Infomotions, Inc.Bob Hampton of Placer / Parrish, Randall, 1858-1923



Author: Parrish, Randall, 1858-1923
Title: Bob Hampton of Placer
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Tag(s): hampton; brant; naida; murphy; miss spencer; moffat; lieutenant brant; spencer; bob hampton; lieutenant; miss naida
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Title: Bob Hampton of Placer


Author: Randall Parrish



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BOB HAMPTON OF PLACER

by

RANDALL PARRISH

Author of "When Wilderness Was King," "My Lady of the North," "Historic
Illinois," Etc.

Illustrated by Arthur I. Keller







[Frontispiece: "I Read It in your Face," He Insisted.  "It Told of
Love."]




Eighth Edition
Chicago
A. C. McClurg & Co.
1907
Copyright
A. C. McClurg & Co.
1906
Entered at Stationers' Hall, London
All rights reserved
Published, September 22, 1906
  Second Edition October 1, 1906
  Third Edition October 15, 1906
  Fourth Edition November 1, 1906
  Fifth Edition November 15, 1906
  Sixth Edition December 1, 1906
  Seventh Edition January 5, 1907
  Eighth Edition January 9, 1907




CONTENTS


PART I

FROM OUT THE CANYON

CHAPTER

    I  HAMPTON, OF PLACER
   II  OLD GILLIS'S GIRL
  III  BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH
   IV  ON THE NAKED PLAIN
    V  A NEW PROPOSITION
   VI  "TO BE OR NOT TO BE"
  VII  "I'VE COME HERE TO LIVE"
 VIII  A LAST REVOLT
   IX  AT THE OCCIDENTAL


PART II

WHAT OCCURRED IN GLENCAID

    I  THE ARRIVAL OF MISS SPENCER
   II  BECOMING ACQUAINTED
  III  UNDER ORDERS
   IV  SILENT MURPHY
    V  IN HONOR OF MISS SPENCER
   VI  THE LIEUTENANT MEETS MISS SPENCER
  VII  AN UNUSUAL GIRL
 VIII  THE REAPPEARANCE OF AN OLD FRIEND
   IX  THE VERGE OF A QUARREL
    X  A SLIGHT INTERRUPTION
   XI  THE DOOR OPENS, AND CLOSES AGAIN
  XII  THE COHORTS OF JUDGE LYNCH
 XIII  "SHE LOVES ME, SHE LOVES ME NOT"
  XIV  PLUCKED FROM THE BURNING
   XV  THE DOOR CLOSES
  XVI  THE RESCUE OF MISS SPENCER
 XVII  THE PARTING HOUR


PART III

ON THE LITTLE BIG HORN

    I  MR. HAMPTON RESOLVES
   II  THE TRAIL OF SILENT MURPHY
  III  THE HAUNTING OF A CRIME
   IV  THE VERGE OF CONFESSION
    V  ALONE WITH THE INSANE
   VI  ON THE LITTLE BIG HORN
  VII  THE FIGHT IN THE VALLEY
 VIII  THE OLD REGIMENT
   IX  THE LAST STAND
    X  THE CURTAIN FALLS




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


"I Read It in your Face," He Insisted.  "It Told of Love" . . . . . .
_Frontispiece_

They Advanced Slowly, the Supported Blankets Swaying Gently to the
Measured Tread

"Mr. Slavin Appears to have Lost his Previous Sense of Humor," He
Remarked, Calmly

Together They Bore Him, now Unconscious, Slowly down below the First
Fire-Line




BOB HAMPTON OF PLACER


_PART I_

FROM OUT THE CANYON


CHAPTER I

HAMPTON, OF PLACER

It was not an uncommon tragedy of the West.  If slightest chronicle of
it survive, it must be discovered among the musty and nearly forgotten
records of the Eighteenth Regiment of Infantry, yet it is extremely
probable that even there the details were never written down.
Sufficient if, following certain names on that long regimental roll,
there should be duly entered those cabalistic symbols signifying to the
initiated, "Killed in action."  After all, that tells the story.  In
those old-time Indian days of continuous foray and skirmish such brief
returns, concise and unheroic, were commonplace enough.

Yet the tale is worth telling now, when such days are past and gone.
There were sixteen of them when, like so many hunted rabbits, they were
first securely trapped among the frowning rocks, and forced
relentlessly backward from off the narrow trail until the precipitous
canyon walls finally halted their disorganized flight, and from sheer
necessity compelled a rally in hopeless battle.  Sixteen,--ten
infantrymen from old Fort Bethune, under command of Syd. Wyman, a
gray-headed sergeant of thirty years' continuous service in the
regulars, two cow-punchers from the "X L" ranch, a stranger who had
joined them uninvited at the ford over the Bear Water, together with
old Gillis the post-trader, and his silent chit of a girl.

Sixteen--but that was three days before, and in the meanwhile not a few
of those speeding Sioux bullets had found softer billet than the
limestone rocks.  Six of the soldiers, four already dead, two dying,
lay outstretched in ghastly silence where they fell.  "Red" Watt, of
the "X L," would no more ride the range across the sun-kissed prairie,
while the stern old sergeant, still grim of jaw but growing dim of eye,
bore his right arm in a rudely improvised sling made from a
cartridge-belt, and crept about sorely racked with pain, dragging a
shattered limb behind him.  Then the taciturn Gillis gave sudden
utterance to a sobbing cry, and a burst of red spurted across his white
beard as he reeled backward, knocking the girl prostrate when he fell.
Eight remained, one helpless, one a mere lass of fifteen.  It was the
morning of the third day.

The beginning of the affair had burst upon them so suddenly that no two
in that stricken company would have told the same tale.  None among
them had anticipated trouble; there were no rumors of Indian war along
the border, while every recognized hostile within the territory had
been duly reported as north of the Bear Water; not the vaguest
complaint had drifted into military headquarters for a month or more.
In all the fancied security of unquestioned peace these chance
travellers had slowly toiled along the steep trail leading toward the
foothills, beneath the hot rays of the afternoon sun, their thoughts
afar, their steps lagging and careless.  Gillis and the girl, as well
as the two cattle-herders, were on horseback; the remainder soberly
trudged forward on foot, with guns slung to their shoulders.  Wyman was
somewhat in advance, walking beside the stranger, the latter a man of
uncertain age, smoothly shaven, quietly dressed in garments bespeaking
an Eastern tailor, a bit grizzled of hair along the temples, and
possessing a pair of cool gray eyes.  He had introduced himself by the
name of Hampton, but had volunteered no further information, nor was it
customary in that country to question impertinently.  The others of the
little party straggled along as best suited themselves, all semblance
to the ordinary discipline of the service having been abandoned.

Hampton, through the medium of easy conversation, early discovered in
the sergeant an intelligent mind, possessing some knowledge of
literature.  They had been discussing books with rare enthusiasm, and
the former had drawn from the concealment of an inner pocket a
diminutive copy of "The Merchant of Venice," from which he was reading
aloud a disputed passage, when the faint trail they followed suddenly
dipped into the yawning mouth of a black canyon.  It was a narrow,
gloomy, contracted gorge, a mere gash between those towering hills
shadowing its depths on either hand.  A swift mountain stream, noisy
and clear as crystal, dashed from rock to rock close beside the more
northern wall, while the ill-defined pathway, strewn with bowlders and
guarded by underbrush, clung to the opposite side, where low scrub
trees partially obscured the view.

All was silent as death when they entered.  Not so much as the flap of
a wing or the stir of a leaf roused suspicion, yet they had barely
advanced a short hundred paces when those apparently bare rocks in
front flamed red, the narrow defile echoed to wild screeches and became
instantly crowded with weird, leaping figures.  It was like a plunge
from heaven into hell.  Blaine and Endicott sank at the first fire;
Watt, his face picturing startled surprise, reeled from his saddle,
clutching at the air, his horse dashing madly forward and dragging him,
head downward, among the sharp rocks; while Wyman's stricken arm
dripped blood.  Indeed, under that sudden shock, he fell, and was
barely rescued by the prompt action of the man beside him.  Dropping
the opened book, and firing madly to left and right with a revolver
which appeared to spring into his hand as by magic, the latter coolly
dragged the fainting soldier across the more exposed space, until the
two found partial security among a mass of loosened rocks littering the
base of the precipice.  The others who survived that first scorching
discharge also raced toward this same shelter, impelled thereto by the
unerring instinct of border fighting, and flinging themselves flat
behind protecting bowlders, began responding to the hot fire rained
upon them.

Scattered and hurried as these first volleys were, they proved
sufficient to check the howling demons in the open.  It has never been
Indian nature to face unprotected the aim of the white men, and those
dark figures, which only a moment before thronged the narrow gorge,
leaping crazily in the riot of apparent victory, suddenly melted from
sight, slinking down into leafy coverts beside the stream or into holes
among the rocks, like so many vanishing prairie-dogs.  The fierce
yelpings died faintly away in distant echoes, while the hideous roar of
conflict diminished to the occasional sharp crackling of single rifles.
Now and then a sinewy brown arm might incautiously project across the
gleaming surface of a rock, or a mop of coarse black hair appear above
the edge of a gully, either incident resulting in a quick interchange
of fire.  That was all; yet the experienced frontiersmen knew that eyes
as keen as those of any wild animal of the jungle were watching
murderously their slightest movement.

Wyman, now reclining in agony against the base of the overhanging
cliff, directed the movements of his little command calmly and with
sober military judgment.  Little by little, under protection of the
rifles of the three civilians, the uninjured infantrymen crept
cautiously about, rolling loosened bowlders forward into position,
until they finally succeeded in thus erecting a rude barricade between
them and the enemy.  The wounded who could be reached were laboriously
drawn back within this improvised shelter, and when the black shadows
of the night finally shut down, all remaining alive were once more
clustered together, the injured lying moaning and ghastly beneath the
overhanging shelf of rock, and the girl, who possessed all the patient
stoicism of frontier training, resting in silence, her widely opened
eyes on those far-off stars peeping above the brink of the chasm, her
head pillowed on old Gillis's knee.

Few details of those long hours of waiting ever came forth from that
black canyon of death.  Many of the men sorely wounded, all wearied,
powder-stained, faint with hunger, and parched with thirst, they simply
fought out to the bitter ending their desperate struggle against
despair.  The towering, overhanging wall at their back assured
protection from above, but upon the opposite cliff summit, and easily
within rifle range, the cunning foe early discovered lodgment, and from
that safe vantage-point poured down a merciless fire, causing each man
to crouch lower behind his protecting bowlder.  No motion could be
ventured without its checking bullet, yet hour after hour the besieged
held their ground, and with ever-ready rifles left more than one
reckless brave dead among the rocks.  The longed-for night came dark
and early at the bottom of that narrow cleft, while hardly so much as a
faint star twinkled in the little slit of sky overhead.  The cunning
besiegers crept closer through the enshrouding gloom, and taunted their
entrapped victims with savage cries and threats of coming torture, but
no warrior among them proved sufficiently bold to rush in and slay.
Why should they?  Easier, safer far, to rest secure behind their
shelters, and wait in patience until the little band had fired its last
shot.  Now they skulked timorously, but then they might walk upright
and glut their fiendish lust for blood.

Twice during that long night volunteers sought vainly to pierce those
lines of savage watchers.  A long wailing cry of agony from out the
thick darkness told the fate of their first messenger, while Casey, of
the "X L," crept slowly, painfully back, with an Indian bullet embedded
deep in his shoulder.  Just before the coming of dawn, Hampton, without
uttering a word, calmly turned up the collar of his tightly buttoned
coat, so as better to conceal the white collar he wore, gripped his
revolver between his teeth, and crept like some wriggling snake among
the black rocks and through the dense underbrush in search after water.
By some miracle of divine mercy he was permitted to pass unscathed, and
came crawling back, a dozen hastily filled canteens dangling across his
shoulders.  It was like nectar to those parched, feverish throats; but
of food barely a mouthful apiece remained in the haversacks.

The second day dragged onward, its hours bringing no change for the
better, no relief, no slightest ray of hope.  The hot sun scorched them
pitilessly, and two of the wounded died delirious.  From dawn to dark
there came no slackening of the savage watchfulness which held the
survivors helpless behind their coverts.  The merest uplifting of a
head, the slightest movement of a hand, was sufficient to demonstrate
how sharp were those savage eyes.  No white man in the short
half-circle dared to waste a single shot now; all realized that their
stock of ammunition was becoming fearfully scant, yet those scheming
devils continually baited them to draw their fire.

Another long black night followed, during which, for an hour or so in
turn, the weary defenders slept, tossing uneasily, and disturbed by
fearful dreams.  Then gray and solemn, amid the lingering shadows of
darkness, dawned the third dread day of unequal conflict.  All
understood that it was destined to be their last on this earth unless
help came.  It seemed utterly hopeless to protract the struggle, yet
they held on grimly, patiently, half-delirious from hunger and thirst,
gazing into each other's haggard faces, almost without recognition,
every man at his post.  Then it was that old Gillis received his
death-wound, and the solemn, fateful whisper ran from lip to lip along
the scattered line that only five cartridges remained.

For two days Wyman had scarcely stirred from where he lay bolstered
against the rock.  Sometimes he became delirious from fever, uttering
incoherent phrases, or swearing in pitiful weakness.  Again he would
partially arouse to his old sense of soldierly duty, and assume
intelligent command.  Now he twisted painfully about upon his side,
and, with clouded eyes, sought to discern what man was lying next him.
The face was hidden so that all he could clearly distinguish was the
fact that this man was not clothed as a soldier.

"Is that you, Hampton?" he questioned, his voice barely audible.

The person thus addressed, who was lying flat upon his back, gazing
silently upward at the rocky front of the cliff, turned cautiously over
upon his elbow before venturing reply.

"Yes; what is it, sergeant?  It looks to be a beauty of a morning way
up yonder."

There was a hearty, cheery ring to his clear voice which left the
pain-racked old soldier envious.

"My God!" he growled savagely.  "'T is likely to be the last any of us
will ever see.  Was n't it you I heard whistling just now?  One might
imagine this was to be a wedding, rather than a funeral."

"And why not, Wyman?  Did n't you know they employed music at both
functions nowadays?  Besides, it is not every man who is permitted to
assist at his own obsequies--the very uniqueness of such a situation
rather appeals to my sense of humor.  Pretty tune, that one I was
whistling, don't you think?  Picked it up on 'The Pike' in Cincinnati
fifteen years ago.  Sorry I don't recall the words, or I'd sing them
for you."

The sergeant, his teeth clinched tightly to repress the pain racking
him, stifled his resentment with an evident effort.  "You may be less
light-hearted when you learn that the last of our ammunition is already
in the guns," he remarked, stiffly.

"I suspected as much."  And the speaker lifted himself on one elbow to
peer down the line of recumbent figures.  "To be perfectly frank with
you, sergeant, the stuff has held out considerably longer than I
believed it would, judging from the way those 'dough boys' of yours
kept popping at every shadow in front of them.  It 's a marvel to me,
the mutton-heads they take into the army.  Oh, now, you need n't scowl
at me like that, Wyman; I 've worn the blue, and seen some service
where a fellow needed to be a man to sport the uniform.  Besides, I 'm
not indifferent, old chap, and just so long as there remained any work
worth attending to in this skirmishing affair, I did it, did n't I?
But I tell you, man, there is mighty little good trying to buck against
Fate, and when Luck once finally lets go of a victim, he's bound to
drop straight to the bottom before he stops.  That's the sum and
substance of all my philosophy, old fellow, consequently I never kick
simply because things happen to go wrong.  What's the use?  They 'll go
wrong just the same.  Then again, my life has never been so sweet as to
cause any excessive grief over the prospect of losing it.  Possibly I
might prefer to pass out from this world in some other manner, but
that's merely a matter of individual taste, and just now there does n't
seem to be very much choice left me.  Consequently, upheld by my
acquired philosophy, and encouraged by the rectitude of my past
conduct, I 'm merely holding back one shot for myself, as a sort of
grand finale to this fandango, and another for that little girl out
yonder."

These words were uttered slowly, the least touch of a lazy drawl
apparent in the low voice, yet there was an earnest simplicity
pervading the speech which somehow gave it impressiveness.  The man
meant exactly what he said, beyond the possibility of a doubt.  The old
soldier, accustomed to every form of border eccentricity, gazed at him
with disapproval.

"Either you 're the coolest devil I 've met during thirty years of
soldiering," he commented, doubtfully, "or else the craziest.  Who are
you, anyhow?  I half believe you might be Bob Hampton, of Placer."

The other smiled grimly.  "You have the name tolerably correct, old
fellow; likewise that delightful spot so lately honored by my
residence.  In brief, you have succeeded in calling the turn perfectly,
so far as your limited information extends.  In strict confidence I
propose now to impart to you what has hitherto remained a profound
secret.  Upon special request of a number of influential citizens of
Placer, including the city marshal and other officials, expressed in
mass-meeting, I have decided upon deserting that sagebrush metropolis
to its just fate, and plan to add the influence of my presence to the
future development of Glencaid.  I learn that the climate there is more
salubrious, more conducive to long living, the citizens of Placer being
peculiarly excitable and careless with their fire-arms."

The sergeant had been listening with open mouth.  "The hell you say!"
he finally ejaculated.

"The undented truth, every word of it.  No wonder you are shocked.  A
fine state of affairs, isn't it, when a plain-spoken, pleasant-mannered
gentleman, such as I surely am,--a university graduate, by all the
gods, the nephew of a United States Senator, and acknowledged to be the
greatest exponent of scientific poker in this territory,--should be
obliged to hastily change his chosen place of abode because of the
threat of an ignorant and depraved mob.  Ever have a rope dangled in
front of your eyes, sergeant, and a gun-barrel biting into your cheek
at the same time?  Accept my word for it, the experience is trying on
the nerves.  Ran a perfectly square game too, and those ducks knew it;
but there 's no true sporting spirit left in this territory any more.
However, spilled milk is never worth sobbing over, and Fate always
contrives to play the final hand in any game, and stocks the cards to
win.  Quite probably you are familiar with Bobbie Burns, sergeant, and
will recall easily these words, 'The best-laid schemes o' mice and men
gang aft agley'?  Well, instead of proceeding, as originally intended,
to the delightful environs of Glencaid, for a sort of a Summer
vacation, I have, on the impulse of the moment, decided upon crossing
the Styx.  Our somewhat impulsive red friends out yonder are kindly
preparing to assist me in making a successful passage, and the citizens
of Glencaid, when they learn the sorrowful news of my translation,
ought to come nobly forward with some suitable memorial to my virtues.
If, by any miracle of chance, you should pull through, Wyman, I would
hold it a friendly act if you suggest the matter.  A neat monument, for
instance, might suitably voice their grief; it would cost them far less
than I should in the flesh, and would prove highly gratifying to me, as
well as those mourners left behind in Placer."

"A breath of good honest prayer would serve better than all your fun,"
groaned the sergeant, soberly.

The gray eyes resting thoughtfully on the old soldier's haggard face
became instantly grave and earnest.

"Sincerely I wish I might aid you with one," the man admitted, "but I
fear, old fellow, any prayer coming from my lips would never ascend
very far.  However, I might try the comfort of a hymn, and you will
remember this one, which, no doubt, you have helped to sing back in
God's country."

There was a moment's hushed pause, during which a rifle cracked sharply
out in the ravine; then the reckless fellow, his head partially
supported against the protecting bowlder, lifted up a full, rich
barytone in rendition of that hymn of Christian faith--

  "Nearer, my God, to Thee!
    Nearer to Thee!
  E'en though it be a cross
    That raiseth me,
  Still all my song shall be,
  Nearer, my God, to Thee!
    Nearer to Thee."


Glazed and wearied eyes glanced cautiously toward the singer around the
edges of protecting rocks; fingers loosened their grasp upon the rifle
barrels; smoke-begrimed cheeks became moist; while lips, a moment
before profaned by oaths, grew silent and trembling.  Out in front a
revengeful brave sent his bullet swirling just above the singer's head,
the sharp fragments of rock dislodged falling in a shower upon his
upturned face; but the fearless rascal sang serenely on to the end,
without a quaver.

"Mistake it for a death song likely," he remarked dryly, while the last
clear, lingering note, reechoed by the cliff, died reluctantly away in
softened cadence.  "Beautiful old song, sergeant, and I trust hearing
it again has done you good.  Sang it once in a church way back in New
England.  But what is the trouble?  Did you call me for some special
reason?"

"Yes," came the almost gruff response; for Wyman, the fever stealing
back upon him, felt half ashamed of his unshed tears.  "That is,
provided you retain sufficient sense to listen.  Old Gillis was shot
over an hour ago, yonder behind that big bowlder, and his girl sits
there still holding his head in her lap.  She'll get hit also unless
somebody pulls her out of there, and she's doing no good to
Gillis--he's dead."

Hampton's clear-cut, expressive face became graver, all trace of
recklessness gone from it.  He lifted his head cautiously, peering over
his rock cover toward where he remembered earlier in the fight Gillis
had sought refuge.




CHAPTER II

OLD GILLIS'S GIRL

Excepting for a vague knowledge that Gillis had had a girl with him,
together with the half-formed determination that if worse came to worst
she must never be permitted to fall alive into the hands of the lustful
Sioux, Mr. Hampton had scarcely so much as noted her presence.  Of late
years he had not felt greatly interested in the sex, and his
inclination, since uniting his shattered fortunes with this little
company, had been to avoid coming into personal contact with this
particular specimen.  Practically, therefore, he now observed her for
the first time.  Previously she had passed within range of his vision
simply as the merest shadow; now she began to appeal faintly to him as
a personality, uninteresting enough, of course, yet a living human
being, whom it had oddly become his manifest duty to succor and
protect.  The never wholly eradicated instincts of one born and bred a
gentleman, although heavily overlaid by the habits acquired in many a
rough year passed along the border, brought vividly before him the
requirements of the situation.  Undoubtedly death was destined to be
the early portion of them all; nevertheless she deserved every
opportunity for life that remained, and with the ending of hope--well,
there are worse fates upon the frontier than the unexpected plunge of a
bullet through a benumbed brain.

Guided by the unerring instinct of an old Indian fighter, Gillis,
during that first mad retreat, had discovered temporary shelter behind
one of the largest bowlders.  It was a trifle in advance of those later
rolled into position by the soldiers, but was of a size and shape which
should have afforded ample protection for two, and doubtless would have
done so had it not been for the firing from the cliff opposite.  Even
then it was a deflected bullet, glancing from off the polished surface
of the rock, which found lodgment in the sturdy old fighter's brain.
The girl had caught him as he fell, had wasted all her treasured store
of water in a vain effort to cleanse the blood from his features, and
now sat there, pillowing his head upon her knee, although the old man
was stone dead with the first touch of the ball.  That had occurred
fully an hour before, but she continued in the same posture, a grave,
pathetic figure, her face sobered and careworn beyond her years, her
eyes dry and staring, one brown hand grasping unconsciously the old
man's useless rifle.  She would scarcely have been esteemed attractive
even under much happier circumstances and assisted by dress, yet there
was something in the independent poise of her head, the steady
fixedness of her posture, which served to interest Hampton as he now
watched her curiously.

"Fighting blood," he muttered admiringly to himself.  "Might fail to
develop into very much of a society belle, but likely to prove valuable
out here."

She was rather a slender slip of a thing, a trifle too tall for her
years, perhaps, yet with no lack of development apparent in the slim,
rounded figure.  Her coarse home-made dress of dark calico fitted her
sadly, while her rumpled hair, from which the broad-brimmed hat had
fallen, possessed a reddish copper tinge where it was touched by the
sun.  Mr. Hampton's survey did not increase his desire for more
intimate acquaintanceship, yet he recognized anew her undoubted claim
upon him.

"Suppose I might just as well drop out that way as any other," he
reflected, thoughtfully.  "It's all in the game."

Lying flat upon his stomach, both arms extended, he slowly forced
himself beyond his bowlder into the open.  There was no great distance
to be traversed, and a considerable portion of the way was somewhat
protected by low bushes.  Hampton took few chances of those spying eyes
above, never uplifting his head the smallest fraction of an inch, but
reaching forward with blindly groping hands, caught hold upon any
projecting root or stone which enabled him to drag his body an inch
farther.  Twice they fired directly down at him from the opposite
summit, and once a fleck of sharp rock, chipped by a glancing bullet,
embedded itself in his cheek, dyeing the whole side of his face
crimson.  But not once did he pause or glance aside; nor did the girl
look up from the imploring face of her dead.  As he crept silently in,
sheltering himself next to the body of the dead man, she perceived his
presence for the first time, and shrank back as if in dread.

"What are you doing?  Why--why did you come here?" she questioned, a
falter in her voice; and he noticed that her eyes were dark and large,
yielding a marked impress of beauty to her face.

"I was unwilling to leave you here alone," he answered, quietly, "and
hope to discover some means for getting you safely back beside the
others."

"But I didn't want you," and there was a look of positive dislike in
her widely opened eyes.

"Did n't want me?"  He echoed these unexpected words in a tone of
complete surprise.  "Surely you could not desire to be left here alone?
Why didn't you want me?"

"Because I know who you are!"  Her voice seemed to catch in her throat.
"He told me.  You're the man who shot Jim Eberly."

Mr. Hampton was never of a pronounced emotional nature, nor was he a
person easily disconcerted, yet he flushed at the sound of these
impulsive words, and the confident smile deserted his lips.  For a
moment they sat thus, the dead body lying between, and looked at each
other.  When the man finally broke the constrained silence a deeper
intonation had crept into his voice.

"My girl," he said gravely, and not without a suspicion of pleading,
"this is no place for me to attempt any defence of a shooting affray in
a gambling-house, although I might plead with some justice that Eberly
enjoyed the honor of shooting first.  I was not aware of your personal
feeling in the matter, or I might have permitted some one else to come
here in my stead.  Now it is too late.  I have never spoken to you
before, and do so at this time merely from a sincere desire to be of
some assistance."

There was that in his manner of grave courtesy which served to steady
the girl.  Probably never before in all her rough frontier experience
had she been addressed thus formally.  Her closely compressed lips
twitched nervously, but her questioning eyes remained unlowered.

"You may stay," she asserted, soberly.  "Only don't touch me."

No one could ever realize how much those words hurt him.  He had been
disciplined in far too severe a school ever to permit his face to index
the feelings of his heart, yet the unconcealed shrinking of this
uncouth child from slightest personal contact with him cut through his
acquired reserve as perhaps nothing else could ever have done.  Not
until he had completely conquered his first unwise impulse to retort
angrily, did he venture again to speak.

"I hope to aid you in getting back beside the others, where you will be
less exposed."

"Will you take him?"

"He is dead," Hampton said, soberly, "and I can do nothing to aid him.
But there remains a chance for you to escape."

"Then I won't go," she declared, positively.

Hampton's gray eyes looked for a long moment fixedly into her darker
ones, while the two took mental stock of each other.  He realized the
utter futility of any further argument, while she felt instinctively
the cool, dominating strength of the man.  Neither was composed of that
poor fibre which bends.

"Very well, my young lady," he said, easily, stretching himself out
more comfortably in the rock shadow.  "Then I will remain here with
you; it makes small odds."

Excepting for one hasty, puzzled glance, she did not deign to look
again toward him, and the man rested motionless upon his back, staring
up at the sky.  Finally, curiosity overmastered the actor in him, and
he turned partially upon one side, so as to bring her profile within
his range of vision.  The untamed, rebellious nature of the girl had
touched a responsive chord; unseeking any such result she had directly
appealed to his better judgment, and enabled him to perceive her from
an entirely fresh view-point.  Her clearly expressed disdain, her
sturdy independence both of word and action, coupled with her frankly
voiced dislike, awoke within him an earnest desire to stand higher in
her regard.  Her dark, glowing eyes were lowered upon the white face of
the dead man, yet Hampton noted how clear, in spite of sun-tan, were
those tints of health upon the rounded cheek, and how soft and glossy
shone her wealth of rumpled hair.  Even the tinge of color, so
distasteful in the full glare of the sun, appeared to have darkened
under the shadow, its shade framing the downcast face into a pensive
fairness.  Then he observed how dry and parched her lips were.

"Take a drink of this," he insisted heartily, holding out toward her as
he spoke his partially filled canteen.

She started at the unexpected sound of his voice, yet uplifted the
welcome water to her mouth, while Hampton, observing it all closely,
could but remark the delicate shapeliness other hand.

"If that old fellow was her father," he reflected soberly, "I should
like to have seen her mother."

"Thank you," she said simply, handing back the canteen, but without
lifting her eyes again to his face.  "I was so thirsty."  Her low tone,
endeavoring to be polite enough, contained no note of encouragement.

"Was Gillis your father?" the man questioned, determined to make her
recognize his presence.

"I suppose so; I don't know."

"You don't know?  Am I to understand you are actually uncertain whether
this man was your father or not?"

"That is about what I said, was n't it?  Not that it is any of your
business, so far as I know, Mr. Bob Hampton, but I answered you all
right.  He brought me up, and I called him 'dad' about as far back as I
can remember, but I don't reckon as he ever told me he was my father.
So you can understand just what you please."

"His name was Gillis, was n't it?"

The girl nodded wearily.

"Post-trader at Fort Bethune?"

Again the rumpled head silently acquiesced.

"What is your name?"

"He always called me 'kid,'" she admitted unwillingly, "but I reckon if
you have any further occasion for addressing me, you'd better say,
'Miss Gillis.'"

Hampton laughed lightly, his reckless humor instantly restored by her
perverse manner.

"Heaven preserve me!" he exclaimed good naturedly, "but you are
certainly laying it on thick, young lady!  However, I believe we might
become good friends if we ever have sufficient luck to get out from
this hole alive.  Darn if I don't sort of cotton to you, little
girl--you've got some sand."

For a brief space her truthful, angry eyes rested scornfully upon his
face, her lips parted as though trembling with a sharp retort.  Then
she deliberately turned her back upon him without uttering a word.

For what may have been the first and only occasion in Mr. Hampton's
audacious career, he realized his utter helplessness.  This mere slip
of a red-headed girl, this little nameless waif of the frontier,
condemned him so completely, and without waste of words, as to leave
him weaponless.  Not that he greatly cared; oh, no! still, it was an
entirely new experience; the arrow went deeper than he would have
willingly admitted.  Men of middle age, gray hairs already commencing
to shade their temples, are not apt to enjoy being openly despised by
young women, not even by ordinary freckle-faced girls, clad in coarse
short frocks.  Yet he could think of no fitting retort worth the
speaking, and consequently he simply lay back, seeking to treat this
disagreeable creature with that silent contempt which is the last
resort of the vanquished.

He was little inclined to admit, even to himself, that he had been
fairly hit, yet the truth remained that this girl was beginning to
interest him oddly.  He admired her sturdy independence, her audacity
of speech, her unqualified frankness.  Mr. Hampton was a thoroughgoing
sport, and no quality was quite so apt to appeal to him as dead
gameness.  He glanced surreptitiously aside at her once more, but there
was no sign of relenting in the averted face.  He rested lower against
the rock, his face upturned toward the sky, and thought.  He was
becoming vaguely aware that something entirely new, and rather
unwelcome, had crept into his life during that last fateful half-hour.
It could not be analyzed, nor even expressed definitely in words, but
he comprehended this much--he would really enjoy rescuing this girl,
and he should like to live long enough to discover into what sort of
woman she would develop.

It was no spirit of bravado that gave rise to his reckless speech of an
hour previous.  It was simply a spontaneous outpouring of his real
nature, an unpremeditated expression of that supreme carelessness with
which he regarded the future, the small value he set on life.  He truly
felt as utterly indifferent toward fate as his words signified.  Deeply
conscious of a life long ago irretrievably wrecked, everything behind a
chaos, everything before worthless,--for years he had been actually
seeking death; a hundred times he had gladly marked its apparent
approach, a smile of welcome upon his lips.  Yet it had never quite
succeeded in reaching him, and nothing had been gained beyond a
reputation for cool, reckless daring, which he did not in the least
covet.  But now, miracle of all miracles, just as the end seemed
actually attained, seemed beyond any possibility of being turned aside,
he began to experience a desire to live--he wanted to save this girl.

His keenly observant eyes, trained by the exigencies of his trade to
take note of small things, and rendered eager by this newly awakened
ambition, scanned the cliff towering above them.  He perceived the
extreme irregularity of its front, and numerous peculiarities of
formation which had escaped him hitherto.  Suddenly his puzzled face
brightened to the birth of an idea.  By heavens! it might be done!
Surely it might be done!  Inch by inch he traced the obscure passage,
seeking to impress each faint detail upon his memory--that narrow ledge
within easy reach of an upstretched arm, the sharp outcropping of
rock-edges here and there, the deep gash as though some giant axe had
cleaved the stone, those sturdy cedars growing straight out over the
chasm like the bowsprits of ships, while all along the way, irregular
and ragged, varied rifts not entirely unlike the steps of a crazy
staircase.

The very conception of such an exploit caused his flesh to creep.  But
he was not of that class of men who fall back dazed before the face of
danger.  Again and again, led by an impulse he was unable to resist, he
studied that precipitous rock, every nerve tingling to the newborn
hope.  God helping them, even so desperate a deed might be
accomplished, although it would test the foot and nerve of a Swiss
mountaineer.  He glanced again uneasily toward his companion, and saw
the same motionless figure, the same sober face turned deliberately
away.  Hampton did not smile, but his square jaw set, and he clinched
his hands.  He had no fear that she might fall him, but for the first
time in all his life he questioned his own courage.




CHAPTER III

BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH

The remainder of that day, as well as much of the gloomy night
following, composed a silent, lingering horror.  The fierce pangs of
hunger no longer gnawed, but a dull apathy now held the helpless
defenders.  One of the wounded died, a mere lad, sobbing pitifully for
his mother; an infantryman, peering forth from his covert, had been
shot in the face, and his scream echoed among the rocks in multiplied
accents of agony; while Wyman lay tossing and moaning, mercifully
unconscious.  The others rested in their places, scarcely venturing to
stir a limb, their roving, wolfish eyes the only visible evidence of
remaining life, every hope vanished, yet each man clinging to his
assigned post of duty in desperation.  There was but little firing--the
defenders nursing their slender stock, the savages biding their time.
When night shut down the latter became bolder, and taunted cruelly
those destined to become so soon their hapless victims.  Twice the
maddened men fired recklessly at those dancing devils, and one pitched
forward, emitting a howl of pain that caused his comrades to cower once
again behind their covers.  One and all these frontiersmen recognized
the inevitable--before dawn the end must come.  No useless words were
spoken; the men merely clinched their teeth and waited.

Hampton crept closer in beside the girl while the shadows deepened, and
ventured to touch her hand.  Perhaps the severe strain of their
situation, the intense loneliness of that Indian-haunted twilight, had
somewhat softened her resentment, for she made no effort now to repulse
him.

"Kid," he said at last, "are you game for a try at getting out of this?"

She appeared to hesitate over her answer, and he could feel her
tumultuous breathing.  Some portion of her aversion had vanished.  His
face was certainly not an unpleasant one to look upon, and there were
others other sex who had discovered in it a covering for a multitude of
sins.  Hampton smiled slightly while he waited; he possessed some
knowledge of the nature feminine.

"Come, Kid," he ventured finally, yet with new assurance vibrating in
his low voice; "this is surely a poor time and place for any indulgence
in tantrums, and you 've got more sense.  I 'm going to try to climb up
the face of that cliff yonder,--it's the only possible way out from
here,--and I propose to take you along with me."

She snatched her hand roughly away, yet remained facing him.  "Who gave
you any right to decide what I should do?"

The man clasped his fingers tightly about her slender arm, advancing
his face until he could look squarely into hers.  She read in the lines
of that determined countenance an inflexible resolve which overmastered
her.

"The right given by Almighty God to protect any one of your sex in
peril," he replied.  "Before dawn those savage fiends will be upon us.
We are utterly helpless.  There remains only one possible path for
escape, and I believe I have discovered it.  Now, my girl, you either
climb those rocks with me, or I shall kill you where you are.  It is
that, or the Sioux torture.  I have two shots left in this gun,--one
for you, the other for myself.  The time has come for deciding which of
these alternatives you prefer."

The gleam of a star glittered along the steel of his revolver, and she
realized that he meant what he threatened.

"If I select your bullet rather than the rocks, what then?"

"You will get it, but in that case you will die like a fool."

"You have believed me to be one, all this afternoon."

"Possibly," he admitted; "your words and actions certainly justified
some such conclusion, but the opportunity has arrived for causing me to
revise that suspicion."

"I don't care to have you, revise it, Mr. Bob Hampton.  If I go, I
shall hate you just the same."

Hampton's teeth clicked like those of an angry dog.  "Hate and be
damned," he exclaimed roughly.  "All I care about now is to drag you
out of here alive."

His unaffected sincerity impressed her more than any amount of
pleading.  She was long accustomed to straight talk; it always meant
business, and her untutored nature instantly responded with a throb of
confidence.

"Well, if you put it that way," she said, "I 'll go."

For one breathless moment neither stirred.  Then a single wild yell
rang sharply forth from the rocks in their front, and a rifle barked
savagely, its red flame cleaving the darkness with tongue of fire.  An
instant and the impenetrable gloom again surrounded them.

"Come on, then," he whispered, his fingers grasping her sleeve.

She shook off the restraining touch of his hand as if it were
contamination, and sank down upon her knees beside the inert body.  He
could barely perceive the dim outlines of her bowed figure, yet never
moved, his breath perceptibly quickening, while he watched and waited.
Without word or moan she bent yet lower, and pressed her lips upon the
cold, white face.  The man caught no more than the faintest echo of a
murmured "Good-bye, old dad; I wish I could take you with me."  Then
she stood stiffly upright, facing him.  "I'm ready now," she announced
calmly.  "You can go on ahead."

They crept among low shrubs and around the bowlders, carefully guarding
every slightest movement lest some rustle of disturbed foliage, or
sound of loosened stone, might draw the fire of those keen watchers.
Nor dared they ignore the close proximity of their own little company,
who, amid such darkness, might naturally suspect them for approaching
savages.  Every inch of their progress was attained through tedious
groping, yet the distance to be traversed was short, and Hampton soon
found himself pressing against the uprising precipice.  Passing his
fingers along the front, he finally found that narrow ledge which he
had previously located with such patient care, and reaching back, drew
the girl silently upon her feet beside him.  Against that background of
dark cliff they might venture to stand erect, the faint glimmer of
reflected light barely sufficient to reveal to each the shadowy outline
of the other.

"Don't move an inch from this spot," he whispered.  "It wouldn't be a
square deal, Kid, to leave those poor fellows to their death without
even telling them there's a chance to get out."

She attempted no reply, as he glided noiselessly away, but her face,
could he have seen it, was not devoid of expression.  This was an act
of generosity and deliberate courage of the very kind most apt to
appeal to her nature, and within her secret heart there was rapidly
developing a respect for this man, who with such calm assurance won his
own way.  He was strong, forceful, brave,--Homeric virtues of real
worth in that hard life which she knew best.  All this swept across her
mind in a flash of revelation while she stood alone, her eyes
endeavoring vainly to peer into the gloom.  Then, suddenly, that black
curtain was rent by jagged spurts of red and yellow flame.  Dazed for
an instant, her heart throbbing wildly to the sharp reports of the
rifles, she shrank cowering back, her fascinated gaze fixed on those
imp-like figures leaping forward from rock to rock.  Almost with the
flash and sound Hampton sprang hastily back and gathered her in his
arms.

"Catch hold, Kid, anywhere; only go up, and quick!"

As he thus lifted her she felt the irregularities of rock beneath her
clutching fingers, and scrambled instinctively forward along the narrow
shelf, and then, reaching higher, her groping hands clasped the roots
of a projecting cedar.  She retained no longer any memory for Hampton;
her brain was completely terrorized.  Inch by inch, foot by foot,
clinging to a fragment of rock here, grasping a slippery branch there,
occasionally helped by encountering a deeper gash in the face of the
precipice, her movements concealed by the scattered cedars, she toiled
feverishly up, led by instinct, like any wild animal desperately driven
by fear, and only partially conscious of the real dread of her terrible
position.  The first time she became aware that Hampton was closely
following was when her feet slipped along a naked root, and she would
have plunged headlong into unknown depths had she not come into sudden
contact with his supporting shoulder.  Faint and dizzy, and trembling
like the leaf of an aspen, she crept forward onto a somewhat wider
ledge of thin rock, and lay there quivering painfully from head to
foot.  A moment of suspense, and he was outstretched beside her,
resting at full length along the very outer edge, his hand closing
tightly over her own.

"Remain perfectly quiet," he whispered, panting heavily.  "We can be no
safer anywhere else."

She could distinguish the rapid pounding of his heart as well as her
own, mingled with the sharp intake of their heavy breathing, but these
sounds were soon overcome by that of the tumult below.  Shots and
yells, the dull crash of blows, the shouts of men engaged in a death
grapple, the sharp crackling of innumerable rifles, the inarticulate
moans of pain, the piercing scream of sudden torture, were borne upward
to them from out the blackness.  They did not venture to lift their
heads from off the hard rock; the girl sobbed silently, her slender
form trembling; the fingers of the man closed more tightly about her
hand.  All at once the hideous uproar ceased with a final yelping of
triumph, seemingly reechoed the entire length of the chasm, in the
midst of which one single voice pleaded pitifully,--only to die away in
a shriek.  The two agonized fugitives lay listening, their ears
strained to catch the slightest sound from below.  The faint radiance
of a single star glimmered along the bald front of the cliff, but
Hampton, peering cautiously across the edge, could distinguish nothing.
His ears could discern evidences of movement, and he heard guttural
voices calling at a distance, but to the vision all was black.  The
distance those faint sounds appeared away made his head reel, and he
shrank cowering back against the girl's body, closing his eyes and
sinking his head upon his arm.

These uncertain sounds ceased, the strained ears of the fugitives heard
the crashing of bodies through the thick shrubbery, and then even this
noise died away in the distance.  Yet neither ventured to stir or
speak.  It may be that the girl slept fitfully, worn out by long vigil
and intense strain; but the man proved less fortunate, his eyes staring
out continually into the black void, his thoughts upon other days long
vanished but now brought back in all their bitterness by the mere
proximity of this helpless waif who had fallen into his care.  His
features were drawn and haggard when the first gray dawn found ghastly
reflection along the opposite rock summit, and with blurred eyes he
watched the faint tinge of returning light steal downward into the
canyon.  At last it swept aside those lower clinging mists, as though
some invisible hand had drawn back the night curtains, and he peered
over the edge of his narrow resting-place, gazing directly down upon
the scene of massacre.  With a quick gasp of unspeakable horror he
shrank so sharply back as to cause the suddenly awakened girl to start
and glance into his face.

"What is it?" she questioned, with quick catching of breath, reading
that which she could not clearly interpret in his shocked expression.

"Nothing of consequence," and he faintly endeavored to smile.  "I
suppose I must have been dreaming also, and most unpleasantly.  No;
please do not look down; it would only cause your head to reel, and our
upward climb is not yet completed.  Do you feel strong enough now to
make another attempt to reach the top?"

His quiet spirit of assured dominance seemed to command her obedience.
With a slight shudder she glanced doubtfully up the seemingly
inaccessible height.

"Can we?" she questioned helplessly.

"We can, simply because we must," and his white teeth shut together
firmly.  "There is no possibility of retracing our steps downward, but
with the help of this daylight we surely ought to be able to discover
some path leading up."

He rose cautiously to his feet, pressing her more closely against the
face of the cliff, thus holding her in comparative safety while
preventing her from glancing back into the dizzy chasm.  The most
difficult portion of their journey was apparently just before them,
consisting of a series of narrow ledges, so widely separated and
irregular as to require each to assist the other while passing from
point to point.  Beyond these a slender cleft, bordered by gnarled
roots of low bushes, promised a somewhat easier and securer passage
toward the summit.  Hampton's face became deathly white as they began
the perilous climb, but his hand remained steady, his foot sure, while
the girl moved forward as if remaining unconscious of the presence of
danger, apparently swayed by his dominant will to do whatsoever he bade
her.  More than once they tottered on the very brink, held to safety
merely by desperate clutchings at rock or shrub, yet never once did the
man loosen his guarding grasp of his companion.  Pressed tightly
against the smooth rock, feeling for every crevice, every slightest
irregularity of surface, making use of creeping tendril or dead branch,
daring death along every inch of the way, these two creepers at last
attained the opening to the little gulley, and sank down, faint and
trembling, their hands bleeding, their clothing sadly torn by the sharp
ledges across which they had pulled their bodies by the sheer strength
of extended arms.  Hampton panted heavily from exertion, yet the old
light of cool, resourceful daring had crept back into the gray eyes,
while the stern lines about his lips assumed pleasanter curves.  The
girl glanced furtively at him, the long lashes shadowing the expression
of her lowered eyes.  In spite of deep prejudice she felt impelled to
like this man; he accomplished things, and he didn't talk.

It was nothing more serious than a hard and toilsome climb after that,
a continuous struggle testing every muscle, straining every sinew,
causing both to sink down again and again, panting and exhausted, no
longer stimulated by imminent peril.  The narrow cleft they followed
led somewhat away from the exposed front of the precipice, yet arose
steep and jagged before them, a slender gash through the solid rock, up
which they were often compelled to force their passage; again it became
clogged with masses of debris, dead branches, and dislodged fragments
of stone, across which they were obliged to struggle desperately, while
once they completely halted before a sheer smoothness of rock wall that
appeared impassable.  It was bridged finally by a cedar trunk, which
Hampton wrenched from out its rocky foothold, and the two crept
cautiously forward, to emerge where the sunlight rested golden at the
summit.  They sank face downward in the short grass, barely conscious
that they had finally won their desperate passage.

Slowly Hampton succeeded in uplifting his tired body and his reeling
head, until he could sit partially upright and gaze unsteadily about.
The girl yet remained motionless at his feet, her thick hair, a mass of
red gold in the sunshine, completely concealing her face, her slender
figure quivering to sobs of utter exhaustion.  Before them stretched
the barren plain, brown, desolate, drear, offering in all its wide
expanse no hopeful promise of rescue, no slightest suggestion even of
water, excepting a fringe of irregular trees, barely discernible
against the horizon.  That lorn, deserted waste, shimmering beneath the
sun-rays, the heat waves already becoming manifest above the
rock-strewn surface, presented a most depressing spectacle.  With hand
partially shading his aching eyes from the blinding glare, the man
studied its every exposed feature, his face hardening again into lines
of stern determination.  The girl stirred from her position, flinging
back her heavy hair with one hand, and looking up into his face with
eyes that read at once his disappointment.

"Have--have you any water left?" she asked at last, her lips parched
and burning as if from fever.

He shook the canteen dangling forgotten at his side.  "There may be a
few drops," he said, handing it to her, although scarcely removing his
fixed gaze from off that dreary plain.  "We shall be obliged to make
those trees yonder; there ought to be water there in plenty, and
possibly we may strike a trail."

She staggered to her feet, gripping his shoulder, and swaying a little
from weakness, then, holding aside her hair, gazed long in the
direction he pointed.

"I fairly shake from hunger," she exclaimed, almost angrily, "and am
terribly tired and sore, but I reckon I can make it if I 've got to."

There was nothing more said between them.  Like two automatons, they
started off across the parched grass, the heat waves rising and falling
as they stumbled forward.  Neither realized until then how thoroughly
that hard climb up the rocks, the strain of continued peril, and the
long abstinence from food had sapped their strength, yet to remain
where they were meant certain death; all hope found its centre amid
those distant beckoning trees.  Mechanically the girl gathered back her
straying tresses, and tied them with a rag torn from her frayed skirt.
Hampton noted silently how heavy and sunken her eyes were; he felt a
dull pity, yet could not sufficiently arouse himself from the lethargy
of exhaustion to speak.  His body seemed a leaden weight, his brain a
dull, inert mass; nothing was left him but an unreasoning purpose, the
iron will to press on across that desolate plain, which already reeled
and writhed before his aching eyes.

No one can explain later how such deeds are ever accomplished; how the
tortured soul controls physical weakness, and compels strained sinews
to perform the miracle of action when all ambition has died.  Hampton
surely must have both seen and known, for he kept his direction, yet
never afterwards did he regain any clear memory of it.  Twice she fell
heavily, and the last time she lay motionless, her face pressed against
the short grass blades.  He stood looking down upon her, his head
reeling beneath the hot rays of the sun, barely conscious of what had
occurred, yet never becoming totally dead to his duty.  Painfully he
stooped, lifted the limp, slender figure against his shoulder, and went
straggling forward, as uncertain in steps as a blind man, all about him
stretching the dull, dead desolation of the plain.  Again and again he
sank down, pillowing his eyes from the pitiless sun glare; only to
stagger upright once more, ever bending lower and lower beneath his
unconscious burden.




CHAPTER IV

ON THE NAKED PLAIN

It was two hundred and eighteen miles, as the crow flies, between old
Fort Bethune and the rock ford crossing the Bear Water, every foot of
that dreary, treeless distance Indian-haunted, the favorite
skulking-place and hunting-ground of the restless Sioux.  Winter and
summer this wide expanse had to be suspiciously patrolled by numerous
military scouting parties, anxious to learn more regarding the
uncertain whereabouts of wandering bands and the purposes of
malecontents, or else drawn hither and thither by continually shifting
rumors of hostile raids upon the camps of cattlemen.  All this involved
rough, difficult service, with small meed of honor attached, while
never had soldiers before found trickier foemen to contend against, or
fighters more worthy of their steel.

One such company, composed of a dozen mounted infantrymen, accompanied
by three Cree trailers, rode slowly and wearily across the brown
exposed uplands down into the longer, greener grass of the wide valley
bottom, until they emerged upon a barely perceptible trail which wound
away in snake-like twistings, toward those high, barren hills whose
blue masses were darkly silhouetted against the western sky.  Upon
every side of them extended the treeless wilderness, the desolate
loneliness of bare, brown prairie, undulating just enough to be
baffling to the eyes, yet so dull, barren, grim, silent, and colorless
as to drive men mad.  The shimmering heat rose and fell in great
pulsating waves, although no slightest breeze came to stir the stagnant
air, while thick clouds of white dust, impregnated with poisonous
alkali, rose from out the grass roots, stirred by the horses' feet, to
powder the passers-by from head to foot.  The animals moved steadily
forward, reluctant and weary, their heads drooping dejectedly, their
distended nostrils red and quivering, the oily perspiration streaking
their dusted sides.  The tired men, half blinded by the glare, lolled
heavily in their deep cavalry saddles, with encrusted eyes staring
moodily ahead.

Riding alone, and slightly in advance of the main body, his mount a
rangy, broad-chested roan, streaked with alkali dust, the drooping head
telling plainly of wearied muscles, was the officer in command.  He was
a pleasant-faced, stalwart young fellow, with the trim figure of a
trained athlete, possessing a square chin smoothly shaven, his
intelligent blue eyes half concealed beneath his hat brim, which had
been drawn low to shade them from the glare, one hand pressing upon his
saddle holster as he leaned over to rest.  No insignia of rank served
to distinguish him from those equally dusty fellows plodding gloomily
behind, but a broad stripe of yellow running down the seams of his
trousers, together with his high boots, bespoke the cavalry service,
while the front of his battered campaign hat bore the decorations of
two crossed sabres, with a gilded "7" prominent between.  His attire
was completed by a coarse blue shirt, unbuttoned at the throat, about
which had been loosely knotted a darker colored silk handkerchief, and
across the back of the saddle was fastened a uniform jacket, the single
shoulder-strap revealed presenting the plain yellow of a second
lieutenant.

Attaining to the summit of a slight knoll, whence a somewhat wider
vista lay outspread, he partially turned his face toward the men
straggling along in the rear, while his hand swept across the dreary
scene.

"If that line of trees over yonder indicates the course of the Bear
Water, Carson," he questioned quietly, "where are we expected to hit
the trail leading down to the ford?"

The sergeant, thus addressed, a little stocky fellow wearing a closely
clipped gray moustache, spurred his exhausted horse into a brief trot,
and drew up short by the officer's side, his heavy eyes scanning the
vague distance, even while his right hand was uplifted in perfunctory
salute.

"There 's no trail I know about along this bank, sir," he replied
respectfully, "but the big cottonwood with the dead branch forking out
at the top is the ford guide."

They rode down in moody silence into the next depression, and began
wearily climbing the long hill opposite, apparently the last before
coming directly down the banks of the stream.  As his barely moving
horse topped the uneven summit, the lieutenant suddenly drew in his
rein, and uttering an exclamation of surprise, bent forward, staring
intently down in his immediate front.  For a single instant he appeared
to doubt the evidence of his own eyes; then he swung hastily from out
the saddle, all weariness forgotten.

"My God!" he cried, sharply, his eyes suspiciously sweeping the bare
slope.  "There are two bodies lying here--white people!"

They lay all doubled up in the coarse grass, exactly as they had
fallen, the man resting face downward, the slender figure of the girl
clasped vice-like in his arms, with her tightly closed eyes upturned
toward the glaring sun.  Their strange, strained, unnatural posture,
the rigidity of their limbs, the ghastly pallor of the exposed young
face accentuated by dark, dishevelled hair, all alike seemed to
indicate death.  Never once questioning but that he was confronting the
closing scene of a grewsome tragedy, the thoroughly aroused lieutenant
dropped upon his knees beside them, his eyes already moist with
sympathy, his anxious fingers feeling for a possible heart-beat.  A
moment of hushed, breathless suspense followed, and then he began
flinging terse, eager commands across his shoulder to where his men
were clustered.

"Here!  Carson, Perry, Ronk, lay hold quick, and break this fellow's
clasp," he cried, briefly.  "The girl retains a spark of life yet, but
the man's arms fairly crush her."

With all the rigidity of actual death those clutching hands held their
tenacious grip, but the aroused soldiers wrenched the interlaced
fingers apart with every tenderness possible in such emergency, shocked
at noting the expression of intense agony stamped upon the man's face
when thus exposed to view.  The whole terrible story was engraven
there--how he had toiled, agonized, suffered, before finally yielding
to the inevitable and plunging forward in unconsciousness, written as
legibly as though by a pen.  Every pang of mental torture had left
plainest imprint across that haggard countenance.  He appeared old,
pitiable, a wreck.  Carson, who in his long service had witnessed much
of death and suffering, bent tenderly above him, seeking for some faint
evidence of lingering life.  His fingers felt for no wound, for to his
experienced eyes the sad tale was already sufficiently clear--hunger,
exposure, the horrible heart-breaking strain of hopeless endeavor, had
caused this ending, this unspeakable tragedy of the barren waterless
plain.  He had witnessed it all before, and hoped now for little.  The
anxious lieutenant, bareheaded under the hot sun-glare, strode hastily
across from beside the unconscious but breathing girl, and stood gazing
doubtfully down upon them.

"Any life, sergeant?" he demanded, his voice rendered husky by sympathy.

"He doesn't seem entirely gone, sir," and Carson glanced up into the
officer's face, his own eyes filled with feeling.  "I can distinguish
just a wee bit of breathing, but it's so weak the pulse hardly stirs."

"What do you make of it?"

"Starving at the bottom, sir.  The only thing I see now is to get them
down to water and food."

The young officer glanced swiftly about him across that dreary picture
of sun-burnt, desolate prairie stretching in every direction, his eyes
pausing slightly as they surveyed the tops of the distant cottonwoods.

