him among men of his
calling he would brag about her.  But he had never really
appreciated Jenet.  In his way Tappan was a brooding, plodding
fellow, not conscious of sentiment.  When he bragged about Jenet it
was her good qualities upon which he dilated.  But what he really
liked best about her were the little things of every day.

During the earlier years of her training Jenet had been a thief.
She would pretend to be asleep for hours just to get a chance to
steal something out of camp.  Tappan had broken this habit in its
incipiency.  But he never quite trusted her.  Jenet was a burro.

Jenet ate anything offered her.  She could fare for herself or go
without.  Whatever Tappan had left from his own meals was certain
to be rich dessert for Jenet.  Every meal time she would stand near
the camp fire, with one great, long ear drooping, and the other
standing erect.  Her expression was one of meekness, of unending
patience.  She would lick a tin can until it shone resplendent.  On
long, hard, barren trails Jenet's deportment did not vary from that
where the water holes and grassy patches were many.  She did not
need to have grass or grain.  Brittlebush and sage were good fare
for her.  She could eat grease wood, a desert plant that protected
itself with a sap as sticky as varnish and far more dangerous to
animals.  She could eat cacti.  Tappan had seen her break off
leaves of the prickly pear cactus, and stamp upon them with her
forefeet, mashing off the thorns, so that she could consume the
succulent pulp.  She liked mesquite beans, and leaves of willow,
and all the trailing vines of the desert.  And she could subsist in
an arid wasteland where a man would have died in short order.

No ascent or descent was too hard or dangerous for Jenet, provided
it was possible of accomplishment.  She would refuse a trail that
was impassable.  She seemed to have an uncanny instinct both for
what she could do, and what was beyond a burro.  Tappan had never
known her to fail on something to which she stuck persistently.
Swift streams of water, always bugbears to burros, did not stop
Jenet.  She hated quicksand, but could be trusted to navigate it,
if that were possible.  When she stepped gingerly, with little inch
steps, out upon a thin crust of ice or salty crust of desert
sinkhole, Tappan would know that it was safe, or she would turn
back.  Thunder and lightning, intense heat or bitter cold, the
sirocco sand storm of the desert, the white dust of the alkali
wastes--these were all the same to Jenet.

One August, the hottest and driest of his desert experience, Tappan
found himself working a most promising claim in the lower reaches
of the Panamint Mountains on the northern slope above Death Valley.
It was a hard country at the most favorable season; in August it
was terrible.

The Panamints were infested by various small gangs of desperadoes--
outlaw claim-jumpers where opportunity afforded--and out-and-out
robbers, even murderers where they could not get the gold any other
way.

Tappan had been warned not to go into this region alone.  But he
never heeded any warnings.  And the idea that he would ever strike
a claim or dig enough gold to make himself an attractive target for
outlaws seemed preposterous and not worth considering.  Tappan had
become a wanderer now from the unbreakable habit of it.  Much to
his amaze he struck a rich ledge of free gold in a canyon of the
Panamints; and he worked from daylight until dark.  He forgot about
the claim jumpers, until one day he saw Jenet's long ears go up in
the manner habitual with her when she saw strange men.  Tappan
watched the rest of that day, but did not catch a glimpse of any
living thing.  It was a desolate place, shut in, red-walled, hazy
with heat, and brooding with an eternal silence.

Not long after that Tappan discovered boot tracks of several men
adjacent to his camp and in an out-of-the-way spot, which persuaded
him that he was being watched.  Claim-jumpers who were not going to
jump his claim in this torrid heat, but meant to let him dig the
gold and then kill him.  Tappan was not the kind of man to be
afraid.  He grew wrathful and stubborn.  He had six small canvas
bags of gold and did not mean to lose them.  Still, he was worried.

"Now, what's best to do?" he pondered.  "I mustn't give it away
that I'm wise.  Reckon I'd better act natural.  But I can't stay
here longer.  My claim's about worked out.  An' these jumpers are
smart enough to know it. . . .  I've got to make a break at night.
What to do?"

Tappan did not want to cache the gold, for in that case, of course,
he would have to return for it.  Still, he reluctantly admitted to
himself that this was the best way to save it.  Probably these
robbers were watching him day and night.  It would be most unwise
to attempt escaping by traveling up over the Panamints.

"Reckon my only chance is goin' down into Death Valley,"
soliloquized Tappan, grimly.

The alternative thus presented was not to his liking.  Crossing
Death Valley at this season was always perilous, and never
attempted in the heat of day.  And at this particular time of
intense torridity, when the day heat was unendurable and the
midnight furnace gales were blowing, it was an enterprise from
which even Tappan shrank.  Added to this were the facts that he was
too far west of the narrow part of the Valley, and even if he did
get across he would find himself in the most forbidding and
desolate region of the Funeral Mountains.

Thus thinking and planning, Tappan went about his mining and camp
tasks, trying his best to act natural.  But he did not succeed.  It
was impossible, while expecting a shot at any moment, to act as if
there was nothing on his mind.  His camp lay at the bottom of a
rocky slope.  A tiny spring of water made verdure with grass and
mesquite, welcome green in all that stark iron nakedness.  His camp
site was out in the open, on the bench near the spring.  The gold
claim that Tappan was working was not visible from any vantage
point either below or above.  It lay back at the head of a break in
the rocky wall.  It had two virtues--one that the sun never got to
it, and the other that it was well hidden.  Once there, Tappan knew
he could not be seen.  This, however, did not diminish his growing
uneasiness.  The solemn stillness was a menace.  The heat of the
day appeared to be augmenting to a degree beyond his experience.
Every few moments Tappan would slip back through a narrow defile in
the rocks and peep from his covert down at the camp.  On the last
of these occasions he saw Jenet out in the open.  She stood
motionless.  Her long ears were erect.  In an instant Tappan became
strung with thrilling excitement.  His keen eyes searched every
approach to his camp.  And at last in the gulley below to the right
he discovered two men crawling along from rock to rock.  Jenet had
seen them enter that gully and was now watching for them to appear.

Tappan's excitement gave place to a grimmer emotion.  These
stealthy visitors were going to hide in ambush, and kill him as he
returned to camp.

"Jenet, reckon what I owe you is a whole lot," muttered Tappan.
"They'd have got me sure. . . .  But now--"

Tappan left his tools, and crawled out of his covert into the
jumble of huge rocks toward the left of the slope.  He had a six
shooter.  His rifle he had left in camp.  Tappan had seen only two
men, but he knew there were more than that, if not actually near at
hand at the moment, then surely not far away.  And his chance was
to worm his way like an Indian down to camp.  With the rifle in his
possession he would make short work of the present difficulty.

"Lucky Jenet's right in camp," said Tappan, to himself.  "It beats
hell how she does things."

Tappan was already deciding to pack and hurry away.  On that moment
Death Valley did not daunt him.  This matter of crawling and
gliding along was work unsuited to his great stature.  He was too
big to hide behind a little shrub or a rock.  And he was not used
to stepping lightly.  His hobnailed boots could not be placed
noiselessly upon the stones.  Moreover, he could not progress
without displacing little bits of weathered rock.  He was sure that
keen ears not too far distant could have heard him.  But he kept
on, making good progress around that slope to the far side of the
canyon.  Fortunately, he headed the gully up which his ambushers
were stealing.  On the other hand, this far side of the canyon
afforded but little cover.  The sun had gone down back of the huge
red mass of the mountain.  It had left the rocks so hot Tappan
could not touch them with his bare hands.

He was about to stride out from his last covert and make a run for
it down the rest of the slope, when, surveying the whole
amphitheater below him, he espied the two men coming up out of the
gully, headed toward his camp.  They looked in his direction.
Surely they had heard or seen him.  But Tappan perceived at a
glance that he was the closer to the camp.  Without another moment
of hesitation, he plunged from his hiding place, down the weathered
slope.  His giant strides set the loose rocks sliding and rattling.
The men saw him.  The foremost yelled to the one behind him.  Then
they both broke into a run.  Tappan reached the level of the bench,
and saw he could beat either of them into the camp.  Unless he were
disabled.  He felt the wind of a heavy bullet before he heard it
strike the rocks beyond.  Then followed the boom of a Colt.  One of
his enemies had halted to shoot.  This spurred Tappan to tremendous
exertion.  He flew over the rough ground, scarcely hearing the
rapid shots.  He could no longer see the man who was firing.  But
the first one was in plain sight, running hard, not yet seeing he
was out of the race.

When he became aware of that he halted, and dropping on one knee,
leveled his gun at the running Tappan.  The distance was scarcely
sixty yards.  His first shot did not allow for Tappan's speed.  His
second kicked up the gravel in Tappan's face.  Then followed three
more shots in rapid succession.  The man divined that Tappan had a
rifle in camp.  Then he steadied himself, waiting for the moment
when Tappan had to slow down and halt.  As Tappan reached his camp
and dove for his rifle, the robber took time for his last aim,
evidently hoping to get a stationary target.  But Tappan did not
get up from behind his camp duffel.  It had been a habit of his to
pile his boxes of supplies and roll of bedding together, and cover
them with a canvas.  He poked his rifle over the top of this and
shot the robber.

Then, leaping up, he ran forward to get sight of the second one.
This man began to run along the edge of the gully.  Tappan fired
rapidly at him.  The third shot knocked the fellow down.  But he
got up, and yelling, as if for succor, he ran off.  Tappan got
another shot before he disappeared.

"Ahuh," grunted Tappan, grimly.  His keen gaze came back to survey
the fallen robber, and then went out over the bench, across the
wide mouth of the canyon.  Tappan thought he had better utilize
time to pack instead of pursuing the fleeing man.

Reloading the rifle, he hurried out to find Jenet.  She was coming
in to camp.

"Shore you're a treasure, old girl," ejaculated Tappan.

Never in his life had he packed Jenet, or any other burro, so
quickly.  His last act was to drink all he could hold, fill his two
canteens, and make Jenet drink.  Then, rifle in hand, he drove the
burro out of the camp, round the corner of the red wall, to the
wide gateway that opened down into Death Valley.

Tappan looked back more than he looked ahead.  And he had traveled
down a mile or so more before he began to breathe more easily.  He
had escaped the claim-jumpers.  Even if they did show up in pursuit
now, they could never catch him.  Tappan believed he could travel
faster and farther than any men of that ilk.  But they did not
appear.  Perhaps the crippled one had not been able to reach his
comrades in time.  More likely, however, the gang had no taste for
a chase in that torrid heat.

Tappan slowed his stride.  He was almost as wet with sweat as if he
had fallen into the spring.  The great beads rolled down his face.
And there seemed to be little streams of fire trickling down his
breast.  But despite this, and his labored panting for breath, not
until he halted in the shade of a rocky wall did he realize the
heat.

It was terrific.  Instantly then he knew he was safe from pursuit.
But he knew also that he faced a greater peril than that of
robbers.  He could fight evil men, but he could not fight this
heat.

So he rested there, regaining his breath.  Already thirst was
acute.  Jenet stood near by, watching him.  Tappan, with his habit
of humanizing the burro, imagined that Jenet looked serious.  A
moment's thought was enough for Tappan to appreciate the gravity of
his situation.  He was about to go down into the upper end of Death
Valley--a part of that country unfamiliar to him.  He must cross
it, and also the Funeral Mountains, at a season when a prospector
who knew the trails and water holes would have to be forced to
undertake it.  Tappan had no choice.

His rifle was too hot to hold, so he stuck it in Jenet's pack; and,
burdened only by a canteen of water, he set out, driving the burro
ahead.  Once he looked back up the wide-mouthed canyon.  It
appeared to smoke with red heat veils.  The silence was oppressive.

Presently he turned the last corner that obstructed sight of Death
Valley.  Tappan had never been appalled by any aspect of the
desert, but it was certain that here he halted.  Back in his
mountain-walled camp the sun had passed behind the high domes, but
here it still held most of the valley in its blazing grip.  Death
Valley looked a ghastly, glaring level of white, over which a
strange, dull, leaden haze drooped like a blanket.  Ghosts of
mountain peaks appeared to show dim and vague.  There was no
movement of anything.  No wind.  The valley was dead.  Desolation
reigned supreme.  Tappan could not see far toward either end of the
valley.  A few miles of white glare merged at last into leaden
pall.  A strong odor, not unlike sulphur, seemed to add weight to
the air.

Tappan strode on, mindful that Jenet had decided opinions of her
own.  She did not want to go straight ahead or to right or left,
but back.  That was the one direction impossible for Tappan.  And
he had to resort to a rare measure--that of beating her.  But at
last Jenet accepted the inevitable and headed down into the stark
and naked plain.  Soon Tappan reached the margin of the zone of
shade cast by the mountain and was now exposed to the sun.  The
difference seemed tremendous.  He had been hot, oppressed,
weighted.  It was now as if he was burned through his clothes, and
walked on red-hot sands.

When Tappan ceased to sweat and his skin became dry, he drank half
a canteen of water, and slowed his stride.  Inured to desert
hardship as he was, he could not long stand this.  Jenet did not
exhibit any lessening of vigor.  In truth what she showed now was
an increasing nervousness.  It was almost as if she scented an
enemy.  Tappan never before had such faith in her.  Jenet was equal
to this task.

With that blazing sun on his back, Tappan felt he was being pursued
by a furnace.  He was compelled to drink the remaining half of his
first canteen of water.  Sunset would save him.  Two more hours of
such insupportable heat would lay him prostrate.

The ghastly glare of the valley took on a reddish tinge.  The heat
was blinding Tappan.  The time came when he walked beside Jenet
with a hand on her pack, for his eyes could no longer endure the
furnace glare.  Even with them closed he knew when the sun sank
behind the Panamints.  That fire no longer followed him.  And the
red left his eyelids.

With the sinking of the sun the world of Death Valley changed.  It
smoked with heat veils.  But the intolerable constant burn was
gone.  The change was so immense that it seemed to have brought
coolness.

In the twilight--strange, ghostly, somber, silent as death--Tappan
followed Jenet off the sand, down upon the silt and borax level, to
the crusty salt.  Before dark Jenet halted at a sluggish belt of
fluid--acid, it appeared to Tappan.  It was not deep.  And the
bottom felt stable.  But Jenet refused to cross.  Tappan trusted
her judgment more than his own.  Jenet headed to the left and
followed the course of the strange stream.

Night intervened.  A night without stars or sky or sound, hot,
breathless, charged with some intangible current.  Tappan dreaded
the midnight furnace winds of Death Valley.  He had never
encountered them.  He had heard prospectors say that a man caught
in Death Valley when these gales blew would never get out to tell
the tale.  And Jenet seemed to have something on her mind.  She was
no longer a leisurely, complacent burro.  Tappan imagined Jenet
seemed stern.  Most assuredly she knew now which way she wanted to
travel.  It was not easy for Tappan to keep up with her, and ten
paces beyond him she was out of sight.

At last Jenet headed the acid wash, and turned across the valley
into a field of broken salt crust, like the roughened ice of a
river that had broken and jammed, then frozen again.  Impossible
was it to make even a reasonable headway.  It was a zone, however,
that eventually gave way to Jenet's instinct for direction.  Tappan
had long ceased to try to keep his bearings.  North, south, east,
and west were all the same to him.  The night was a blank--the
darkness a wall--the silence a terrible menace flung at any living
creature.  Death Valley had endured them millions of years before
living creatures had existed.  It was no place for a man.

Tappan was now three hundred and more feet below sea level, in the
aftermath of a day that had registered one hundred and forty-five
degrees of heat.  He knew, when he began to lose thought and
balance, that only primitive instincts directed his bodily machine.
And he struggled with all his will power to keep hold of his sense
of sight and feeling.  He hoped to cross the lower level before the
midnight gales began to blow.

Tappan's hope was vain.  According to record, once in a long season
of intense heat, there came a night when the furnace winds broke
their schedule, and began early.  The misfortune of Tappan was that
he had struck this night.

Suddenly it seemed that the air, sodden with heat, began to move.
It had weight.  It moved soundlessly and ponderously.  But it
gathered momentum.  Tappan realized what was happening.  The
blanket of heat generated by the day was yielding to outside
pressure.  Something had created a movement of the hotter air that
must find its way upward, to give place for the cooler air that
must find its way down.

Tappan heard the first, low, distant moan of wind and it struck
terror in his heart.  It did not have an earthly sound.  Was that a
knell for him?  Nothing was surer than the fact that the desert
must sooner or later claim him as a victim.  Grim and strong, he
rebelled against the conviction.

That moan was a forerunner of others, growing louder and longer
until the weird sound became continuous.  Then the movement of wind
was accelerated and began to carry a fine dust.  Dark as the night
was, it did not hide the pale sheets of dust that moved along the
level plain.  Tappan's feet felt the slow rise in the floor of the
valley.  His nose recognized the zone of borax and alkali and niter
and sulphur.  He had reached the pit of the valley at the time of
the furnace winds.

The moan augmented to a roar, coming like a mighty storm through a
forest.  It was hellish--like the woeful tide of Acheron.  It
enveloped Tappan.  And the gale bore down in tremendous volume,
like a furnace blast.  Tappan seemed to feel his body penetrated by
a million needles of fire.  He seemed to dry up.  The blackness of
night had a spectral, whitish cast; the gloom was a whirling
medium; the valley floor was lost in a sheeted, fiercely seeping
stream of silt.  Deadly fumes swept by, not lingering long enough
to suffocate Tappan.  He would gasp and choke--then the poison gas
was gone on the gale.  But hardest to endure was the heavy body of
moving heat.  Tappan grew blind, so that he had to hold to Jenet,
and stumble along.  Every gasping breath was a tortured effort.  He
could not bear a scarf over his face.  His lungs heaved like great
leather bellows.  His heart pumped like an engine short of fuel.
This was the supreme test for his never proven endurance.  And he
was all but vanquished.

Tappan's senses of sight and smell and hearing failed him.  There
was left only the sense of touch--a feeling of rope and burro and
ground--and an awful insulating pressure upon his body.  His feet
marked a change from salty plain to sandy ascent and then to rocky
slope.  The pressure of wind gradually lessened, the difference in
air made life possible; the feeling of being dragged endlessly by
Jenet had ceased.  Tappan went his limit and fell into oblivion.

When he came to, he was suffering bodily tortures.  Sight was dim.
But he saw walls of rocks, green growths of mesquite, tamarack, and
grass.  Jenet was lying down, with her pack flopped to one side.
Tappan's dead ears recovered to a strange murmuring, babbling
sound.  Then he realized his deliverance.  Jenet had led him across
Death Valley, up into the mountain range, straight to a spring of
running water.

Tappan crawled to the edge of the water and drank guardedly, a
little at a time.  He had to quell terrific craving to drink his
fill.  Then he crawled to Jenet, and loosening the ropes of her
pack, freed her from its burden.  Jenet got up, apparently none the
worse for her ordeal.  She gazed mildly at Tappan, as if to say:
"Well, I got you out of that hole."

Tappan returned her gaze.  Were they only man and beast, alone in
the desert?  She seemed magnified to Tappan, no longer a plodding,
stupid burro.

"Jenet, you--saved--my life," Tappan tried to enunciate.  "I'll
never--forget."

Tappan was struck then to a realization of Jenet's service.  He was
unutterably grateful.  Yet the time came when he did forget.


II


Tappan had a weakness common to all prospectors:  Any tale of a
lost gold mine would excite his interest; and well-known legends of
lost mines always obsessed him.

Peg-leg Smith's lost gold mine had lured Tappan to no less than
half a dozen trips into the terrible shifting-sand country of
southern California.  There was no water near the region said to
hide this mine of fabulous wealth.  Many prospectors had left their
bones to bleach white in the sun, finally to be buried by the ever-
blowing sands.  Upon the occasion of Tappan's last escape from this
desolate and forbidding desert, he had promised Jenet never to
undertake it again.  It seemed Tappan promised the faithful burro a
good many things.  It had been a habit.

