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Title: Selected Short Works
Author: Zane Grey
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0603171h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Jul 2006
Most recent update: Jun 2014

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Selected Short Works

by

Zane Grey

Cover

A COMPILATION OF STORIES PUBLISHED BETWEEN 1910 AND 1929

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2014



TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Amber's Mirage
  2. Bernardo's Revenge (aka "Tigre")
  3. California Red
  4. The Camp Robber
  5. Death Valley
  6. Don: The Story Of A Lion Dog
  7. The Great Slave
  8. Lightning
  9. Lure Of The River
  10. A Missouri Schoolmarm (aka "From Missouri"
  11. Monty Price's Nightingale
  12. Nonnezoshe—The Rainbow Bridge
  13. The Ranger
  14. Tappan's Burro
  15. The Wolf Tracker


I. — AMBER'S MIRAGE

First published in Ladies's Home Journal, May 1929
Reprinted in Zane Grey's Western Magazine, April 1948

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 cañons, 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 s'pose 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. Piñons 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 piñon 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 cañons, 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."

"¿Quién 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 fiancé. 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'. ¿Quién 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?


II. — BERNARDO'S REVENGE

First published as "Tigre" in Munsey's Magazine, September 1912

"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, señor?" 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.

"Señora! 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.

"Señora, 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!"

"Señora! 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, señora. It's his way to fall in a rage; but he quickly repents. And you, señora—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."

"Señora, 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, señora, 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."

"Señor, 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?"

"Señora, 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, señora, 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, señor, 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!"

"Señora, 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.

"Señora, 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.

"Señor, 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. "Señora, 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."


III. — CALIFORNIA RED

First published in 1926

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 center. 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."


IV. — THE CAMP ROBBER

First published in McCall's Magazine, November 1928
Reprinted in Zane Grey's Western Magazine, December 1969

"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."


V. — DEATH VALLEY

First published in Harper's Magazine, May 1920

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 Fé 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 cañon, 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 cañon, 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 cañoned, 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 cañon, 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! Cañon 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 cañon 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 cañon. 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 cañon, 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 arrow-weed, 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 cañon. 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 campfire, 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 cañons, 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.


VI. — DON: THE STORY OF A LION DOG

First published in Harper's Magazine, August 1925
Reprinted in Zane Grey's Western Magazine, August 1949

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 Cañon, 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 cañon 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 Cañon. 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—cañon 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 cañon 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 cañon 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 cañon 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 Cañon, 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 cañon 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 cañon.

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 cañon 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 cañon. 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 piñon 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 piñon 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 cañon. 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 cañon. 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 cañon, 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 cañon 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 cañon 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 cañon —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.


VII. — THE GREAT SLAVE

First published in Ladies Home Journal, December 1920
Reprinted in Zane Grey's Western Magazine, March 1950

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.


VIII. — LIGHTNING

First published in The Outing Magazine, April 1910
Reprinted in Zane Grey's Western Magazine, March 1970

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 plateau 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."


IX. — LURE OF THE RIVER

First published in 1923

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 Pachitea 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."

[* cowcha, caucho—rubber. ]

"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. "Señor, what shall I call you?"

"It's no matter."

"Very well, it shall be Señor."

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.

"Sénor, I'm starting," said Manuel, throwing his pack into the canoe.

"Let's be off, then," replied Señor.

"But—you still want to go?"

"Yes."

"I've taken out strangers to these parts—and they never came back."

"That's my chance."

"Sénor, 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. Señor, do you go?"

Señor 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 Señor 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.

Señor 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. Señor 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.

Señor 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 Señor, 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 Señor'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. Señor 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 Señor.

"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 Señor, 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 Señor; 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 Señor had spoken of the return trip. Manuel's sharpening wits divined a subtle import—Señor'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. Señor 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 Señor 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 Señor raised his head, as if startled.

"Listen!" he whispered, touching his comrade's arm.

Then in the semidarkness they listened. Señor 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.

Señor 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 Señor 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 Señor 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.

Señor 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 Señor.

"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 Señor 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!"

Señor 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, Señor lay amid the crawling vermin unconsciously muttering of a woman. Night spoke aloud thoughts deep hidden by day. Señor 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. Señor'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 Señor. 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 Señor, 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, Señor looked in amaze upon his changed comrade, and asked if he had fever. Manuel shook his shaggy head. Señor then fell silent; but he listened, he had to listen, and, listening, forgot himself. A new spirit fused the relation of these men.

"Señor, 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! ¿Quién sabe? I loved a girl. She had eyes like night— lips of fire—she was as sweet as life. See my hand tremble! Señor, 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, Señor, 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. Señor, 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 Señor 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, Señor—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, Señor? 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 Señor hurriedly and low.

