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Author: Knibbs, Henry Herbert
Title: ñon Trail
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): collie; overland; louise; winthrop; boyar; moonstone; overland red; saunders; pony; billy; billy dime; moonstone canon; canon; yuma colt; walter stone; louise lacharme; williams; moonstone rancho; miss lacharme
Contributor(s): Fischer, Anton [Illustrator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 73,231 words (short) Grade range: 5-7 (grade school) Readability score: 74 (easy)
Identifier: etext19763
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Title: Overland Red
       A Romance of the Moonstone Canon Trail

Author: Henry Herbert Knibbs

Illustrator: Anton Fischer

Release Date: November 11, 2006 [EBook #19763]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK OVERLAND RED ***




Produced by Roger Frank and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net





[Illustration: (page 123) OVERLAND LIMITED!]

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OVERLAND RED

A ROMANCE OF THE MOONSTONE CANON TRAIL

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY ANTON FISCHER

NEW YORK

GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS

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COPYRIGHT, 1914, BY HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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To I. J. K.

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CONTENTS

          THE ROAD                                             xi
       I. THE PROSPECTOR                                        3
      II. WATER                                                10
     III. RAGGED ROMANCE                                       14
      IV. "ANY ROAD, AT ANY TIME, FOR ANYWHERE"                25
       V. "CAN HE RIDE?"                                       39
      VI. ADVOCATE EXTRAORDINARY                               48
     VII. THE GIRL WHO GLANCED BACK                            60
    VIII. THE TEST                                             72
      IX. A CELESTIAL ENTERPRISE                               88
       X. "PERFECTLY HARMLESS LITTLE OLE TENDERFOOT"           98
      XI. DESERT LAW                                          110
     XII. "FOOL'S LUCK"                                       125
    XIII. THE RETURN                                          132
     XIV. "CALL IT THE 'ROSE GIRL'"                           141
      XV. SILENT SAUNDERS                                     157
     XVI. BLUNDER                                             163
    XVII. GUESTS                                              177
   XVIII. A RED EPISODE                                       185
     XIX. "TO CUT MY TRAIL LIKE THAT"                         202
      XX. THE LED HORSE                                       211
     XXI. BORROWED PLUMES                                     223
    XXII. THE YUMA COLT                                       231
   XXIII. SILENT SAUNDERS SPEAKS                              247
    XXIV. "LIKE SUNSHINE"                                     254
     XXV. IN THE SHADOW OF THE HILLS                          262
    XXVI. SPECIAL                                             273
   XXVII. THE RIDERS                                          278
  XXVIII. GOPHERTOWN                                          288
    XXIX. TOLL                                                299
     XXX. TWO ROSES                                           305
    XXXI. NIGHT                                               320
   XXXII. MORNING                                             332
  XXXIII. A SPEECH                                            345

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ILLUSTRATIONS

OVERLAND LIMITED! (page 123)                         Frontispiece
THE GIRL'S LEVEL GRAY EYES STUDIED THE TRAMP'S FACE            16
"IT'S A CLEAN-UP"                                             296
"CAN'T I HAVE ANOTHER ONE, ROSE GIRL?"                        340

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The Road


Through the San Fernando Valley, toward the hills of Calabasas runs that
old road, El Camino Real of the early Mission days.

And now replicas of old Mission bells, each suspended in solitary
dignity from a rusted iron rod, mark intervals along the dusty way, once
a narrow trail worn by the patient feet of that gentle and great padre,
Junipero Serra,--a trail from the San Gabriel Valley to the shores of
Monterey. A narrow trail then, but, even then, to him it was broad in
its potential significance of the dawn of Grace upon the mountain shores
of Heaven's lost garden, California.

Not far from one iron-posted bell in the valley, El Camino Real falters,
to find, eventually, a lazy way round the low foothills, as though
reluctant to lift its winding length over the sharp pitch of the Canajo
Pass, beyond.

Near this lone bell another road, an offspring of old El Camino Real,
runs quickly from its gray and patient sire. Branching south in hurried
turns and multiple windings it climbs the rolling hills, ever dodging
the rude-piled masses of rock, with scattered brush between, but forever
aspiring courageously through the mountain sage and sunshine toward its
ultimate green rest in the shadowy hills.

In the sweet sage is the drone of bees, like the hum of a far city. The
thinning, acrid air is tinged with the faint fragrance of sunburnt
shrubs and grasses.

With the sinuous avoidings of a baffled snake the road turns and turns
upon itself until its earlier promise of high adventuring seems
doubtful. As often as not it climbs a semi-barren dun stretch of
sunbaked earth dotted with stubby cacti--passes these dwarfed
grotesques, and attempts the narrowing crest of the canon-wall, to swing
abruptly back to the cacti again, gaining but little in its upward
trend.

Impatient, it finally plunges dizzily round a sharp, outstanding angle
of rock and down into the unexpected enchantment of Moonstone Canon.
Here the gaunt cliffs rise to great wild gardens, draped with soft rose
and poignant red amid drowsy undertones of gray and green and gold. Dots
of vivid colors flame and fade and pass to ledges of dank, vineclad rock
and drifts of shale, as the road climbs again.

At the next turn are the indistinct voices of water, commingling in a
monotone--and the road ceases to be, as the cool silver of a mountain
stream cuts through it, with seemingly inconsequential meanderings, but
with the soft arrogance of a power too great to be denied. And the
indistinct voices, left behind, fade to unimaginable sounds as the
stream patters down its gravelly course, contented beyond measure with
its own adventuring.

Patiently the road takes up its way, moving in easier sweeps through a
widening valley, but forever climbing.

Again and again, fetlock deep across it runs the stream, gently
persistent and forever murmuring its happy soliloquies.

Here and there the road passes quickly through a blot of shade,--a group
of wide-spreading live-oaks,--and reappears, gray-white and hot in the
sun.

And then, its high ambition fulfilled, the road recovers from its last
climbing sweep round the base of a shouldering hill and runs straight
and smooth to its ultimate green rest in the shade of the sycamores.
Beyond these two huge-limbed warders of the mountain ranch gate, there
is a flower-bordered _way_, but it is the road no longer.

The mountain ranch takes its name from the canon below. It is the
Moonstone Ranch, the home of Louise, whose ancestors, the Lacharmes,
grew roses in old France.

Among the many riders to and from the ranch, there is one, a great,
two-fisted, high-complexioned man, whose genial presence is ever
welcome. He answers to many names. To the youngsters he is "Uncle
Jack,"--usually with an exclamation. To some of the older folk he is
"Mr. Summers," or "Jack." Again, the foreman of the Moonstone Ranch
seldom calls him anything more dignified than "Red." Louise does
sometimes call him--quite affectionately--"Overland."

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OVERLAND RED

CHAPTER I

THE PROSPECTOR


For five years he had journeyed back and forth between the little desert
station on the Mojave and the range to the north. The townspeople paid
scant attention to him. He was simply another "desert rat" obsessed with
the idea that gold was to be found in those northern hills. He bought
supplies and paid grudgingly. No one knew his name.

The prospector was much younger than he appeared to be. The desert sun
had dried his sinews and warped his shoulders. The desert wind had
scrawled thin lines of age upon his face. The desert solitude had
stooped him with its awesome burden of brooding silence.

Slowly his mind had been squeezed dry of all human interest save the
recurrent memory of a child's face--that, and the poignant memory of the
child's mother. For ten years he had been trying to forget. The last
five years on the desert had dimmed the woman's visioned face as the
child came more often between him and the memory of the mother, in his
dreams.

Then there were voices, the voices of strange spirits that winged
through the dusk of the outlands and hovered round his fire at night.

One voice, soft, insistent, ravished his imagination with visions of
illimitable power and peace and rest. "Gold! Lost gold!" it would
whisper as he sat by the meager flame. Then he would tremble and draw
nearer the warmth. "Where?" he would ask, tempting the darkness as a
child, fearfully certain of a reply.

Then another voice, cadenced like the soft rush of waves up the sand,
would murmur, "Somewhere away! Somewhere away! Somewhere away!" And in
the indefiniteness of that answer he found an inexplicable joy. The
vagueness of "Somewhere away" was as vast with pregnant possibilities as
his desert. His was the eternity of hope, boundless and splendid in its
extravagant promises. Drunk with the wine of dreams, he knew himself to
be a monarch, a monarch uncrowned and unattended, yet always with his
feet upon the wide threshold of his kingdom.

Then would come the biting chill of night, the manifold rays of stars
and silence, silence reft of winds, yet alive with the tense immobility
of the crouching beast, waiting ... waiting....

The desert, impassively withering him to the shell of a man, or wracking
him terribly in heat or in storm and cold, still cajoled him day and
night with promises, whispered, vague and intoxicating as the perfume of
a woman's hair.

Finally the desert flung wide the secret portals of her treasure-house
and gave royally like a courtesan of kings.

The man, his dream all but fulfilled, found the taste of awakening
bitter on his lips. He counted his years of toil and cursed as he viewed
his shrunken hands, claw-like, scarred, crippled.