When Tappan had a particularly hard experience or perilous
adventure, he always took a dislike to the immediate country where
it had befallen him.  Jenet had dragged him across Death Valley,
through incredible heat and the midnight furnace winds of that
strange place; and he had promised her he would never forget how
she had saved his life.  Nor would he ever go back to Death Valley.
He made his way over the Funeral Mountains, worked down through
Nevada, and crossed the Rio Colorado above Needles, and entered
Arizona.  He traveled leisurely, but he kept going, and headed
southeast towards Globe.  There he cashed one of his six bags of
gold, and indulged in the luxury of a complete new outfit.  Even
Jenet appreciated this fact, for the old outfit would scarcely hold
together.

Tappan had the other five bags of gold in his pack; and after hours
of hesitation he decided he would not cash them and entrust the
money to a bank.  He would take care of them.  For him the value of
this gold amounted to a small fortune.  Many plans suggested
themselves to Tappan.  But in the end he grew weary of them.  What
did he want with a ranch, or cattle or an outfitting store, or any
of the businesses he now had the means to buy?  Towns soon palled
on Tappan.  People did not long please him.  Selfish interest and
greed seemed paramount everywhere.  Besides, if he acquired a place
to take up his time, what would become of Jenet?  That question
decided him.  He packed the burro and once more took to the trails.

A dim, lofty, purple range called alluringly to Tappan.  The
Superstition Mountains.  Somewhere in that purple mass hid the
famous treasure called the Lost Dutchman gold mine.  Tappan had
heard the story often.  A Dutch prospector struck gold in the
Superstitions.  He kept the location a secret.  When he ran short
of money, he would disappear for a few weeks, and then return with
bags of gold.  Wherever his strike, it assuredly was a rich one.
No one could trail him or get a word out of him.  Time passed.  A
few years made him old.  During this time he conceived a liking for
a young man, and eventually confided to him that some day he would
tell him the secret of his gold mine.  He had drawn a map of the
landmarks adjacent to his mine.  But he was careful not to put on
paper directions how to get there.  It chanced that he suddenly
fell ill and saw his end was near.  Then he summoned the young man
who had been so fortunate as to win his regard.  Now this
individual was a ne'er-do-well, and upon this occasion he was half
drunk.  The dying Dutchman produced his map, and gave it with
verbal directions to the young man.  Then he died.  When the
recipient of this fortune recovered from the effects of liquor, he
could not remember all the Dutchman had told him.  He tortured
himself to remember names and places.  But the mine was up in the
Superstition Mountains.  He never remembered.  He never found the
lost mine, though he spent his life and died trying.  Thus the
story passed into the legend of the Lost Dutchman.

Tappan now had his try at finding it.  But for him the shifting
sands of the southern California desert or even the barren and
desolate Death Valley were preferable to this Superstition Range.
It was a harder country than the Pinacate of Sonora.  Tappan hated
cactus, and the Superstitions were full of it.  Everywhere stood up
the huge sahuaro, the giant cacti of the Arizona plateaus, tall,
like branchless trees, fluted and columnar, beautiful and
fascinating to gaze upon, but obnoxious to prospector and burro.

One day from a north slope Tappan saw afar a wonderful country of
black timber, above which zigzagged for many miles a yellow,
winding rampart of rock.  This he took to be the rim of the
Mogollon Mesa, one of Arizona's freaks of nature.  Something called
Tappan.  He was forever victim to yearnings for the unattainable.
He was tired of heat, glare, dust, bare rock, and thorny cactus.
The Lost Dutchman gold mine was a myth.  Besides, he did not need
any more gold.

Next morning Tappan packed Jenet and worked down off the north
slopes of the Superstition Range.  That night about sunset he made
camp on the bank of a clear brook, with grass and wood in abundance--
such a camp site as a prospector dreamed of but seldom found.

Before dark Jenet's long ears told of the advent of strangers.  A
man and a woman rode down the trail into Tappan's camp.  They had
poor horses, and led a pack animal that appeared too old and weak
to bear up under even the meager pack he carried.

"Howdy," said the man.

Tappan rose from his task to his lofty height and returned the
greeting.  The man was middle-aged, swarthy, and rugged, a
mountaineer, with something about him that Tappan instinctively
distrusted.  The woman was under thirty, comely in a full-blown
way, with rich brown skin and glossy dark hair.  She had wide-open
black eyes that bent a curious, possession-taking gaze upon Tappan.

"Care if we camp with you?" she inquired, and she smiled.

That smile changed Tappan's habit and conviction of a lifetime.

"No indeed.  Reckon I'd like a little company," he said.

Very probably Jenet did not understand Tappan's words, but she
dropped one ear, and walked out of camp to the green bank.

"Thanks, stranger," replied the woman.  "That grub shore smells
good."  She hesitated a moment, evidently waiting to catch her
companion's eye, then she continued.  "My name's Madge Beam.  He's
my brother Jake. . . .  Who might you happen to be?"

"I'm Tappan, a lone prospector, as you see," replied Tappan.

"Tappan.  What's your front handle?" she queried, curiously.

"Fact is, I don't remember," replied Tappan, as he brushed a huge
hand through his shaggy hair.

"Ahuh?  Any name's good enough."

When she dismounted, Tappan saw that she had a tall, lithe figure,
garbed in rider's overalls and boots.  She unsaddled her horse with
the dexterity of long practice.  The saddlebags she carried over to
the spot the man Jake had selected to throw the pack.

Tappan heard them talking in low tones.  It struck him as strange
that he did not have his usual reaction to an invasion of his
privacy and solitude.  Tappan had thrilled under those black eyes.
And now a queer sensation of the unusual rose in him.  Bending over
his campfire tasks he pondered this and that, but mostly the sense
of the nearness of a woman.  Like most desert men, Tappan knew
little of the other sex.  A few that he might have been drawn to
went out of his wandering life as quickly as they had entered it.
This Madge Beam took possession of his thoughts.  An evidence of
Tappan's preoccupation was the fact that he burned his first batch
of biscuits.  And Tappan felt proud of his culinary ability.  He
was on his knees, mixing more flour and water, when the woman spoke
from right behind him.

"Tough luck you burned the first pan," she said.  "But it's a good
turn for your burro.  That shore is a burro.  Biggest I ever saw."

She picked up the burned biscuits and tossed them over to Jenet.
Then she came back to Tappan's side, rather embarrassingly close.

"Tappan, I know how I'll eat, so I ought to ask you to let me
help," she said with a laugh.

"No, I don't need any," replied Tappan.  "You sit down on my roll
of beddin' there.  Must be tired, aren't you?"

"Not so very," she returned.  "That is, I'm not tired of ridin'."
She spoke the second part of this reply in a lower tone.

Tappan looked up from his task.  The woman had washed her face,
brushed her hair, and had put on a skirt--a singularly attractive
change.  Tappan thought her younger.  She was the handsomest woman
he had ever seen.  The look of her made him clumsy.  What eyes she
had.  They looked through him.  Tappan returned to his task,
wondering if he was right in his surmise that she wanted to be
friendly.

"Jake an' I drove a bunch of cattle to Maricopa," she volunteered.
"We sold 'em, an' Jake gambled away most of the money.  I couldn't
get what I wanted."

"Too bad.  So you're ranchers.  Once thought I'd like that.  Fact
is, down here at Globe a few weeks ago I came near buyin' some
rancher out an' tryin' the game."

"You did?"  Her query had a low, quick eagerness that somehow
thrilled Tappan.  But he did not look up.

"I'm a wanderer.  I'd never do on a ranch."

"But if you had a woman?"  Her laugh was subtle and gay.

"A woman?  For me?  Oh, Lord, no," ejaculated Tappan, in confusion.

"Why not?  Are you a woman hater?"

"I can't say that," replied Tappan, soberly.  "It's just--I guess--
no woman would have me."

"Faint heart never won fair lady."

Tappan had no reply for that.  He surely was making a mess of the
second pan of biscuit dough.  Manifestly the woman saw this, for
with a laugh she plumped down on her knees in front of Tappan, and
rolled her sleeves up over shapely brown arms.

"Poor man.  Shore you need a woman.  Let me show you," she said,
and put her hands right down upon Tappan's.  The touch gave him a
strange thrill.  He had to pull his hands away, and as he wiped
them with his scarf he looked at her.  He seemed compelled to look.
She was close to him now, smiling in good nature, a little scornful
of man's encroachment upon the housewifely duties of a woman.  A
subtle something emanated from her--a more than kindness or gaiety.
Tappan grasped that it was just the woman of her.  And it was going
to his head.

"Very well, let's see you show me," he replied, as he rose to his
feet.

Just then the brother Jake strolled over, and he had a rather
amused and derisive eye for his sister.

"Wal, Tappan, she's not overfond of work, but I reckon she can
cook," he said.

Tappan felt greatly relieved at the approach of this brother.  And
he fell into conversation with him, telling something of his
prospecting since leaving Globe, and listening to the man's cattle
talk.  By and by the woman called, "Come an' get it."  Then they
sat down to eat, and, as usual with hungry wayfarers, they did not
talk much until appetite was satisfied.  Afterward, before the
campfire, they began to talk again, Jake being the most discursive.
Tappan conceived the idea that the rancher was rather curious about
him, and perhaps wanted to sell his ranch.  The woman seemed more
thoughtful, with her wide black eyes on the fire.

"Tappan, what way you travelin'?" finally inquired Beam.

"Can't say.  I just worked down out of the Superstitions.  Haven't
any place in mind.  Where does this road go?"

"To the Tonto Basin.  Ever heard of it?"

"Yes, the name isn't new.  What's in the Basin?"

The man grunted.  "Tonto once was home for the Apache.  It's now
got a few sheep an' cattlemen, lots of rustlers.  An' say, if you
like to hunt bear an' deer, come along with us."

"Thanks.  I don't know as I can," returned Tappan, irresolutely.
He was not used to such possibilities as this suggested.

Then the woman spoke up.  "It's a pretty country.  Wild an'
different.  We live up under the rim rock.  There's mineral in the
canyons."

Was it that about mineral which decided Tappan or the look in her
eyes?

Tappan's world of thought and feeling underwent as great a change
as this Tonto Basin differed from the stark desert so long his
home.  The trail to the log cabin of the Beams climbed many a ridge
and slope and foothill, all covered with manzanite, mescal, cedar,
and juniper, at last to reach the canyons of the Rim, where lofty
pines and spruces lorded it over the underforest of maples and
oaks.  Though the yellow rim towered high over the site of the
cabin, the altitude was still great, close to seven thousand feet
above sea level.

Tappan had fallen in love with this wild, wooded and canyoned
country.  So had Jenet.  It was rather funny the way she hung
around Tappan, mornings and evenings.  She ate luxuriant grass and
oak leaves until her sides bulged.

There did not appear to be any flat places in this landscape.
Every bench was either uphill or downhill.  The Beams had no garden
or farm or ranch that Tappan could discover.  They raised a few
acres of sorghum and corn.  Their log cabin was of the most
primitive kind, and outfitted poorly.  Madge Beam explained that
this cabin was their winter abode, and that up on the Rim they had
a good house and ranch.  Tappan did not inquire closely into
anything.  If he had interrogated himself, he would have found out
that the reason he did not inquire was because he feared something
might remove him from the vicinity of Madge Beam.  He had thought
it strange the Beams avoided wayfarers they had met on the trail,
and had gone round a little hamlet Tappan had espied from a hill.
Madge Beam, with woman's intuition, had read his mind, and had
said:  "Jake doesn't get along so well with some of the villagers.
An' I've no hankerin' for gun play."  That explanation was
sufficient for Tappan.  He had lived long enough in his wandering
years to appreciate that people could have reasons for being
solitary.

This trip up into the Rim Rock country bade fair to become Tappan's
one and only adventure of the heart.  It was not alone the
murmuring, clear brook of cold mountain water that enchanted him,
nor the stately pines, nor the beautiful, silver spruces, nor the
wonder of the deep, yellow-walled canyons, so choked with verdure,
and haunted by wild creatures.  He dared not face his soul, and ask
why this dark-eyed woman sought him more and more.  Tappan lived in
the moment.

He was aware that the few mountaineer neighbors who rode that way
rather avoided contact with him.  Tappan was not so dense that he
did not perceive that the Beams preferred to keep him from
outsiders.  This perhaps was owing to their desire to sell Tappan
the ranch and cattle.  Jake offered to let it go at what he called
a low figure.  Tappan thought it just as well to go out into the
forest and hide his bags of gold.  He did not trust Jake Beam, and
liked less the looks of the men who visited this wilderness ranch.
Madge Beam might be related to a rustler, and the associate of
rustlers, but that did not necessarily make her a bad woman.
Tappan sensed her attitude was changing, and she seemed to require
his respect.  At first, all she wanted was his admiration.
Tappan's long unused deference for women returned to him, and when
he saw that it was having some strange softening effect upon Madge
Beam, he redoubled his attentions.  They rode and climbed and
hunted together.  Tappan had pitched his camp not far from the
cabin, on a shaded bank of the singing brook.  Madge did not leave
him much to himself.  She was always coming up to his camp, on one
pretext or another.  Often she would bring two horses, and make
Tappan ride with her.  Some of these occasions, Tappan saw,
occurred while visitors came to the cabin.  In three weeks Madge
Beam changed from the bold and careless woman who had ridden down
into his camp that sunset, to a serious and appealing woman,
growing more careful of her person and adornment, and manifestly
bearing a burden on her mind.

October came.  In the morning white frost glistened on the split-
wood shingles of the cabin.  The sun soon melted it, and grew warm.
The afternoons were still and smoky, melancholy with the
enchantment of Indian summer.  Tappan hunted wild turkey and deer
with Madge, and revived his boyish love of such pursuits.  Madge
appeared to be a woman of the woods, and had no mean skill with the
rifle.

One day they were high on the Rim, with the great timbered basin at
their feet.  They had come up to hunt deer, but got no farther than
the wonderful promontory where before they had lingered.

"Somethin' will happen to me today," Madge Beam said,
enigmatically.

Tappan never had been much of a talker.  But he could listen.  The
woman unburdened herself this day.  She wanted freedom, happiness,
a home away from this lonely country, and all the heritage of
woman.  She confessed it broodingly, passionately.  And Tappan
recognized truth when he heard it.  He was ready to do all in his
power for this woman and believed she knew it.  But words and acts
of sentiment came hard to him.

"Are you goin' to buy Jake's ranch?" she asked.

"I don't know.  Is there any hurry?" returned Tappan.

"I reckon not.  But I think I'll settle that," she said,
decisively.

"How so?"

"Well, Jake hasn't got any ranch," she answered.  And added
hastily, "No clear title, I mean.  He's only homesteaded one
hundred an' sixty acres, an' hasn't proved up on it yet.  But don't
you say I told you."

"Was Jake aimin' to be crooked?"

"I reckon. . . .  An' I was willin' at first.  But not now."

Tappan did not speak at once.  He saw the woman was in one of her
brooding moods.  Besides, he wanted to weigh her words.  How
significant they were.  Today more than ever she had let down.
Humility and simplicity seemed to abide with her.  And her brooding
boded a storm.  Tappan's heart swelled in his broad breast.  Was
life going to dawn rosy and bright for the lonely prospector?  He
had money to make a home for this woman.  What lay in the balance
of the hour?  Tappan waited, slowly realizing the charged
atmosphere.

Madge's somber eyes gazed out over the great void.  But, full of
thought and passion as they were, they did not see the beauty of
the scene.  But Tappan saw it.  And in some strange sense the color
and wildness and sublimity seemed the expression of a new state of
his heart.  Under him sheered down the ragged and cracked cliffs of
the Rim, yellow and gold and gray, full of caves and crevices,
ledges for eagles and niches for lions, a thousand feet down to the
upward edge of the long green slopes and canyons, and so on down
and down into the abyss of forested ravine and ridge, rolling
league on league away to the encompassing barrier of purple
mountain ranges.

The thickets in the canyons called Tappan's eye back to linger
there.  How different from the scenes that used to be perpetually
in his sight.  What riot of color.  The tips of the green pines,
the crests of the silver spruces, waved about masses of vivid gold
aspen trees, and wonderful cerise and flaming red of maples, and
crags of yellow rock, covered with the bronze of frostbitten sumac.
Here was autumn and with it the colors of Tappan's favorite season.
From below breathed up the low roar of plunging brook; an eagle
screeched his wild call; an elk bugled his piercing blast.  From
the Rim wisps of pine needles blew away on the breeze and fell into
the void.  A wild country, colorful, beautiful, bountiful.  Tappan
imagined he could quell his wandering spirit here, with this dark-
eyed woman by his side.  Never before had Nature so called him.
Here was not the cruelty or flinty hardness of the desert.  The air
was keen and sweet, cold in the shade, warm in the sun.  A
fragrance of balsam and spruce, spiced with pine, made his
breathing a thing of difficulty and delight.  How for so many years
had he endured vast open spaces without such eye-soothing trees as
these?  Tappan's back rested against a huge pine that tipped the
Rim, and had stood there, stronger than the storms, for many a
hundred years.  The rock of the promontory was covered with soft
brown mats of pine needles.  A juniper tree, with its bright green
foliage and lilac-colored berries, grew near the pine, and helped
to form a secluded little nook, fragrant and somehow haunting.  The
woman's dark head was close to Tappan, as she sat with her elbows
on her knees, gazing down into the basin.  Tappan saw the strained
tensity of her posture, the heaving of her full bosom.  He
wondered, while his own emotions, so long darkened, roused to the
suspense of that hour.

Suddenly she flung herself into Tappan's arms.  The act amazed him.
It seemed to have both the passion of a woman and the shame of a
girl.  Before she hid her face on Tappan's breast, he saw how the
rich brown had paled, and then flamed.

"Tappan. . . .  Take me away. . . .  Take me away from here--from
that life down there," she cried, in smothered voice.

"Madge, you mean take you away--and marry you?" he replied.

"Oh--yes--yes--marry me, if you love me. . . .  I don't see how you
can--but you do, don't you?--Say you do."

"I reckon that's what ails me, Madge," he replied simply.

"Say so, then," she burst out.

"All right, I do," said Tappan, with heavy breath.  "Madge, words
don't come easy for me. . . .  But I think you're wonderful, an' I
want you.  I haven't dared hope for that, till now.  I'm only a
wanderer.  But it'd be heaven to have you--my wife--an' make a home
for you."

"Oh--Oh," she returned, wildly, and lifted herself to cling round
his neck, and to kiss him.  "You give me joy. . . .  Oh, Tappan, I
love you.  I never loved any man before.  I know now. . . .  An'
I'm not wonderful--or good.  But I love you."

The fire of her lips and the clasp of her arms worked havoc in
Tappan.  No woman had ever loved him, let alone embraced him.  To
awake suddenly to such rapture as this made him strong and rough in
his response.  Then all at once she seemed to collapse in his arms
and to begin to weep.  He feared he had offended or hurt her, and
was clumsy in his contrition.  Presently she replied:

"Pretty soon--I'll make you--beat me. . . .  Tappan, I was party to
a trick to--sell you a worthless ranch. . . .  I agreed to--try to
make you love me--to fool you--cheat you. . . .  But I've fallen in
love with you.  An' my God, I care more for your love--your respect--
than for my life.  I can't go on with it.  I've double-crossed
Jake, an' all of them. . . .  Now, am I worth lovin'?  Am I worth
havin'?"

"More than ever, dear," he said.

"You will take me away?"

"Anywhere--any time, the sooner the better."

She kissed him passionately, and then, disengaging herself from his
arms, she knelt and gazed earnestly at him.  "I've not told all.  I
will some day.  But I swear now on my soul--I'll be what you think
me."

"Madge, you needn't say all that.  If you love me--it's enough.
More than I ever dreamed of."

"You're a man.  Oh, why didn't I meet you when I was eighteen
instead of now--twenty eight, an' all that between. . . .  But
enough.  A new life begins here for me.  We must plan."

"You make the plans an' I'll act on them."

For a moment she was tense and silent, head bowed, hands shut
tight.  Then she spoke:

"Tonight we'll slip away.  You make a light pack, that'll go on
your saddle.  I'll do the same.  We'll hide the horses out near
where the trail crosses the brook.  An' we'll run off and ride out
of the country."