"Sling blankets between your horses," he commanded, decisively.  "Move
quickly, lads, and we may save one of these lives yet."

He led in the preparation himself, his cheeks flushed, his movements
prompt, decisive.  As if by some magic discipline the rude, effective
litters were rapidly made ready, and the two seemingly lifeless bodies
gently lifted from off the ground and deposited carefully within.  Down
the long, brown slope they advanced slowly, a soldier grasping the rein
and walking at each horse's head, the supporting blankets, securely
fastened about the saddle pommels, swaying gently to the measured tread
of the trained animals.  The lieutenant directed every movement, while
Carson rode ahead, picking out the safest route through the short
grass.  Beneath the protecting shadows of the first group of
cottonwoods, almost on the banks of the muddy Bear Water, the little
party let down their senseless burdens, and began once more their
seemingly hopeless efforts at resuscitation.  A fire was hastily
kindled from dried and broken branches, and broth was made, which was
forced through teeth that had to be pried open.  Water was used
unsparingly, the soldiers working with feverish eagerness, inspired by
the constant admonitions of their officer, as well as their own
curiosity to learn the facts hidden behind this tragedy.

[Illustration: They advanced slowly, the supporting blankets swaying
gently to the measured tread.]

It was the dark eyes of the girl which opened first, instantly closing
again as the glaring light swept into them.  Then slowly, and with
wonderment, she gazed up into those strange, rough faces surrounding
her, pausing in her first survey to rest her glance on the sympathetic
countenance of the young lieutenant, who held her half reclining upon
his arm.

"Here," he exclaimed, kindly, interpreting her glance as one of fear,
"you are all right and perfectly safe now, with friends to care for
you.  Peters, bring another cup of that broth.  Now, miss, just take a
sup or two of this, and your strength will come back in a jiffy.  What
was the trouble?  Starving?"

She did exactly as he bade her, every movement mechanical, her eyes
fastened upon his face.

"I--I reckon that was partly it," she responded at last, her voice
faint and husky.  Then her glance wandered away, and finally rested
upon another little kneeling group a few yards farther down stream.  A
look of fresh intelligence swept into her face.

"Is that him?" she questioned, tremblingly.  "Is--is he dead?"

"He was n't when we first got here, but mighty near gone, I'm afraid.
I've been working over you ever since."

She shook herself free and sat weakly up, her lips tight compressed,
her eyes apparently blind to all save that motionless body she could
barely distinguish.  "Let me tell you, that fellow's a man, just the
same; the gamest, nerviest man I ever saw.  I reckon he got hit, too,
though he never said nothing about it.  That's his style."

The deeply interested lieutenant removed his watchful eyes from off his
charge just long enough to glance inquiringly across his shoulder.
"Has the man any signs of a wound, sergeant?" he asked, loudly.

"A mighty ugly slug in the shoulder, sir; has bled scandalous, but I
guess it 's the very luck that's goin' to save him; seems now to be
comin' out all right."

The officer's brows knitted savagely.  "It begins to look as if this
might be some of our business.  What happened?  Indians?"

"Yes."

"How far away?"

"I don't know.  They caught us in a canyon somewhere out yonder, maybe
three or four days ago; there was a lot killed, some of them soldiers.
My dad was shot, and then that night he--he got me out up the rocks,
and he--he was carrying me in his arms when I--I fainted, I saw there
was blood on his shirt, and it was dripping down on the grass as he
walked.  That's about all I know."

"Who is the man?  What's his name?"

The girl looked squarely into the lieutenant's eyes, and, for some
reason which she could never clearly explain even to herself, lied
calmly.  "I don't know; I never asked."

Sergeant Carson rose stiffly from his knees beside the extended figure
and strode heavily across toward where they were sitting, lifting his
hand in soldierly salute, his heels clicking as he brought them sharply
together in military precision.

"The fellow is getting his eyes open, sir," he reported, "and is
breathing more regular.  Purty weak yit, but he'll come round in time."
He stared curiously down at the girl now sitting up unsupported, while
a sudden look of surprised recognition swept across his face.

"Great guns!" he exclaimed, eagerly, "but I know you.  You're old man
Gillis's gal from Bethune, ain't ye?"

The quickly uplifted dark eyes seemed to lighten the ghastly pallor of
her face, and her lips trembled.  "Yes," she acknowledged simply, "but
he's dead."

The lieutenant laid his ungloved hand softly on her shoulder, his blue
eyes moist with aroused feeling.

"Never mind, little girl," he said, with boyish sympathy.  "I knew
Gillis, and, now the sergeant has spoken, I remember you quite well.
Thought all the time your face was familiar, but could n't quite decide
where I had seen you before.  So poor old Gillis has gone, and you are
left all alone in the world!  Well, he was an old soldier, could not
have hoped to live much longer anyway, and would rather go fighting at
the end.  We 'll take you back with us to Bethune, and the ladies of
the garrison will look after you."

The recumbent figure lying a few yards away half lifted itself upon one
elbow, and Hampton's face, white and haggard, stared uncertainly across
the open space.  For an instant his gaze dwelt upon the crossed sabres
shielding the gilded "7" on the front of the lieutenant's scouting hat,
then settled upon the face of the girl.  With one hand pressed against
the grass he pushed himself slowly up until he sat fronting them, his
teeth clinched tight, his gray eyes gleaming feverishly in their sunken
sockets.

"I'll be damned if you will!" he said, hoarsely.  "She 's my girl now."




CHAPTER V

A NEW PROPOSITION

To one in the least inclined toward fastidiousness, the Miners' Home at
Glencaid would scarcely appeal as a desirable place for long-continued
residence.  But such a one would have had small choice in the matter,
as it chanced to be the only hotel there.  The Miners' Home was
unquestionably unique as regards architectural details, having been
constructed by sections, in accordance with the rapid development of
the camp, and enjoyed the further distinction--there being only two
others equally stylish in town--of being built of sawn plank, although,
greatly to the regret of its unfortunate occupants, lack of seasoning
had resulted in wide cracks in both walls and stairway.  These were
numerous, and occasionally proved perilous pitfalls to unwary
travellers through the ill-lighted hall, while strict privacy within
the chambers was long ago a mere reminiscence.  However, these
deficiencies were to be discovered only after entering.  Without, the
Miners' Home put up a good front,--which along the border is considered
the chief matter of importance,--and was in reality the most
pretentious structure gracing the single cluttered street of Glencaid.
Indeed, it was pointed at with much civic pride by those citizens never
compelled to exist within its yawning walls, and, with its ornament of
a wide commodious porch, appeared even palatial in comparison with the
log stable upon its left flank, or the dingy tent whose worm-eaten
canvas flapped dejectedly upon the right.  Directly across the street,
its front a perfect blaze of glass, stood invitingly the Occidental
saloon; but the Widow Guffy, who operated the Miners' Home with a
strong hand, possessed an antipathy to strong liquor, which
successfully kept all suspicion of intoxicating drink absent from those
sacredly guarded precincts, except as her transient guests imported it
internally, in the latter case she naturally remained quiescent, unless
the offender became unduly boisterous.  On such rare occasions Mrs.
Guffy had always proved equal to the emergency, possessing Irish
facility with either tongue or club.

Mr. Hampton during the course of his somewhat erratic career had
previously passed several eventful weeks in Glencaid.  He was neither
unknown nor unappreciated at the Miners' Home, and having on previous
occasions established his reputation as a spender, experienced little
difficulty now in procuring promptly the very best accommodation which
the house afforded.  That this arrangement was accomplished somewhat to
the present discomfort of two vociferous Eastern tourists did not
greatly interfere with his pleasurable interest in the situation.

"Send those two fellows in here to argue it out," he said, languidly,
after listening disgustedly to their loud lamentations in the hallway,
and addressing his remarks to Mrs. Guffy, who had glanced into the room
to be again assured regarding his comfort, and to express her deep
regret over the unseemly racket.  "The girl has fallen asleep, and I 'm
getting tired of hearing so much noise."

"No, be hivings, an' ye don't do nuthin' of thet sort, Bob," returned
the widow, good-naturedly, busying herself with a dust-rag.  "This is
me own house, an' Oi've tended ter the loikes of them sort er fellers
afore.  There'll be no more bother this toime.  Besides, it's a paceful
house Oi'm runnin', an' Oi know ye'r way of sittling them things.  It's
too strenurous ye are, Misther Hampton.  And what did ye do wid the
young lady, Oi make bould to ask?"

Hampton carelessly waved his hand toward the rear room, the door of
which stood ajar, and blew a thick cloud of smoke into the air, his
eyes continuing to gaze dreamily through the open window toward the
distant hills.

"Who's running the game over at the Occidental?" he asked,
professionally.

"Red Slavin, bad cess to him!" and her eyes regarded her questioner
with renewed anxiety.  "But sure now, Bob, ye mustn't think of playin'
yit awhoile.  Yer narves are in no fit shape, an' won't be fer a wake
yit."

He made no direct reply, and she hung about, flapping the dust-rag
uneasily.

"An' what did ye mane ter be doin' wid the young gyurl?" she questioned
at last, in womanly curiosity.

Hampton wheeled about on the hard chair, and regarded her quizzingly.
"Mrs. Guffy," he said, slowly, "you've been a mother to me, and it
would certainly be unkind not to give you a straight tip.  Do?  Why,
take care of her, of course.  What else would you expect of one
possessing my kindly disposition and well-known motives of
philanthropy?  Can it be that I have resided with you, off and on, for
ten years past without your ever realizing the fond yearnings of my
heart?  Mrs. Guffy, I shall make her the heiress to my millions; I
shall marry her off to some Eastern nabob, and thus attain to that high
position in society I am so well fitted to adorn--sure, and what else
were you expecting, Mrs. Guffy?"

"A loikely story," with a sniff of disbelief.  "They tell me she 's old
Gillis's daughter over to Bethune."

"They tell you, do they?" a sudden gleam of anger darkening his gray
eyes.  "Who tell you?"

"Sure, Bob, an' thet 's nuthin' ter git mad about, so fur as I kin see.
The story is in iverybody's mouth.  It wus thim sojers what brought ye
in thet tould most ov it, but the lieutenant,--Brant of the Seventh
Cavalry, no less,--who took dinner here afore he wint back after the
dead bodies, give me her name."

"Brant of the Seventh?"  He faced her fairly now, his face again
haggard and gray, all the slight gleam of fun gone out of it.  "Was
that the lad's name?"

"Sure, and didn't ye know him?"

"No; I noticed the '7' on his hat, of course, but never asked any
questions, for his face was strange.  I didn't know.  The name, when
you just spoke it, struck me rather queer.  I--I used to know a Brant
in the Seventh, but he was much older; it was not this man."

She answered something, lingering for a moment at the door, but he made
no response, and she passed out silently, leaving him staring moodily
through the open window, his eyes appearing glazed and sightless.

Glencaid, like most mining towns of its class, was dull and dead enough
during the hours of daylight.  It was not until after darkness fell
that it awoke from its somnolence, when the scattered miners came
swarming down from out the surrounding hills and turned into a noisy,
restless playground the single narrow, irregular street.  Then it
suddenly became a mad commixture of Babel and hell.  At this hour
nothing living moved within range of the watcher's vision except a
vagrant dog; the heat haze hung along the near-by slopes, while a
little spiral of dust rose lazily from the deserted road.  But Hampton
had no eyes for this dreary prospect; with contracted brows he was
viewing again that which he had confidently believed to have been
buried long ago.  Finally, he stepped quickly across the little room,
and, standing quietly within the open doorway, looked long at the young
girl upon the bed.  She lay in sound, motionless sleep, one hand
beneath her cheek, her heavy hair, scarcely revealing its auburn hue in
the gloom of the interior, flowing in wild disorder across the crushed
pillow.  He stepped to the single window and drew down the green shade,
gazed at her again, a new look of tenderness softening his stern face,
then went softly out and closed the door.

An hour later he was still sitting on the hard chair by the window, a
cigar between his teeth, thinking.  The lowering sun was pouring a
perfect flood of gold across the rag carpet, but he remained utterly
unconscious as to aught save the gloomy trend of his own awakened
memories.  Some one rapped upon the outer door.

"Come in," he exclaimed, carelessly, and barely glancing up.  "Well,
what is it this time, Mrs. Guffy?"

The landlady had never before seen this usually happy guest in his
present mood, and she watched him curiously.

"A man wants ter see ye," she announced, shortly, her hand on the knob.

"Oh, I'm in no shape for play to-night; go back and tell him so."

"Sure, an' it's aisy 'nough ter see thet wid half an eye.  But this un
isn't thet koind of a man, an' he's so moighty perlite about it Oi jist
cud n't sind the loikes of him away.  It's 'Missus Guffy, me dear
madam, wud ye be koind enough to convey me complimints to Misther
Robert Hampton, and requist him to grant me a few minutes of his toime
on an important matter?'  Sure, an' what do ye think of thet?"

"Huh! one of those fellows who had these rooms?" and Hampton rose to
his feet with animation.

The landlady lowered her voice to an almost inaudible whisper.

"It's the Reverend Howard Wynkoop," she announced, impressively,
dwelling upon the name.  "The Reverend Howard Wynkoop, the Prasbytarian
Missionary--wouldn't thet cork ye?"

It evidently did, for Mr. Hampton stared at her for fully a minute in
an amazement too profound for fit expression in words.  Then he
swallowed something in his throat.

"Show the gentleman up," he said, shortly, and sat down to wait.

The Rev. Howard Wynkoop was neither giant nor dwarf, but the very
fortunate possessor of a countenance which at once awakened confidence
in his character.  He entered the room quietly, rather dreading this
interview with one of Mr. Hampton's well-known proclivities, yet in
this case feeling abundantly fortified in the righteousness of his
cause.  His brown eyes met the inquisitive gray ones frankly, and
Hampton waved him silently toward a vacant chair.

"Our lines of labor in this vineyard being so entirely opposite," the
latter said, coldly, but with intended politeness, "the honor of your
unexpected call quite overwhelms me.  I shall have to trouble you to
speak somewhat softly in explanation of your present mission, so as not
to disturb a young girl who chances to be sleeping in the room beyond."

Wynkoop cleared his throat uneasily, his naturally pale cheeks flushed.

"It was principally upon her account I ventured to call," he explained
in sudden confidence.  "Might I see her?"

Hampton's watchful eyes swept the others face suspiciously, and his
hands clinched.

"Relative?" he asked gravely.

The preacher shook his head.

"Friend of the family, perhaps?"

"No, Mr. Hampton.  My purpose in coming here is perfectly proper, yet
the request was not advanced as a right, but merely as a special
privilege."

A moment Hampton hesitated; then he arose and quietly crossed the room,
holding open the door.  Without a word being spoken the minister
followed, and stood beside him.  For several minutes the eyes of both
men rested upon the girl's sleeping form and upturned face.  Then
Wynkoop drew silently back, and Hampton closed the door noiselessly.

"Well," he said, inquiringly, "what does all this mean?"

The minister hesitated as if doubtful how best to explain the nature of
his rather embarrassing mission, his gaze upon the strong face of the
man fronting him so sternly.

"Let us sit down again," he said at last, "and I will try to make my
purpose sufficiently clear.  I am not here to mince words, nor do I
believe you to be the kind of a man who would respect me if I did.  I
may say something that will not sound pleasant, but in the cause of my
Master I cannot hesitate.  You are an older man than I, Mr. Hampton;
your experience in life has doubtless been much broader than mine, and
it may even be that in point of education you are likewise my superior.
Nevertheless, as the only minister of the Gospel residing in this
community it is beyond question my plain duty to speak a few words to
you in behalf of this young lady, and her probable future.  I trust not
to be offensive, yet cannot shirk the requirements of my sacred office."

The speaker paused, somewhat disconcerted perhaps by the hardening of
the lines in Hampton's face.

"Go on," commanded Hampton, tersely, "only let the preacher part slide,
and say just what you have to say as man to man."

Wynkoop stiffened perceptibly in his chair, his face paling somewhat,
but his eyes unwavering.  Realizing the reckless nature before him, he
was one whom opposition merely inspired.

"I prefer to do so," he continued, more calmly.  "It will render my
unpleasant task much easier, and yield us both a more direct road for
travel.  I have been laboring on this field for nearly three years.
When I first came here you were pointed out to me as a most dangerous
man, and ever since then I have constantly been regaled by the stories
of your exploits.  I have known you merely through such unfriendly
reports, and came here strongly prejudiced against you as a
representative of every evil I war against.  We have never met before,
because there seemed to be nothing in common between us; because I had
been led to suppose you to be an entirely different man from what I now
believe you are."

Hampton stirred uneasily in his chair.

"Shall I paint in exceedingly plain words the picture given me of you?"

There was no response, but the speaker moistened his lips and proceeded
firmly.  "It was that of a professional gambler, utterly devoid of
mercy toward his victims; a reckless fighter, who shot to kill upon the
least provocation; a man without moral character, and from whom any
good action was impossible.  That was what was said about you.  Is the
tale true?"

Hampton laughed unpleasantly, his eyes grown hard and ugly.

"I presume it must be," he admitted, with a quick side glance toward
the closed door, "for the girl out yonder thought about the same.  A
most excellent reputation to establish with only ten years of strict
attendance to business."

Wynkoop's grave face expressed his disapproval.

"Well, in my present judgment that report was not altogether true," he
went on clearly and with greater confidence.  "I did suppose you
exactly that sort of a man when I first came into this room.  I have
not believed so, however, for a single moment since.  Nevertheless, the
naked truth is certainly bad enough, without any necessity for our
resorting to romance.  You may deceive others by an assumption of
recklessness, but I feel convinced your true nature is not evil.  It
has been warped through some cause which is none of my business.  Let
us deal alone with facts.  You are a gambler, a professional gambler,
with all that that implies; your life is, of necessity, passed among
the most vicious and degrading elements of mining camps, and you do not
hesitate even to take human life when in your judgment it seems
necessary to preserve your own.  Under this veneer of lawlessness you
may, indeed, possess a warm heart, Mr. Hampton; you may be a good
fellow, but you are certainly not a model character, even according to
the liberal code of the border."

"Extremely kind of you to enter my rooms uninvited, and furnish me with
this list of moral deficiencies," acknowledged the other with affected
carelessness.  "But thus far you have failed to tell me anything
strikingly new.  Am I to understand you have some particular object in
this exchange of amenities?"

"Most assuredly.  It is to ask if such a person as you practically
confess yourself to be--homeless, associating only with the most
despicable and vicious characters, and leading so uncertain and
disreputable a life--can be fit to assume charge of a girl, almost a
woman, and mould her future?"

For a long, breathless moment Hampton stared incredulously at his
questioner, crushing his cigar between his teeth.  Twice he started to
speak, but literally choked back the bitter words burning his lips,
while an uncontrollable admiration for the other's boldness began to
overcome his first fierce anger.

"By God!" he exclaimed at last, rising to his feet and pointing toward
the door.  "I have shot men for less.  Go, before I forget your cloth.
You little impudent fool!  See here--I saved that girl from death, or
worse; I plucked her from the very mouth of hell; I like her; she 's
got sand; so far as I know there is not a single soul for her to turn
to for help in all this wide world.  And you, you miserable, snivelling
hypocrite, you little creeping Presbyterian parson, you want me to
shake her!  What sort of a wild beast do you suppose I am?"

Wynkoop had taken one hasty step backward, impelled to it by the fierce
anger blazing from those stern gray eyes.  But now he paused, and, for
the only time on record, discovered the conventional language of polite
society inadequate to express his needs.

"I think," he said, scarcely realizing his own words, "you are a damned
fool."

Into Hampton's eyes there leaped a light upon which other men had
looked before they died,--the strange mad gleam one sometimes sees in
fighting animals, or amid the fierce charges of war.  His hand swept
instinctively backward, closing upon the butt of a revolver beneath his
coat, and for one second he who had dared such utterance looked on
death.  Then the hard lines about the man's mouth softened, the fingers
clutching the weapon relaxed, and Hampton laid one opened hand upon the
minister's shrinking shoulder.

"Sit down," he said, his voice unsteady from so sudden a reaction.
"Perhaps--perhaps I don't exactly understand."

For a full minute they sat thus looking at each other through the fast
dimming light, like two prize-fighters meeting for the first time
within the ring, and taking mental stock before beginning their
physical argument.  Hampton, with a touch of his old audacity of
manner, was first to break the silence.

"So you think I am a damned fool.  Well, we are in pretty fair accord
as to that fact, although no one before has ever ventured to state it
quite so clearly in my presence.  Perhaps you will kindly explain?"

The preacher wet his dry lips with his tongue, forgetting himself when
his thoughts began to crystallize into expression.

"I regret having spoken as I did," he began.  "Such language is not my
custom.  I was irritated because of your haste in rejecting my advances
before hearing the proposition I came to submit.  I certainly respect
your evident desire to be of assistance to this young woman, nor have I
the slightest intention of interfering between you.  Your act in
preserving her life was a truly noble one, and your loyalty to her
interests since is worthy of all Christian praise.  But I believe I
have a right to ask, what do you intend for the future?  Keep her with
you?  Drag her about from camp to camp?  Educate her among the
contaminating poison of gambling-holes and dance-halls?  Is her home
hereafter to be the saloon and the rough frontier hotel? her ideal of
manhood the quarrelsome gambler, and of womanhood a painted harlot?
Mr. Hampton, you are evidently a man of education, of early refinement;
you have known better things; and I have come to you seeking merely to
aid you in deciding this helpless young woman's destiny.  I thought, I
prayed, you would be at once interested in that purpose, and would
comprehend the reasonableness of my position."

Hampton sat silent, gazing out of the window, his eyes apparently on
the lights now becoming dimly visible in the saloon opposite.  For a
considerable time he made no move, and the other straightened back in
his chair watching him.

"Well!" he ventured at last, "what is your proposition?"  The question
was quietly asked, but a slight tremor in the low voice told of
repressed feeling.

"That, for the present at least, you confide this girl into the care of
some worthy woman."

"Have you any such in mind?"

"I have already discussed the matter briefly with Mrs. Herndon, wife of
the superintendent of the Golden Rule mines.  She is a refined
Christian lady, beyond doubt the most proper person to assume such a
charge in this camp.  There is very little in such a place as this to
interest a woman of her capabilities, and I believe she would be
delighted to have such an opportunity for doing good.  She has no
children of her own."

Hampton flung his sodden cigar butt out of the window.  "I'll talk it
over to-morrow with--with Miss Gillis," he said, somewhat gruffly.  "It
may be this means a good deal more to me than you suppose, parson, but
I 'm bound to acknowledge there is considerable hard sense in what you
have just said, and I 'll talk it over with the girl."

Wynkoop held out his hand cordially, and the firm grasp of the other
closed over his fingers.

"I don't exactly know why I didn't kick you downstairs," the latter
commented, as though still in wonder at himself.  "Never remember being
quite so considerate before, but I reckon you must have come at me in
about the right way."

If Wynkoop answered, his words were indistinguishable, but Hampton
remained standing in the open door watching the missionary go down the
narrow stairs.

"Nervy little devil," he acknowledged slowly to himself.  "And maybe,
after all, that would be the best thing for the Kid."




CHAPTER VI

"TO BE OR NOT TO BE"

They were seated rather close together upon the steep hillside, gazing
silently down upon squalid Glencaid.  At such considerable distance all
the dull shabbiness of the mining town had disappeared, and it seemed
almost ideal, viewed against the natural background of brown rocks and
green trees.  All about them was the clear, invigorating air of the
uplands, through which the eyes might trace for miles the range of
irregular rocky hills, while just above, seemingly almost within touch
of the extended hand, drooped the blue circling sky, unflecked by
cloud.  Everywhere was loneliness, no sound telling of the labor of man
reached them, and the few scattered buildings far below resembling mere
doll-houses.

They had conversed only upon the constantly changing beauty of the
scene, or of incidents connected with their upward climb, while moving
slowly along the trail through the fresh morning sunshine.  Now they
sat in silence, the young girl, with cheeks flushed and dreamy eyes
aglow, gazing far off along the valley, the man watching her curiously,
and wondering how best to approach his task.  For the first time he
began to realize the truth, which had been partially borne in upon him
the previous evening by Wynkoop, that this was no mere child with whom
he dealt, but a young girl upon the verge of womanhood.  Such knowledge
began to reveal much that came before him as new, changing the entire
nature of their present relationship, as well as the scope of his own
plain duty.  It was his wont to look things squarely in the face, and
unpleasant and unwelcome as was the task now confronting him, during
the long night hours he had settled it once for all--the preacher's
words were just.

Observing her now, sitting thus in total unconsciousness of his
scrutiny, Hampton made no attempt to analyze the depth of his interest
for this waif who had come drifting into his life.  He did not in the
least comprehend why she should have touched his heart with generous
impulses, nor did he greatly care.  The fact was far the more
important, and that fact he no longer questioned.  He had been a
lonely, unhappy, discontented man for many a long year, shunned by his
own sex, who feared him, never long seeking the society of the other,
and retaining little real respect for himself.  Under such conditions a
reaction was not unnatural, and, short as the time had been since their
first meeting, this odd, straightforward chit of a girl had found an
abiding-place in his heart, had furnished him a distinct motive in life
before unknown.

Even to his somewhat prejudiced eyes she was not an attractive
creature, for she possessed no clear conception of how to render
apparent those few feminine charms she possessed.  Negligence and total
unconsciousness of self, coupled with lack of womanly companionship and
guidance, had left her altogether in the rough.  He marked now the
coarse ragged shoes, the cheap patched skirt, the tousled auburn hair,
the sunburnt cheeks with a suggestion of freckles plainly visible
beneath the eyes, and some of the fastidiousness of earlier days caused
him to shrug his shoulders.  Yet underneath the tan there was the glow
of perfect young health; the eyes were frank, brave, unflinching; while
the rounded chin held a world of character in its firm contour.
Somehow the sight of this brought back to him that abiding faith in her
"dead gameness" which had first awakened his admiration.  "She's got it
in her," he thought, silently, "and, by thunder! I 'm here to help her
get it out."

"Kid," he ventured at last, turning over a broken fragment of rock
between his restless fingers, but without lifting his eyes, "you were
talking while we came up the trail about how we 'd do this and that
after a while.  You don't suppose I 'm going to have any useless girl
like you hanging around on to me, do you?"

She glanced quickly about at him, as though such unexpected expressions
startled her from a pleasant reverie.  "Why, I--I thought that was the
way you planned it yesterday," she exclaimed, doubtfully.

"Oh, yesterday!  Well, you see, yesterday I was sort of dreaming;
to-day I am wide awake, and I 've about decided, Kid, that for your own
good, and my comfort, I 've got to shake you."

A sudden gleam of fierce resentment leaped into the dark eyes, the
unrestrained glow of a passion which had never known control.  "Oh, you
have, have you, Mister Bob Hampton?  You have about decided!  Well, why
don't you altogether decide?  I don't think I'm down on my knees
begging you for mercy.  Good Lord!  I reckon I can get along all right
without you--I did before.  Just what happened to give you such a
change of heart?"

"I made the sudden discovery," he said, affecting a laziness he was
very far from feeling, "that you were too near being a young woman to
go traipsing around the country with me, living at shacks, and having
no company but gambling sharks, and that class of cattle."

"Oh, did you?  What else?"

"Only that our tempers don't exactly seem to jibe, and the two of us
can't be bosses in the same ranch."

She looked at him contemptuously, swinging her body farther around on
the rock, and sitting stiffly, the color on her cheeks deepening
through the sunburn.  "Now see here, Mister Bob Hampton, you're a
fraud, and you know it!  Did n't I understand exactly who you was, and
what was your business?  Did n't I know you was a gambler, and a 'bad
man'?  Didn't I tell you plain enough out yonder,"--and her voice
faltered slightly,--"just what I thought about you?  Good Lord!  I have
n't been begging to stick with you, have I?  I just didn't know which
way to turn, or who to turn to, after dad was killed, and you sorter
hung on to me, and I let it go the way I supposed you wanted it.  But I
'm not particularly stuck on your style, let me tell you, and I reckon
there 's plenty of ways for me to get along.  Only first, I propose to
understand what your little game is.  You don't throw down your hand
like that without some reason."

Hampton sat up, spurred into instant admiration by such independence of
spirit.  "You grow rather good-looking, Kid, when you get hot, but you
go at things half-cocked, and you 've got to get over it.  That's the
whole trouble--you 've never been trained, and I would n't make much of
a trainer for a high-strung filly like you.  Ever remember your mother?"

"Mighty little; reckon she must have died when I was about five years
old.  That's her picture."

Hampton took in his hand the old-fashioned locket she held out toward
him, the long chain still clasped about her throat, and pried open the
stiff catch with his knife blade.  She bent down to fasten her loosened
shoe, and when her eyes were uplifted again his gaze was riveted upon
the face in the picture.

"Mighty pretty, wasn't she?" she asked with a sudden girlish interest,
bending forward to look, regardless of his strained attitude.  "And she
was prettier than that even, the way I remember her best, with her hair
all hanging down, coming to tuck me into bed at night.  Someway that's
how I always seem to see her."

The man drew a deep breath, and snapped shut the locket, yet still
retained it in his hand.  "Is--is she dead?" he questioned, and his
voice trembled in spite of steel nerves.

"Yes, in St. Louis; dad took me there with him two years ago, and I saw
her grave."

"Dad?  Do you mean old Gillis?"

She nodded, beginning dimly to wonder why he should speak so fiercely
and stare at her in that odd way.  He seemed to choke twice before he
could ask the next question.

"Did he--old Gillis, I mean--claim to be your father, or her husband?"

"No, I don't reckon he ever did, but he gave me that picture, and told
me she was my mother.  I always lived with him, and called him dad.  I
reckon he liked it, and he was mighty good to me.  We were at Randolph
a long time, and since then he's been post-trader at Bethune.  That's
all I know about it, for dad never talked very much, and he used to get
mad when I asked him questions."

Hampton dropped the locket from his grasp, and arose to his feet.  For
several minutes he stood with his back turned toward her, apparently
gazing down the valley, his jaw set, his dimmed eyes seeing nothing.
Slowly the color came creeping back into his face, and his hands
unclinched.  Then he wheeled about, and looked down upon her,
completely restored to his old nature.

"Then it seems that it is just you and I, Kid, who have got to settle
this little affair," he announced, firmly.  "I 'll have my say about
it, and then you can uncork your feelings.  I rather imagine I have n't
very much legal right in the premises, but I 've got a sort of moral
grip on you by reason of having pulled you out alive from that canyon
yonder, and I propose to play this game to the limit.  You say your
mother is dead, and the man who raised you is dead, and, so far as
either of us know, there is n't a soul anywhere on earth who possesses
any claim over you, or any desire to have.  Then, naturally, the whole
jack-pot is up to me, provided I 've got the cards.  Now, Kid, waving
your prejudice aside, I ain't just exactly the best man in this world
to bring up a girl like you and make a lady out of her.  I thought
yesterday that maybe we might manage to hitch along together for a
while, but I 've got a different think coming to-day.  There 's no use
disfiguring the truth.  I 'm a gambler, something of a fighter on the
side, and folks don't say anything too pleasant about my peaceful
disposition around these settlements; I have n't any home, and mighty
few friends, and the few I have got are nothing to boast about.  I
reckon there 's a cause for it all.  So, considering everything, I 'm
about the poorest proposition ever was heard of to start a young
ladies' seminary.  The Lord knows old Gillis was bad enough, but I 'm a
damned sight worse.  Now, some woman has got to take you in hand, and I
reckon I 've found the right one."

"Goin' to get married, Bob?"

"Not this year; it's hardly become so serious as that, but I 'm going
to find you a good home here, and I 'm going to put up plenty of stuff,
so that they 'll take care of you all right and proper."

The dark eyes never wavered as they looked steadily into the gray ones,
but the chin quivered slightly.

"I reckon I 'd rather try it alone," she announced stubbornly.  "Maybe
I might have stood it with you, Bob Hampton, but a woman is the limit."

Hampton in other and happier days had made something of a study of the
feminine nature, and he realized now the utter impracticability of any
attempt at driving.

"I expect it will go rather hard at first, Kid," he admitted craftily,
"but I think you might try it a while just to sort of please me."

"Who--who is she?" doubtfully.

"Mrs. Herndon, wife of the superintendent of the 'Golden Rule' mine";
and he waved his hand toward the distant houses.  "They tell me she's a
mighty fine woman."

"Oh, they do?  Then somebody's been stirring you up about me, have
they?  I thought that was about the way of it.  Somebody wants to
reform me, I reckon.  Well, maybe I won't be reformed.  Who was it,
Bob?"

"The Presbyterian Missionary," he confessed reluctantly, "a nervy
little chap named Wynkoop; he came in to see me last night while you
were asleep." He faced her open scorn unshrinkingly, his mind fully
decided, and clinging to one thought with all the tenacity of his
nature.

"A preacher!" her voice vibrant with derision, "a preacher!  Well, of
all things, Bob Hampton!  You led around by the nose in that way!  Did
he want you to bring me to Sunday school?  A preacher!  And I suppose
the fellow expects to turn me over to one of his flock for religious
instruction.  He'll have you studying theology inside of a year.  A
preacher!  Oh, Lord, and you agreed!  Well, I won't go; so there!"

"As I understand the affair," Hampton continued, as she paused for
breath, "it was Lieutenant Brant who suggested the idea of his coming
to me.  Brant knew Gillis, and remembered you, and realizing your
unpleasant situation, thought such an arrangement would be for your
benefit."

"Brant!" she burst forth in renewed anger; "he did, did he!  The
putty-faced dandy!  I used to see him at Bethune, and you can bet he
never bothered his head about me then.  No, and he didn't even know me
out yonder, until after the sergeant spoke up.  What business has that
fellow got planning what I shall do?"

Hampton made no attempt to answer.  It was better to let her
indignation die out naturally, and so he asked a question.  "What is
this Brant doing at Bethune?  There is no cavalry stationed there."

She glanced up quickly, interested by the sudden change in his voice.
"I heard dad say he was kept there on some special detail.  His
regiment is stationed at Fort Lincoln, somewhere farther north.  He
used to come down and talk with dad evenings, because daddy saw service
in the Seventh when it was first organized after the war."

"Did you--did you ever hear either of them say anything about Major
Alfred Brant?  He must have been this lad's father."

"No, I never heard much they said.  Did you know him?"

"The father, yes, but that was years ago.  Come, Kid, all this is only
ancient history, and just as well forgotten.  Now, you are a sensible
girl, when your temper don't get away with you, and I am simply going
to leave this matter to your better judgment.  Will you go to Mrs.
Herndon's, and find out how you like it?  You need n't stop there an
hour if she is n't good to you, but you ought not to want to remain
with me, and grow up like a rough boy."

"You--you really want me to go, don't you?"

"Yes, I want you to go.  It's a chance for you, Kid, and there is n't a
bit of a show in the kind of a life I lead.  I never have been in love
with it myself, and only took to it in the first place because the
devil happened to drive me that way.  The Lord knows I don't want to
lead any one else through such a muck.  So it is a try?"

The look of defiance faded slowly out of her face as she stood gravely
regarding him.  The man was in deadly earnest, and she felt the quiet
insistence of his manner.  He really desired it to be decided in this
way, and somehow his will had become her law, although such a suspicion
had never once entered her mind.

"You bet, if you put it that way," she consented, simply, "but I reckon
that Mrs. Herndon is likely to wish I hadn't."

Together, yet scarcely exchanging another word, the two retraced their
steps slowly down the steep trail leading toward the little town in the
valley, walking unconsciously the pathway of fate, the way of all the
world.




CHAPTER VII

"I'VE COME HERE TO LIVE"

Widely as these two companions differed in temperament and experience,
it would be impossible to decide which felt the greater uneasiness at
the prospect immediately before them.  The girl openly rebellious, the
man extremely doubtful, with reluctant steps they approached that tall,
homely yellow house--outwardly the most pretentious in Glencaid--which
stood well up in the valley, where the main road diverged into numerous
winding trails leading toward the various mines among the foothills.

They were so completely opposite, these two, that more than one chance
passer-by glanced curiously toward them as they picked their way onward
through the red dust.  Hampton, slender yet firmly knit, his movements
quick like those of a watchful tiger, his shoulders set square, his
body held erect as though trained to the profession of arms, his gray
eyes marking every movement about him with a suspicion born of
continual exposure to peril, his features finely chiselled, with
threads of gray hair beginning to show conspicuously about the temples.
One would glance twice at him anywhere, for in chin, mouth, and eyes
were plainly pictured the signs of strength, evidences that he had
fought stern battles, and was no craven.  For good or evil he might be
trusted to act instantly, and, if need arose, to the very death.  His
attire of fashionably cut black cloth, and his immaculate linen, while
neat and unobtrusive, yet appeared extremely unusual in that careless
land of clay-baked overalls and dingy woollens.  Beside him, in vivid
contrast, the girl trudged in her heavy shoes and bedraggled skirts,
her sullen eyes fastened doggedly on the road, her hair showing ragged
and disreputable in the brilliant sunshine.  Hampton himself could not
remain altogether indifferent to the contrast.

"You look a little rough, Kid, for a society call," he said.  "If there
was any shebang in this mud-hole of a town that kept any women's things
on sale fit to look at, I 'd be tempted to fix you up a bit."

"Well, I'm glad of it," she responded, grimly.  "I hope I look so blame
tough that woman won't say a civil word to us.  You can bet I ain't
going to strain myself to please the likes of her."

"You certainly exhibit no symptoms of doing so," he admitted, frankly.
"But you might, at least, have washed your face and fixed your hair."

She flashed one angry glance at him, stopping in the middle of the
road, her head flung back as though ready for battle.  Then, as if by
some swift magic of emotion, her expression changed.  "And so you're
ashamed of me, are you?" she asked, her voice sharp but unsteady.
"Ashamed to be seen walking with me?  Darn it!  I know you are!  But I
tell you, Mr. Bob Hampton, you won't be the next time.  And what's
more, you just don't need to traipse along another step with me now.  I
don't want you.  I reckon I ain't very much afraid of tackling this
Presbyterian woman all alone."

She swung off fiercely, and the man chuckled softly as he followed,
watchfully, through the circling, red dust cloud created by her hasty
feet.  The truth is, Mr. Hampton possessed troubles and scruples of his
own in connection with this contemplated call.  He had never met the
lady; indeed, he could recall very few of her sex, combining
respectability and refinement, whom he had met during the past ten
years.  But he retained some memory of the husband as having been
associated with a strenuous poker game at Placer, in which he also held
a prominent place, and it would seem scarcely possible that the wife
did not know whose bullet had turned her for some weeks into a
sick-nurse.  For Herndon he had not even a second thought, but the
possible ordeal of a woman's tongue was another matter.  A cordial
reception could hardly be anticipated, and Hampton mentally braced
himself for the worst.

There were some other things, also, but these he brushed aside for the
present.  He was not the sort of man to wear his heart upon his sleeve,
and all his life long he had fought out his more serious battles in
loneliness and silence.  Now he had work to accomplish in the open; he
was going to stay with the Kid--after that, _quien sabe_?  So he smiled
somewhat soberly, swore softly to himself, and strode on.  He had never
yet thrown down his cards merely because luck had taken a bad turn.

It was a cheerless-looking house, painted a garish yellow, having
staring windows, and devoid of a front porch, or slightest attempt at
shade to render its uncomely front less unattractive.  Hampton could
scarcely refrain from forming a mental picture of the woman who would
most naturally preside within so unpolished an abode--an angular,
hard-featured, vinegar-tempered  creature, firm settled in her
prejudices and narrowed by her creed.  Had the matter been left at that
moment to his own decision, this glimpse of the house would have turned
them both back, but the girl unhesitatingly pressed forward and turned
defiantly in through the gateless opening.  He followed in silence
along the narrow foot-path bordered by weeds, and stood back while she
stepped boldly up on the rude stone slab and rapped sharply against the
warped and sagging door.  A moment they stood thus waiting with no
response from within.  Once she glanced suspiciously around at him,
only to wheel back instantly and once more apply her knuckles to the
wood.  Before he had conjured up something worth saying the door was
partially opened, and a rounded dumpling of a woman, having rosy
cheeks, her hair iron-gray, her blue eyes half smiling in uncertain
welcome, looked out upon them questioningly.

"I 've come to live here," announced the girl, sullenly.  "That is, if
I like it."

The woman continued to gaze at her, as if tempted to laugh outright;
then the pleasant blue eyes hardened as their vision swept beyond
toward Hampton.

"It is extremely kind of you, I 'm sure," she said at last.  "Why is it
I am to be thus honored?"

The girl backed partially off the doorstep, her hair flapping in the
wind, her cheeks flushed.

"Oh, you need n't put on so much style about it," she blurted out.
"You 're Mrs. Herndon, ain't you?  Well, then, this is the place where
I was sent; but I reckon you ain't no more particular about it than I
am.  There's others."

"Who sent you to me?" and Mrs. Herndon came forth into the sunshine.

"The preacher."

"Oh, Mr. Wynkoop; then you must be the homeless girl whom Lieutenant
Brant brought in the other day.  Why did you not say so at first?  You
may come in, my child."

There was a sympathetic tenderness apparent now in the tones of her
voice, which the girl was swift to perceive and respond to, yet she
held back, her independence unshaken.  With the quick intuition of a
woman, Mrs. Herndon bent down, placing one hand on the defiant shoulder.

"I did not understand, at first, my dear," she said, soothingly, "or I
should never have spoken as I did.  Some very strange callers come
here.  But you are truly welcome.  I had a daughter once; she must have
been nearly your age when God took her.  Won't you come in?"

While thus speaking she never once glanced toward the man standing in
silence beyond, yet as the two passed through the doorway together he
followed, unasked.  Once within the plainly furnished room, and with
her arm about the girl's waist, the lines about her mouth hardened.  "I
do not recall extending my invitation to you," she said, coldly.

He remained standing, hat in hand, his face shadowed, his eyes
picturing deep perplexity.

"For the intrusion I offer my apology," he replied, humbly; "but you
see I--I feel responsible for this young woman.  She--sort of fell to
my care when none of her own people were left to look after her.  I
only came to show her the way, and to say that I stand ready to pay you
well to see to her a bit, and show her how to get hold of the right
things."

"Indeed!" and Mrs. Herndon's voice was not altogether pleasant.  "I
understood she was entirely alone and friendless.  Are you that man who
brought her out of the canyon?"

Hampton bowed as though half ashamed of acknowledging the act.

"Oh! then I know who you are," she continued, unhesitatingly.  "You are
a gambler and a bar-room rough.  I won't touch a penny of your money.
I told Mr. Wynkoop that I shouldn't, but that I would endeavor to do my
Christian duty by this poor girl.  He was to bring her here himself,
and keep you away."

The man smiled slightly, not in the least disconcerted by her plain
speech.  The cutting words merely served to put him on his mettle.
"Probably we departed from the hotel somewhat earlier than the minister
anticipated," he explained, quietly, his old ease of manner returning
in face of such open opposition.  "I greatly regret your evident
prejudice, madam, and can only say that I have more confidence in you
than you appear to have in me.  I shall certainly discover some means
by which I may do my part in shaping this girl's future, but in the
meanwhile will relieve you of my undesired presence."

He stepped without into the glare of the sunlight, feeling utterly
careless as to the woman who had affronted him, yet somewhat hurt on
seeing that the girl had not once lifted her downcast eyes to his face.
Yet he had scarcely taken three steps toward the road before she was
beside him, her hand upon his sleeve.

"I won't stay!" she exclaimed, fiercely, "I won't, Bob Hampton.  I 'd
rather go with you than be good."

His sensitive face flushed with delight, but he looked gravely down
into her indignant eyes.  "Oh, yes, you will, Kid," and his hand
touched her roughened hair caressingly.  "She's a good, kind woman, all
right, and I don't blame her for not liking my style."

"Do--do you really want me to stick it out here, Bob?"

It was no small struggle for him to say so, for he was beginning to
comprehend just what this separation meant.   She was more to him than
he had ever supposed, more to him than she had been even an hour
before; and now he understood clearly that from this moment they must
ever run farther apart--her life tending upward, his down.  Yet there
was but one decision possible.  A life which is lonely and
dissatisfied, a wasted life, never fully realizes how lonely,
dissatisfied, and wasted it is until some new life, beautiful in young
hope and possibility, comes into contact with it.  For a single instant
Hampton toyed with the temptation confronting him, this opportunity of
brightening his own miserable future by means of her degradation.  Then
he answered, his voice grown almost harsh.  "This is your best chance,
little girl, and I want you to stay and fight it out."

Their eyes met, each dimly realizing, although in a totally different
way, that here was a moment of important decision.  Mrs. Herndon
darkened the doorway, and stood looking out.

"Well, Mr. Bob Hampton," she questioned, plainly, "what is this going
to be?"

He glanced toward her, slightly lifting his hat, and promptly releasing
the girl's clinging hand.

"Miss Gillis consents to remain," he announced shortly, and, denying
himself so much as another glance at his companion, strode down the
narrow path to the road.  A moment the girl's eyes followed him through
the dust cloud, a single tear stealing down her cheek.  Only a short
week ago she had utterly despised this man, now he had become truly
more to her than any one else in the wide, wide world.  She did not in
the least comprehend the mystery; indeed, it was no mystery, merely the
simple trust of a child naturally responding to the first unselfish
love given it.  Perhaps Mrs. Herndon dimly understood, for she came
forth quietly, and led the girl, now sobbing bitterly, within the cool
shadows of the house.




CHAPTER VIII

A LAST REVOLT

It proved a restless day, and a sufficiently unpleasant one, for Mr.
Hampton.  For a number of years he had been diligently training himself
in the school of cynicism, endeavoring to persuade himself that he did
not in the least care what others thought, nor how his own career
ended; impelling himself to constant recklessness in life and thought.
He had thus successfully built up a wall between the present and that
past which long haunted his lonely moments, and had finally decided
that it was hermetically sealed.  Yet now, this odd chit of a girl,
this waif whom he had plucked from the jaws of death, had overturned
this carefully constructed barrier as if it had been originally built
of mere cardboard, and he was compelled again to see himself, loathe
himself, just as he had in those past years.

Everything had been changed by her sudden entrance into his life,
everything except those unfortunate conditions which still bound him
helpless.  He looked upon the world no longer through his cool, gray
eyes, but out of her darker ones, and the prospect appeared gloomy
enough.  He thought it all over again and again, dwelling in reawakened
memory upon details long hidden within the secret recesses of his
brain, yet so little came from this searching survey that the result
left him no plan for the future.  He had wandered too far away from
home; the path leading back was long ago overgrown with weeds, and
could not now be retraced.  One thing he grasped clearly,--the girl
should be given her chance; nothing in his life must ever again soil
her or lower her ideals.  Mrs. Herndon was right, and he realized it;
neither his presence nor his money were fit to influence her future.
He swore between his clinched teeth, his face grown haggard.  The sun's
rays bridged the slowly darkening valley with cords of red gold, and
the man pulled himself to his feet by gripping the root of a tree.  He
realized that he had been sitting there for hours, and that he was
hungry.

Down beneath, amid the fast awakening noise and bustle of early
evening, the long discipline of the gambler reasserted itself--he got
back his nerve.  It was Bob Hampton, cool, resourceful, sarcastic of
speech, quick of temper, who greeted the loungers about the hotel, and
who sat, with his back to the wall, in the little dining-room, watchful
of all others present.  And it was Bob Hampton who strolled carelessly
out upon the darkened porch an hour later, leaving a roar of laughter
behind him, and an enemy as well.  Little he cared for that, however,
in his present mood, and he stood there, amid the black shadows,
looking contemptuously down upon the stream of coatless humanity
trooping past on pleasure bent, the blue smoke circling his head, his
gray eyes glowing half angrily.  Suddenly he leaned forward, clutching
the rail in quick surprise.

"Kid," he exclaimed, harshly, "what does this mean?  What are you doing
alone here?"

She stopped instantly and glanced up, her face flushing in the light
streaming forth from the open door of the Occidental.

"I reckon I 'm alone here because I want to be," she returned,
defiantly.  "I ain't no slave.  How do you get up there?"

He extended his hand, and drew her up beside him into the shaded
corner.  "Well," he said, "tell me the truth."

"I 've quit, that's all, Bob.  I just couldn't stand for reform any
longer, and so I 've come back here to you."

The man drew a deep breath.  "Did n't you like Mrs. Herndon?"

"Oh, she 's all right enough, so far as that goes.  'T ain't that; only
I just didn't like some things she said and did."

"Kid," and Hampton straightened up, his voice growing stern.  "I 've
got to know the straight of this.  You say you like Mrs. Herndon well
enough, but not some other things.  What were they?"

The girl hesitated, drawing back a little from him until the light from
the saloon fell directly across her face.  "Well," she declared,
slowly, "you see it had to be either her or--or you, Bob, and I 'd
rather it would be you."

"You mean she said you would have to cut me out entirely if you stayed
there with her?"

She nodded, her eyes filled with entreaty.  "Yes, that was about it.  I
wasn't ever to have anything more to do with you, not even to speak to
you if we met--and after you 'd saved my life, too."

"Never mind about that little affair, Kid," and Hampton rested his hand
gently on her shoulder.  "That was all in the day's work, and hardly
counts for much anyhow.  Was that all she said?"

"She called you a low-down gambler, a gun-fighter, a--a miserable
bar-room thug, a--a murderer.  She--she said that if I ever dared to
speak to you again, Bob Hampton; that I could leave her house.  I just
could n't stand for that, so I came away."

Hampton never stirred, his teeth set deep into his cigar, his hands
clinched about the railing.  "The fool!" he muttered half aloud, then
caught his breath quickly.  "Now see here, Kid," and he turned her
about so that he might look down into her eyes, "I 'm mighty glad you
like me well enough to put up a kick, but if all this is true about me,
why should n't she say it?  Do you believe that sort of a fellow would
prove a very good kind to look after a young lady?"

"I ain't a young lady!"

"No; well, you 're going to be if I have my way, and I don't believe
the sort of a gent described would be very apt to help you much in
getting there."

"You ain't all that."

"Well, perhaps not.  Like an amateur artist, madam may have laid the
colors on a little thick.  But I am no winged angel, Kid, nor exactly a
model for you to copy after.  I reckon you better stick to the woman,
and cut me."

She did not answer, yet he read an unchanged purpose in her eyes, and
his own decision strengthened.  Some instinct led him to do the right
thing; he drew forth the locket from beneath the folds of her dress,
holding it open to the light.  He noticed now a name engraven on the
gold case, and bent lower to decipher it.

"Was her name Naida?  It is an uncommon word."

"Yes."

"And yours also?"

"Yes."

Their eyes met, and those of both had perceptibly softened.

"Naida," his lips dwelt upon the peculiar name as though he loved the
sound.  "I want you to listen to me, child.  I sincerely wish I might
keep you here with me, but I can't.  You are more to me than you dream,
but it would not be right for me thus deliberately to sacrifice your
whole future to my pleasure.  I possess nothing to offer you,--no home,
no friends, no reputation.  Practically I am an outlaw, existing by my
wits, disreputable in the eyes of those who are worthy to live in the
world.  She, who was your mother, would never wish you to remain with
me.  She would say I did right in giving you up into the care of a good
woman.  Naida, look on that face in the locket, your mother's face.  It
is sweet, pure, beautiful, the face of a good, true woman.  Living or
dead, it must be the prayer of those lips that you become a good woman
also.  She should lead you, not I, for I am unworthy.  For her sake,
and in her name, I ask you to go back to Mrs. Herndon."

He could perceive the gathering tears in her eyes, and his hand closed
tightly about her own.  It was not one soul alone that struggled.

"You will go?"

"O Bob, I wish you wasn't a gambler!"

A moment he remained silent.  "But unfortunately I am," he admitted,
soberly, "and it is best for you to go back.  Won't you?"

Her gaze was fastened upon the open locket, the fair face pictured
there smiling up at her as though in pleading also.

"You truly think she would wish it?"

"I know she would."

The girl gave utterance to a quick, startled breath, as if the vision
frightened her.  "Then I will go," she said, her voice a mere whisper,
"I will go."

He led her down the steps, out into the jostling crowd below, as if she
had been some fairy princess.  Men occasionally spoke to him, but
seemingly he heard nothing, pressing his way through the mass of moving
figures in utter unconsciousness of their presence.  Her locket hung
dangling, and he slipped it back into its place and drew her slender
form yet closer against his own, as they stepped forth into the black,
deserted road.  Once, in the last faint ray of light which gleamed from
the windows of the Miners' Retreat, she glanced up shyly into his face.
It was white and hard set, and she did not venture to break the
silence.  Half-way up the gloomy ravine they met a man and woman coming
along the narrow path.  Hampton drew her aside out of their way, then
spoke coldly.

"Mrs. Herndon, were you seeking your lost charge?  I have her here."

The two passing figures halted, peering through the darkness.

"Who are you?"  It was the gruff voice of the man.

Hampton stepped out directly in his path.  "Herndon," he said, calmly,
"you and I have clashed once before, and the less you have to say
to-night the better.  I am in no mood for trifling, and this happens to
be your wife's affair."

"Madam," and he lifted his hat, holding it in his hand, "I am bringing
back the runaway, and she has now pledged herself to remain with you."

"I was not seeking her," she returned, icily.  "I have no desire to
cultivate the particular friends of Mr. Hampton."

"So I have understood, and consequently relinquish here and now all
claims upon Miss Gillis.  She has informed me of your flattering
opinion regarding me, and I have indorsed it as being mainly true to
life.  Miss Gillis has been sufficiently shocked at thus discovering my
real character, and now returns in penitence to be reared according to
the admonitions of the Presbyterian faith.  Do I state this fairly,
Naida?"

"I have come back," she faltered, fingering the chain at her throat, "I
have come back."

"Without Bob Hampton?"

The girl glanced uneasily toward him, but he stood motionless in the
gloom.

"Yes--I--I suppose I must."

Hampton rested his hand softly upon her shoulder, his fingers
trembling, although his voice remained coldly deliberate.

"I trust this is entirely satisfactory, Mrs. Herndon," he said.  "I can
assure you I know absolutely nothing regarding her purpose of coming to
me tonight.  I realize quite clearly my own deficiencies, and pledge
myself hereafter not to interfere with you in any way.  You accept the
trust, I believe?"

She gave utterance to a deep sigh of resignation.  "It comes to me
clearly as a Christian duty," she acknowledged, doubtfully, "and I
suppose I must take up my cross; but--"

"But you have doubts," he interrupted.  "Well, I have none, for I have
greater faith in the girl, and--perhaps in God.  Good-night, Naida."

He bowed above the hand the girl gave him in the darkness, and ever
after she believed he bent lower, and pressed his lips upon it.  The
next moment the black night had closed him out, and she stood there,
half frightened at she knew not what, on the threshold of her new life.




CHAPTER IX

AT THE OCCIDENTAL

Hampton slowly picked his way back through the darkness down the silent
road, his only guide those dim yellow lights flickering in the
distance.  He walked soberly, his head bent slightly forward, absorbed
in thought.  Suddenly he paused, and swore savagely, his disgust at the
situation bursting all bounds; yet when he arrived opposite the beam of
light streaming invitingly forth from the windows of the first saloon,
he was whistling softly, his head held erect, his cool eyes filled with
reckless daring.