He felt the weight of his years and dreaded their accumulated burdens.
He realized that the dream was all--its fulfillment nothing. He knew
himself to be a thing to be pointed at; yet he longed for the sound of
human voices, for the touch of human hands, for the living sweetness of
his child's face. The sirens of the invisible night no longer whispered
to him. He was utterly alone. He had entered his kingdom. Viewed from
afar it had seemed a vast pleasure-dome of infinite enchantment. He
found Success, as it ever shall be, a veritable desert, grudging man
foothold, yet luring him from one aspiration to another, only to consume
his years in dust.

A narrow canon held his secret. He had wandered into it, panned a little
black sand, and found color. Finally he discovered the fountainhead of
the hoarded yellow particles that spell Power. There in the fastness of
those steep, purgatorial walls was the hermitage of the two
voices--voices that no longer whispered of hope, but left him in the
utter loneliness of possession and its birthright, Fear.

He cried aloud for the companionship of men--and glanced fearfully round
lest man had heard him call.

He again journeyed to the town beside the railroad, bought supplies and
vanished, a ragged wraith, on the horizon.

Back in the canon he set about his labors, finding a numbing solace in
toil.

But at night he would think of the child's face. He had said to those
with whom he had left the child that he would return with a fortune.
They knew he went away to forget. They did not expect him to return.
That had been ten years ago. He had written twice. Then he had drifted,
always promising the inner voice that urged him that he would find gold
for her, his child, that she might ever think kindly of him. So he tried
to buy himself--with promises. Once he had been a man of his hands, a
man who stood straight and faced the sun. Now the people of the desert
town eyed him askance. He heard them say he was mad--that the desert had
"got him." They were wrong. The desert and its secret was his--a sullen
paramour, but _his_ nevertheless. Had she not given him of her very
heart?

He viewed his shrunken body, knew that he stooped and shuffled, realized
that he had paid the inevitable, the inexorable price for the secret.
His wine of dreams had evaporated.... He sifted the coarse gold between
his fingers, letting it fall back into the pan. Was it for _this_ that
he had wasted his soul?

       *       *       *       *       *

In the desert town men began to notice the regularity of his comings and
goings. Two or three of them foregathered in the saloon and commented on
it.

"He packed some dynamite last trip," asserted one.

There was a silence. The round clock behind the bar ticked loudly,
ominously.

"Then he's struck it at last," said another.

"Mebby," commented the first speaker.

The third man nodded. Then came silence again and the absolute ticking
of the clock. Presently from outside in the white heat of the road came
the rush of hoofs and an abrupt stop. A spurred and booted rider, his
swarthy face gray with dust, strode in, nodded to the group and called
for whiskey.

"Which way did he go, Saunders?" asked one.

"North, as usual," said the rider.

"Let's set down," suggested the third man.

They shuffled to a table. The bartender brought glasses and a bottle.
Then, uninvited, he pulled up a chair and sat with them. The rider
looked at him pointedly.

"Oh, I'm in on this," asserted the bartender. "Daugherty is the
Wells-Fargo man here. He won't talk to nobody but me--about _business_."

"What's that got to do with it?" queried the rider.

"Just what you'd notice, Saunders. Listen! The rat left a bag of dust in
the Company's safe last trip. Daugherty says its worth mebby five
hundred. He says the rat's goin' to bring in some more. Do I come in?"

"You're on," said the rider. "Now, see here, boys, we got to find out if
he's filed on it yet, and what his name is, and then--"

"Mebby we'd better find out _where_ it is first," suggested one.

"And then jump him?" queried the rider over his glass.

"And then jump him," chorused the group. "He's out there alone. It's
easy." And each poured himself a drink, for which, strangely enough, no
one offered to pay, and for which the bartender evidently forgot to
collect.

Meanwhile the prospector toiled through the drought of that summer
hoarding the little yellow flakes that he washed from the gravel in the
canon.




CHAPTER II

WATER


All round him for miles each way the water-holes had gone dry. The
little canon stream still wound down its shaded course, disappearing in
a patch of sand at the canon's mouth, so the prospector felt secure.
None had ridden out to look for him through that furnace of burning sand
that stretched between the hills and the desert town.

The stream dwindled slowly, imperceptibly.

One morning the prospector noticed it, and immediately explored the
creek clear to its source--a spurt of water springing from the roof of a
grotto in the cliff. Such a supply, evidently from the rocky heart of
the range itself, would be inexhaustible.

A week later he awoke to find the creek-bed dry save in a few
depressions among the rocks. He again visited the grotto. The place was
damp and cool, glistening with beads of moisture, but the flow from the
roof-crevice had ceased. Still he thought there must be plenty of water
beneath the rocks of the stream-bed. He would dig for it.

Another week, and he became uneasy. The stream had disappeared as though
poured into a colossal crevice. A few feet below the gravel he struck
solid rock. He tried dynamite unsuccessfully. Then he hoarded the
drippings from the grotto crevice till he had filled his canteen.
Carefully he stowed his gold in a chamois pouch and prepared to leave
the canon. His burro had strayed during the week of drought--was
probably dead beside some dry water-hole.

The prospector set out to cross the range in the light of the stars.

Fearful that he might be seen, panic warped his reasoning. He planned to
journey south along the foothills, until opposite the desert town and
then cross over to it. If he approached from such a direction, no one
would guess his original starting-place. He knew of an unfailing
water-hole two days' journey from the canon. This water-hole was far out
of his way, but his canteen supply would more than last till he reached
it.

Then Fate, the fate that had dogged his every step since first he
ventured into the solitudes, closed up and crept at his heels. He became
more morose and strangely fearful. His vision, refined by the wasting of
his body, created shadows that lay about his feet like stagnant pools,
shadows where no shadows should be.

Ominous was his fall as he crossed an arroyo. The canteen, slung over
his shoulder, struck a sharp point of rock that started one of the
seams. The leak was infinitesimal. The felt cover of the canteen
absorbed the drip, which evaporated. When he arrived at the water-hole,
_that_ was dry. His canteen felt strangely light. He could not remember
having used so much water. He changed his plan. He struck straight from
the hills toward the railroad. He knew that eventually he would, as he
journeyed west, cross it, perhaps near a water-tank.

Toward the blinding afternoon of that day he saw strange lakes and pools
spread out upon the distant sand and inverted mountain ranges stretching
to the horizon.

Fate crept closer to his heels, waiting with the dumb patience of the
desert to claim the struggling, impotent puppet whose little day was all
but spent.

He stumbled across the blazing bars of steel that marked the railroad.
His empty canteen clattered on the ties as he fell. He got to his knees
and dragged himself from the track. He laughed, for he had thwarted Fate
this once; he would not be run over by the train. He lay limp, wasted,
scarcely breathing.

Serenely Fate crouched near him, patient, impassive....

He heard a man speak and another answer. He felt an arm beneath his
head, and water.... Water!

He drank, and all at once his strength flamed up. It was not water they
gave him; it was merely the taste of it--a mockery. He wanted more ...
all!

He lurched to his feet, struggling with a bearded giant that held him
from his desire--to drink until he could drink no more--to die drinking
the water they had taken from him even as they gave it. He fought
blindly. Fate, disdaining further patience, arose and flung itself about
his feet. He stumbled. A flash wiped all things from his vision and the
long night came swiftly.




CHAPTER III

RAGGED ROMANCE


At the wide gate of the mountain ranch stood the girl. Her black
saddle-pony Boyar fretted to be away. Glancing back through the
cavernous shade of the live-oaks, the girl hesitated before opening the
gate. A little breeze, wayfaring through Moonstone Canon and on up to
the mountain ranch, touched the girl's cheek and she breathed deeply of
its cool fragrance.

The wide gate swung open, and Louise Lacharme, curbing Black Boyar, rode
out of the shadows into the hot light of the morning, singing as she
rode.

Against the soft gray of the canon wall flamed a crimson flower like a
pomegranate bud. Across the road ran the cool mountain stream. Away and
away toward the empty sky the ragged edges of the cliffs were etched
sharply upon the blue.

The road ran swiftly round the eastern wall of the canon. Louise, as
fragrantly bright as morning sunshine on golden flowers, laughed as the
pony's lithe bound tore the silver of the ford to swirling beads and
blade-like flashes.

On the rise beyond, the girl drew rein at the beginning of the Old
Meadow Trail, a hidden trail that led to a mountain meadow of ripe
grasses, groups of trees, and the enchantment of seclusion.

The pony shouldered through the breast-high greasewood and picked his
steps along the edge of the hill. The twigs and branches lisped and
clattered against the carved leather tapaderos that hooded the stirrups.
The warm sun awoke the wild fragrance of sage and mountain soil. Little
lizards of the stones raced from Black Boyar's tread, becoming rigid on
the sides of rocks, clinging at odd angles with heads slanted, like
delicate Orient carvings in dull brass.

The girl's eyes, the color of sea-water in the sun, were leveled toward
the distant hills across the San Fernando Valley. From her fingers
dangled the long bridle-reins. Her lips were gently parted. Her gaze was
the gaze of one who dreams in the daylight. And close in the hidden
meadow crouched Romance, Romance ragged, unkempt, jocular....