Tappan in turn tried to think, but the whirl of his mind made any
reason difficult.  This dark-eyed, full-bosomed woman loved him,
had surrendered herself, asked only his protection.  The thing
seemed marvelous.  Yet she knelt there, those dark eyes on him,
infinitely more appealing than ever, haunting with some mystery of
sadness and fear he could not divine.

Suddenly Tappan remembered Jenet.

"I must take Jenet," he said.

That startled her.  "Jenet--who's she?"

"My burro."

"Your burro.  You can't travel fast with that pack beast.  We'll be
trailed, an' we'll have to go fast. . . .  You can't take the
burro."

Then Tappan was startled.  "What?  Can't take Jenet?--Why, I--I
couldn't get along without her."

"Nonsense.  What's a burro?  We must ride fast--do you hear?"

"Madge, I'm afraid I--I must take Jenet with me," he said, soberly.

"It's impossible.  I can't go if you take her.  I tell you I've got
to get away.  If you want me you'll have to leave your precious
Jenet behind."

Tappan bowed his head to the inevitable.  After all, Jenet was only
a beast of burden.  She would run wild on the ridges and soon
forget him and have no need of him.  Something strained in Tappan's
breast.  He did not see clearly here.  This woman was worth more
than all else to him.

"I'm stupid, dear," he said.  "You see I never before ran off with
a beautiful woman. . . .  Of course, my burro must be left behind."

Elopement, if such it could be called, was easy for them.  Tappan
did not understand why Madge wanted to be so secret about it.  Was
she not free?  But then, he reflected, he did not know the
circumstances she feared.  Besides, he did not care.  Possession of
the woman was enough.

Tappan made his small pack, the weight of which was considerable
owing to his bags of gold.  This he tied on his saddle.  It
bothered him to leave most of his new outfit scattered around his
camp.  What would Jenet think of that?  He looked for her, but for
once she did not come in at mealtime.  Tappan thought this was
singular.  He could not remember when Jenet had been far from his
camp at sunset.  Somehow Tappan was glad.

After he had his supper, he left his utensils and supplies as they
happened to be, and strode away under the trees to the trysting-
place where he was to meet Madge.  To his surprise she came before
dark, and, unused as he was to the complexity and emotional nature
of a woman, he saw that she was strangely agitated.  Her face was
pale.  Almost a fury burned in her black eyes.  When she came up to
Tappan, and embraced him, almost fiercely, he felt that he was
about to learn more of the nature of womankind.  She thrilled him
to his depths.

"Lead out the horses an' don't make any noise," she whispered.

Tappan complied, and soon he was mounted, riding behind her on the
trail.  It surprised him that she headed down country, and traveled
fast.  Moreover, she kept to a trail that continually grew rougher.
They came to a road, which she crossed, and kept on through
darkness and brush so thick that Tappan could not see the least
sign of a trail.  And at length anyone could see that Madge had
lost her bearings.  She appeared to know the direction she wanted,
but traveling upon it was impossible, owing to the increasingly cut-
up and brushy ground.  They had to turn back, and seemed to be
hours finding the road.  Once Tappan fancied he heard the thud of
hoofs other than those made by their own horses.  Here Madge acted
strangely, and where she had been obsessed by desire to hurry she
now seemed to have grown weary.  She turned her horse south on the
road.  Tappan was thus enabled to ride beside her.  But they talked
very little.  He was satisfied with the fact of being with her on
the way out of the country.  Some time in the night they reached an
old log shack by the roadside.  Here Tappan suggested they halt,
and get some sleep before dawn.  The morrow would mean a long hard
day.

"Yes, tomorrow will be hard," replied Madge, as she faced Tappan in
the gloom.  He could see her big dark eyes on him.  Her tone was
not one of a hopeful woman.  Tappan pondered over this.  But he
could not understand, because he had no idea how a woman ought to
act under such circumstances.  Madge Beam was a creature of moods.
Only the day before, on the ride down from the Rim, she had told
him with a laugh that she was likely to love him madly one moment
and scratch his eyes out the next.  How could he know what to make
of her?  Still, an uneasy feeling began to stir in Tappan.

They dismounted, and unsaddled the horses.  Tappan took his pack
and put it aside.  Something frightened the horses.  They bolted
down the road.

"Head them off," cried the woman, hoarsely.

Even at that instant her voice sounded strained to Tappan, as if
she were choked.  But, realizing the absolute necessity of catching
the horses, he set off down the road on a run.  And he soon
succeeded in heading off the animal he had ridden.  The other one,
however, was contrary and cunning.  When Tappan would endeavor to
get ahead, it would trot briskly on.  Yet it did not go so fast but
what Tappan felt sure he would soon catch it.  Thus walking and
running, he put some distance between him and the cabin before he
realized that he could not head off the wary beast.  Much perturbed
in mind, Tappan hurried back.

Upon reaching the cabin Tappan called to Madge.  No answer.  He
could not see her in the gloom nor the horse he had driven back.
Only silence brooded there.  Tappan called again.  Still no answer.
Perhaps Madge had succumbed to weariness and was asleep.  A search
of the cabin and vicinity failed to yield any sign of her.  But it
disclosed the fact that Tappan's pack was gone.

Suddenly he sat down, quite overcome.  He had been duped.  What a
fierce pang tore his heart.  But it was for loss of the woman--not
the gold.  He was stunned, and then sick with bitter misery.  Only
then did Tappan realize the meaning of love and what it had done to
him.  The night wore on, and he sat there in the dark and cold and
stillness until the grey dawn told him of the coming of day.

The light showed his saddle where he had left it.  Near by lay one
of Madge's gloves.  Tappan's keen eye sighted a bit of paper
sticking out of the glove.

He picked it up.  It was a leaf out of a little book he had seen
her carry, and upon it was written in lead pencil:

"I am Jake's wife, not his sister.  I double-crossed him an' ran
off with you an' would have gone to hell for you.  But Jake an' his
gang suspected me.  They were close on our trail.  I couldn't shake
them.  So here I chased off the horses an' sent you after them.  It
was the only way I could save your life."

Tappan tracked the thieves to Globe.  There he learned they had
gone to Phoenix--three men and one woman.  Tappan had money on his
person.  He bought horse and saddle, and, setting out for Phoenix,
he let his passion to kill grow with the miles and hours.  At
Phoenix he learned Beam had cashed the gold--twelve thousand
dollars.  So much of a fortune.  Tappan's fury grew.  The gang
separated here.  Beam and his wife took the stage for Tucson.
Tappan had no trouble in trailing their movements.

Gambling dives and inns and freighting posts and stage drivers told
the story of the Beams and their ill-gotten gold.  They went on to
California, down into Tappan's country, to Yuma and El Cajon, and
San Diego.  Here Tappan lost track of the woman.  He could not find
that she had left San Diego, nor any trace of her there.  But Jake
Beam had killed a Mexican in a brawl and had fled across the line.

Tappan gave up for the time being the chase of Beam, and bent his
efforts to find the woman.  He had no resentment toward Madge.  He
only loved her.  All that winter he searched San Diego.  He made of
himself a peddler as a ruse to visit houses.  But he never found a
trace of her.  In the spring he wandered back to Yuma, raking over
the old clues, and so on back to Tucson and Phoenix.

This year of dream and love and passion and despair and hate made
Tappan old.  His great strength and endurance were not yet
impaired, but something of his spirit had died out of him.

One day he remembered Jenet.  "My burro," he soliloquized.  "I had
forgotten her. . . .  Jenet."

Then it seemed a thousand impulses merged in one drove him to face
the long road toward the Rim Rock country.  To remember Jenet was
to grow doubtful.  Of course, she would be gone.  Stolen or dead or
wandered off.  But then who could tell what Jenet might do?  Tappan
was both called and driven.  He was a poor wanderer again.  His
outfit was a pack he carried on his shoulder.  But while he could
walk he would keep on until he found that last camp where he had
deserted Jenet.

October was coloring the canyon slopes when he reached the shadow
of the great wall of yellow rock.  The cabin where the Beams had
lived--or had claimed they lived--was a fallen ruin, crushed by
snow.  Tappan saw other signs of a severe winter and heavy
snowfall.  No horse or cattle tracks showed in the trails.

To his amaze his camp was much as he had left it.  The stone
fireplace, the iron pots, appeared to be in the same places.  The
boxes that had held his supplies were lying here and there.  And
his canvas tarpaulin, little the worse for wear of the elements,
lay on the ground under the pine where he had slept.  If any man
had visited this camp in a year, he had left no sign of it.

Suddenly Tappan espied a hoof track in the dust.  A small track--
almost oval in shape--fresh.  Tappan thrilled through all his
being.

"Jenet's track, so help me God," he murmured.

He found more of them, made that morning.  And, keen now as never
before on her trail, he set out to find her.  The tracks led up the
canyon.  Tappan came out into a little grassy clearing, and there
stood Jenet, as he had seen her thousands of times.  She had both
long ears up high.  She seemed to stare out of that meek, gray
face.  And then one of the long ears flopped over and dropped.
Such perhaps was the expression of her recognition.

Tappan strode up to her.

"Jenet--old girl--you hung round camp--waitin' for me, didn't you?"
he said, huskily, and his big hands fondled her long ears.

Yes, she had waited.  She, too, had grown old.  She was gray.  The
winter of that year had been hard.  What had she lived on when the
snow lay so deep?  There were lion scratches on her back, and scars
on her legs.  She had fought for her life.

"Jenet, a man can never always tell about a burro," said Tappan.
"I trained you to hang round camp an' wait till I came back. . . .
'Tappan's burro,' the desert rats used to say.  An' they'd laugh
when I bragged how you'd stick to me where most men would quit.
But brag as I did, I never knew you, Jenet.  An' I left you--an'
forgot.  Jenet, it takes a human bein'--a man--a woman--to be
faithless.  An' it takes a dog or a horse or a burro to be
great. . . .  Beasts?  I wonder now. . . .  Well, old pard, we're
goin' down the trail together, an' from this day on Tappan begins
to pay his debt."


III


Tappan never again had the old wanderlust for the stark and naked
desert.  Something had transformed him.  The green and fragrant
forests, and brown-aisled, pine-matted woodlands, the craggy
promontories and the great colored canyons, the cold granite water
springs of the Tonto seemed vastly preferable to the heat and dust
and glare and emptiness of the wastelands.  But there was more.
The ghost of his strange and only love kept pace with his wandering
steps, a spirit that hovered with him as a shadow.  Madge Beam,
whatever she had been, had shown him the power of love to refine
and ennoble.  Somehow he felt closer to her here in the cliff
country where his passion had been born.  Somehow she seemed nearer
to him here than in all those places he had tracked her.

So from a prospector searching for gold Tappan became a hunter,
seeking only the means to keep soul and body together.  And all he
cared for was his faithful burro Jenet, and the loneliness and
silence of the forest land.

He was to learn that the Tonto was a hard country in many ways, and
bitterly so in winter.  Down in the brakes of the basin it was mild
in winter, the snow did not lie long, and ice seldom formed.  But
up on the Rim, where Tappan always lingered as long as possible,
the storm king of the north held full sway.  Fifteen feet of snow
and zero weather were the rule in dead of winter.

An old native once warned Tappan:  "See hyar, friend, I reckon
you'd better not get caught up in the Rim Rock country in one of
our big storms.  Fer if you do, you'll never get out."

It was a way of Tappan's to follow his inclinations, regardless of
advice.  He had weathered the terrible midnight storm of hot wind
in Death Valley.  What were snow and cold to him?  Late autumn on
the Rim was the most perfect and beautiful of seasons.  He had seen
the forest land brown and darkly green one day, and the next
burdened with white snow.  What a transfiguration.  Then when the
sun loosened the white mantling on the pines, and they had shed
their burdens in drifting dust of white, and rain-bowed mists of
melting snow, and avalanches sliding off the branches, there would
be left only the wonderful white floor of the woodland.  The great
rugged brown tree trunks appeared mightier and statelier in the
contrast; and the green of foliage, the russet of oak leaves, the
gold of the aspens, turned the forest into a world enchanting to
the desert-seared eyes of this wanderer.

With Tappan the years sped by.  His mind grew old faster than his
body.  Every season saw him lonelier.  He had a feeling, a vague
illusive foreshadowing that his bones, instead of bleaching on the
desert sands, would mingle with the pine mats and the soft fragrant
moss of the forest.  The idea was pleasant to Tappan.

One afternoon he was camped in Pine Canyon, a timber-sloped gorge
far back from the Rim.  November was well on.  The fall had been
singularly open and fair, with not a single storm.  A few natives
happening across Tappan had remarked casually that such autumns
sometimes were not to be trusted.

This late afternoon was one of Indian summer beauty and warmth.
The blue haze in the canyon was not all the blue smoke from
Tappan's campfire.  In a narrow park of grass not far from camp
Jenet grazed peacefully with elk and deer.  Wild turkeys lingered
there, loath to seek their winter quarters down in the basin.  Gray
squirrels and red squirrels barked and frisked, and dropped the
pine and spruce cones, with thud and thump, on all the slopes.

Before dark a stranger strode into Tappan's camp, a big man of
middle age, whose magnificent physique impressed even Tappan.  He
was a rugged, bearded giant, wide-eyed and of pleasant face.  He
had no outfit, no horse, not even a gun.

"Lucky for me I smelled your smoke," he said.  "Two days for me
without grub."

"Howdy, stranger," was Tappan's greeting.  "Are you lost?"

"Yes an' no.  I could find my way out down over the Rim, but it's
not healthy down there for me.  So I'm hittin' north."

"Where's your horse an' pack?"

"I reckon they're with the gang thet took more of a fancy to them
than me."

"Ahuh.  You're welcome here, stranger," replied Tappan.  "I'm
Tappan."

"Ha.  Heard of you.  I'm Jess Blade, of anywhere.  An' I'll say,
Tappan, I was an honest man till I hit the Tonto."

His laugh was frank, for all its note of grimness.  Tappan liked
the man, and sensed one who would be a good friend and bad foe.

"Come an' eat.  My supplies are peterin' out, but there's plenty of
meat."

Blade ate, indeed, as a man starved, and did not seem to care if
Tappan's supplies were low.  He did not talk.  After the meal he
craved a pipe and tobacco.  Then he smoked in silence, in a slow
realizing content.  The morrow had no fears for him.  The
flickering ruddy light from the campfire shone on his strong face.
Tappan saw in him the drifter, the drinker, the brawler, a man with
good in him, but over whom evil passion or temper dominated.
Presently he smoked the pipe out, and with reluctant hand knocked
out the ashes and returned it to Tappan.

"I reckon I've some news thet'd interest you,"' he said.

"You have?" queried Tappan.

"Yes, if you're the Tappan who tried to run off with Jake Beam's
wife."

"Well, I'm that Tappan.  But I'd like to say I didn't know she was
married."

"Shore, I know thet.  So does everybody in the Tonto.  You were
just meat for thet Beam gang.  They had played the trick before.
But accordin' to what I hear thet trick was the last fer Madge
Beam.  She never came back to this country.  An' Jake Beam, when he
was drunk, owned up thet she'd left him in California.  Some hint
at worse.  Fer Jake Beam came back a harder man.  Even his gang
said thet."

"Is he in the Tonto now?" queried Tappan, with a thrill of fire
along his veins.

"Yep, thar fer keeps," replied Blade, grimly.  "Somebody shot him."

"Ahuh," exclaimed Tappan with a deep breath of relief.  There came
a sudden cooling of the heat of his blood.

After that there was a long silence.  Tappan dreamed of the woman
who had loved him.  Blade brooded over the campfire.  The wind
moaned fitfully in the lofty pines on the slope.  A wolf mourned as
if in hunger.  The stars appeared to obscure their radiance in
haze.

"Reckon thet wind sounds like storm," observed Blade, presently.

"I've heard it for weeks now," replied Tappan.

"Are you a woodsman?"

"No, I'm a desert man."

"Wal, you take my hunch an' hit the trail fer low country."

This was well meant, and probably sound advice, but it alienated
Tappan.  He had really liked this hearty-voiced stranger.  Tappan
thought moodily of his slowly ingrowing mind, of the narrowness of
his soul.  He was past interest in his fellow men.  He lived with a
dream.  The only living creature he loved was a lop-eared, lazy
burro, growing old in contentment.  Nevertheless that night Tappan
shared one of his two blankets.

In the morning the grey dawn broke, and the sun rose without its
brightness of gold.  There was a haze over the blue sky.  Thin,
swift-moving clouds scudded up out of the southwest.  The wind was
chill, the forest shaggy and dark, the birds and squirrels were
silent.

"Wal, you'll break camp today," asserted Blade.

"Nope.  I'll stick it out yet a while," returned Tappan.

"But, man, you might get snowed in, an' up hyar thet's serious."

"Ahuh.  Well, it won't bother me.  An' there's nothin' holdin'
you."

"Tappan, it's four days' walk down out of this woods.  If a big
snow set in, how'd I make it?"

"Then you'd better go out over the Rim," suggested Tappan.

"No.  I'll take my chance the other way.  But are you meanin' you'd
rather not have me with you?  Fer you can't stay hyar."

Tappan was in a quandary.

Some instinct bade him tell the man to go.  Not empty-handed, but
to go.  But this was selfish, and entirely unlike Tappan as he
remembered himself of old.  Finally he spoke:

"You're welcome to half my outfit--go or stay."

"Thet's mighty square of you, Tappan," responded the other
feelingly.  "Have you a burro you'll give me?"

"No, I've only one."

"Ha.  Then I'll have to stick with you till you leave."

No more was said.  They had breakfast in a strange silence.  The
wind brooded its secret in the treetops.  Tappan's burro strolled
into camp, and caught the stranger's eye.

"Wal, thet's shore a fine burro," he observed.  "Never saw the
like."

Tappan performed his camp tasks.  And then there was nothing to do
but sit around the fire.  Blade evidently waited for the increasing
menace of storm to rouse Tappan to decision.  But the greying over
of sky and the increase of wind did not affect Tappan.  What did he
wait for?  The truth of his thoughts was that he did not like the
way Jenet remained in camp.  She was waiting to be packed.  She
knew they ought to go.  Tappan yielded to a perverse devil of
stubbornness.  The wind brought a cold mist, then a flurry of wet
snow.  Tappan paid no heed.  By nightfall sleet and snow began to
fall steadily.  The men fashioned a rude shack of spruce boughs,
ate their supper, and went to bed early.

It worried Tappan that Jenet stayed right in camp.  He lay awake a
long time.  The wind rose, and moaned through the forest.  The
sleet failed, and a soft, steady downfall of snow gradually set in.
Tappan fell asleep.  When he awoke it was to see a forest of white.
The trees were mantled with blankets of wet snow, the ground
covered two feet on a level.  But the clouds appeared to be gone,
the sky was blue, the storm over.  The sun came up warm and bright.

"It'll all go in a day," said Tappan.

"If this was early October, I'd agree with you," replied Blade.
"But it's only makin' fer another storm.  Can't you hear that
wind?"

Tappan only heard the whispers of his dreams.  By now the snow was
melting off the pines, and rainbows shone everywhere.  Little
patches of snow began to drop off the branches of the pines and
spruces, and then larger patches, until by mid-afternoon white
streams and avalanches were falling everywhere.  All of the snow,
except in shaded places on the north sides of trees, went that day,
and half of that on the ground.  Next day it thinned out more,
until Jenet was finding the grass and moss again.  That afternoon
the telltale, thin clouds raced up out of the southwest and the
wind moaned its menace.

"Tappan, let's pack an' hit it out of hyar," appealed Blade,
anxiously.  "I know this country.  Mebbe I'm wrong, of course, but
it feels like storm.  Winter's comin' shore."

"Let her come," replied Tappan, imperturbably.

"Say, do you want to get snowed in?" demanded Blade, out of
patience.

"I might like a little spell of it, seein' it'd be new to me,"
replied Tappan.

"But man, if you ever get snowed in hyar you can't get out."

"That burro of mine could get me out."

"You're crazy.  Thet burro couldn't go a hundred feet.  What's
more, you'd have to kill her and eat her."