It was Saturday night, and the mining town was already alive.  The one
long, irregular street was jammed with constantly moving figures, the
numerous saloons ablaze, the pianos sounding noisily, the shuffling of
feet in the crowded dance-halls incessant.  Fakers were everywhere
industriously hawking their useless wares and entertaining the
loitering crowds, while the roar of voices was continuous.  Cowboys
from the wide plains, miners from the hidden gulches, ragged, hopeful
prospectors from the more distant mountains, teamsters, and half-naked
Indians, commingled in the restless throng, passing and repassing from
door to door, careless in dress, rough in manner, boisterous in
language.  Here and there amid this heterogeneous population of toilers
and adventurers, would appear those attired in the more conventional
garb of the East,--capitalists hunting new investments, or chance
travellers seeking to discover a new thrill amid this strange life of
the frontier.  Everywhere, brazen and noisy, flitted women, bold of
eye, painted of cheek, gaudy of raiment, making mock of their sacred
womanhood.  Riot reigned unchecked, while the quiet, sleepy town of the
afternoon blossomed under the flickering lights into a saturnalia of
unlicensed pleasure, wherein the wages of sin were death.

Hampton scarcely noted this marvellous change; to him it was no
uncommon spectacle.  He pushed his way through the noisy throng with
eyes ever watchful for the faces.  His every motion was that of a man
who had fully decided upon his course.  Through the widely opened doors
of the Occidental streams of blue and red shirted men were constantly
flowing in and out; a band played strenuously on the wide balcony
overhead, while beside the entrance a loud-voiced "barker" proclaimed
the many attractions within.  Hampton swung up the broad wooden steps
and entered the bar-room, which was crowded by jostling figures, the
ever-moving mass as yet good-natured, for the night was young.  At the
lower end of the long, sloppy bar he stopped for a moment to nod to the
fellow behind.

"Anything going on to-night worth while, Jim?" he questioned, quietly.

"Rather stiff game, they tell me, just started in the back room," was
the genial reply.  "Two Eastern suckers, with Red Slavin sitting in."

The gambler passed on, pushing rather unceremoniously through the
throng of perspiring humanity.  He appeared out of place amid the rough
element jostling him, and more than one glanced at him curiously, a few
swearing as he elbowed them aside.  Scarcely noticing this, he drew a
cigar from his pocket, and stuck it unlighted between his teeth.  The
large front room upstairs was ablaze with lights, every game in full
operation and surrounded by crowds of devotees.  Tobacco smoke in
clouds circled to the low ceiling, and many of the players were noisy
and profane, while the various calls of faro, roulette, keno, and
high-ball added to the confusion and to the din of shuffling feet and
excited exclamations.  Hampton glanced about superciliously, shrugging
his shoulders in open contempt--all this was far too coarse, too small,
to awaken his interest.  He observed the various faces at the tables--a
habit one naturally forms who has desperate enemies in plenty--and then
walked directly toward the rear of the room.  A thick, dingy red
curtain hung there; he held back its heavy folds and stepped within the
smaller apartment beyond.

Three men sat at the single table, cards in hand, and Hampton
involuntarily whistled softly behind his teeth at the first glimpse of
the money openly displayed before them.  This was apparently not so bad
for a starter, and his waning interest revived.  A red-bearded giant,
sitting so as to face the doorway, glanced up quickly at his entrance,
his coarse mouth instantly taking on the semblance of a smile.

"Ah, Bob," he exclaimed, with an evident effort at cordiality; "been
wondering if you wouldn't show up before the night was over.  You're
the very fellow to make this a four-handed affair, provided you carry
sufficient stuff."

Hampton came easily forward into the full glow of the swinging oil
lamp, his manner coolly deliberate, his face expressionless.  "I feel
no desire to intrude," he explained, quietly, watching the uplifted
faces.  "I believe I have never before met these gentlemen."

Slavin laughed, his great white fingers drumming the table.

"It is an acquaintance easily made," he said, "provided one can afford
to trot in their class, for it is money that talks at this table
to-night.  Mr. Hampton, permit me to present Judge Hawes, of Denver,
and Mr. Edgar Willis, president of the T. P. & R.  I have no idea what
they are doing in this hell-hole of a town, but they are dead-game
sports, and I have been trying my best to amuse them while they're
here."

Hampton bowed, instantly recognizing the names.

"Glad to assist," he murmured, sinking into a vacant chair.  "What
limit?"

"We have had no occasion to discuss that matter as yet," volunteered
Hawes, sneeringly.  "However, if you have scruples we might settle upon
something within reason."

Hampton ran the undealt pack carelessly through his fingers, his lips
smiling pleasantly.  "Oh, never mind, if it chances to go above my pile
I 'll drop out.  Meanwhile, I hardly believe there is any cause for you
to be modest on my account."

The play opened quietly and with some restraint, the faces of the men
remaining impassive, their watchful glances evidencing nothing either
of success or failure.  Hampton played with extreme caution for some
time, his eyes studying keenly the others about the table, seeking some
deeper understanding of the nature of his opponents, their strong and
weak points, and whether or not there existed any prior arrangement
between them.  He was there for a purpose, a clearly defined purpose,
and he felt no inclination to accept unnecessary chances with the
fickle Goddess of Fortune.  To one trained in the calm observation of
small things, and long accustomed to weigh his adversaries with care,
it was not extremely difficult to class the two strangers, and Hampton
smiled softly on observing the size of the rolls rather ostentatiously
exhibited by them.  He felt that his lines had fallen in pleasant
places, and looked forward with serene confidence to the enjoyment of a
royal game, provided only he exercised sufficient patience and the
other gentlemen possessed the requisite nerve.  His satisfaction was in
noways lessened by the sound of their voices, when incautiously raised
in anger over some unfortunate play.  He immediately recognized them as
the identical individuals who had loudly and vainly protested over his
occupancy of the best rooms at the hotel.  He chuckled grimly.

But what bothered him particularly was Slavin.  The cool gray eyes,
glancing with such apparent negligence across the cards in his hands,
noted every slight movement of the red-bearded gambler, in expectation
of detecting some sign of trickery, or some evidence that he had been
selected by this precious trio for the purpose of easy plucking.
Knavery was Slavin's style, but apparently he was now playing a
straight game, no doubt realizing clearly, behind his impassive mask of
a face, the utter futility of seeking to outwit one of Hampton's
enviable reputation.

It was, unquestionably, a fairly fought four-handed battle, and at
last, thoroughly convinced of this, Hampton settled quietly down,
prepared to play out his game.  The hours rolled on unnoted, the men
tireless, their faces immovable, the cards dealt silently.  The stakes
grew steadily larger, and curious visitors, hearing vague rumors
without, ventured in, to stand behind the chairs of the absorbed
players and look on.  Now and then a startled exclamation evidenced the
depth of their interest and excitement, but at the table no one spoke
above a strained whisper, and no eye ventured to wander from the board.
Several times drinks were served, but Hampton contented himself with a
gulp of water, always gripping an unlighted cigar between his teeth.
He was playing now with apparent recklessness, never hesitating over a
card, his eye as watchful as that of a hawk, his betting quick,
confident, audacious.  The contagion of his spirit seemed to affect the
others, to force them into desperate wagers, and thrill the lookers-on.
The perspiration was beading Slavin's forehead, and now and then an
oath burst unrestrained from his hairy lips.  Hawes and Willis sat
white-faced, bent forward anxiously over the table, their fingers
shaking as they handled the fateful cards, but Hampton played without
perceptible tremor, his utterances few and monosyllabic, his calm face
betraying not the faintest emotion.

And he was steadily winning.  Occasionally some other hand drew in the
growing stock of gold and bank notes, but not often enough to offset
those continued gains that began to heap up in such an alluring pile
upon his portion of the table.  The watchers began to observe this, and
gathered more closely about his chair, fascinated by the luck with
which the cards came floating into his hands, the cool judgment of his
critical plays, the reckless abandon with which he forced success.  The
little room was foul with tobacco smoke and electric with ill-repressed
excitement, yet he played on imperturbably, apparently hearing nothing,
seeing nothing, his entire personality concentrated on his play.
Suddenly he forced the fight to a finish.  The opportunity came in a
jack-pot which Hawes had opened.  The betting began with a cool
thousand.  Then Hampton's turn came.  Without drawing, his cards yet
lying face downward before him on the board, his calm features as
immovable as the Sphinx, he quietly pushed his whole accumulated pile
to the centre, named the sum, and leaned back in his chair, his eyes
cold, impassive.  Hawes threw down his hand, wiping his streaming face
with his handkerchief; Willis counted his remaining roll, hesitated,
looked again at the faces of his cards, flung aside two, drawing to
fill, and called loudly for a show-down, his eyes protruding.  Slavin,
cursing fiercely under his red beard, having drawn one card, his
perplexed face instantly brightening as he glanced at it, went back
into his hip pocket for every cent he had, and added his profane demand
for a chance at the money.

A fortune rested on the table, a fortune the ownership of which was to
be decided in a single moment, and by the movement of a hand.  The
crowd swayed eagerly forward, their heads craned over to see more
clearly, their breathing hushed.  Willis was gasping, his whole body
quivering; Slavin was watching Hampton's hands as a cat does a mouse,
his thick lips parted, his fingers twitching nervously.  The latter
smiled grimly, his motions deliberate, his eyes never wavering.
Slowly, one by one, he turned up his cards, never even deigning to
glance downward, his entire manner that of unstudied indifference.
One--two--three.  Willis uttered a snarl like a stricken wild beast,
and sank back in his chair, his eyes closed, his cheeks ghastly.  Four.
Slavin brought down his great clenched fist with a crash on the table,
a string of oaths bursting unrestrained from his lips.  Five.  Hampton,
never stirring a muscle, sat there like a statue, watching.  His right
hand kept hidden beneath the table, with his left he quietly drew in
the stack of bills and coin, pushing the stuff heedlessly into the side
pocket of his coat, his gaze never once wandering from those stricken
faces fronting him.  Then he softly pushed back his chair and stood
erect.  Willis never moved, but Slavin rose unsteadily to his feet,
gripping the table fiercely with both hands.

"Gentlemen," said Hampton, gravely, his clear voice sounding like the
sudden peal of a bell, "I can only thank you for your courtesy in this
matter, and bid you all good-night.  However, before I go it may be of
some interest for me to say that I have played my last game."

Somebody laughed sarcastically, a harsh, hateful laugh.  The speaker
whirled, took one step forward; there was the flash of an extended arm,
a dull crunch, and Red Slavin went crashing backward against the wall.
As he gazed up, dazed and bewildered, from the floor, the lights
glimmered along a blue-steel barrel.

"Not a move, you red brute," and Hampton spurned him contemptuously
with his heel.  "This is no variety show, and your laughter was in poor
taste.  However, if you feel particularly hilarious to-night I 'll give
you another chance.  I said this was my last game; I'll repeat
it--_this was my last game_!  Now, damn you! if you feel like it,
laugh!"

He swept the circle of excited faces, his eyes glowing like two
diamonds, his thin lips compressed into a single straight line.

"Mr. Slavin appears to have lost his previous sense of humor," he
remarked, calmly.  "I will now make my statement for the third
time--_this was my last game_.  Perhaps some of you gentlemen also may
discover this to be amusing."

[Illustration: "Mr. Slavin appears to have lost his previous sense of
humor," he remarked, calmly.]

The heavy, strained breathing of the motionless crowd was his only
answer, and a half smile of bitter contempt curled Hampton's lips, as
he swept over them a last defiant glance.

"Not quite so humorous as it seemed to be at first, I reckon," he
commented, dryly.  "Slavin," and he prodded the red giant once more
with his foot, "I'm going out; if you make any attempt to leave this
room within the next five minutes I 'll kill you in your tracks, as I
would a mad dog.  You stacked cards twice to-night, but the last time I
beat you fairly at your own game."

He held aside the heavy curtains with his left hand and backed slowly
out facing them, the deadly revolver shining ominously in the other.
Not a man moved: Slavin glowered at him from the floor, an impotent
curse upon his lips.  Then the red drapery fell.

While the shadows of the long night still hung over the valley, Naida,
tossing restlessly upon her strange bed within the humble yellow house
at the fork of the trails, was aroused to wakefulness by the pounding
of a horse's hoofs on the plank bridge spanning the creek.  She drew
aside the curtain and looked out, shading her eyes to see clearer
through the poor glass.  All she perceived was a somewhat deeper smudge
when the rider swept rapidly past, horse and man a shapeless shadow.
Three hours later she awoke again, this time to the full glare of day,
and to the remembrance that she was now facing a new life.  As she lay
there thinking, her eyes troubled but tearless, far away on the
sun-kissed uplands Hampton was spurring forward his horse, already
beginning to exhibit signs of weariness.  Bent slightly over the saddle
pommel, his eyes upon these snow-capped peaks still showing blurred and
distant, he rode steadily on, the only moving object amid all that
wide, desolate landscape.




_PART II_

WHAT OCCURRED IN GLENCAID


CHAPTER I

THE ARRIVAL OF MISS SPENCER

There was a considerable period when events of importance in Glencaid's
history were viewed against the background of the opening of its first
school.  This was not entirely on account of the deep interest
manifested in the cause of higher education by the residents, but owing
rather to the personality of the pioneer school-teacher, and the deep,
abiding impress which she made upon the community.

Miss Phoebe Spencer came direct to Glencaid from the far East, her
starting-point some little junction place back in Vermont, although she
proudly named Boston as her home, having once visited in that
metropolis for three delicious weeks.  She was of an ardent,
impressionable nature.  Her mind was nurtured upon Eastern conceptions
of our common country, her imagination aglow with weird tales of the
frontier, and her bright eyes perceived the vivid coloring of romance
in each prosaic object west of the tawny Missouri.  All appeared so
different from that established life to which she had grown
accustomed,--the people, the country, the picturesque language,--while
her brain so teemed with lurid pictures of border experiences and
heroes as to reveal romantic possibilities everywhere.  The vast,
mysterious West, with its seemingly boundless prairies, grand, solemn
mountains, and frankly spoken men peculiarly attired and everywhere
bearing the inevitable "gun," was to her a newly discovered world.  She
could scarcely comprehend its reality.  As the apparently illimitable
plains, barren, desolate, awe-inspiring, rolled away behind, mile after
mile, like a vast sea, and left a measureless expanse of grim desert
between her and the old life, her unfettered imagination seemed to
expand with the fathomless blue of the Western sky.  As her eager eyes
traced the serrated peaks of a snow-clad mountain range, her heart
throbbed with anticipation of wonders yet to come.  Homesickness was a
thing undreamed of; her active brain responded to each new impression.

She sat comfortably ensconced in the back seat of the old, battered red
coach, surrounded by cushions for protection from continual jouncing,
as the Jehu in charge urged his restive mules down the desolate valley
of the Bear Water.  Her cheeks were flushed, her wide-open eyes filled
with questioning, her pale fluffy hair frolicking with the breeze, as
pretty a picture of young womanhood as any one could wish to see.  Nor
was she unaware of this fact.  During the final stage other long
journey she had found two congenial souls, sufficiently picturesque to
harmonize with her ideas of wild Western romance.

These two men were lolling in the less comfortable seat opposite,
secretly longing for a quiet smoke outside, yet neither willing to
desert this Eastern divinity to his rival.  The big fellow, his arm run
carelessly through the leather sling, his bare head projecting half out
of the open window, was Jack Moffat, half-owner of the "Golden Rule,"
and enjoying a well-earned reputation as the most ornate and artistic
liar in the Territory.  For two hours he had been exercising his talent
to the full, and merely paused now in search of some fresh inspiration,
holding in supreme and silent contempt the rather feeble imitations of
his less-gifted companion.  It is also just to add that Mr. Moffat
personally formed an ideal accompaniment to his vivid narrations of
adventure, and he was fully aware of the fact that Miss Spencer's
appreciative eyes wandered frequently in his direction, noting his
tanned cheeks, his long silky mustache, the somewhat melancholy gleam
of his dark eyes--hiding beyond doubt some mystery of the past, the
nature of which was yet to be revealed.  Mr. Moffat, always strong
along this line of feminine sympathy, felt newly inspired by these
evidences of interest in his tales, and by something in Miss Spencer's
face which bespoke admiration.

The fly in the ointment of this long day's ride, the third party, whose
undesirable presence and personal knowledge of Mr. Moffat's past career
rather seriously interfered with the latter's flights of imagination,
was William McNeil, foreman of the "Bar V" ranch over on Sinsiniwa
Creek.  McNeil was not much of a talker, having an impediment in his
speech, and being a trifle bashful in the presence of a lady.  But he
caught the eye,--a slenderly built, reckless fellow, smoothly shaven,
with a strong chin and bright laughing eyes,--and as he lolled
carelessly back in his bearskin "chaps" and wide-brimmed sombrero,
occasionally throwing in some cool, insinuating comment regarding
Moffat's recitals, the latter experienced a strong inclination to heave
him overboard.  The slight hardening of McNeil's eyes at such moments
had thus far served, however, as sufficient restraint, while the
unobservant Miss Spencer, unaware of the silent duel thus being
conducted in her very presence, divided her undisguised admiration,
playing havoc with the susceptible heart of each, and all unconsciously
laying the foundations for future trouble.

"Why, how truly remarkable!" she exclaimed, her cheeks glowing.  "It's
all so different from the East; heroism seems to be in the very air of
this country, and your adventure was so very unusual.  Don't you think
so, Mr. McNeil?"

The silent foreman hitched himself suddenly upright, his face unusually
solemn.  "Why--eh--yes, miss--you might--eh--say that.  He," with a
flip of his hand toward the other, "eh--reminds me--of--eh--an old
friend."

"Indeed?  How extremely interesting!" eagerly scenting a new story.
"Please tell me who it was, Mr. McNeil."

"Oh--eh--knew him when I was a boy--eh--Munchausen."

Mr. Moffat drew in his head violently, with an exclamation nearly
profane, yet before he could speak Miss Spencer intervened.

"Munchausen!  Why, Mr. McNeil, you surely do not intend to question the
truth of Mr. Moffat's narrative?"

The foreman's eyes twinkled humorously, but the lines of his face
remained calmly impassive.  "My--eh--reference," he explained, gravely,
"was--eh--entirely to the--eh--local color, the--eh--expert touches."

"Oh!"

"Yes, miss.  It's--eh--bad taste out here to--eh--doubt anybody's
word--eh--publicly."

Moffat stirred uneasily, his hand flung behind him, but McNeil was
gazing into the lady's fair face, apparently unconscious of any other
presence.

"But all this time you have not favored me with any of your own
adventures, Mr. McNeil.  I am very sure you must have had hundreds out
on these wide plains."

The somewhat embarrassed foreman shook his head discouragingly.

"Oh, but I just know you have, only you are so modest about recounting
them.  Now, that scar just under your hair--really it is not at all
unbecoming--surely that reveals a story.  Was it caused by an Indian
arrow?"

McNeil crossed his legs, and wiped his damp forehead with the back of
his hand.  "Hoof of a damn pack-mule," he explained, forgetting
himself.  "The--eh--cuss lifted me ten feet."

Moffat laughed hoarsely, but as the foreman straightened up quickly,
the amazed girl joined happily in, and his own face instantly exhibited
the contagion.

"Ain't much--eh--ever happens out on a ranch," he said, doubtfully,
"except dodgin' steers, and--eh--bustin' broncoes."

"Your blame mule story," broke in Moffat, who had at last discovered
his inspiration, "reminds me of a curious little incident occurring
last year just across the divide.  I don't recall ever telling it
before, but it may interest you, Miss Spencer, as illustrative of one
phase of life in this country.  A party of us were out after bear, and
one night when I chanced to be left all alone in camp, I did n't dare
fall asleep and leave everything unguarded, as the Indians were all
around as thick as leaves on a tree.  So I decided to sit up in front
of the tent on watch.  Along about midnight, I suppose, I dropped off
into a doze, for the first thing I heard was the hee-haw of a mule
right in my ear.  It sounded like a clap of thunder, and I jumped up,
coming slap-bang against the brute's nose so blamed hard it knocked me
flat; and then, when I fairly got my eyes open, I saw five Sioux
Indians creeping along through the moonlight, heading right toward our
pony herd.  I tell you things looked mighty skittish for me just then,
but what do you suppose I did with 'em?"

"Eh--eat 'em, likely,"  suggested McNeil, thoughtfully, "fried with
plenty of--eh--salt; heard they were--eh--good that way."

Mr. Moffat half rose to his feet.

"You damn--"

"O Mr. McNeil, how perfectly ridiculous!" chimed in Miss Spencer.
"Please do go on, Mr. Moffat; it is so exceedingly interesting."

The incensed narrator sank reluctantly back into his seat, his eyes yet
glowing angrily.  "Well, I crept carefully along a little gully until I
got where them Indians were just exactly opposite me in a direct line.
I had an awful heavy gun, carrying a slug of lead near as big as your
fist.  Had it fixed up specially fer grizzlies.  The fellow creepin'
along next me was a tremendous big buck; he looked like a plum giant in
that moonlight, and I 'd just succeeded in drawin' a bead on him when a
draught of air from up the gully strikin' across the back of my neck
made me sneeze, and that buck turned round and saw me.  You wouldn't
hardly believe what happened."

"Whole--eh--bunch drop dead from fright?" asked McNeil, solicitously.

Moffat glared at him savagely, his lips moving, but emitting no sound.

"Oh, please don't mind," urged his fair listener, her flushed cheeks
betraying her interest.  "He is so full of his fun.  What did follow?"

The story-teller swallowed something in his throat, his gaze still on
his persecutor.  "No, sir," he continued, hoarsely, "them bucks jumped
to their feet with the most awful yells I ever heard, and made a rush
toward where I was standing.  They was exactly in a line, and I let
drive at that first buck, and blame me if that slug didn't go plum
through three of 'em, and knock down the fourth.  You can roast me
alive if that ain't a fact!  The fifth one got away, but I roped the
wounded fellow, and was a-sittin' on him when the rest of the party got
back to camp.  Jim Healy was along, and he'll tell you the same story."

There was a breathless silence, during which McNeil spat meditatively
out of the window.

"Save any--eh--locks of their hair?" he questioned, anxiously.

"Oh, please don't tell me anything about that!" interrupted Miss
Spencer, nervously.  "The whites don't scalp, do they?"

"Not generally, miss, but I--eh--didn't just know what Mr.
Moffat's--eh--custom was."

The latter gentleman had his head craned out of the window once more,
in an apparent determination to ignore all such frivolous remarks.
Suddenly he pointed directly ahead.

"There's Glencaid now, Miss Spencer," he said, cheerfully, glad enough
of an opportunity to change the topic of conversation.  "That's the
spire of the new Presbyterian church sticking up above the ridge."

"Oh, indeed!  How glad I am to be here safe at last!"

"How--eh--did you happen to--eh--recognize the church?" asked McNeil
with evident admiration.  "You--eh--can't see it from the saloon."

Moffat disdained reply, and the lurching stage rolled rapidly down the
valley, the mules now lashed into a wild gallop to the noisy
accompaniment of the driver's whip.

The hoofs clattered across the narrow bridge, and, with a sudden swing,
all came to a sharp stand, amid a cloud of dust before a naked yellow
house.

"Here 's where you get out, miss," announced the Jehu, leaning down
from his seat to peer within.  "This yere is the Herndon shebang."

The gentlemen inside assisted Miss Spencer to descend in safety to the
weed-bordered walk, where she stood shaking her ruffled plumage into
shape, and giving directions regarding her luggage.  Then the two
gentlemen emerged, Moffat bearing a grip-case, a bandbox, and a basket,
while McNeil supported a shawl-strap and a small trunk.  Thus decorated
they meekly followed her lead up the narrow path toward the front door.
The latter opened suddenly, and Mrs. Herndon bounced forth with
vociferous welcome.

"Why, Phoebe Spencer, and have you really come!  I did n't expect you
'd get along before next week.  Oh, this seems too nice to see you
again; almost as good as going home to Vermont.  You must be completely
tired out."

"Dear Aunt Lydia; of course I 'm glad to be here.  But I 'm not in the
least tired.  I 've had such a delightful trip."  She glanced around
smilingly upon her perspiring cavaliers.  "Oh, put those things down,
gentlemen--anywhere there on the grass; they can be carried in later.
It was so kind of you both."

"Hey, there!" sang out the driver, growing impatient, "if you two gents
are aimin' to go down town with this outfit, you'd better be pilin' in
lively, fer I can't stay here all day."

Moffat glanced furtively aside at McNeil, only to discover that
individual quietly seated on the trunk.  He promptly dropped his own
grip.

"Drive on with your butcher's cart," he called out spitefully.  "I
reckon it's no special honor to ride to town."

The pleasantly smiling young woman glanced from one to the other, her
eyes fairly dancing, as the lumbering coach disappeared through the red
dust.

"How very nice of you to remain," she exclaimed.  "Aunt Lydia, I am so
anxious for you to meet my friends, Mr. Moffat and Mr. McNeil.  They
have been so thoughtful and entertaining all the way up the Bear Water,
and they explained so many things that I did not understand."

She swept impulsively down toward them, both hands extended, the bright
glances of her eyes bestowed impartially.

"I cannot invite you to come into the house now," she exclaimed,
sweetly, "for I am almost like a stranger here myself, but I do hope
you will both of you call.  I shall be so very lonely at first, and you
are my earliest acquaintances.  You will promise, won't you?"

McNeil bowed, painfully clearing his throat, but Moffat succeeded in
expressing his pleasure with a well-rounded sentence.

"I felt sure you would.  But now I must really say good-bye for this
time, and go in with Aunt Lydia.  I know I must be getting horribly
burned out here in this hot sun.  I shall always be so grateful to you
both."

The two radiant knights walked together toward the road, neither
uttering a word.  McNeil whistled carelessly, and Moffat gazed intently
at the distant hills.  Just beyond the gate, and without so much as
glancing toward his companion, the latter turned and strode up one of
the numerous diverging trails.  McNeil halted and stared after him in
surprise.

"Ain't you--eh--goin' on down town?"

"I reckon not.  Take a look at my mine first."

McNeil chuckled.  "You--eh--better be careful goin' up
that--eh--gully," he volunteered, soberly, "the--eh--ghosts of them
four--eh--Injuns might--eh--haunt ye!"

Moffat wheeled about as if he had been shot in the back.  "You
blathering, mutton-headed cowherd!" he yelled, savagely.

But McNeil was already nearly out of hearing.




CHAPTER II

BECOMING ACQUAINTED

Once within the cool shadows of the livingroom, Mrs. Herndon again
bethought herself to kiss her niece in a fresh glow of welcome, while
the latter sank into a convenient rocker and began enthusiastically
expressing her unbounded enjoyment of the West, and of the impressions
gathered during her journey.  Suddenly the elder woman glanced about
and exclaimed, laughingly, "Why, I had completely forgotten.  You have
not yet met your room-mate.  Come out here, Naida; this is my niece,
Phoebe Spencer."

The girl thus addressed advanced, a slender, graceful figure dressed in
white, and extended her hand shyly.  Miss Spencer clasped it warmly,
her eyes upon the flushed, winsome face.

"And is this Naida Gillis!" she cried.  "I am so delighted that you are
still here, and that we are to be together.  Aunt Lydia has written so
much about you that I feel as If we must have known each other for
years.  Why, how pretty you are!"

Naida's cheeks were burning, and her eyes fell, but she had never yet
succeeded in conquering the blunt independence of her speech.  "Nobody
else ever says so," she said, uneasily.  "Perhaps it's the light."

Miss Spencer turned her about so as to face the window.  "Well, you
are," she announced, decisively.  "I guess I know; you 've got
magnificent hair, and your eyes are perfectly wonderful.  You just
don't fix yourself up right; Aunt Lydia never did have any taste in
such things, but I 'll make a new girl out of you.  Let's go upstairs;
I 'm simply dying to see our room, and get some of my dresses unpacked.
They must look perfect frights by this time."

They came down perhaps an hour later, hand in hand, and chattering like
old friends.  The shades of early evening were already falling across
the valley.  Herndon had returned home from his day's work, and had
brought with him the Rev. Howard Wynkoop for supper.  Miss Spencer
viewed the young man with approval, and immediately became more than
usually vivacious in recounting the incidents of her long journey,
together with her early impressions of the Western country.  Mr.
Wynkoop responded with an interest far from being assumed.

"I have found it all so strange, so unique, Mr. Wynkoop," she
explained.  "The country is like a new world to me, and the people do
not seem at all like those of the East.  They lead such a wild,
untrammelled life.  Everything about seems to exhale the spirit of
romance; don't you find it so?"

He smiled at her enthusiasm, his glance of undisguised admiration on
her face.  "I certainly recall some such earlier conception," he
admitted.  "Those just arriving from the environment of an older
civilization perceive merely the picturesque elements; but my later
experiences have been decidedly prosaic."

"Why, Mr. Wynkoop! how could they be?  Your work is heroic.  I cannot
conceive how any minister of the Cross, having within him any of the
old apostolic fervor, can consent to spend his days amid the dreary
commonplaces of those old, dead Eastern churches.  You, nobly battling
on the frontier, are the true modern Crusaders, the Knights of the
Grail.  Here you are ever in the very forefront of the battle against
sin, associated with the Argonauts, impressing your faith upon the
bold, virile spirits of the age.  It is perfectly grand!  Why the very
men I meet seem to yield me a broader conception of life and duty; they
are so brave, so modest, so active.  Is--is Mr. Moffat a member of your
church?"

The minister cleared his throat, his cheeks reddening.  "Mr. Moffat?
Ah, no; not exactly.  Do you mean the mine-owner, Jack Moffat?"

"Yes, I think so; he told me he owned a mine--the Golden Rule the name
was; the very choice in words would seem, to indicate his religious
nature.  He 's such a pleasant, intelligent man.  There is a look in
his eyes as though he sorrowed over something.  I was in hopes you knew
what it was, and I am very sure he would welcome your ministrations.
You have the only church in Glencaid, I understand, and I wonder
greatly he has never joined you.  But perhaps he may be prejudiced
against your denomination.  There is so much narrowness in religion.
Now, I am an Episcopalian myself, but I do not mean to permit that to
interfere in any way with my church work out here.  I wonder if Mr.
Moffat can be an Episcopalian.  If he is, I am just going to show him
that it is clearly his duty to assist in any Christian service.  Is n't
that the true, liberal, Western spirit, Mr. Wynkoop?"

"It most assuredly should be," said the young pastor.

"I left every prejudice east of the Missouri," she declared,
laughingly, "every one, social and religious.  I 'm going to be a true
Westerner, from the top of my head to the toe of my shoe.  Is Mr.
McNeil in your church?"

The minister hesitated.  "I really do not recall the name," he
confessed at last, reluctantly.  "I scarcely think I can have ever met
the gentleman."

"Oh, you ought to; he is so intensely original, and his face is full of
character.  He reminds me of some old paladin of the Middle Ages.  You
would be interested in him at once.  He is the foreman of the 'Bar V'
ranch, somewhere near here."

"Do you mean Billy McNeil, over on Sinsiniwa Creek?" broke in Herndon.

"I think quite likely, uncle; would n't he make a splendid addition to
Mr. Wynkoop's church?"

Herndon choked, his entire body shaking with ill-suppressed enjoyment.
"I should imagine yes," he admitted finally.  "Billy McNeil--oh, Lord!
There 's certainly a fine opening for you to do some missionary work,
Phoebe."

"Well, and I 'm going to," announced the young lady, firmly.  "I guess
I can read men's characters, and I know all Mr. McNeil needs is to have
some one show an interest in him.  Have you a large church, Mr.
Wynkoop?"

"Not large if judged from an Eastern standpoint," he confessed, with
some regret.  "Our present membership is composed of eight women and
three men, but the congregational attendance is quite good, and
constantly increasing."

"Only eight women and three men!" breathlessly.  "And you have been
laboring upon this field for five years!  How could it be so small?"

Wynkoop pushed back his chair, anxious to redeem himself in the
estimation of this fair stranger.

"Miss Spencer," he explained, "it is perhaps hardly strange that you
should misapprehend the peculiar conditions under which religious labor
is conducted in the West.  You will undoubtedly understand all this
better presently.  My parish comprises this entire mining region, and I
am upon horseback among the foothills and up in the ranges for fully a
third of my time.  The spirit of the mining population, as well as of
the cattlemen, while not actually hostile, is one of indifference to
religious thought.  They care nothing whatever for it in the abstract,
and have no use for any minister, unless it may be to marry their
children or bury their dead.  I am hence obliged to meet with them
merely as man to man, and thus slowly win their confidence before I
dare even approach a religious topic.  For three long years I worked
here without even a church organization or a building; and apparently
without the faintest encouragement.  Now that we have a nucleus
gathered, a comfortable building erected and paid for, with an
increasing congregation, I begin to feel that those seemingly barren
five years were not without spiritual value."

She quickly extended her hands.  "Oh, it is so heroic, so
self-sacrificing!  No doubt I was hasty and wrong.  But I have always
been accustomed to so much larger churches.  I am going to help you,
Mr. Wynkoop, in every way I possibly can--I shall certainly speak to
both Mr. Moffat and Mr. McNeil the very first opportunity.  I feel
almost sure that they will join."

The unavoidable exigencies of a choir practice compelled Mr. Wynkoop to
retire early, nor was it yet late when the more intimate family circle
also dissolved, and the two girls discovered themselves alone.  Naida
drew down the shades and lit the lamp.  Miss Spencer slowly divested
herself of her outer dress, replacing it with a light wrapper, encased
her feet snugly in comfortable slippers, and proceeded to let down her
flossy hair in gleaming waves across her shoulders.  Naida's dark eyes
bespoke plainly her admiration, and Miss Spencer shook back her hair
somewhat coquettishly.

"Do you think I look nice?" she questioned, smilingly.

"You bet I do.  Your hair is just beautiful, Miss Spencer."

The other permitted the soft strands to slip slowly between her white
fingers.  "You should never say 'you bet,' Naida.  Such language is not
at all lady-like.  I am going to call you Naida, and you must call me
Phoebe.  People use their given names almost entirely out here in the
West, don't they?"

"I never have had much training in being a lady," the young girl
explained, reddening, "but I can learn.  Yes, I reckon they do mostly
use the first names out here."

"Please don't say 'I reckon,' either; it has such a vulgar sound.  What
is his given name?"

"Whose?"

"Why, I was thinking of Mr. Wynkoop."

"Howard; I saw it written in some books he loaned me.  But the people
here never address him in that way."

"No, I suppose not, only I thought I should like to know what it was."

There was a considerable pause; then the speaker asked, calmly, "Is he
married?"

"Mr. Wynkoop?  Why, of course not; he does n't care for women in that
way at all."

Miss Spencer bound her hair carefully with a bright ribbon.  "Maybe he
might, though, some time.  All men do."

She sat down in the low rocker, her feet comfortably crossed.  "Do you
know, Naida dear, it is simply wonderful to me just to remember what
you have been through, and it was so beautifully romantic--everybody
killed except you and that man, and then he saved your life.  It's such
a pity he was so miserable a creature."

"He was n't!" Naida exclaimed, in sudden, indignant passion.  "He was
perfectly splendid."

"Aunt Lydia did n't think so.  She wrote he was a common gambler,--a
low, rough man."

"Well, he did gamble; nearly everybody does out here.  And sometimes I
suppose he had to fight, but he wasn't truly bad."

Miss Spencer's eyes evinced a growing interest.

"Was he real nice-looking?" she asked.

Naida's voice faltered.  "Ye--es," she said.  "I thought so.  He--he
looked like he was a man."

"How old are you, Naida?"

"Nearly eighteen."

Miss Spencer leaned impulsively forward, and clasped the other's hands,
her whole soul responding to this suggestion of a possible romance, a
vision of blighted hearts.  "Why, it is perfectly delightful," she
exclaimed.  "I had no idea it was so serious, and really I don't in the
least blame you.  You love him, don't you, Naida?"

The girl flashed a shy look into the beaming, inquisitive face.  "I
don't know," she confessed, soberly.  "I have not even seen him for
such a long time; but--but, I guess, he is more to me than any one
else--"

"Not seen him?  Do you mean to say Mr. Hampton is not here in Glencaid?
Why, I am so sorry; I was hoping to meet him."

"He went away the same night I came here to live."

"And you never even hear from him?"

Naida hesitated, but the frankly displayed interest of the other won
her complete girlish confidence.  "Not directly, but Mr. Herndon
receives money from him for me.  He does n't let your aunt know
anything about it, because she got angry and refused to accept any pay
from him.  He is somewhere over yonder in the Black Range."

Miss Spencer shook back her hair with a merry laugh, and clasped her
hands.  "Why, it is just the most delightful situation I ever heard
about.  He is just certain to come back after you, Naida.  I wouldn't
miss being here for anything."

They were still sitting there, when the notes of a softly touched
guitar stole in through the open window.  Both glanced about in
surprise, but Miss Spencer was first to recover speech.

"A serenade!  Did you ever!" she whispered.  "Do you suppose it can be
he?"  She extinguished the lamp and knelt upon the floor, peering
eagerly forth into the brilliant moonlight.  "Why, Naida, what do you
think?  It's Mr. Moffat.  How beautifully he plays!"

Naida, her face pressed against the other window, gave vent to a single
note of half-suppressed laughter.  "There 's going to be something
happening," she exclaimed.  "Oh, Miss Spencer, come here quick--some
one is going to turn on the hydraulic."

Miss Spencer knelt beside her.  Moffat was still plainly visible, his
pale face upturned in the moonlight, his long silky mustaches slightly
stirred by the soft air, his fingers touching the strings; but back in
the shadows of the bushes was seen another figure, apparently engaged
upon some task with feverish eagerness.  To Miss Spencer all was
mystery.

"What is it?" she anxiously questioned.

"The hydraulic," whispered the other.  "There 's a big lake up in the
hills, and they 've piped the water down here.  It 's got a force like
a cannon, and that fellow--I don't know whether it is Herndon or
not--is screwing on the hose connection.  I bet your Mr. Moffat gets a
shock!"

"It's a perfect shame, an outrage!  I 'm going to tell him."

Naida caught her sleeve firmly, her eyes full of laughter.  "Oh, please
don't, Miss Spencer.  It will be such fun.  Let's see where it hits
him!"

For one single instant the lady yielded, and in it all opportunity for
warning fled.  There was a sharp sizzling, which caused Moffat to
suspend his serenade; then something struck him,--it must have been
fairly in the middle, for he shut up like a jack-knife, and went
crashing backwards with an agonized howl.  There was a gleam of shining
water, something black squirming among the weeds, a yell, a volley of
half-choked profanity, and a fleeing figure, apparently pursued by a
huge snake.  Naida shook with laughter, clinging with both hands to the
sill, but Miss Spencer was plainly shocked.

"Oh, did you hear what--what he said?" she asked.  "Was n't it awful?"

The younger nodded, unable as yet to command her voice.   "I--I don't
believe he is an Episcopalian; do you?"

"I don't know.  I imagine that might have made even a Methodist swear."

The puckers began to show about the disapproving mouth, under the
contagion of the other's merriment.  "Wasn't it perfectly ridiculous?
But he did play beautifully, and it was so very nice of him to come my
first night here.  Do you suppose that was Mr. Herndon?"

Naida shook her head doubtfully.  "He looked taller, but I could n't
really tell.  He 's gone now, and the water is turned off."

They lit the lamp once more, discussing the scene just witnessed, while
Miss Spencer, standing before the narrow mirror, prepared her hair for
the night.  Suddenly some object struck the lowered window shade and
dropped upon the floor.  Naida picked it up.

"A letter," she announced, "for Miss Phoebe Spencer."

"For me?  What can it be?  Why, Naida, it is poetry!  Listen:

  Sweetest flower from off the Eastern hills,
    So lily-like and fair;
  Your very presence stirs and thrills
    Our buoyant Western air;
  The plains grow lovelier in their span,
    The skies above more blue,
  While the heart of Nature and of man
    Beats quick response for you.


"Oh, isn't that simply beautiful?  And it is signed 'Willie'--why, that
must be Mr. McNeil."

"I reckon he copied it out of some book," said Naida.

"Oh, I know he didn't.  It possesses such a touch of originality.  And
his eyes, Naida!  They have that deep poetical glow!"

The light was finally extinguished; the silvery moonlight streamed
across the foot of the bed, and the regular breathing of the girls
evidenced slumber.




CHAPTER III

UNDER ORDERS

Many an unexpected event has resulted from the formal, concise orders
issued by the War Department.  Cupid in the disguise of Mars has thus
frequently toyed with the fate of men, sending many a gallant soldier
forward, all unsuspecting, into a battle of the heart.

It was no pleasant assignment to duty which greeted First Lieutenant
Donald Brant, commanding Troop N, Seventh Cavalry, when that regiment
came once more within the environs of civilization, from its summer
exercises in the field.  Bethune had developed into a somewhat
important post, socially as well as from a strictly military
standpoint, and numerous indeed were the attractions offered there to
any young officer whose duty called him to serve the colors on those
bleak Dakota prairies.  Brant frowned at the innocent words, reading
them over again with gloomy eyes and an exclamation of unmitigated
disgust, yet there was no escaping their plain meaning.  Trouble was
undoubtedly brewing among the Sioux, trouble in which the Cheyennes,
and probably others also, were becoming involved.  Every soldier
patrolling that long northern border recognized the approach of some
dire development, some early coup of savagery.  Restlessness pervaded
the Indian country; recalcitrant bands roamed the "badlands";
dissatisfied young warriors disappeared from the reservation limits and
failed to return; while friendly scouts told strange tales of weird
dances amid the brown Dakota hills.  Uneasiness, the spirit of
suspected peril, hung like a pall over the plains; yet none could
safely predict where the blow might first descend.

Brant was not blind to all this, nor to the necessity of having in
readiness selected bodies of seasoned troops, yet it was not in soldier
nature to refrain from grumbling when the earliest detail chanced to
fall to him.  But orders were orders in that country, and although he
crushed the innocent paper passionately beneath his heel, five hours
later he was in saddle, riding steadily westward, his depleted troop of
horsemen clattering at his heels.  Up the valley of the Bear Water,
slightly above Glencaid,--far enough beyond the saloon radius to
protect his men from possible corruption, yet within easy reach of the
military telegraph,--they made camp in the early morning upon a wooded
terrace overlooking the stage road, and settled quietly down as one of
those numerous posts with which the army chiefs sought to hem in the
dissatisfied redmen, and learn early the extent of their hostile plans.

Brant was now in a humor considerably happier than when he first rode
forth from Bethune.  A natural soldier, sincerely ambitious in his
profession, anything approximating to active service instantly aroused
his interest, while his mind was ever inclined to respond with
enthusiasm to the fascination of the plains and the hills across which
their march had extended.  Somewhere along that journey he had dropped
his earlier burden of regret, and the spirit of the service had left
him cheerfully hopeful of some stern soldierly work.  He watched the
men of his troop while with quip and song they made comfortable camp;
he spoke a few brief words of instruction to the grave-faced first
sergeant, and then strolled slowly up the valley, his own affairs soon
completely forgotten in the beauty of near-by hills beneath the golden
glory of the morning sun.  Once he paused and looked back upon ugly
Glencaid, dingy and forlorn even at that distance; then he crossed the
narrow stream by means of a convenient log, and clambered up the
somewhat steep bank.  A heavy fringe of low bushes clung close along
the edge of the summit, but a plainly defined path led among their
intricacies.  He pressed his way through, coming into a glade where
sunshine flickered through the overarching branches of great trees, and
the grass was green and short, like that of a well-kept lawn.

As Brant emerged from the underbrush he suddenly beheld a fair vision
of young womanhood resting on the grassy bank just before him.  She was
partially reclining, as if startled by his unannounced approach, her
face turned toward him, one hand grasping an open book, the other
shading her eyes from the glare of the sun.  Something in the graceful
poise, the piquant, uplifted face, the dark gloss of heavy hair, and
the unfrightened gaze held him speechless until the picture had been
impressed forever upon his memory.  He beheld a girl on the verge of
womanhood, fair of skin, the red glow of health flushing her cheeks,
the lips parted in surprise, the sleeve fallen back from one white,
rounded arm, the eyes honest, sincere, mysterious.  She recognized him
with a glance, and her lips closed as she remembered how and when they
had met before.  But there was no answering recollection within his
eyes, only admiration--nothing clung about this Naiad to remind him of
a neglected waif of the garrison.  She read all this in his face, and
the lines about her mouth changed quickly into a slightly quizzical
smile, her eyes brightening.

"You should at least have knocked, sir," she ventured, sitting up on
the grassy bank, the better to confront him, "before intruding thus
uninvited."

He lifted his somewhat dingy scouting hat and bowed humbly.

"I perceived no door giving warning that I approached such presence,
and the first shock of surprise was perhaps as great to me as to you.
Yet, now that I have blundered thus far, I beseech that I be permitted
to venture upon yet another step."

She sat looking at him, a trim, soldierly figure, his face young and
pleasant to gaze upon, and her dark eyes sensibly softened.

"What step?"

"To tarry for a moment beside the divinity of this wilderness."

She laughed with open frankness, her white teeth sparkling behind the
red, parted lips.

"Perhaps you may, if you will first consent to be sensible," she said,
with returning gravity; "and I reserve the right to turn you away
whenever you begin to talk or act foolish.  If you accept these
conditions, you may sit down."

He seated himself upon the soft grass ledge, retaining the hat in his
hands.  "You must be an odd sort of a girl," he commented, soberly,
"not to welcome an honest expression of admiration."

"Oh, was that it?  Then I duly bow my acknowledgment.  I took your
words for one of those silly compliments by which men believe they
honor women."

He glanced curiously aside at her half-averted face.  "At first sight I
had supposed you scarcely more than a mere girl, but now you speak like
a woman wearied of the world, utterly condemning all complimentary
phrases."

"Indeed, no; not if they be sincerely expressed as between man and man."

"How is it as between man and woman?"

"Men generally address women as you started to address me, as if there
existed no common ground of serious thought between them.  They
condescend, they flatter, they indulge in fulsome compliment, they
whisper soft nonsense which they would be sincerely ashamed to utter in
the presence of their own sex, they act as if they were amusing babies,
rather than conversing with intelligent human beings.  Their own notion
seems to be to shake the rattle-box, and awaken a laugh.  I am not a
baby, nor am I seeking amusement."

He glanced curiously at her book.  "And yet you condescend to read love
stories," he said, smiling.  "I expected to discover a treatise on
philosophy."

"I read whatever I chance to get my hands on, here in Glencaid," she
retorted, "just as I converse with whoever comes along.  I am hopeful
of some day discovering a rare gem hidden in the midst of the trash.  I
am yet young."

"You are indeed young," he said, quietly, "and with some of life's
lessons still to learn.  One is that frankness is not necessarily
flippancy, nor honesty harshness.  Beyond doubt much of what you said
regarding ordinary social conversation is true, yet the man is no more
to be blamed than the woman.  Both seek to be entertaining, and are to
be praised for the effort rather than censured.  A stranger cannot
instinctively know the likes and dislikes of one he has just met; he
can feel his way only by commonplaces.  However, if you will offer me a
topic worthy the occasion, in either philosophy, science, or
literature, I will endeavor to feed your mind."

She uplifted her innocent eyes demurely to his face.  "You are so kind.
I am deeply interested just now In the Japanese conception of the
transmigration of souls."

"How extremely fortunate!  It chances to be my favorite theme, but my
mental processes are peculiar, and you must permit me to work up toward
it somewhat gradually.  For instance, as a question leading that way,
how, in the incarnation of this world, do you manage to exist in such a
hole of a place?--that is, provided you really reside here."

"Why, I consider this a most delightful nook."

"My reference was to Glencaid."

"Oh!  Why, I live from within, not without.  Mind and heart, not
environment, make life, and my time is occupied most congenially.  I am
being faithfully nurtured on the Presbyterian catechism, and also
trained in the graces of earthly society.  These alternate, thus
preparing me for whatever may happen in this world or the next."

His face pictured bewilderment, but also a determination to persevere.
"An interesting combination, I admit.  But from your appearance this
cannot always have been your home?"

"Oh, thank you.  I believe not always; but I wonder at your being able
to discern my superiority to these surroundings.  And do you know your
questioning is becoming quite personal?  Does that yield me an equal
privilege?"

He bowed, perhaps relieved at thus permitting her to assume the
initiative, and rested lazily back upon the grass, his eyes intently
studying her face.

"I suppose from your clothes you must be a soldier.  What is that
figure 7 on your hat for?"

"The number of my regiment, the Seventh Cavalry."

Her glance was a bit disdainful as she coolly surveyed him from head to
foot, "I should imagine that a strong, capable-appearing fellow like
you might do much better than that.  There is so much work in the world
worth doing, and so much better pay."

"What do you mean?  Is n't a soldier's life a worthy one?"

"Oh, yes, of course, in a way.  We have to have soldiers, I suppose;
but if I were a man I 'd hate to waste all my life tramping around at
sixteen dollars a month."

He smothered what sounded like a rough ejaculation, gazing into her
demure eyes as if she strongly suspected a joke hid in their depths.
"Do--do you mistake me for an enlisted man?"

"Oh, I did n't know; you said you were a soldier, and that's what I
always heard they got.  I am so glad if they give you more.  I was only
going to say that I believed I could get you a good place in McCarthy's
store if you wanted it.  He pays sixty-five dollars, and his clerk has
just left."

Brant stared at her with open mooch, totally unable for the moment to
decide whether or not that innocent, sympathetic face masked mischief.
Before he succeeded in regaining confidence and speech, she had risen
to her feet, holding back her skirt with one hand.

"Really, I must go," she announced calmly, drawing back toward the
slight opening between the rushes.  "No doubt YOU have done fully as
well as you could considering your position in life; but this has
proved another disappointment.  You have fallen, far, very far, below
my ideal.  Good-bye."

He sprang instantly erect, his cheeks flushed.  "Please don't go
without a farther word.  We seem predestined to misunderstand.  I am
even willing to confess myself a fool in the hope of some time being
able to convince you otherwise.  You have not even told me that you
live here; nor do I know your name."

She shook her head positively, repressed merriment darkening her eyes
and wrinkling the corners of her mouth.  "It would be highly improper
to introduce myself to a stranger--we Presbyterians never do that."

"But do you feel no curiosity as to who I may be?"

"Why, not in the least; the thought is ridiculous.  How very conceited
you must be to imagine such a thing!"

He was not a man easily daunted, nor did he recall any previous
embarrassment in the presence of a young woman.  But now he confronted
something utterly unique; those quiet eyes seemed to look straight
through him.  His voice faltered sadly, yet succeeded in asking: "Are
we, then, never to meet again?  Am I to understand this to be your
wish?"

She laughed.  "Really, sir, I am not aware that I have the slightest
desire in the matter.  I have given it no thought, but I presume the
possibility of our meeting again depends largely upon yourself, and the
sort of society you keep.  Surely you cannot expect that I would seek
such an opportunity?"

He bowed humbly.  "You mistake my purpose.  I merely meant to ask if
there was not some possibility of our again coming together socially
the presence of mutual friends."

"Oh, I scarcely think so; I do not remember ever having met any
soldiers at the social functions here--excepting officers.  We are
extremely exclusive in Glencaid," she dropped him a mocking courtesy,
"and I have always moved in the most exclusive set."

Piqued by her tantalizing manner, he asked, "What particular social
functions are about to occur that may possibly open a passage into your
guarded presence?"

She seemed immersed in thought, her face turned partially aside.
"Unfortunately, I have not my list of engagements here," and she
glanced about at him shyly.  "I can recall only one at present, and I
am not even certain--that is, I do not promise--to attend that.
However, I may do so.  The Miners' Bachelor Club gives a reception and
ball to-morrow evening in honor of the new schoolmistress."

"What is her name?" with responsive eagerness.

She hesitated, as if doubtful of the strict propriety of mentioning it
to a stranger.

"Miss Phoebe Spencer," she said, her eyes cast demurely down.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, in open triumph; "and have I, then, at last made
fair capture of your secret?  You are Miss Phoebe Spencer."

She drew back still farther within the recesses of the bushes, at his
single victorious step forward.

"I?  Why certainly not.  I am merely Miss Spencer's 'star' pupil, so
you may easily judge something of what her superior attainments must
necessarily be.  But I am really going now, and I sincerely trust you
will be able to secure a ticket for to-morrow night; for if you once
meet this Miss Spencer you will never yield another single thought to
me, Mr.--Mr.--" her eyes dancing with laughter--"First Lieutenant
Donald Brant."




CHAPTER IV

SILENT MURPHY

Brant sprang forward, all doubt regarding this young woman instantly
dissipated by those final words of mischievous mockery.  She had been
playing with him as unconcernedly as if he were a mere toy sent for her
amusement, and his pride was stung.

But pursuit proved useless.  Like a phantom she had slipped away amid
the underbrush, leaving him to flounder blindly in the labyrinth.  Once
she laughed outright, a clear burst of girlish merriment ringing
through the silence, and he leaped desperately forward, hoping to
intercept her flight.  His incautious foot slipped along the steep edge
of the shelving bank, and he went down, half stumbling, half sliding,
until he came to a sudden pause on the brink of the little stream.  The
chase was ended, and he sat up, confused for the moment, and half
questioning the evidence of his own eyes.

A small tent, dirty and patched, stood with its back against the slope
of earth down which he had plunged.  Its flap flung aside revealed
within a pile of disarranged blankets, together with some scattered
articles of wearing apparel, while just before the opening, his back
pressed against the supporting pole, an inverted pipe between his
yellow, irregular teeth, sat a hideous looking man.  He was a withered,
dried-up fellow, whose age was not to be guessed, having a skin as
yellow as parchment, drawn in tight to the bones like that of a mummy,
his eyes deep sunken like wells, and his head totally devoid of hair,
although about his lean throat there was a copious fringe of iron-gray
beard, untrimmed and scraggy.  Down the entire side of one cheek ran a
livid scar, while his nose was turned awry.

He sat staring at the newcomer, unwinking, his facial expression devoid
of interest, but his fingers opening and closing in apparent
nervousness.  Twice his lips opened, but nothing except a peculiar
gurgling sound issued from the throat, and Brant, who by this time had
attained his feet and his self-possession, ventured to address him.

"Nice quiet spot for a camp," he remarked, pleasantly, "but a bad place
for a tumble."

The sunken eyes expressed nothing, but the throat gurgled again
painfully, and finally the parted lips dropped a detached word or two.
"Blame--pretty girl--that."

The lieutenant wondered how much of their conversation this old mummy
had overheard, but he hesitated to question him.  One inquiry, however,
sprang to his surprised lips.  "Do you know her?"

"Damn sight--better--than any one around here--know her--real name."

Brant stared incredulously.  "Do you mean to insinuate that that young
woman is living in this community under an assumed one?  Why, she is
scarcely more than a child!  What do you mean, man?"

The soldier's hat still rested on the grass where it had fallen, its
military insignia hidden.

"I guess--I know--what I--know," the fellow muttered.  "What
's--your--regiment?"

"Seventh Cavalry."

The man stiffened up as if an electric shock had swept through his limp
frame.  "The hell!--and--did--she--call you--Brant?"

The young officer's face exhibited his disgust.  Beyond doubt that
sequestered nook was a favorite lounging spot for the girl, and this
disreputable creature had been watching her for some sinister purpose.

"So you have been eavesdropping, have you?" said Brant, gravely.  "And
now you want to try a turn at defaming a woman?  Well, you have come to
a poor market for the sale of such goods.  I am half inclined to throw
you bodily into the creek.  I believe you are nothing but a common
liar, but I 'll give you one chance--you say you know her real name.
What is it?"