Boyar first scented the wood-smoke. Louise noticed his forward-standing
ears and his fidgeting. Immediately before her was the low rounded rock,
a throne of dreams that she had graced before. From down the slope and
almost hidden by the bulk of the rock, a little wand of smoke stood up
in the windless air, to break at last into tiny shreds and curls of
nothingness.

"It can't be much of a fire yet!" exclaimed Louise, forever watchful, as
are all the hill-folk, for that dread, ungovernable red monster of
destruction, a mountain fire. "It can't be much of a fire _yet_."

The pony Boyar, delicately scenting something more than wood-smoke,
snorted and swerved. Louise dismounted and stepped hurriedly round the
shoulder of the rock. A bristle-bearded face confronted her. "No, it
ain't much of a fire yet, but our hired girl she joined a movin'-picture
outfit, so us two he-things are doin' the best we can chasin' a
breakfast." And the tramp, Overland Red, ragged, unkempt, jocular, rose
from his knees beside a tiny blaze. He pulled a bleak flop of felt from
his tangled hair in an over-accentuated bow of welcome.

"We offer you the freedom of the city, ma'am. Welcome to our midst, and
kindly excuse appearances this morning. Our trunks got delayed in New
York."

Unsmilingly the girl's level gray eyes studied the tramp's face. Then
her glance swept him swiftly from bared head to rundown heel. "I was
just making up my mind whether I'd stay and talk with you, or ask you to
put out your fire and go somewhere else. But I think you are all right.
Please put on your hat."

[Illustration: THE GIRL'S LEVEL GRAY EYES STUDIED THE TRAMP'S FACE]

Overland Red's self-assurance shrunk a little. The girl's eyes were
direct and fearless, yet not altogether unfriendly. He thought that deep
within them dwelt a smile.

"You got my map all right," he said, a trifle more respectfully.
"'Course we'll douse the fire when we duck out of here. But what do you
think of Collie here, my pal? Is he all right?"

"Oh, he's only a boy," said Louise, glancing casually at the youth
crouched above the fire.

The boy, a slim lad of sixteen or thereabout, flushed beneath the
battered brim of his black felt hat. He watched the tomato-can
coffee-pot intently. Louise could not see his face.

"Yes, Miss. _I'm_ all right and so is he." And a humorous wistfulness
crept into the tramp's eyes. "He's what you might call a changeling."

"Changeling?"

"Uhuh! Always changin' around from place to place--when you're young.
Ain't that it?"

"Oh! And when you are older?" she queried, smiling.

Overland Red frowned. "Oh, then you're just a tramp, a Willie, a Bo, a
Hobo."

He saw the girl's eyes harden a little. He spoke quickly, and, she
imagined, truthfully. "I worked ten years for one outfit once, without
a change. And I never knowed what it was to do a day's work out of the
saddle. You know what that means."

"Cattle? Mexico?"

Overland Red grinned. "Say! You was born in California, wasn't you?"

"Yes, of course."

"'Cause Mexico has been about the only place a puncher could work that
long without doin' day labor on foot half the year. Yes, I been there.
'Course, now, I'm doin' high finance, and givin' advice to the young,
and livin' on my income. And say, when it comes to real brain work, I'm
the Most Exhausted Baked High Potentate, but I wouldn't do no mineral
labor for nobody. If I can't work in the saddle, I don't work--that's
all."

"Mineral labor? What, mining?" asked Louise.

"No, not mining. Jest mineral labor like Japs, or section-hands, or
coachmen with bugs on their hats. Ain't the papers always speakin' of
that kind as minerals?"

"Don't you mean menials?"

"Well, yes. It's all the same, anyway. I never do no hair-splittin' on
words. Bein' a pote myself, it ain't necessary."

"A--a poet! Really?"

"Really and truly, and carry one and add five. I've roped a lot of
po'try in my time, Miss. Say, are we campin' on your land?"

"No. This is government land, from here to our line up above--the
Moonstone Rancho."

"The Moonstone Rancho?" queried Overland Red, breaking a twig and
feeding the fire.

"Yes. It's named after the canon. But don't let me keep you from
breakfast."

"Breakfast, eh? That's right! I almost forgot it, talkin' to you.
Collie's got the coffee to boilin'. No, _you_ ain't keepin' us from our
breakfast any that you'd notice. It would take a whole reg'ment of
Rurales to keep us from a breakfast if we seen one runnin' around loose
without its pa or ma."

Louise Lacharme did not smile. This was too real. Here was adventure
with no raconteur's glamour, no bookish gloss. Here was Romance. Romance
unshaven, illiterate, with its coat off making coffee in a
smoke-blackened tomato-can, but Romance nevertheless. That this romance
should touch her life, Louise had not the faintest dream. She was
alone ... but, pshaw! Boyar was grazing near, and besides, she was not
really afraid of the men. She thought she rather liked them, or, more
particularly, the boisterous one who had said his name was Overland Red.

The tramp gazed at her a moment before he lifted the tomato-can from the
embers. "We know you won't join us, but we're goin' to give you the
invite just the same. And we mean it. Ma'am, if you'll be so kind as to
draw up your chair, us gents'll eat."

"Thank you!" said Louise, and Overland's face brightened at the
good-fellowship in her voice. "Thank you both, but I've had breakfast."

She gazed at the solitary, bubbling, tomato-can coffee-pot of
"second-edition" coffee. There was nothing else to grace the board, or
rather rock. "I'll be right back," she said. "I'll just take off Boyar's
bridle. Here, Boy!" she called. "You'll be able to eat better."

And she ran to the pony. From a saddle-pocket she took her own lunch of
sandwiches and ripe olives wrapped in oiled paper. She delayed her
return to loosen the forward cincha of the saddle and to find the little
stock of cigarette-papers and tobacco that she carried for any chance
rider of the Moonstone who might be without them.

Collie, the boy tramp, glanced up at Overland Red. "I guess she's gone,"
he said regretfully.

"You're nutty, Collie. She ain't the kind to sneak off after sayin'
she's comin' back. I know a hoss and a real woman when I see 'em. I was
raised in the West, myself."

The boy Collie was young, sensitive, and he had not been "raised in the
West." He frowned. "Yes, you was raised in the West, and what you got to
show for it?"

"Well, hear the kid!" exclaimed Overland. "Out of the mouth of babes and
saplings! What have I got to show? What have I--! Wha--? Oh, you go
chase a snake! I know a good hoss and a good woman when I see 'em, and I
seen both together this morning."

"But what do _she_ want with us bos?" asked the boy.

"S-s-h-h! Why, she's interested in me romantic past, of course. Ain't I
the 'cute little gopher when it comes to the ladies? Fan me, Collie, and
slow music and a beer for one. I'm some lady's-man, sister!"

"You're a bo, the same as me," said the boy.

"S-s-h-h! For the love of Pete, don't you handle that word 'bo' so
careless. It's loaded. It has a jarrin' effect on ears
unattenuated--er--meanin' ears that ain't keyed up to it, as the pote
says. She's comin' back. Fold your napkin. Don't look so blame hungry!
Ain't you got any style?"

"She's the prettiest girl I ever seen," said the boy, hastily swallowing
his share of the hot, insipid coffee.

"Pretty?" whispered Overland, as Louise approached. "She's thoroughbred.
Did you see them eyes? Afraid of nothin', and smilin' at what might dast
to scare her. Not foolish, either. She's wise. And she's kind and
laughin', and not ashamed to talk to us. That's thoroughbred."

Round the rock came Louise, the neat package of sandwiches in one hand.
In the other was the tobacco and cigarette-papers. "I'm going to have my
luncheon," she said. "If you won't object, I'll take a sandwich. There,
I have mine. The rest are for you."

"We had our breakfast," said Overland quickly, "when you was talkin' to
your pony."

Louise glanced at the empty tomato-can. "Well, I'll excuse you for not
waiting for me, but I shall not excuse you from having luncheon with me.
I made these sandwiches myself. Have one. They're really good."

"Oh!" groaned Overland, grimacing. "If I could curry up my language
smooth, like that, I--I guess I'd get deaf listenin' to myself talk. You
said that speech like takin' two turns round the bandstand tryin' to
catch yourself, and then climbin' a post and steppin' on your own
shoulders so you could see the parade down the street. Do you get that?"
And he sighed heavily. "Say! These here sandwiches is great!"

"Will you have one?" asked Louise, gracefully proffering the olives.

"Seein' it's you. Thanks. I always take two. The second one for a chaser
to kill the taste of the first. It's the only way to eat 'em--if you
know where to stop. They do taste like somethin' you done and are sorry
for afterwards, don't they?"

"Were you ever sorry for anything?" asked the boy, feeling a little
piqued that he had been left out of the conversation.

"I was raised in the West, myself," growled the tramp, scowling. "But
that's a good pony you got, Miss. That your saddle too?"

"Yes."

"You rope any?"

"A little. How did you know?"

"Rawhide cover to the saddle-horn is wore with a rope," said Overland,
helping himself to a second sandwich.

Then the tramp and the girl, oblivious to everything else, discussed
rawhide riatas as compared with the regular three-strand stock rope, or
lariat,--center-fire, three quarter, and double rigs, swell forks and
old Visalia trees, spade bits and "U" curbs,--neither willing, even
lightly, to admit the other's superiority of chosen rig.