Tappan bent a strange gaze upon his companion, but made no reply.
Blade began to pace up and down the small bare patch of ground
before the campfire.  Manifestly, he was in a serious predicament.
That day he seemed subtly to change, as did Tappan.  Both answered
to their peculiar instincts.  Blade to that of self-preservation,
and Tappan, to something like indifference.  Tappan held fate in
defiance.  What more could happen to him?

Blade broke out again, in eloquent persuasion, giving proof of
their peril, and from that he passed to amaze and then to strident
anger.  He cursed Tappan for a nature-loving idiot.

"An' I'll tell you what," he ended.  "When mornin' comes I'll take
some of your grub an' hit it out of hyar, storm or no storm."

But long before dawn broke that resolution of Blade's had become
impracticable.  Both men were awakened by a roar of storm through
the forest, no longer a moan, but a marching roar, with now a crash
and then a shriek of gale.  By the light of the smouldering
campfire Tappan saw a whirling pall of snow, great flakes as large
as feathers.  Morning disclosed the setting in of a fierce mountain
storm, with two feet of snow already on the ground, and the forest
lost in a blur of white.

"I was wrong," called Tappan to his companion.  "What's best to do
now?"

"You damned fool!" yelled Blade.  "We've got to keep from freezin'
an' starvin' till the storm ends an' a crust comes on the snow."

For three days and three nights the blizzard continued, unabated in
its fury.  It took the men hours to keep a space cleared for their
camp site, which Jenet shared with them.  On the fourth day the
storm ceased, the clouds broke away, the sun came out.  And the
temperature dropped to zero.  Snow on the level just topped
Tappan's lofty stature, and in drifts it was ten and fifteen feet
deep.  Winter had set in without compromise.  The forest became a
solemn, still, white world.  But now Tappan had no time to dream.
Dry firewood was hard to find under the snow.  It was possible to
cut down one of the dead trees on the slope, but impossible to pack
sufficient wood to the camp.  They had to burn green wood.  Then
the fashioning of snowshoes took much time.  Tappan had no
knowledge of such footgear.  He could only help Blade.  The men
were encouraged by the piercing cold forming a crust on the snow.
But just as they were about to pack and venture forth, the weather
moderated, the crust refused to hold their weight, and another foot
of snow fell.

"Why in hell didn't you kill an elk?" demanded Blade, sullenly.  He
had become darkly sinister.  He knew the peril and he loved life.
"Now we'll have to kill an' eat your precious Jenet.  An' mebbee
she won't furnish meat enough to last till this snow weather stops
an' a good freeze'll make travelin' possible."

"Blade, you shut up about killin' an' eatin' my burro Jenet,"
returned Tappan, in a voice that silenced the other.

Thus instinctively these men became enemies.  Blade thought only of
himself.  Tappan had forced upon him a menace to the life of his
burro.  For himself Tappan had not one thought.

Tappan's supplies ran low.  All the bacon and coffee were gone.
There was only a small haunch of venison, a bag of beans, a sack of
flour, and a small quantity of salt left.

"If a crust freezes on the snow an' we can pack that flour, we'll
get out alive," said Blade.  "But we can't take the burro."
Another day of bright sunshine softened the snow on the southern
exposures, and a night of piercing cold froze a crust that would
bear a quick step of man.

"It's our only chance--an' damn slim at thet," declared Blade.

Tappan allowed Blade to choose the time and method, and supplies
for the start to get out of the forest.  They cooked all the beans
and divided them in two sacks.  Then they baked about five pounds
of biscuits for each of them.  Blade showed his cunning when he
chose the small bag of salt for himself and let Tappan take the
tobacco.  This quantity of food and a blanket for each Blade
declared to be all they could pack.  They argued over the guns, and
in the end Blade compromised on the rifle, agreeing to let Tappan
carry that on a possible chance of killing a deer or elk.  When
this matter had been decided, Blade significantly began putting on
his rude snowshoes, that had been constructed from pieces of
Tappan's boxes and straps and burlap sacks.

"Reckon they won't last long," muttered Blade.

Meanwhile Tappan fed Jenet some biscuits and then began to strap a
tarpaulin on her back.

"What you doin'?" queried Blade, suddenly.

"Gettin' Jenet ready," replied Tappan.

"Ready.  For what?"

"Why, to go with us."

"Hell!" shouted Blade, and he threw up his hands in helpless rage.

Tappan felt a depth stirred within him.  He lost his late
taciturnity and silent aloofness fell away from him.  Blade seemed
at the moment no longer an enemy.  He loomed as an aid to the
saving of Jenet.  Tappan burst into speech.

"I can't go without her.  It'd never enter my head.  Jenet's mother
was a good, faithful burro.  I saw Jenet born way down there on the
Rio Colorado.  She wasn't strong.  An' I had to wait for her to be
able to walk.  An' she grew up.  Her mother died, an' Jenet an' me
packed it alone.  She wasn't no ordinary burro.  She learned all I
taught her.  She was different.  But I treated her same as any
burro.  An' she grew with the years.  Desert men said there never
was such a burro as Jenet.  Called her Tappan's burro, an' tried to
borrow an' buy an' steal her. . . .  How many times in ten years
Jenet has done me a good turn, I can't remember.  But she saved my
life.  She dragged me out of Death Valley. . . .  An' then I forgot
my debt.  I ran off with a woman an' left Jenet to wait as she had
been trained to wait. . . .  Well, I got back in time. . . .  An'
now I'll not leave her here.  It may be strange to you, Blade, me
carin' this way.  Jenet's only a burro.  But I won't leave her."

"Man, you talk like thet lazy lop-eared burro was a woman,"
declared Blade, in disgusted astonishment.

"I don't know women, but I reckon Jenet's more faithful than most
of them."

"Wal, of all the stark, starin' fools I ever run into you're the
worst."

"Fool or not, I know what I'll do," retorted Tappan.  The softer
mood left him swiftly.

"Haven't you sense enough to see thet we can't travel with your
burro?" queried Blade, patiently controlling his temper.  "She has
little hoofs, sharp as knives.  She'll cut through the crust.
She'll break through in places.  An' we'll have to stop to haul her
out--mebbe break through ourselves.  Thet would make us longer
gettin' out."

"Long or short we'll take her."

Then Blade confronted Tappan as if suddenly unmasking his true
meaning.  His patient explanation meant nothing.  Under no
circumstances would he ever have consented to an attempt to take
Jenet out of that snowbound wilderness.  His eyes gleamed.

"We've a hard pull to get out alive.  An' hard-workin' men in
winter must have meat to eat."

Tappan slowly straightened up to look at the speaker.

"What do you mean?"

For an answer Blade jerked his hand backward and downward, and when
it swung into sight again, it held Tappan's worn and shining rifle.
Then Blade, with deliberate force, that showed the nature of the
man, worked the lever and threw a shell into the magazine.  All the
while his eyes were fastened on Tappan.  His face seemed that of
another man, evil, relentless, inevitable in his spirit to preserve
his own life at any cost.

"I mean to kill your burro," he said, in voice that suited his look
and manner.

"No," cried Tappan, shocked into an instant of appeal.

"Yes, I am, an' I'll bet, by God, before we get out of hyar, you'll
be glad to eat some of her meat."

That roused the slow-gathering might of Tappan's wrath.

"I'd starve to death before I'd--I'd kill that burro, let alone eat
her."

"Starve an' be damned!" shouted Blade, yielding to rage.

Jenet stood right behind Tappan, in her posture of contented
repose, with one long ear hanging down over her gray meek face.

"You'll have to kill me first," answered Tappan, sharply.

"I'm good fer anythin'--if you push me," returned Blade,
stridently.

As he stepped aside, evidently so he could have unobstructed aim at
Jenet, Tappan leaped forward and knocked up the rifle as it was
discharged.  The bullet sped harmlessly over Jenet.  Tappan heard
it thud into a tree.  Blade uttered a curse.  And as he lowered the
rifle in sudden deadly intent, Tappan grasped the barrel with his
left hand.  Then, clenching his right, he struck Blade a sudden
blow in the face.  Only Blade's hold on the rifle prevented him
from falling.  Blood streamed from his nose and mouth.  He bellowed
in hoarse fury.  "I'll kill you--fer that."

Tappan opened his clenched teeth:  "No, Blade--you're not man
enough."

Then began a terrific struggle for possession of the rifle.  Tappan
beat at Blade's face with his sledgehammer fist.  But the strength
of the other made it imperative that he use both hands to keep his
hold on the rifle.  Wrestling and pulling and jerking, the men tore
round the snowy camp, scattering the campfire, knocking down the
brush shelter.  Blade had surrendered to a wild frenzy.  He hissed
his maledictions.  His was the brute lust to kill an enemy that
thwarted him.  But Tappan was grim and terrible in his restraint.
His battle was to save Jenet.  Nevertheless, there mounted in him
the hot physical sensations of the savage.  The contact of flesh,
the smell and sight of Blade's blood, the violent action, the
beastly mien of his foe, changed the fight to one for its own sake.
To conquer this foe, to rend him and beat him down, blow on blow.

Tappan felt instinctively that he was the stronger.  Suddenly he
exerted all his muscular force into one tremendous wrench.  The
rifle broke, leaving the steel barrel in his hands, the wooden
stock in Blades.  And it was the quicker-witted Blade who used his
weapon first to advantage.  One swift blow knocked Tappan down.  As
he was about to follow it up with another, Tappan kicked his
opponent's feet from under him.  Blade sprawled in the snow, but
was up again as quickly as Tappan.  They made at each other, Tappan
waiting to strike, and Blade raining blows on Tappan.  These were
heavy blows aimed at his head, but which he contrived to receive on
his arms and the rifle barrel he brandished.  For a few moments
Tappan stood up under a beating that would have felled a lesser
man.  His own blood blinded him.  Then he swung his heavy weapon.
The blow broke Blade's left arm.  Like a wild beast, he screamed in
pain; and then, without guard, rushed in, too furious for further
caution.  Tappan met the terrible onslaught as before, and watching
his chance, again swung the rifle barrel.  This time, so supreme
was the force, it battered down Blade's arm and crushed his skull.
He died on his feet--a ghastly and horrible change.  Swaying
backward, he fell into the upbanked wall of snow, and went out of
sight, except for his boots, one of which still held the crude
snowshoe.

Tappan stared, slowly realizing.

"Ahuh, stranger Blade," he ejaculated, gazing at the hole in the
snowbank where his foe had disappeared.  "You were goin' to kill
an' eat--Tappan's burro."

Then he sighted the bloody rifle barrel, and cast it from him.  He
became conscious of injuries which needed attention.  But he could
do little more than wash off the blood and bind up his head.  Both
arms and hands were badly bruised, and beginning to swell.  But
fortunately no bones had been broken.

Tappan finished strapping the tarpaulin upon the burro; and, taking
up both his and Blade's supply of food, he called out, "Come on,
Jenet."

Which way to go.  Indeed, there was no more choice for him than
there had been for Blade.  Towards the Rim the snowdrift would be
deeper and impassable.  Tappan realized that the only possible
chance for him was downhill.  So he led Jenet out of camp without
looking back once.  What was it that had happened?  He did not seem
to be the same Tappan who had dreamily tramped into this woodland.

A deep furrow in the snow had been made by the men packing firewood
into camp.  At the end of this furrow the wall of snow stood higher
than Tappan's head.  To get out on top without breaking the crust
presented a problem.  He lifted Jenet up, and was relieved to see
that the snow held her.  But he found a different task in his own
case.  Returning to camp, he gathered up several of the long
branches of spruce that had been part of the shelter, and carrying
them out he laid them against the slant of snow he had to surmount,
and by their aid he got on top.  The crust held him.

Elated and with revived hope, he took up Jenet's halter and started
off.  Walking with his rude snowshoes was awkward.  He had to go
slowly, and slide them along the crust.  But he progressed.
Jenet's little steps kept her even with him.  Now and then one of
her sharp hoofs cut through, but not to hinder her particularly.
Right at the start Tappan observed a singular something about
Jenet.  Never until now had she been dependent upon him.  She knew
it.  Her intelligence apparently told her that if she got out of
this snowbound wilderness it would be owing to the strength and
reason of her master.

Tappan kept to the north side of the canyon, where the snow crust
was strongest.  What he must do was to work up to the top of the
canyon slope, and then keeping to the ridge travel north along it,
and so down out of the forest.

Travel was slow.  He soon found he had to pick his way.  Jenet
appeared to be absolutely unable to sense either danger or safety.
Her experience had been of the rock confines and the drifting sands
of the desert.  She walked where Tappan led her.  And it seemed to
Tappan that her trust in him, her reliance upon him, were pathetic.

"Well, old girl," said Tappan to her, "it's a horse of another
color now--hey?"

At length he came to a wide part of the canyon, where a bench of
land led to a long, gradual slope, thickly studded with small
pines.  This appeared to be fortunate, and turned out to be so, for
when Jenet broke through the crust Tappan had trees and branches to
hold to while he hauled her out.  The labor of climbing that slope
was such that Tappan began to appreciate Blade's absolute refusal
to attempt getting Jenet out.  Dusk was shadowing the white aisles
of the forest when Tappan ascended to a level.  He had not traveled
far from camp, and the fact struck a chill upon his heart.

To go on in the dark was foolhardy.  So Tappan selected a thick
spruce, under which there was a considerable depression in the
snow, and here made preparation to spend the night.  Unstrapping
the tarpaulin, he spread it on the snow.  All the lower branches of
this giant of the forest were dead and dry.  Tappan broke off many
and soon had a fire.  Jenet nibbled at the moss on the trunk of the
spruce tree.  Tappan's meal consisted of beans, biscuits, and a
ball of snow, that he held over the fire to soften.  He saw to it
that Jenet fared as well as he.  Night soon fell, strange and
weirdly white in the forest, and piercingly cold.  Tappan needed
the fire.  Gradually it melted the snow and made a hole, down to
the ground.  Tappan rolled up in the tarpaulin and soon fell
asleep.

In three days Tappan traveled about fifteen miles, gradually
descending, until the snow crust began to fail to hold Jenet.  Then
whatever had been his difficulties before, they were now magnified
a hundredfold.  As soon as the sun was up, somewhat softening the
snow, Jenet began to break through.  And often when Tappan began
hauling her out he broke through himself.  This exertion was
killing even to a man of Tappan's physical prowess.  The endurance
to resist heat and flying dust and dragging sand seemed another
kind from that needed to toil on in this snow.  The endless
snowbound forest began to be hideous to Tappan.  Cold, lonely,
dreary, white, mournful--the kind of ghastly and ghostly winter
land that had been the terror of Tappan's boyish dreams.  He loved
the sun--the open.  This forest had deceived him.  It was a wall of
ice.  As he toiled on, the state of his mind gradually and subtly
changed in all except the fixed and absolute will to save Jenet.
In some places he carried her.

The fourth night found him dangerously near the end of his stock of
food.  He had been generous with Jenet.  But now, considering that
he had to do more work than she, he diminished her share.  On the
fifth day Jenet broke through the snow crust so often that Tappan
realized how utterly impossible it was for her to get out of the
woods by her own efforts.  Therefore, Tappan hit upon the plan of
making her lie on the tarpaulin, so that he could drag her.  The
tarpaulin doubled once did not make a bad sled.  All the rest of
that day Tappan hauled her.  And so all the rest of the next day he
toiled on, hands behind him, clutching the canvas, head and
shoulders bent, plodding and methodical, like a man who could not
be defeated.  That night he was too weary to build a fire, and too
worried to eat the last of his food.

Next day Tappan was not unalive to the changing character of the
forest.  He had worked down out of the zone of the spruce trees;
the pines had thinned out and decreased in size; oak trees began to
show prominently.  All these signs meant that he was getting down
out of the mountain heights.  But the fact, hopeful as it was, had
drawbacks.  The snow was still four feet deep on a level and the
crust held Tappan only about half the time.  Moreover, the lay of
the land operated against Tappan's progress.  The long, slowly
descending ridge had failed.  There were no more canyons, but
ravines and swales were numerous.  Tappan dragged on, stern,
indomitable, bent to his toil.

When the crust let him down, he hung his snowshoes over Jenet's
back, and wallowed through, making a lane for her to follow.  Two
days of such heart-breaking toil, without food or fire, broke
Tappan's magnificent endurance.  But not his spirit.  He hauled
Jenet over the snow, and through the snow, down the hills and up
the slopes, through the thickets, knowing that over the next ridge,
perhaps, was deliverance.  Deer and elk tracks began to be
numerous.  Cedar and juniper trees now predominated.  An occasional
pine showed here and there.  He was getting out of the forest land.
Only such mighty and justifiable hope as that could have kept him
on his feet.

He fell often, and it grew harder to rise and go on.  The hour came
when the crust failed altogether to hold Tappan and he had to
abandon hauling Jenet.  It was necessary to make a road for her.
How weary, cold, horrible, the white reaches.  Yard by yard Tappan
made his way.  He no longer sweated.  He had no feeling in his feet
or legs.  Hunger ceased to gnaw at his vitals.  His thirst he
quenched with snow--soft snow now, that did not have to be crunched
like ice.  The pangs in his breast were terrible--cramps,
constrictions, the piercing pains in his lungs, the dull ache of
his overtaxed heart.

Tappan came to an opening in the cedar forest from which he could
see afar.  A long slope fronted him.  It led down and down to open
country.  His desert eyes, keen as those of an eagle, made out flat
country, sparsely covered with snow, and black dots that were
cattle.  The last slope.  The last pull.  Three feet of snow,
except in drifts; down and down he plunged, making way for Jenet.
All that day he toiled and fell and rolled down this league-long
slope, wearing towards sunset to the end of his task, and likewise
to the end of his will.

Now he seemed up and now down.  There was no sense of cold or
weariness.  Only direction.  Tappan still saw.  The last of his
horror at the monotony of white faded from his mind.  Jenet was
there, beginning to be able to travel for herself.  The solemn
close of endless day found Tappan arriving at the edge of the
timbered country, where windbared patches of ground showed long,
bleached grass.  Jenet took to grazing.

As for Tappan, he fell with the tarpaulin, under a thick cedar, and
with strengthless hands plucked and plucked at the canvas to spread
it, so that he could cover himself.  He looked again for Jenet.
She was there, somehow a fading image, strangely blurred.  But she
was grazing.  Tappan lay down, and stretched out, and slowly drew
the tarpaulin over him.

A piercing cold night wind swept down from the snowy heights.  It
wailed in the edge of the cedars and moaned out towards the open
country.  Yet the night seemed silent.  The stars shone white in
deep blue sky--passionless, cold, watchful eyes, looking down
without pity or hope or censure.  They were the eyes of Nature.
Winter had locked the heights in its snowy grip.  All night that
winter wind blew down, colder and colder.  Then dawn broke, a
steely grey, with a flare in the east.

Jenet came back where she had left her master.  Camp.  As she had
returned thousands of dawns in the long years of her service.  She
had grazed all night.  Her sides that had been flat were now full.
Jenet had weathered another vicissitude of her life.  She stood for
a while, in a doze, with one long ear down over her meek face.
Jenet was waiting for Tappan.

But he did not stir from under the long roll of canvas.  Jenet
waited.  The winter sun rose in a cold yellow flare.  The snow
glistened as with a crusting of diamonds.  Somewhere in the
distance sounded a long-drawn, discordant bray.  Jenet's ears stood
up.  She listened.  She recognized the call of her kind.  Instinct
always prompted Jenet.  Sometimes she did bray.  Lifting her gray
head she sent forth a clarion:  "Hee-haw-hee-haw-haw-hee-haw how-e-
e-e."

That stentorian call started the echoes.  They pealed down the
slope and rolled out over the open country, clear as a bugle blast,
yet hideous in their discordance.  But this morning Tappan did not
awaken.




THE WOLF TRACKER


I


The hard-riding cowmen of Adam's outfit returned to camp, that last
day of the fall roundup, weary and brush-torn, begrimed with dust
and sweat, and loud in their acclaims against Old Gray, the loafer
wolf, notorious from the Cibeque across the black belt of rugged
Arizona upland to Mount Wilson in New Mexico.