The eyes of the mummy had become spiteful.

"It's--none of--your damn--business.  I'm--not under--your orders."

"Under my orders!  Of course not; but what do you mean by that?  Who
and what are you?"

The fellow stood up, slightly hump-backed but broad of shoulder, his
arms long, his legs short and somewhat bowed, his chin protruding
impudently, and Brant noticed an oddly shaped black scar, as if burned
there by powder, on the back of his right hand.

"Who--am I?" he said, angrily.  "I'm--Silent--Murphy."

An expression of bewilderment swept across the lieutenant's face.
"Silent Murphy!  Do you claim to be Custer's scout?"

The fellow nodded.  "Heard--of me--maybe?"

Brant stood staring at him, his mind occupied with vague garrison
rumors connected with this odd personality.  The name had long been a
familiar one, and he had often had the man pictured out before him,
just such a wizened face and hunched-up figure, half crazed, at times
malicious, yet keen and absolutely devoid of fear; acknowledged as the
best scout in all the Indian country, a daring rider, an incomparable
trailer, tireless, patient, and as tricky and treacherous as the wily
savages he was employed to spy upon.  There could remain no reasonable
doubt of his identity, but what was he doing there?  What purpose
underlay his insinuations against that young girl?  If this was indeed
Silent Murphy, he assuredly had some object in being there, and however
hastily he may have spoken, it was not altogether probable that he
deliberately lied.  All this flashed across his mind in that single
instant of hesitation.

"Yes, I've heard of you,"--and his crisp tone instinctively became that
of terse military command,--"although we have never met, for I have
been upon detached service ever since my assignment to the regiment.  I
have a troop in camp below," he pointed down the stream, "and am in
command here."

The scout nodded carelessly.

"Why did you not come down there, and report your presence in this
neighborhood to me?"

Murphy grinned unpleasantly.  "Rather be--alone--no report--been
over--Black Range--telegraphed--wait orders."

"Do you mean you are in direct communication with headquarters, with
Custer?"

The man answered, with a wide sweep of his long arm toward the
northwest.  "Goin' to--be hell--out there--damn soon."

"How?  Are things developing into a truly serious affair--a real
campaign?"

"Every buck--in the--Sioux nation--is makin'--fer the--bad lands," and
he laughed noiselessly, his nervous fingers gesticulating.  "I--guess
that--means--business."

Brant hesitated.  Should he attempt to learn more about the young girl?
Instinctively he appreciated the futility of endeavoring to extract
information from Murphy, and he experienced a degree of shame at thus
seeking to penetrate her secret.  Besides, it was none of his affair,
and if ever it should chance to become so, surely there were more
respectable means by which he could obtain information.  He glanced
about, seeking some way of recrossing the stream.

"If you require any new equipment," he said tersely, "we can probably
supply you at the camp.  How do you manage to get across here?"

Murphy, walking stiffly, led the way down the steep slope, and silently
pointed out a log bridging the narrow stream.  He stood watching while
the officer picked his steps across, but made no responsive motion when
the other waved his hand from the opposite shore, his sallow face
looking grim and unpleasant.

"Damn--the luck!" he grumbled, shambling back up the bank.  "It
don't--look--right.  Three of 'em--all here--at once--in this--cussed
hole.  Seems if--this yere world--ought ter be--big 'nough--ter keep
'em apart;--but hell--it ain't.  Might make--some trouble--if
them--people--ever git--their heads--tergether talkin'.  Hell of a
note--if the boy--falls in love with--her.  Likely to do it--too.
Curse such--fool luck.  Maybe I--better talk--it over again--with
Red--he's in it--damn near--as deep as--I am."  And he sank down again
in his old position before the tent, continuing to mutter, his chin
sunk into his chest, his whole appearance that of deep dejection,
perhaps of dread.

The young officer marched down the road, his heedless feet kicking up
the red dust in clouds, his mind busied with the peculiar happenings of
the morning, and that prospect for early active service hinted at in
the brief utterances of the old scout.  Brant was a thorough soldier,
born into the service and deeply enamored of its dangers; yet beyond
this he remained a man, a young man, swayed by those emotions which
when at full tide sweep aside all else appertaining to life.

Just now the vision of that tantalizing girl continued to haunt his
memory, and would not down even to the glorious hope of a coming
campaign.  The mystery surrounding her, her reticence, the muttered
insinuation dropping from the unguarded lips of Murphy, merely served
to render her the more attractive, while her own naive witchery of
manner, and her seemingly unconscious coquetry, had wound about him a
magic spell, the full power of which as yet remained but dimly
appreciated.  His mind lingered longingly upon the marvel of the dark
eyes, while the cheery sound of that last rippling outburst of laughter
reechoed in his ears like music.

His had been a lonely life since leaving West Point and joining his
regiment--a life passed largely among rough men and upon the desolate
plains.  For months at a time he had known nothing of refinement, nor
enjoyed social intercourse with the opposite sex; life had thus grown
as barren and bleak as those desert wastes across which he rode at the
command of his superiors.  For years the routine of his military duties
had held him prisoner, crushing out the dreams of youth.  Yet, beneath
his mask of impassibility, the heart continued to beat with fierce
desire, biding the time when it should enjoy its own sweet way.
Perhaps that hour had already dawned; certainly something new,
something inspiring, had now come to awaken an interest unfelt before,
and leave him idly dreaming of shadowed eyes and flushed, rounded
cheeks.

He was in this mood when he overtook the Rev. Howard Wynkoop and marked
the thoughtful look upon his pale face.

"I called at your camp," explained Wynkoop, after the first words of
greeting had been exchanged, "as soon as I learned you were here in
command, but only to discover your absence.  The sergeant, however, was
very courteous, and assured me there would be no difficulty in
arranging a religious service for the men, unless sudden orders should
arrive.  No doubt I may rely on your cooeperation."

"Most certainly," was the cordial response, "and I shall also permit
those desiring to attend your regular Sunday services so long as we are
stationed here.  How is your work prospering?"

"There is much to encourage me, but spiritual progress is slow, and
there are times when my faith falters and I feel unworthy of the
service in which I am engaged.  Doubtless this is true of all labor,
yet the minister is particularly susceptible to these influences
surrounding him."

"A mining camp is so intensely material seven days of the week that it
must present a difficult field for the awakening of any religious
sentiment," confessed Brant sympathetically, feeling not a little
interested in the clear-cut, intellectual countenance of the other.  "I
have often wondered how you consented to bury your talents in such a
place."

The other smiled, but with a trace of sadness in his eyes.  "I firmly
believe that every minister should devote a portion of his life to the
doing of such a work as this.  It is both a religious and a patriotic
duty, and there is a rare joy connected with it."

"Yet it was surely not joy I saw pictured within your face when we met;
you were certainly troubled over some problem."

Wynkoop glanced up quickly, a slight flush rising in his pale cheeks.
"Perplexing questions which must be decided off-hand are constantly
arising.  I have no one near to whom I can turn for advice in unusual
situations, and just now I scarcely know what action to take regarding
certain applications for church membership."

Brant laughed.  "I hardly consider myself a competent adviser in
matters of church polity," he admitted, "yet I have always been
informed that all so desiring are to be made welcome in religious
fellowship."

"Theoretically, yes."  And the minister stopped still in the road,
facing his companion.  "But this special case presents certain
peculiarities.  The applicants, as I learn from others, are not leading
lives above reproach.  So far as I know, they have never even attended
church service until last Sunday, and I have some reason to suspect an
ulterior motive.  I am anxious to put nothing in the way of any
honestly seeking soul, yet I confess that in these cases I hesitate."

"But your elders?  Do not they share the responsibility of passing upon
such applications?"

The flush on Mr. Wynkoop's cheeks deepened, and his eyes fell.
"Ordinarily, yes; but in this case I fear they may prove unduly harsh.
I--I feel--that these applications came through the special
intercession of a certain young lady, and I am anxious not to hurt her
feelings in any way, or to discourage her enthusiasm."

"Oh, I see!  Would you mind telling me the names of the two gentlemen?"

"Mr. John Moffat and Mr. William McNeil.  Unfortunately, I know neither
personally."

"And the young lady?"

"A Miss Phoebe Spencer; she has but lately arrived from the East to
take charge of our new school--a most interesting and charming young
woman, and she is proving of great assistance to me in church work."

The lieutenant cleared his throat, and emitted a sigh of suddenly
awakened memory.  "I fear I can offer you no advice, for if, as I begin
to suspect,--though she sought most bravely to avoid the issue and
despatch me upon a false trail,--she prove to be that same fascinating
young person I met this morning, my entire sympathies are with the
gentlemen concerned.  I might even be strongly tempted to do likewise
at her solicitation."

"You?  Why, you arrived only this morning, and do you mean to say you
have met already?"

"I at least suspect as much, for there can scarcely exist two in this
town who will fill the description.  My memory holds the vision of a
fair young face, vivacious, ever changing in its expression, yet
constantly both piquant and innocent; a perfect wealth of hair, a pair
of serious eyes hiding mysteries within their depths, and lips which
seem made to kiss.  Tell me, is not this a fairly drawn portrait of
your Miss Spencer?"

The minister gripped his hands nervously together.  "Your description
is not unjust; indeed, it is quite accurate from a mere outer point of
view; yet beneath her vivacious manner I have found her thoughtful, and
possessed of deep spiritual yearnings.  In the East she was a
communicant of the Episcopal Church."

Brant did not answer him at once.  He was studying the minister's
downcast face; but when the latter finally turned to depart, he
inquired, "Do you expect to attend the reception to-morrow evening?"

Wynkoop stammered slightly.  "I--I could hardly refuse under the
circumstances; the committee sent me an especially urgent invitation,
and I understand there is to be no dancing until late.  One cannot be
too straight-laced out here."

"Oh, never mind apologizing.  I see no reason why you need hesitate to
attend.  I merely wondered if you could procure me an invitation."

"Did she tell you about it?"

"Well, she delicately hinted at it, and, you know, things are pretty
slow here in a social way.  She merely suggested that I might possibly
meet her again there."

"Of course; it is given in her honor."

"So I understood, although she sought to deceive me into the belief
that she was not the lady.  We met purely by accident, you understand,
and I am desirous of a more formal presentation."

The minister drew in his breath sharply, but the clasp of his extended
hand was not devoid of warmth.  "I will have a card of invitation sent
you at the camp.  The committee will be very glad of your presence;
only I warn you frankly regarding the lady, that competition will be
strong."

"Oh, so far as that is concerned I have not yet entered the running,"
laughed Brant, in affected carelessness, "although I must confess my
sporting proclivities are somewhat aroused."

He watched the minister walking rapidly away, a short, erect figure,
appearing slender in his severely cut black cloth.  "Poor little chap,"
he muttered, regretfully.  "He's hard hit.  Still, they say all's fair
in love and war."




CHAPTER V

IN HONOR OF MISS SPENCER

Mr. Jack Moffat, president of the Bachelor Miners' Pleasure Club, had
embraced the idea of a reception for Miss Spencer with unbounded
enthusiasm.  Indeed, the earliest conception of such an event found
birth within his fertile brain, and from the first he determined upon
making it the most notable social function ever known in that portion
of the Territory.

Heretofore the pastime of the Bachelors' Club had been largely
bibulous, and the members thereof had exhibited small inclination to
seek the ordinary methods of social relaxation as practised in
Glencaid.  Pink teas, or indeed teas of any conceivable color, had
never proved sufficiently attractive to wean the members from the
chaste precincts of the Occidental or the Miners' Retreat, while the
mysterious pleasure of "Hunt the Slipper" and "Spat in and Spat out"
had likewise utterly failed to inveigle them from retirement.  But Mr.
Moffat's example wrought an immediate miracle, so that, long before the
fateful hour arrived, every registered bachelor was laboring
industriously to make good the proud boast of their enthusiastic
president, that this was going to be "the swellest affair ever pulled
off west of the Missouri."

The large space above the Occidental was secured for the occasion, the
obstructing subdivisions knocked away, an entrance constructed with an
outside stairway leading up from a vacant lot, and the passage
connecting the saloon boarded up.  Incidentally, Mr. Moffat took
occasion to announce that if "any snoozer got drunk and came up them
stairs" he would be thrown bodily out of a window.  Mr. McNeil, who was
observing the preliminary proceedings with deep interest from a pile of
lumber opposite, sarcastically intimated that under such circumstances
the attendance of club members would be necessarily limited.  Mr.
Moffat's reply it is manifestly impossible to quote literally.  Mrs.
Guffy was employed to provide the requisite refreshments in the
palatial dining-hall of the hotel, while Buck Mason, the vigilant town
marshal, popularly supposed to know intimately the face of every
"rounder" in the Territory, agreed to collect the cards of invitation
at the door, and bar out obnoxious visitors.

These preliminaries having been duly attended to, Mr. Moffat and his
indefatigable committee of arrangements proceeded to master the details
of decoration and entertainment, drawing heavily upon the limited
resources of the local merchants, and even invading private homes in
search after beautifying material.  Jim Lane drove his buckboard one
hundred and sixty miles to Cheyenne to gather up certain needed
articles of adornment, the selection of which could not be safely
confided to the inartistic taste of the stage-driver.  Upon his rapid
return journey loaded down with spoils, Peg Brace, a cow-puncher in the
"Bar O" gang, rode recklessly alongside his speeding wheels for the
greater portion of the distance, apparently in most jovial humor, and
so unusually inquisitive as to make Mr. Lane, as he later expressed it,
"plum tired."  The persistent rider finally deserted him, however, at
the ford over the Sinsiniwa, shouting derisively back from a safe
distance that the Miners' Club was a lot of chumps, and promising them
a severe "jolt" in the near future.

Indeed, it was becoming more and more apparent that a decided feeling
of hostility was fast developing between the respective partisans of
Moffat and McNeil.  Thus far the feud merely smouldered, finding
occasional expression in sarcastic speech, and the severance of former
friendly relations, but it boded more serious trouble for the near
future.  To a loyal henchman, Moffat merely condescended to remark,
glancing disdainfully at a knot of hard riders disconsolately sitting
their ponies in front of the saloon door, "We 've got them fellers
roped and tied, gents, and they simply won't be ace-high with the
ladies of this camp after our fandango is over with.  We're a holdin'
the hand this game, an' it simply sweeps the board clean.  That duffer
McNeil's the sickest looking duck I 've seen in a year, an' the whole
blame bunch of cow-punchers is corralled so tight there can't a steer
among 'em get a nose over the pickets."

He glanced over the waiting scene of festivities with intense
satisfaction.  From bare squalor the spacious apartment had been
converted into a scene of almost gorgeous splendor.  The waxed floor
was a perfect marvel of smoothness; the numerous windows had been
heavily draped in red, white, and blue hangings; festoons of the same
rich hues hung gracefully suspended from the ceiling, trembling to the
least current of air; oil lamps, upheld by almost invisible wires,
dangled in profusion; while within the far corner, occupying a slightly
raised platform later to be utilized by the orchestra, was an imposing
pulpit chair lent by the Presbyterian Church, resting upon a rug of
skins, and destined as the seat of honor for the fair guest of the
evening.  Moffat surveyed all this thoughtfully, and proceeded proudly
to the hotel to don a "boiled" shirt, and in other ways prepare himself
to do honor to his exalted office.  Much to the surprise of McNeil,
lounging with some cronies on the shaded porch, he nodded to him
genially, adding a hearty, "Hello there, Bill," as he passed carelessly
by.

The invited guests arrived from the sparsely settled regions round
about, not a few riding for a hundred miles over the hard trails.  The
majority came early, arrayed in whatsoever apparel their limited
wardrobes could supply, but ready for any wild frolic.  The men
outnumbered the gentler sex five to one, but every feminine
representative within a radius of about fifty miles, whose
respectability could possibly pass muster before the investigations of
a not too critical invitation committee, was present amid the throng,
attired in all the finery procurable, and supremely and serenely happy
in the assured consciousness that she would not lack partners whenever
the enticing music began.

The gratified president of the Pleasure Club had occasion to expand his
chest with just pride.  Jauntily twirling his silky mustaches, he
pushed his way through the jostling, good-natured crowd already surging
toward the entrance of the hall, and stepped briskly forth along the
moonlit road toward the Herndon home, where the fair queen of the
revels awaited his promised escort.  It was his hour of supreme
triumph, and his head swam with the delicious intoxication of
well-earned success, the plaudits of his admirers, and the fond
anticipation of Miss Spencer's undoubted surprise and gratitude.  His,
therefore, was the step and bearing of a conqueror, of one whose cup
was already filled to the brim, and running over with the joy of life.

The delay incident to the completion of an elaborate toilet, together
with the seductive charms of a stroll through the moon-haunted night
beneath the spell of bright eyes and whispered words, resulted in a
later arrival at the scene of festivities than had been intended.  The
great majority of the expected guests had already assembled, and were
becoming somewhat restless.  No favored courtier ever escorted beloved
queen with greater pride or ceremony than that with which Mr. Moffat
led his blushing charge through the throng toward her chair of state.
The murmuring voices, the admiring eyes, the hush of expectancy, all
contributed to warm the cockles of his heart and to color his face with
the glow of victory.  Glancing at his companion, he saw her cheeks
flushed, her head held proudly poised, her countenance evidencing the
enjoyment of the moment, and he felt amply rewarded for the work which
had produced so glorious a result.  A moment he bent above her chair,
whispering one last word of compliment into the little ear which
reddened at his bold speech, and feasting his ardent eyes upon the
flushed and animated countenance.  The impatient crowd wondered at the
nature of the coming ceremony, and Mr. Moffat strove to recall the
opening words of his introductory address.

Suddenly his gaze settled upon one face amid the throng.  A moment of
hesitation followed; then a quick whisper of excuse to the waiting
divinity in the chair, and the perturbed president pressed his way
toward the door.  Buck Mason stood there on guard, carelessly leaning
against the post, his star of office gleaming beneath the light.

"Buck," exclaimed Moffat, "how did that feller McNeil, and those other
cow-punchers, get in here?  You had your orders."

Mason turned his quid deliberately and spat at the open door.  "You bet
I did, Jack," he responded cheerfully, yet with a trifle of
exasperation evident in his eyes.  "And what's more, I reckon they was
obeyed.  There ain't nobody got in yere ternight without they had a
cyard."

"Well, there has"; and Moffat forgot his natural caution in a sudden
excess of anger.  "No invitations was sent them fellers.  Do you mean
to say they come in through the roof?"

Mason straightened up, his face darkening, his clinched fist thrashing
the air just in front of Moffat's nose.

"I say they come in yere, right through this door!  An' every mother's
son of 'em, hed a cyard.  I know what I 'm a-talkin' about, you
miserable third-class idiot, an' if you give me any more of your lip I
'll paste you good an' proper.  Go back thar whar you belong, an' tind
to your part of this fandango; I'm a runnin' mine."

Moffat hesitated, his brow black as a thunder cloud, but the crowd was
manifestly growing restless over the delay, calling "Time!" and "Play
ball!" and stamping their feet.  Besides, Buck was never known to be
averse to a quarrel, and Moffat's bump of caution was well developed.
He went back, nursing his wrath and cursing silently.  The crowd
greeted his reappearance with prolonged applause, and some of the
former consciousness of victory returned.  He glanced down into the
questioning eyes of Miss Spencer, cleared his throat, then grasped her
hand, and, as they stood there together, all his confidence came
surging back.

"Ladies and Gentlemen of Glencaid," he began gracefully, "as president
of the Bachelor Miners' Pleasure Club, it affords me extreme
gratification to welcome you to this the most important social event
ever pulled off in this Territory.  It's going to be a swell affair
from the crack of the starter's pistol to the last post, and you can
bet on getting your money's worth every time.  That's the sort of
hairpins we are--all wool and a yard wide.  Now, ladies and gents,
while it is not designed that the pleasure of this evening be marred by
any special formalities, any such unnatural restrictions as disfigure
such functions in the effete East [applause], and while I am only too
anxious to exclaim with the poet, 'On with the dance, let joy be
unconfined' [great applause], yet it must be remembered that this
high-toned outfit has been got up for a special, definite purpose, as a
fit welcome to one who has come among us with the high and holy object
of instructing our offspring and elevating the educational ideals of
this community.  We, of this Bachelors' Club, may possess no offspring
to instruct, but we sympathize with them others who have, and desire to
show our interest in the work.  We have here with us to-night one of
the loveliest of her sex, a flower of refinement and culture plucked
from the Eastern hills, who, at the stern call of duty, has left her
home and friends to devote her talents to this labor of love.  In her
honor we meet, in her honor this room has been decorated with the
colors of our beloved country, and to her honor we now dedicate the
fleeting hours of this festal night.  It is impossible for her to greet
you all personally, much as she wishes to do so, but as president of
the Bachelor Miners' Pleasure Club, and also," with a deep bow to his
blushing and embarrassed companion, "I may venture to add, as an
intimate friend of our fair guest, I now introduce to you Glencaid's
new schoolmistress--Miss Phoebe Spencer.  Hip!  Hip!  _Hurrah_!"

Swinging his hand high above his head, the enthusiastic orator led the
noisy cheers which instantly burst forth in unrestrained volume; and
before which Miss Spencer shrank back into her chair, trembling, yet
strangely happy.  Good humor swayed that crowd, laughter rippled from
parted lips, while voices here and there began a spontaneous demand for
a speech.  Miss Spencer shook her flossy head helplessly, feeling too
deeply agitated to utter a word; and Moffat, now oblivious to
everything but the important part he was playing in the brilliant
spectacle, stepped before her, waving the clamorous assembly into
temporary and expectant silence.

"Our charming guest," he announced, in tones vibrant with authority,
"is so deeply affected by this spontaneous outpouring of your good-will
as to be unable to respond in words.  Let us respect her natural
embarrassment; let us now exhibit that proud Western chivalry which
will cause her to feel perfectly at home in our midst.  The orchestra
will strike up, and amid the mazy whirling of the dance we will at once
sink all formality, as becomes citizens of this free and boundless
West, this land of gold, of sterling manhood, and womanly beauty.  To
slightly change the poet's lines, written of a similar occasion:

  "There was a sound of revelry by night,
    And proud Glencaid had gathered then
  Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright
    The lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men.

"So, scatter out, gents, and pick up your partners for the first whirl.
This is our turn to treat, and our motto is 'Darn the expense.'"

He bent over, purposing to lead the lady of his heart forth to the
earliest strains of the violins, his genial smile evidencing his
satisfaction.

"Say,--eh--just hold on--eh--a minute!"

Moffat wheeled about, a look of amazement replacing his previous jovial
smile.  His eyes hardened dangerously as they encountered the face of
McNeil.  The latter was white about the lips, but primed for action,
and not inclined to waste time in preliminaries.

"Look here, this ain't your time to butt in--" began Moffat, angrily,
but the other waved his hand.

"Say, gents,--eh--that feller had his spiel all right--eh--ain't he?
He wants to be--eh--the whole hog, but--eh,--I reckon this is
a--eh--free country, ain't it?  Don't I have--eh--no show?"

"Go on, Bill!"

"Of course you do."

"Make Jack Moffat shut up!"

The justly indignant president of the Bachelors' Club remained
motionless, his mouth still open, struggling to restrain those caustic
and profane remarks which, in that presence, he dare not utter.  He
instinctively flung one hand back to his hip, only to remember that all
guns had been left at the door.  McNeil eyed him calmly, as he might
eye a chained bear, his lips parted in a genial smile.

"I--eh--ain't no great shakes of an--eh--orator," he began,
apologetically, waving one hand toward his gasping rival, "like
Mr.--eh--Moffat.  I can't sling words round--eh--reckless, like
the--eh--gent what just had the floor, ner--eh--spout poetry, but I
reckon--eh--I kin git out--eh--'bout what I got to say.  Mr. Moffat
has--eh--told you what the--eh--Bachelor Miners' Club--eh--has been
a-doin'.  He--eh--spread it on pretty blame thick, but--eh--I reckon
they ain't--eh--all of 'em miners round this yere--eh--camp.  As
the--eh--president of the--eh--Cattlemen's Shakespearian--eh--Reading
Circle, I am asked to present to--eh--Miss Spencer a slight
token--eh--of our esteem, and--eh--to express our pleasure
at--eh--being permitted," he bowed to the choking Mr. Moffat, "eh--to
participate in this--eh--most glorious occasion."

He stepped forward, and dropped into Miss Spencer's lap a small
plush-covered box.  Her fingers pressed the spring, and, as the lid
flew open, the brilliant flash of a diamond dazzled her eyes.  She sat
staring at it, unable for the moment to find speech.  Then the
assemblage burst into an unrestrained murmur of admiration, and the
sound served to arouse her.

"Oh, how beautiful it all is!" she exclaimed, rapturously.  "I hardly
know what to say, or whom to thank.  I never heard of anything so
perfectly splendid before.  It makes me cry just to remember that it is
all done for me.  Oh, Mr. Moffat, I want to thank, through you, the
gentlemen of the Bachelors' Club for this magnificent reception.  I
know I do not deserve it, but it makes me so proud to realize the
interest you all take in my work.  And, Mr. McNeil, I beg you to return
my gratitude to the gentlemen of the--the (oh, thank you)--the
Cattlemen's Shakespearian Reading Circle (how very nice of you to have
such an organization for the study of higher literature!) for this
superb gift.  I shall never forget this night, or what it has brought
me, and I simply cannot express my real feelings at all; I--I don't
know what to say, or--or what to do."

She paused, burying her face in her hands, her body shaken with sobs.
Moffat, scarcely knowing whether to swear or smile, hastily signalled
for the waiting musicians to begin.  As they swung merrily into waltz
measure he stepped forward, fully confident of his first claim for that
opening dance, and vaguely conscious that, once upon the floor with
her, he might thus regain his old leadership.  Miss Spencer glanced up
at him through her tears.

"I--I really feel scarcely equal to the attempt," she murmured
nervously, yet rising to her feet.  Then a new thought seemed suddenly
to occur to her.  "Oh, Mr. Moffat, I have been so highly favored, and I
am so extremely anxious to do everything I can to show my gratitude.  I
know it is requesting so much of you to ask your relinquishment of this
first dance with me to-night.  As president of the Bachelors' Club it
is your right, of course, but don't you truly think I ought to give it
to Mr. McNeil?  We were together all the way from the house, you know,
and we had such a delightful walk.  You wouldn't truly mind yielding up
your claim for just this once, would you?"

Moffat did not reply, simply because he could not; he was struck dumb,
gasping for breath, the room whirling around before him, while he
stared at her with dazed, unseeing eyes.  His very helplessness to
respond she naturally interpreted as acquiescence.

"It is so good of you, Mr. Moffat, for I realize how you were counting
upon this first dance, were n't you?  But Mr. McNeil being here as the
guest of your club, I think it is perfectly beautiful of you to waive
your own rights as president, so as to acknowledge his unexpected
contribution to the joy of our evening."  She touched him playfully
with her hand, the other resting lightly upon McNeil's sleeve, her
innocent, happy face upturned to his dazed eyes.  "But remember, the
next turn is to be yours, and I shall never forget this act of
chivalry."

It is doubtful if he saw her depart, for the entire room was merely an
indistinct blur.  He was too desperately angry even to swear.  In this
emergency, Mr. Wynkoop, dimly realizing that something unpleasant had
occurred, sought to attract the attention of his new parishioner along
happier lines.

"How exceedingly strange it is, Mr. Moffat," he ventured, "that beings
otherwise rational, and possessing souls destined for eternity, can
actually appear to extract pleasure from such senseless exercises?  I
do not in the least blame Miss Spencer, for she is yet young, and
probably thoughtless about such matters, as the youthful are wont to
be, but I am, indeed, rejoiced to note that you do not dance."

Moffat wheeled upon him, his teeth grinding savagely together.  "Shut
up!" he snapped, fiercely, and shaking off the pastor's gently
restraining fingers, shouldered his passage through the crowd toward
the door.




CHAPTER VI

THE LIEUTENANT MEETS MISS SPENCER

Lieutenant Brant was somewhat delayed in reaching the scene of Miss
Spencer's social triumph.  Certain military requirements were largely
responsible for this delay, and he had patiently wrestled with an
unsatisfactory toilet, mentally excoriating a service which would not
permit the transportation of dress uniforms while on scouting detail.
Nevertheless, when he finally stepped forth into the brilliant
moonlight, he presented an interesting, soldierly figure, his face
still retaining a bit of the boy about it, his blue eyes bright with
expectancy.  That afternoon he had half decided not to go at all, the
glamour of such events having long before grown dim, but the peculiar
attraction of this night proved too strong; not thus easily could he
erase from memory the haunting witchery of a face.  Beyond doubt, when
again viewed amid the conventionalities, much of its imagined charm
would vanish; yet he would see her once more, although no longer
looking forward to drawing a prize.

The dance was already in full swing, the exciting preliminaries having
been largely forgotten in the exuberance of motion, when he finally
pushed his way through the idle loungers gathered about the door, and
gained entrance to the hall.  Many glanced curiously at him, attracted
by the glitter of his uniform, but he recognized none among them, and
therefore passed steadily toward the musicians' stand, where there
appeared to be a few unoccupied chairs.

The scene was one of color and action.  The rapid, pulsating music, the
swiftly whirling figures, the quivering drapery overhead, the bright
youthful faces, the glow of numerous lamps, together with the ceaseless
voices and merry shuffling of feet, all combined to create a scene
sufficiently picturesque.  It was altogether different from what he had
anticipated.  He watched the speeding figures, striving in vain to
distinguish the particular one whose charms had lured him thither.  He
looked upon fair faces in plenty, flushed cheeks and glowing eyes
skurried past him, with swirling skirts and flashes of neatly turned
ankles, as these enthusiastic maids and matrons from hill and prairie
strove to make amends for long abstinence.  But among them all he was
unable to distinguish the wood-nymph whose girlish frankness and grace
had left so deep an impression on his memory.  Yet surely she must be
present, for, to his understanding, this whole gay festival was in her
honor.  Directly across the room he caught sight of the Reverend Mr.
Wynkoop conversing with a lady of somewhat rounded charms, and picked
his way in their direction.

The missionary, who had yet scarcely recovered from the shock of
Moffat's impulsive speech, and who, in truth, had been hiding an
agonized heart behind a smiling face, was only too delighted at any
excuse which would enable him to approach Miss Spencer, and press aside
those cavaliers who were monopolizing her attention.  The handicap of
not being able to dance he felt to be heavy, and he greeted the
lieutenant with unusual heartiness of manner.

"Why, most assuredly, my dear sir, most assuredly," he said.  "Mrs.
Herndon, permit me to make you acquainted with Lieutenant Brant, of the
Seventh Cavalry."

The two, thus introduced, bowed, and exchanged a few words, while Mr.
Wynkoop busied himself in peering about the room, making a great
pretence at searching out the lady guest, who, in very truth, had
scarcely been absent from his sight during the entire evening.

"Ah!" he ejaculated, "at last I locate her, and, fortunately, at this
moment she is not upon the floor, although positively hidden by the men
clustering about her chair.  You will excuse us, Mrs. Herndon, but I
have promised Lieutenant Brant a presentation to your niece."

They slipped past the musicians' stand, and the missionary pressed in
through the ring of admirers.

"Why, Mr. Wynkoop!" and she extended both hands impulsively.  "And only
to think, you have never once been near me all this evening; you have
not congratulated me on my good fortune, nor exhibited the slightest
interest!  You don't know how much I have missed you.  I was just
saying to Mr. Moffat--or it might have been Mr. McNeil--that I was
completely tired out and wished you were here to sit out this dance
with me."

Wynkoop blushed and forgot the errand which had brought him there, but
she remained sufficiently cool and observant.  She touched him gently
with her hand.

"Who is that fine-looking young officer?" she questioned softly, yet
without venturing to remove her glance from his face.

Mr. Wynkoop started.  "Oh, exactly; I had forgotten my mission.  He has
requested an introduction."  He drew the lieutenant forward.
"Lieutenant Brant, Miss Spencer."

The officer bowed, a slight shadow of disappointment in his eyes.  The
lady was unquestionably attractive, her face animated, her reception
most cordial, yet she was not the maiden of the dark, fathomless eyes
and the wealth of auburn hair.

"Such a pleasure to meet you," exclaimed Miss Spencer, her eyes
uplifted shyly, only to become at once modestly shaded behind their
long lashes.  "Do you know, Lieutenant, that actually I have never
before had the privilege of meeting an officer of the army.  Why, we in
the East scarcely realize that we possess such a body of brave men.
But I have read much regarding the border, and all the dreams of my
girlhood seem on the point of realization since I came here and began
mingling in its free, wild life.  Your appearance supplies the one
touch of color that was lacking to make the picture complete.  Mr.
Moffat has done so much to make me realize the breadth of Western
experience, and now, I do so hope, you will some time find opportunity
to recount to me some of your army exploits."

The lieutenant smiled.  "Most gladly; yet just now, I confess, the
music invites me, and I am sufficiently bold to request your company
upon the floor."

Miss Spencer sighed regretfully, her eyes sweeping across those
numerous manly faces surrounding them.  "Why, really, Lieutenant Brant,
I scarcely see how I possibly can.  I have already refused so many this
evening, and even now I almost believe I must be under direct
obligation to some one of those gentlemen.  Still," hesitatingly, "your
being a total stranger here must be taken into consideration.  Mr.
Moffat, Mr. McNeil, Mr. Mason, surely you will grant me release this
once?"

There was no verbal response to the appeal, only an uneasy movement;
but her period of waiting was extremely brief.

"Oh, I knew you would; you have all been so kind and considerate."  She
arose, resting her daintily gloved hand upon Brant's blue sleeve, her
pleased eyes smiling up confidingly into his.  Then with a charming
smile, "Oh, Mr. Wynkoop, I have decided to claim your escort to supper.
You do not care?"

Wynkoop bowed, his face like a poppy.

"I thought you would not mind obliging me in this.  Come, Lieutenant."

Miss Spencer, when she desired to be, was a most vivacious companion,
and always an excellent dancer.  Brant easily succumbed to her sway,
and became, for the time being, a victim to her charms.  They circled
the long room twice, weaving their way skilfully among the numerous
couples, forgetful of everything but the subtile intoxication of that
swinging cadence to which their feet kept such perfect time,
occasionally exchanging brief sentences in which compliment played no
insignificant part.  To Brant, as he marked the heightened color
flushing her fair cheeks, the experience brought back fond memories of
his last cadet ball at the Point, and he hesitated to break the mystic
spell with abrupt questioning.  Curiosity, however, finally mastered
his reticence.

"Miss Spencer," he asked, "may I inquire if you possess such a
phenomenon as a 'star' pupil?"

The lady laughed merrily, but her expression became somewhat puzzled.
"Really, what a very strange question!  Why, not unless it might be
little Sammy Worrell; he can certainly use the longest words I ever
heard of outside a dictionary.  Why, may I ask?  Are you especially
interested in prodigies?"

"Oh, not in the least; certainly not in little Sammy Worrell.  The
person I had reference to chances to be a young woman, having dark
eyes, and a wealth of auburn hair.  We met quite by accident, and the
sole clew I now possess to her identity is a claim she advanced to
being your 'star' pupil."

Miss Spencer sighed somewhat regretfully, and her eyes fell.  "I fear
it must have been Naida, from your description.  But she is scarcely
more than a child.  Surely, Lieutenant, it cannot be possible that you
have become interested in her?"

He smiled pleasantly.  "At least eighteen, is she not?  I was somewhat
impressed with her evident originality, and hoped to renew our slight
acquaintanceship here in more formal manner.  She is your 'star' pupil,
then?"

"Why, she is not really in my school at all, but I outline the studies
she pursues at home, and lend her such books as I consider best adapted
for her reading.  She is such a strange girl!"

"Indeed?  She appeared to me to be extremely unconventional, with a
decided tendency for mischief.  Is that your meaning?"

"Partially.  She manages to do everything in a different way from other
people.  Her mind seems peculiarly independent, and she is so
unreservedly Western in her ways and language.  But I was referring
rather to her taste in books--she devours everything."

"You mean as a student?"

"Well, yes, I suppose so; at least she appears to possess the faculty
of absorbing every bit of information, like a sponge.  Sometimes she
actually startles me with her odd questions; they are so unexpected and
abstruse, falling from the lips of so young a girl.  Then her ideas are
so crude and uncommon, and she is so frankly outspoken, that I become
actually nervous when I am with her.  I really believe Mr. Wynkoop
seeks to avoid meeting her, she has shocked him so frequently in
religious matters."

"Does she make light of his faith?"

"Oh, no, not that exactly, at least it is not her intention.  But she
wants to know everything--why we believe this and why we believe that,
doctrines which no one else ever dreams of questioning, and he cannot
seem to make them clear to her mind.  Some of her questions are so
irreverent as to be positively shocking to a spiritually minded person."

They lapsed into silence, swinging easily to the guidance of the music.
His face was grave and thoughtful.  This picture just drawn of the
perverse Naida had not greatly lowered her in his estimation, although
he felt instinctively that Miss Spencer was not altogether pleased with
his evident interest in another.  It was hardly in her nature patiently
to brook a rival, but she dissembled with all the art of a clever
woman, smiling happily up into his face as their eyes again met.

"It is very interesting to know that you two met in so unconventional a
way," she ventured, softly, "and so sly of her not even to mention it
to me.  We are room-mates, you know, and consequently quite intimate,
although she possesses many peculiar characteristics which I cannot in
the least approve.  But after all, Naida is really a good-hearted girl
enough, and she will probably outgrow her present irregular ways, for,
indeed, she is scarcely more than a child.  I shall certainly do my
best to guide her aright.  Would you mind giving me some details of
your meeting?"

For a moment he hesitated, feeling that if the girl had not seen fit to
confide her adventure to this particular friend, it was hardly his
place to do so.  Then, remembering that he had already said enough to
arouse curiosity, which might easily be developed into suspicion, he
determined his course.  In a few words the brief story was frankly
told, and apparently proved quite amusing to Miss Spencer.

"Oh, that was Naida, beyond a doubt," she exclaimed, with a laugh of
satisfaction.  "It is all so characteristic of her.  I only wonder how
she chanced to guess your name; but really the girl appears to possess
some peculiar gift in thus discerning facts hidden from others.  Her
instincts seem so finely developed that at times she reminds me of a
wild animal."

This caustic inference did not please him, but he said nothing, and the
music coming to a pause, they slowly traversed the room.

"I presume, then, she is not present?" he said, quietly.

Miss Spencer glanced into his face, the grave tone making her
apprehensive that she might have gone too far.

"She was here earlier in the evening, but now that you remind me of it,
I do not recall having noticed her of late.  But, really, Lieutenant,
it is no part of my duty to chaperon the young girl.  Mrs. Herndon
could probably inform you of her present whereabouts."

Miss Spencer was conscious of the sting of failure, and her face
flushed with vexation.  "It is extremely close in here, don't you
think?" she complained.  "And I was so careless as to mislay my fan.  I
feel almost suffocated."

"Did you leave it at home?" he questioned.  "Possibly I might discover
a substitute somewhere in the room."

"Oh, no; I would never think of troubling you to such an extent.  No
doubt this feeling of lassitude will pass away shortly.  It was very
foolish of me, but I left the fan with my wraps at the hotel.  It can
be recovered when we go across to supper."

In spite of Miss Spencer's quiet words of renunciation, there was a
look of pleading in her shyly uplifted eyes impossible to resist.
Brant promptly surrendered before this masked battery.

"It will be no more than a pleasure to recover it for you," he
protested, gallantly.

The stairs leading down from the hall entrance were shrouded in
darkness, the street below nearly deserted of loiterers, although
lights streamed forth resplendently from the undraped windows of the
Occidental and the hotel opposite.  Assisted in his search by Mrs.
Guffy, the officer succeeded in recovering the lost fan, and started to
return.  Just without the hotel door, under the confusing shadows of
the wide porch, he came suddenly face to face with a young woman, the
unexpected encounter a mutual and embarrassing surprise.




CHAPTER VII

AN UNUSUAL GIRL

The girl was without wraps, her dress of some light, fleecy material
fitting her slender figure exquisitely, her head uncovered; within her
eyes Brant imagined he could detect the glint of tears.  She spoke
first, her voice faltering slightly.

"Will you kindly permit me to pass?"

He stepped instantly to one side, bowing as he did so.

"I beg your pardon for such seeming rudeness," he said, gravely.  "I
have been seeking you all the evening, yet this unexpected meeting
caught me quite unawares."

"You have been seeking me?  That is strange.  For what reason, pray?"

"To achieve what you were once kind enough to suggest as possible--the
formality of an introduction.  It would seem, however, that fate makes
our meetings informal."

"That is your fault, not mine."

"I gladly assume all responsibility, if you will only waive the
formality and accept my friendship."

Her face seemed to lighten, while her lips twitched as if suppressing a
smile.  "You are very forgetful.  Did I not tell you that we
Presbyterians are never guilty of such indiscretions?"

"I believe you did, but I doubt your complete surrender to the creed."

"Doubt!  Only our second time of meeting, and you already venture to
doubt!  This can scarcely be construed into a compliment, I fear."

"Yet to my mind it may prove the very highest type of compliment," he
returned, reassured by her manner.  "For a certain degree of
independence in both thought and action is highly commendable.  Indeed,
I am going to be bold enough to add that it was these very attributes
that awakened my interest in you."

"Oh, indeed; you cause me to blush already.  My frankness, I fear, bids
fair to cost me all my friends, and I may even go beyond your pardon,
if the perverse spirit of my nature so move me."

"The risk of such a catastrophe is mine, and I would gladly dare that
much to get away from conventional commonplace.  One advantage of such
meetings as ours is an immediate insight into each other's deeper
nature.  For one I shall sincerely rejoice if you will permit the good
fortune of our chance meeting to be alone sponsor for our future
friendship.  Will you not say yes?"

She looked at him with greater earnestness, her young face sobered by
the words spoken.  Whatever else she may have seen revealed there, the
countenance bending slightly toward her was a serious, manly one,
inspiring respect, awakening confidence.

"And I do agree," she said, extending her hand in a girlish impulse.
"It will, at least, be a new experience and therefore worth the trial.
I will even endeavor to restrain my rebellious spirit, so that you will
not be unduly shocked."

He laughed, now placed entirely at his ease.  "Your need of mercy is
appreciated, fair lady.  Is it your desire to return to the hall?"

She shook her head positively.  "A cheap, gaudy show, all bluster and
vulgarity.  Even the dancing is a mere parody.  I early tired of it."

"Then let us choose the better part, and sit here on the bench, the
night our own."

He conducted her across the porch to the darkest corner, where only
rifts of light stole trembling in between the shadowing vines, and
there found convenient seats.  A moment they remained in silence, and
he could hear her breathing.

"Have you truly been at the hall," she questioned, "or were you merely
fibbing to awaken my interest?"

"I truly have been," he answered, "and actually have danced a measure
with the fair guest of the evening."

"With Phoebe Spencer!  And yet you dare pretend now to retain an
interest in me?  Lieutenant Brant, you must be a most talented
deceiver, or else the strangest person I ever met.  Such a miracle has
never occurred before!"

"Well, it has certainly occurred now; nor am I in this any vain
deceiver.  I truly met Miss Spencer.  I was the recipient of her most
entrancing smiles; I listened to her modulated voice; I bore her off, a
willing captive, from a throng of despairing admirers; I danced with
her, gazing down into her eyes, with her fluffy hair brushing my cheek,
yet resisted all her charms and came forth thinking only of you."

"Indeed?  Your proof?"

He drew the white satin fan forth from his pocket, and held it out
toward her with mock humility.  "This, unbelieving princess.
Despatched by the fair lady in question to fetch this bauble from the
dressing-room, I forgot my urgent errand in the sudden delight of
finding you."

"The case seems fully proved," she confessed, laughingly, "and it is
surely not my duty to punish the culprit.  What did you talk about?
But, pshaw, I know well enough without asking--she told you how greatly
she admired the romance of the West, and begged you to call upon her
with a recital of your own exploits.  Have I not guessed aright?"

"Partially, at least; some such expressions were used."

"Of course, they always are.  I do not know whether they form merely a
part of her stock in trade, or are spoken earnestly.  You would laugh
to hear the tales of wild and thrilling adventure which she picks up,
and actually believes.  That Jack Moffat possesses the most marvellous
imagination for such things, and if I make fun of his impossible
stories she becomes angry in an instant."

"I am afraid you do not greatly admire this Miss Spencer?"

"Oh, but I do; truly I do.  You must not think me ungrateful.  No one
has ever helped me more, and beneath this mask of artificiality she is
really a noble-hearted woman.  I do not understand the necessity for
people to lead false lives.  Is it this way in all society--Eastern
society, I mean?  Do men and women there continually scheme and flirt,
smile and stab, forever assuming parts like so many play-actors?"

"It is far too common," he admitted, touched by her naive questioning.
"What is known as fashionable social life has become an almost pitiful
sham, and you can scarcely conceive the relief it is to meet with one
utterly uncontaminated by its miserable deceits, its shallow
make-believes.  It is no wonder you shock the nerves of such people;
the deed is easily accomplished."

"But I do not mean to."  And she looked at him gravely, striving to
make him comprehend.  "I try so hard to be--be commonplace, and--and
satisfied.  Only there is so much that seems silly, useless, pitifully
contemptible that I lose all patience.  Perhaps I need proper training
in what Miss Spencer calls refinement; but why should I pretend to like
what I don't like, and to believe what I don't believe?  Cannot one act
a lie as well as speak one?  And is it no longer right to search after
the truth?"

"I have always felt it was our duty to discover the truth wherever
possible," he said, thoughtfully; "yet, I confess, the search is not
fashionable, nor the earnest seeker popular."

A little trill of laughter flowed from between her parted lips, but the
sound was not altogether merry.

"Most certainly I am not.  They all scold me, and repeat with manifest
horror the terrible things I say, being unconscious that they are evil.
Why should I suspect thoughts that come to me naturally?  I want to
know, to understand.  I grope about in the dark.  It seems to me
sometimes that this whole world is a mystery.  I go to Mr. Wynkoop with
my questions, and they only seem to shock him.  Why should they?  God
must have put all these doubts and wonderings into my mind, and there
must be an answer for them somewhere.  Mr. Wynkoop is a good man, I
truly respect him.  I want to please him, and I admire his intellectual
attainments; but how can he accept so much on faith, and be content?
Do you really suppose he is content?  Don't you think he ever questions
as I do? or has he actually succeeded in smothering every doubt?  He
cannot answer what I ask him; he cannot make things clear.  He just
pulls up a few, cheap, homely weeds,--useless common things,--when I
beg for flowers; he hands them to me, and bids me seek greater faith
through prayer.  I know I am a perfect heathen,--Miss Spencer says I
am,--but do you think it is so awful for me to want to know these
things?"

He permitted his hand to drop upon hers, and she made no motion of
displeasure.

"You merely express clearly what thousands feel without the moral
courage to utter it.  The saddest part of it all is, the deeper we
delve the less we are satisfied in our intellectual natures.  We merely
succeed in learning that we are the veriest pygmies.  Men like Mr.
Wynkoop are simply driven back upon faith as a last resort, absolutely
baffled by an inpenetrable wall, against which they batter mentally in
vain.  They have striven with mystery, only to meet with ignominious
defeat.  Faith alone remains, and I dare not deny that such faith is
above all knowledge.  The pity of it is, there are some minds to whom
this refuge is impossible.  They are forever doomed to be hungry and
remain unfed; thirsty, yet unable to quench their thirst."

"Are you a church member?"

"Yes."

"Do you believe those things you do not understand?"

He drew a deep breath, scarcely knowing at that moment how best to
answer, yet sincerely anxious to lead this girl toward the light.

"The majority of men do not talk much about such matters.  They hold
them sacred.  Yet I will speak frankly with you.  I could not state in
words my faith so that it would be clearly apprehended by the mind of
another.  I am in the church because I believe its efforts are toward
righteousness, because I believe the teachings of Christ are perfect.
His life the highest possible type of living, and because through Him
we receive all the information regarding a future existence which we
possess.  That my mind rests satisfied I do not say; I simply accept
what is given, preferring a little light to total darkness."

"But here they refuse to accept any one like that.  They say I am not
yet in a fit state of mind."

"Such a judgment would seem to me narrow.  I was fortunate in coming
under the influence of a broad-minded religious teacher.  To my
statement of doubts he simply said: 'Believe what you can; live the
very best you can, and keep your mind open toward the light.'  It seems
to me now this is all that anyone can do whose nature will not permit
of blind, unquestioning faith.  To require more of ordinary human
beings is unreasonable, for God gave us mind and ability to think."

There was a pause, so breathless they could hear the rustle of the
leaves in the almost motionless air, while the strains of gay music
floating from the open windows sounded loud and strident.

"I am so glad you have spoken in that way," she confessed.  "I shall
never feel quite so much alone in the world again, and I shall see
these matters from a different viewpoint.  Is it wrong--unwomanly, I
mean--for me to question spiritual things?"

"I am unable to conceive why it should be.  Surely woman ought to be as
deeply concerned in things spiritual as man."

"How very strange it is that we should thus drift into such an intimate
talk at our second meeting!" she exclaimed.  "But it seems so easy, so
natural, to converse frankly with some people--they appear to draw out
all that is best in one's heart.  Then there are others who seem to
parch and wither up every germ of spiritual life."

"There are those in the world who truly belong together," he urged,
daringly.  "They belong to each other by some divine law.  They may
never be privileged to meet; but if they do, the commingling of their
minds and souls is natural.  This talk of ours to-night has, perhaps,
done me as much good as you."

"Oh, I am so glad if it has!  I--I do not believe you and Miss Spencer
conversed in this way?"

"Heaven forbid!  And yet it might puzzle you to guess what was the main
topic of our conversation."

"Did it interest you?"

"Deeply."

"Well, then, it could not be dress, or men, or Western romance, or
society in Boston, or the beautiful weather.  I guess it was books."

"Wrong; they were never mentioned."

"Then I shall have to give up, for I do not remember any other subjects
she talks about."

"Yet it was the most natural topic imaginable--yourself."

"You were discussing me?  Why, how did that happen?"

"Very simply, and I was wholly to blame.  To be perfectly honest, Miss
Naida, I attended the dance to-night for no other object than to meet
you again.  But I had argued myself into the belief that you were Miss
Spencer.  The discovery of my mistake merely intensified my
determination to learn who you really were.  With this purpose, I
interviewed Miss Spencer, and during the course of our conversation the
facts of my first meeting with you became known."

"You told her how very foolish I acted?"

"I told her how deeply interested I had become in your outspoken
manner."

"Oh! And she exclaimed, 'How romantic!'"

"Possibly; she likewise took occasion to suggest that you were merely a
child, and seemed astonished that I should have given you a second
thought."

"Why, I am eighteen."

"I told her I believed you to be of that age, and she ignored my
remark.  But what truly surprised both of us was, how you happened to
know my name."

The girl did not attempt to answer, and she was thankful enough that
there was not sufficient light to betray the reddening of her cheeks.

"And you do not mean, even now, to make clear the mystery?" he asked.

"Not--now," she answered, almost timidly.  "It is nothing much, only I
would rather not now."

The sudden sound of voices and laughter in the street beneath brought
them both to their feet.

"Why, they are coming across to supper," she exclaimed, in surprise.
"How long we have been here, and it has seemed scarcely a moment!  I
shall certainly be in for a scolding, Lieutenant Brant; and I fear your
only means of saving me from being promptly sent home in disgrace will
be to escort me in to supper."

"A delightful punishment!"  He drew her hand through his arm, and said:
"And then you will pledge me the first dance following?"

"Oh, you must n't ask me.  Really, I have not been on the floor
to-night; I am not in the mood."

"Do you yield to moods?"

"Why, of course I do.  Is it not a woman's privilege?  If you know me
long it will be to find me all moods."

"If they only prove as attractive as the particular one swaying you
to-night, I shall certainly have no cause for complaint.  Come, Miss
Naida, please cultivate the mood to say yes, before those others
arrive."

She glanced up at him, shaking her dark hair, her lips smiling.  "My
present mood is certainly a good-natured one," she confessed, softly,
"and consequently it is impossible to say no."

His hand pressed hers, as the thronging couples came merrily up the
steps.

"Why, Naida, is this you, child?  Where have you been all this time?"
It was Miss Spencer, clinging to Mr. Wynkoop's arm.

"Merely sitting out a dance," was the seemingly indifferent answer;
then she added sweetly, "Have you ever met my friend, Lieutenant Brant,
of the Seventh Cavalry, Phoebe?  We were just going in to supper."

Miss Spencer's glance swept over the silent young officer.  "I believe
I have had the honor.  It was my privilege to be introduced to the
gentleman by a mutual friend."

The inward rush of hungry guests swept them all forward in laughing,
jostling confusion; but Naida's cheeks burned with indignation.




CHAPTER VIII

THE REAPPEARANCE OF AN OLD FRIEND

After supper the Lieutenant and Naida danced twice together, the young
girl's mood having apparently changed to one of buoyant, careless
happiness, her dark eyes smiling, her lips uttering freely whatever
thought came uppermost.  Outwardly she pictured the gay and merry
spirit of the night, yet to Brant, already observing her with the
jealousy of a lover, she appeared distrait and restless, her
affectation of abandon a mere mask to her true feelings.  There was a
peculiar watchfulness in her glances about the crowded room, while her
flushed cheeks, and the distinctly false note in her laughter, began to
trouble him not a little.  Perhaps these things might have passed
unnoted but for their contrast with the late confidential chat.

He could not reconcile this sudden change with what he believed of her.
It was not carried out with the practised art of one accustomed to
deceit.  There must be something real influencing her action.  These
misgivings burdened his mind even as he swung lightly with her to the
music, and they talked together in little snatches.

He had forgotten Miss Spencer, forgotten everything else about him,
permitting himself to become enthralled by this strange girl whose name
even he did not know.  In every way she had appealed to his
imagination, awakening his interest, his curiosity, his respect, and
even now, when some secret seemed to sway her conduct, it merely served
to strengthen his resolve to advance still farther in her regard.
There are natures which welcome strife; they require opposition,
difficulty, to develop their real strength.  Brant was of this breed.
The very conception that some person, even some inanimate thing, might
stand between him and the heart of this fair woman acted upon him like
a stimulant.

The last of the two waltzes ended, they walked slowly through the
scattering throng, he striving vainly to arouse her to the former
independence and intimacy of speech.  While endeavoring bravely to
exhibit interest, her mind too clearly wandered, and there was borne in
slowly upon him the distasteful idea that she would prefer being left
alone.  Brant had been secretly hoping it might become his privilege to
escort her home, but now he durst not breathe the words of such a
request.  Something indefinable had arisen between them which held the
man dumb and nerveless.  Suddenly they came face to face with Mrs.
Herndon, and Brant felt the girl's arm twitch.

"I have been looking everywhere for you, Naida," Mrs. Herndon said, a
slight complaint in her voice.  "We were going home."

Naida's cheeks reddened painfully.

"I am so sorry if I have kept you waiting," her words spoken with a
rush, "but--but, Lieutenant Brant was intending to accompany me.  We
were just starting for the cloak-room."

"Oh, indeed!"  Mrs. Herndon's expression was noncommittal, while her
eyes surveyed the lieutenant.

"With your permission, of course," he said.

"I hardly think I have any need to interfere."