The boy Collie listened intently and a trifle jealously. Overland Red
and the girl had found a common ground of interest that excluded him
utterly. The boy itched for an excuse to make the girl speak to him,
even look at him.

The sandwiches gone, Louise proffered Overland tobacco and papers.
Actual tears stood in the ex-cowboy's eyes. "Smoke! Me?" he exclaimed.
"I was dyin' for it. I'd do time for you!"

Then in that boyish spirit that never quite leaves the range-rider,
Overland Red took the tobacco and papers and cleverly rolled a cigarette
with one hand. In the other he held his battered felt hat. His eyes had
a far-away look as he reached forward and lighted his cigarette at the
fire. "I was settin' on a crazy bronc', holdin' his head up so he
couldn't go to buckin'--outside a little old adobe down in Yuma,
Arizona, then," he explained, glancing at the girl. "Did you ever drift
away complete, like that, jest from some little old trick to make you
dream?"




CHAPTER IV

"ANY ROAD, AT ANY TIME, FOR ANYWHERE"


The boy Collie took the empty tomato-can and went for water with which
to put out the fire.

Louise and Overland Red gazed silently at the youthful figure crossing
the meadow. The same thought was in both their hearts--that the boy's
chance in life was still ahead of him. Something of this was in the
girl's level gray eyes as she asked, "Why did you come up here, so far
from the town and the railroad?"

"We generally don't," replied Overland Red. "We ain't broke. Collie's
got some money. We got out of grub from comin' up here. We come up to
see the scenery. I ain't kiddin'; we sure did! 'Course, speakin' in
general, a free lunch looks better to me any day than the Yosemite--but
that's because I need the lunch. You got to be fed up to it to enjoy
scenery. Now, on the road we're lookin' at lots of it every day, but we
ain't seein' much. But give me a good feed and turn me loose in the Big
Show Pasture where the Bridal Veil is weepin' jealous of the Cathedral
Spires, and the Big Trees is too big to be jealous of anything, where
Adam would 'a' felt old the day he was born--jest take off my hobbles
and turn me out to graze _there_, and _feed_, and say, lady, I scorn the
idea of doin' _any_thing but decomposin' my feelin's and smokin' and
writin' po'try. I been there! There's where I writ the song called 'Beat
It, Bo.' Mebby you heard of it."

"No, I should like to hear it."

The fire steamed and spluttered as Collie extinguished it. Overland Red
handed the tobacco and papers to him.

"About comin' up this here trail?" he resumed as the boy stretched
beside them on the warm earth. "Well, Miss, it was four years ago that I
picked up Collie here at Albuquerque. His pa died sudden and left the
kid to find out what a hard map this ole world is. We been across, from
Frisco to New York, twice since then, and from Seattle to San Diego on
the side, and 'most everywhere in California, it bein' my native State
and the best of the lot. You see, Collie, he's gettin' what you might
call a liberated education, full of big ideas--no dinky stuff. Yes, I
picked him up at Albuquerque, a half-starved, skinny little cuss that
was cryin' and beggin' me to get him out of there."

"Albuquerque?" queried Louise.

"Uhuh. Later, comin' acrost the Mojave, we got thrun off a freight by
mistake for a couple of sewin'-machines that we was ridin' with to
Barstow, so the tickets on the crates said. That was near Daggett, by a
water-tank. It was hotter than settin' on a stove in Death Valley at 12
o'clock Sunday noon. We beat it for the next town, afoot. Collie
commenced to give out. He was pretty tender and not strong. I lugged him
some and he walked some. He was talkin' of green grass and cucumbers in
the ice-box and ice-cream and home and the Maumee River, and a whole lot
of things you can't find in the desert. Well, I got him to his feet next
mornin'. We had some trouble, and was detained a spell in Barstow after
that. They couldn't prove nothin', so they let us go. Then Collie got to
talkin' again about a California road that wiggled up a hill and through
a canon, and had one of these here ole Mission bells where it lit off
for the sky-ranch. Funny, for he was never in California then. Mebby it
was the old post-card he got at Albuquerque. You see his pa bought it
for him 'cause he wanted it. He was only a kid then. Collie, he says
it's the only thing his pa ever did buy for him, and so he kept it till
it was about wore out from lookin' at it. But considerin' how his pa
acted, I guess that was about all Collie needed to remember him by.
Anyhow, he dreamed of that road, and told me so much about it that I
got to lookin' for it too. I knowed of the old El Camino Real and the
bells, so we kept our eye peeled for that particular dream road, kind of
for fun. We found her yesterday."

"What, this? The road to our ranch?"

"Uhuh. Collie, he said so the minute we got in that canon, Moonstone
Canon, you said. We're restin' up and enjoyin' the scenery. We need the
rest, for only last week we resigned from doin' a stunt in a
movin'-picture outfit. They wanted somebody to do native sons. We said
we didn't have them kind of clothes, but the foreman of the outfit says
we'd do fine jest as we was. It was fierce--and, believe me, lady, I
been through some! I been through some!

"They was two others in checker clothes and dip-lid caps, and they
_wasn't_ native sons. They acted like sons of--I'd hate to tell you
what, Miss--to the chief dollie in the show. They stole her beau and
tied him to the S. P. tracks; kind of loose, though. She didn't seem to
care. She jest stood around chewin' gum and rollin' her lamps at the
head guy. Then the movin'-picture express, which was a retired
switch-engine hooked onto a Swede observation car, backs down on
Adolphus, and we was to rush up like--pretty fast, and save his life.

"She was a sassy little chicken with blond feathers and a three-quarter
rig skirt. She had a regular strawberry-ice-cream-soda complexion, and
her eyes looked like a couple of glass alleys with electric lights in
'em. I wondered if she took 'em out at night to go to sleep or only
switched off the current. Anyhow, up she rides in a big reddish kind of
automobile and twists her hands round her wrists and looks up the track
and down the track and sees us and says, 'Oh, w'ich way has he went?
W'ich way did Disgustus Adolphus beat it to?' And chewin' gum right on
top of that, too. It was tough on us, Miss, but we needed the money.

"'Bout the eighteenth time she comes coughin' up in that old one-lung
machine,--to get her expression right, so the boss kept hollerin',--why,
I gets sick and tired. If there's anything _doin_', why, I'm game, but
such monkeyin'! There was that picture-machine idiot workin' the crank
as if he was shellin' a thicket-full of Injuns with a Gatling, and his
fool cap turned round with the lid down the back of his neck, and me and
Collie, the only sensible-actin' ones of the lot, because we was actin'
natural, jest restin'. I got sick and tired. The next time up coughs
that crippled-up automobile with the mumps on its front tire, and she
says, 'Where, oh, where has he went?' I ups and says, 'Crazy, Miss, and
can you blame him?'

"She didn't see no joke in that, so the boss he fired us. He wasn't
goin' to pay us at that, but I picks up the little picture-machine box
and I swings her up over the track kind of suggestive like. 'One!' said
I. 'Do we get our money?'

"'Drop that machine!' says he, rushin' up to me.

"'I'm a-goin' to,' says I, 'good and hard. Think again, while I count.
Do we get our money?'

"'You get pinched!' says he.

"'Two,' says I, and I swings the box up by the legs.

"'Hole on!' yells the boss. 'Pay the mutt, Jimmy, and, for Gord sake,
get that machine before he ruins the best reel we made yet!'

"We got paid."

"But the bell and Moonstone Canon?" questioned Louise, glancing back at
Boyar grazing down the meadow.

"Sure! Well, we flopped near here that night--"

"Flopped?"

"Uhuh. Let's see, you ain't hep to that, are you? Why, we crawled to the
hay, hit the feathers, pounded our ear--er--went to bed! That's what it
used to be. Well, in the morning, me and Collie got some sardines and
crackers to the store and a little coffee. It was goin' over there that
we seen the bell and the road and the whole works. I got kind of
interested myself in that canon. I never saw so many moonstones layin'
right on top the gravel, and I been in Mex., too. We liked it and we
stayed over last night, expectin' to be gone by now."

"And when you leave here?" queried Louise.

"Same old thing," replied Overland cheerfully. "I know the ropes. Collie
works by spells. Oh, we're livin', and that's all you need to do in
California."

"And that is all--now that you have found the road?"

"Oh, the road is like all of them dreams," said Overland. "Such things
are good for keepin' people interested in somethin' till it's done,
that's all. It was fun at first, lookin' up every arroyo and slit in the
hills, till we found it. Same as them marriages on the desert, after
that."

"Marriages?"

"Uhuh. Seein' water what ain't there, like."

"Oh, mirages!" And Louise laughed joyfully.

"I don't see no joke," said Overland, aggrieved.

"I really beg your pardon."

"That's all right, Miss. But what would you call it?"

"Oh, an illusion, a mirage, something that seems to be, but that is
not."

"I don't see where it's got anything on marriages, then, do you? But I
ain't generally peppermistic. I believe in folks and things, although
I'm old enough to know better."

"I'm glad you believe in folks," said Louise. "So do I."