"Wal, reckon I allowed the Tonto had seen the last of Old Gray's
big tracks," said Benson, the hawk-eyed foreman, as he slipped the
bridle off his horse.

"An' for why?" queried Banty Smith, the little arguing rooster of
the outfit.  "Ain't Old Gray young yet--just in his prime?  Didn't
we find four carcasses of full-grown steers he'd pulled down last
April over on Webber Creek?  Shore he allus hit for high country in
summer.  What for did you think he'd not show up when the frost
come?"

"Aw, Banty, cain't you savvy Ben?" drawled a long, lean rider.  "He
was jest voicin' his hopes."

"Yep, Ben is thet tender-hearted he'd weep over a locoed calf--if
it happened to wear his brand," remarked Tim Bender, with a huge
grin, as if he well knew he had acquitted himself wittily.

"Haw.  Haw," laughed another rider.  "Old Gray has shore made some
deppredashuns on Ben's stock of twenty head.  Most as much as one
heifer."

"Wal, kid me all you like, boys," replied Benson, good-naturedly.
"Reckon I had no call to think Old Gray wouldn't come back.  He's
done thet for years.  But it's not onnatural to live in hopes.  An'
it's hard luck we had to run acrost his tracks an' his work the
last day of the roundup.  Only last night the boss was sayin' he
hadn't heard anythin' about Old Gray for months."

"Nobody heerd of anyone cashin' on thet five thousand dollars
reward for Old Gray's scalp, either," replied Banty, with sarcasm.

Thus after the manner of the range the loquacious cowboys volleyed
badinage while they performed the last tasks of the day.

Two streams met below the pine-shaded bench where the camp was
situated; and some of the boys strode down with towels and soap to
attend to ablutions that one washpan for the outfit made a matter
of waiting.  It was still clear daylight, though the sun had gone
down behind a high timbered hill to the west.  The blue haze that
hung over the bench was not all campfire smoke.  A rude log cabin
stood above the fork of the streams, and near by the cook busied
himself between his chuck wagon and the campfire.  Both the cool,
pine-scented air and the red gold patches of brush on the hillside
told of the late October.  The rich amber light of the woods had
its reflection in the pools of the streams.

Adams, the boss of the outfit, had ridden over from his Tonto ranch
at Spring Valley.  He was a sturdy, well-preserved man of sixty,
sharp of eye, bronze of face, with the stamp of self-made and
prosperous rancher upon him.

"Ben, the boss is inquirin' aboot you," called Banty from the bench
above the stream.

Whereupon the foreman clambered up the rocky slope, vigorously
rubbing his ruddy face with a towel, and made his way to where
Adams sat beside the campfire.  In all respects, except regarding
Old Gray, Benson's report was one he knew would be gratifying.
This naturally he reserved until after Adams had expressed his
satisfaction.  Then he supplemented the news of the wolf.

"That loafer," ejaculated Adams, in dismay.  "Why, only the other
day I heard from my pardner, Barrett, an' he said the government
hunters were trackin' Old Gray up Mount Wilson."

"Wal, boss, thet may be true," responded the foreman.  "But Old
Gray killed a yearlin' last night on the red ridge above Doubtful
Canyon.  I know his tracks like I do my hoss's.  We found four
kills today, an' I reckon all was the work of thet loafer.  You
don't need to see his tracks.  He's shore a clean killer.  An'
sometimes he kills for the sake of killin'."

"I ain't sayin' I care about the money loss, though that old gray
devil has cost me an' Barrett twenty-five hundred," replied Adams,
thoughtfully.  "But he's such a bloody murderer--the most
aggravatin' varmint I ever--"

"Huh.  Who's the gazabo comin' down the trail?" interrupted Benson,
pointing up the bench.

"Stranger to me," said Adams.  "Anybody know him?"

One by one the cowboys disclaimed knowledge of the unusual figure
approaching.  At that distance he appeared to be a rather old man,
slightly bowed.  But a second glance showed his shoulders to be
broad and his stride the wonderful one of a mountaineer.  He
carried a pack on his back and a shiny carbine in his hand.
His garb was ragged homespun, patched until it resembled a
checkerboard.

"A stranger without a hoss," exclaimed Banty, as if that were an
amazingly singular thing.

The man approached the campfire, and halted to lean the worn
carbine against the woodpile.  Then he unbuckled a strap round his
breast and lifted a rather heavy pack from his back, to deposit it
on the ground.  It appeared to be a pack rolled in a rubber-lined
blanket, out of which protruded the ends of worn snowshoes.  When
he stepped to the campfire he disclosed a strange physiognomy--the
weather-beaten face of a matured man of the open, mapped by deep
lines, strong, hard, a rugged mask, lighted by penetrating, quiet
eyes of gray.

"Howdy, stranger.  Get down an' come in," welcomed Adams, with the
quaint, hearty greeting always resorted to by a Westerner.

"How do.  I reckon I will," replied the man, extending big brown
hands to the fire.  "Are you Adams, the cattleman?"

"You've got me.  But I can't just place you, stranger."

"Reckon not.  I'm new in these parts.  My name's Brink.  I'm a
tracker."

"Glad to meet you, Brink," replied Adams, curiously.  "These are
some of my boys.  Set down an' rest.  I reckon you're tired an'
hungry.  We'll have grub soon. . . .  Tracker, you said?  Now, I
just don't savvy what you mean."

"I've been prospector, trapper, hunter, most everythin'," replied
Brink as he took the seat offered.  "But I reckon my callin' is to
find tracks.  Tracker of men, hosses, cattle, wild animals--
'specially sheep-killen' silvertips an' stock-killen' wolves."

"Aha.  You don't say?" ejaculated Adams, suddenly shifting from
genial curiosity to keen interest.  "An' you're after that five
thousand dollars we cattlemen offered for Old Gray's scalp?"

"Nope.  I hadn't thought of the reward.  I heard of it, up in
Colorado, same time I heard of this wolf that's run amuck so long
on these ranges.  An' I've come down here to kill him."

Adams showed astonishment along with his interest, but his silence
and expression did not approach the incredulity manifested by the
men of his outfit.  Banty winked a roguish eye at his comrades;
Benson leaned forward with staring eyes and dropping jaw; Tim
Bender made covert and significant signs to indicate the stranger
had wheels in his head; the other riders were amiably nonplussed as
to the man's sanity.  Nothing more than the response of these men
was needed to establish the reputation of Old Gray, the loafer
wolf.  But Brink did not see these indications; he was peering into
the fire.

"So--ho.  You have?" exclaimed Adams, breaking the silence.  "Wal,
now, Brink, that's good of you.  We sure appreciate your intent.
Would you mind tellin' us how you mean to set about killin' Old
Gray?"

"Reckon I told you I was a tracker," rejoined Brink, curtly.

"Hell, man.  We've had every pack of hounds in two states on the
track of that wolf."

"Is he on the range now?" queried Brink, totally ignoring Adams's
strong protestation.

Adams motioned to his foreman to reply to this question.  Benson
made evident effort to be serious.

"I seen his tracks less'n two hours ago.  He killed a yearlin' last
night."

At these words Brink turned his gaze from the fire to the speaker.
What a remarkable fleeting flash crossed his rugged face.  It
seemed one of passion.  It passed, and only a gleam of eye attested
to strange emotion under that seamed and lined mask of bronze.  His
gaze returned to the fire, and the big hands, that he held palms
open to the heat, now clasped each other, in strong and tense
action.  Only Adams took the man seriously, and his attitude
restrained the merriment his riders certainly felt.

"Adams, would you mind tellin' me all you know about this wolf?"
asked the stranger, presently.

"Say, man," expostulated Adams, still with good nature, "it
wouldn't be polite to keep you from eatin' an' sleepin'.  We don't
treat strangers that way in this country."

"Old Gray has a history, then?" inquired Brink, as intent as if he
had been concerned with the case of a human being.

"Humph.  Reckon I couldn't tell you all about him in a week," said
the cattleman, emphatically.

"It wouldn't matter to me how long you'd take," returned Brink,
thoughtfully.

At that Adams laughed outright.  This queer individual had not in
the least considered waste of time to a busy rancher.  Manifestly
he thought only of the notorious wolf.  Adams eyed the man a long
speculative moment, divided between amusement and doubt.  Brink
interested him.  Having had to deal with many and various kinds of
men, Adams was not quite prepared to take this stranger as the
young riders took him.  Adams showed the shrewdness of appreciation
of the many-sidedness of human nature.  Brink's face and garb and
pack were all extraordinarily different from what was usually met
with on these ranges.  He had arrived on foot, but he was not a
tramp.  Adams took keener note of the quiet face, the deep chest,
the muscular hands, the wiry body, and the powerful legs.  No
cowboy, for all his riding, ever had wonderful legs like these.
The man was a walker.

These deductions, slight and unconvincing as they were, united with
an amiability that was characteristic of Adams, persuaded him to
satisfy the man's desire to hear about the wolf.

"All right, Brink, I'll tell you somethin' of Old Gray--at
leastways till the cook calls us to come an' get it. . . .  There
used to be a good many loafers--timber wolves, we called them--in
this country.  But they're gettin' scarce.  Accordin' to the
hunters there's a small bunch of loafers rangin' from Black Butte
to Clear Creek Canyon.  That's a deer country, an' we cattlemen
don't run much stock over there.  Now an' then a cowboy will see a
wolf track, or hear one bay.  But outside of Old Gray we haven't
had much loss from loafers of late years.

"Naturally there are lots of stories in circulation about this
particular wolf.  Some of them are true.  I can't vouch for his
parentage, or whether he has mixed blood.  Seven or eight, maybe
ten years ago, some trapper lost a husky--one of them regular
Alaskan snow-sled dogs--over in the Mazatzels.  Never found him.
Some natives here claim Old Gray is a son of this husky, his mother
bein' one of the range loafers.  Another story is about a wolf
escapin' from a circus over heah in a railroad wreck years ago.  I
remember well the report told at Winslow.  A young gray wolf got
away.  This escaped wolf might be Old Gray.  No one can ever tell
that.  But both stories are interestin' enough to think about.

"The name Old Gray doesn't seem to fit this particular wolf,
because it's misleadin'.  He's gray, yes, almost white, but he's
not old.  Bill Everett, a range hand, saw this wolf first.  Tellin'
about it he called him an old gray Jasper.  The name stuck, though
now you seldom hear the Jasper tacked on.

"From that time stories began to drift into camp an' town about the
doin's of Old Gray.  He was a killer.  Cowboys an' hunters took to
his trail with cow dogs an' bear hounds.  But though they routed
him out of his lairs an' chased him all over, they never caught
him.  Trappers camped all the way from the Cibeque to Mount Wilson,
tryin' to trap him.  I never heard of Old Gray touchin' a trap.

"In summer Old Gray lit out for the mountains.  In winter he took
to the foothills an' ranges.  I've heard cattlemen over in New
Mexico say he had killed twenty-five thousand dollars' worth of
stock.  But that was years ago.  It would be impossible now to
estimate the loss to ranchers.  Old Gray played at the game.  He'd
run through a bunch of stock, hamstringin' right an' left, until he
had enough of his fun, then he'd pull down a yearlin', eat what he
wanted, an' travel on.

"He didn't always work alone.  Sometimes he'd have several loafers
with him.  Two years ago I saw his tracks with at least four other
wolves.  That was on my pardner's ranch at Vermajo Park, New
Mexico.  But Old Gray always was an' is a lone wolf.  He didn't
trust company.  Accordin' to report he'd led off more than one she
dog, always shepherds.  They never came back.  It's a good bet he
led them away, for his tracks were seen, an' perhaps he killed
them.

"The government hunters have been tryin' to get him, these several
years.  They don't tell about this hunt any more.  But the forest
rangers sometimes make fun at the expense of these predatory game
hunters of the government.  Anyway, so far as I know, Old Gray has
never been scratched.  My personal opinion is this.  He's a
magnificent wild brute, smarter than any dog.  An' you know how
intelligent dogs can be.  Well, Old Gray is too savage, too wild,
too keen to be caught by the ordinary means employed so far. . . .
There, Brink, is the plain blunt facts from a blunt man.  If you
listened to a lot of the gossip about Old Gray you'd be sure
locoed."

"Much obliged," replied Brink, with a break in his rapt intensity.
"Have you ever seen this loafer?"

"No, I never had the good luck," replied Adams.  "Nor have many
men.  But Benson, here, has seen him."

"What's he look like?" queried Brink, turning eagerly to the
foreman.

"Wal, Old Gray is aboot the purtiest wild varmint I ever clapped my
eyes on," drawled Benson, slow and cool, as if to tantalize this
wolf hunter.  "He's big--a heap bigger'n any loafer I ever saw
before--an' he's gray all right, a light gray, with a black ring
part round his neck, almost like a ruff.  He's a bold cus, too.  He
stood watchin' me, knowin' darn well he was out of gunshot."

"Now what kind of a track does he make?"

"Wal, jest a wolf track bigger'n you ever seen before.  Almost as
big as a hoss track.  When you see it once, you'll never forget."

"Where did you run across that track last?"

Benson squatted down before the fire, and with his hand smoothed a
flat clear place in the dust, on which he began to trace lines.

"Heah, foller up this creek till you come to a high falls.  Climb
up the slope on the right.  You'll head out on a cedar an' pion
ridge.  It's red dirt, most all soft.  Halfway up this ridge from
there you'll strike a trail.  It runs this heah way.  Foller it
round under the bluff till you strike Old Gray's tracks.  I seen
them this mawnin', fresh as could be.  Sharp an' clean in the dust.
He was makin' for the Rim, I reckon soon after he had killed the
heifer."

By this time all the cowboys were grouped round the central
figures.  Banty appeared to be the only one not seriously
impressed.  As to the others, something about Brink and the way he
had moved Adams to talk, had inhibited for the moment their
characteristic humor.

Brink slowly rose from his scrutiny of the map that Benson had
drawn in the dust.  His penetrating gaze fixed on Adams.

"I'll kill your old gray wolf," he said.

His tone, his manner, seemed infinitely more than his simple words.
They all combined to make an effect that seemed indefinable, except
in the case of Banty, who grew red in the face.  Manifestly Banty
took this man's statement as astounding and ridiculous.  The little
cowboy enjoyed considerable reputation as a hunter--a reputation
that he cherished, and which, to his humiliation, had not been
lived up to by his several futile hunts after Old Gray.

"Aw, now--so you'll kill thet loafer," he ejaculated, in the most
elaborate satire possible for a cowboy.  "Wal, Mr. Brink, would you
mind tellin' us jest when you'll perpetuate this execushun?  Shore
all the outfits in the Tonto will want to see Old Gray's scalp.
We'll give a dance to celebrate. . . .  Say when you'll fetch his
skin down--tomorrow around sunup, or mebbe next day, seein' you'll
have to travel on shank's mare--or possible the day after."

Banty's drawling scorn might never have been spoken, for all the
intended effect it had on the wolf hunter.  Brink was beyond the
levity of a cowboy.

"Reckon I can't say just when I'll kill Old Gray," he replied, with
something sonorous in his voice.  "It might be any day, accordin'
to luck.  But if he's the wolf you all say he is, it'll take long."

"You don't say," spoke up Banty.  "Wal, by gosh, my walkin' gent, I
figgered you had some Injun medicine thet you could put on Old
Gray's tail."

The cowboys roared.  Adams showed constraint in his broad grin.
Brink suffered no offense, no sign of appreciating the ridicule.
Thoughtfully he bent again to the fire, and did not hear the cook's
lusty call to supper.

"Never mind the boys," said Adams, kindly, putting a hand on the
bowed shoulder.  "Come an' eat with us."


II


The morning sun had not yet melted the hoarfrost from the brush
when Brink halted in the trail before huge wolf tracks in the red
dust.

"Same as any wolf tracks, only big," he soliloquized.  "Biggest I
ever saw--even in Alaska."

Whereupon he leaned his shiny carbine against a pine sapling, and
lifted his pack from his shoulders, all the time with gaze riveted
on the trail.  Then, with head bent, he walked slowly along until
he came to a place where all four tracks of the wolf showed
plainly.  Here he got to his knees, scrutinizing the imprints,
photographing them on his inward eye, taking intent and grave stock
of them, as if these preliminaries in the stalking of a wolf were a
ritual.  For moments he remained motionless, like one transfixed.
Presently he relaxed, and seating himself beside the trail, seemed
to revel in a strange, tranquil joy.

Brink's state of mind was a composite of a lifetime's feelings,
thoughts, actions, never comprehensible to him.  As a boy of three
he had captured his first wild creature--a squirrel that he tamed
and loved, and at last freed.  All his early boyhood he had been a
haunter of the woods and hills, driven to the silent places and the
abode of the wild.  At sixteen he had run away from school and
home; at fifty he knew the west from the cold borders of the Yukon
to the desert-walled Yaqui.  Through those many and eventful years
the occupations of men had held him, but never for long.  Caravans,
mining camps, freighting posts, towns and settlements, ranches and
camps had known him, though never for any length of time.  Women
had never drawn him, much less men.

Again the solitude and loneliness of the wilderness claimed him;
and his eyes feasted on the tracks of a beast commonly supposed to
be stronger, keener than any human.  Around these two facts clung
the fibers of the spell that possessed Brink's soul.

The October morning seemed purple in the shade, golden in the sun.
A profound and unbroken stillness held this vast cedar slope in
thrall.  A spicy tang, cold to the nostrils, permeated the air.
The sheath-barked cedars and the junipers with their lavender-hued
berries stretched a patchwork of light and shadow across the trail.
Far down, the ridged sweep of timbered country fell.  Beyond the
black vague depths of the Basin rose the sharp, ragged mountains to
the south.  Above him towered bold promontories of rock, fringed by
green, clearly etched against the blue.  Nothing of mankind tainted
this loneliness for Brink--nothing save the old, seldom-trodden
trail, and that bore the tracks of an enormous wolf, wildest of all
American animals.

Brink's serenity had returned--the familiar state that had ceased
at the end of his last pursuit.  This huge track was a challenge.
But this strange egotism did not appear to be directed toward the
hunters and cowboys who had failed on Old Gray's trail.  Rather
toward the wolf.  The issue was between him and the great loafer.
Here began the stalk that for Brink had but one conclusion.  The
wonderful tracks showed sharply in the dust.  Old Gray had passed
along there yesterday.  He was somewhere up or down those ragged
slopes.  Cunning as he was, he had to hold contact with earth and
rock.  He had to slay and eat.  He must leave traces of his nature,
his life, his habit, and his action.  To these Brink would address
himself, with all the sagacity of an old hunter, but with something
infinitely more--a passion which he did not understand.

"Wal, Old Gray, I'm on your track," muttered Brink, grimly; and
strapping the heavy pack on his broad shoulders, he took up the
carbine and strode along the trail.

It pleased Brink to find that his first surmise was as correct as
if he had cognizance of Old Gray's instincts.  The wolf tracks soon
sheered off the trail.  Old Gray was not now a hunting or a
prowling wolf.  He was a traveling wolf, but he did not keep to the
easygoing, direct trail.

On soft ground like this, bare except for patches of brush and
brown mats under the cedar and pion trees, Brink could discern the
wolf tracks far ahead.  Old Gray was light-footed, but he had
weight, and his trail along here was as easy for the keen eyes of
the tracker as if he had been traveling on wet ground or snow.
Where he did not leave tracks there was a pressed tuft of grass or
a disturbed leaf or broken twig or dislodged bit of stone, or an
unnatural displacement of the needles under the pions.

The trail led down over the uneven ridges and gullies of the slope,
down into timbered thickets, and on through an increasingly rugged
and wild country, to the dark shade of a deep gorge, where the
melodious murmur of a stream mingled with the mourn of a rising
wind in the lofty pines and spruces.  The wolf had drunk his fill,
leaving two huge tracks in the wet sand along the brookside.  Brink
could not find tracks on gravel and boulders, so he crossed the
wide bottom of the gorge, and after a while found Old Gray's trail
on the opposite slope.  Before he struck it he had believed the
wolf was heading for high country.