They separated, the younger people walking slowly, silently toward the
door.  He held her arm, assisting her to descend the stairway, his lips
murmuring a few commonplaces, to which she scarcely returned even
monosyllabic replies, although she frequently flashed shy glances at
his grave face.  Both realized that some explanation was forthcoming,
yet neither was quite prepared to force the issue.

"I have no wraps at the hotel," she said, as he attempted to turn that
way.  "That was a lie also; let us walk directly down the road."

He indulged in no comment, his eyes perceiving a pathetic pleading in
her upturned face.  Suddenly there came to him a belief that the girl
was crying; he could feel the slight tremor of her form against his
own.  He glanced furtively at her, only to catch the glitter of a
falling tear.  To her evident distress, his heart made instant and
sympathetic response.  With all respect influencing the action, his
hand closed warmly over the smaller one on his sleeve.

"Little girl," he said, forgetting the shortness of their acquaintance
in the deep feeling of the moment, "tell me what the trouble is."

"I suppose you think me an awful creature for saying that," she blurted
out, without looking up.  "It wasn't ladylike or nice, but--but I
simply could n't help it, Lieutenant Brant."

"You mean your sudden determination to carry me home with you?" he
asked, relieved to think this might prove the entire difficulty.
"Don't let that worry you.  Why, I am simply rejoiced at being
permitted to go.  Do you know, I wanted to request the privilege all
the time we were dancing together.  But you acted so differently from
when we were beneath the vines that I actually lost my nerve."

She looked up, and he caught a fleeting glimpse into her unveiled eyes.

"I did not wish you to ask me."

"What?"  He stopped suddenly.  "Why then did you make such an
announcement to Mrs. Herndon?"

"Oh, that was different," she explained, uneasily.  "I had to do that;
I had to trust you to help me out, but--but I really wanted to go home
alone."

He swept his unbelieving eyes around over the deserted night scene, not
knowing what answer to return to so strange an avowal.  "Was that what
caused you to appear so distant to me in the hall, so vastly different
from what you had been before?"

She nodded, but with her gaze still upon the ground.

"Miss Naida," he said, "it would be cowardly for me to attempt to dodge
this issue between us.  Is it because you do not like me?"

She looked up quickly, the moonlight revealing her flushed face.

"Oh, no, no! you must never think that.  I told you I was a girl of
moods; under those vines I had one mood, in the hall another.  Cannot
you understand?"

"Very little," he admitted, "for I am more inclined to believe you are
the possessor of a strong will than that you are swayed by moods.
Listen.  If I thought that a mere senseless mood had caused your
peculiar treatment of me to-night, I should feel justified in yielding
to a mood also.  But I will not lower you to that extent in my
estimation; I prefer to believe that you are the true-hearted, frankly
spoken girl of the vine shadow.  It is this abiding conviction as to
your true nature which holds me loyal to a test.  Miss Naida, is it now
your desire that I leave you?"

He stepped aside, relinquishing her arm, his hat in hand, but she did
not move from where he left her.

"It--it hurts me," she faltered, "for I truly desire you to think in
that way of me, and I--I don't know what is best to do.  If I tell you
why I wished to come alone, you might misunderstand; and if I refuse,
then you will suspect wrong, and go away despising me."

"I sincerely wish you might repose sufficient confidence in me as a
gentleman to believe I never betray a trust, never pry into a lady's
secret."

"Oh, I do, Lieutenant Brant.  It is not doubt of you at all; but I am
not sure, even within my own heart, that I am doing just what is right.
Besides, it will be so difficult to make you, almost a stranger,
comprehend the peculiar conditions which influence my action.  Even now
you suspect that I am deceitful--a masked sham like those others we
discussed to-night; but I have never played a part before, never
skulked in the dark.  To-night I simply had to do it."

Her voice was low and pleading, her eyes an appeal; and Brant could not
resist the impulse to comfort.

"Then attempt no explanation," he said, gently, "and believe me, I
shall continue to trust you.  To-night, whatever your wish may be, I
will abide by it.  Shall I go, or stay?  In either case you have
nothing to fear."

She drew a deep breath, these open words of faith touching her more
strongly than would any selfish fault-finding.

"Trust begets trust," she replied, with new firmness, and now gazing
frankly into his face.  "You can walk with me a portion of the way if
you wish, but I am going to tell you the truth,--I have an appointment
with a man."

"I naturally regret to learn this," he said, with assumed calmness.
"But the way is so lonely I prefer walking with you until you have some
other protector."

She accepted his proffered arm, feeling the constraint in his tone, the
formality in his manner, most keenly.  An older woman might have
resented it, but it only served to sadden and embarrass her.  He began
speaking of the quiet beauty of the night, but she had no thought of
what he was saying.

"Lieutenant Brant," she said, at last, "you do not ask me who the man
is."

"Certainly not, Miss Naida; it is none of my business."

"I think, perhaps, it might be; the knowledge might help you to
understand.  It is Bob Hampton."

He stared at her.  "The gambler?  No wonder, then, your meeting is
clandestine."

She replied indignantly, her lips trembling.  "He is not a gambler; he
is a miner, over in the Black Range.  He has not touched a card in two
years."

"Oh, reformed has he?  And are you the instrument that has worked such
a miracle?"

Her eyes fell.  "I don't know, but I hope so."  Then she glanced up
again, wondering at his continued silence.  "Don't you understand yet?"

"Only that you are secretly meeting a man of the worst reputation, one
known the length and breadth of this border as a gambler and fighter."

"Yes; but--but don't you know who I am?"

He smiled grimly, wondering what possible difference that could make.
"Certainly; you are Miss Naida Herndon."

"I?  You have not known?  Lieutenant Brant, I am Naida Gillis."

He stopped still, again facing her.  "Naida Gillis?  Do you mean old
Gillis's girl?  Is it possible you are the same we rescued on the
prairie two years ago?"

She bowed her head.  "Yes; do you understand now why I trust this Bob
Hampton?"

"I perhaps might comprehend why you should feel grateful to him, but
not why you should thus consent to meet with him clandestinely."

He could not see the deep flush upon her cheeks, but he was not deaf to
the pitiful falter in her voice.

"Because he has been good and true to me," she explained, frankly,
"better than anybody else in all the world.  I don't care what you say,
you and those others who do not know him, but I believe in him; I think
he is a man.  They won't let me see him, the Herndons, nor permit him
to come to the house.  He has not been in Glencaid for two years, until
yesterday.  The Indian rising has driven all the miners out from the
Black Range, and he came down here for no other purpose than to get a
glimpse of me, and learn how I was getting on.  I--I saw him over at
the hotel just for a moment--Mrs. Guffy handed me a note--and I--I had
only just left him when I encountered you at the door.  I wanted to see
him again, to talk with him longer, but I couldn't manage to get away
from you, and I didn't know what to do.  There, I've told it all; do
you really think I am so very bad, because--because I like Bob Hampton?"

He stood a moment completely nonplussed, yet compelled to answer.

"I certainly have no right to question your motives," he said, at last,
"and I believe your purposes to be above reproach.  I wish I might give
the same credit to this man Hampton.  But, Miss Naida, the world does
not often consent to judge us by our own estimation of right and wrong;
it prefers to place its own interpretation on acts, and thus often
condemns the innocent.  Others might not see this as I do, nor have
such unquestioning faith in you."

"I know," she admitted, stubbornly, "but I wanted to see him; I have
been so lonely for him, and this was the only possible way."

Brant felt a wave of uncontrollable sympathy sweep across him, even
while he was beginning to hate this man, who, he felt, had stolen a
passage into the innocent heart of a girl not half his age, one knowing
little of the ways of the world.  He saw again that bare desert, with
those two half-dead figures clasped in each other's arms, and felt that
he understood the whole miserable story of a girl's trust, a man's
perfidy.

"May I walk beside you until you meet him?" he asked.

"You will not quarrel?"

"No; at least not through any fault of mine."

A few steps in the moonlight and she again took his arm, although they
scarcely spoke.  At the bridge she withdrew her hand and uttered a
peculiar call, and Hampton stepped forth from the concealing bushes,
his head bare, his hat in his hand.

"I scarcely thought it could be you," he said, seemingly not altogether
satisfied, "as you were accompanied by another."

The younger man took a single step forward, his uniform showing in the
moonlight.  "Miss Gillis will inform you later why I am here," he said,
striving to speak civilly.  "You and I, however, have met before--I am
Lieutenant Brant, of the Seventh Cavalry."

Hampton bowed, his manner somewhat stiff and formal, his face
inpenetrable.

"I should have left Miss Gillis previous to her meeting with you,"
Brant continued, "but I desired to request the privilege of calling
upon you to-morrow for a brief interview."

"With pleasure."

"Shall it be at ten?"

"The hour is perfectly satisfactory.  You will find me at the hotel."

"You place me under obligations," said Brant, and turned toward the
wondering girl.  "I will now say good-night, Miss Gillis, and I promise
to remember only the pleasant events of this evening."

Their hands met for an instant of warm pressure, and then the two left
behind stood motionless and watched him striding along the moonlit road.




CHAPTER IX

THE VERGE OF A QUARREL

Brant's mind was a chaos of conflicting emotions, but a single abiding
conviction never once left him--he retained implicit faith in her, and
he purposed to fight this matter out with Hampton.  Even in that
crucial hour, had any one ventured to suggest that he was in love with
Naida, he would merely have laughed, serenely confident that nothing
more than gentlemanly interest swayed his conduct.  It was true, he
greatly admired the girl, recalled to memory her every movement, her
slightest glance, her most insignificant word, while her marvellous
eyes constantly haunted him, yet the dawn of love was not even faintly
acknowledged.

Nevertheless, he manifested an unreasonable dislike for Hampton.  He
had never before felt thus toward this person; indeed, he had possessed
a strong man's natural admiration for the other's physical power and
cool, determined courage.  He now sincerely feared Hampton's power over
the innocent mind of the girl, imagining his influence to be much
stronger than it really was, and he sought after some suitable means
for overcoming it.  He had no faith in this man's professed reform, no
abiding confidence in his word of honor; and it seemed to him then that
the entire future of the young woman's life rested upon his deliverance
of her from the toils of the gambler.  He alone, among those who might
be considered as her true friends, knew the secret of her infatuation,
and upon him alone, therefore, rested the burden of her release.  It
was his heart that drove him into such a decision, although he
conceived it then to be the reasoning of the brain.

And so she was Naida Gillis, poor old Gillis's little girl!  He stopped
suddenly in the road, striving to realize the thought.  He had never
once dreamed of such a consummation, and it staggered him.  His thought
drifted back to that pale-faced, red-haired, poorly dressed slip of a
girl whom he had occasionally viewed with disapproval about the
post-trader's store at Bethune, and it seemed simply an impossibility.
He recalled the unconscious, dust-covered, nameless waif he had once
held on his lap beside the Bear Water.  What was there in common
between that outcast, and this well-groomed, frankly spoken young
woman?  Yet, whoever she was or had been, the remembrance of her could
not be conjured out of his brain.  He might look back with repugnance
upon those others, those misty phantoms of the past, but the vision of
his mind, his ever-changeable divinity of the vine shadows, would not
become obscured, nor grow less fascinating.  Let her be whom she might,
no other could ever win that place she occupied in his heart.  His mind
dwelt upon her flushed cheeks, her earnest face, her wealth of glossy
hair, her dark eyes filled with mingled roguery and thoughtfulness,--in
utter unconsciousness that he was already her humble slave.  Suddenly
there occurred to him a recollection of Silent Murphy, and his strange,
unguarded remark.  What could the fellow have meant?  Was there,
indeed, some secret in the life history of this young girl?--some story
of shame, perhaps?  If so, did Hampton know about it?

Already daylight rested white and solemn over the silent valley, and
only a short distance away lay the spot where the crippled scout had
made his solitary camp.  Almost without volition the young officer
turned that way, crossed the stream by means of the log, and clambered
up the bank.  But it was clear at a glance that Murphy had deserted the
spot.  Convinced of this, Brant retraced his steps toward the camp of
his own troop, now already astir with the duties of early morning.
Just in front of his tent he encountered his first sergeant.

"Watson," he questioned, as the latter saluted and stood at attention,
"do you know a man called Silent Murphy?"

"The scout?  Yes, sir; knew him as long ago as when he was corporal in
your father's troop.  He was reduced to the ranks for striking an
officer."

Brant wheeled in astonishment.  "Was he ever a soldier in the Seventh?"

"He was that, for two enlistments, and a mighty tough one; but he was
always quick enough for a fight in field or garrison."

"Has he shown himself here at the camp?"

"No, sir; didn't know he was anywhere around.  He and I were never very
good friends, sir."

The lieutenant remained silent for several moments, endeavoring to
perfect some feasible plan.

"Despatch an orderly to the telegraph-office," he finally commanded,
"to inquire if this man Murphy receives any messages there, and if they
know where he is stopping.  Send an intelligent man, and have him
discover all the facts he can.  When he returns bring him in to me."

He had enjoyed a bath and a shave, and was yet lingering over his
coffee, when the two soldiers entered with their report.  The sergeant
stepped aside, and the orderly, a tall, boyish-looking fellow with a
pugnacious chin, saluted stiffly.

"Well, Bane," and the officer eyed his trim appearance with manifest
approval, "what did you succeed in learning?"

"The operator said this yere Murphy hed never bin thar himself, sir,
but there wus several messages come fer him.  One got here this
mornin'."

"What becomes of them?"

"They're called fer by another feller, sir."

"Oh, they are!  Who?"

"Red Slavin wus the name he give me of thet other buck."

When the two had disappeared, Brant sat back thinking rapidly.  There
was a mystery here, and such actions must have a cause.  Something
either in or about Glencaid was compelling Murphy to keep out of
sight--but what?  Who?  Brant was unable to get it out of his head that
all this secrecy centred around Naida.  With those incautiously spoken
words as a clew, he suspected that Murphy knew something about her, and
that knowledge was the cause for his present erratic actions.  Perhaps
Hampton knew; at least he might possess some additional scrap of
information which would help to solve the problem.  He looked at his
watch, and ordered his horse to be saddled.

It did not seem quite so simple now, this projected interview with
Hampton, as it had appeared the night before.  In the clear light of
day, he began to realize the weakness of his position, the fact that he
possessed not the smallest right to speak on behalf of Naida Gillis.
He held no relationship whatsoever to her, and should he venture to
assume any, it was highly probable the older man would laugh
contemptuously in his face.  Brant knew better than to believe Hampton
would ever let go unless he was obliged to do so; he comprehended the
impotence of threats on such a character, as well as his probable
indifference to moral obligations.  Nevertheless, the die was cast, and
perhaps, provided an open quarrel could be avoided, the meeting might
result in good to all concerned.

Hampton welcomed him with distant but marked courtesy, having evidently
thought out his own immediate plan of action, and schooled himself
accordingly.  Standing there, the bright light streaming over them from
the open windows, they presented two widely contrasting personalities,
yet each exhibiting in figure and face the evidences of hard training
and iron discipline.  Hampton was clothed in black, standing straight
as an arrow, his shoulders squared, his head held proudly erect, while
his cool gray eyes studied the face of the other as he had been
accustomed to survey his opponents at the card-table.  Brant looked the
picture of a soldier on duty, trim, well built, erect, his resolute
blue eyes never flinching from the steady gaze bent upon ham, his
bronzed young face grave from the seriousness of his mission.  Neither
was a man to temporize, to mince words, or to withhold blows; yet each
instinctively felt that this was an occasion rather for self-restraint.
In both minds the same thought lingered--the vague wonder how much the
other knew.  The elder man, however, retained the better self-control,
and was first to break the silence.

"Miss Gillis informed me of your kindness to her last evening," he
said, quietly, "and in her behalf I sincerely thank you.  Permit me to
offer you a chair."

Brant accepted it, and sat down, feeling the calm tone of
proprietorship in the words of the other as if they had been a blow.
His face flushed, yet he spoke firmly.  "Possibly I misconstrue your
meaning," he said, with some bluntness, determined to reach the gist of
the matter at once.  "Did Miss Gillis authorize you to thank me for
these courtesies?"

Hampton smiled with provoking calmness, holding an unlighted cigar
between his fingers.  "Why, really, as to that I do not remember.  I
merely mentioned it as expressing the natural gratitude of us both."

"You speak as if you possessed full authority to express her mind as
well as your own."

The other bowed gravely, his face impassive.  "My words would quite
naturally bear some such construction."

The officer hesitated, feeling more doubtful than ever regarding his
own position.  Chagrined, disarmed, he felt like a prisoner standing
bound before his mocking captor.  "Then I fear my mission here is
useless."

"Entirely so, if you come for the purpose I suspect," said Hampton,
sitting erect in his chair, and speaking with more rapid utterance.
"To lecture me on morality, and demand my yielding up all influence
over this girl,--such a mission is assured of failure.  I have listened
with some degree of calmness in this room already to one such address,
and surrendered to its reasoning.  But permit me to say quite plainly,
Lieutenant Brant, that you are not the person from whom I will quietly
listen to another."

"I had very little expectation that you would."

"You should have had still less, and remained away entirely.  However,
now that you are here, and the subject broached, it becomes my turn to
say something, and to say it clearly.  It seems to me you would exhibit
far better taste and discrimination if from now on you would cease
forcing your attentions upon Miss Gillis."

Brant leaped to his feet, but the other never deigned to alter his
position.

"Forcing my attentions!" exclaimed the officer.  "God's mercy, man! do
you realize what you are saying?  I have forced no attentions upon Miss
Gillis."

"My reference was rather to future possibilities.  Young blood is
proverbially hot, and I thought it wise to warn you in time."

Brant stared into that imperturbable face, and somehow the very sight
of its calm, inflexible resolve served to clear his own brain.  He felt
that this cool, self-controlled man was speaking with authority.

"Wait just a moment," he said, at last.  "I wish this made perfectly
clear, and for all time.  I met Miss Gillis first through pure
accident.  She impressed me strongly then, and I confess I have since
grown more deeply interested in her personality.  I have reasons to
suppose my presence not altogether distasteful to her, and she has
certainly shown that she reposed confidence in me.  Not until late last
night did I even suspect she was the same girl whom we picked up with
you out on the desert.  It came to me from her own lips and was a total
surprise.  She revealed her identity in order to justify her proposed
clandestine meeting with you."

"And hence you requested this pleasant conference," broke in Hampton,
coolly, "to inform me, from your calm eminence of respectability, that
I was no fit companion for such a young and innocent person, and to
warn me that you were prepared to act as her protector."

Brant slightly inclined his head.

"I may have had something of that nature in my mind."

"Well, Lieutenant Brant," and the older man rose to his feet, his eyes
still smiling, "some might be impolite enough to say that it was the
conception of a cad, but whatever it was, the tables have unexpectedly
turned.  Without further reference to my own personal interests in the
young lady, which are, however, considerable, there remain other
weighty reasons, that I am not at liberty to discuss, which make it
simply impossible for you to sustain any relationship to Miss Gillis
other than that of ordinary social friendship."

"You--you claim the right--"

"I distinctly claim the right, for the reason that I possess the right,
and no one has ever yet known me to relinquish a hold once fairly
gained.  Lieutenant Brant, if I am any judge of faces you are a
fighting man by nature as well as profession, but there is no
opportunity for your doing any fighting here.  This matter is
irrevocably settled--Naida Gillis is not for you."

Brant was breathing hard.  "Do you mean to insinuate that there is an
understanding, an engagement between you?" he faltered, scarcely
knowing how best to resent such utterance.

"You may place your own construction upon what I have said," was the
quiet answer.  "The special relations existing between Miss Gillis and
myself chance to be no business of yours.  However, I will consent to
say this--I do enjoy a relationship to her that gives me complete
authority to say what I have said to you.  I regret having been obliged
by your persistency to speak with such plainness, but this knowledge
should prove sufficient to control the actions of a gentleman."

For a moment the soldier did not answer, his emotions far too strong to
permit of calm utterance, his lips tightly shut.  He felt utterly
defeated.  "Your language is sufficiently explicit," he acknowledged,
at last.  "I ask pardon for my unwarranted intrusion."

At the door he paused and glanced back toward that motionless figure
yet standing with one hand grasping the back of the chair.

"Before I go, permit me to ask a single question," he said, frankly.
"I was a friend of old Ben Gillis, and he was a friend to my father
before me.  Have you any reason to suspect that he was not Naida
Gillis's father?"

Hampton took one hasty step forward.  "What do you mean?" he exclaimed,
fiercely, his eyes two coals of fire.

Brant felt that the other's display of irritation gave him an
unexpected advantage.

"Nothing that need awaken anger, I am sure.  Something caused me to
harbor the suspicion, and I naturally supposed you would know about it.
Indeed, I wondered if some such knowledge might not account for your
very deep interest in keeping her so entirely to yourself."

Hampton's fingers twitched in a nervousness altogether unusual to the
man, yet when he spoke his voice was like steel.  "Your suspicions are
highly interesting, and your cowardly insinuations base.  However, if,
as I suppose, your purpose is to provoke a quarrel, you will find me
quite ready to accommodate you."

An instant they stood thus, eye to eye.  Suddenly Brant's memory veered
to the girl whose name would be smirched by any blow struck between
them, and he forced back the hasty retort burning upon his lips.

"You may be, Mr. Hampton," he said, standing like a statue, his back to
the door, "but I am not.  As you say, fighting is my trade, yet I have
never sought a personal quarrel.  Nor is there any cause here, as my
only purpose in asking the question was to forewarn you, and her
through you, that such a suggestion had been openly made in my hearing.
I presume it was a lie, and wished to be able to brand it so."

"By whom?"

"A fellow known as Silent Murphy, a government scout."

"I have heard of him.  Where is he?"

"He claimed to be here waiting orders from Custer.  He had camp up the
Creek two days ago, but is keeping well out of sight for some reason.
Telegrams have been received for him at the office but another man has
called for them."

"Who?"

"Red Slavin."

"The cur!" said Hampton.  "I reckon there is a bad half-hour waiting
for those two fellows.  What was it that Murphy said?"

"That he knew the girl's real name."

"Was that all?"

"Yes; I tried to discover his meaning, but the fellow became suspicious
and shut up like a clam.  Is there anything in it?"

Hampton ignored the question.  "Lieutenant Brant," he said, "I am glad
we have had this talk together, and exceedingly sorry that my duty has
compelled me to say what I have said.  Some time, however, you will
sincerely thank me for it, and rejoice that you escaped so easily.  I
knew your father once, and I should like now to part on friendly
relations with his son."

He held out his hand, and, scarcely knowing why he did so, Brant placed
his own within its grasp, and as the eyes of the two men met, there was
a consciousness of sympathy between them.




CHAPTER X

A SLIGHT INTERRUPTION

The young officer passed slowly down the dark staircase, his mind still
bewildered by the result of the interview.  His feelings toward Hampton
had been materially changed.  He found it impossible to nurse a dislike
which seemingly had no real cause for existence.  He began besides to
comprehend something of the secret of his influence over Naida; even to
experience himself the power of that dominating spirit.  Out of
controversy a feeling of respect had been born.

Yet Brant was far from being satisfied.  Little by little he realized
that he had gained nothing, learned nothing.  Hampton had not even
advanced a direct claim; he had dodged the real issue, leaving the
soldier in the dark regarding his relationship to Naida, and erecting a
barrier between the other two.  It was a masterpiece of defence,
puzzling, irritating, seemingly impassable.  From the consideration of
it all, Brant emerged with but one thought clearly defined--whoever she
might prove to be, whatever was her present connection with Hampton, he
loved this dark-eyed, auburn-haired waif.  He knew it now, and never
again could he doubt it.  The very coming of this man into the field of
contest, and his calm assumption of proprietorship and authority, had
combined to awaken the slumbering heart of the young officer.  From
that instant Naida Gillis became to him the one and only woman in all
this world.  Ay, and he would fight to win her; never confessing defeat
until final decision came from her own lips.  He paused, half inclined
to retrace his steps and have the matter out.  He turned just in time
to face a dazzling vision of fluffy lace and flossy hair beside him in
the dimly lighted hall.

"Oh, Lieutenant Brant!" and the vision clung to his arm tenderly.  "It
is such a relief to find that you are unhurt.  Did--did you kill him?"

Brant stared.  "I--I fear I scarcely comprehend, Miss Spencer.  I have
certainly taken no one's life.  What can you mean?"

"Oh, I am so glad; and Naida will be, too.  I must go right back and
tell the poor girl, for she is nearly distracted.  Oh, Lieutenant, is
n't it the most romantic situation that ever was?  And he is such a
mysterious character!"

"To whom do you refer?  Really, I am quite in the dark."

"Why, Mr. Hampton, of course.  Oh, I know all about it.  Naida felt so
badly over your meeting this morning that I just compelled her to
confide her whole story to me.  And didn't you fight at all?"

"Most assuredly not," and Brant's eyes began to exhibit amusement;
"indeed, we parted quite friendly."

"I told Naida I thought you would.  People don't take such things so
seriously nowadays, do they?  But Naida is such a child and so full of
romantic notions, that she worried terribly about it.  Is n't it
perfectly delightful what he is going to do for her?"

"I am sure I do not know."

"Why, had n't you heard?  He wants to send her East to a
boarding-school and give her a fine education.  Do you know,
Lieutenant, I am simply dying to see him; he is such a perfectly
splendid Western character."

"It would afford me pleasure to present you," and the soldier's
downcast face brightened with anticipation.

"Do--do you really think it would be proper?  But they do things so
differently out here, don't they?  Oh, I wish you would."

Feeling somewhat doubtful as to what might be the result, Brant knocked
upon the door he had just closed, and, in response to the voice within,
opened it.  Hampton sat upon the chair by the window, but as his eyes
caught a glimpse of the returned soldier with a woman standing beside
him, he instantly rose to his feet.

"Mr. Hampton," said Brant, "I trust I may be pardoned for again
troubling you, but this is Miss Spencer, a great admirer of Western
life, who is desirous of making your acquaintance."

Miss Spencer swept gracefully forward, her cheeks flushed, her hand
extended.  "Oh, Mr. Hampton, I have so wished to meet with you ever
since I first read your name in Aunt Lydia's letters--Mrs. Herndon is
my aunt, you know,--and all about that awful time you had with those
Indians.  You see, I am Naida Gillis's most particular friend, and she
tells me so much about you.  She is such a dear, sweet girl!  She felt
so badly this morning over your meeting with Lieutenant Brant, fearing
you might quarrel!  It was such a relief to find him unhurt, but I felt
that I must see you also, so as to relieve Naida's mind entirely.  I
have two special friends, Mr. Moffat and Mr. McNeil,--perhaps you know
them?--who have told me so much about these things.  But I do think the
story of your acquaintance with Naida is the most romantic I ever heard
of,--exactly like a play on the stage, and I could never forgive myself
if I failed to meet the leading actor.  I do not wonder Naida fairly
worships you."

"I most certainly appreciate your frankly expressed interest, Miss
Spencer," he said, standing with her hand still retained in his, "and
am exceedingly glad there is one residing in this community to whom my
peculiar merits are apparent.  So many are misjudged in this world,
that it is quite a relief to realize that even one is appreciative, and
the blessing becomes doubled when that one chances to be so very
charming a young woman."

Miss Spencer sparkled instantly, her cheeks rosy.  "Oh, how very
gracefully you said that!  I do wish you would some time tell me about
your exploits.  Why, Mr. Hampton, perhaps if you were to call upon me,
you might see Naida, too.  I wish you knew Mr. Moffat, but as you
don't, perhaps you might come with Lieutenant Brant."

Hampton bowed.  "I would hardly venture thus to place myself under the
protection of Lieutenant Brant, although I must confess the former
attractions of the Herndon home are now greatly increased.  From my
slight knowledge of Mr. Moffat's capabilities, I fear I should be found
a rather indifferent entertainer; yet I sincerely hope we shall meet
again at a time when I can 'a tale unfold.'"

"How nice that will be, and I am so grateful to you for the promise.
By-the-bye, only this very morning a man stopped me on the street,
actually mistaking me for Naida."

"What sort of a looking man, Miss Spencer?"

"Large, and heavily set, with a red beard.  He was exceedingly polite
when informed of his mistake, and said he merely had a message to
deliver to Miss Gillis.  But he refused to tell it to me."

The glances of the two men met, but Brant was unable to decipher the
meaning hidden within the gray eyes.  Neither spoke, and Miss Spencer,
never realizing what her chatter meant, rattled merrily on.

"You see there are so many who speak to me now, because of my public
position here.  So I thought nothing strange at first, until I
discovered his mistake, and then it seemed so absurd that I nearly
laughed outright.  Isn't it odd what such a man could possibly want
with her?  But really, gentlemen, I must return with my news; Naida
will be so anxious.  I am so glad to have met you both."

Hampton bowed politely, and Brant conducted her silently down the
stairway.  "I greatly regret not being able to accompany you home," he
explained, "but I came down on horseback, and my duty requires that I
return at once to the camp."

"Oh, indeed! how very unfortunate for me!"  Even as she said so, some
unexpected vision beyond flushed her cheeks prettily.  "Why, Mr.
Wynkoop," she exclaimed, "I am so glad you happened along, and going my
way too, I am sure.  Good morning, Lieutenant; I shall feel perfectly
safe with Mr. Wynkoop."




CHAPTER XI

THE DOOR OPENS, AND CLOSES AGAIN

In one sense Hampton had greatly enjoyed Miss Spencer's call.  Her
bright, fresh face, her impulsive speech, her unquestioned beauty, had
had their effect upon him, changing for the time being the gloomy trend
of his thoughts.  She was like a draught of pure Spring air, and he had
gratefully breathed it in, and even longed for more.

But gradually the slight smile of amusement faded from his eyes.
Something, which he had supposed lay securely hidden behind years and
distance, had all at once come back to haunt him,--the unhappy ghost of
an expiated crime, to do evil to this girl Naida.  Two men, at least,
knew sufficient of the past to cause serious trouble.  This effort by
Slavin to hold personal communication with the girl was evidently made
for some definite purpose.  Hampton was unable to decide what that
purpose could be.  He entertained no doubt regarding the enmity of the
big gambler, or his desire to "get even" for all past injuries; but how
much did he know?  What special benefit did he hope to gain from
conferring with Naida Gillis?  Hampton decided to have a face-to-face
interview with the man himself; he was accustomed to fight his battles
in the open, and to a finish.  A faint hope, which had been growing
dimmer and dimmer with every passing year, began to flicker once again
within his heart.  He desired to see this man Murphy, and to learn
exactly what he knew.


He had planned his work, and was perfectly prepared to meet its
dangers.  He entered the almost deserted saloon opposite the hotel,
across the threshold of which he had not stepped for two years, and the
man behind the bar glanced up apprehensively.

"Red Slavin?" he said.  "Well, now see here, Hampton, we don't want no
trouble in this shebang."

"I 'm not here seeking a fight, Jim," returned the inquirer, genially.
"I merely wish to ask 'Red' an unimportant question or two."

"He's there in the back room, I reckon, but he's damn liable to take a
pot shot at you when you go in."

Hampton's genial smile only broadened, as he carelessly rolled an
unlighted cigar between his lips.

"It seems to me you are becoming rather nervous for this line of
business, Jim.  You should take a good walk in the fresh air every
morning, and let up on the liquor.  I assure you, Mr. Slavin is one of
my most devoted friends, and is of that tender disposition he would not
willingly injure a fly."

He walked to the door, flung it swiftly and silently open, and stepping
within, closed it behind him with his left hand.  In the other
glittered the steel-blue barrel of a drawn revolver.

"Slavin, sit down!"

The terse, imperative words seemed fairly to cut the air, and the
red-bearded gambler, who had half risen to his feet, an oath upon his
lips, sank back into his seat, staring at the apparition confronting
him as if fascinated.  Hampton jerked a chair up to the opposite side
of the small table, and planted himself on it, his eyes never once
deserting the big gambler's face.

"Put your hands on the table, and keep them there!" he said.  "Now, my
dear friend, I have come here in peace, not war, and take these slight
precautions merely because I have heard a rumor that you have indulged
in a threat or two since we last parted, and I know something of your
impetuous disposition.  No doubt this was exaggerated, but I am a
careful man, and prefer to have the 'drop,' and so I sincerely hope you
will pardon my keeping you covered during what is really intended as a
friendly call.  I regret the necessity, but trust you are resting
comfortably."

"Oh, go to hell!"

"We will consider that proposition somewhat later."  Hampton laid his
hat with calm deliberation on the table.  "No doubt, Mr. Slavin,--if
you move that hand again I 'll fill your system with lead,--you
experience some very natural curiosity regarding the object of my
unanticipated, yet I hope no less welcome, visit."

Slavin's only reply was a curse, his bloodshot eyes roaming the room
furtively.

"I suspected as much," Hampton went on, coolly.  "Indeed, I should have
felt hurt had you been indifferent upon such an occasion.  It does
credit to your heart, Slavin.  Come now, keep your eyes on me!  I was
about to gratify your curiosity, and, in the first place, I came to
inquire solicitously regarding the state of your health during my
absence, and incidentally to ask why you are exhibiting so great an
interest in Miss Naida Gillis."

Slavin straightened up, his great hands clinching nervously, drops of
perspiration appearing on his red forehead.  "I don't understand your
damned fun."

Hampton's lips smiled unpleasantly.  "Slavin, you greatly discourage
me.  The last time I was here you exhibited so fine a sense of humor
that I was really quite proud of you.  Yet, truly, I think you do
understand this joke.  Your memory can scarcely be failing at your
age.--Make another motion like that and you die right there!  You know
me.--However, as you seem to shy over my first question, I 'll honor
you with a second,--Where's Silent Murphy?"

Slavin's great square jaws set, a froth oozing from between his thick
lips, and for an instant the other man believed that in his paroxysm of
rage he would hurl himself across the table.  Then suddenly the
ungainly brute went limp, his face grown haggard.

"You devil!" he roared, "what do you mean?"

Surprised as Hampton was by this complete breaking down, he knew his
man far too well to yield him the slightest opportunity for treachery.
With revolver hand resting on the table, the muzzle pointing at the
giant's heart, he leaned forward, utterly remorseless now, and keen as
an Indian on the trail.

"Do you know who I am?"

The horror in Slavin's eyes had changed to sullenness, but he nodded
silently.

"How do you know?"

There was no reply, although the thick lips appeared to move.

"Answer me, you red sneak!  Do you think I am here to be played with?
Answer!"

Slavin gulped down something which seemed threatening to choke him, but
he durst not lift a hand to wipe the sweat from his face.  "If--if I
didn't have this beard on you might guess.  I thought you knew me all
the time."

Hampton stared at him, still puzzled.  "I have certainly seen you
somewhere.  I thought that from the first.  Where was it?"

"I was in D Troop, Seventh Cavalry."

"D Troop?  Brant's troop?"

The big gambler nodded.  "That's how I knew you, Captain," he said,
speaking with greater ease, "but I never had no reason to say anything
about it round here.  You was allers decent 'nough ter me."

"Possibly,"--and it was plainly evident from his quiet tone Hampton had
steadied from his first surprise,--"the boot was on the other leg, and
you had some good reason not to say anything."

Slavin did not answer, but he wet his lips with his tongue, his eyes on
the window.

"Who is this fellow Murphy?"

"He was corporal in that same troop, sir."  The ex-cavalryman dropped
insensibly into his old form of speech.  "He knew you too, and we
talked it over, and decided to keep still, because it was none of our
affair anyhow."

"Where is he now?"

"He left last night with army despatches for Cheyenne."

Hampton's eyes hardened perceptibly, and his fingers closed more
tightly about the butt of his revolver.  "You lie, Slavin!  The last
message did not reach here until this morning.  That fellow is hiding
somewhere in this camp, and the two of you have been trying to get at
the girl.  Now, damn you, what is your little game?"

The big gambler was thinking harder then, perhaps, than he had ever
thought in his life before.  He was no coward, although there was a
yellow, wolfish streak of treachery in him, and he read clearly enough
in the watchful eyes glowing behind that blue steel barrel a merciless
determination which left him nerveless.  He knew Hampton would kill him
if he needed to do so, but he likewise realized that he was not likely
to fire until he had gained the information he was seeking.  Cunning
pointed the only safe way out from this difficulty.  Lies had served
his turn well before, and he hoped much from them now.  If he only knew
how much information the other possessed, it would be easy enough.  As
he did not, he must wield his weapon blindly.

"You 're makin' a devil of a fuss over little or nuthin'," he growled,
simulating a tone of disgust.  "I never ain't hed no quarrel with ye,
exceptin' fer the way ye managed ter skin me at the table bout two
years ago.  I don't give two screeches in hell for who you are; an'
besides, I reckon you ain't the only ex-convict a-ranging Dakota either
fer the matter o' that.  No more does Murphy.  We ain't no bloomin'
detectives, an' we ain't buckin' in on no business o' yourn; ye kin
just bet your sweet life on thet."

"Where is Murphy, then?  I wish to see the fellow."

"I told you he'd gone.  Maybe he didn't git away till this mornin', but
he's gone now all right.  What in thunder do ye want o' him?  I reckon
I kin tell ye all thet Murphy knows."

For a breathless moment neither spoke, Hampton fingering his gun
nervously, his eyes lingering on that brutal face.

"Slavin," he said at last, his voice hard, metallic, "I 've figured it
out, and I do know you now, you lying brute.  You are the fellow who
swore you saw me throw away the gun that did the shooting, and that
afterwards you picked it up."

There was the spirit of murder in his eyes, and the gambler cowered
back before them, trembling like a child.

"I--I only swore to the last part, Captain," he muttered, his voice
scarcely audible.  "I--I never said I saw you throw---"

"And I swore," went on Hampton, "that I would kill you on sight.  You
lying whelp, are you ready to die?"

Slavin's face was drawn and gray, the perspiration standing in beads
upon his forehead, but he could neither speak nor think, fascinated by
those remorseless eyes, which seemed to burn their way down into his
very soul.

"No?  Well, then, I will give you, to-day, just one chance to
live--one, you dog--one.  Don't move an eyelash!  Tell me honestly why
you have been trying to get word with the girl, and you shall go out
from here living.  Lie to me about it, and I am going to kill you where
you sit, as I would a mad dog.  You know me, Slavin--now speak!"

So intensely still was it, Hampton could distinguish the faint ticking
of the watch in his pocket, the hiss of the breath between the giant's
clinched teeth.  Twice the fellow tried to utter something, his lips
shaking as with the palsy, his ashen face the picture of terror.  No
wretch dragged shrieking to the scaffold could have formed a more
pitiful sight, but there was no mercy in the eyes of the man watching
him.

"Speak, you cringing hound!"

Slavin gripped his great hands together convulsively, his throat
swelling beneath its red beard.  He knew there was no way of escape.
"I--I had to do it!  My God, Captain, I had to do it!"

"Why?"

"I had to, I tell you.  Oh, you devil, you fiend!  I 'm not the one you
're after--it's Murphy!"

For a single moment Hampton stared at the cringing figure.  Then
suddenly he rose to his feet in decision.  "Stand up!  Lift your hands
first, you fool.  Now unbuckle your gun-belt with your left hand--your
left, I said!  Drop it on the floor."

There was an unusual sound behind, such as a rat might have made, and
Hampton glanced aside apprehensively.  In that single second Slavin was
upon him, grasping his pistol-arm at the wrist, and striving with hairy
hand to get a death-grip about his throat.  Twice Hampton's left drove
straight out into that red, gloating face, and then the giant's
crushing weight bore him backward.  He fought savagely, silently, his
slender figure like steel, but Slavin got his grip at last, and with
giant strength began to crunch his victim within his vise-like arms.
There was a moment of superhuman strain, their breathing mere sobs of
exhaustion.  Then Slavin slipped, and Hampton succeeded in wriggling
partially free from his death-grip.  It was for scarcely an instant,
yet it served; for as he bent aside, swinging his burly opponent with
him, some one struck a vicious blow at his back; but the descending
knife, missing its mark, sunk instead deep into Slavin's breast.

Hampton saw the flash of a blade, a hand, a portion of an arm, and then
the clutching fingers of Slavin swept him down.  He reached out blindly
as he fell, his hand closing about the deserted knife-hilt.  The two
crashed down together upon the floor, the force of the fall driving the
blade home to the gambler's heart.




CHAPTER XII

THE COHORTS OF JUDGE LYNCH

Hampton staggered blindly to his feet, looking down on the motionless
body.  He was yet dazed from the sudden cessation of struggle, dazed
still more by something he had seen in the instant that deadly knife
flashed past him.  For a moment the room appeared to swim before his
eyes, and he clutched at the overturned table for support, Then, as his
senses returned, he perceived the figures of a number of men jamming
the narrow doorway, and became aware of their loud, excited voices.
Back to his benumbed brain there came with a rush the whole scene, the
desperation of his present situation.  He had been found alone with the
dead man.  Those men, when they came surging in attracted by the noise
of strife, had found him lying on Slavin, his hand clutching the
knife-hilt.  He ran his eyes over their horrified faces, and knew
instantly they held him the murderer.

The shock of this discovery steadied him.  He realized the meaning, the
dread, terrible meaning, for he knew the West, its fierce, implacable
spirit of vengeance, its merciless code of lynch-law.  The vigilantes
of the mining camps were to him an old story; more than once he had
witnessed their work, been cognizant of their power.  This was no time
to parley or to hesitate.  He had seen and heard in that room that
which left him eager to live, to be free, to open a long-closed door
hiding the mystery of years.  The key, at last, had fallen almost
within reach of his fingers, and he would never consent to be robbed of
it by the wild rage of a mob.  He grabbed the loaded revolver lying
upon the floor, and swung Slavin's discarded belt across his shoulder.
If it was to be a fight, he would be found there to the death, and God
have mercy on the man who stopped him!

"Stand aside, gentlemen," he commanded.  "Step back, and let me pass!"

They obeyed.  He swept them with watchful eyes, stepped past, and
slammed the door behind him.  In his heart he held them as curs, but
curs could snap, and enough of them might dare to pull him down.  Men
were already beginning to pour into the saloon, uncertain yet of the
facts, and shouting questions to each other.  Totally ignoring these,
Hampton thrust himself recklessly through the crowd.  Half-way down the
broad steps Buck Mason faced him, in shirt sleeves, his head uncovered,
an ugly "45" in his up-lifted hand.  Just an instant the eyes of the
two men met, and neither doubted the grim purpose of the other.

"You've got ter do it, Bob," announced the marshal, shortly, "dead er
alive."

Hampton never hesitated.  "I 'm sorry I met you.  I don't want to get
anybody else mixed up in this fuss.  If you'll promise me a chance for
my life, Buck, I 'll throw up my hands.  But I prefer a bullet to a
mob."

The little marshal was sandy-haired, freckle-faced, and all nerve.  He
cast one quick glance to left and right.  The crowd jammed within the
Occidental had already turned and were surging toward the door; the
hotel opposite was beginning to swarm; down the street a throng of men
was pouring forth from the Miners' Retreat, yelling fiercely, while
hurrying figures could be distinguished here and there among the
scattered buildings, all headed in their direction.  Hampton knew from
long experience what this meant; these were the quickly inflamed
cohorts of Judge Lynch--they would act first, and reflect later.  His
square jaws set like a trap.

"All right, Bob," said the marshal.  "You're my prisoner, and there 'll
be one hell of a fight afore them lads git ye.  There's a chance
left--leg it after me."

Just as the mob surged out of the Occidental, cursing and struggling,
the two sprang forward and dashed into the narrow space between the
livery-stable and the hotel.  Moffat chanced to be in the passage-way,
and pausing to ask no questions, Mason promptly landed that gentleman
on the back of his head in a pile of discarded tin cans, and kicked
viciously at a yellow dog which ventured to snap at them as they swept
past.  Behind arose a volley of curses, the thud of feet, an occasional
voice roaring out orders, and a sharp spat of revolver shots.  One ball
plugged into the siding of the hotel, and a second threw a spit of sand
into their lowered faces, but neither man glanced back.  They were
running for their lives now, racing for a fair chance to turn at bay
and fight, their sole hope the steep, rugged hill in their front.
Hampton began to understand the purpose of his companion, the quick,
unerring instinct which had led him to select the one suitable spot
where the successful waging of battle against such odds was
possible--the deserted dump of the old Shasta mine.

With every nerve strained to the uttermost, the two men raced side by
side down the steep slope, ploughed through the tangled underbrush, and
toiled up the sharp ascent beyond.  Already their pursuers were
crowding the more open spaces below, incited by that fierce craze for
swift vengeance which at times sweeps even the law-abiding off their
feet.  Little better than brutes they came howling on, caring only in
this moment to strike and slay.  The whole affair had been like a flash
of fire, neither pursuers nor pursued realizing the half of the story
in those first rapid seconds of breathless action.  But back yonder lay
a dead man, and every instinct of the border demanded a victim in
return.

At the summit of the ore dump the two men flung themselves panting
down, for the first time able now to realize what it all meant.  They
could perceive the figures of their pursuers among the shadows of the
bushes below, but these were not venturing out into the open--the first
mad, heedless rush had evidently ended.  There were some cool heads
among the mob leaders, and it was highly probable that negotiations
would be tried before that crowd hurled itself against two desperate
men, armed and entrenched.  Both fugitives realized this, and lay there
coolly watchful, their breath growing more regular, their eyes
softening.

"Whut is all this fuss about, anyhow?" questioned the marshal,
evidently somewhat aggrieved.  "I wus just eatin' dinner when a feller
stuck his head in an' yelled ye'd killed somebody over at the
Occidental."

Hampton turned his face gravely toward him.  "Buck, I don't know
whether you'll believe me or not, but I guess you never heard me tell a
lie, or knew of my trying to dodge out of a bad scrape.  Besides, I
have n't anything to gain now, for I reckon you 're planning to stay
with me, guilty or not guilty, but I did not kill that fellow.  I don't
exactly see how I can prove it, the way it all happened, but I give you
my word as a man, I did not kill him."

Mason looked him squarely in the eyes, his teeth showing behind his
stiff, closely clipped mustache.  Then he deliberately extended his
hand, and gripped Hampton's.  "Of course I believe ye.  Not that you
're any too blame good, Bob, but you ain't the kind what pleads the
baby act.  Who was the feller?"

"Red Slavin."

"No!" and the hand grip perceptibly tightened.  "Holy Moses, what
ingratitude!  Why, the camp ought to get together and give ye a vote of
thanks, and instead, here they are trying their level best to hang you.
Cussedest sorter thing a mob is, anyhow; goes like a flock o' sheep
after a leader, an' I bet I could name the fellers who are a-runnin'
that crowd.  How did the thing happen?"

Both men were intently observing the ingathering of their scattered
pursuers, but Hampton answered gravely, telling his brief story with
careful detail, appreciating the importance of reposing full confidence
in this quiet, resourceful companion.  The little marshal was all grit,
nerve, faithfulness to duty, from his head to his heels.

"All I really saw of the fellow," he concluded, "was a hand and arm as
they drove in the knife.  You can see there where it ripped me, and the
unexpected blow of the man's body knocked me forward, and of course I
fell on Slavin.  It may be I drove the point farther in when I came
down, but that was an accident.  The fact is, Buck, I had every reason
to wish Slavin to live.  I was just getting out of him some information
I needed."

Mason nodded, his eyes wandering from Hampton's expressive face to the
crowd beginning to collect beneath the shade of a huge oak a hundred
yards below.

"Never carry a knife, do ye?"

"No."

"Thought not; always heard you fought with a gun.  Caught no sight of
the feller after ye got up?"

"All I saw then was the crowd blocking the door-way.  I knew they had
caught me lying on Slavin, with my hand grasping the knife-hilt, and,
someway, I couldn't think of anything just then but how to get out of
there into the open.  I 've seen vigilantes turn loose before, and knew
what was likely to happen!"

"Sure.  Recognize anybody in that first bunch?"

"Big Jim, the bartender, was the only one I knew; he had a bung-starter
in his hand."

Mason nodded thoughtfully, his mouth puckered.  "It's him, and half a
dozen other fellers of the same stripe, who are kickin' up all this
fracas.  The most of 'em are yonder now, an' if it wus n't fer leavin'
a prisoner unprotected, darn me if I wud n't like to mosey right down
thar an' pound a little hoss sense into thet bunch o' cattle.  Thet's
'bout the only thing ye kin do fer a plum fool, so long as the law
won't let ye kill him."

They lapsed into contemplative silence, each man busied with his own
thought, and neither perceiving clearly any probable way out of the
difficulty.  Hampton spoke first.

"I 'm really sorry that you got mixed up in this, Buck, for it looks to
me about nine chances out of ten against either of us getting away from
here unhurt."

"Oh, I don't know.  It's bin my experience thet there's allers chances
if you only keep yer eyes skinned.  Of course them fellers has got the
bulge; they kin starve us out, maybe they kin smoke us out, and they
kin sure make things onpleasant whenever they git their long-range guns
to throwin' lead permiscous.  Thet's their side of the fun.  Then, on
the other hand, if we kin only manage to hold 'em back till after dark
we maybe might creep away through the bush to take a hand in this
little game.  Anyhow, it 's up to us to play it out to the limit.
Bless my eyes, if those lads ain't a-comin' up right now!"

A half-dozen men were starting to climb the hillside, following a dim
trail through the tangled underbrush.  Looking down upon them, it was
impossible to distinguish their faces, but two among them, at least,
carried firearms.  Mason stepped up on to the ore-dump where he could
see better, and watched their movements closely.

"Hi, there!" he called, his voice harsh and strident.  "You fellers are
not invited to this picnic, an' there'll be somethin' doin' if you push
along any higher."

The little bunch halted instantly just without the edge of the heavy
timber, turning their faces up toward the speaker.  Evidently they
expected to be hailed, but not quite so soon.

"Now, see here, Buck," answered one, taking a single step ahead of the
others, and hollowing his hand as a trumpet to speak through, "it don't
look to us fellers as if this affair was any of your funeral, nohow,
and we 've come 'long ahead of the others just on purpose to give you a
fair show to pull out of it afore the real trouble begins.  _Sabe_?"

"Is thet so?"

The little marshal was too far away for them to perceive how his teeth
set beneath the bristly mustache.

"You bet!  The boys don't consider thet it's hardly the square deal
your takin' up agin 'em in this way.  They 'lected you marshal of this
yere camp, but it war n't expected you'd ever take no sides 'long with
murderers.  Thet's too stiff fer us to abide by.  So come on down,
Buck, an' leave us to attend to the cuss."

"If you mean Hampton, he's my prisoner.  Will you promise to let me
take him down to Cheyenne fer trial?"

"Wal, I reckon not, old man.  We kin give him a trial well 'nough right
here in Glencaid," roared another voice from out the group, which was
apparently growing restless over the delay.  "But we ain't inclined to
do you no harm onless ye ram in too far.  So come on down, Buck, throw
up yer cards; we've got all the aces, an' ye can't bluff this whole
darn camp."

Mason spat into the dump contemptuously, his hands thrust into his
pockets.  "You 're a fine-lookin' lot o' law-abidin' citizens, you are!
Blamed if you ain't.  Why, I wouldn't give a snap of my fingers fer the
whole kit and caboodle of ye, you low-down, sneakin' parcel o' thieves.
Ye say it wus yer votes whut made me marshal o' this camp.  Well, I
reckon they did, an' I reckon likewise I know 'bout whut my duty under
the law is, an' I'm a-goin' to do it.  If you fellers thought ye
'lected a chump, this is the time you git left.  This yere man, Bob
Hampton, is my prisoner, an' I'll take him to Cheyenne, if I have ter
brain every tough in Glencaid to do it.  Thet's me, gents."

"Oh, come off; you can't run your notions agin the whole blame moral
sentiment of this camp."

"Moral sentiment!  I 'm backin' up the law, not moral sentiment, ye
cross-eyed beer-slinger, an' if ye try edgin' up ther another step I
'll plug you with this '45.'"

There was a minute of hesitancy while the men below conferred, the
marshal looking contemptuously down upon them, his revolver gleaming
ominously in the light.  Evidently the group hated to go back without
the prisoner.

"Oh, come on, Buck, show a little hoss sense," the leader sang out.
"We 've got every feller in camp along with us, an' there ain't no show
fer the two o' ye to hold out against that sort of an outfit."

Mason smiled and patted the barrel of his Colt.

"Oh, go to blazes!  When I want any advice, Jimmie, I'll send fer ye."

Some one fired, the ball digging up the soft earth at the marshal's
feet, and flinging it in a blinding cloud into Hampton's eyes.  Mason's
answer was a sudden fusilade, which sent the crowd flying
helter-skelter into the underbrush.  One among them staggered and half
fell, yet succeeded in dragging himself out of sight.

"Great Scott, if I don't believe I winged James!" the shooter remarked
cheerfully, reaching back into his pocket for more cartridges.  "Maybe
them boys will be a bit more keerful if they once onderstand they 're
up agin the real thing.  Well, perhaps I better skin down, fer I reckon
it's liable ter be rifles next."

It was rifles next, and the "winging" of Big Jim, however it may have
inspired caution, also developed fresh animosity in the hearts of his
followers, and brought forth evidences of discipline in their approach.
Peering across the sheltering dump pile, the besieged were able to
perceive the dark figures cautiously advancing through the protecting
brush; they spread out widely until their two flanks were close in
against the wall of rock, and then the deadly rifles began to spit
spitefully, the balls casting up the soft dirt in clouds or flattening
against the stones.  The two men crouched lower, hugging their pile of
slag, unable to perceive even a stray assailant within range of their
ready revolvers.  Hampton remained cool, alert, and motionless,
striving in vain to discover some means of escape, but the little
marshal kept grimly cheerful, creeping constantly from point to point
in the endeavor to get a return shot at his tormentors.

"This whole blame country is full of discharged sojers," he growled,
"an' they know their biz all right.  I reckon them fellers is pretty
sure to git one of us yit; anyhow, they 've got us cooped.  Say, Bob,
thet lad crawling yonder ought to be in reach, an' it's our bounden
duty not to let the boys git too gay."

Hampton tried the shot suggested, elevating considerable to overcome
distance.  There was a yell, and a swift skurrying backward which
caused Mason to laugh, although neither knew whether this result arose
from fright or wound.

"'Bliged ter teach 'em manners onct in a while, or they 'll imbibe a
fool notion they kin come right 'long up yere without no invite.  'T
ain't fer long, no how, 'less all them guys are ijuts."

Hampton turned his head and looked soberly into the freckled face,
impressed by the speaker's grave tone.

"Why?"

"Fire, my boy, fire.  The wind's dead right fer it; thet brush will
burn like so much tinder, an' with this big wall o' rock back of us, it
will be hell here, all right.  Some of 'em are bound to think of it
pretty blame soon, an' then, Bob, I reckon you an' I will hev' to take
to the open on the jump."

Hampton's eyes hardened.  God, how he desired to live just then, to
uncover that fleeing Murphy and wring from him the whole truth which
had been eluding him all these years!  Surely it was not justice that
all should be lost now.  The smoke puffs rose from the encircling
rifles, and the hunted men cowered still lower, the whistling of the
bullets in their ears.




CHAPTER XIII

"SHE LOVES ME; SHE LOVES ME NOT"

Unkind as the Fates had proved to Brant earlier in the day, they
relented somewhat as the sun rose higher, and consented to lead him to
far happier scenes.  There is a rare fortune which seems to pilot
lovers aright, even when they are most blind to the road, and the young
soldier was now most truly a lover groping through the mists of doubt
and despair.