"It's account of bein' a pote, I guess," sighed the tramp. "'Course I
ain't a professional. They got to have a license. I never took out one,
not havin' the money. Anyway, if I did have enough money for a regular
license, I'd start a saloon and live respectable."

"Won't you quote something?" And the girl smiled bewitchingly. "Boyar
and I must go soon. It's getting hot."

"I'm mighty sorry you're goin', Miss. You're real California stock.
Knowed it the minute I set eyes on you. Besides, you passed us the
smokes."

"Red, you shut up!"

Overland turned a blue, astonished eye on Collie. "Why, kiddo, what's
bitin' _you_?"

"Because the lady give us the makings don't say _she_ smokes, does it?"

Overland grunted. "Because you're foolish with the heat, don't say I am,
does it? Them sandwiches has gone to your head, Chico. Who said she did
smoke?"

Louise, grave-eyed, watched the two men, Overland sullen and scowling,
Collie fierce and flaming.

"We ain't used to--to real ladies," apologized Overland. "We could do
better if we practiced up."

"Of course!" said Louise, smiling. "But the poetry."

"U-m-m, yes. The po'try. What'll I give her, Collie?"

"I don't care," replied the boy. "You might try 'Casey Jones.' It's
better'n anything _you_ ever wrote."

"That? I guess not! That ain't her style. I mean one of my
_own_--somethin' _good_."

"Oh, I don't know. 'Toledo Blake,'" mumbled Collie.

"Nope! But I guess the 'Grand Old Privilege' will do for a starter."

"Oh, good!" And Louise clapped her hands. "The title is splendid. Is the
poem original?"

The tramp bowed a trifle haughtily. "Original? Me life's work, lady."
And he awkwardly essayed to button a buttonless coat, coughed, waved his
half-consumed cigarette toward the skies, and began:--

  "Folks say we got no morals--that they all fell in the soup;
  And no conscience--so the would-be goodies say;
  And I guess our good intentions _did_ jest up and flew the coop,
  While we stood around and watched 'em fade away.

  "But there's one thing that we're lovin' more than money, grub, or booze,
  Or even decent folks that speaks us fair;
  And that's the Grand Old Privilege to chuck our luck and choose,
  _Any_ road at _any_ time for _any_ where."

And Overland, his hand above his heart, bowed effusively.

"I like 'would-be goodies,'" said Louise. "Sounds just like a mussy,
sticky cookie that's too sweet. And 'Any road at any time for any
where--' I think that is real."

Overland puffed his chest and cleared his throat. "I can't help it,
Miss. Born that way. Cut my first tooth on a book of pomes ma got for a
premium with Mustang Liniment."

"Well, thank you." And Louise nodded gayly. "Keep the tobacco and papers
to remember me by. I must go."

"We don't need them to remember you by," said Overland gallantly. Then
the smile suddenly left his face.

Down the Old Meadow Trail, unseen by the girl and the boy, rode a single
horseman, and something at his hip glinted in the sun. Overland's hand
went to his own hip. Then he shrugged his shoulders, and slowly
recovered himself. "What's the use?" he muttered.

But there was that in his tone which brought Collie's head up. The lad
pushed back his battered felt hat and ran his fingers through his wavy
black hair, perplexedly. "What's the matter, Red? What's the matter?"

"Nothin'. Jest thinkin'." Yet the tramp's eyes narrowed as he glanced
furtively past the girl to where Boyar, the black pony, grazed in the
meadow.

Louise, puzzled by something familiar in the boy's upturned, questioning
face, raised one gauntleted hand to her lips. "Why, you're the boy I
saw, out on the desert, two years ago. Weren't you lying by a water-tank
when our train stopped and a man was kneeling beside you pouring water
on your face? Aren't you that boy?"

"Yes!" exclaimed Collie, getting to his feet. "Red told me about _you_,
too."

"Yes, it's her," muttered Overland, nodding to himself.

"And you chucked a rose out of the window to us?" said the boy.
"Overland said _she_ did."

"Yes. It's her, the Rose-Lady Girl," said Overland. "Some of the folks
in the train laughed when I picked up the rose. I remember. Some one
else says, 'They're only tramps.' I recollect that, too."

"But those men were arrested at Barstow, for murder, Uncle Walter said."

Again Overland Red nodded. "They was, Miss. But they couldn't prove
nothin', so they let us go."

"We always was goin' to say thanks to the girl with the rose if we ever
seen her," said the boy Collie. "We ain't had such a lot of roses give
to us."

"So we says it now," said Overland quickly. "Or mebby we wouldn't never
have another chance." Then he slowly rolled another cigarette.

Just then the black pony Boyar nickered. He recognized a friend entering
the meadow.

Overland lighted his cigarette. As he straightened up, Louise was
surprised to see him thrust both hands above his head while he continued
smoking placidly. "Excuse me, Miss," he said, turning the cigarette
round with his lips; "but the gent behind you with the gun has got the
drop on me. I guess he's waitin' for you to step out of range."

Louise turned swiftly. Dick Tenlow, deputy sheriff, nodded good-morning
to her, but kept his gun trained on the tramp.

"Just step out from behind that rock," said Tenlow, addressing
Overland.

"Don't know as I will," replied the tramp. "You're no gentleman; you
didn't say 'please.'"

"Come on! No bluff like that goes here," said the deputy.

"Can't you see I ain't finished smokin' yet?" queried Overland.

"Come on! Step along!"

"No way to address a gent, you Johnny. Say, I'll tell you _now_ before
you fall down and shoot yourself. Do you think you got me because you
rode up while I was talkin' to a lady, and butted into polite
conversation like a drunk Swede at a dance? Say, you think I'd 'a' ever
let you got this far if there hadn't been a lady present? Why, you
little nickle-plated, rubber-eared policeman, I was doin' the double
roll with a pair of Colts .45's when you was learnin' the taste of
milk!"

"That'll be about all for _you_," said the sheriff, grinning.

"No, it ain't. You ain't takin' me serious, and there's where you're
makin' your mistake. I'm touchy about some things, Mr. Pussy-foot. I
could 'a' got you three times while you was ridin' down that trail, and
I wouldn't 'a' had to stop talkin' to do it. And you with that little
old gun out before you even seen me!"

"Why didn't you, then?" asked Tenlow, restraining his anger; for Louise,
in spite of herself, had smiled at Overland's somewhat picturesque
resentment. "Why didn't you, then?"

"Huh!" snorted Overland scornfully. "Do you suppose I'd start anything
with a _lady_ around? That ain't my style. You're a kid. You'll get hurt
some day."

Deputy Tenlow scowled. He was a big man, slow of tongue, ordinarily
genial, and proverbially stupid. He knew the tramp was endeavoring to
anger him. The deputy turned to Louise. "Sorry, Miss Lacharme, but I got
to take him."

"There's really nothing to hinder, is there?" Louise asked sweetly.




CHAPTER V

"CAN HE RIDE?"


The tramp glanced up, addressing the deputy. "Yes, even now there is
something to hinder, if I was to get busy." Then he coolly dropped his
arms and leaned against the rock with one leg crossed before the other
in a manner sometimes supposed to reflect social ease and elegance. "But
I'm game to take what's comin'. If you'll just stick me up and extract
the .38 automatic I'm packin' on my hip,--and, believe me, she's a bad
Gat. when she's in action,--why, I'll feel lots better. The little gun
might get to shootin' by herself, and then somebody would get hurt sure.
You see, I'm givin' you all the chance you want to take me without
gettin' mussed up. I'm nervous about firearms, anyhow."

Deputy Dick Tenlow advanced and secured the gun.

"Now," said Overland Red, heaving a sigh; "now, I ain't ashamed to look
a gun in the face. You see, Miss," he added, turning to address the
girl, "I was sheriff of Abilene once, in the ole red-eye, rumpus days. I
have planted some citizens in my time. You see, I kind of owe the ones
I did plant a silent apology for lettin' this here chicken-rancher get
me so easy."

"You talk big," said Tenlow, laughing. "Who was you when you was sheriff
of Abilene, eh?"

"Jack Summers, sometimes called Red Jack Summers," replied Overland
quietly, and he looked the deputy in the eye.

"Jack Summers!"

Overland nodded. "Take it or leave it. You'll find out some day. And now
you got some excuse for packin' a gun round these here peaceful hills
and valleys the rest of your life. You took Jack Summers, and there
ain't goin' to be a funeral."

Something about the tramp's manner inclined the deputy to believe that
he had spoken truth. "All right," said Tenlow; "just step ahead. Don't
try the brush or I'll drop you."

"'Course you would," said Overland, stepping ahead of the deputy's pony.
"But the bunch you're takin' orders from don't want me dead; they want
me alive. I ain't no good all shot up. You ought to know that."

"I know there's a thousand dollars reward for you. I need the money."

Overland Red grinned. "It's against me morals to bet--with kids. But
I'll put up that little automatic you frisked off me, against the
thousand you expect to get, that you don't even get a long-range smell
of that money. Are you on?"

Tenlow motioned the other to step ahead.

"I'm bettin' my little gun to a thousand dollars less than nothin'.
Ain't you game? I'm givin' you the long end."

"Never mind," growled Tenlow. "You can talk later."