Brink tracked him over a forested ridge and down into an
intersecting canyon, where on the rocks of a dry stream bed the
trail failed.  This did not occasion the wolf tracker any concern.
Old Gray would most likely choose that rugged lonely stream bed and
follow it to where the canyon headed out above.  Brink, in such
cases as this, trusted to his instincts.  Many times he had been
wrong, but more often he had been right.  To this end he slowly
toiled up the rough ascent, halting now and then to rest a moment,
eyes roving from side to side.  It was a steep ascent, and grew
rougher, narrower, and more shaded as he climbed.  At length he
came to pools of water in rocky recesses, where the sand and gravel
bars showed the tracks of cattle, bear, and deer.  But if Old Gray
had passed on up that narrowing canyon he had avoided the water
holes.

Patches of maple and thickets of oak covered the steep slopes,
leading up to the base of cracked and seamed cliffs, and they in
turn sheered up to where the level rim shone black-fringed against
the blue.  Here the stream bed was covered with the red and gold
and purple of fallen autumn leaves.  High up the thickets had begun
to look shaggy.  The sun, now at the zenith, fell hot upon Brink's
head.  He labored on to climb out a narrow defile that led to the
level forest above.

Here the wind blew cool.  Brink rested a moment, gazing down into
the colorful void, and across the black rolling leagues to the
mountains.  Then he strode east along the precipice, very carefully
searching for the wolf trail he had set out upon.  In a mile of
slow travel he did not discover a sign of Old Gray.  Retracing his
steps, he traveled west for a like distance, without success.
Whereupon he returned to the head of the canyon out of which he had
climbed, and there, divesting himself of his pack, he set about a
more elaborate scrutiny of ground, grass, moss, and rock.  He
searched from the rim down into an aspen swale that deepened into a
canyon, heading away from the rim.  He had no reason to believe Old
Gray would travel this way, except that long experience had taught
him where to search first for tracks.  And quite abruptly he came
upon the huge footprints of the loafer, made in soft black mud
beside elk tracks that led into a hole where water had recently
stood.

"Hah," ejaculated Brink.  "You're interested in that yearlin'
elk. . . .  Wal, Old Gray, I'll let this do for today."

Brink returned to get his pack, and carried it down into the
ravine, to a point where he found clear water.  Here he left the
pack in the fork of a tree, and climbed out to the level forest, to
hunt for meat.

The afternoon was far spent and the warmth of the westering sun
soon declined.  Brink found deer and wild turkey signs in
abundance, and inside of the hour he had shot a two-year-old spike-
horn buck.  He cut out the haunches and packed them back to where
he had decided to camp.

With a short-handled ax he carried in his belt he trimmed off the
lower branches of a thick-foliaged spruce and, cutting them into
small pieces, he laid them crosswise to serve as a bed.  Then he
unrolled his pack.  The snowshoes he hung on the stub of a branch;
the heavy, rubber-covered blanket he spread on the spruce boughs,
and folded it so that the woolen side would be under him and over
him while he slept.  Next he started a large fire of dead sticks.

Brink's pack of supplies weighed about fifty pounds.  He had three
sheet-iron utensils, which telescoped together, a tin cup, a spoon,
matches, towel, and soap.  His food was carried in canvas sacks of
varying sizes, all tightly tied.  He had coffee, sugar, salt, and
the sugar sack was almost disproportionately large.  No flour, no
butter, no canned milk.  The biggest sack contained pemmican, a
composite food of small bulk and great nourishing power.  The chief
ingredients were meat and nuts.  This prepared food Brink had
learned to rely upon during long marches in Alaska.  His next
largest sack contained dried apples.  By utilizing, when possible,
the game meat of the forest Brink expected this supply to last a
long time, possibly until he had run down the wolf.

Like those of an Indian on the march, Brink's needs were few.  He
prepared his frugal meal, ate it with the relish and gratefulness
of a man used to the wilderness.  Then before darkness overtook him
he cut the fresh deer meat into strips so that it would dry
readily.

Twilight found his tasks ended for the day.  The melancholy autumn
night darkened and stole down upon him, cold and sharp, with
threads of cloud across the starry sky.  The wind moaned in the
black pines above, and seemed to warn of the end of autumn.  There
was no other sound except the sputter of the campfre.

Brink's enjoyment lay in spreading his horny palms to the genial
heat of the red coals.  His attitude was one of repose and
serenity.  If there was sadness about his lonely figure, it was
something of which he had no conscious thought.  Brink had only dim
remembrance of home and family, vague things far back in the past.
He had never loved a woman.  He had lived apart from men, aloof
even when the accident of life and travel had thrown him into camps
or settlements.  Once he had loved a dog.  Seldom did his mind
dwell on the past, and then only in relation to some pursuit or
knowledge that came to him from the contiguity of the present task.

He liked the loneliness, the wildness, the solitude.  He seemed to
be part of them.  When a very young boy he had been forced by a
stepmother to hate a house.  As a child he had been punished at the
table, and never in his life afterward could he outgrow hate of a
dining room and the fear that had been instilled into his
consciousness.

Night settled down black, with but few stars showing through the
gathering clouds.  Listening and watching and feeling were
sensorial habits with Brink.  Rain or snow breathed on the chill
wind.  He hailed the possibility of either with satisfaction.  It
was through the snow that he meant to track Old Gray to his last
lair.  When the heat of the fire died out Brink went to his bed,
rolled in the blanket, and at once fell asleep.

The cold, raw dawn found him stirring.  A blanket of cloud had
prevented a white frost on the grass, but there glistened a film of
ice on the brook.  As the sun came up it brightened a blue-sky,
mostly clear.  The drift of the thin clouds was from the southwest,
and they were traveling fast.

Before the sun had warmed out the shade of the canyon, Brink, with
pack on his back and rifle in hand, had taken up Old Gray's trail.
It was easy to follow.  The wolf showed a preference for the open
canyon, and in many places left plain imprints in the sand.  The
canyon, running away from the rim, deepened and widened; and its
disconnected pools of water at last became a running stream.  Elk
and deer and turkeys filed before Brink; likewise scattered bands
of cattle and an occasional bunch of wild horses.

Evidently the great wolf was not losing time to place distance
between him and his last kill.  Brink found no more sign of his
evincing interest in any tracks.  About noon, by which time Brink
had trailed the animal fully ten miles down the canyon, seldom
losing the tracks for long, Old Gray took to an intersecting
canyon, rough-walled and brushy, and soon he went up into the
rocks.  It took Brink all afternoon to find where the wolf had
lain, but Brink would gladly have spent days for such a triumph.

"Aha, you old gray devil," he soliloquized, as he bent his gaze on
a snug retreat under shelving rocks, where showed the betraying
impress of feet and body of the wolf.  "So you have to sleep an'
rest, huh?  Wal, I reckon you can't get along without killin' an'
eatin' too.  Old Gray, you're bound to leave tracks, an' I'll find
them."

Brink camped that night under the cliff where Old Gray had slept
the day before.  Next day he spent much time finding tracks along
the water course in this narrow canyon, and succeeding ones that
led off to the west.  This canyon soon opened out into grassy ovals
that appeared to be parks for elks.  Brink surprised a herd of
eleven, two bulls with enormous spread of antlers, a young bull,
several cow elks, and four calves.  They trooped up the canyon,
trampling the trails and sandy spots.  Brink kept on, feeling sure
that he had the general direction Old Gray had adopted.  This held
to the west and slightly northward, which course led toward the
wildest country in that section, deep canyons, rough buttes, and
matted jungles of pine saplings.  Here, according to information
Brink had obtained from the cowboys, ranged the last of the timber
wolves known to exist in Arizona.  It was Brink's conviction that
Old Gray knew the country well.

The band of elks soon climbed out of the canyon.  Beyond that point
the bare spots showed only old tracks of game.  At length Brink
came to a beaver dam; and on the very edge of it, deep in the wet
mud, showed the unmistakable tracks of the giant wolf.  Brink had
another of those strange thrills, an inward leaping of blood,
somehow savage.  From that point Old Gray's tracks showed in the
wet places up and down the banks of the narrow ponds of water.  He
had been vastly curious about these dams and mounds erected by the
beaver.  Everywhere he left tracks.  But Brink could not find any
sign of the wolf's catching a beaver unawares.  The beaver of this
colony had been at work that night cutting the aspen trees and
dragging boughs and sections of trunks under the water.

Sunset came before Brink had found a track of the wolf leading away
from that park.  Still, he made camp satisfied with the day.  Any
day in which he found a single fresh track of this wolf was indeed
time well spent.  Unless he were extremely lucky, he must lose the
trail for days.  His hope was that he might keep the general
direction Old Gray had taken until the snow began to fall.  So far
his hope had been more than fulfilled.

The night was clearer and colder than the preceding ones, yet there
were thin, ragged clouds sweeping up out of the southwest, and a
moaning wind that whined of storm.  Late October without rain or
snow was most unusual for that latitude.  Brink camped near the
beaver dam, and the cold windy darkness found him snug in his
blanket.  During the night he was awakened by a yelping of coyotes,
and later by a pattering of sleet on the dry brush.  A black cloud
was scudding across the sky.  It passed with the threatening storm.
Morning broke brighter than ever.  He began to fear wet weather had
been sidetracked indefinitely.  But after all there was no good in
his being impatient.  If he lost Old Gray's trail on dry ground,
sooner or later he would find it again.  This three-hundred-mile
strip of comparatively low country was the winter range of the
great wolf.  He had a taste for young cattle.  It was unlikely that
he would go back into the high altitude of his summer range in the
New Mexico mountains.

Brink's good luck persisted.  He discovered Old Gray's tracks
leading up out of the canyon.  The direction then was all he could
hope for at present, because, naturally, he expected to lose the
trail on the hard and dry ridge tops.  He did lose it.  All signs
of the wolf vanished.  But Brink had ascertained that Old Gray had
traveled almost straight toward the rough country to the northwest.
Therefore Brink zigzagged the ridges and canyons for three days
without a sign of his quarry's movements.  He wondered if the wolf
had made a kill during this period.  He traveled into a cut-up
country of deep canyons and rock ridges, overgrown with heavy
forest.  He saw no more elk or bear signs, but deer tracks became
as plentiful as cattle tracks in a corral.

Late on the afternoon of that third day, as Brink was hunting for a
suitable camp, he came to an open glade in the pine forest.  In the
center of it was a pond of surface water about an acre in size.
Deer tracks both old and fresh were numerous.  Brink, after
deciding the water was safe to drink, deposited his pack in a
likely camp spot amid a thicket of pine saplings, and started to
walk round the pond.  Before he had gone halfway he encountered
wolf tracks, made the night before.  They were loafer marks, but
not Old Gray's.

"Wal, wolf tracks cross each other on any range," decided Brink.
"Reckon I'll take to these. . . .  Ahuh.  There's been a couple of
loafers here, an' one of them has a bad foot.  Been in a trap,
mebbe."

Brink made camp leisurely.  He was getting into wolf country.  The
sunset shone ominously overcast and threatening.  The temperature
had moderated and the feeling of frost gave way to dampness.  Brink
cleared a space in the pine thicket, and erected a shelving lean-to
on the windward side.  Under this he made his bed.  His next move
was to gather a goodly store of dry firewood and to pile it under
the shelter.  After that he cooked his meal, and this time, to his
satisfaction, he broiled a young turkey he had shot the day before.

Night settled down like a black blanket, starless and gloomy.  The
wind moaned louder than usual.  Brink soliloquized that the wind
was warning Old Gray to leave the country before the fatal snow
fell.  Brink enjoyed this meal more than any heretofore on this
hunt.  The wild scene, the somber tarn, the menacing solitude were
all to his liking.  He was settling into his routine.  Contrary to
his custom on the preceding nights, he sat up a long time, and
whether he had his face to the fire or his back, his palms were
always spread to the comforting heat.  Brink looked and listened
with more than usual attention during this vigil beside the
campfire.  It appeared that the wind grew more raw, damper.

"Rain or snow sure," he muttered, and the note boded ill to certain
wild denizens of that forestland.

At length drowsiness made his eyelids heavy and he sought his bed
under the shelter of pine boughs.  Sleep claimed him.  He awakened
with a feeling that only a moment had elapsed, but he could tell by
the dead campfire how misleading this was.  Something had roused
him.

Suddenly from the dark forest on the cold wind came the deep, wild
bay of a hunting wolf.  With a start Brink sat up.  A quiver ran
over him.  How intensely he listened.  No other wild sound in
nature had such power over him.  It seemed as if this bay came from
a vague dim past.  Again it pealed out, but with a sharper note,
not greatly different from that of a hunting hound.

"Loafers trailin' a deer," said Brink.  "Two of them, mebbe more."

Again he heard the bays, growing farther away, and another time,
quite indistinct.  After that the weird moaning solitude of the
forest remained undisturbed.

Brink lay back in his blanket, but not to sleep.  He would lie
awake now for a long while.  How that wolf bay brought back
memories of the frozen northland.  All wolves were of the same
species.  They loved hot blood.  It was their savage instinct to
feed ravenously off a still-living victim.

Brink imagined he heard deep low bays back in the forest.  Always
the wind made the sound for which the eager ears were attuned.  And
even when he was not listening for any particular sound, the wind
deceived with its wild cry of beast, its wail of lost humans, its
mourning for the dead, its distant approach to a trampling army.

All the same, Brink again suddenly sat up.  "Say, have I got a
nightmare?"  He turned his ear away from the cold wind, and holding
his breath, he listened.  Did he hear a bay or a moan in the
forest?  Long he remained stiff, intent.

The wolves had resorted to a trick Brink knew well.  The pack had
split into several parts, one of which relayed the deer for a time,
driving it round while the others rested.  In Brink's experience
the trick was common for a pack that had a great leader.

Once again in the succeeding hour Old Gray passed near Brink's
camp, ringing out that hoarse cry of hunger for blood.  Long after
the sound had rolled through the forest, to die away it lingered on
his ears.  But it did not come again.

Instead, something happened to Brink which sent a tight cold
prickle to his skin.  It was the touch of soft misty snow on his
face.  A tiny seeping rustle, almost indistinguishable, fell about
him on the brush.  Snow.  Cloud and wind and atmosphere had
combined in the interest of the wolftracker.


III


A lowering gray dawn disclosed the forest mantled in a wet snow,
deep enough to cover the ground and burden the trees.  The wind had
eased somewhat and was colder, which facts augured for clearing
weather.  Thin broken clouds moved close to the tops of the
loftiest pines.

"Wal, reckon it's only a skift," remarked Brink, as his gaze swept
the white-carpeted glade, with its round pond of dark water in the
center.  "But it's snow, an' right here my trackin' begins.  If it
melts, it'll leave the ground soft.  If it doesn't, well an' good."

Brink was singularly happy.  The raw dawn with its changed forest-
world would have alienated most men, but he was not that kind of a
hunter.  The Indian summer days were past.  The white banner of
winter had been unrolled.  Moreover, Old Gray had passed in the
night, ringing his wild and unearthly voice down the aisles of the
forest.  Somehow Brink had no doubt that the hoarse hound-like bay
belonged to the wolf he was stalking.

"I know his tracks," said Brink, "an' I've heard him yelp.  Sooner
or later I'll see him.  Wal now, that'll be a sight. . . .  But I
reckon I'm over reachin' this good luck."

A pale light behind the gray clouds in the east marked the rise of
the sun.  Only a few inches of snow had fallen.  As Brink trudged
away from his camp, out into the white glade, he was victim to an
eagerness and joy extraordinary in a man.  But the most driving
instinct of his life had been the hunting of animals by the tracks
they left.  As a boy it had been play; in manhood it had become a
means of livelihood; now it was a passion.  Therefore he hailed the
pure white covering of snow with pleasure and affection.

His educated eyes sought the ground.  Here were the tiny footprints
of a chipmunk; next the ragged tracks of a squirrel, showing where
his tail had dragged; coyote and fox had also visited the pond
since the fall of snow.  Brink crossed the open glade to enter the
forest.  A blue jay screeched at him from an oak tree and a red
squirrel chattered angrily.  Brink passed under a spruce where the
little squirrel had already dug for the seed cones he had stored
for winter food.

Brink espied the wolf and buck tracks fully fifty yards ahead of
him.  Soon he stood over them.  The tracks had been made before the
snow had ceased to fall, yet they were clear enough to be read by
the hunter.  The buck had been running.  Two wolves had been
chasing him, but neither was Old Gray.  After a long scrutiny of
the tracks Brink left them and stalked on deeper into the forest.
He crossed the trail of a lynx.  What a betrayer of wild beasts was
the white snow they loved so well.  Brink seemed to read the very
thoughts of that prowling hunting cat.

Toward noon the sun came out, lighting up the forest, until it
appeared to be an enchanted place of gleaming aisles, of brown-
barked trunks and white-burdened branches.  Everywhere snow was
sliding, slipping, falling from the trees.  Rainbows showed through
the mist.  The aspens with their golden leaves and the oaks with
their bronze belied the wintry forest scene.  On the snow lay
leaves of yellow and red and brown, fallen since the storm.  Pine
needles were floating down from the lofty pines, and aspen leaves,
like butterflies, fluttered in the air.  Through the green-and-
white canopy overhead showed rifts in the clouds and sky of deep
blue.  Though the forest was white and cold, autumn yielded
reluctantly to winter, squirrels and jays and woodpeckers acclaimed
a welcome to the sun.

Brink missed none of the beauty, though his grim task absorbed him.
All of the moods of nature were seriously accepted by him.  He was
a man of the open.

He arrived at last where the buck had reached the end of his tragic
race, and by some strange paradox of nature the woodland scene was
one of marvelous color and beauty.  Over a low swale the pine
monarchs towered and the silver spruces sent their exquisite spiral
crests aloft.  On one side a sheltered aspen thicket still clung
tenaciously to its golden fluttering foliage.  Maples burned in
cerise and magenta and scarlet hues.

Underfoot, however, the beauty of this spot had been marred.  Here
the buck had been overtaken, pulled down, torn to pieces, and
devoured, even to the cracking of its bones.  The antlers, the
skull, part of the ragged hide were left, ghastly evidences of the
ferocity of that carnage.  The snow had been crushed, dragged,
wiped, and tracked out, yet there were left vestiges soaked by
blood.  Coyotes had visited the scene, and these scavengers had
quarreled over the bones.

As Brink had seen the beauty of the colorful forest, so now he
viewed the record of the tragic balance of nature.  The one to him
was the same as the other.  He did not hate Old Gray for being the
leader in this butchery of a gentle forest creature.

"Wal now, I wonder how long he'll trail with this pack of loafers,"
he soliloquized.  "If I was guessin' I'd say not long."

How different from those running wolf tracks he had been following
were these leisurely trotting paces that led up to the rough
bluffs.  Brink calculated they had been made just before dawn.  The
wolves had gorged.  They were heavy and sluggish.  At this moment
they would be sleeping off that orgy of blood and meat.  Brink
reached the foot of a very rugged butte, not so high as the
adjoining one, Black Butte, which dominated the landscape, but of a
nature which rendered it almost insurmountable for man.  Manzanita
and live oak choked all the interstices between the rugged broken
fragments of cliff.  Obstacles, however, never daunted Brink.

Brink strode on, keen to find the second trail of wolves, and to
settle absolutely the question as to Old Gray's presence with this
marauding band of loafers.  There might be two great-voiced wolves
on the range.  But the track would decide.  When at length he
encountered the trail he was seeking, abruptly at the top of a low
ridge, he stood motionless, gazing with rapt, hard eyes.  Two
loafers besides Old Gray had chased the buck along here.  So there
were at least five in the pack.

"I was right," said Brink, with a deep breath.  Old Gray's tracks
in the snow were identical with those he left in the dust.  Yet how
vastly more potent to Brink.  For snow was the medium by which he
had doomed the great timber wolf.  Without snow to betray him Old
Gray would have been as safe as the eagles in their trackless air.
This, then, was the moment of exceeding significance to Brink.
Here again the test of endurance.  All the hunters who had failed
on Old Gray's trail had matched their intelligence with his cunning
instinct.  The hounds that had chased the wolf had failed because
the fleet and powerful animal had outdistanced them and run out of
the country.  But Brink did not work like other hunters.  His idea
was the result of long stalking of wild game.  And this moment when
he gazed down into the huge tracks in the snow was one in which he
felt all the tremendous advantage in his favor.  Somewhere in a
rocky recess or cave Old Gray was now sleeping after the chase and
the gorge, unaware of his relentless and inevitable human foe.  But
Brink was in possession of facts beyond the ken of any wild
creature.  Perhaps his passion was to prove the superiority of man
over beast.