It was no claim of military duty which compelled him to relinquish Miss
Spencer so promptly at the hotel door, but rather a desire to escape
her ceaseless chatter and gain retirement where he could reflect in
quiet over the revelations of Hampton.  In this quest he rode slowly up
the valley of the Bear Water, through the bright sunshine, the rare
beauty of the scene scarcely leaving the slightest impress on his mind,
so busy was it, and so preoccupied.  He no longer had any doubt that
Hampton had utilized his advantageous position, as well as his
remarkable powers of pleasing, to ensnare the susceptible heart of this
young, confiding girl.  While the man had advanced no direct claim, he
had said enough to make perfectly clear the close intimacy of their
relation and the existence of a definite understanding between them.
With this recognized as a fact, was he justified in endeavoring to win
Naida Gillis for himself?  That the girl would find continued happiness
with such a man as Hampton he did not for a moment believe possible;
that she had been deliberately deceived regarding his true character he
felt no doubt.  The fellow had impressed her by means of his
picturesque personality, his cool, dominating manner, his veneer of
refinement; he had presumed on her natural gratitude, her girlish
susceptibility, her slight knowledge of the world, to worm his way into
her confidence, perhaps even to inspire love.  These probabilities, as
Brant understood them, only served to render him more ardent in his
quest, more eager to test his strength in the contest for a prize so
well worth the winning.  He acknowledged no right that such a man as
Hampton could justly hold over so innocent and trustful a heart.  The
girl was morally so far above him as to make his very touch a
profanation, and at the unbidden thought of it, the soldier vowed to
oppose such an unholy consummation.  Nor did he, even then, utterly
despair of winning, for he recalled afresh the intimacy of their few
past meetings, his face brightening in memory of this and that brief
word or shy glance.  There is a voiceless language of love which a
lover alone can interpret, and Brant rode on slowly, deciphering its
messages, and attaining new courage with every step of his horse.

All the world loves a lover, and all the fairies guide him.  As the
officer's eyes, already smiling in anticipated victory, glanced up from
the dusty road, he perceived just ahead the same steep bank down which
he had plunged in his effort at capturing his fleeing tormentor.  With
the sight there came upon him a desire to loiter again in the little
glen where they had first met, and dream once more of her who had given
to the shaded nook both life and beauty.  Amid the sunshine and the
shadow he could picture afresh that happy, piquant face, the dark coils
of hair, those tantalizing eyes.  He swung himself from the saddle,
tied a loose rein to a scrub oak, and clambered up the bank.

With the noiseless step of a plainsman he pushed in through the
labyrinths of bush, only to halt petrified upon the very edge of that
inner barrier.  No figment of imagination, but the glowing reality of
flesh and blood, awaited him.  She had neither seen nor heard his
approach, and he stopped in perplexity.  He had framed a dozen speeches
for her ears, yet now he could do no more than stand and gaze, his
heart in his eyes.  And it was a vision to enchain, to hold lips
speechless.  She was seated with unstudied grace on the edge of the
bank, her hands clasped about one knee, her sweet face sobered by
thought, her eyes downcast, the long lashes plainly outlined against
the clear cheeks.  He marked the graceful sweep of her dark,
close-fitting dress, the white fringe of dainty underskirt, the small
foot, neatly booted, peeping from beneath, and the glimpse of round,
white throat, rendered even fairer by the creamy lace encircling it.
Against the darker background of green shrubs she resembled a picture
entitled "Dreaming," which he dimly recalled lingering before in some
famous Eastern gallery, and his heart beat faster in wonderment at what
the mystic dream might be.  To draw back unobserved was impossible,
even had he possessed strength of will sufficient to make the attempt,
nor would words of easy greeting come to his relief.  He could merely
worship silently as before a sacred shrine.  It was thus she glanced up
and saw him with startled eyes, her hands unclasping, her cheeks
rose-colored.

"Lieutenant Brant, you here?" she exclaimed, speaking as if his
presence seemed unreal.  "What strange miracles an idle thought can
work!"

"Thoughts, I have heard," he replied, coming toward her with head
uncovered, "will sometimes awaken answers through vast distances of
time and space.  As my thought was with you I may be altogether to
blame for thus arousing your own.  From the expression of your face I
supposed you dreaming."

She smiled, her eyes uplifted for a single instant to his own.  "It was
rather thought just merging into dream, and there are few things in
life more sweet.  I know not whether it is the common gift of all
minds, but my day-dreams are almost more to me than my realities."

"First it was moods, and now dreams."  He seated himself comfortably at
her feet.  "You would cause me to believe you a most impractical
person, Miss Naida."

She laughed frankly, that rippling peal of unaffected merriment which
sounded so like music to his ears.  "If that were only true, I am sure
I should be most happy, for it has been my fortune so far to conjure up
only pleasure through day-dreaming--the things I like and long for
become my very own then.  But if you mean, as I suspect, that I do not
enjoy the dirt and drudgery of life, then my plea will have to be
guilty.  I, of course, grant their necessity, yet apparently there are
plenty who find them well worth while, and there should be other work
for those who aspire.  Back of what you term practical some one has
said there is always a dream, a first conception.  In that sense I
choose to be a dreamer."

"And not so unwise a choice, if your dreams only tend toward results."
He sat looking into her animated face, deeply puzzled by both words and
actions.  "I cannot help noticing that you avoid all reference to my
meeting with Mr. Hampton.  Is this another sign of your impractical
mind?"

"I should say rather the opposite, for I had not even supposed it
concerned me."

"Indeed!  That presents a vastly different view from the one given us
an hour since.  The distinct impression was then conveyed to both our
minds that you were greatly distressed regarding the matter.  Is it
possible you can have been acting again?"

"I?  Certainly not!" and she made no attempt to hide her indignation.
"What can you mean?"

He hesitated an instant in his reply, feeling that possibly he was
treading upon thin ice.  But her eyes commanded a direct answer, and he
yielded to them.

"We were informed that you experienced great anxiety for fear we might
quarrel,--so great, indeed, that you had confided your troubles to
another."

"To whom?"

"Miss Spencer.  She came to us ostensibly in your name, and as a
peacemaker."

A moment she sat gazing directly at him, then she laughed softly.

"Why, how supremely ridiculous; I can hardly believe it true, only your
face tells me you certainly are not in play.  Lieutenant Brant, I have
never even dreamed of such a thing.  You had informed me that your
mission was one of peace, and he pledged me his word not to permit any
quarrel.  I had the utmost confidence in you both."

"How, then, did she even know of our meeting?"

"I am entirely in the dark, as mystified as you," she acknowledged,
frankly, "for it has certainly never been a habit with me to betray the
confidence of my friends, and I learned long since not to confide
secrets to Miss Spencer."

Apparently neither cared to discuss the problem longer, yet he remained
silent considering whether to venture the asking of those questions
which might decide his fate.  He was uncertain of the ground he
occupied, while Miss Naida, with all her frankness, was not one to
approach thoughtlessly, nor was the sword of her tongue without sharp
point.

"You speak of your confidence in us both," he said, slowly.  "To me the
complete trust you repose in Mr. Hampton is scarcely comprehensible.
Do you truly believe in his reform?"

"Certainly.  Don't you?"

The direct return question served to nettle and confuse him.  "It is,
perhaps, not my place to say, as my future happiness does not directly
depend on the permanence of his reformation.  But if his word can be
depended upon, your happiness to a very large extent does."

She bowed.  "I have no doubt you can safely repose confidence in
whatever he may have told you regarding me."

"You indorse, then, the claims he advances?"

"You are very insistent; yet I know of no good reason why I should not
answer.  Without at all knowing the nature of those claims to which you
refer, I have no hesitancy in saying that I possess such complete
confidence in Bob Hampton as to reply unreservedly yes.  But really,
Lieutenant Brant, I should prefer talking upon some other topic.  It is
evident that you two gentlemen are not friendly, yet there is no reason
why any misunderstanding between you should interfere with our
friendship, is there?"

She asked this question with such perfect innocence that Brant believed
she failed to comprehend Hampton's claims.

"I have been informed that it must," he explained.  "I have been told
that I was no longer to force my attentions upon Miss Gillis."

"By Bob Hampton?"

"Yes.  Those were, I believe, his exact words.  Can you wonder that I
hardly know how I stand in your sight?"

"I do not at all understand," she faltered.  "Truly, Lieutenant Brant,
I do not.  I feel that Mr. Hampton would not say that without a good
and sufficient reason.  He is not a man to be swayed by prejudice; yet,
whatever the reason may be, I know nothing about it."

"But you do not answer my last query."

"Perhaps I did not hear it."

"It was, How do I stand in your sight?  That is of far more importance
to me now than any unauthorized command from Mr. Hampton."

She glanced up into his serious face shyly, with a little dimple of
returning laughter.  "Indeed; but perhaps he might not care to have me
say.  However, as I once informed you that you were very far from being
my ideal, possibly it may now be my duty to qualify that harsh
statement somewhat."

"By confessing that I am your ideal?"

"Oh, indeed, no!  We never realize our ideals, you know, or else they
would entirely cease to be ideals.  My confession is limited to a mere
admission that I now consider you a very pleasant young man."

"You offer me a stone when I cry unto you for bread," he exclaimed.
"The world is filled with pleasant young men.  They are a drug on the
market.  I beg some special distinction, some different classification
in your eyes."

"You are becoming quite hard to please," her face turned partially
away, her look meditative, "and--and dictatorial; but I will try.  You
are intelligent, a splendid dancer, fairly good-looking, rather bright
at times, and, no doubt, would prove venturesome if not held strictly
to your proper place.  Take it all in all, you are even interesting,
and--I admit--I am inclined to like you."

The tantalizing tone and manner nerved him; he grasped the white hand
resting invitingly on the grass, and held it firmly within his own.
"You only make sport as you did once before.  I must have the whole
truth."

"Oh, no; to make sport at such a time would be sheerest mockery, and I
would never dare to be so free.  Why, remember we are scarcely more
than strangers.  How rude you are! only our third time of meeting, and
you will not release my hand."

"Not unless I must, Naida," and the deep ringing soberness of his voice
startled the girl into suddenly uplifting her eyes to his face.  What
she read there instantly changed her mood from playfulness to earnest
gravity.

"Oh, please do not--do not say what you are tempted to," her voice
almost pleading.  "I cannot listen; truly I cannot; I must not.  It
would make us both very unhappy, and you would be sure to regret such
hasty words."

"Regret!" and he yet clung to the hand which she scarcely endeavored to
release, bending forward, hoping to read in her hidden eyes the secret
her lips guarded.  "Am I, then, not old enough to know my own mind?"

"Yes--yes; I hope so, yes; but it is not for me; it can never be for
me--I am no more than a child, a homeless waif, a nobody.  You forget
that I do not even know who I am, or the name I ought rightfully to
bear.  I will not have it so."

"Naida, sweetheart!" and he burst impetuously through all bonds of
restraint, her flushed cheeks the inspiration to his daring.  "I will
speak, for I care nothing for all this.  It is you I love--love
forever.  Do you understand me, darling?  I love you!  I love you!"

For an instant,--one glad, weak, helpless, forgetful instant,--she did
not see him, did not even know herself; the very world was lost.  Then
she awoke as if from a dream, his strong arms clasped about her, his
lips upon hers.

"You must not," she sobbed.  "I tell you no!  I will not consent; I
will not be false to myself.  You have no right; I gave you no right."

He permitted her to draw away, and they stood facing each other, he
eager, mystified, thrilling with passion almost beyond mastery, she
trembling and unstrung, her cheeks crimson, her eyes filled with mute
appeal.

"I read it in your face," he insisted.  "It told of love."

"Then my face must have lied," she answered, her soft voice tremulous,
"or else you read the message wrongly.  It is from my lips you must
take the answer."

"And they kissed me."

"If so, I knew it not.  It was by no volition of mine.  Lieutenant
Brant, I have trusted you so completely; that was not right."

"My heart exonerates me."

"I cannot accept that guidance."

"Then you do not love me."

She paused, afraid of the impulse that swept her on.  "Perhaps," the
low voice scarcely audible, "I may love you too well."

"You mean there is something--some person, perhaps--standing between?"

She looked frankly at him.  "I do mean just that.  I am not heartless,
and I sincerely wish we had never met; but this must be the end."

"The end?  And with no explanation?"

"There is no other way."  He could perceive tears in her eyes, although
she spoke bravely.  "Nor can I explain, for all is not clear even to
me.  But this I know, there is a barrier between us insurmountable; not
even the power of love can overcome it; and I appeal to you to ask me
no more."

It was impossible for him to doubt her sober earnestness, or the depth
of her feelings; the full truth in her words was pictured upon her
face, and in the pathetic appeal of her eyes.  She extended both hands.

"You will forgive me?  Truly, this barrier has not been raised by me."

He bowed low, until his lips pressed the white fingers, but before he
could master himself to utter a word in reply, a distant voice called
his name, and both glanced hastily around.

"That cry came from the valley," he said.  "I left my horse tied there.
I will go and learn what it means."

She followed him part of the way through the labyrinth of underbrush,
hardly knowing why she did so.  He stood alone upon the summit of the
high bluff whence he could look across the stream.  Miss Spencer stood
below waving her parasol frantically, and even as he gazed at her, his
ears caught the sound of heavy firing down the valley.




CHAPTER XIV

PLUCKED FROM THE BURNING

That Miss Spencer was deeply agitated was evident at a glance, while
the nervous manner in which she glanced in the direction of those
distant gun shots, led Brant to jump to the conclusion that they were
in some way connected with her appearance.

"Oh, Lieutenant Brant," she cried, excitedly, "they are going to kill
him down there, and he never did it at all.  I know he didn't, and so
does Mr. Wynkoop.  Oh, please hurry!  Nobody knew where you were, until
I saw your horse tied here, and Mr. Wynkoop has been hunting for you
everywhere.  He is nearly frantic, poor man, and I cannot learn where
either Mr. Moffat or Mr. McNeil is, and I just know those dreadful
creatures will kill him before we can get help."

"Kill whom?" burst in Brant, springing down the bank fully awakened to
the realization of some unknown emergency.  "My dear Miss Spencer, tell
me your story quickly if you wish me to act.  Who is in danger, and
from what?"

The girl burst into tears, but struggled bravely through with her
message.

"It's those awful men, the roughs and rowdies down in Glencaid.  They
say he murdered Red Slavin, that big gambler who spoke to me this
morning, but he did n't, for I saw the man who did, and so did Mr.
Wynkoop.  He jumped out of the saloon window, his hand all bloody, and
ran away.  But they 've got him and the town marshal up behind the
Shasta dump, and swear they're going to hang him if they can only take
him alive.  Oh, just hear those awful guns!"

"Yes, but who is it?"

"Bob Hampton, and--and he never did it at all."

Before Brant could either move or speak, Naida swept past him, down the
steep bank, and her voice rang out clear, insistent.  "Bob Hampton
attacked by a mob?  Is that true, Phoebe?  They are fighting at the
Shasta dump, you say?  Lieutenant Brant, you must act--you must act
now, for my sake!"

She sprang toward the horse, nerved by Brant's apparent slowness to
respond, and loosened the rein from the scrub oak.  "Then I will myself
go to him, even if they kill me also, the cowards!"

But Brant had got his head now.  Grasping her arm and the rein of the
plunging horse, "You will go home," he commanded, with the tone of
military authority.  "Go home with Miss Spencer.  All that can possibly
be done to aid Hampton I shall do--will you go?"

She looked helplessly into his face.  "You--you don't like him," she
faltered; "I know you don't.  But--but you will help him, won't you,
for my sake?"

He crushed back an oath.  "Like him or not like him, I will save him if
it be in the power of man.  Now will you go?"

"Yes," she answered, and suddenly extended her arms.  "Kiss me first."

With the magical pressure of her lips upon his, he swung into the
saddle and spurred down the road.  It was a principle of his military
training never to temporize with a mob--he would strike hard, but he
must have sufficient force behind him.  He reined up before the
seemingly deserted camp, his horse flung back upon its haunches, white
foam necking its quivering flanks.

"Sergeant!"  The sharp snap of his voice brought that officer forward
on the run.  "Where are the men?"

"Playin' ball, most of 'em, sir, just beyond the ridge."

"Are the horses out in herd?"

"Yes, sir."

"Sound the recall; arm and mount every man; bring them into Glencaid on
the gallop.  Do you know the old Shasta mine?"

"No, sir."

"Half-way up the hill back of the hotel.  You 'll find me somewhere in
front of it.  This is a matter of life or death, so jump lively now!"

He drove in his spurs, and was off like the wind.  A number of men were
in the street, all hurrying forward in the same direction, but he
dashed past them.  These were miners mostly, eager to have a hand in
the man-hunt.  Here and there a rider skurried along and joined in the
chase.  Just beyond the hotel, half-way up the hill, rifles were
speaking irregularly, the white puffs of smoke blown quickly away by
the stiff breeze.  Near the centre of this line of skirmishers a denser
cloud was beginning to rise in spirals.  Brant, perceiving the largest
group of men gathered just before him, rode straight toward them.  The
crowd scattered slightly at his rapid approach, but promptly closed in
again as he drew up his horse with taut rein.  He looked down into
rough, bearded faces.  Clearly enough these men were in no fit spirit
for peace-making.

"You damn fool!" roared one, hoarsely, his gun poised as if in threat,
"what do you mean by riding us down like that?  Do you own this
country?"

Brant flung himself from the saddle and strode in front of the fellow.
"I mean business.  You see this uniform?  Strike that, my man, and you
strike the United States.  Who is leading this outfit?"

"I don't know as it's your affair," the man returned, sullenly.  "We
ain't takin' no army orders at present, mister.  We 're free-born
American citizens, an' ye better let us alone."

"That is not what I asked you," and Brant squared his shoulders, his
hands clinched.  "My question was, Who is at the head of this outfit?
and I want an answer."

The spokesman looked around upon the others near him with a grin of
derision.  "Oh, ye do, hey?  Well, I reckon we are, if you must know.
Since Big Jim Larson got it in the shoulder this outfit right yere hes
bin doin' most of the brain work.  So, if ye 've got anythin' ter say,
mister officer man, I reckon ye better spit it out yere ter me, an'
sorter relieve yer mind."

"Who are you?"

The fellow expectorated vigorously into the leaves under foot, and
drawing one hairy hand across his lips, flushed angrily to the
unexpected inquiry.

"Oh, tell him, Ben.  What's the blame odds?  He can't do ye no hurt."

The man's look became dogged.  "I 'm Ben Colton, if it 'll do ye any
good to know."

"I thought I had seen you somewhere before," said Brant,
contemptuously, and then swept his glance about the circle.  "A nice
leader of vigilantes you are, a fine representative of law and order, a
lovely specimen of the free-born American citizen!  Men, do you happen
to know what sort of a cur you are following in this affair?"

"Oh, Ben's all right."

"What ye got against him, young feller?"

"Just this," and Brant squarely fronted the man, his voice ringing like
steel.  "I 've seen mobs before to-day, and I 've dealt with them.  I
'm not afraid of you or your whole outfit, and I 've got fighting men
to back me up.  I never yet saw any mob which was n't led and incited
by some cowardly, revengeful rascal.  Honest men get mixed up in such
affairs, but they are invariably inflamed by some low-down sneak with
an axe to grind.  I confess I don't know all about this Colton, but I
know enough to say he is an army deserter, a liar, a dive-keeper, a
gambler, and, to my certain knowledge, the direct cause of the death of
three men, one a soldier of my troop.  Now isn't he a sweet specimen to
lead in the avenging of a supposed crime?"

Whatever else Colton might have failed in, he was a man of action.
Like a flash his gun flew to the level, but was instantly knocked aside
by the grizzled old miner standing next him.

"None o' that, Ben," he growled, warningly.  "It don't never pay to
shoot holes in Uncle Sam."

Brant smiled.  He was not there just then to fight, but to secure delay
until his own men could arrive, and to turn aside the fierce mob spirit
if such a result was found possible.  He knew thoroughly the class of
men with whom he dealt, and he understood likewise the wholesome power
of his uniform.

"I really would enjoy accommodating you, Colton," he said, coolly,
feeling much more at ease, "but I never fight personal battles with
such fellows as you.  And now, you other men, it is about time you woke
up to the facts of this matter.  A couple of hundred of you chasing
after two men, one an officer of the law doing his sworn duty, and the
other innocent of any crime.  I should imagine you would feel proud of
your job."

"Innocent?  Hell!"

"That is what I said.  You fellows have gone off half-cocked--a mob
generally does.  Both Miss Spencer and Mr. Wynkoop state positively
that they saw the real murderer of Red Slavin, and it was not Bob
Hampton."

The men were impressed by his evident earnestness, his unquestioned
courage.  Colton laughed sneeringly, but Brant gave him no heed beyond
a quick, warning glance.  Several voices spoke almost at once.

"Is that right?"

"Oh, say, I saw the fellow with his hand on the knife."

"After we git the chap, we 'll give them people a chance to tell what
they know."

Brant's keenly attentive ears heard the far-off chug of numerous
horses' feet.

"I rather think you will," he said, confidently, his voice ringing out
with sudden authority.

He stepped back, lifted a silver whistle to his lips, and sounded one
sharp, clear note.  There was a growing thunder of hoofs, a quick,
manly cheer, a crashing through the underbrush, and a squad of eager
troopers, half-dressed but with faces glowing in anticipation of
trouble, came galloping up the slope, swinging out into line as they
advanced, their carbines gleaming in the sunlight.  It was prettily,
sharply performed, and their officer's face brightened.

"Very nicely done, Watson," he said to the expectant sergeant.  "Deploy
your men to left and right, and clear out those shooters.  Make a good
job of it, but no firing unless you have to."

The troopers went at it as if they enjoyed the task, forcing their
restive horses through the thickets, and roughly handling more than one
who ventured to question their authority.  Yet the work was over in
less time than it takes to tell, the discomfited regulators driven
pell-mell down the hill and back into the town, the eager cavalrymen
halting only at the command of the bugle.  Brant, confident of his
first sergeant in such emergency, merely paused long enough to watch
the men deploy, and then pressed straight up the hill, alone and on
foot.  That danger to the besieged was yet imminent was very evident.
The black spiral of smoke had become an enveloping cloud, spreading
rapidly in both directions from its original starting-point, and
already he could distinguish the red glare of angry flames leaping
beneath, fanned by the wind into great sheets of fire, and sweeping
forward with incredible swiftness.  These might not succeed in reaching
the imprisoned men, but the stifling vapor, the suffocating smoke held
captive by that overhanging rock, would prove a most serious menace.

He encountered a number of men running down as he toiled anxiously
forward, but they avoided him, no doubt already aware of the trouble
below and warned by his uniform.  He arrived finally where the ground
was charred black and covered with wood ashes, still hot under foot and
smoking, but he pressed upward, sheltering his eyes with uplifted arm,
and seeking passage where the scarcity of underbrush rendered the zone
of fire less impassable.  On both sides trees were already wrapped in
flame, yet he discovered a lane along which he stumbled until a fringe
of burning bushes extended completely across it.  The heat was almost
intolerable, the crackling of the ignited wood was like the reports of
pistols, the dense pall of smoke was suffocating.  He could see
scarcely three yards in advance, but to the rear the narrow lane of
retreat remained open.  Standing there, as though in the mouth of a
furnace, the red flames scorching his face, Brant hollowed his hands
for a call.

"Hampton!"  The word rang out over the infernal crackling and roaring
like the note of a trumpet.

"Ay!  What is it?"  The returning voice was plainly not Hampton's, yet
it came from directly in front, and not faraway.

"Who are you?  Is that you, Marshal?"

"Thet's the ticket," answered the voice, gruffly, "an' just as full o'
fight es ever."

Brant lifted his jacket to protect his face from the scorching heat.
There was certainly no time to lose in any exchange of compliments.
Already, the flames were closing in; in five minutes more they would
seal every avenue of escape.

"I 'm Brant, Lieutenant Seventh Cavalry," he cried, choking with the
thickening smoke.  "My troop has scattered those fellows who were
hunting you.  I 'll protect you and your prisoner, but you 'll have to
get out of there at once.  Can you locate me and make a dash for it?
Wrap your coats around your heads, and leave your guns behind."

An instant he waited for the answer, fairly writhing in the intense
heat, then Mason shouted, "Hampton 's been shot, and I 'm winged a
little; I can't carry him."

It was a desperately hard thing to do, but Brant had given his promise,
and in that moment of supreme trial, he had no other thought than
fulfilling it.  He ripped off his jacket, wrapped it about his face,
jammed a handkerchief into his mouth, and, with a prayer in his heart,
leaped forward into the seemingly narrow fringe of fire in his front.
Head down, he ran blindly, stumbling forward as he struck the ore-dump,
and beating out with his hands the sparks that scorched his clothing.
The smoke appeared to roll higher from the ground here, and the
coughing soldier crept up beneath it, breathing the hot air, and
feeling as though his entire body were afire.  Mason, his countenance
black and unrecognizable, his shirt soaked with blood, peered into his
face.

"Hell, ain't it!" he sputtered, "but you're a dandy, all right."

"Is Hampton dead?"

"I reckon not.  Got hit bad, though, and clear out of his head."

Brant cast one glance into the white, unconscious face of his rival,
and acted with the promptness of military training.

"Whip off your shirt, Mason, and tie it around your face," he
commanded, "Lively now!"

He bound his silk neckerchief across Hampton's mouth, and lifted the
limp form partially from the ground.  "Help me to get him up.  There,
that will do.  Now keep as close as you can so as to steady him if I
trip.  Straight ahead--run for it!"

They sprang directly into the lurid flames, bending low, Brant's hands
grasping the inert form lying across his shoulder.  They dashed
stumbling through the black, smouldering lane beyond.  Half-way down
this, the ground yet hot beneath their feet, the vapor stifling, but
with clearer breaths of air blowing in their faces, Brant tripped and
fell.  Mason beat out the smouldering sparks in his clothing, and
assisted him to stagger to his feet once more.  Then together they bore
him, now unconscious, slowly down below the first fire-line.

[Illustration: Together they bore him, now unconscious, slowly down
below the first fire-line.]




CHAPTER XV

THE DOOR CLOSES

Totally exhausted, the two men dropped their heavy burden on the earth.
Mason swore as the blood began dripping again from his wound, which had
been torn open afresh in his efforts to bear Hampton to safety.  Just
below them a mounted trooper caught sight of them and came forward.  He
failed to recognize his officer in the begrimed person before him,
until called to attention by the voice of command.

"Sims, if there is any water in your canteen hand it over.  Good; here,
Marshal, use this.  Now, Sims, note what I say carefully, and don't
waste a minute.  Tell the first sergeant to send a file of men up here
with some sort of litter, on the run.  Then you ride to the Herndon
house--the yellow house where the roads fork, you remember,--and tell
Miss Naida Gillis (don't forget the name) that Mr. Hampton has been
seriously wounded, and we are taking him to the hotel.  Can you
remember that?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then off with you, and don't spare the horse."

He was gone instantly, and Brant began bathing the pallid, upturned
face.

"You'd better lie down, Marshal," he commanded.  "You're pretty weak
from loss of blood, and I can do all there is to be done until those
fellows get here."

In fifteen minutes they appeared, and five minutes later they were
toiling slowly down to the valley, Brant walking beside his still
unconscious rival.  Squads of troopers were scattered along the base of
the hill, and grouped in front of the hotel.  Here and there down the
street, but especially about the steps of the Occidental, were gathered
the discomfited vigilantes, busily discussing the affair, and cursing
the watchful, silent guard.  As these caught sight of the little party
approaching, there were shouts of derision, which swelled into triumph
when they perceived Hampton's apparently lifeless form, and Mason
leaning in weakness on the arm of a trooper.  The sight and sound
angered Brant.

"Carry Hampton to his room and summon medical attendance at once," he
ordered.  "I have a word to say to those fellows."

Seeing Mr. Wynkoop on the hotel porch, Brant said to him: "Miss Spencer
informed me that you saw a man leap from the back window of the
Occidental.  Is that true?"

The missionary nodded.

"Good; then come along with me.  I intend breaking the back of this
lynching business right here and now."

He strode directly across the street to the steps of the Occidental,
his clothing scarcely more than smouldering rags.  The crowd stared at
him sullenly; then suddenly a reaction came, and the American spirit of
fair play, the frontier appreciation of bulldog courage, burst forth
into a confused murmur, that became half a cheer.  Brant did not mince
his words.

"Now, look here, men!  If you want any more trouble we 're here to
accommodate you.  Fighting is our trade, and we don't mind working at
it.  But I wish to tell you right now, and straight off the handle,
that you are simply making a parcel of fools of yourselves.  Slavin has
been killed, and nine out of ten among you are secretly glad of it.  He
was a curse to this camp, but because some of his friends and
cronies--thugs, gamblers, and dive-keepers--accuse Bob Hampton of
having killed him, you start in blindly to lynch Hampton, never even
waiting to find out whether the charge is the truth or a lie.  You act
like sheep, not American citizens.  Now that we have pounded a little
sense into some of you, perhaps you'll listen to the facts, and if you
must hang some one put your rope on the right man.  Bob Hampton did not
kill Red Slavin.  The fellow who did kill him climbed out of the back
window of the Occidental here, and got away, while you were chasing the
wrong man.  Mr. Wynkoop saw him, and so did your schoolteacher, Miss
Spencer."

Then Wynkoop stepped gamely to the front.  "All that is true, men.  I
have been trying ever since to tell you, but no one would listen.  Miss
Spencer and I both saw the man jump from the window; there was blood on
his right arm and hand.  He was a misshapen creature whom neither of us
ever saw before, and he disappeared on a run up that ravine.  I have no
doubt he was Slavin's murderer."

No one spoke, the crowd apparently ashamed of their actions.  But Brant
did not wait for any outward expression.

"Now, you fellows, think that over," he said.  "I intend to post a
guard until I find out whether you are going to prove yourselves fools
or men, but if we sail in again those of you who start the trouble can
expect to get hurt, and pay the piper.  That's all."

In front of the hotel porch he met his first sergeant coming out.

"What does the doctor say about Hampton?"

"A very bad wound, sir, but not necessarily fatal; he has regained
consciousness."

"Has Miss Gillis arrived?"

"I don't know, sir; there's a young woman cryin' in the parlor."

The lieutenant leaped up the steps and entered the house.  But it was
Miss Spencer, not Naida, who sprang to her feet.

"Oh, Lieutenant Brant; can this be truly you!  How perfectly awful you
look!  Do you know if Mr. Hampton is really going to die?  I came here
just to find out about him, and tell Naida.  She is almost frantic,
poor thing."

Though Brant doubted Miss Spencer's honesty of statement, his reply was
direct and unhesitating.  "I am informed that he has a good chance to
live, and I have already despatched word to Miss Gillis regarding his
condition.  I expect her at any moment."

"How very nice that was of you!  Oh, I trembled so when you first went
to face those angry men!  I don't see how you ever dared to do it.  I
did wish that either Mr. Moffat or Mr. McNeil could have been here to
go with you.  Mr. Moffat especially is so daring; he is always risking
his life for some one else--and no one seems able to tell me anything
about either of them."  The lady paused, blushing violently, as she
realized what she had been saying.  "Really you must not suppose me
unmaidenly, Lieutenant," she explained, her eyes shyly lifting, "but
you know those gentlemen were my very earliest acquaintances here, and
they have been so kind.  I was so shocked when Naida kissed you,
Lieutenant; but the poor girl was so grateful to you for going to the
help of Bob Hampton that she completely forgot herself.  It is simply
wonderful how infatuated the poor child is with that man.  He seems
almost to exercise some power of magic over her, don't you think?"

"Why frankly, Miss Spencer, I scarcely feel like discussing that topic
just now.  There are so many duties pressing me--" and Brant took a
hasty step toward the open door, his attentive ear catching the sound
of a light footstep in the hallway.  He met Naida just without, pale
and tearless.  Both her hands were extended to him unreservedly.

"Tell me, will he live?"

"The doctor thinks yes."

"Thank God!  Oh, thank God!"  She pressed one hand against her heart to
control its throbbing.  "You cannot know what this means to me."  Her
eyes seemed now for the first time to mark his own deplorable
condition.  "And you?  You have not been hurt, Lieutenant Brant?"

He smiled back into her anxious eyes.  "Nothing that soap and water and
a few days' retirement will not wholly remedy.  My wounds are entirely
upon the surface.  Shall I conduct you to him?"

She bowed, apparently forgetful that one of her hands yet remained
imprisoned in his grasp.  "If I may go, yes.  I told Mrs. Herndon I
should remain here if I could be of the slightest assistance."

They passed up the staircase side by side, exchanging no further
speech.  Once she glanced furtively at his face, but its very calmness
kept the words upon her lips unuttered.  At the door they encountered
Mrs. Guffy, her honest eyes red from weeping.

"This is Miss Gillis, Mrs. Guffy," explained Brant.  "She wishes to see
Mr. Hampton if it is possible."

"Sure an' she can thet.  He's been askin' after her, an' thet pretty
face would kape any man in gud spirits, I 'm thinkin'.  Step roight in,
miss."

She held the door ajar, but Naida paused, glancing back at her
motionless companion, a glint of unshed tears showing for the first
time in her eyes.  "Are you not coming also?"

"No, Miss Naida.  It is best for me to remain without, but my heart
goes with you."

Then the door closed between them.




CHAPTER XVI

THE RESCUE OF MISS SPENCER

While Hampton lingered between life and death, assiduously waited upon
by both Naida and Mrs. Guffy, Brant nursed his burns, far more serious
than he had at first supposed, within the sanctity of his tent, longing
for an order to take him elsewhere, and dreading the possibility of
again having to encounter this girl, who remained to him so perplexing
an enigma.  Glencaid meanwhile recovered from its mania of lynch-law,
and even began exhibiting some faint evidences of shame over what was
so plainly a mistake.  And the populace were also beginning to exhibit
no small degree of interest in the weighty matters which concerned the
fast-culminating love affairs of Miss Spencer.

Almost from her earliest arrival the extensive cattle and mining
interests of the neighborhood became aggressively arrayed against each
other; and now, as the fierce personal rivalry between Messrs. Moffat
and McNeil grew more intense, the breach perceptibly widened.  While
the infatuation of the Reverend Mr. Wynkoop for this same fascinating
young lady was plainly to be seen, his chances in the race were not
seriously regarded by the more active partisans upon either side.  As
the stage driver explained to an inquisitive party of tourists, "He 's
a mighty fine little feller, gents, but he ain't got the git up an' git
necessary ter take the boundin' fancy of a high-strung heifer like her.
It needs a plum good man ter' rope an' tie any female critter in this
Territory, let me tell ye."

With this conception of the situation in mind, the citizens generally
settled themselves down to enjoy the truly Homeric struggle, freely
wagering their gold-dust upon the outcome.  The regular patrons of the
Miners' Retreat were backing Mr. Moffat to a man, while those claiming
headquarters at the Occidental were equally ardent in their support of
the prospects of Mr. McNeil.  It must be confessed that Miss Spencer
flirted outrageously, and enjoyed life as she never had done in the
effete East.

In simple truth, it was not in Miss Spencer's sympathetic disposition
to be cruel to any man, and in this puzzling situation she exhibited
all the impartiality possible.  The Reverend Mr. Wynkoop always felt
serenely confident of an uninterrupted welcome upon Sunday evenings
after service, while the other nights of the week were evenly
apportioned between the two more ardent aspirants.  The delvers after
mineral wealth amid the hills, and the herders on the surrounding
ranches, felt that this was a personal matter between them, and acted
accordingly.  Three-finger Boone, who was caught red-handed timing the
exact hour of Mr. Moffat's exit from his lady-love's presence, was
indignantly ducked in the watering-trough before the Miners' Retreat,
and given ten minutes in which to mount his cayuse and get safely
across the camp boundaries.  He required only five.  Bad-eye Connelly,
who was suspected of having cut Mr. McNeil's lariat while that
gentleman tarried at the Occidental for some slight refreshments while
on his way home, was very promptly rendered a fit hospital subject by
an inquisitive cowman who happened upon the scene.

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings the Miners' Retreat was a
scene of wild hilarity, for it was then that Mr. Moffat, gorgeously
arrayed in all the bright hues of his imported Mexican outfit, his long
silky mustaches properly curled, his melancholy eyes vast wells of
mysterious sorrow, was known to be comfortably seated in the Herndon
parlor, relating gruesome tales of wild mountain adventure which paled
the cheeks of his fair and entranced listener.  Then on Tuesday,
Thursday, and Saturday nights, when Mr. McNeil rode gallantly in on his
yellow bronco, bedecked in all the picturesque paraphernalia of the
boundless plains, revolver swinging at thigh, his wide sombrero
shadowing his dare-devil eyes, the front of the gay Occidental blazed
with lights, and became crowded to the doors with enthusiastic herders
drinking deep to the success of their representative.

It is no more than simple justice to the fair Phoebe to state that she
was, as her aunt expressed it, "in a dreadful state of mind."  Between
these two picturesque and typical knights of plain and mountain she
vibrated, unable to make deliberate choice.  That she was ardently
loved by each she realized with recurring thrills of pleasure; that she
loved in return she felt no doubt--but alas! which?  How perfectly
delightful it would be could she only fall into some desperate plight,
from which the really daring knight might rescue her!  That would cut
the Gordian knot.  While laboring in this state of indecision she must
have voiced her ambition in some effective manner to the parties
concerned, for late one Wednesday night Moffat tramped heavily into the
Miners' Retreat and called Long Pete Lumley over into a deserted corner
of the bar-room.

"Well, Jack," the latter began expectantly, "hev ye railly got the
cinch on that cowboy at last, hey?"

"Dern it all, Pete, I 'm blamed if I know; leastwise, I ain't got no
sure prove-up.  I tell ye thet girl's just about the toughest piece o'
rock I ever had any special call to assay.  I think first I got her
good an' proper, an' then she drops out all of a sudden, an' I lose the
lead.  It's mighty aggravating let me tell ye.  Ye see it's this way.
She 's got some durn down East-notion that she's got ter be rescued,
an' borne away in the arms of her hero (thet's 'bout the way she puts
it), like they do in them pesky novels the Kid 's allers reading and so
I reckon I 've got ter rescue her!"

"Rescue her from whut, Jack?  Thar' ain't nuthin' 'round yere just now
as I know of, less it's rats."

The lover glanced about to make sure they were alone.  "Well, ye see,
Pete, maybe I 'm partly to blame.  I 've sorter been entertainin' her
nights with some stories regardin' road-agents an' things o' thet sort,
while, so fur as I kin larn, thet blame chump of a McNeil hes been
fillin' her up scandalous with Injuns, until she 's plum got 'em on the
brain.  Ye know a feller jist hes ter gas along 'bout somethin' like
thet, fer it's no fool job ter entertain a female thet's es frisky es a
young colt.  And now, I reckon as how it's got ter be Injuns."

"Whut's got ter be Injuns?"

"Why thet outfit whut runs off with her, of course.  I reckon you
fellers will stand in all right ter help pull me out o' this hole?"

Long Pete nodded.

"Well, Pete, this is 'bout whut's got ter be done, es near es I kin
figger it out.  You pick out maybe half a dozen good fellers, who kin
keep their mouths shet, an' make Injuns out of 'em.  'Tain't likely she
'll ever twig any of the boys fixed up proper in thet sorter
outfit--anyhow, she'd be too durned skeered.  Then you lay fer her, say
'bout next Wednesday, out in them Carter woods, when she 's comin' home
from school.  I 'll kinder naturally happen 'long by accident 'bout the
head o' the gulch, an' jump in an' rescue her.  _Sabe_?"

Lumley gazed at his companion with eyes expressive of admiration.  "By
thunder, if you haven't got a cocoanut on ye, Jack!  Lord, but thet
ought to get her a flyin'!  Any shootin'?"

"Sure!"  Moffat's face exhibited a faint smile at these words of
praise.  "It wouldn't be no great shucks of a rescue without, an' this
hes got ter be the real thing.  Only, I reckon, ye better shoot high,
so thar' won't be no hurt done."

When the two gentlemen parted, a few moments later, the conspiracy was
fully hatched, all preliminaries perfected, and the gallant rescue of
Miss Spencer assured.  Indeed, there is some reason now to believe that
this desirable result was rendered doubly certain, for as Moffat moved
slowly past the Occidental on his way home, a person attired in chaps
and sombrero, and greatly resembling McNeil, was in the back room,
breathing some final instructions to a few bosom friends.

"Now don't--eh--any o' you fellers--eh--go an' forget the place.  Jump
in--eh--lively.  Just afore she--eh--gits ter thet thick
bunch--eh--underbrush, whar' the trail sorter--eh--drops down inter the
ravine.  An' you chumps wanter--eh--git--yerselves up so she can't pipe
any of ye off--eh--in this yere--eh--road-agent act.  I tell ye, after
what thet--eh--Moffat's bin a-pumpin' inter her, she's just got ter
be--eh--rescued, an' in blame good style, er--eh--it ain't no go."

"Oh, you rest easy 'bout all thet, Bill," chimed in Sandy Winn, his
black eyes dancing in anticipation of coming fun.  "We 'll git up the
ornariest outfit whut ever hit the pike."

The long shadows of the late afternoon were already falling across the
gloomy Carter woods, while the red sun sank lower behind old Bull
Mountain.  The Reverend Howard Wynkoop, who for more than an hour past
had been vainly dangling a fishing-line above the dancing waters of
Clear Creek, now reclined dreamily on the soft turf of the high bank,
his eyes fixed upon the distant sky-line.  His thoughts were on the
flossy hair and animated face of the fair Miss Spencer, who he
momentarily expected would round the edge of the hill, and so deeply
did he become sank in blissful reflection as to be totally oblivious to
everything but her approach.

Just above his secret resting-place, where the great woods deepen, and
the gloomy shadows lie darkly all through the long afternoons, a small
party of hideously painted savages skulked silently in ambush.
Suddenly to their strained ears was borne the sound of horses' hoofs;
and then, all at once, a woman's voice rang out in a single shrill,
startled cry.

"Whut is up?" questioned the leading savage, hoarsely.  "Is he a-doin'
this little job all by hisself?"

"Dunno," answered the fellow next him, flipping his quirt uneasily;
"but I reckon as how it's her as squealed, an' we 'd better be gitting
in ter hev our share o' the fun."

The "chief," with an oath of disgust, dashed forward, and his band
surged after.  Just below them, and scarcely fifty feet away, a
half-score of roughly clad, heavily bearded men were clustered in the
centre of the trail, two of their number lifting the unconscious form
of a fainting woman upon a horse.

"Cervera's gang, by gosh!" panted the leading savage.  "How did they
git yere?"

"You bet!  She's up agin the real thing," ejaculated a voice beside
him.  "Let's ride 'em off the earth!  Whoop!"

With wild yells to awaken fresh courage, the whole band plunged
headlong down the sharp decline, striking the surprised "road-agents"
with a force and suddenness which sent half of them sprawling.
Revolvers flashed, oaths and shouts rang out fiercely, men clinched
each other, striking savage blows.  Lumley grasped the leader of the
other party by the hair, and endeavored to beat him over the head with
his revolver butt.  Even as he uplifted his hand to strike, the man's
beard fell off, and the two fierce combatants paused as though
thunderstruck.

"Hold on yere, boy!" yelled Lumley.  "This yere is some blame joke.
These fellers is Bill McNeil's gang."

"By thunder! if it ain't Pete Lumley," ejaculated the other.  "Whut did
ye hit me fer, ye long-legged minin' jackass?"

The explanation was never uttered.  Out from the surrounding gloom of
underbrush a hatless, dishevelled individual on foot suddenly dashed
into the centre of that hesitating ring of horsemen.  With skilful
twist of his foot he sent a dismounted road-agent spinning over
backward, and managed to wrench a revolver from his hand.  There was a
blaze of red flame, a cloud of smoke, six sharp reports, and a wild
stampede of frantic horsemen.

Then the Reverend Howard Wynkoop flung the empty gun disdainfully down
into the dirt, stepped directly across the motionless outstretched
body, and knelt humbly beside a slender, white-robed figure lying close
against the fringe of bushes.  Tenderly he lifted the fair head to his
throbbing bosom, and gazed directly down into the white, unconscious
face.  Even as he looked her eyes unclosed, her body trembling within
his arms.

"Have no fear," he implored, reading terror in the expression of her
face.  "Miss Spencer--Phoebe--it is only I, Mr. Wynkoop."

"You!  Have those awful creatures gone?"

"Yes, yes; be calm, I beg you.  There is no longer the slightest
danger.  I am here to protect you with my life if need be."

"Oh, Howard--Mr. Wynkoop--it is all so strange, so bewildering; my
nerves are so shattered!  But it has taught me a great, great lesson.
How could I have ever been so blind?  I thought Mr. Moffat and Mr.
McNeil were such heroes, and yet now in this hour of desperate peril it
was you who flew gallantly to my rescue!  It is you who are the true
Western knight!"

And Mr. Wynkoop gazed down into those grateful eyes, and modestly
confessed it true.




CHAPTER XVII

THE PARTING HOUR

To Lieutenant Brant these proved days of bitterness.  His sole comfort
was the feeling that he had performed his duty; his sustaining hope,
that the increasing rumors of Indian atrocity might soon lead to his
despatch upon active service.  He had called twice upon Hampton, both
times finding the wounded man propped up in bed, very affable, properly
grateful for services rendered, yet avoiding all reference to the one
disturbing element between them.

Once he had accidentally met Naida, but their brief conversation left
him more deeply mystified then ever, and later she seemed to avoid him
altogether.  The barrier between them no longer appeared as a figment
of her misguided imagination, but rather as a real thing neither
patience nor courage might hope to surmount.  If he could have
flattered himself that Naida was depressed also in spirit, the fact
might have proved both comfort and inspiration, but to his view her
attitude was one of almost total indifference.  One day he deemed her
but an idle coquette; the next, a warm-hearted woman, doing her duty
bravely.  Yet through it all her power over him never slackened.  Twice
he walked with Miss Spencer as far as the Herndon house, hopeful that
that vivacious young lady might chance to let fall some unguarded hint
of guidance.  But Miss Spencer was then too deeply immersed in her own
affairs of the heart to waste either time or thought upon others.

The end to this nervous strain came in the form of an urgent despatch
recalling N Troop to Fort Abraham Lincoln by forced marches.  The
commander felt no doubt as to the full meaning of this message, and the
soldier in him made prompt and joyful response.  Little Glencaid was
almost out of the world so far as recent news was concerned.  The
military telegraph, however, formed a connecting link with the War
Department, so that Brant knew something of the terrible condition of
the Northwest.  He had thus learned of the consolidation of the hostile
savages, incited by Sitting Bull, into the fastness of the Big Horn
Range; he was aware that General Crook was already advancing northward
from the Nebraska line; and he knew it was part of the plan of
operation for Custer and the Seventh Cavalry to strike directly
westward across the Dakota hills.  Now he realized that he was to be a
part of this chosen fighting force, and his heart responded to the
summons as to a bugle-call in battle.

Instantly the little camp was astir, the men feeling the enthusiasm of
their officers.  With preparations well in hand, Brant's thoughts
veered once again toward Naida--he could not leave her, perhaps ride
forth to death, without another effort to learn what was this
impassable object between them.  He rode down to the Herndon house with
grave face and sober thought.  If he could only understand this girl;
if he could only once look into her heart, and know the meaning of her
ever-changing actions, her puzzling words!  He felt convinced he had
surprised the reflection of love within her eyes; but soon the
reflection vanished.  The end was ever the same--he only knew he loved
her.

He recalled long the plainly furnished room into which Mrs. Herndon
ushered him to await the girl's appearance--the formal look of the
old-fashioned hair-cloth furniture, the prim striped paper on the
walls, the green shades at the windows, the clean rag carpet on the
floor.  The very stiffness chilled him, left him ill at ease.  To calm
his spirit he walked to a window, and stood staring out into the warm
sunlight.  Then he heard the rustle of Naida's skirt and turned to meet
her.  She was pale from her weeks of nursing, and agitated for fear of
what this unexpected call might portend.  Yet to his thought she
appeared calm, her manner restrained.  Nor could anything be kinder
than her first greeting, the frankly extended hand, the words
expressive of welcome.

"Mr. Wynkoop informed me a few minutes ago that you had at last
received your orders for the north," she said, her lips slightly
trembling.  "I wondered if you would leave without a word of farewell."

He bowed low.  "I do not understand how you could doubt, for I have
shown my deep interest in you even from the first.  If I have lately
seemed to avoid you, it has only been because I believed you wished it
so."

A slight flush tinged the pallor of her cheeks, while the long lashes
drooped over the eyes, concealing their secrets.

"Life is not always as easy to live aright as it appears upon the
surface," she confessed.  "I am learning that I cannot always do just
as I should like, but must content myself with the performance of duty.
Shall we not be seated?"

There was an embarrassing pause, as though neither knew how to get
through the interview.

"No doubt you are rejoiced to be sent on active service again," she
said, at last.

"Yes, both as a soldier and as a man, Miss Naida.  I am glad to get
into the field again with my regiment, to do my duty under the flag,
and I am equally rejoiced to have something occur which will tend to
divert my thoughts.  I had not intended to say anything of this kind,
but now that I am with you I simply cannot restrain the words.  This
past month has been, I believe, the hardest I have ever been compelled
to live through.  You simply mystify me, so that I alternately hope and
despair.  Your methods are cruel."

"Mine?" and she gazed at him with parted lips.  "Lieutenant Brant, what
can you mean?  What is it I have done?"

"It may have been only play to you, and so easily forgotten," he went
on, bitterly.  "But that is a dangerous game, very certain to hurt some
one.  Miss Naida, your face, your eyes, even your lips almost
continually tell me one thing; your words another.  I know not which to
trust.  I never meet you except to go away baffled and bewildered."

"You wish to know the truth?"

"Ay, and for ail time!  Are you false, or true?  Coquette, or woman?
Do you simply play with hearts for idle amusement, or is there some
true purpose ruling your actions?"

She looked directly at him, her hands clasped, her breath almost
sobbing between the parted lips.  At first she could not speak.  "Oh,
you hurt me so," she faltered at last.  "I did not suppose you could
ever think that.  I--I did not mean it; oh, truly I did not mean it!
You forget how young I am; how very little I know of the world and its
ways.  Perhaps I have not even realized how deeply in earnest you were,
have deceived myself into believing you were merely amusing yourself
with me.  Why, indeed, should I think otherwise?  How could I venture
to believe you would ever really care in that way for such a waif as I?
You have seen other women in that great Eastern world of which I have
only read--refined, cultured, princesses, belonging to your own social
circle,--how should I suppose you could forget them, and give your
heart to a little outcast, a girl without a name or a home?  Rather
should it be I who might remain perplexed and bewildered."

"I love you," he said, with simple honesty.  "I seek you for my wife."

She started at these frankly spoken words, her hands partially
concealing her face, her form trembling.  "Oh, I wish you hadn't said
that!  It is not because I doubt you any longer; not that I fail to
appreciate all you offer me.  But it is so hard to appear ungrateful,
to give nothing in return for so vast a gift."

"Then it is true that you do not love me?"

The blood flamed suddenly up into her face, but there was no lowering
of the eyes, no shrinking back.  She was too honest to play the coward
before him.

"I shall not attempt to deceive you," she said, with a slow
impressiveness instantly carrying conviction.  "This has already
progressed so far that I now owe you complete frankness.  Donald Brant,
now and always, living or dead, married or single, wherever life may
take us, I shall love you."

Their eyes were meeting, but she held up her hand to restrain him from
the one step forward.

"No, no; I have confessed the truth; I have opened freely to you the
great secret of my heart.  With it you must be content to leave me.
There is nothing more that I can give you, absolutely nothing.  I can
never be your wife; I hope, for your sake and mine, that we never meet
again."

She did not break down, or hesitate in the utterance of these words,
although there was a piteous tremble on her lips, a pathetic appeal in
her eyes.  Brant stood like a statue, his face grown white.  He did not
in the least doubt her full meaning of renunciation.

"You will, at least, tell me why?"  It was all that would come to his
dry lips.

She sank back upon the sofa, as though the strength had suddenly
deserted her body, her eyes shaded by an uplifted hand.

"I cannot tell you.  I have no words, no courage.  You will learn some
day from others, and be thankful that I loved you well enough to resist
temptation.  But the reason cannot come to you from my lips."

He leaned forward, half kneeling at her feet, and she permitted him to
clasp her hand within both his own.  "Tell me, at least, this--is it
some one else?  Is it Hampton?"

She smiled at him through a mist of tears, a smile the sad sweetness of
which he would never forget.  "In the sense you mean, no.  No living
man stands between us, not even Bob Hampton."

"Does he know why this cannot be?"

"He does know, but I doubt if he will ever reveal his knowledge;
certainly not to you.  He has not told me all, even in the hour when he
thought himself dying.  I am convinced of that.  It is not because he
dislikes you, Lieutenant Brant, but because he knew his partial
revealment of the truth was a duty he owed us both."

There was a long, painful pause between them, during which neither
ventured to look directly at the other.

"You leave me so completely in the dark," he said, finally; "is there
no possibility that this mysterious obstacle can ever be removed?"

"None.  It is beyond earthly power--there lies between us the shadow of
a dead man."

He stared at her as if doubting her sanity.

"A dead man!  Not Gillis?"

"No, it is not Gillis.  I have told you this much so that you might
comprehend how impossible it is for us to change our fate.  It is
irrevocably fixed.  Please do not question me any more; cannot you see
how I am suffering?  I beseech your pity; I beg you not to prolong this
useless interview.  I cannot bear it!"

Brant rose to his feet, and stood looking down upon her bowed head, her
slender figure shaken by sobs.  Whatever it might prove to be, this
mysterious shadow of a dead man, there could be no doubting what it now
meant to her.  His eyes were filled with a love unutterable.

"Naida, as you have asked it, I will go; but I go better, stronger,
because I have heard your lips say you love me.  I am going now, my
sweetheart, but if I live, I shall come again.  I know nothing of what
you mean about a dead man being between us, but I shall know when I
come back, for, dead or alive, no man shall remain between me and the
girl I love."

"This--this is different," she sobbed, "different; it is beyond your
power."

"I shall never believe so until I have faced it for myself, nor will I
even say good-bye, for, under God, I am coming back to you."

He turned slowly, and walked away.  As his hand touched the latch of
the door he paused and looked longingly back.

"Naida."

She glanced up at him.

"You kissed me once; will you again?"

She rose silently and crossed over to him, her hands held out, her eyes
uplifted to his own.  Neither spoke as he drew her gently to him, and
their lips met.

"Say it once more, sweetheart?"

"Donald, I love you."

A moment they stood thus face to face, reading the great lesson of
eternity within the depths of each other's eyes.  Then slowly, gently,
she released herself from the clasp of his strong arms.

"You believe in me now?  You do not go away blaming me?" she
questioned, with quivering lips.

"There is no blame, for you are doing what you think right.  But I am
coming back, Naida, little woman; coming back to love and you."

An hour later N Troop trotted across the rude bridge, and circled the
bluff, on its way toward the wide plains.  Brant, riding ahead of his
men, caught a glimpse of something white fluttering from an open window
of the yellow house fronting the road.  Instantly he whipped off his
campaign hat, and bowing to the saddle pommel, rode bareheaded out of
sight.  And from behind the curtain Naida watched the last horseman
round the bluff angle, riding cheerfully away to hardship, danger, and
death, her eyes dry and despairing, her heart scarcely beating.  Then
she crept across the narrow room, and buried her face in the coverlet
of the bed.