The boy Collie, recovering from his surprise at the arrest, stepped up
to the sheriff. "Where do I come in?" he asked. "You can't pinch Red
without me. I was with him that time the guy croaked out on the Mojave.
Red didn't kill him. They let us go once. What you doin' pinchin' us
again? How do _you_ know--"

"Hold on, Collie; don't get careless," said Overland. "He don't know
nothin'. He's followin' orders. The game's up."

Louise whistled Boyar to her and bridled him. The little group ahead
seemed to be waiting for her. She led the pony toward the trail. "Did he
do it?" she asked as she caught up with Collie.

"No," he muttered. "Red's the squarest pal on earth. Red tried to save
the guy--out there on the desert. Gave him all the water we had, pretty
near. He dassent to give him all, for because he was afraid it would
kill him. The guy fell and hit his head on the rail. Red said he was
dyin' on his feet, anyway. Then Red lugged me clean to that tank where
you seen us from the train. I was all in. I guess Red saved my life. He
didn't tell you that."

"Is he--was he really a cowboy? Can he ride?" asked Louise.

"Can he ride? Say, I seen him ride Cyclone once and get first money for
ridin' the worst buckin' bronc' at the rodeo, over to Tucson. Well, I
guess!"

"Boyar, my pony, is the fastest pony in the hills," said Louise
pensively.

"What you givin' us?" said the boy, glancing at her sharply.

"Nothing. I was merely imagining something."

"Red's square," asserted the boy.

"Sheriff Tenlow is a splendid shot," murmured Louise, with apparent
irrelevance.

They had crossed the meadow. Ahead of the sheriff walked Overland, his
slouch gone, his head carried high. Collie noted this unusual alertness
of poise and wondered.

"Don't try the brush," cautioned Tenlow, also aware of Overland's
alertness.

"When I leave here, I'll ride. Sabe?" And Overland stepped briskly to
the trail, turning his back squarely on the alert and puzzled sheriff.

"He's been raised in these hills," muttered the tramp. "He knows the
trails. I don't. But--I'd like to show that little Rose-Lady Girl some
real ridin' once. She's a sport. I'd ride into hell and rake out the
fire for her.... I hate to--to do it--but I guess I got to."

"Step up there," said Tenlow. "What you talkin' about, anyhow?"

"Angels," replied Overland. "I see 'em once in a while." And he glanced
back. He saw Collie talking to the girl, who stood by her pony, the
reins dangling lightly from her outstretched hand.

"Snake!" screamed Overland Red, leaping backward and flinging up his
arms, directly in the face of the deputy's pony. The horse reared.
Overland, crouching, sprang under its belly, striking it as he went.
Again the pony reared, nearly throwing the deputy.

"Overland Limited!" shouted the tramp, dashing toward Boyar. With a
spring he was in the saddle and had slipped the quirt from the
saddle-horn to his wrist. He would need that quirt, as he had no spurs.

Round swung Tenlow, cursing. Black Boyar shot across the meadow, the
quirt falling at each jump. The tramp glanced back. Tenlow's right hand
went up and his gun roared once, twice....

The boy Collie, white and gasping, threw himself in front of Tenlow's
horse. The deputy spurred the pony over him and swept down the meadow.

Louise, angered in that the boy had snatched Boyar's reins from her as
Overland shouted, relented as she saw the instant bravery in the lad's
endeavor to stop Tenlow's horse. She stooped over him. He rose stiffly.

"Oh! I thought you were hurt!" she exclaimed.

"Nope! I guess not. I was scared, I guess. Let's watch 'em, Miss!" And
forgetful of his bruised and shaken body, he limped to the edge of the
meadow, followed by Louise. "There they go!" he cried. "Red's 'way
ahead. The sheriff gent can't shoot again--he's too busy ridin'."

"Boyar! Boyar! Good horse! Good horse!" cried the girl as the black pony
flashed across the steep slope of the ragged mountain side like a winged
thing. "Boyar! Boy!"

She shivered as the loose shale, ploughed by the pony's flying hoofs,
slithered down the slope at every plunge.

"Can he ride?" shouted Collie, wild tears of joy in his eyes.

Suddenly Overland, glancing back, saw Tenlow stop and raise his arm. The
tramp cowboy swung Black Boyar half-round, and driving his unspurred
heels into the pony's ribs, put him straight down the terrific slope of
the mountain at a run.

Tenlow's gun cracked. A spray of dust rose instantly ahead of Boyar.

"Look! Look!" cried Louise. The deputy, angered out of his usual
judgment, spurred his horse directly down the footless shale that the
tramp had ridden across diagonally. "Look! He can't--The horse--! Oh!"
she groaned as Tenlow's pony stumbled and all but pitched headlong. "The
other man--knew better than that--" she gasped, turning to the boy. "He
waited--till he struck rock and brush before he turned Boyar."

"Can he ride?" shouted Collie, grinning. But the grin died to a gasp. A
burst of shale and dust shot up from the hillside. They saw the flash of
the cinchas on the belly of Tenlow's horse as the dauntless pony
stumbled and dove headlong down the slope, rolling over and over, to
stop finally--a patch of brown, shapeless, quivering.

Below, Overland Red had curbed Boyar and was gazing up at a spot of
black on the hillside--Dick Tenlow, motionless, silent. His sombrero lay
several yards down the slope.

"Oh! The horse!" cried Louise, chokingly, with her hand to her breast.

As for Dick Tenlow, lying halfway down the hillside, stunned and
shattered, she had but a secondary sympathy. He had sacrificed a gallant
and willing beast to his anger. The tramp, riding a strange pony over
desperately perilous and unfamiliar ground, had used judgment. "Your
friend is a man!" she said, turning to the boy. "But Dick Tenlow is
hurt--perhaps killed. He went under the horse when it fell."

"I guess it's up to us to see if the sheriff gent is done for, at that,"
said the boy. "Mebby we can do something."

"You'll get arrested, now," said the girl. "If Dick Tenlow is alive,
you'll have to go for help. If he isn't...."

"I'll go, all right. I ain't afraid. I didn't do anything. I guess I'll
stick around till Red shows up again, anyhow."

"You're a stranger here. I should go as soon as you have sent help,"
said the girl.

"Mebby I better. I'll help get him up the hill and in the shade. Then
I'll beat it for the doc. If I don't come back after that," he said
slowly, flushing, "it ain't because I'm scared of anything I done."

       *       *       *       *       *

Far down in the valley Boyar's sweating sides glistened in the sun. An
arm was raised in a gesture of farewell as the tramp swung the pony
toward the town. Much to her surprise, Louise found herself waving a
vigorous adieu to the distant figure.

The tramp Overland, realizing that the deputy was badly injured, told
the first person he met about the accident, advising him to get help at
once for the deputy. Then he turned the pony toward the foothills. In a
clump of greasewood he dismounted, and, leaving the reins hanging to the
saddle-horn, struck Black Boyar on the flank. The horse leaped toward
the Moonstone Trail. The tramp disappeared in the brush.




CHAPTER VI

ADVOCATE EXTRAORDINARY


Louise Lacharme, more beautiful than roses, strolled across the
vine-shadowed porch of the big ranch-house and sat on the porch rail
opposite her uncle. His clear blue eyes twinkled approval as he gazed at
her.

Walter Stone was fifty, but the fifty of the hard-riding optimist of the
great outdoors. The smooth tan of his cheeks contrasted oddly with the
silver of his close-cropped hair. He appeared as a young man prematurely
gray.

"How is Boyar?" he asked, smiling a little as Louise, sitting sideways
on the porch-rail, swung her foot back and forth quickly.

"Oh, Boy is all right. The tramp turned him loose in the valley. Boy
came home."

"It was a clever bit of riding, to get the best of Tenlow on his own
range. Was Dick very badly hurt?" queried Walter Stone.

"Yes, his collar-bone was broken and he was crushed and terribly
bruised. His horse was killed. When I was down, day before yesterday,
the doctor said Dick would be all right in time."

"How about this boy, the tramp boy they arrested?"

"Oh," said Louise, "that was a shame! He stayed and helped the doctor
put Dick in the buggy and rode with him to town. Mr. Tenlow was
unconscious, and the boy had to go to hold him. Then the boy explained
it all at the store, and they arrested him anyway, as a suspicious
character. I should have let him go. When Mr. Tenlow became conscious
and they told him they had the boy, he said to keep him in the
calaboose; that that was where he belonged."

"And you want me to see what I can do for this boy?"

"I didn't say so." And Louise tilted her chin.

"Now, sweetheart, don't quibble. It isn't like you."

The gray silk-clad ankle flashed back and forth. "Really, Uncle Walter,
you could have done something for the boy without making me say that I
wanted you to. You're always doing something nice--helping people that
are in trouble. You don't usually have to be asked."

"Perhaps I like to be asked--by--Louise."

"You're just flattering me, I know! But uncle, if you had seen the boy
jump in front of Mr. Tenlow's horse when Dick shot at the tramp,--and
afterwards when the boy helped me with Dick and stuck right to him clear
to his house,--why, you couldn't help but admire him. Then they
arrested him--for what? It's a shame! I told him to run when I saw the
doctor's buggy coming."