Without a word he set off on the trail so plain in the snow, and as
he stalked along he sought to read through those telltale tracks
the speed and strength of the buck, the cunning and endurance of
the wolves, and all the wild nature suggested therein.  Through
level open forest, down ridge and over swale, into thickets of
maple and aspen, across parks where bleached grass glistened out of
the snow, he strode on with the swing of a mountaineer.  He did not
tire.  His interest had mounted until the hours seemed moments.

Cougar tracks, deer tracks, turkey tracks crossed the trail he was
following.  It swung in a ragged circle, keeping clear of rocks,
canyons, and the windfalls where running would be difficult.  Brink
passed three relay stations where resting and running wolves had
met; and at the last of these all five wolves took the trail of the
doomed buck.  They had chased him all night.  Their baying had kept
all of them within hearing of each other.  The resting relay had
cunningly cut in or across at times, thus to drive the buck out of
a straightaway race.

Laying aside pack and snowshoes, with rifle in hand he essayed the
ascent.  Part of the time over rock and the rest through the brush
he made his way, wholly abandoning the direction of the wolf trail.

After an hour of prodigious labor Brink reached the base of a low
bulging wall of rock, marked by cracks and fissures.  The snow was
somewhat deeper at this altitude and afforded a perfect medium in
which to track animals.  Bobcat, lynx, their lairs.  And then,
around on the windward cougar, fox, and coyote had climbed the
bluff.  There Brink found the trail of the loafers.  The difference
between their sagacity and that of the other wild beasts was
indicated by their selection of the windy side of the bluff.  Brink
tracked them toward the dark hole of a den.  Upon reaching the
aperture he was not in the least surprised to see Old Gray's tracks
leading out.  The other loafers were still in the cave.  But Old
Gray had gotten a scent on the wind, perhaps even in his sleep, and
he had departed alone.

"Wal, you bloody loafers can sleep, for all we care," soliloquized
Brink.  "Old Gray an' me have work."

Somehow Brink took exceeding pleasure in the fact that the great
wolf had been too cunning to be holed up by a hunter.  This was
just what Brink had anticipated.  Old Gray was beginning to show
the earmarks of a worthy antagonist.  Brink thought he was going to
have respect and admiration for the loafer.

Brink knelt to study the tracks, and did not soon come to a
conclusion.

"Reckon he scented me," he said, finally.  "But I wonder if he
suspects he's bein' tracked. . . .  Wal now, when he learns that."

The wolf tracker clambered around over the slabs of rock and under
the cliffs until he found where Old Gray had started to descend the
bluff.  Then Brink retraced his steps, finding the return as easy
as the climb had been hard.  Once more donning his pack, he set
out, keeping to the forest where it edged on the rising ground.
Before he had gone a mile he encountered Old Gray's big tracks.

Here Brink sustained a genuine surprise.  He had made sure the wolf
would head straight for the northwest, instinctively making for the
wildest country.  But instead the tracks struck into the woods
straight as a beeline, and no more were they leisurely.

"Huh.  The son-of-a-gun.  If he circles I'll sure take off my hat
to him," said Brink.

With his mountaineer's stride Brink set off through open forest,
downhill, over a few inches of snow, making four miles an hour.
Old Gray did not circle.  Vastly curious did the hunter become.  It
looked as if the wolf was making a shortcut for somewhere.  If he
kept up this course he would soon cross his back trail.  Perhaps
that was just what Old Gray had in mind.  Still, if he suspected he
was being pursued, why had he not circled long ago to find what was
following his tracks?  Brink reflected that there was no absolute
telling what a wild animal might do.  He had trailed grizzly bears
in the snow, and found they had abruptly turned uphill a little
way, then had gone back, closer and closer to the lower trail, at
last to lie and wait for him in ambush.

A wolf, especially a great loafer like Old Gray, rather enjoyed
such a short chase as men and dogs gave him.  He could run right
away from them.  His chief resource was his speed.  But Old Gray
had not heard the bay of hounds or yell of men or crack of iron-
shod hoof on stone.  He was very probably suspicious that something
new hung in the wind.

Brink warmed to the pursuit, both physically and in his spirit.  By
and by the thing would narrow down to the supreme test between man
and beast.  This for Brink was just getting underway; for the wolf
it was the beginning of a period of uncertainty.

Toward the middle of the afternoon the sun came out fitfully,
warming the glades with color, if not with heat.  The snow softened
to the extent that at the bottom of Old Gray's deep tracks it grew
dark and wet.  The wind lulled, too.  Brink did not want a warm
spell, even for a day.  Still, come what might, he believed, even
if the snow did melt, the ground would stay soft until another
storm.  November had arrived, and at that height of land winter had
come.

Old Gray kept to his straight course until halted by the trail he
and his loafer allies and Brink and the buck had left in the snow.
Here Old Gray had stood in his tracks.  Brink imagined he could see
the great gray brute, awakening to the scent and trail of man, and
their relation to him.  Old Gray had crossed and recrossed the
trail, trotted forward and back, and then he had left it to
continue the straight course at precisely the same gait.

This nonplussed the hunter, who had calculated that the wolf would
deliberately set out to find what was tracking him.  But there
seemed nothing sure here, except that the beast had tarried at this
crossing to smell the man tracks.

Brink took comfort in the assurance that the future trail would
prove everything.  He trudged on as before.  A cold drab twilight
halted him in dense forest, mostly spruce.  He selected one so
thick of foliage that the snow had not even whitened the brown mat
of needles and cones under it.  And here he camped.  Making fire,
melting snow, and roasting strips of deer meat occupied him till
dark, and then he sought his fragrant bed under the spruce.

Next day it snowed intermittently, drizzly and mistily, in some
places half filling Old Gray's tracks.  The wolf, soon after
leaving the spot where he had crossed the old tracks, had taken to
a running lope and had sheered to the east.  The hunter had
signalized this change by a grim, "Ahuh."

Brink was seven days in covering the hundred or so miles that Old
Gray had run during the day and the night after he had left the den
on the bluff.  He had run close to the New Mexico line, almost to
the foothills of the White Mountains.  It beat any performance
Brink could recall in his experience.  He must have covered the
distance in eighteen hours or less; and in his wolf mind, Brink was
absolutely certain, he believed he had traveled far beyond pursuit.
For then he had abandoned the straight running course for one of a
prowling, meandering hunt.  But deer tracks were scarce and he had
to go down into the range country for a kill.

Three days more of travel for Brink brought him to the spot where
Old Gray had pulled down a yearling and had eaten his fill.
Coyotes had left the carcass in such condition that Brink could not
tell anything from it, except the mere presence and its meaning.

"Nine days behind," soliloquized Brink.  "But it has snowed some,
an' I reckon I'm playin' on velvet."

Even the lowland cattle ranges were covered with a thin mantle of
snow.  Toward the foothills it deepened.  Mount Ord and Old Baldy
showed pure white in the distance.

Brink strode on, wed to those wolf tracks.  Old Gray left a
gruesome record of his night marauds.  How bold he was.  Yet wide
apart indeed were his kills.  He would travel miles away from the
scene of his last attack, up into the high country, where deep snow
made it impossible for hounds to follow.  Brink found tracks of
both dogs and hunters that had taken his trail, only to abandon it.
Old Gray had the spirit of a demon.  He wrote his size, ferocity,
cunning, age, strength, speed, character, and history in his
tracks.  He was a lone wolf in all the tremendous significance of
that name.  For him there was no safety in numbers.  He ran alone,
bold, defiant, vicious.  It seemed to Brink that he killed out of
wild love for shedding blood.  He chased stock to the very corral
gates of some rancher, and in one instance he killed a calf in a
pasture.  His tracks showed that he played at the game of killing.
Like a playful dog he cavorted beside his intended victim.

It was impossible for Brink to believe otherwise than that this
wolf ran at large with an instinct only second in wildness to the
one of killing to eat.  Not self-preservation in a sense of
aloofness to ranches.  He risked his life many times out of sheer
wild confidence in his mastery of the ranges.  He was lord of that
region from mountain to desert.  Many years he had been hunted.
How infinitely more he must have known of hunters than they knew of
him.  Man was his enemy.  The heritage of hatred, descended from
the primal days of mastodon, saber-toothed tiger, and giant wolf,
in their antagonism to the arboreal ape that was the parent of man,
must have throbbed strong and fierce in Old Gray's heart.  In no
other way could Brink read the signs of the wolf tracks.  He
flaunted his wolfness in the faces of mankind.  There was a
terrible egotism in his assurance of his superiority.  Fear of man
he had never yet known.  Apparently he was as secure as a swift-
winged eagle that kept to the peaks.

Brink bided his time and kept to his methodical trailing.  So far
all the favorable breaks of fortune had been his.  The gradual fall
of snow, layer by layer, instead of a sudden heavy blizzard, was
especially good for Brink and bad for Old Gray.  Winter had come,
and snow lay everywhere, even to the slopes of the low country.
The deer and turkey had moved down out of the high forests.

Some time late in December the hunter struck Old Gray's trail in
fresh snow that had fallen the day before.  The wolf was headed
down-country and the tracks had been made in the night.

"So I've ketched up with you," ejaculated the hunter.  "An' that
without follerin' you hard.  Wal, I reckon you'll soon know I'm
trackin' you."

Brink left the trail, and journeyed half a day down into the range
country, and halted at a little hamlet called Pine.  Here he
replenished his store of provisions.  His sack of pemmican he had
not yet touched.  That he had reserved for the strenuous last lap
of this strange race.  The kindly and inquisitive Mormons of the
village took Brink for a trapper, and assured him there were not
many fur bearing animals left.

"Wal, if you tracked round much as I do you'd be surprised how many
animals are left," replied Brink dryly, and went his way.

What Brink was ready for now was to strike the trail Old Gray would
break after a kill, when he was making for a high lair to rest and
sleep during the day.  Brink tracked himself back to the point
where he had left the trail of the loafer, and here he camped.
During the succeeding week he traveled perhaps fifty miles to and
fro across country, striking Old Gray's tracks several times,
heading both ways.  The morning came then, as much by reason of
Brink's good judgment as the luck that favored him, when he fell
upon a fresh trail, only a few hours old.

The snow lay six inches in depth.  By the time Brink had climbed
out of the cedars into the pines the snow was three times as deep.
Old Gray had navigated it as easily as if it had been grass.  Brink
trudged slowly, but did not take recourse to his snowshoes.

The winter day was bright, cold and keen, though not biting, and
the forest was a solemn, austere world of white and brown and
green.  Not a bird or a living creature crossed Brink's vision, and
tracks of animals were few and far between.  It so happened that
there was no wind, an absolutely dead calm, something rather
unusual for high altitude at this season.  The section of the
country contained almost as much park area as forest.  It was easy
going despite a gradual ascent.

Old Gray traveled at least eighteen miles up and down, mostly up,
before he took to a rocky brushy recess.  Brink considered the
distance at least that far, because he had walked six hours since
he struck the trail.

Taking the general direction of Old Gray's tracks, Brink left them
and making a wide detour he approached on the opposite side of this
fastness.  He encountered no tracks leading out on that side.  The
wolf was there, or had been there when Brink arrived.  Naturally he
wanted to see Old Gray, but not nearly so much as he wanted the
wolf to see him.  There was no sense in trying to surprise the
loafer.  After a careful survey of the thicketed ridge he chose the
quickest way up and scaled it.

As Brink swept sharp sight down over the jumble of boulders and
vine-matted thickets, to the saddle of the ridge where it joined
another, he espied a gray trotting wolf shape.

It was a quarter of a mile distant.  Yet did his eyes deceive him?
Not that he might not see a wolf, but that its size was incredible.

Brink let out a stentorian yell, which pealed on the cold air like
a blast.  The wolf leaped as if he had been shot at.  But he did
not run.  He looked back and up.  Then he trotted, nervously and
hurriedly, it seemed, peering all around and especially behind,
until he attained a bare rise of ridge.

There he stood motionless, gazing up at Brink.  But for the
background of snow the wolf would have appeared white.  He was
gray, with a black slash on his neck.  Even at that distance Brink
clearly made out the magnificence of him, the unparalleled
wildness, the something that could be defined only as an imperious
and contemptuous curiosity.

Brink uttered another yell, more stentorian than the first,
concatenated and mounting, somewhat similar to the Comanche war
whoop, which he had heard in all its appalling significance.  Brink
meant this yell to serve a purpose, so that Old Gray would
recognize it again; yet all the same it was an expression of his
own passion, a challenge, a man's incomprehensible menace to a
hereditary foe.

Old Gray raised his front feet, an action of grace that lifted his
great gray shape into moving relief against the background of snow,
and then, dropping back on all fours, he trotted up the ridge,
looking backward.


IV


Brink had long fortified himself to meet the grueling test of this
chase--the most doubtful time--the weeks of cold tracking--the ever-
increasing distance between him and the great wolf.  For when Old
Gray espied him that morning he took to real flight.  Suspicious of
this strange pursuer without horse or dog, he left the country.
But as range and mountain, valley and dale, canyon and ridge were
all snow covered, he left a record of his movements.  His daily and
nightly tracks were open pages for Brink to read.

Five weeks, six, seven--then Brink lost count of time.  The days
passed, and likewise the miles under his snowshoes.  Spruce and
cedar and pion, thicket of pine and shelving ledge of rock,
afforded him shelter at night.  Sunshine or snowstorm were all the
same to him.  When the fresh snow covered Old Gray's tracks, which
sometimes happened, Brink with uncanny sagacity and unerring
instinct eventually found them again.  Old Gray could not spend the
winter in a cave, as did the hibernating bears.  The wolf had to
eat; his nature demanded the kill--hot blood and flesh.  Thus his
very beastliness, his ferocity, and his tremendous activity doomed
him in this contest for life with a man creature of a higher
species.

His tracks led back to the Cibeque, down into the Tonto Basin,
across Hell-Gate, and east clear to the Sierra Ancas, then up the
bare snow-patched ridges of the Basin, into the chaparral of
juniper and manzanita and mescal, on up the rugged Mazatal range;
over it and west to the Red Rock country, then across the pine-
timbered upland to the San Francisco Peaks, around them to the
north and down the gray bleak reaches of the desert to the Little
Colorado, and so back to the wild fastnesses where that winding
river had its source in the White Mountains.

What a bloody record Old Gray left.  It seemed pursuit had
redoubled his thirst for slaughter, his diabolical defiance of the
ranches, his magnificent boldness.  Perhaps he was not yet sure
that there was a tireless step on his trail.  But Brink believed
the wolf had sensed his enemy, even though he could not scent him.
This conviction emanated from Brink's strange egotism.  Yet the
wolf had roused to no less than a frenzy of killing, over a wider
territory than ever before.  Far and wide as he wandered he yet
kept within night raid of the cattle range.  He must have known the
vast country as well as the thicket where he had been whelped.

The time came when the ceaseless activity of the loafer began to
tell on even his extraordinary endurance.  He slowed up; he killed
less frequently; he traveled shorter distances; he kept more to the
south slopes and nearer the rangeland.  All of which might have
attested to the gradual lulling of his suspicions.  The greatest of
wild animals could not help forget, or at least grow less cautious,
when safety day by day wore fear into oblivion.  Nevertheless,
Brink could never satisfy himself that Old Gray did not think his
tracks were haunted.

Thus tracker and fugitive drew closer together.  The man driven by
an unquenchable spirit, seemed to gather strength from toil and
loneliness, and the gradual overtaking of his quarry.  The wolf,
limited to instinct and the physical power endowed by nature,
showed in his tracks an almost imperceptible, yet inevitable
decline of strength.  Any wolf would wear slower and lighter
through a hard winter.

The sun worked higher in the heavens and the days grew longer.  The
thin crust of snow in exposed places slowly disintegrated until it
no longer supported the weight of a wild cat or coyote, deer or
wolf.  This was the crowning treachery of the snow.

Why did Old Gray stand sometimes in the early morning, leaving
telltale tracks on ridges and high points?  Why did he circle back
and cross his old trail?  Brink knew, and the long trail was no
more monotonous.  The dawn came, too, when he knew the wolf had
spied him.  That day changed life for Old Gray.  He proceeded on
what Brink called a serious even track.  No burst of speed.  No
racing out of the country.  No running amuck among the cattle,
leaving a red tinge on his trail.

Brink halted at sunset under a brushy foothill, dark and shaggy
against the cold rose sky.  The air was still, and tight with
frost.  Brink let out his stentorian yell that pealed like a blast
of thunder out over the snow-locked scene.  The echo clapped back
from the hill and rolled away, from cliff to forest wall, and died
hollowly in the distance.  If Old Gray hid within two miles of
where Brink stood, that ominous knell must have reached his ears.
Brink, in his mind's eye, saw the great beast start, and raise his
sharp, wild head to listen, and tremble with instinct which had
come down to him from the ages.  No day since the advent of man on
earth had ever seen the supremacy of beast.

The king of the gray wolves became a hunted creature.  He shunned
the rangelands where the cattle nipped the bleached grass out of
the thinning snow.  At night, on the cedar slopes, he stalked deer,
and his kills grew infrequent.  At dawn he climbed to the deep
snows of the uplands, and his periods of sleep waxed shorter.
Brink's snowshoes were as seven-league boots.  The snow was nothing
to him.  But Old Gray labored through the drifts.  The instinct of
the wild animal prompts it to react to a perilous situation in a
way that most always is right.  Safety for the intelligent wolf did
lie away from the settlements, the ranches, and the lowlands, far
up in the snowy ridges.  Many a pack of hounds and band of horsemen
Old Gray had eluded in the deep snows.  In this case, however, he
had something to reckon with far beyond his ken.

Hunger at length drove Old Gray farther down the south slopes,
where he stalked deer and failed to kill as often as he killed.
Time passed, and the night came when the wolf missed twice on
chances that, not long ago, would have been play for him.  He never
attempted to trail another deer.  Instead he tracked turkeys to
their roosts and skulked in the brush until at dawn they alighted.
Not often was his cunning rewarded.  Lower still he was forced to
go, into the canyons, and on the edge of the lowlands, where like
any common coyote he chased rabbits.  And then his kills became few
and far between.  Last and crowning proof of his hunger and
desperation he took to eating porcupines.  How the mighty had
fallen.  Brink read this tragedy in the tracks in the snow.

For weeks Brink had expected to overtake Old Gray and drive him
from his day's lair.  This long-hoped for event at length took
place at noon on a cold, bright day, when Brink suddenly espied the
wolf on the summit of a high ridge, silhouetted against the pale
sky.  Old Gray stood motionless, watching him.  Brink burst out
with his savage yell.  The wolf might have been a statue, for all
the reaction he showed.

"Huh.  Reckon my eyes are tired of this snow glare," muttered
Brink, "but I ain't blind yet.  That's sure Old Gray."

The black slash at the neck identified the notorious loafer;
otherwise Brink could not have made certain.  Old Gray appeared
ragged and gaunt.  The hunter shaded his eyes with his hand and
looked long at his coveted quarry.  Man and beast gazed at each
other across the wide space.  For Brink it was a moment of most
extraordinary exultation.  He drew a great breath and expelled it
in a yell that seemed to pierce the very rocks.  Old Gray dropped
his head and slunk down out of sight behind the ridge.

On each succeeding day, sooner or later, Brink's approach would
rout the wolf out of covert in rocks or brush, always high up in
places that commanded a view of the back trail.  The pursuit would
continue then, desperate on the part of the wolf, steady and
relentless on that of the man, until nightfall.  Then Brink would
halt in the best place which offered, and, cutting green wood, he
would lay pieces close together on the snow and build his little
fire of dead sticks or bark upon them.  Here he would cook his
meager meal.  His supplies were low, but he knew they would hold
out.  And Old Gray would have to spend the night hunting.  Not one
night in four would he kill meat.