_PART III_

ON THE LITTLE BIG HORN


CHAPTER I

MR. HAMPTON RESOLVES

Mr. Bob Hampton stood in the bright sunshine on the steps of the hotel,
his appreciative gaze wandering up the long, dusty, unoccupied street,
and finally rising to the sweet face of the young girl who occupied the
step above.  As their eyes met both smiled as if they understood each
other.  Except for being somewhat pale, the result of long, inactive
weeks passed indoors, Mr. Hampton's appearance was that of perfect
health, while the expression of his face evidenced the joy of living.

"There is nothing quite equal to feeling well, little girl," he said,
genially, patting her hand where it rested on the railing, "and I
really believe I am in as fine fettle now as I ever have been.  Do you
know, I believe I 'm perfectly fit to undertake that little detective
operation casually mentioned to you a few days ago.  It 's got to be
done, and the sooner I get at it the easier I'll feel.  Fact is, I put
in a large portion of the night thinking out my plans."

"I wish you would give it up all together, Bob," she said, anxiously.
"I shall be so dull and lonely here while you are gone."

"I reckon you will, for a fact, as it's my private impression that
lovely Miss Spencer does n't exert herself over much to be entertaining
unless there happens to be a man in sight.  Great guns! how she did
fling language the last time she blew in to see me!  But, Naida, it
isn't likely this little affair will require very long, and things are
lots happier between us since my late shooting scrape.  For one thing,
you and I understand each other better; then Mrs. Herndon has been
quite decently civil.  When Fall comes I mean to take you East and put
you in some good finishing school.  Don't care quite as much about it
as you did, do you?"

"Yes, I think I do, Bob."  She strove bravely to express enthusiasm.
"The trouble is, I am so worried over your going off alone hunting
after that man."

He laughed, his eyes searching her face for the truth.  "Well, little
girl, he won't exactly be the first I 've had call to go after.
Besides, this is a particular case, and appeals to me in a sort of
personal way.  It you only knew it, you're about as deeply concerned in
the result as I am, and as for me, I can never rest easy again until
the matter is over with."

"It's that awful Murphy, is n't it?"

"He's the one I'm starting after first, and one sight at his right hand
will decide whether he is to be the last as well."

"I never supposed you would seek revenge, like a savage," she remarked,
quietly.  "You never used to be that way."

"Good Lord, Naida, do you think I 'm low down enough to go out hunting
that poor cuss merely to get even with him for trying to stick me with
a knife?  Why, there are twenty others who have done as much, and we
have been the best of friends afterwards.  Oh, no, lassie, it means
more than that, and harks back many a long year.  I told you I saw a
mark on his hand I would never forget--but I saw that mark first
fifteen years ago.  I 'm not taking my life in my hand to revenge the
killing of Slavin, or in any memory of that little misunderstanding
between the citizens of Glencaid and myself.  I should say not.  I have
been slashed at and shot at somewhat promiscuously during the last five
years, but I never permitted such little affairs to interfere with
either business, pleasure, or friendship.  If this fellow Murphy, or
whoever the man I am after may prove to be, had contented himself with
endeavoring playfully to carve me, the account would be considered
closed.  But this is a duty I owe a friend, a dead friend, to run to
earth this murderer.  Do you understand now?  The fellow who did that
shooting up at Bethune fifteen years ago had the same sort of a mark on
his right hand as this one who killed Slavin.  That's why I'm after
him, and when I catch up he'll either squeal or die.  He won't be very
likely to look on the matter as a joke."

"But how do you know?"

"I never told you the whole story, and I don't mean to now until I come
back, and can make everything perfectly clear.  It would n't do you any
good the way things stand now, and would only make you uneasy.  But if
you do any praying over it, my girl, pray good and hard that I may
discover some means for making that fellow squeal."

She made no response.  He had told her so little, that it left her
blindly groping, yet fearful to ask for more.  She stood gazing
thoughtfully past him.

"Have you heard anything lately, Bob, about the Seventh?" she asked,
finally.  "Since--since N Troop left here?"

He answered with well-simulated carelessness.  "No; but it is most
likely they are well into the game by this time.  It's bound to prove a
hard campaign, to judge from all visible indications, and the trouble
has been hatching long enough to get all the hostiles into a bunch.  I
know most of them, and they are a bad lot of savages.  Crook's column,
I have just heard, was overwhelmingly attacked on the Rosebud, and
forced to fall back.  That leaves the Seventh to take the brunt of it,
and there is going to be hell up north presently, or I 've forgotten
all I ever knew about Indians.  Sitting Bull is the arch-devil for a
plot, and he has found able assistants to lead the fighting.  I only
wish it were my luck to be in it.  But come, little girl, as I said, I
'm quite likely to be off before night, provided I am fortunate enough
to strike a fresh trail.  Under such conditions you won't mind my
kissing you out here, will you?"

She held up her lips and he touched them softly with his own.  Her eyes
were tear-dimmed.  "Oh, Bob, I hate so to let you go," she sobbed,
clinging to him.  "No one could have been more to me than you have
been, and you are all I have left in the world.  Everything I care for
goes away from me.  Life is so hard, so hard!"

"Yes, little girl, I know," and the man stroked her hair tenderly, his
own voice faltering.  "It's all hard; I learned that sad lesson long
ago, but I 've tried to make it a little bit easier for you since we
first came together.  Still, I don't see how I can possibly help this.
I 've been hunting after that fellow a long while now, a matter of
fifteen years over a mighty dim trail, and it would be a mortal sin to
permit him to get away scot-free.  Besides, if this affair only manages
to turn out right, I can promise to make you the happiest girl in
America.  But, Naida, dear, don't cling to me so; it is not at all like
you to break down in this fashion," and he gently unclasped her hands,
holding her away from him, while he continued to gaze hungrily into her
troubled face.  "It only weakens me at a time when I require all my
strength of will."

"Sometimes I feel just like a coward, Bob.  It's the woman of it; yet
truly I wish to do whatever you believe to be best.  But, Bob, I need
you so much, and you will come back, won't you?  I shall be so lonely
here, for--for you are truly all I have in the world."

With one quick, impulsive motion he pressed her to him, passionately
kissing the tears from her lowered lashes, unable longer to conceal the
tremor that shook his own voice.  "Never, never doubt it, lassie.  It
will not take me long, and if I live I come straight back."

He watched her slender, white-robed figure as it passed slowly down the
deserted street.  Once only she paused, and waved back to him, and he
returned instant response, although scarcely realizing the act.

"Poor little lonely girl! perhaps I ought to have told her the whole
infernal story, but I simply haven't got the nerve, the way it reads
now.  If I can only get it straightened out, it'll be different."

Mechanically he thrust an unlighted cigar between his teeth, and
descended the steps, to all outward appearance the same reckless,
audacious Hampton as of old.  Mrs. Guffy smiled happily from an open
window as she observed the square set of his shoulders, the easy,
devil-may-care smile upon his lips.

The military telegraph occupied one-half of the small tent next the
Miners' Retreat, and the youthful operator instantly recognized his
debonair visitor.

"Well, Billy," was Hampton's friendly greeting, "are they keeping you
fairly busy with 'wars and rumors of wars' these days?"

"Nuthin' doin', just now," was the cheerful reply.  "Everything goin'
ter Cheyenne.  The Injuns are gittin' themselves bottled up in the Big
Horn country."

"Oh, that's it?  Then maybe you might manage to rush a message through
for me to Fort A. Lincoln, without discommoding Uncle Sam?" and Hampton
placed a coin upon the rough table.

"Sure; write it out."

"Here it is; now get it off early, my lad, and bring the answer to me
over at the hotel.  There 'll be another yellow boy waiting when you
come."

The reply arrived some two hours later.


"FORT A. LINCOLN, June 17, 1876.

"HAMPTON, Glencaid:

"Seventh gone west, probably Yellowstone.  Brant with them.  Murphy,
government scout, at Cheyenne waiting orders.

"BITTON, Commanding."


He crushed the paper in his hand, thinking--thinking of the past, the
present, the future.  He had borne much in these last years, much
misrepresentation, much loneliness of soul.  He had borne these
patiently, smiling into the mocking eyes of Fate.  Through it all--the
loss of friends, of profession, of ambition, of love, of home--he had
never wholly lost hold of a sustaining hope, and now it would seem that
this long-abiding faith was at last to be rewarded.  Yet he realized,
as he fronted the facts, how very little he really had to build
upon,--the fragmentary declaration of Slavin, wrung from him in a
moment of terror; an idle boast made to Brant by the surprised scout; a
second's glimpse at a scarred hand,--little enough, indeed, yet by far
the most clearly marked trail he had ever struck in all his vain
endeavor to pierce the mystery which had so utterly ruined his life.
To run this Murphy to cover remained his final hope for retrieving
those dead, dark years.  Ay, and there was Naida!  Her future, scarcely
less than his own, hung trembling in the balance.

The sudden flashing of that name into his brain was like an electric
shock.  He cursed his inactivity.  Great God! had he become a child
again, to tremble before imagined evil, a mere hobgoblin of the mind?
He had already wasted time enough; now he must wring from the lips of
that misshapen savage the last vestige of his secret.

The animal within him sprang to fierce life.  God! he would prove as
wary, as cunning, as relentless as ever was Indian on the trail.
Murphy would never suspect at this late day that he was being tracked.
That was well.  Tireless, fearless, half savage as the scout
undoubtedly was, one fully his equal was now at his heels, actuated by
grim, relentless purpose.  Hampton moved rapidly in preparation.  He
dressed for the road, for hard, exacting service, buckling his loaded
cartridge-belt outside his rough coat, and testing his revolvers with
unusual care.  He spoke a few parting words of instruction to Mrs.
Guffy, and went quietly out.  Ten minutes later he was in the saddle,
galloping down the dusty stage road toward Cheyenne.




CHAPTER II

THE TRAIL OF SILENT MURPHY

The young infantryman who had been detailed for the important service
of telegraph operator, sat in the Cheyenne office, his feet on the rude
table his face buried behind a newspaper.  He had passed through two
eventful weeks of unremitting service, being on duty both night and
day, and now, the final despatches forwarded, he felt entitled to enjoy
a period of well-earned repose.

"Could you inform me where I might find Silent Murphy, a government
scout?"

The voice had the unmistakable ring of military authority, and the
soldier operator instinctively dropped his feet to the floor.

"Well, my lad, you are not dumb, are you?"

The telegrapher's momentary hesitation vanished; his ambition to become
a martyr to the strict laws of service secrecy was not sufficiently
strong to cause him to take the doubtful chances of a lie.  "He was
here, but has gone."

"Where?"

"The devil knows.  He rode north, carrying despatches for Custer."

"When?"

"Oh, three or four hours ago."

Hampton swore softly but fervently, behind his clinched teeth.

"Where is Custer?"

"Don't know exactly.  Supposed to be with Terry and Gibbons, somewhere
near the mouth of the Powder, although he may have left there by this
time, moving down the Yellowstone.  That was the plan mapped out.
Murphy's orders were to intercept his column somewhere between the
Rosebud and the Big Horn, and I figure there is about one chance out of
a hundred that the Indians let him get that far alive.  No other scout
along this border would take such a detail.  I know, for there were two
here who failed to make good when the job was thrown at them--just
naturally faded away," and the soldier's eyes sparkled.  "But that old
devil of a Murphy just enjoys such a trip.  He started off as happy as
ever I see him."

"How far will he have to ride?"

"Oh, 'bout three hundred miles as the crow flies, a little west of
north, and the better part of the distance, they tell me, it's almighty
rough country for night work.  But then Murphy, he knows the way all
right."

Hampton turned toward the door, feeling fairly sick from
disappointment.  The operator stood regarding him curiously, a question
on his lips.

"Sorry you didn't come along a little earlier," he said, genially.  "Do
you know Murphy?"

"I 'm not quite certain.  Did you happen to notice a peculiar black
scar on the back of his right hand?"

"Sure; looks like the half of a pear.  He said it was powder under the
skin."

A new look of reviving determination swept into Hampton's gloomy
eyes--beyond doubt this must be his man.

"How many horses did he have?"

"Two."

"Did you overhear him say anything definite about his plans for the
trip?"

"What, him?  He never talks, that fellow.  He can't do nothing but
sputter if he tries.  But I wrote out his orders, and they give him to
the twenty-fifth to make the Big Horn.  That's maybe something like
fifty miles a day, and he's most likely to keep his horses fresh just
as long as possible, so as to be good for the last spurt through the
hostile country.  That's how I figure it, and I know something about
scouting.  You was n't planning to strike out after him, was you?"

"I might risk it if I only thought I could overtake him within two
days; my business is of some importance."

"Well, stranger, I should reckon you might do that with a dog-gone good
outfit.  Murphy 's sure to take things pretty easy to-day, and he's
almost certain to follow the old mining trail as far as the ford over
the Belle Fourche, and that's plain enough to travel.  Beyond that
point the devil only knows where he will go, for then is when his hard
ridin' begins."

The moment the operator mentioned that odd scar on Murphy's hand, every
vestige of hesitation vanished.  Beyond any possibility of doubt he was
on the right scent this time.  Murphy was riding north upon a mission
as desperate as ever man was called upon to perform.  The chance of his
coming forth alive from that Indian-haunted land was, as the operator
truthfully said, barely one out of a hundred.  Hampton thought of this.
He durst not venture all he was so earnestly striving after--love,
reputation, honor--to the chance of a stray Sioux bullet.  No! and he
remembered Naida again, her dark, pleading eyes searching his face.  To
the end, to the death if need were, he would follow!

The memory of his old plains craft would not permit any neglect of the
few necessaries for the trip.  He bought without haggling over prices,
but insisted on the best.  So it was four in the afternoon when he
finally struck into the trail leading northward.  This proved at first
a broad, plainly marked path, across the alkali plain.  He rode a
mettlesome, half-broken bronco, a wicked-eyed brute, which required to
be conquered twice within the first hour of travel; a second and more
quiet animal trailed behind at the end of a lariat, bearing the
necessary equipment.  Hampton forced the two into a rapid lope,
striving to make the most possible out of the narrow margin of daylight
remaining.

He had, by persistent questioning, acquired considerable information,
during that busy hour spent in Cheyenne, regarding the untracked
regions lying before him, as well as the character and disposition of
the man he pursued.  Both by instinct and training he was able to
comprehend those brief hints that must prove of vast benefit in the
pathless wilderness.  But the time had not yet arrived for him to dwell
on such matters.  His thoughts were concentrated on Murphy.  He knew
that the fellow was a stubborn, silent, sullen savage, devoid of
physical fear, yet cunning, wary, malignant, and treacherous.  That was
what they said of him back in Cheyenne.  What, then, would ever induce
such a man to open his mouth in confession of a long-hidden crime?  To
be sure, he might easily kill the fellow, but he would probably die,
like a wild beast, without uttering a word.

There was one chance, a faint hope, that behind his gruff, uncouth
exterior this Murphy possessed a conscience not altogether dead.  Over
some natures, and not infrequently to those which seem outwardly the
coarsest, superstition wields a power the normal mind can scarcely
comprehend.  Murphy might be spiritually as cringing a coward as he was
physically a fearless desperado.  Hampton had known such cases before;
he had seen men laugh scornfully before the muzzle of a levelled gun,
and yet tremble when pointed at by the finger of accusation.  He had
lived sufficiently long on the frontier to know that men may become
inured to that special form of danger to which they have grown
accustomed through repetition, and yet fail to front the unknown and
mysterious.  Perhaps here might be discovered Murphy's weak point.
Without doubt the man was guilty of crime; that its memory continued to
haunt him was rendered evident by his hiding in Glencaid, and by his
desperate attempt to kill Hampton.  That knife-thrust must have been
given with the hope of thus stopping further investigation; it alone
was sufficient proof that Murphy's soul was haunted by fear.

"Conscience doth make cowards of us all."  These familiar words floated
in Hampton's memory, seeming to attune themselves to the steady gallop
of his horse.  They appealed to him as a direct message of guidance.
The night was already dark, but stars were gleaming brilliantly
overhead, and the trail remained easily traceable.  It became terribly
lonely on that wilderness stretching away for unknown leagues in every
direction, yet Hampton scarcely noted this, so watchful was he lest he
miss the trail.  To his judgment, Murphy would not be likely to ride
during the night until after he had crossed the Fourche.  There was no
reason to suspect that there were any hostile Indians south of that
stream, and probably therefore the old scout would endeavor to conserve
his own strength and that of his horses, for the more perilous travel
beyond.  Hampton hastened on, his eyes peering anxiously ahead into the
steadily increasing gloom.

About midnight, the trail becoming obscure, the rider made camp,
confident he must have already gained heavily on the man he pursued.
He lariated his horses, and flinging himself down on some soft turf,
almost immediately dropped asleep.  He was up again before daylight,
and, after a hasty meal, pressed on.  The nature of the country had
changed considerably, becoming more broken, the view circumscribed by
towering cliffs and deep ravines.  Hampton swung forward his
field-glasses, and, from the summit of every eminence, studied the
topography of the country lying beyond.  He must see before being seen,
and he believed he could not now be many miles in the rear of Murphy.

Late in the afternoon he reined up his horse and gazed forward into a
broad valley, bounded with precipitous bluffs.  The trail, now scarcely
perceptible, led directly down, winding about like some huge snake,
across the lower level, toward where a considerable stream of water
shone silvery in the sun, half concealed behind a fringe of willows.
Beyond doubt this was the Belle Fourche.  And yonder, close in against
those distant willows, some black dots were moving.  Hampton glued his
anxious eyes to the glass.  The levelled tubes clearly revealed a man
on horseback, leading another horse.  The animals were walking.  There
could be little doubt that this was Silent Murphy.

Hampton lariated his tired horses behind the bluff, and returned to the
summit, lying flat upon the ground, with the field-glass at his eyes.
The distant figures passed slowly forward into the midst of the
willows, and for half an hour the patient watcher scanned the surface
of the stream beyond, but there was no sign of attempted passage.  The
sun sank lower, and finally disappeared behind those desolate ridges to
the westward.  Hampton's knowledge of plains craft rendered Murphy's
actions sufficiently clear.  This was the Fourche; beyond those waters
lay the terrible peril of Indian raiders.  Further advance must be made
by swift, secret night riding, and never-ceasing vigilance.  This was
what Murphy had been saving himself and his horses for.  Beyond
conjecture, he was resting now within the shadows of those willows,
studying the opposite shore and making ready for the dash northward.
Hampton believed he would linger thus for some time after dark, to see
if Indian fires would afford any guidance.  Confident of this, he
passed back to his horses, rubbed them down with grass, and then ate
his lonely supper, not venturing to light a fire, certain that Murphy's
eyes were scanning every inch of sky-line.

Darkness came rapidly, while Hampton sat planning again the details of
his night's work.  The man's spirits became depressed by the gloom and
the silence.  Evil fancies haunted his brain.  His mind dwelt upon the
past, upon that wrong which had wrecked his life, upon the young girl
he had left praying for his safe return, upon that miserable creature
skulking yonder in the black night.  Hampton could not remember when he
had ever performed such an act before, nor could he have explained why
he did so then, yet he prayed--prayed for the far-off Naida, and for
personal guidance in the stern work lying before him.  And when he rose
to his feet and groped his way to the horses, there remained no spirit
of vengeance in his heart, no hatred, merely a cool resolve to succeed
in his strange quest.  So, the two animals trailing cautiously behind,
he felt his slow way on foot down the steep bluff, into the denser
blackness of the valley.




CHAPTER III

THE HAUNTING OF A CRIME

Murphy rested on his back in the midst of a thicket of willows, wide
awake, yet not quite ready to ford the Fourche and plunge into the
dense shadows shrouding the northern shore.  Crouched behind a log, he
had so far yielded unto temptation as to light his pipe.

Murphy had been amid just such unpleasant environments many times
before, and the experience had grown somewhat prosaic.  He realized
fully the imminent peril haunting the next two hundred miles, but such
danger was not wholly unwelcome to his peculiar temperament; rather it
was an incentive to him, and, without a doubt, he would manage to pull
through somehow, as he had done a hundred times before.  Even
Indian-scouting degenerates into a commonplace at last.  So Murphy
puffed contentedly at his old pipe.  Whatever may have been his
thoughts, they did not burst through his taciturnity, and he reclined
there motionless, no sound breaking the silence, save the rippling
waters of the Fourche, and the occasional stamping of his horses as
they cropped the succulent valley grass.

But suddenly there was the faint crackle of a branch to his left, and
one hand instantly closed over his pipe bowl, the other grasping the
heavy revolver at his hip.  Crouching like a startled tiger, with not a
muscle moving, he peered anxiously into the darkness, his arm half
extended, scarcely venturing to breathe.  There came a plain,
undisguised rustling in the grass,--some prowling coyote, probably;
then his tense muscles immediately relaxed, and he cursed himself for
being so startled, yet he continued to grasp the "45" in his right
hand, his eyes alert.

"Murphy!"

That single word, hurled thus unexpectedly out of the black night,
startled him more than would a volley of rifles.  He sprang half erect,
then as swiftly crouched behind a willow, utterly unable to articulate.
In God's name, what human could be out there to call?  He would have
sworn that there was not another white man within a radius of a hundred
miles.  For the instant his very blood ran cold; he appeared to shrivel
up.

"Oh, come, Murphy; speak up, man; I know you're in here."

That terror of the unknown instantly vanished.  This was the familiar
language of the world, and, however the fellow came to be there, it was
assuredly a man who spoke.  With a gurgling oath at his own folly,
Murphy's anger flared violently forth into disjointed speech, the
deadly gun yet clasped ready for instant action.

"Who--the hell--are ye?" he blurted out.

The visitor laughed, the bushes rustling as he pushed toward the sound
of the voice.  "It's all right, old boy.  Gave ye quite a scare, I
reckon."

Murphy could now dimly perceive the other advancing through the
intervening willows, and his Colt shot up to the level.  "Stop!--ye
take another--step an' I 'll--let drive.  Ye tell me--first--who ye be."

The invader paused, but he realized the nervous finger pressing the
trigger and made haste to answer.  "It's all right, I tell ye.  I 'm
one o' Terry's scouts."

"Ye are?  Jist the same--I've heard--yer voice--afore."

"Likely 'nough.  I saw service in the Seventh."

Murphy was still a trifle suspicious.  "How'd ye git yere?  How 'd ye
come ter know--whar I wus?"

The man laughed again.  "Sorter hurts yer perfessional feelins, don't
it, old feller, to be dropped in on in this unceremonious way?  But it
was dead easy, old man.  Ye see I happened thro' Cheyenne only a couple
o' hours behind ye, with a bunch o' papers fer the Yellowstone.  The
trail's plain enough out this far, and I loped 'long at a pretty fair
hickory, so thet I was up on the bluff yonder, and saw ye go into camp
yere just afore dark.  You wus a-keepin' yer eyes skinned across the
Fourche, and naturally didn't expect no callers from them hills behind.
The rest wus nuthin', an' here I am.  It's a darn sight pleasanter ter
hev company travellin', ter my notion.  Now kin I cum on?"

Murphy reluctantly lowered his Colt, every movement betraying
annoyance.  "I reckon.  But I 'd--a damn sight--rather risk it--alone."

The stranger came forward without further hesitation.  The night was
far too dark to reveal features, but to Murphy's strained vision the
newcomer appeared somewhat slender in build, and of good height.

"Whar'd--ye say ye--wus bound?"

"Mouth o' the Powder.  We kin ride tergether fer a night or two."

"Ye kin--do as ye--please, but--I ain't a huntin'--no company,--an' I'm
a'--goin' 'cross now."

He advanced a few strides toward his horses.  Then suddenly he gave
vent to a smothered cry, so startling as to cause the stranger to
spring hastily after him.

"Oh!  My God!  Oh!  Look there!"

"What is it, man?"

"There!  there!  The picture!  Don't you see?"

"Naw; I don't see nuthin'.  Ye ain't gone cracked, hev ye?  Whose
picture?"

"It's there!--O Lord!--it's there!  My God! can't ye see?--An' it's his
face--all a-gleamin' with green flames--Holy Mary--an' I ain't seen
it--afore in--fifteen year!"

He seemed suddenly to collapse, and the stranger permitted him to drop
limp to the earth.

"Darn if I kin see anythin', old man, but I 'll scout 'round thar a
bit, jest ter ease yer mind, an' see what I kin skeer up."

He had hardly taken a half-dozen steps before Murphy called after him:
"Don't--don't go an' leave me--it's not there now--thet's queer!"

The other returned and stood gazing down upon his huddled figure.
"You're a fine scout! afeard o' spooks.  Do ye take these yere turns
often?  Fer if ye do, I reckon as how I 'd sooner be ridin' alone."

Murphy struggled to his feet and gripped the other's arm.  "Never hed
nuthin' like it--afore.  But--but it was thar--all creepy--an'
green--ain't seen thet face--in fifteen year."

"What face?"

"A--a fellow I knew--once.  He--he's dead."

The other grunted, disdainfully.  "Bad luck ter see them sort," he
volunteered, solemnly.  "Blame glad it warn't me es see it, an' I don't
know as I keer much right now 'bout keepin' company with ye fer very
long.  However, I reckon if either of us calculates on doin' much
ridin' ternight, we better stop foolin' with ghosts, an' go ter
saddlin' up."

They made rapid work of it, the newcomer proving somewhat loquacious,
yet holding his voice to a judicious whisper, while Murphy relapsed
into his customary sullen silence, but continued peering about
nervously.  It was he who led the way down the bank, the four horses
slowly splashing through the shallow water to the northern shore.
Before them stretched a broad plain, the surface rocky and uneven, the
northern stars obscured by ridges of higher land.  Murphy promptly gave
his horse the spur, never once glancing behind, while the other
imitated his example, holding his animal well in check, being
apparently the better mounted.

They rode silently.  The unshod hoofs made little noise, but a loosened
canteen tinkled on Murphy's led horse, and he halted to fix it,
uttering a curse.  The way became more broken and rough as they
advanced, causing them to exercise greater caution.  Murphy clung to
the hollows, apparently guided by some primitive instinct to choose the
right path, or else able, like a cat, to see the way through the gloom,
his beacon a huge rock to the northward.  Silently hour after hour,
galloping, trotting, walking, according to the ground underfoot, the
two pressed grimly forward, with the unerring skill of the border, into
the untracked wilderness.  Flying clouds obscured the stars, yet
through the rifts they caught fleeting glimpses sufficient to hold them
to their course.  And the encroaching hills swept in closer upon either
hand, leaving them groping their way between as in a pocket, yet ever
advancing north.

Finally they attained to the steep bank of a considerable stream, found
the water of sufficient depth to compel swimming, and crept up the
opposite shore dripping and miserable, yet with ammunition dry.  Murphy
stood swearing disjointedly, wiping the blood from a wound in his
forehead where the jagged edge of a rock had broken the skin, but
suddenly stopped with a quick intake of breath that left him panting.
The other man crept toward him, leading his horse.

"What is it now?" he asked, gruffly.  "Hev' ye got 'em agin?"

The dazed old scout stared, pointing directly across the other's
shoulder, his arm shaking desperately.

"It's thar!--an' it's his face!  Oh, God!--I know it--fifteen year."

The man glanced backward into the pitch darkness, but without moving
his body.

"There 's nuthin' out there, 'less it's a firefly," he insisted, in a
tone of contempt.  "You're plum crazy, Murphy; the night's got on yer
nerves.  What is it ye think ye see?"

"His face, I tell ye!  Don't I know?  It's all green and ghastly, with
snaky flames playin' about it!  But I know; fifteen years, an' I ain't
fergot."

He sank down feebly--sank until he was on his knees, his head craned
forward.  The man watching touched the miserable, hunched-up figure
compassionately, and it shook beneath his hand, endeavoring to shrink
away.

"My God! was thet you?  I thought it was him a-reachin' fer me.  Here,
let me take yer hand.  Oh, Lord!  An' can't ye see?  It's just there
beyond them horses--all green, crawlin', devilish--but it's him."

"Who?"

"Brant!  Brant--fifteen year!"

"Brant?  Fifteen years?  Do you mean Major Brant, the one Nolan killed
over at Bethune?"

"He--he didn't--"

The old man heaved forward, his head rocking from side to side; then
suddenly he toppled over on his face, gasping for breath.  His
companion caught him, and ripped open the heavy flannel shirt.  Then he
strode savagely across in front of his shrinking horse, tore down the
flaring picture, and hastily thrust it into his pocket, the light of
the phosphorus with which it had been drawn being reflected for a
moment on his features.

"A dirty, miserable, low-down trick," he muttered.  "Poor old devil!
Yet I've got to do it, for the little girl."

He stumbled back through the darkness, his hat filled with water, and
dashed it into Murphy's face.  "Come on, Murphy!  There's one good
thing 'bout spooks; they don't hang 'round fer long at a time.  Likely
es not this 'un is gone by now.  Brace up, man, for you an' I have got
ter get out o' here afore mornin'."

Then Murphy grasped his arm, and drew himself slowly to his feet.

"Don't see nuthin' now, do ye?"

"No.  Where's my--horse?"

The other silently reached him the loose rein, marking as he did so the
quick, nervous peering this way and that, the starting at the slightest
sound.

"Did ye say, Murphy, as how it wasn't Nolan after all who plugged the
Major?"

"I 'm damned--if I did.  Who--else was it?"

"Why, I dunno.  Sorter blamed odd though, thet ghost should be
a-hauntin' ye.  Darn if it ain't creepy 'nough ter make a feller
believe most anythin'."

Murphy drew himself up heavily into his saddle.  Then all at once he
shoved the muzzle of a "45" into the other's face.  "Ye say nuther
word--'bout thet, an' I 'll make--a ghost outer ye--blame lively.  Now,
ye shet up--if ye ride with me."

They moved forward at a walk and reached a higher level, across which
the night wind swept, bearing a touch of cold in its breath as though
coming from the snow-capped mountains to the west.  There was renewed
life in this invigorating air, and Murphy spurred forward, his
companion pressing steadily after.  They were but two flitting shadows
amid that vast desolation of plain and mountain, their horses' hoofs
barely audible.  What imaginings of evil, what visions of the past, may
have filled the half-crazed brain of the leading horseman is
unknowable.  He rode steadily against the black night wall, as though
unconscious of his actions, yet forgetting no trick, no skill of the
plains.  But the equally silent man behind clung to him like a shadow
of doom, watching his slightest motion--a Nemesis that would never let
go.

When the first signs of returning day appeared in the east, the two
left their horses in a narrow canyon, and crept to the summit of a
ridge.  Below lay the broad valley of the Powder.  Slowly the misty
light strengthened into gray, and became faintly tinged with crimson,
while the green and brown tints deepened beneath the advancing light,
which ever revealed new clefts in the distant hills.  Amid those more
northern bluffs a thin spiral of blue smoke was ascending.  Undoubtedly
it was some distant Indian signal, and the wary old plainsman watched
it as if fascinated.  But the younger man lay quietly regarding him, a
drawn revolver in his hand.  Then Murphy turned his head, and looked
back into the other's face.




CHAPTER IV

THE VERGE OF CONFESSION

Murphy uttered one sputtering cry of surprise, flinging his hand
instinctively to his hip, but attempted no more.  Hampton's ready
weapon was thrusting its muzzle into the astounded face, and the gray
eyes gleaming along the polished barrel held the fellow motionless.

"Hands up!  Not a move, Murphy!  I have the drop!"  The voice was low,
but stern, and the old frontiersman obeyed mechanically, although his
seamed face was fairly distorted with rage.

"You!  Damn you!--I thought I knew--the voice."

"Yes, I am here all right.  Rather odd place for us to meet, isn't it?
But, you see, you've had the advantage all these years; you knew whom
you were running away from, while I was compelled to plod along in the
dark.  But I 've caught up just the same, if it has been a long race."

"What do ye--want me fer?"  The look in the face was cunning.

"Hold your hands quiet--higher, you fool!  That's it.  Now, don't play
with me.  I honestly didn 't know for certain I did want you, Murphy,
when I first started out on this trip.  I merely suspected that I
might, from some things I had been told.  When somebody took the
liberty of slashing at my back in a poker-room at Glencaid, and drove
the knife into Slavin by mistake, I chanced to catch a glimpse of the
hand on the hilt, and there was a scar on it.  About fifteen years
before, I was acting as officer of the guard one night at Bethune.  It
was a bright starlit night, you remember, and just as I turned the
corner of the old powder-house there came a sudden flash, a report, a
sharp cry.  I sprang forward only to fall headlong over a dead body;
but in that flash I had seen the hand grasping the revolver, and there
was a scar on the back of it, a very peculiar scar.  It chanced I had
the evening previous slightly quarrelled with the officer who was
killed; I was the only person known to be near at the time he was shot;
certain other circumstantial evidence was dug up, while Slavin and one
other--no, it was not you--gave some damaging, manufactured testimony
against me.  As a result I was held guilty of murder in the second
degree, dismissed the army in disgrace, and sentenced to ten years'
imprisonment.  So, you see, it was not exactly you I have been hunting,
Murphy,--it was a scar."

Murphy's face was distorted into a hideous grin.  "I notice you bear
exactly that kind of a scar, my man, and you spoke last night as if you
had some recollection of the case."

The mocking grin expanded; into the husky voice crept a snarl of
defiance, for now Murphy's courage had come back--he was fronting flesh
and blood.  "Oh, stop preachin'--an' shoot--an' be damned ter ye!"

"You do me a grave injustice, Murphy.  In the first place, I do not
possess the nature of an Indian, and am not out for revenge.  Your
slashing at me down in Glencaid has n't left so much as a sting behind.
It's completely blotted out, forgotten.  I haven't the slightest desire
to kill you, man; but I do want to clear my name of the stain of that
crime.  I want you to tell the whole truth about that night's work at
Bethune; and when you have done so, you can go.  I 'll never lay a
finger on you; you can go where you please."

"Bah!--ye ain't got no proof--agin me--'sides, the case is closed--it
can't be opened agin--by law."

"You devil!  I 'd be perfectly justified in killing you," exclaimed
Hampton, savagely.

Murphy stared at him stupidly, the cunning of incipient insanity in his
eyes.  "En' whar--do ye expect--me ter say--all this, pervidin', of
course--I wus fule 'nough--ter do it?"

"Up yonder before Custer and the officers of the Seventh, when we get
in."

"They'd nab me--likely."

"Now, see here, you say it is impossible for them to touch you, because
the case is closed legally.  Now, you do not care very much for the
opinion of others, while from every other standpoint you feel perfectly
safe.  But I 've had to suffer for your crime, Murphy, suffer for
fifteen years, ten of them behind stone walls; and there are others who
have suffered with me.  It has cost me love, home, all that a man holds
dear.  I 've borne this punishment for you, paid the penalty of your
act to the full satisfaction of the law.  The very least you can do in
ordinary decency is to speak the truth now.  It will not hurt you, but
it will lift me out of hell."

Murphy's eyes were cunning, treacherously shifting under the thatch of
his heavy brows; he was like an old rat seeking for any hole of refuge.
"Well--maybe I might.  Anyhow, I'll go on--with ye.  Kin I sit up?  I
'm dog tired--lyin' yere."

"Unbuckle your belt, and throw that over first."

"I'm damned--if I will.  Not--in no Injun--country."

"I know it's tough," retorted Hampton, with exasperating coolness, his
revolver's muzzle held steady; "but, just the same, it's got to be
done.  I know you far too well to take chances on your gun.  So
unlimber."

"Oh, I--guess not," and Murphy spat contemptuously.  "Do ye think--I 'm
afeard o' yer--shootin'?  Ye don't dare--fer I 'm no good ter ye--dead."

"You are perfectly right.  You are quite a philosopher in your way.
You would be no good to me dead, Murphy, but you might prove fully as
valuable maimed.  Now I 'm playing this game to the limit, and that
limit is just about reached.  You unlimber before I count ten, you
murderer, or I 'll spoil both your hands!"

The mocking, sardonic grin deserted Murphy's features.  It was sullen
obstinacy, not doubt of the other's purpose, that paralyzed him.

"Unlimber!  It's the last call."

With a snarl the scout unclasped his army belt, dropped it to the
ground, and sullenly kicked it over toward Hampton.  "Now--now--you,
you gray-eyed--devil, kin I--sit up?"

The other nodded.  He had drawn the fangs of the wolf, and now that he
no longer feared, a sudden, unexplainable feeling of sympathy took
possession of him.  Yet he drew farther away before slipping his own
gun into its sheath.  For a time neither spoke, their eyes peering
across the ridge.  Murphy sputtered and swore, but his victorious
companion neither spoke nor moved.  There were several distant smokes
out to the northward now, evidently the answering signals of different
bands of savages, while far away, beneath the shadow of the low bluffs
bordering the stream, numerous black, moving dots began to show against
the light brown background.  Hampton, noticing that Murphy had stopped
swearing to gaze, swung forward his field-glasses for a better view.

"They are Indians, right enough," he said, at last.  "Here, take a
look, Murphy.  I could count about twenty in that bunch, and they are
travelling north."

The older man adjusted the tubes to his eyes, and looked long and
steadily at the party.  Then he slowly swung the glasses toward the
northwest, apparently studying the country inch by inch, his jaws
working spasmodically, his unoccupied hand clutching nervously at the
grass.

"They seem--to be a-closin' in," he declared, finally, staring around
into the other's face, all bravado gone.  "There's anuther lot--bucks,
all o' 'em--out west yonder--an' over east a smudge is--just startin'.
Looks like--we wus in a pocket--an' thar' might be some--har-raisin'
fore long."

"Well, Murphy, you are the older hand at this business.  What do you
advise doing?"

"Me?  Why, push right 'long--while we kin keep under cover.
Then--after dark--trust ter bull luck an' make--'nuther dash.  It's
mostly luck, anyhow.  Thet canyon just ahead--looks like it leads a
long way--toward the Powder.  Its middling deep down, an' if there
ain't Injuns in it--them fellers out yonder--never cud git no sight at
us.  Thet's my notion--thet ivery mile helps in this--business."

"You mean we should start now?"

"Better--let the cattle rest--first.  An'--if ye ever feed prisoners--I
'd like ter eat a bite--mesilf."

They rested there for over two hours, the tired horses contentedly
munching the succulent grass of the _coulee_, their two masters
scarcely exchanging a word.  Murphy, after satisfying his appetite,
rested flat upon his back, one arm flung over his eyes to protect them
from the sun.  For a considerable time Hampton supposed him asleep,
until he accidentally caught the stealthy glance which followed his
slightest movement, and instantly realized that the old weasel was
alert.  Murphy had been beaten, yet evidently remained unconquered,
biding his chance with savage stoicism, and the other watched him
warily even while seeming to occupy himself with the field-glass.

At last they saddled up, and, at first leading their horses, passed
down the _coulee_ into the more precipitous depths of the narrow
canyon.  This proved hardly more than a gash cut through the rolling
prairie, rock strewn, holding an insignificant stream of brackish
water, yet was an ideal hiding-place, having ample room for easy
passage between the rock walls.  The men mounted, and Hampton, with a
wave of his hand, bade the old scout assume the lead.

Their early advance was slow and cautious, as they never felt certain
what hidden enemies might lurk behind the sharp corners of the winding
defile, and they kept vigilant eyes upon the serrated sky-line.  The
savages were moving north, and so were they.  It would be remarkably
good fortune if they escaped running into some wandering band, or if
some stray scout did not stumble upon their trail.  So they continued
to plod on.

It was fully three o'clock when they attained to the bank of the
Powder, and crouched among the rocks to wait for the shades of night to
shroud their further advance.  Murphy climbed the bluff for a wider
view, bearing Hampton's field-glasses slung across his shoulder, for
the latter would not leave him alone with the horses.  He returned
finally to grunt out that there was nothing special in sight, except a
shifting of those smoke signals to points farther north.  Then they lay
down again, Hampton smoking, Murphy either sleeping or pretending to
sleep.  And slowly the shadows of another black night swept down and
shut them in.

It must have been two hours later when they ventured forth.  Silence
and loneliness brooded everywhere, not so much as a breath of air
stirring the leaves.  The unspeakable, unsolvable mystery of it all
rested like a weight on the spirits of both men.  It, was a disquieting
thought that bands of savages, eager to discover and slay, were
stealing among the shadows of those trackless plains, and that they
must literally feel their uncertain way through the cordon, every sound
an alarm, every advancing step a fresh peril.  They crossed the swift,
deep stream, and emerged dripping, chilled to the marrow by the icy
water.  Then they swung stiffly into the wet saddles, and plunged, with
almost reckless abandon, through the darkness.  Murphy continued to
lead, the light tread of his horse barely audible, Hampton pressing
closely behind, revolver in hand, the two pack-horses trailing in the
rear.  Hampton had no confidence in his sullen, treacherous companion;
he looked for early trouble, yet he had little fear regarding any
attempt at escape now.  Murphy was a plainsman, and would realize the
horror of being alone, unarmed, and without food on those demon-haunted
prairies.  Besides, the silent man behind was astride the better animal.

Midnight, and they pulled up amid the deeper gloom of a great,
overhanging bluff, having numerous trees near its summit.  There was
the glow of a distant fire upon their left, which reddened the sky, and
reflected oddly on the edges of a vast cloud-mass rolling up
threateningly from the west.  Neither knew definitely where they were,
although Murphy guessed the narrow stream they had just forded might be
the upper waters of the Tongue.  Their horses stood with heads hanging
wearily down, their sides rising and falling; and Hampton, rolling
stiffly from the saddle, hastily loosened his girth.

"They 'll drop under us if we don't give them an hour or two," he said,
quietly.  "They 're both dead beat."

Murphy muttered something, incoherent and garnished with oaths, and the
moment he succeeded in releasing the buckle, sank down limp at the very
feet of his horse, rolling up into a queer ball.  The other stared, and
took a step nearer.

"What's the matter?  Are you sick, Murphy?"

"No--tired--don't want ter see--thet thing agin."

"What thing?"

"Thet green, devilish,--crawlin' face--if ye must know!"  And he
twisted his long, ape-like arms across his eyes, lying curled up as a
dog might.

For a moment Hampton stood gazing down upon him, listening to his
incoherent mutterings, his own face grave and sympathetic.  Then he
moved back and sat down.  Suddenly the full conception of what this
meant came to his mind--_the man had gone mad_.  The strained cords of
that diseased brain had snapped in the presence of imagined terrors,
and now all was chaos.  The horror of it overwhelmed Hampton; not only
did this unexpected denouement leave him utterly hopeless, but what was
he to do with the fellow?  How could he bring him forth from there
alive?  If this stream was indeed the Tongue, then many a mile of rough
country, ragged with low mountains and criss-crossed by deep ravines,
yet stretched between where they now were and the Little Big Horn,
where they expected to find Custer's men.  They were in the very heart
of the Indian country,--the country of the savage Sioux.  He stared at
the curled-up man, now silent and breathing heavily as if asleep.  The
silence was profound, the night so black and lonely that Hampton
involuntarily closed his heavy eyes to shut it out.  If he only might
light a pipe, or boil himself a cup of black coffee!  Murphy never
stirred; the horses were seemingly too weary to browse.  Then Hampton
nodded, and sank into an uneasy doze.




CHAPTER V

ALONE WITH THE INSANE

Beneath the shade of uplifted arms Murphy's eyes remained unclosed.
Whatever terrors may have dominated that diseased brain, the one
purpose of revenge and escape never deserted it.  With patient cunning
he could plan and wait, scheme and execute.  He was all animal now,
dreaming only of how to tear and kill.

And he waited long in order to be perfectly sure, unrolling inch by
inch, and like a venomous snake, never venturing to withdraw his
baleful eyes from his unconscious victim.  He was many minutes
thoroughly satisfying himself that Hampton actually slept.  His every
movement was slow, crafty, cowardly, the savage in his perverted nature
becoming more and more manifest.  It was more beast than man that
finally crept forward on all-fours, the eyes gleaming cruel as a cat's
in the night.  It was not far he was compelled to go, his movements
squirming and noiseless.  Within a yard of the peacefully slumbering
man he rose up, crouching on his toes and bending stealthily forward to
gloat over his victim.  Hampton stirred uneasily, possibly feeling the
close proximity of that horrible presence.  Then the maniac took one
more stealthy, slouching step nearer, and flung himself at the exposed
throat, uttering a fierce snarl as his fingers clutched the soft flesh.
Hampton awoke, gasping and choking, to find those mad eyes glaring into
his own, those murderous hands throttling him with the strength of
madness.

At first the stupefied, half-awakened man struggled as if in delirium,
scarcely realizing the danger.  He was aware of suffering, of horror,
of suffocation.  Then the brain flashed into life, and he grappled
fiercely with his dread antagonist.  Murphy snapped like a mad dog, his
lips snarling curses; but Hampton fought silently, desperately, his
brain clearing as he succeeded in wrenching those claws from his
lacerated throat, and forced his way up on to one knee.  He felt no
hatred toward this crazed man striving to kill him; he understood what
had loosed such a raging devil.  But this was no time to exhibit mercy;
Murphy bit and clawed, and Hampton could only dash in upon him in the
effort to force him back.  He worked his way, inch by inch, to his
feet, his slender figure rigid as steel, and closed in upon the other;
but Murphy writhed out of his grasp, as a snake might.  The younger man
realized now to the full his peril, and his hand slipped down to the
gun upon his hip.  There was a sudden glint in the faint starlight as
he struck, and the stunned maniac went down quivering, and lay
motionless on the hard ground.  For a moment the other remained
standing over him, the heavy revolver poised, but the prostrate figure
lay still, and the conqueror slipped his weapon back into its leather
sheath with a sigh of relief.

The noise of their struggle must have carried far through that solemn
stillness, and no one could guess how near at hand might be bands of
prowling savages.  Yet no sound came to his strained ears except the
soft soughing of the night wind through the trees, and the rustling of
grass beneath the tread of the horses.  With the quick decision of one
long accustomed to meet emergencies, Hampton unbuckled the lariat from
one of the led animals, and bound Murphy's hands and limbs securely.

As he worked he thought rapidly.  He comprehended the extreme
desperation of their present situation.  While the revolver blow might
possibly restore Murphy to a degree of sanity, it was far more probable
that he would awaken violent.  Yet he could not deliberately leave this
man to meet a fate of horror in the wilderness.  Which way should they
turn?  Enough food, if used sparingly, might remain to permit of a
hasty retreat to Cheyenne, and there would be comparatively little
danger in that direction.  All visible signs indicated that the
scattered Indian bands were rapidly consolidating to the northward,
closing in on those troops scouting the Yellowstone, with determination
to give early battle.  Granting that the stream they were now on should
prove to be the Tongue, then the direct route toward where Custer was
supposed to be would be northwest, leading ever deeper into the lonely
wilderness, and toward more imminent peril.  Then, at the end of that
uncertain journey, they might easily miss Custer's column.  That which
would have been quickly decided had he been alone became a most serious
problem when considered in connection with the insane, helpless scout.
But then, there were the despatches!  They must be of vital importance
to have required the sending of Murphy forth on so dangerous a ride;
other lives, ay, the result of the entire campaign, might depend upon
their early delivery.  Hampton had been a soldier, the spirit of the
service was still with him, and that thought brought him to final
decision.  Unless they were halted by Sioux bullets, they would push on
toward the Big Horn, and Custer should have the papers.

He knelt down beside Murphy, unbuckled the leather despatch-bag, and
rebuckled it across his own shoulder.  Then he set to work to revive
the prostrate man.  The eyes, when opened, stared up at him, wild and
glaring; the ugly face bore the expression of abject fear.  The man was
no longer violent; he had become a child, frightened at the dark.  His
ceaseless babbling, his incessant cries of terror, only rendered more
precarious any attempt at pressing forward through a region overrun
with hostiles.  But Hampton had resolved.

Securely strapping Murphy to his saddle, and packing all their
remaining store of provisions upon one horse, leaving the other to
follow or remain behind as it pleased, he advanced directly into the
hills, steering by aid of the stars, his left hand ever on Murphy's
bridle rein, his low voice of expostulation seeking to calm the other's
wild fancies and to curb his violent speech.  It was a weird, wild ride
through the black night, unknown ground under foot, unseen dangers upon
every hand.  Murphy's aberrations changed from shrieking terror to a
wild, uncontrollable hilarity, with occasional outbursts of violent
anger, when it required all Hampton's iron will and muscle to conquer
him.

At dawn they were in a narrow gorge among the hills, a dark and gloomy
hole, yet a peculiarly safe spot in which to hide, having steep, rocky
ledges on either side, with sufficient grass for the horses.  Leaving
Murphy bound, Hampton clambered up the front of the rock to where he
was able to look out.  All was silent, and his heart sank as he
surveyed the brown sterile hills stretching to the horizon, having
merely narrow gulches of rock and sand between, the sheer nakedness of
the picture unrelieved by green shrub or any living thing.  Then,
almost despairing, he slid back, stretched himself out amid the soft
grass, and sank into the slumber of exhaustion, his last conscious
memory the incoherent babbling of his insane companion.

He awoke shortly after noon, feeling refreshed and renewed in both body
and mind.  Murphy was sleeping when he first turned to look at him, but
he awoke in season to be fed, and accepted the proffered food with all
the apparent delight of a child.  While he rested, their remaining
pack-animal had strayed, and Hampton was compelled to go on with only
the two horses, strapping the depleted store of provisions behind his
own saddle.  Then he carefully hoisted Murphy into place and bound his
feet beneath the animal's belly, the poor fellow gibbering at him, in
appearance an utter imbecile, although exhibiting periodic flashes of
malignant passion.  Then he resumed the journey down one of those
sand-strewn depressions pointing toward the Rosebud, pressing the
refreshed ponies into a canter, confident now that their greatest
measure of safety lay in audacity.

Apparently his faith in the total desertion of these "bad lands" by the
Indians was fully justified, for they continued steadily mile after
mile, meeting with no evidence of life anywhere.  Still the travelling
was good, with here and there little streams of icy water trickling
over the rocks.  They made most excellent progress, Hampton ever
grasping the bit of Murphy's horse, his anxious thought more upon his
helpless companion in misery than upon the possible perils of the route.

It was already becoming dusk when they swept down into a little nest of
green trees and grass.  It appeared so suddenly, and was such an
unexpected oasis amid that surrounding wilderness, that Hampton gave
vent to a sudden exclamation of delight.  But that was all.  Instantly
he perceived numerous dark forms leaping from out the shrubbery, and he
wheeled his horses to the left, lashing them into a rapid run.  It was
all over in a moment--a sputtering of rifles, a wild medley of cries, a
glimpse of savage figures, and the two were tearing down the rocks, the
din of pursuit dying away behind them.  The band were evidently all on
foot, yet Hampton continued to press his mount at a swift pace, taking
turn after turn about the sharp hills, confident that the hard earth
would leave no trace of their passage.

Then suddenly the horse he rode sank like a log, but his tight grip
upon the rein of the other landed him on his feet.  Murphy laughed, in
fiendish merriment; but Hampton looked down on the dead horse, noting
the stream of blood oozing out from behind the shoulder.  A stray Sioux
bullet had found its mark, but the gallant animal had struggled on
until it dropped lifeless; and the brave man it had borne so long and
so well bent down and stroked tenderly the unconscious head.  Then he
shifted the provisions to the back of the other horse, grasped the
loose rein once more in his left hand, and started forward on foot.




CHAPTER VI

ON THE LITTLE BIG HORN

N Troop, guarding, much to their emphatically expressed disgust, the
more slowly moving pack-train, were following Custer's advancing column
of horsemen down the right bank of the Little Big Horn.  The troopers,
carbines at knee, sitting erect in their saddles, their faces browned
by the hot winds of the plains, were riding steadily northward.  Beside
them, mounted upon a rangy chestnut, Brant kept his watchful eyes on
those scattered flankers dotting the summit of the near-by bluff.
Suddenly one of these waved his hand eagerly, and the lieutenant went
dashing up the sharp ascent.

"What is it, now, Lane?"

"Somethin' movin' jist out yonder, sir," and the trooper pointed into
the southeast.  "They're down in a _coulee_ now, I reckon; but will be
up on a ridge agin in a minute.  I got sight of 'em twice afore I
waved."

The officer gazed earnestly in the direction indicated, and was almost
immediately rewarded by the glimpse of some indistinct, dark figures
dimly showing against the lighter background of sky.  He brought his
field-glasses to a focus.

"White men," he announced, shortly.  "Come with me."

At a brisk trot they rode out, the trooper lagging a pace to the rear,
the watchful eyes of both men sweeping suspiciously across the prairie.
The two parties met suddenly upon the summit of a sharp ridge, and
Brant drew in his horse with an exclamation of astonishment.  It was a
pathetic spectacle he stared at,--a horse scarcely able to stagger
forward, his flanks quivering from exhaustion, his head hanging limply
down; on his back, with feet strapped securely beneath and hands bound
to the high pommel, the lips grinning ferociously, perched a misshapen
creature clothed as a man.  Beside these, hatless, his shoes barely
holding together, a man of slender figure and sunburnt face held the
bridle-rein.  An instant they gazed at each other, the young officer's
eyes filled with sympathetic horror, the other staring apathetically at
his rescuer.

"My God!  Can this be you, Hampton?" and the startled lieutenant flung
himself from his horse.  "What does it mean?  Why are you here?"

Hampton, leaning against the trembling horse to keep erect, slowly
lifted his hand in a semblance of military salute.  "Despatches from
Cheyenne.  This is Murphy--went crazy out yonder.  For God's
sake--water, food!"

"Your canteen, Lane!" exclaimed Brant.  "Now hold this cup," and he
dashed into it a liberal supply of brandy from a pocket-flask.  "Drink
that all down, Hampton."

The man did mechanically as he was ordered, his hand never relaxing its
grasp of the rein.  Then a gleam of reawakened intelligence appeared in
his eyes; he glanced up into the leering countenance of Murphy, and
then back at those others.  "Give me another for him."

Brant handed to him the filled cup, noting as he did so the strange
steadiness of the hand which accepted it.  Hampton lifted the tin to
the figure in the saddle, his own gaze directed straight into the eyes
as he might seek to control a wild animal.

"Drink it," he commanded, curtly, "every drop!"

For an instant the maniac glared back at him sullenly; then he appeared
to shrink in terror, and drank swiftly.

"We can make the rest of the way now," Hampton announced, quietly.
"Lord, but this has been a trip!"

Lane dismounted at Brant's order, and assisted Hampton to climb into
the vacated saddle.  Then the trooper grasped the rein of Murphy's
horse, and the little party started toward where the pack-train was
hidden in the valley.  The young officer rode silent and at a walk, his
eyes occasionally studying the face of the other and noting its drawn,
gray look.  The very sight of Hampton had been a shock.  Why was he
here and with Murphy?  Could this strange journey have anything to do
with Naida?  Could it concern his own future, as well as hers?  He felt
no lingering jealousy of this man, for her truthful words had forever
settled that matter.  Yet who was he?  What peculiar power did he wield
over her life?

"Is Custer here?" said Hampton.

"No; that is, not with my party.  We are guarding the pack-train.  The
others are ahead, and Custer, with five troops, has moved to the right.
He is somewhere among those ridges back of the bluff."