"Yes, Louise; the boy may be brave and likable enough, but how are we to
know what he really is? I don't like to take the risk. I don't like to
meddle in such affairs."

"Uncle Walter! Risk! And the risks you used to take when you were a
young man. Oh, Aunty Eleanor has told me all about your riding bronchos
and the Panamint--and lots of things. I won't tell you all, for you'd be
flattered to pieces, and I want you in one whole lump to-day."

"Only for to-day, Louise?"

"Oh, maybe for to-morrow, and to-morrow and to-morrow. But, uncle, only
last week you said at breakfast that the present system of arrest and
imprisonment was all wrong. That was because they arrested that editor
who was a friend of yours. But now, when you have a chance to prove that
you were in earnest, you don't seem a bit interested."

"Did I really say all that, sweetness?"

"Now _you_ are quibbling. And does 'sweetness,' mean me, or what you
said at breakfast? Because you said 'the whole damn system'; and there
were two ladies at the table. Of course, that was before breakfast.
After breakfast you picked a rose for aunty, and kissed me."

Walter Stone laughed heartily. "But I do take a great deal of interest
in anything that interests you."

Louise slipped lithely from the porch-rail and swung up on the broad arm
of his chair, snuggling against him impetuously. "I know you do, uncle.
I just love you! I'll stop teasing."

"I surrender. I'm a pretty fair soldier at long range, but this"--and
his arm went round her affectionately--"this is utter defeat. I strike
my colors. Then, you always give in so gracefully."

"To you, perhaps, Uncle Walter. But I haven't given in this time. I'm
just as interested as ever."

"And you think they are the men we saw out on the Mojave by the
water-tank?"

"Oh, I know it! They remembered the rose. They spoke of it right away,
before I did."

"Yes, Louise. And you remember, too, that they were arrested at
Barstow--for murder, the conductor said?"

"That's just it! The boy Collie says the tramp Overland Red didn't kill
the man. He was trying to save him and gave him water. If you could only
hear what the boy says about it--"

"I don't suppose it would do any harm," said the rancher. "I dislike to
use my influence. You know, I practically control Dick Tenlow's place at
the elections."

"That's just why he should be willing to let the boy go," said Louise
quickly.

"No, sweetheart. That's just why I shouldn't ask Dick to do anything of
the kind. But I see I'm in for it. You have already interested your Aunt
Eleanor. She spoke to me about the boy last night."

"Aunty Eleanor is a dear. I didn't really ask her to speak to you."

"No," he said, laughing. "Of course not. You're too clever for that. You
simply sow your poppy-seed and leave it alone. The poppies come up fast
enough."

Louise laughed softly. "You're pretending to criticize and you're really
flattering,--deliberately,--aren't you, Uncle Walter?"

"Flattering? And you?"

"Because Aunt Eleanor said you could be simply irresistible when you
wanted to be. I think so, too. Especially when you are on a horse."

"Naturally. I always did feel more confident in the saddle. I could, if
need arose, ride away like the chap in Bobby Burns's verse, you
remember--

  "He gave his bridle-rein a shake,
  And turned him on the shore,
  With, 'Farewell, forever more, my dear,
  Farewell, forever more.'"

"But you didn't, uncle. Aunty said she used to be almost afraid that
you'd ride away with her, like Lochinvar."

"Yes." And Walter Stone sighed deeply.

"Oh, Uncle Walter! That sounded full of regrets and things."

"It was. It is. I'm fifty."

"It isn't fifty. It's a lack of exercise. And you wouldn't be half so
fine-looking if you were fat. I _always_ sigh when I don't know what to
do. Then I just saddle Boy and ride. And I'll _never_ let myself get
fat."

"A vow is a vow--at sixteen."

"Now I _know_ you need exercise. You're getting reminiscent, and that's
a sign of torpid liver."

Walter Stone laughed till the tears came. "Exercise!" he exclaimed. "Ah!
I begin to divine a subtle method in your doctrine of health. Ah, ha! I
look well on a horse! I need exercise! It's a very satisfactory ride
from here to town and back. Incidentally, Louise, I smell a rat. I used
to be able to hold my own."

"It isn't my fault if you don't now," said Louise, snuggling in his
arm.

"That's unworthy of you!" he growled, his arm tightening round her slim
young figure. "Tell me, sweetheart; how is it that you can be so
thoroughly practical and so unfathomably romantic in the same breath?
You have deliberately shattered me to bits that you might mould me
nearer to your heart's desire. And your heart's desire, just now, is to
help an unknown, a tramp, out of jail."

Louise pouted. "You say 'just now' as though my heart's desires weren't
very serious matters as a rule. You _know_ you wouldn't be half so happy
if I didn't tease you for something at least once a week. I remember
once I didn't ask you for anything for a whole week, and you went and
asked Aunty Eleanor if I were ill. Besides, the boy _needs_ help,
whether he did anything wrong or not. Can't you understand?"

"That's utopian, Louise, but it isn't generally practicable."

"Then make it individually practicable, uncle--just this time. Pshaw! I
don't believe you're half-trying to argue. Why, when Boyar bucked you
off that time and ran into the barb-wire, then _he_ didn't need
doctoring for that awful cut on his shoulder, because he had done
wrong."

"That is no parallel, Louise. Boyar didn't know any better. And this boy
is not sick or injured."

"How do you know that? He's down in that terribly hot, smelly jail. If
he did get sick, who would know it?"

"And Boyar isn't a human being. He can't reason."

"Oh, Uncle Walter! I thought you knew horses better than that. Boyar can
reason much better than most people."

"The proof being that he prefers you to any one else?"

"No," replied Louise, smiling mischievously. "That isn't Boyar's
_reason_; it's his affection. That's different."

"Yes, quite different," said Walter Stone. "Is this boy good-looking?"
And the rancher fumbled in his pocket for a cigar.

Louise slipped from the arm of his chair and stood opposite him, her
lips pouted teasingly, the young face glowing with mischief and fun. "Am
I?" she asked, curtsying and twinkling. "'Cause if you're going to ride
down to the valley to see the boy just because Beautiful asked you,
Beautiful will go alone. But if you come because _I_ want you,"--and
Louise smiled bewitchingly,--"why, Beautiful will come too, and sing for
you--perhaps."

"My heart, my service, and my future are at your feet, Senorita Louisa,
my mouse. Are your eyes gray or green this morning?"

"Both," replied Louise quickly. "Green for spunk and gray for love.
That's what Aunty Eleanor says."

"Come a little nearer. Let me see. No, they are quite gray now."

"'Cause why?" she cooed, and stooping, kissed him with warm, careless
affection. "You always ask me about my eyes when you want me to kiss
you. Of course, when you want to kiss _me_, why, you just come and take
'em."

"My esteemed privilege, sweetheart. I am your caballero."

"Did Aunty Eleanor?" said Louise.

But Walter Stone rose and straightened his shoulders. "That will do,
mouse. I can't have any jealousy between my sweethearts."

"Never! And, Uncle Walter, do you want to ride Major or Rally? Rally and
Boyar get along better together. I'll saddle Boy in a jiffy."

       *       *       *       *       *

To ride some ten miles in the blazing sun of midsummer requires a kind
of anticipatory fortitude, at fifty, especially when one's own vine and
fig tree is cool and fragrant, embowered in blue flowers and graced by,
let us say, Louise. And a cigar is always at its best when half-smoked.
But when Louise came blithely leading the two saddle-ponies, Black Boyar
and the big pinto Rally, Walter Stone shook an odd twenty years from
his broad shoulders and swung into the saddle briskly.

From the shade of the great sycamore warders of the wide gate, he waved
a gauntleted salute to Aunt Eleanor, who stood on the porch, drawing a
leaf of the graceful moon-vine through her slender fingers. She nodded a
smiling farewell.

Louise and her uncle rode as two lovers, their ponies close together.
The girl swayed to Boyar's quick, swinging walk. Walter Stone sat the
strong, tireless Rally with solid ease.

The girl, laughing happily at her triumph, leaned toward her escort
teasingly, singing fragments of old Spanish love-songs, or talking with
eager lips and sparkling eyes. Of a sudden she would assume a
demureness, utterly bewitching in its veiled and perfect mimicry. Quite
seriously he would set about to overcome this delightful mood of hers
with extravagant vows of lifelong love and servitude, as though he were
in truth her chosen caballero and she his Senorita of the Rose.

And as they played at love-making, hidden graces of the girl's sweet
nature unfolded to him, and deep in his heart he wondered, and found
life good, and Youth still unspoiled by the years, and Louise a
veritable enchantress of infinite moods, each one adorable.
Golden-haired, gray-eyed, quick with sympathy, sweetly subtle and subtly
sweet was Louise.... And one must worship Youth and Beauty and Love,
even with their passing bitter on one's lips.

But to Walter Stone no such bitterness had come, this soldierly, wise
caballero escorting his adorable senorita on an errand of mercy. His was
the heart of Youth, eternal and undaunted Youth. And Beauty was hers, of
the spirit as well as of the flesh. And Love....

"Why, Louise! There are tears on your lashes, my colleen!"

"But I am singing, uncle." And she smiled through her tears.