It was early one morning, crisp and clear, cracking with frost,
when the sunlight glinted on innumerable floating particles of ice
in the air.  The snow was soft and deep.  Only in shady places on
the north side of rocks, ridges, or hills did the crust hold.  Blue
jays screeched and red squirrels chattered.  The sun felt warm on
Brink's cheek.  Somehow he knew that spring had come.  But here, on
the solemn, forested heights, winter held undisputed sway.  Old
Gray had traveled for days along the south slopes of the Blue
Range; with the strange instinct of the wild he had climbed through
a pass, and now he was working down on the north side.

Far below Brink saw the black belt of forest, brightened by the
open white senecas, little bare parks peculiar to the region.  He
would see and hear the tumbling streams, now released from their
ice-locked fastnesses.  Lower still stretched the rangeland, a
patchwork of white and black.  The air held a hint of spring.
Brink smelled it, distinguished it from the cold tang of spruce and
pine, and the faint fragrance of wood smoke.

Old Gray was not far ahead.  His dragging tracks were fresh.  Long
had it been since he had stepped lightly and quickly over thin
crust.  And in the soft snow he waded.  He did not leave four-foot
tracks, but ragged furrows, sometimes as deep as his flanks.  The
spruce and fir were dwarfed in size and few in number, growing
isolated from one another.  Below these straggling trees stood out
patches and clumps of forest.  Brink plodded on wearily, every step
a torture.  Only the iron of his will, somehow projected into his
worn muscles and bones, kept him nailed to that trail.  His eyes
had begun to trouble him.  He feared snow-blindness, that bane of
the mountaineer.  His mind seemed to have grown old, steeped in
monotonous thoughts of wolf and track.

Upon rounding a thicket of spear-pointed spruce Brink came to a
level white bench, glistening like a wavy floor of diamonds in the
sunlight.

Halfway across this barren mantle of snow a gray beast moved
slowly.  Old Gray.  He was looking back over his shoulder, wild of
aspect, sharp in outline.  The distance was scarce three hundred
yards, a short range for Brink's unerring aim.  This time he did
not yell.  Up swept his rifle and froze to his shoulder.  His keen
eye caught the little circular sight and filled it with gray.

But Brink could not pull the trigger.  A tremendous shock passed
over him.  It left him unstrung.  The rifle wavered out of
alignment with the dragging wolf.  Brink lowered the weapon.

"What's come--over me?" he rasped out, in strange amaze.  Weakness?
Exhaustion?  Excitement?  Despite a tumult in his breast, and a
sudden numbness of his extremities, he repudiated each of these
queries.  The truth held aloof until Old Gray halted out there on
the rim of the bench and gazed back at his human foe.

"I'll kill you with my bare hands," yelled Brink, in terrible
earnestness.

Not until the ultimatum burst from his lips did the might of
passion awake in him.  Then for a moment he was as a man possessed
with demons.  He paid in emotion for the months of strain on body
and mind.  That spell passed.  It left him rejuvenated.

"Old Gray, if I shot you it'd prove nothin'," he called, grimly, as
if the wolf could understand.  "It's man ag'in wolf."

And he threw his rifle aside into the snow, where it sank out of
sight.  As Brink again strode forward, with something majestic and
implacable in his mien, Old Gray slunk out of sight over the rim of
the snow bench.  When the tracker reached the edge of this
declivity the wolf had doubled the distance between them.  Downhill
he made faster time.  Brink stood a moment to watch him.  Old Gray
had manifestly worn beyond the power to run, but on places where
the snow crust upheld his weight he managed a weary trot.  Often he
looked back over his shoulder.  These acts were performed
spasmodically, at variance with his other movements, and betrayed
him victim to terror.  Uncertainty had ceased.  There was a monster
on his trail.  Man.  His hereditary foe.

Brink had to zigzag down snowy slopes, because it was awkward and
sometimes hazardous to attempt abrupt descents on snowshoes.  Again
the loafer drew out of sight.  Brink crossed and recrossed the
descending tracks.  Toward the middle of the afternoon the mountain
slope merged into a level and more thickly timbered country.  Yet
the altitude was too great for dense forest.  It was a wilderness
of white and black, snowy ridges, valleys, swales, and senecas
interspersed among strips of forest, patches and thickets of
spruce, deep belts of timber.

By the strange perversity of instinct Old Gray chose the roughest
travel, the darkest thicket, the piece of wood most thickly
obstructed by windfalls.  Brink avoided many of these sections of
the trail; sometimes he made shortcuts.  He did not see the wolf
again that day, though he gained upon him.  Night intervened.

In the cold, gray dawn, when the ghostly spruces were but shadows,
Brink strode out on the trail.  There was now a difference in his
stride.  For months he had tramped along, reserving his strength,
slowly, steadily, easily without hurry or impatience.  That
restraint constituted part of his greatness as a tracker.  But now
he had the spring of a deer-stalker in his step.  The weariness and
pang of muscle and bone had strangely fled.

Old Gray's tracks now told only one story.  Flight.  He did not
seek to hunt meat.  He never paused to scent at trail of deer or
cat.  His tracks seemed to tell of his wild yet sure hope of soon
eluding his pursuer.

Before noon Brink again came in sight of the wolf, and did not lose
it except when declivities or obstruction came between them.  Old
Gray passed the zone of snow crust.  He walked and waded and
wallowed through the deep white drifts.  How significant that he
gazed backward more than forward.  Whenever he espied Brink he
forced a harder gait that kept the hunter from gaining.

All afternoon the distance between them varied from four to five
hundred yards.  At intervals Brink let out his stentorian yell,
that now rang with a note of victory.  Always it made Old Gray jerk
as if he had been stung from behind.  It forced him into an action
that would have terminated in a leap forward had his strength
answered to his wild spirit.  Then soon again his strained efforts
would sink back to the weary drag through the snow.

When the chill mountain dusk fell Brink abandoned the pursuit for
the day and made camp under a thick-branched, tent-like spruce, his
favorite kind of place.  Here he had to cut the first drooping
branches, so that he could obtain head room under the canopy.  A
rousing fire soon melted the snow down to the ground.  It was
significant that he broke his rule of eating sparingly.  This meal
was almost a hearty one.  Likewise he returned to his old habit of
sitting and standing before his fire, watching the blaze, the red
embers, the growing opal ashes.  He had no thought aside from the
wolf and the surroundings that insulated them.  The moon shone
brightly down on a cold, solemn mountain world.  No wind, no cry of
bird or beast, no sound except the crackling of the dying fire.  He
seemed a part of the wilderness.  When he rolled in his blanket he
heaved a deep breath, almost a sigh, and muttered, "Tomorrow, mebbe--
or sure the day after."

The next morning was not half gone before Brink caught up with Old
Gray.  The wolf had not eaten or slept or rested, yet he had
traveled scarcely ten miles.  But he had lagged along.  At sight of
the hunter he exhibited the panic of a craven dog.  The action of
his accelerated pace was like the sinking of his body forward.
Then he went on, and for long kept even with his pursuer.

The time came, however, when Brink began almost imperceptibly to
gain.  Brink's practiced eye saw it long before the wolf.  But at
length Old Gray looked back so often that he bumped into brush and
trees.  Then he seemed hurried into a frenzy which did not in the
least augment his speed.  He knew his pursuer was gaining, yet even
that could not spur his jaded body to greater effort.

The sun set; twilight fell gray and black; dusk mantled the wintry
scene; then night followed imperceptibly.  But this night the wolf
tracker did not abandon the tracks.

Above the cold white peaks a brightness illumined the dark blue
sky.  It had strange power over the shadows below.  They changed,
retreated, lightened.  The moon rose above the mountain and flooded
that lonely solitude with radiance.

The black spear-pointed spruces stood motionless, weird and
spectral on the moon-blanched snow.  The cliffs loomed gray and
obscure.  Dead bleached trees shone ghastly in the moonlight.
Night, moon, snow, winter, solitude, nature seemed to grip all in a
lifeless vice.

But two objects wound slowly across the white spaces.  How
infinitesimal against that background.  An animal pursued by a
human.  Two atoms endowed with strange spirit down upon which the
moon shone in seeming pity.

The hours wore on.  The moon soared.  The scene changed.  A wind
mourned out of the north.  The spectral spruces swayed against the
blue sky.  A muffled roar of slipping avalanche rose from a long
distance and died away.  On the level reaches of snow that bright
eye above could see the slow diminishing of space between man and
wolf.  Five hundred yards--four hundred--three hundred.

The shadows of peaks and cliffs and trees gradually turned to the
other side.  The moon slanted through the hours, paled and waned,
and slanted behind the range.  Through the gray gloom and
obscurity, pursued and pursuer wended a deviating way, indifferent
to Nature and elements and darkness or light.

Dawn was at hand, gray, mysterious, strange, beautiful, as it had
broken millions of times in the past.  The earth was turning on its
axis.  The sun was on the rise.  In that mountain solitude there
brooded the same life and death as had always been there.  Five
hundred thousand years before this hour the same drama of man and
beast might have been enacted.

Yet hardly the same.  The cave man fought the cave bear and saber-
toothed tiger and giant wolf only to survive.  Self-preservation
was the primal law.  Now only the instinct of the wolf remained the
same.

Before man lived in caves he was arboreal; he descended from his
abode in trees to walk on his feet and work with his hands, and
fight.  Through the dim dark ages forward, his instinct, reason,
intelligence developed.  In his four-footed foes these qualities
remained static.

The meaning of that revolved vaguely in Brink's somber thoughts.
But this wolf tracker had no clear conception of the great passion
which possessed his soul.  When daylight came and he saw Old Gray
dragging his gaunt body through the snow, now only a hundred paces
distant, he awoke the cold mocking echoes with his terrible yell.
And the shock of it appeared to send the wolf staggering off his
feet.  When the sun tipped the snow-rimmed mountain far above, to
bathe the valley in morning glory, Brink was gaining inch by inch.

The end of the long chase was not far off.  Old Gray's heart had
broken.  It showed in every step he made.  Sagging and lame, he
struggled through the snow; he wove along and fell and got up to
drive his worn-out body to yet another agony.  Seldom he gazed back
now.  When he did turn he showed to Brink a wolf face that seemed
extraordinarily to express the unalterable untameableness of the
wild.  That spirit was fear.  If in that instant Old Gray could
have suddenly become endowed with all his former strength, he would
never have turned to kill his age-long enemy.

Brink's endurance was almost spent.  Yet he knew he would last, and
his stride did not materially lessen.  Sometimes a haze overspread
his eyes and black spots danced in his sight.  The pangs of his
body were innumerable and almost unbearable.  Yet he went on.

What was in his mind?  What had driven him to these superhuman
exertions?  The remote past was with him surely, though he had no
consciousness of that.  The very marrow of his bones seemed to
gather and swell and throb in readiness to burst into a mighty
thrill when he had proved that he was stronger than this beast.
Often he scooped up a handful of snow to put into his dry mouth.
His heart labored heavily with sharp pains, and there was a
drumming in his ears.  Inch by inch he gained.  But he stifled his
strange exultation.

The battle must go to the strong--to prove the survival of the
fittest.  Nature had developed this wolf to the acme of perfection.
But more merciless than nature was life, for life had weakness.
Man shared this weakness with all animals, but man possessed some
strange, sustaining, unutterable, ineradicable power.  Brink relied
upon it.  Old Gray was yielding to it.

The last hour grew appalling.  Brink felt on the verge of collapse.
Old Gray's movements were those of a dying creature.  The hunter
did not gain any more.  Over white benches, through spruce
thickets, under the windfalls man and beast remained only a few
paces apart.  Brink could have knocked the wolf over with a club.
But he only stretched out a great clutching hand, as if the next
moment he could close it round that black-slashed neck.

The solemn day advanced.  And from the last slope of mountain in
the rangeland below spread out gray and green in the habiliments of
spring.  The long winter was over.  Cattle dotted the pasture
lands.

Under Brink's snowshoes the snow grew wet and soft.  Soon he must
take them off.  But there would be drifts in the black belt of pine
forest below.  He smelled the tang of the pines, warm, sweet,
woody.

The irregular furrow which he trod out with his snowshoes led down
over slope and bench to level forest.  Under the stately spreading
pines the snow swelled into wavy mounds.

Old Gray sank the length of his legs, fell on his side, and lay
still.

Soon the wolf tracker stood over him, gaping down.

"Ahuh--Old Gray--you're done," he panted huskily.

All that appeared left of magnificence about this wolf was his
beautiful gray coat of fur, slashed at the neck with a glossy mark
of black.  Old Gray was lean and thin.  His wild head lay on the
snow, with mouth open, tongue protruding.  How white and sharp the
glistening fangs.

It was nothing new for Brink to see the coward in a beaten wolf.
The legend of the ferocity of a trapped wolf was something he knew
to be untrue.  This notorious loafer, so long a menace to the
range, showed in his wonderful gray eyes his surrender to man.  The
broken heart, the broken spirit, the acceptance of death.  Brink
saw no fear now--only resignation.  And for a moment it halted his
propelling rush to violence.

Man and wolf, age-long hereditary foes, alone there in the
wilderness.  Man the conqueror--man obsessed with the idea that man
was born in the image of God.  No wolf--no beast had ever been or
could ever be man's equal.  Brink's life had been an unconscious
expression of this religion.  This last and supreme test to which
he had so terribly addressed himself had been the climax of his
passion to prove man's mastery over all the beasts of the field.

Yet, with brawny hand extended, Brink suffered a singular and
dismaying transformation of thought.  What else did he read in
those wild gray eyes?  It was beyond him, yet from it he received a
chilling of his fevered blood, a sickening sense of futility even
in possession of his travail-earned truth.  Could he feel pity for
Old Gray, blood-drinker of the cattle ranges?

"Ahuh. . . .  Reckon if I held back longer--" he muttered, darkly,
wonderingly.  Then stepping out of his snowshoes he knelt and laid
hold of Old Gray's throat with that great clutching hand.

Brink watched the wild eyes fade and glaze over and set.  The long
tremble of the wolf in the throes of death was strangely similar to
the intense vibrating thrill of the man in his response to the
heritage of a primitive day.


V


It was springtime down at Barrett's ranch.  The cows were lowing
and the calves were bawling.  Birds and wet ground and budding
orchard trees were proof of April even if there had not been the
sure sign of the rollicking cowboys preparing for the spring
roundup.

"I'm a-rarin' to go.  Oh, boy!" shouted Sandy McLean.

"Wal, I'm the damndest best cowman that ever forked a hoss,"
replied the lean and rangy Juniper Edd, star rider for Barrett.

The shaggy, vicious mustangs cavorted in the corral, and whistled,
squealed, snorted, and kicked defiance at their masters.

"Reckon I gotta stop smokin' them coffin nails.  I jest cain't
see," complained Thad Hickenthorp.

"Aw, it ain't cigarettes, Hick," drawled the redheaded Matty Lane.
"Your eyes had plumb wore out on Sally Barrett."

"She's shore dazzlin', but thet's far enough for you to shoot off
yore chin," replied Thad.

"Cheese it, you fellars.  Hyar comes the boss," added another
cowboy.

Barrett strode from the ranch house.  Once he had been a cowboy as
lithe and wild as any one of his outfit.  But now he was a heavy,
jovial, weather-beaten cattleman.

"Boys, heah's word from my pardner, Adams," he said, with
satisfaction.  "All's fine an' dandy over on the Cibeque.  You got
to rustle an' shake dust or that outfit will show us up.  Best news
of all is about Old Gray.  They haven't seen hide nor hair nor
track of that wolf for months.  Neither have we.  I wonder now. . . .
Wouldn't it be dod-blasted good luck if we was rid of that loafer?"

On that moment a man appeared turning into the lane, and his
appearance was so unusual that it commanded silence on the part of
Barrett and his cowboys.  This visitor was on foot.  He limped.  He
sagged under a pack on his shoulder.  His head was bowed somewhat,
so that the observers could not see his face.  His motley garb was
so tattered that it appeared to be about to fall from him in bits
of rags.

He reached the group of men and, depositing his pack on the ground,
he looked up to disclose a placid, grizzled face, as seamed and
brown as a mass of pine needles.

"Howdy, stranger.  An' who might you be?" queried Barrett, gruffly.

"My name's Brink.  I'm new in these parts.  Are you Barrett,
pardner to Adams over on the Cibeque?" he replied.

"Yes, I'm Barrett.  Do you want anythin' of me?"

"I've got something to show you," returned Brink, and kneeling
stiff-legged he laboriously began to untie his pack.  It was bulky
and securely roped.  Out of one end of the bundle protruded the
frayed points of snowshoes.  The cowboys surrounded him and
Barrett, curiously silent, somehow sensing the dramatic.

When Brink drew out a gray furry package and unfolded it to show
the magnificent pelt of a great loafer wolf the cowboys burst into
gasps and exclamations of amaze.

"Ever seen that hide?" demanded Brink, with something subtle and
strong under his mild exterior.

"Old Gray," boomed Barrett.

"I'm a locoed son-of-a-gun if it ain't," said Juniper Edd.

"Wal.  I never seen Old Gray, but thet's him," ejaculated Thad.

"Damn me.  It's shore thet gray devil with the black ruff.  Old
Gray wot I seen alive more'n any man on the ranges," added Matty
Lane, in an incredulity full of regret.

"Stranger, how'n hell did you ketch this heah wolf?" demanded Sandy
McLean.

Brink stood up.  Something tame and deceiving fell away from the
man.  His face worked, his eyes gleamed.

"I walked him to death in the snow," he replied.

Barrett swore a lusty oath.  It gave full expression to his
acceptance of Brink's remarkable statement, yet held equal awe and
admiration.

"When?  How long?" he queried, hoarsely.

"Well, I started in early last October, an' I saw the end of his
tracks yesterday."

"It's April tenth," exclaimed Barrett.  "Tracked--walked Old Gray
to death. . . .  My God, man, but you look it. . . .  An' you've
come for the reward?"

"Reckon I'd forgot that," replied Brink, simply.  "I just wanted
you to know the loafer was dead."

"Ah-hum.  So that's why?" returned the rancher, ponderingly, with a
hand stroking his chin.  His keen blue eyes studied the wolf
tracker gravely, curiously.  His cowboys, likewise, appeared at the
end of their wits.  For once their loquaciousness had sustained a
check.  One by one, silent as owls and as wide-eyed, they walked to
and fro around Brink, staring from his sad, lined face to the
magnificent wolf pelt.  But least of all did their faces and
actions express doubt.  They were men of the open range.  They saw
at a glance the manifestations of tremendous toil, of endurance,
privation, and time that had reduced this wolf tracker to a
semblance of a scarecrow in the cornfield.  Of all things, these
hardy cowboys respected indomitableness of spirit and endurance of
body.  They wondered at something queer about Brink, but they
could not grasp it.  Their need of silent conviction, their
reverent curiosity, proclaimed that to them he began to loom
incomprehensibly great.

"Never felt so happy in my life," burst out Barrett.  "Come in an'
eat an' rest.  I'll write you a check for that five thousand. . . .
An' fetch Old Gray's hide to show my womenfolks.  I'll sure have
that hide made into a rug."

Brink gave a slight start and his serenity seemed to shade into a
somber detachment.  Without a glance at Barrett he knelt, and
folded up the wolf skin and tied it in his pack.  But when he
arose, lifting the pack to his shoulder, he said:

"Keep your money.  Old Gray is mine."

Then he strode away from the bewildered ranchman and his cowboys.

"Hey.  What d'ye mean, rarin' off that way?" called Barrett,
growing red in the face.  It was as if his sincerity or generosity
had been doubted.  "Fetch the wolf hide back hyar an' take your
money."

Brink appeared not to hear.  His stride lengthened, showing now no
trace of the limp which had characterized it upon his arrival.  The
cattleman yelled angrily for him to stop.  One of the cowboys let
out a kindlier call.  But Brink, swinging into swifter strides,
remarkable even at that moment to his watchers, passed into the
cedars out of sight.


THE END



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