The man turned and looked where the officer pointed, shading his eyes
with his hand.  Before him lay only the brown, undulating waves of
upland, a vast desert of burnt grass, shimmering under the hot sun.

"Can you give me a fresh horse, a bite to eat, and a cup of coffee,
down there?" he asked, anxiously.  "You see I 've got to go on."

"Go on?  Good God! man, do you realize what you are saying?  Why, you
can hardly sit the saddle!  You carry despatches, you say?  Well, there
are plenty of good men in my troop who will volunteer to take them on.
You need rest."

"Not much," said Hampton.  "I'm fit enough, or shall be as soon as I
get food.  Good Lord, boy, I am not done up yet, by a long way!  It's
the cursed loneliness out yonder," he swept his hand toward the
horizon, "and the having to care for him, that has broken my heart.  He
went that way clear back on the Powder, and it's been a fight between
us ever since.  I 'll be all right now if you lads will only look after
him.  This is going to reach Custer, and I'll take it!"  He flung back
his ragged coat, his hand on the despatch-bag.  "I 've earned the
right."

Brant reached forth his hand cordially.  "That's true; you have.
What's more, if you 're able to make the trip, there is no one here who
will attempt to stop you.  But now tell me how this thing happened.  I
want to know the story before we get in."

For a moment Hampton remained silent, his thoughtful gaze on the
near-by videttes, his hands leaning heavily upon the saddle pommel.
Perhaps he did not remember clearly; possibly he could not instantly
decide just how much of that story to tell.  Brant suspected this last
to be his difficulty, and he spoke impulsively.

"Hampton, there has been trouble and misunderstanding between us, but
that's all past and gone now.  I sincerely believe in your purpose of
right, and I ask you to trust me.  Either of us would give his life if
need were, to be of real service to a little girl back yonder in the
hills.  I don't know what you are to her; I don't ask.  I know she has
every confidence in you, and that is enough.  Now, I want to do what is
right with both of you, and if you have a word to say to me regarding
this matter, I 'll treat it confidentially.  This trip with Murphy has
some bearing upon Naida Gillis, has it not?"

"Yes."

"Will you tell me the story?"

The thoughtful gray eyes looked at him long and searchingly.  "Brant,
do you love that girl?"

Just as unwaveringly the blue eyes returned the look.  "I do.  I have
asked her to become my wife."

"And her answer?"

"She said no; that a dead man was between us."

"Is that all you know?"

The younger man bent his head, his face grave and perplexed.
"Practically all."

Hampton wet his dry lips with his tongue, his breath quickening.

"And in that she was right," he said at last, his eyes lowered to the
ground.  "I will tell you why.  It was the father of Naida Gillis who
was convicted of the murder of Major Brant."

"Oh, my father?  Is she Captain Nolan's daughter?  But you say
'convicted.'  Was there ever any doubt?  Do you question his being
guilty?"

Hampton pointed in silence to the hideous creature behind them.  "That
man could tell, but he has gone mad."

Brant endeavored to speak, but the words would not come; his brain
seemed paralyzed.  Hampton held himself under better control.

"I have confidence, Lieutenant Brant, in your honesty," he began,
gravely, "and I believe you will strive to do whatever is best for her,
if anything should happen to me out yonder.  But for the possibility of
my being knocked out, I would n't talk about this, not even to you.
The affair is a long way from being straightened out so as to make a
pleasant story, but I 'll give you all you actually require to know in
order to make it clear to her, provided I shouldn't come back.  You
see, she doesn't know very much more than you do--only what I was
obliged to tell to keep her from getting too deeply entangled with you.
Maybe I ought to have given her the full story before I started on this
trip.  I 've since wished I had, but you see, I never dreamed it was
going to end here, on the Big Horn; besides, I did n't have the nerve."

He swept his heavy eyes across the brown and desolate prairie, and back
to the troubled face of the younger man.  "You see, Brant, I feel that
I simply have to carry these despatches through.  I have a pride in
giving them to Custer myself, because of the trouble I 've had in
getting them here.  But perhaps I may not come back, and in that case
there would n't be any one living to tell her the truth.  That thought
has bothered me ever since I pulled out of Cheyenne.  It seems to me
that there is going to be a big fight somewhere in these hills before
long.  I 've seen a lot of Indians riding north within the last four
days, and they were all bucks, rigged out in war toggery, Sioux and
Cheyennes.  Ever since we crossed the Fourche those fellows have been
in evidence, and it's my notion that Custer has a heavier job on his
hands, right at this minute, than he has any conception of.  So I want
to leave these private papers with you until I come back.  It will
relieve my mind to know they are safe; if I don't come, then I want you
to open them and do whatever you decide is best for the little girl.
You will do that, won't you?"

He handed over a long manila envelope securely sealed, and the younger
man accepted it, noticing that it was unaddressed before depositing it
safely in an inner pocket of his fatigue jacket.

"Certainly, Hampton," he said.  "Is that all?"

"All except what I am going to tell you now regarding Murphy.  There is
no use my attempting to explain exactly how I chanced to find out all
these things, for they came to me little by little during several
years.  I knew Nolan, and I knew your father, and I had reason to doubt
the guilt of the Captain, in spite of the verdict of the jury that
condemned him.  In fact, I knew at the time, although it was not in my
power to prove it, that the two principal witnesses against Nolan lied.
I thought I could guess why, but we drifted apart, and finally I lost
all track of every one connected with the affair.  Then I happened to
pick up that girl down in the canyon beyond the Bear Water, and pulled
her out alive just because she chanced to be of that sex, and I could
n't stand to see her fall into Indian clutches.  I did n't feel any
special interest in her at the time, supposing she belonged to Old
Gillis, but she somehow grew on me--she's that kind, you know; and when
I discovered, purely by accident, that she was Captain Nolan's girl,
but that it all had been kept from her, I just naturally made up my
mind I 'd dig out the truth if I possibly could, for her sake.  The
fact is, I began to think a lot about her--not the way you do, you
understand; I'm getting too old for that, and have known too much about
women,--but maybe somewhat as a father might feel.  Anyhow, I wanted to
give her a chance, a square deal, so that she would n't be ashamed of
her own name if ever she found out what it was."

He paused, his eyes filled with memories, and passed his hand through
his uncovered hair.

"About that time I fell foul of Murphy and Slavin there in Glencaid,"
he went on quickly, as if anxious to conclude.  "I never got my eyes on
Murphy, you know, and Slavin was so changed by that big red beard that
I failed to recognize him.  But their actions aroused my suspicions,
and I went after them good and hard.  I wanted to find out what they
knew, and why those lies were told on Nolan at the trial.  I had an
idea they could tell me.  So, for a starter, I tackled Slavin,
supposing we were alone, and I was pumping the facts out of him
successfully by holding a gun under his nose, and occasionally jogging
his memory, when this fellow Murphy got excited, and _chasseed_ into
the game, but happened to nip his partner instead of me.  In the course
of our little scuffle I chanced to catch a glimpse of the fellow's
right hand, and it had a scar on the back of it that looked mighty
familiar.  I had seen it before, and I wanted to see it again.  So,
when I got out of that scrape, and the doctor had dug a stray bullet
out of my anatomy, there did n't seem to be any one left for me to
chase excepting Murphy, for Slavin was dead.  I was n't exactly sure he
was the owner of that scar, but I had my suspicions and wanted to
verify them.  Having struck his trail, I reached Cheyenne just about
four hours after he left there with these despatches for the Big Horn.
I caught up with the fellow on the south bank of the Belle Fourche, and
being well aware that no threats or gun play would ever force him to
confess the truth, I undertook to frighten him by trickery.  I brought
along some drawing-paper and drew your father's picture in phosphorus,
and gave him the benefit in the dark.  That caught Murphy all right,
and everything was coming my way.  He threw up his hands, and even
agreed to come in here with me, and tell the whole story, but the poor
fellow's brain could n't stand the strain of the scare I had given him.
He went raving mad on the Powder; he jumped on me while I was asleep,
and since then every mile has been a little hell.  That's the whole of
it to date."

They were up with the pack-train by now, and the cavalrymen gazed with
interest at the new arrivals.  Several among them seemed to recognize
Murphy, and crowded about his horse with rough expressions of sympathy.
Brant scarcely glanced at them, his grave eyes on Hampton's stern face.

"And what is it you wish me to do?"

"Take care of Murphy.  Don't let him remain alone for a minute.  If he
has any return of reason, compel him to talk.  He knows you, and will
be as greatly frightened at your presence and knowledge as at mine.
Besides, you have fully as much at stake as any one, for in no other
way can the existing barrier between Naida and yourself be broken down."

Insisting that now he felt perfectly fit for any service, the impatient
Hampton was quickly supplied with the necessary food and clothing,
while Murphy, grown violently abusive, was strapped on a litter between
two mules, a guard on either side.  Brant rode with the civilian on a
sharp trot as far as the head of the pack-train, endeavoring to the
very last to persuade the wearied man to relinquish this work to
another.

"Foster," he said to the sergeant in command of the advance, "did you
chance to notice just what _coulee_ Custer turned into when his column
swung to the right?"

"I think it must have been the second yonder, sir; where you see that
bunch of trees.  We was a long ways back, but I could see the boys
plain enough as they come out on the bluff up there.  Some of 'em waved
their hats back at us.  Is this man goin' after them, sir?"

"Yes, he has despatches from Cheyenne."

"Well, he ought ter have no trouble findin' the trail.  It ought ter be
'bout as plain as a road back in God's country, sir, fer there were
more than two hundred horses, and they'd leave a good mark even on hard
ground."

Brant held out his hand.  "I'll certainly do all in my power, Hampton,
to bring this out right.  You can rely on that, and I will be faithful
to the little girl.  Now, just a word to guide you regarding our
situation here.  We have every reason for believing that the Sioux are
in considerable force in our front somewhere, and not far down this
stream.  Nobody knows just how strong they are, but it looks to me as
if we were pretty badly split up for a very heavy engagement.  Not that
I question Custer's plan, you understand, only he may be mistaken about
what the Indians will do.  Benteen's battalion is out there to the
west; Reno is just ahead of us up the valley; while Custer has taken
five troops on a detour to the right across the bluffs, hoping to come
down on the rear of the Sioux.  The idea is to crush them between the
three columns.  No one of these detachments has more than two hundred
men, yet it may come out all right if they only succeed in striking
together.  Still it 's risky in such rough country, not knowing exactly
where the enemy is.  Well, good luck to you, and take care of yourself."

The two men clasped hands, their eyes filled with mutual confidence.
Then Hampton touched spurs to his horse, and galloped swiftly forward.




CHAPTER VII

THE FIGHT IN THE VALLEY

Far below, in the heart of the sunny depression bordering the left bank
of the Little Big Horn, the stalwart troopers under Reno's command
gazed up the steep bluff to wave farewell to their comrades
disappearing to the right.  Last of all, Custer halted his horse an
instant, silhouetted against the blue sky, and swung his hat before
spurring out of sight.

The plan of battle was most simple and direct.  It involved a nearly
simultaneous attack upon the vast Indian village from below and above,
success depending altogether upon the prompt cooeperation of the
separate detachments.  This was understood by every trooper in the
ranks.  Scarcely had Custer's slender column of horsemen vanished
across the summit before Reno's command advanced, trotting down the
valley, the Arikara scouts in the lead.  They had been chosen to strike
the first blow, to force their way into the lower village, and thus to
draw the defending warriors to their front, while Custer's men were to
charge upon the rear.  It was an old trick of the Seventh, and not a
man in saddle ever dreamed the plan could fail.

A half-mile, a mile, Reno's troops rode, with no sound breaking the
silence but the pounding of hoofs, the tinkle of accoutrements.  Then,
rounding a sharp projection of earth and rock, the scattered lodges of
the Indian village already partially revealed to those in advance, the
riders were brought to sudden halt by a fierce crackling of rifles from
rock and ravine, an outburst of fire in their faces, the wild,
resounding screech of war-cries, and the scurrying across their front
of dense bodies of mounted warriors, hideous in paint and feathers.
Men fell cursing, and the frightened horses swerved, their riders
struggling madly with their mounts, the column thrown into momentary
confusion.  But the surprised cavalrymen, quailing beneath the hot fire
poured into them, rallied to the shouts of their officers, and swung
into a slender battle-front, stretching out their thin line from the
bank of the river to the sharp uplift of the western bluffs.  Riderless
horses crashed through them, neighing with pain; the wounded begged for
help; while, with cries of terror, the cowardly Arikara scouts lashed
their ponies in wild efforts to escape.  Scarcely one hundred and fifty
white troopers waited to stem as best they might that fierce onrush of
twelve hundred battle-crazed braves.

For an almost breathless space those mingled hordes of Sioux and
Cheyennes hesitated to drive straight home their death-blow.  They knew
those silent men in the blue shirts, knew they died hard.  Upon that
slight pause pivoted the fate of the day; upon it hung the lives of
those other men riding boldly and trustfully across the sunlit ridges
above.  "Audacity, always audacity," that is the accepted motto for a
cavalryman.  And be the cause what it may, it was here that Major Reno
failed.  In that supreme instant he was guilty of hesitancy, doubt,
delay.  He chose defence in preference to attack, dallied where he
should have acted.  Instead of hurling like a thunderbolt that handful
of eager fighting men straight at the exposed heart of the foe, making
dash and momentum, discipline and daring, an offset to lack of numbers,
he lingered in indecision, until the observing savages, gathering
courage from his apparent weakness, burst forth in resistless torrent
against the slender, unsupported line, turned his flank by one fierce
charge, and hurled the struggling troopers back with a rush into the
narrow strip of timber bordering the river.

Driven thus to bay, the stream at their back rendering farther retreat
impossible, for a few moments the light carbines of the soldiers met
the Indian rifles, giving back lead for lead.  But already every chance
for successful attack had vanished; the whole narrow valley seemed to
swarm with braves; they poured forth from sheltering _coulees_ and
shadowed ravines; they dashed down in countless numbers from the
distant village.  Custer, now far away behind the bluffs, and almost
beyond sound of the firing, was utterly ignored.  Every savage chief
knew exactly where that column was, but it could await its turn; Gall,
Crazy Horse, and Crow King mustered their red warriors for one
determined effort to crush Reno, to grind him into dust beneath their
ponies' hoofs.  Ay, and they nearly did it!

In leaderless effort to break away from that swift-gathering cordon,
before the red, remorseless folds should close tighter and crush them
to death, the troopers, half of them already dismounted, burst from
cover in an endeavor to attain the shelter of the bluffs.  The deadly
Indian rifles flamed in their faces, and they were hurled back, a mere
fleeing mob, searching for nothing in that moment of terror but a
possible passageway across the stream.  Through some rare providence of
God, they chanced to strike the banks at a spot where the river proved
fordable.  They plunged headlong in, officers and men commingled, the
Indian bullets churning up the water on every side; they struggled
madly through, and spurred their horses up the steep ridge beyond.  A
few cool-headed veterans halted at the edge of the bank to defend the
passage; but the majority, crazed by panic and forgetful of all
discipline, raced frantically for the summit.  Dr. De Wolf stood at the
very water's edge firing until shot down; McIntosh, striving vainly to
rally his demoralized men, sank with a bullet in his brain; Hodgson,
his leg broken by a ball, clung to a sergeant's stirrup until a second
shot stretched him dead upon the bank.  The loss in that wild retreat
(which Reno later called a "charge") was heavy, the effect
demoralizing; but those who escaped found a spot well suited for
defence.  Even as they swung down from off their wounded, panting
horses, and flung themselves flat upon their faces to sweep with
hastily levelled carbines the river banks below, Benteen came trotting
gallantly down the valley to their aid, his troopers fresh and eager to
be thrown forward on the firing-line.  The worst was over, and like
maddened lions, the rallied soldiers of the Seventh, cursing their
folly, turned to strike and slay.

The valley was obscured with clouds of dust and smoke, the day
frightfully hot and suffocating.  The various troop commanders, gaining
control over their men, were prompt to act.  A line of skirmishers was
hastily thrown forward along the edge of the bluff, while volunteers,
urged by the agonized cries of the wounded, endeavored vainly to
procure a supply of water from the river.  Again and again they made
the effort, only to be driven back by the deadly Indian rifle fire.
This came mostly from braves concealed behind rocks or protected by the
timber along the stream, but large numbers of hostiles were plainly
visible, not only in the valley, but also upon the ridges.  The firing
upon their position continued incessantly, the warriors continually
changing their point of attack.  By three o'clock, although the
majority of the savages had departed down the river, enough remained to
keep up a galling fire, and hold Reno strictly on the defensive.  These
reds skulked in ravines, or lined the banks of the river, their
long-range rifles rendering the lighter carbines of the cavalrymen
almost valueless.  A few crouched along the edge of higher eminences,
their shots crashing in among the unprotected troops.

As the men lay exposed to this continuous sniping fire, above the
surrounding din were borne to their ears the reports of distant guns.
It came distinctly from the northward, growing heavier and more
continuous.  None among them doubted its ominous meaning.  Custer was
already engaged in hot action at the right of the Indian village.  Why
were they kept lying there in idleness?  Why were they not pushed
forward to do their part?  They looked into each other's faces.  God!
They were three hundred now; they could sweep aside like chaff that
fringe of red skirmishers if only they got the word!  With hearts
throbbing, every nerve tense, they waited, each trooper crouched for
the spring.  Officer after officer, unable to restrain his impatience,
strode back across the bluff summit, amid whistling bullets, and
personally begged the Major to speak the one word which should hurl
them to the rescue.  They cried like women, they swore through clinched
teeth, they openly exhibited their contempt for such a commander, yet
the discipline of army service made active disobedience impossible.
They went reluctantly back, as helpless as children.

It was four o'clock, the shadows of the western bluffs already
darkening the river bank.  Suddenly a faint cheer ran along the lines,
and the men lifted themselves to gaze up the river.  Urging the tired
animals to a trot, the strong hand of a trooper grasping every
halter-strap, Brant was swinging his long pack-train up the
smoke-wreathed valley.  The out-riding flankers exchanged constant
shots with the skulking savages hiding in every ravine and coulee.
Pausing only to protect their wounded, fighting their way step by step,
N Troop ran the gantlet and came charging into the cheering lines with
every pound of their treasure safe.  Weir of D, whose dismounted
troopers held that portion of the line, strode a pace forward to greet
the leader, and as the extended hands of the officers met, there echoed
down to them from the north the reports of two heavy volleys, fired in
rapid succession.  The sounds were clear, distinctly audible even above
the uproar of the valley.  The heavy eyes of the two soldiers met,
their dust-streaked faces flushed.

"That was a signal, Custer's signal for help!" the younger man cried,
impulsively, his voice full of agony.  "For God's sake, Weir, what are
you fellows waiting here for?"

The other uttered a groan, his hand flung in contempt back toward the
bluff summit.  "The cowardly fool won't move; he's whipped to death
now."

Brant's jaw set like that of a fighting bulldog.

"Reno, you mean?  Whipped?  You have n't lost twenty men.  Is this the
Seventh--the Seventh?--skulking here under cover while Custer begs
help?  Doesn't the man know?  Doesn't he understand?  By heaven, I 'll
face him myself!  I 'll make him act, even if I have to damn him to his
face."

He swung his horse with a jerk to the left, but even as the spurs
touched, Weir grasped the taut rein firmly.

"It's no use, Brant.  It's been done; we've all been at him.  He's
simply lost his head.  Know?  Of course he knows.  Martini struck us
just below here, as we were coming in, with a message from Custer.  It
would have stirred the blood of any one but him--Oh, God! it's
terrible."

"A message?  What was it?"

"Cook wrote it, and addressed it to Benteen.  It read: 'Come on.  Big
village.  Be quick.  Bring packs.'  And then, 'P. S.--Bring packs.'
That means they want ammunition badly; they're fighting to the death
out yonder, and they need powder.  Oh, the coward!"

Brant's eyes ran down the waiting line of his own men, sitting their
saddles beside the halted pack-animals.  He leaned over and dropped one
hand heavily on Weir's shoulder.  "The rest of you can do as you
please, but N Troop is going to take those ammunition packs over to
Custer if there's any possible way to get through, orders or no
orders."  He straightened up in the saddle, and his voice sounded down
the wearied line like the blast of a trumpet.

"Attention!  N Troop!  Right face; dress.  Number four bring forward
the ammunition packs.  No, leave the others where they are; move
lively, men!"

He watched them swing like magic into formation, their dust-begrimed
faces lighting up with animation.  They knew their officer, and this
meant business.

"Unsling carbines--load!"

Weir, the veteran soldier, glanced down that steady line of ready
troopers, and then back to Brant's face.  "Do you mean it?  Are you
going up those bluffs?  Good Heavens, man, it will mean a
court-martial."

"Custer commands the Seventh.  I command the pack-train," said Brant.
"His orders are to bring up the packs.  Perhaps I can't get through
alone, but I 'll try.  Better a court-martial than to fail those men
out there.  Going?  Of course I 'm going.  Into line--take
intervals--forward!"

"Attention, D Troop!"  It was Weir's voice, eager and determined now.
Like an undammed current his orders rang out above the uproar, and in a
moment the gallant troopers of N and D, some on foot, some in saddle,
were rushing up the face of the bluff, their officers leading, the
precious ammunition packs at the centre, all alike scrambling for the
summit, in spite of the crackling of Indian rifles from every side.
Foot by foot they fought their way forward, sliding and stumbling,
until the little blue wave burst out against the sky-line and sent an
exultant cheer back to those below.  Panting, breathless from the hard
climb, their carbines spitting fire while the rapidly massing savages
began circling their exposed position, the little band fought their way
forward a hundred yards.  Then they halted, blocked by the numbers
barring their path, glancing back anxiously in hope that their effort
would encourage others to join them.  They could do it; they could do
it if only the rest of the boys would come.  They poured in their
volleys and waited.  But Reno made no move.  Weir and Brant, determined
to hold every inch thus gained, threw the dismounted men on their faces
behind every projection of earth, and encircled the ridge with flame.
If they could not advance, they would not be driven back.  They were
high up now, where they could overlook the numerous ridges and valleys
far around; and yonder, perhaps two miles away, they could perceive
vast bodies of mounted Indians, while the distant sound of heavy firing
was borne faintly to their ears.  It was vengeful savages shooting into
the bodies of the dead, but that they did not know.  Messenger after
messenger, taking life in hand, was sent skurrying down the bluff, to
beg reinforcements to push on for the rescue, swearing it was possible.
But it was after five o'clock before Reno moved.  Then cautiously he
advanced his column toward where N and D Troops yet held desperately to
the exposed ridge.  He came too late.  That distant firing had ceased,
and all need for further advance had ended.  Already vast forces of
Indians, flushed with victory and waving bloody scalps, were sweeping
back across the ridges to attack in force.  Scarcely had reinforcements
attained the summit before the torrent of savagery burst screeching on
their front.

From point to point the grim struggle raged, till nightfall wrought
partial cessation.  The wearied troopers stretched out their lines so
as to protect the packs and the field hospital, threw themselves on the
ground, digging rifle-pits with knives and tin pans.  Not until nine
o'clock did the Indian fire slacken, and then the village became a
scene of savage revel, the wild yelling plainly audible to the soldiers
above.  Through the black night Brant stepped carefully across the
recumbent forms of his men, and made his way to the field hospital.  In
the glare of the single fire the red sear of a bullet showed clearly
across his forehead, but he wiped away the slowly trickling blood, and
bent over a form extended on a blanket.

"Has he roused up?" he questioned of the trooper on guard.

"Not to know nuthin', sir.  He's bin swearin' an' gurglin' most o' ther
time, but he's asleep now, I reckon."

The young officer stood silent, his face pale, his gaze upon the
distant Indian fires.  Out yonder were defeat, torture, death, and
to-morrow meant a renewal of the struggle.  His heart was heavy with
foreboding, his memory far away with one to whom all this misfortune
might come almost as a death-blow.  It was Naida's questioning face
that haunted him; she was waiting for she knew not what.




CHAPTER VIII

THE OLD REGIMENT

By the time Hampton swung up the _coulee_, he had dismissed from his
attention everything but the business that had brought him there.  No
lingering thought of Naida, or of the miserable Murphy, was permitted
to interfere with the serious work before him.  To be once again with
the old Seventh was itself inspiration; to ride with them into battle
was the chief desire of his heart.  It was a dream of years, which he
had never supposed possible of fulfilment, and he rode rapidly forward,
his lips smiling, the sunshine of noonday lighting up his face.

He experienced no fear, no premonition of coming disaster, yet the
reawakened plainsman in him kept him sufficiently wary and cautious.
The faint note of discontent apparent in Brant's concluding
words--doubtless merely an echo of that ambitious officer's dislike at
being put on guard over the pack-train at such a moment--awoke no
response in his mind.  He possessed a soldier's proud confidence in his
regiment--the supposition that the old fighting Seventh could be
defeated was impossible; the Indians did not ride those uplands who
could do the deed!  Then there came to him a nameless dread, that
instinctive shrinking which a proud, sensitive man must ever feel at
having to face his old companions with the shadow of a crime between.
In his memory he saw once more a low-ceiled room, having a table
extending down the centre, with grave-faced men, dressed in the full
uniform of the service, looking at him amid a silence like unto death;
and at the head sat a man with long fair hair and mustache, his proud
eyes never to be forgotten.  Now, after silent years, he was going to
look into those accusing eyes again.  He pressed his hand against his
forehead, his body trembled; then he braced himself for the interview,
and the shuddering coward in him shrank back.

He had become wearied of the endless vista of desert, rock, and plain.
Yet now it strangely appealed to him in its beauty.  About him were
those uneven, rolling hills, like a vast storm-lashed sea, the brown
crests devoid of life, yet with depressions between sufficient to
conceal multitudes.  Once he looked down through a wide cleft in the
face of the bluff, and could perceive the head of the slowly advancing
pack-train far below.  Away to the left something was moving, a dim,
shapeless dash of color.  It might be Benteen, but of Reno's columns he
could perceive nothing, nor anything of Custer's excepting that broad
track across the prairies marked by his horses' hoofs.  This track
Hampton followed, pressing his fresh mount to increased speed,
confident that no Indian spies would be loitering so closely in the
rear of that body of cavalry, and becoming fearful lest the attack
should occur before he could arrive.

He dipped over a sharp ridge and came suddenly upon the rear-guard.
They were a little squad of dusty, brown-faced troopers, who instantly
wheeled into line at sound of approaching hoofs, the barrels of their
lowered carbines glistening in the sun.  With a swing of the hand, and
a hoarse shout of "Despatches!" he was beyond them, bending low over
his saddle pommel, his eyes on the dust cloud of the moving column.
The extended line of horsemen, riding in column of fours, came to a
sudden halt, and he raced swiftly on.  A little squad of officers,
several of their number dismounted, were out in front, standing grouped
just below the summit of a slight elevation, apparently looking off
into the valley through some cleft In the bluff beyond.  Standing among
these, Hampton perceived the long fair hair, and the erect figure clad
in the well-known frontier costume, of the man he sought,--the proud,
dashing leader of light cavalry, that beau ideal of the _sabreur_, the
one he dreaded most, the one he loved best,--Custer.  The commander
stood, field-glasses in hand, pointing down into the valley, and the
despatch bearer, reining in his horse, his lips white but resolute,
trotted straight up the slope toward him.  Custer wheeled, annoyed at
the interruption, and Hampton swung down from the saddle, his rein
flung across his arm, took a single step forward, lifting his hand in
salute, and held forth the sealed packet.

"Despatches, sir," he said, simply, standing motionless as a statue.

The commander, barely glancing toward him, instantly tore open the long
official envelope and ran his eyes over the despatch amid a hush in the
conversation.

"Gentlemen," he commented to the little group gathered about him, yet
without glancing up from the paper in his hand, "Crook was defeated
over on the Rosebud the seventeenth, and forced to retire.  That will
account for the unexpected number of hostiles fronting us up here,
Cook; but the greater the task, the greater the glory.  Ah, I thought
as much.  I am advised by the Department to keep in close touch with
Terry and Gibbons, and to hold off from making a direct attack until
infantry can arrive in support.  Rather late in the day, I take it,
when we are already within easy rifle-shot.  I see nothing in these
orders to interfere with our present plans, nor any military necessity
for playing hide and seek all Summer in these hills.  That looks like a
big village down yonder, but I have led the dandy Seventh into others
just as large."

He stopped speaking, and glanced up inquiringly into the face of the
silent messenger, apparently mistaking him for one of his own men.

"Where did you get this?"

"Cheyenne, sir."

"What!  Do you mean to say you brought it through from there?"

"Silent Murphy carried it as far as the Powder River.  He went crazy
there, and I was compelled to strap him.  I brought it the rest of the
way."

"Where is Murphy?"

"Back with the pack-train, sir.  I got him through alive, but entirely
gone in the head."

"Run across many hostiles in that region?"

"They were thick this side the Rosebud; all bucks, and travelling
north."

"Sioux?"

"Mostly, sir, but I saw one band wearing Cheyenne war-bonnets."

A puzzled look slowly crept into the strong face of the abrupt
questioner, his stern, commanding eyes studying the man standing
motionless before him, with freshly awakened interest.  The gaze of the
other faltered, then came back courageously.

"I recognize you now," Custer said, quietly.  "Am I to understand you
are again in the service?"

"My presence here is purely accidental, General Custer.  The
opportunity came to me to do this work, and I very gladly accepted the
privilege."

The commander hesitated, scarcely knowing what he might be justified in
saying to this man.

"It was a brave deed, well performed," he said at last, with soldierly
cordiality, "although I can hardly offer you a fitting reward."

The other stood bareheaded, his face showing pale under its sunburn,
his hand trembling violently where it rested against his horse's mane.

"There is little I desire," he replied, slowly, unable to altogether
disguise the quiver in his voice, "and that is to be permitted to ride
once more into action in the ranks of the Seventh."

The true-hearted, impulsive, manly soldier fronting him reddened to the
roots of his fair hair, his proud eyes instantly softening.  For a
second Hampton even imagined he would extend his hand, but the other
paused with one step forward, discipline proving stronger than impulse.

"Spoken like a true soldier," he exclaimed, a new warmth in his voice.
"You shall have your wish.  Take position in Calhoun's troop yonder."

Hampton turned quietly away, leading his horse, yet had scarcely
advanced three yards before Custer halted him.

"I shall be pleased to talk with you again after the fight," he said,
briefly, as though half doubting the propriety of such words.

The other bowed, his face instantly brightening.  "I thank you
sincerely."

The perplexed commander stood motionless, gazing after the receding
figure, his face grown grave and thoughtful.  Then he turned to the
wondering adjutant beside him.

"You never knew him, did you, Cook?"

"I think not, sir; who is he?"

"Captain Nolan--you have heard the story."

The younger officer wheeled about, staring, but the despatch bearer had
already become indistinguishable among the troopers.

"Is that so?" he exclaimed, in evident surprise.  "He has a manly face."

"Ay, and he was as fine a soldier as ever fought under the flag,"
declared Custer, frankly.  "Poor devil!  The hardest service I was ever
called upon to perform was the day we broke him.  I wonder if Calhoun
will recognize the face; they were good friends once."

He stopped speaking, and for a time his field-glasses were fastened
upon a small section of Indian village nestled in the green valley.
Its full extent was concealed by the hills, yet from what the watchers
saw they realized that this would prove no small encampment.

"I doubt if many warriors are there," he commented, at last.  "They may
have gone up the river to intercept Reno's advance, and if so, this
should be our time to strike.  But we are not far enough around, and
this ground is too rough for cavalry.  There looks to be considerable
level land out yonder, and that _coulee_ ought to lead us into it
without peril of observation from below.  Return to your commands,
gentlemen, and with the order of march see personally that your men
move quietly.  We must strike quick and hard, driving the wedge home
with a single blow."

His inquiring gaze swept thoughtfully over the expectant faces of his
troop commanders.  "That will be all at present, gentlemen; you will
require no further instructions until we deploy.  Captain Calhoun, just
a word, please."

The officer thus directly addressed, a handsome, stalwart man of middle
age, reined in his mettlesome horse and waited.

"Captain, the messenger who has just brought us despatches from
Cheyenne is a civilian, but has requested permission to have a share in
this coming fight.  I have assigned him to your troop."

Calhoun bowed.

"I thought it best to spare you any possible embarrassment by saying
that the man is not entirely unknown to you."

"May I ask his name?"

"Robert Nolan."

The strong, lion-like face flushed under its tan, then quickly lit up
with a smile.  "I thank you.  Captain Nolan will not suffer at my
hands."

He rode straight toward his troop, his eyes searching the ranks until
they rested upon the averted face of Hampton.  He pressed forward, and
leaned from the saddle, extending a gauntleted hand.  "Nolan, old man,
welcome back to the Seventh!"

For an instant their eyes met, those of the officer filled with manly
sympathy, the other's moistened and dim, his face like marble.  Then
the two hands clasped and clung, in a grip more eloquent than words.
The lips of the disgraced soldier quivered, and he uttered not a word.
It was Calhoun who spoke.

"I mean it all, Nolan.  From that day to this I have believed in
you,--have held you friend."

For a moment the man reeled; then, as though inspired by a new-born
hope, he sat firmly erect, and lifted his hand in salute.  "Those are
words I have longed to hear spoken for fifteen years.  They are more to
me than life.  May God help me to be worthy of them.  Oh, Calhoun,
Calhoun!"

For a brief space the two remained still and silent, their faces
reflecting repressed feeling.  Then the voice of command sounded out in
front; Calhoun gently withdrew his hand from the other's grasp, and
with bowed head rode slowly to the front of his troop.

In column of fours, silent, with not a canteen rattling, with scabbards
thrust under their stirrup leathers, each man sitting his saddle like a
statue, ready carbine flung forward across the pommel, those sunburnt
troopers moved steadily down the broad _coulee_.  There was no pomp, no
sparkle of gay uniforms.  No military band rode forth to play their
famous battle tune of "Garryowen"; no flags waved above to inspire
them, yet never before or since to a field of strife and death rode
nobler hearts or truer.  Troop following troop, their faded, patched
uniforms brown with dust, their campaign hats pulled low to shade them
from the glare, those dauntless cavalrymen of the Seventh swept across
the low intervening ridge toward the fateful plain below.  The troopers
riding at either side of Hampton, wondering still at their captain's
peculiar words and action, glanced curiously at their new comrade,
marvelling at his tightly pressed lips, his moistened eyes.  Yet in all
the glorious column, no heart lighter than his, or happier, pressed
forward to meet a warrior's death.




CHAPTER IX

THE LAST STAND

However daring the pen, it cannot but falter when attempting to picture
the events of those hours of victorious defeat.  Out from the scene of
carnage there crept forth no white survivor to recount the heroic deeds
of the Seventh Cavalry.  No voice can ever repeat the story in its
fulness, no eye penetrate into the heart of its mystery.  Only in
motionless lines of dead, officers and men lying as they fell while
facing the foe; in emptied carbines strewing the prairie; in scattered,
mutilated bodies; in that unbroken ring of dauntless souls whose
lifeless forms lay clustered about the figure of their stricken chief
on that slight eminence marking the final struggle--only in such tokens
can we trace the broken outlines of the historic picture.  The actors
in the great tragedy have passed beyond either the praise or the blame
of earth.  With moistened eyes and swelling hearts, we vainly strive to
imagine the whole scene.  This, at least, we know: no bolder, nobler
deed of arms was ever done.

It was shortly after two o'clock in the afternoon when that compact
column of cavalrymen moved silently forward down the concealing
_coulee_ toward the more open ground beyond.  Custer's plan was
surprise, the sudden smiting of that village in the valley from the
rear by the quick charge of his horsemen.  From man to man the
whispered purpose travelled down the ranks, the eager troopers greeting
the welcome message with kindling eyes.  It was the old way of the
Seventh, and they knew it well.  The very horses seemed to feel the
electric shock.  Worn with hard marches, bronzed by long weeks of
exposure on alkali plains, they advanced now with the precision of men
on parade, under the observant eyes of the officers.  Not a canteen
tinkled, not a sabre rattled within its scabbard, as at a swift,
noiseless walk those tried warriors of the Seventh pressed forward to
strike once more their old-time foes.

Above them a few stray, fleecy clouds flecked the blue of the arching
sky, serving only to reveal its depth of color.  On every side extended
the rough irregularity of a region neither mountain nor plain, a land
of ridges and bluffs, depressions and ravines.  Over all rested the
golden sunlight of late June; and in all the broad expanse there was no
sign of human presence.

With Custer riding at the head of the column, and only a little to the
rear of the advance scouts, his adjutant Cook, together with a
volunteer aide, beside him, the five depleted troops filed resolutely
forward, dreaming not of possible defeat.  Suddenly distant shots were
heard far off to their left and rear, and deepening into a rumble,
evidencing a warm engagement.  The interested troopers lifted their
heads, listening intently, while eager whispers ran from man to man
along the closed files.

"Reno is going in, boys; it will be our turn next."

"Close up!  Quiet there, lads, quiet," officer after officer passed the
word of command.

Yet there were those among them who felt a strange dread--that firing
sounded so far up the stream from where Reno should have been by that
time.  Still it might be that those overhanging bluffs would muffle and
deflect the reports.  Those fighting men of the Seventh rode steadily
on, unquestioningly pressing forward at the word of their beloved
leader.  All about them hovered death in dreadful guise.  None among
them saw those cruel, spying eyes watching from distant ridges, peering
at them from concealed ravines; none marked the rapidly massing hordes,
hideous in war-paint, crowded into near-by _coulees_ and behind
protecting hills.

It burst upon them with wild yells.  The gloomy ridges blazed into
their startled faces, the dark ravines hurled at them skurrying
horsemen, while, wherever their eyes turned, they beheld savage forms
leaping forth from hill and _coulee_, gulch and rock shadow.  Horses
fell, or ran about neighing; men flung up their hands and died in that
first awful minute of consternation, and the little column seemed to
shrivel away as if consumed by the flame which struck it, front and
flank and rear.  It was as if those men had ridden into the mouth of
hell.  God only knows the horror of that first moment of shrinking
suspense--the screams of agony from wounded men and horses, the dies of
fear, the thunder of charging hoofs, the deafening roar of rifles.

Yet it was for scarcely more than a minute.  Men trained, strong, clear
of brain, were in those stricken lines--men who had seen Indian battle
before.  The recoil came, swift as had been the surprise.  Voice after
voice rang out in old familiar orders, steadying instantly the startled
nerves; discipline conquered disorder, and the shattered column rolled
out, as if by magic, into the semblance of a battle line.  On foot and
on horseback, the troopers of the Seventh turned desperately at bay.

It was magnificently done.  Custer and his troop-commanders brought
their sorely smitten men into a position of defence, even hurled them
cheering forward in short, swift charges, so as to clear the front and
gain room in which to deploy.  Out of confusion emerged discipline,
confidence, _esprit de corps_.  The savages skurried away on their
quirt-lashed ponies, beyond range of those flaming carbines, while the
cavalry-men, pausing from vain pursuit, gathered up their wounded, and
re-formed their disordered ranks.

"Wait till Reno rides into their village," cried encouraged voices
through parched lips.  "Then we'll give them hell!"

Safe beyond range of the troopers' light carbines, the Indians, with
their heavier rifles, kept hurling a constant storm of lead, hugging
the gullies, and spreading out until there was no rear toward which the
harassed cavalrymen could turn for safety.  One by one, continually
under a heavy fire, the scattered troops were formed into something
more nearly resembling a battle line--Calhoun on the left, then Keogh,
Smith, and Yates, with Tom Custer holding the extreme right.  The
position taken was far from being an ideal one, yet the best possible
under the circumstances, and the exhausted men flung themselves down
behind low ridges, seeking protection from the Sioux bullets, those
assigned to the right enjoying the advantage of a somewhat higher
elevation.  Thus they waited grimly for the next assault.

Nor was it long delayed.  Scarcely had the troopers recovered, refilled
their depleted cartridge belts from those of their dead comrades, when
the onslaught came.  Lashing their ponies into mad gallop, now sitting
erect, the next moment lying hidden behind the plunging animals,
constantly screaming their shrill war-cries, their guns brandished in
air, they swept onward, seeking to crush that thin line in one terrible
onset.  But they reckoned wrong.  The soldiers waited their coming.
The short, brown-barrelled carbines gleamed at the level in the
sunlight, and then belched forth their message of flame into the very
faces of those reckless horsemen.  It was not in flesh and blood to
bear such a blow.  With screams of rage, the red braves swerved to left
and right, leaving many a dark, war-bedecked figure lying dead behind
them, and many a riderless pony skurrying over the prairie.  Yet their
wild ride had not been altogether in vain; like a whirlwind they had
struck against Calhoun on the flank, forcing his troopers to yield
sullen ground, thus contracting the little semicircle of defenders,
pressing it back against that central hill.  It was a step nearer the
end, yet those who fought scarcely realized its significance.  Exultant
over their seemingly successful repulse, the men flung themselves again
upon the earth, their cheers ringing out above the thud of retreating
hoofs.

"We can hold them here, boys, until Reno comes," they shouted to each
other.

The skulking red riflemen crept ever closer behind the ridges, driving
their deadly missiles into those ranks exposed in the open.  Twice
squads dashed forth to dislodge these bands, but were in turn driven
back, the line of fire continually creeping nearer, clouds of smoke
concealing the cautious marksmen lying prone in the grass.  Custer
walked up and down the irregular line, cool, apparently unmoved,
speaking words of approval to officers and men.  To the command of the
bugle they discharged two roaring volleys from their carbines, hopeful
that the combined sound might reach the ears of the lagging Reno.  They
were hopeful yet, although one troop had only a sergeant left in
command, and the dead bodies of their comrades strewed the plain.

Twice those fierce red horsemen tore down upon them, forcing the thin,
struggling line back by sheer strength of overwhelming numbers, yet no
madly galloping warrior succeeded in bursting through.  The hot brown
barrels belched forth their lightnings into those painted faces, and
the swarms of savagery melted away.  The living sheltered themselves
behind the bodies of their dead, fighting now in desperation, their
horses stampeded, their ammunition all gone excepting the few
cartridges remaining in the waist-belts.  From lip to lip passed the
one vital question: "In God's name, where is Reno?  What has become of
the rest of the boys?"

It was four o'clock.  For two long hours they had been engaged in
ceaseless struggle; and now barely a hundred men, smoke-begrimed,
thirsty, bleeding, half their carbines empty, they still formed an
impenetrable ring around their chief.  The struggle was over, and they
realized the fact.  When that wave of savage horsemen swept forth again
it would be to ride them down, to crush them under their horses'
pounding hoofs.  They turned their loyal eyes toward him they loved and
followed for the last time, and when he uttered one final word of
undaunted courage, they cheered him faintly, with parched and fevered
lips.

Like a whirlwind those red demons came,--howling wolves now certain of
their prey.  From rock and hill, ridge, ravine, and _coulee_, lashing
their half-crazed ponies, yelling their fierce war-cries, swinging
aloft their rifles, they poured resistlessly forth, sweeping down on
that doomed remnant.  On both flanks of the short slender line struck
Gall and Crazy Horse, while like a thunderbolt Crow-King and
Rain-in-the-Face attacked the centre.  These three storms converged at
the foot of the little hill, crushing the little band of troopers.
With ammunition gone, the helpless victims could meet that mighty
on-rushing torrent only with clubbed guns, for one instant of desperate
struggle.  Shoulder to shoulder, in ever-contracting circle, officers
and men stood shielding their commander to the last.  Foot by foot,
they were forced back, treading on their wounded, stumbling over their
dead; they were choked in the stifling smoke, scorched by the flaming
guns, clutched at by red hands, beaten down by horses' hoofs.  Twenty
or thirty made a despairing dash, in a vain endeavor to burst through
the red enveloping lines, only to be tomahawked or shot; but the most
remained, a thin struggling ring, with Custer in its centre.  Then came
the inevitable end.  The red waves surged completely across the crest,
no white man left alive upon the field.  They had fought a good fight;
they had kept the faith.

Two days later, having relieved Reno from his unpleasant predicament in
the valley, Terry's and Gibbons's infantry tramped up the ravine, and
emerged upon the stricken field.  In lines of motionless dead they read
the fearful story; and there they found that man we know.  Lying upon a
bed of emptied cartridge-shells, his body riddled with shot and
mutilated with knives, his clothing torn to rags, his hands grasping a
smashed and twisted carbine, his lips smiling even in death, was that
soldier whom the Seventh had disowned and cast out, but who had come
back to defend its chief and to die for its honor,--Robert Hampton
Nolan.




CHAPTER X

THE CURTAIN FALLS

Bronzed by months of scouting on those northern plains, a graver, older
look upon his face, and the bars of a captain gracing the shoulders of
his new cavalry jacket, Donald Brant trotted down the stage road
bordering the Bear Water, his heart alternating between hope and dread.
He was coming back as he had promised; yet, ardently as he longed to
look into the eyes of his beloved, he shrank from the duty laid upon
him by the dead.

The familiar yellow house at the cross-roads appeared so unattractive
as to suggest the thought that Naida must have been inexpressibly
lonely during those months of waiting.  He knocked at the sun-warped
door.  Without delay it was flung open, and a vision of flushed face
and snowy drapery confronted him.

"Why, Lieutenant Brant!  I was never more surprised in my life.  Do,
pray, come right in.  Yes, Naida is here, and I will have her sent for
at once.  Oh, Howard, this is Lieutenant Brant, just back from his
awful Indian fighting.  How very nice that he should happen to arrive
just at this time, is n't it?"

The young officer, as yet unable to discover an opportunity for speech,
silently accepted Mr. Wynkoop's extended hand, and found a convenient
chair, as Miss Spencer hastened from the room to announce his arrival.

"Why 'just at this time'?" he questioned.

Mr. Wynkoop cleared his throat.  "Why--why, you see, we are to be
married this evening--Miss Spencer and myself.  We--we shall be so
delighted to have you witness the ceremony.  It is to take place at the
church, and my people insist upon making quite an affair out of the
occasion--Phoebe is so popular, you know."

The lady again bustled in, her eyes glowing with enthusiasm.  "Why, I
think it is perfectly delightful.  Don't you, Howard?  Now Lieutenant
Brant and Naida can stand up with us.  You will, won't you, Lieutenant?"

"That must be left entirely with Miss Naida for decision," he replied,
soberly.  "However, with my memory of your popularity I should suppose
you would have no lack of men seeking such honor.  For instance, one of
your old-time 'friends' Mr. William McNeil."

The lady laughed noisily, regardless of Mr. Wynkoop's look of
annoyance.  "Oh, it is so perfectly ridiculous!  And did n't you know?
have n't you heard?"

"Nothing, I assure you."

"Why he--he actually married the Widow Guffy.  She 's twice his age,
and has a grown-up son.  And to think that I supposed he was so nice!
He did write beautiful verses.  Is n't it a perfect shame for such a
man to throw himself away like that?"

"It would seem so.  But there was another whose name I recall--Jack
Moffat.  Why not have him?"

Miss Spencer glanced uneasily at her chosen companion, her cheeks
reddening.  But that gentleman remained provokingly silent, and she was
compelled to reply.

"We--we never mention him any more.  He was a very bad man."

"Indeed?"

"Yes; it seems he had a wife and four children he had run away from,
back in Iowa.  Perhaps that was why his eyes always looked so sad.  She
actually advertised for him in one of the Omaha papers.  It was a
terrible shock to all of us.  I was so grateful to Howard that he
succeeded in opening my eyes in time."

Mr. Wynkoop placed his hand gently upon her shoulder.  "Never mind,
dearie," he said, cheerfully.  "The West was all so strange to you, and
it seemed very wonderful at first.  But that is all safely over with
now, and, as my wife, you will forget the unpleasant memories."

And Miss Spencer, totally oblivious to Brant's presence, turned
impulsively and kissed him.

There was a rustle at the inner door, and Naida stood there.  Their
eyes met, and the color mounted swiftly to the girl's cheeks.  Then he
stepped resolutely forward, forgetful of all other presence, and
clasped her hand in both his own.  Neither spoke a word, yet each
understood something of what was in the heart of the other.

"Will you walk outside with me?" he asked, at last.  "I have much to
say which I am sure you would rather hear alone."

She bent her head, and with a brief word of explanation to the others,
the young officer conducted her forth into the bright July sunshine.
They walked in silence side by side along the bank of the little
stream.  Brant glanced furtively toward the sweet, girlish face.  There
was a pallor on her countenance, a shadow in her eyes, yet she walked
with the same easy grace, her head firmly poised above her white
throat.  The very sadness marking her features seemed to him an added
beauty.

He realized where they were going now, where memory had brought them
without conscious volition.  As he led her across the rivulet she
glanced up into his face with a smile, as though a happy recollection
had burst upon her.  Yet not a word was spoken until the barrier of
underbrush had been completely penetrated, and they stood face to face
under the trees.  Then Brant spoke.

"Naida," he said, gravely, "I have come back, as I said I would, and
surely I read welcome in your eyes?"

"Yes."

"And I have come to say that there is no longer any shadow of the dead
between us."

She looked up quickly, her hands clasped, her cheeks flushing.  "Are
you sure?  Perhaps you misunderstand; perhaps you mistake my meaning."

"I know it all," he answered, soberly, "from the lips of Hampton."

"You have seen him?  Oh, Lieutenant Brant, please tell me the whole
truth.  I have missed him so much, and since the day he rode away to
Cheyenne not one word to explain his absence has come back to me.  You
cannot understand what this means, how much he has become to me through
years of kindness."

"You have heard nothing?"

"Not a word."

Brant drew a long, deep breath.  He had supposed she knew this.  At
last he said gravely:

"Naida, the truth will prove the kindest message, I think.  He died in
that unbroken ring of defenders clustered about General Custer on the
bluffs of the Little Big Horn."

Her slight figure trembled so violently that he held her close within
his arms.

"There was a smile upon his face when we found him.  He performed his
full duty, Naida, and died as became a soldier and a gentleman."

"But--but, this cannot be!  I saw the published list; his name was not
among them."

"The man who fell was Robert Nolan."

Gently he drew her down to a seat upon the soft turf of the bank.  She
looked up at him helplessly, her mind seemingly dazed, her eyes yet
filled with doubt.

"Robert Nolan?  My father?"

He bent over toward her, pressing his lips to her hair and stroking it
tenderly with his hand.

"Yes, Naida, darling; it was truly Robert Hampton Nolan who died in
battle, in the ranks of his old regiment,--died as he would have chosen
to die, and died, thank God! completely cleared of every stain upon his
honor.  Sit up, little girl, and listen while I tell you.  There is in
the story no word which does not reflect nobility upon the soldier's
daughter."

She uplifted her white face.  "Tell me," she said, simply, "all you
know."

He recounted to her slowly, carefully, the details of that desperate
journey northward, of their providential meeting on the Little Big
Horn, of the papers left in his charge, of Hampton's riding forward
with despatches, and of his death at Custer's side.  While he spoke,
the girl scarcely moved; her breath came in sobs and her hands clasped
his.

"These are the papers, Naida.  I opened the envelope as directed, and
found deeds to certain properties, including the mine in the Black
Range; a will, duly signed and attested, naming you as his sole heir,
together with a carefully prepared letter, addressed to you, giving a
full account of the crime of which he was convicted, as well as some
other matters of a personal nature.  That letter you must read alone as
his last message, but the truth of all he says has since been proved."

She glanced up at him quickly.  "By Murphy?"

"Yes, by Murphy, who is now lying in the hospital at Bethune, slowly
recovering.  His sworn deposition has been forwarded to the Department
at Washington, and will undoubtedly result in the honorable replacing
of your father's name on the Army List.  I will tell you briefly the
man's confession, together with the few additional facts necessary to
make it clear.

"Your father and mine were for many years friends and army comrades.
They saw service together during the great war, and afterward upon the
plains in Indian campaigning.  Unfortunately a slight misunderstanding
arose between them.  This, while not serious in itself, was made bitter
by the interference of others, and the unaccountable jealousies of
garrison life.  One night they openly quarrelled when heated by wine,
and exchanged blows.  The following evening, your father chancing to be
officer of the guard and on duty, my father, whose wife had then been
dead a year, was thoughtless enough to accompany Mrs. Nolan home at a
late hour from the post ball.  It was merely an act of ordinary
courtesy; but gossips magnified the tale, and bore it to Nolan.  Still
smarting from the former quarrel, in which I fear my father was in the
wrong, he left the guard-house with the openly avowed intention of
seeking immediate satisfaction.  In the meanwhile Slavin, Murphy, and a
trooper named Flynn, who had been to town without passes, and were
half-drunk, stole through the guard lines, and decided to make a
midnight raid on the colonel's private office.  Dodging along behind
the powder-house, they ran suddenly upon my father, then on the way to
his own quarters.  Whether they were recognized by him, or whether
drink made them reckless of consequences, is unknown, but one of the
men instantly fired.  Then they ran, and succeeded in gaining the
barracks unsuspected."

She sat as if fascinated by his recital.

"Your father heard the shot, and sprang toward the sound, only to fall
headlong across my father's lifeless body.  As he came down heavily,
his revolver was jarred out of its holster and dropped unnoticed in the
grass.  An instant later the guard came running up, and by morning
Captain Nolan was under arrest, charged with murder.  The
circumstantial evidence was strong--his quarrel with the murdered man,
his heated language a few moments previous, the revolver lying beside
the body, having two chambers discharged, and his being found there
alone with the man he had gone forth to seek.  Slavin and Flynn both
strengthened the case by positive testimony.  As a result, a court
martial dismissed the prisoner in disgrace from the army, and a civil
court sentenced him to ten years' imprisonment."

"And my mother?"  The question was a trembling whisper from quivering
lips.

"Your mother," he said, regretfully, "was an exceedingly proud woman,
belonging to a family of social prominence in the East.  She felt
deeply the causeless gossip connecting her name with the case, as well
as the open disgrace of her husband's conviction.  She refused to
receive her former friends, and even failed in loyalty to your father
in his time of trial.  It is impossible now to fix the fault clearly,
or to account for her actions.  Captain Nolan turned over all his
property to her, and the moment she could do so, she disappeared from
the fort, taking you with her.  From that hour none of her old
acquaintances could learn anything regarding her whereabouts.  She did
not return to her family in the East, nor correspond with any one in
the army.  Probably, utterly broken-hearted, she sought seclusion in
some city.  How Gillis obtained possession of you remains a mystery."

"Is that all?"

"Everything."

They kept silence for a long while, the slow tears dropping from her
eyes, her hands clasped in her lap.  His heart, heavy with sympathy,
would not permit him to break in upon her deep sorrow with words of
comfort.

"Naida," he whispered, at last, "this may not be the time for me to
speak such words, but you are all alone now.  Will you go back to
Bethune with me--back to the old regiment as my wife?"

A moment she bowed her head before him; then lifted it and held out her
hands.  "I will."

"Say to me again what you once said."

"Donald, I love you."

Gently he drew her down to him, and their lips met.

The red sun was sinking behind the fringe of trees, and the shadowed
nook in which they sat was darkening fast.  He had been watching her in
silence, unable to escape feeling a little hurt because of her grave
face, and those tears yet clinging to her lashes.

"I wish you to be very happy, Naida dear," he whispered, drawing her
head tenderly down until it found rest upon his shoulder.

"Yes, I feel you do, and I am; but it cannot come all at once, Donald,
for I have lost so much--so much.  I--I hope he knows."



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