"It was at Malaga, on the Mediterranean."

Señor 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 Señor'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 Señor 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. Señor 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. Señor, 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! Señor, 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.

"Señor," 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 Señor 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 Señor'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 Señor. 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 Señor what Señor 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 Señor. 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 Señor'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 Señor 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 Señor 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 Señor'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. Señor 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 Señor. 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.

Señor 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. Señor 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.

Señor 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 Señor's back. Another and another! They slipped out as easily as if coming through water. Señor 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 Señor'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 Señor'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 Señor'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 Señor's coat.

"Señor! 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 Señor'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 Señor had suffered the same stunning stroke that had blighted him. Señor 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 Señor, 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 Señor, 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 Señor 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 Señor, 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, flayed 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 Señor's back; he heard again that strange, terrible cry of triumph. Over him surged Señor'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!"


X. — A MISSOURI SCHOOLMARM

First published as "From Missouri" in McCall's, July 1926
Reprinted in Zane Grey's Western Magazine, April 1953 and July 1970

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, disheveled, 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.'"


XI. — MONTY PRICE'S NIGHTINGALE

First published in The Popular Magazine, May 7, 1915
Reprinted in Zane Grey's Western Magazine, February 1970

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 unreliable —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 blue-black 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 tight-shut 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.


XII. — NONNEZOSHE—THE RAINBOW BRIDGE

First published in The Recreation Magazine, February 1915

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 Cañon 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 cañon 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 cañon, 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 cañon 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 cañon 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 cañon 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 cañons. There are a thousand cañons down there, and only a few have we been in. That long, purple, ragged line is the Grand Cañon of the Colorado. And there, that blue fork in the end, that's where the San Juan comes in. And there's Escalante Cañon."

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 cañon.

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 Cañon. 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 Cañon 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 cañon. Still farther westward it split a vast plateau of red peaks and yellow mesas. Here the cañon 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 Cañon 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 piñon 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 amphitheater green with cedar and piñon. 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 cañon.

"Nonnezoshe Boco," said the Indian.

This, then, was the Cañon 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 cañon. All cañons 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 cañon—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 cañons. They stood up everywhere star-like out of the green. It was impossible to prevent the mustangs treading them under foot. And as the cañon 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 cañon, 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 cañon, 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 cañons. 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 cañon 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 cañon widened ahead into a great, ragged, iron-lined amphitheater, 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 cañon.

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 cañon 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 amphitheater. 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 cañon, 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 cañon was now a blank black wall. Over its towering rim showed a pale glow. It brightened. The shades in the cañon 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 cañon 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 cañon, 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.


XIII. — THE RANGER

First published in Ladies Home Journal, Oct 1929
Abridged version printed in Zane Grey's Western Magazine, November 1947

PART 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 señoritas.

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 señor 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.


PART 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, señor. 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, señor. 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.

"Señor, 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 arrow-weed 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 arrow-weed, 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!"


PART 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 choya."

"But it's the dreaded gun-ranger, señor," 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, señor," 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 Señorita 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 Uvalde.

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 mêlée 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."

"¿Quién sabe? But it's sure, Texas Medill will be walking choya on bare-skinned feet manaña," 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?"

"Señor, 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, señor?" Juan asked.

"Over three thousand."

"Señor, 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 señorita, 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. "Señor, 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 señorita."

"How much kindness, señor?" asked the bandit craftily.

"That you keep your men from handling her rough... and soon as the ransom is paid send her back safe."

"Señor, the first I have seen to. The second is not mine to grant. Quinela will demand ransom... yes... but never will he send the señorita 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.


PART 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, señor. 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."

"Señor 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 choya kills quickly, señor."

"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, señor, 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, señor, 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 señorita 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!"

"Señor 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.

"Señor, 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, señor," 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.

"Señor 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, señor!" 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.


PART 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 Señorita Uvalde," said Vaughn, handing the check over to the Mexican.

"Gracias, señor," 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, señor, 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.

Medill


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... señor," 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, señor... 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, señor... 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... señor," 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, señor. 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 mêlée 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.


PART 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. Cañons 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, señor?" 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.


XIV. — TAPPAN'S BURRO

First published in Ladies Home Journal, Jun 1923
Reprinted in Zane Grey's Western Magazine, November 1951

PART 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.


PART 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."


PART 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 wind-bared 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.


XV. — THE WOLF TRACKER

First published in Ladies Home Journal, November 1924
Reprinted in Zane Grey's Western Magazine, February 1951

PART 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' piñon 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."


PART 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 piñon 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 piñons.

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 campfire.

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.


PART 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.


PART 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 piñon, 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.


PART 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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