"Sweetheart?"

"Yes, Uncle Walter?"

"What is it? Tell me."

"I wish I could. I don't know. I think I'm getting to be grown up--just
like a woman. It--it makes me--think of lots of things. Let's ride." And
her silver spurs flashed.

Boyar, taken quite by surprise, grunted as he leaped down the Moonstone
Trail. He resented this undeserved punishment by plunging sideways
across the road. Again came the flash of the silver spurs, and Walter
Stone heard Louise disciplining the pony.

"Just a woman. Just like a woman," murmured the rancher. "Now, Boyar,
and some others of us, will never quite understand what that means." And
with rein and voice he lifted the pinto Rally to a lope.




CHAPTER VII

THE GIRL WHO GLANCED BACK


At the crossroads in the valley stood the local jail, or "coop," as it
was more descriptively called. Unpainted, isolated, its solitary
ugliness lacked even the squalid dignity commonly associated with the
word "jail." The sun pelted down upon its bleached, unshaded roof and
sides. The burning air ran over its warped shingles like a kind of
colorless fire.

The boy Collie, half-dreaming in the suffocating heat of the place,
started to his feet as the door swung open. He had heard horses coming.
They had stopped. He could hardly realize that the sunlight was swimming
through the close dusk of the place. But the girl of Moonstone Canon,
reining Boyar round, was real, and she smiled and nodded a greeting.

"This is Mr. Stone, my uncle," she said. "He wants to talk with you."

With a glance that noted each unlovely detail of the place, the broken
iron bed, the cracked pitcher, and the unspeakable blankets, Louise
touched her pony and was gone.

Collie rubbed his eyes, blinking in the sun as he stood gazing after
her.

Walter Stone, standing near the doorway, noted the lad's clear, healthy
skin, his well-shaped head with its tumble of wavy black hair, and the
luminous dark eyes. He felt an instant sympathy for the boy, a sympathy
that he masked with a business-like brusqueness. "Well, young man?"

"Yes, sir."

"Come outside. It's vile in there."

Stone led his pony to the north side of the "coop."

Collie followed.

Away to the west he saw the hazy peaks. A lake of burning air pulsed
above the flat, hot floor of the valley. Over there lay the hills and
the shade and the road.... Somewhere beyond was Overland, his friend,
penniless, hunted, hungry....

"She brung you?" queried the boy.

"Yes. I have seen Tenlow, the sheriff. He is willing to let you go at my
request. What do you intend doing, now that you are free?"

"I don' know. Find Red, I guess."

Walter Stone nodded. "What then?"

"Oh, stick it out with Red. They'll be after him sure now. Red's my
pal."

"What has he done to get the police after him?"

"Nothin'. It's the bunch."

"The bunch?"

"Uhuh. Them guys out on the Mojave. But say, are you workin' me to get
next to Red and get him pinched again?"

"No. You don't have to answer me. This man Red is nothing to me, one way
or the other. He took Miss Lacharme's pony, but she has overlooked that.
I thought, perhaps, you might care to explain your position. Perhaps you
had rather not. You may go now if you wish."

"Is that straight?"

"Yes."

For several tense seconds the lad gazed at his questioner. Finally his
gaze shifted to the hills. "I guess you're straight," he said presently.
"I guess she wouldn't have you for a relation if you wasn't straight."

The elder man laughed. "That's right--she wouldn't, young man."

"How's the sheriff guy?" asked the boy.

"He's getting along well enough. What made you ask?"

"Oh, nothin'. I hate to see any guy get hurt."

"I'm glad to hear you say that. I begin to think you are a bigger man
than he is."

"Me?" And Collie flushed, misunderstanding the other's drift. "I guess
you're kiddin'."

"No, I mean it. Mr. Tenlow still seemed pretty hot about your share in
this--er--enterprise. You seem to have no hard feelings against him."

"Huh! He shouldn't to be sore at _me_. I didn't spur no horse onto him
and ride him down like a dog. I guess Red would 'a' killed him if he'd
seen it. Say, nobody got Red, did they?"

"I haven't heard of it. How did this man Red come to pick you up? You're
pretty young to be tramping."

"Cross your heart you ain't tryin' to queer Red? You ain't tryin' to put
the Injun sign on us, are you?"

"No. I have heard all about the Mojave affair--the prospector that died
on the track--and the arrest of Overland Red at Barstow. You told my
niece that this Overland Red was 'square.' How did you come to be mixed
up in it?"

"I guess I'll have to tell you the whole thing, straight. Red always
said that to tell the truth was just as good as lyin', because nobody
would believe us, anyway. And if a fella gets caught tellin' the truth,
why, he's that much to the good."

"Well, I shall try and believe you this time," said Stone. "Miss
Lacharme thinks you're honest."

"A guy couldn't lie to her!" said the boy.

"Then just consider me her representative," said Stone, smiling.

Collie squatted in the meager shade of the "coop."

Walter Stone, dropping the pony's reins, came and sat beside the lad.
There was something in the older man's presence, an unspoken assurance
of comradeship and sincerity that annulled the boy's tendency to
reticence about himself. He began hesitatingly, "My dad was a drinkin'
man. Ma died, and he got worse at it. I was a kid and didn't care, for
he never done nothin' to me. We lived back East, over a pawnbroker's on
Main Street. One day pa come home with a timetable. He sat up 'most all
night readin' it. Every time I woke up, he was readin' it and talkin' to
himself. That was after ma died.

"In the mornin', when I was gettin' dressed, he come over and says to
take the needle he had and stick it through the timetable anywhere. I
was scared he was goin' to have the jimmies. But I took the needle--it
had black thread in it--and stuck it through the timetable. He opened
the page and laughed awful loud and queer. Albuquerque was where the
needle went in. He couldn't say the name right, but he kept lookin' at
it.

"Then he went out and was gone all day and all night. When he come back
he showed me a whole wad of money. I says, 'Where did you get it?' He
got mad and tells me to shut up.

"That day we got on a train. I says, 'Where are we goin'?' and he says
to never mind, and did I want some peanuts.

"We kept ridin' and ridin' in the same car, and eatin' bananas and
san'wiches and sleepin' settin' up at nights. I was just about sick when
we come to Albuquerque. You see, that was where the needle went through
the timetable, and dad said we would get off there. He got awful drunk
that night.

"Next day he said he was goin' to quit liquor and make a fresh start. I
knowed he wouldn't, 'cause he always said that next mornin'. But I guess
he tried to quit. I don't know.

"One night he didn't come back to the room where we was stayin' upstairs
over the saloon. They found him 'way down the track next day, all cut to
pieces by the train."

The boy paused, reached forward, and plucked a withered stem of grass
which he wound round and round his finger.

Walter Stone sat looking across the valley.

"I guess his money was all gone," resumed the boy. "Anyhow, 'bout a year
after, Overland Red comes along. He comes to the saloon where I was
stayin',--they give me a job cleanin' out every day,--and he got to
talkin' a lot of stuff about scenery and livin' the simple life, and all
that guff. The bartender got to jawin' with him, and I laughed, and the
bartender hits me a lick side the head. Red, he hits the bartender a
lick side of _his_ head--and the bartender don't get up right away.
'I'll learn him to hit kids,' said Red. 'If you learn him to hit 'em as
hard as that,' I says to Red, 'then it will be all off with me the next
time.'

"Does he hit you very often?' said Red.

"Whenever he feels like it,' I told him.

"Red laughed and said to come on. I was sick of there, so I run away
with Red. We tried it on a freight and got put off. Red had some water
in a canteen he swiped. It was lucky for us he did. We kept walkin' and
goin' nights, and mebby ridin' on freights in the daytime if we could.
One day, a long time after that, we was crossin' the desert again. We
got put off a freight that time, too. We was walkin' along when we found
a guy layin' beside the track. Red said he wasn't dead, but was dyin'.
We give him some water. Then he kind of come to and wanted to drink it
all. Red said, 'No.' Then the guy got kind of crazy. He got up and
grabbed Red. I was scared.

"Red, he passed me the canteen and told me to keep it away from the guy
because more water would kill him. Then the guy went for Red. 'He's
dyin' on his feet,' said Red. 'It's his last flash.' And he tried to
hold the guy quiet, talkin' decent to him all the time. They was
staggerin' around when the guy tripped backwards over the rail. His head
hit on the other rail and Red fell on top of him. Anyway, the guy was
dead."

Walter Stone shifted his position, turning to gaze at the boy's white
face. "Yes--go on," he said quietly.

"Red was for searchin' the guy, but I says to come on before we got
caught. Red, he laughed kind of queer, and asked me, 'Caught at what?'
Then I said, 'I dunno,' but I was scared.

"Anyway, he went through the dead guy's clothes and found some papers
and old letters and a little leather bag with a whole lot of gold-dust
in it. Red said mebby five hundred dollars!"

"Gold-dust?"

"Uhuh! Then Red _was_ scared. He buried the bag and the papers 'way out
in the sand and made a mark on the ties to find it by."

"Did you find out the dead man's name?" asked Stone, glancing curiously
at the boy.

"Nope. We just beat it for the next station. I was feelin' sick. I give
out, and Red, he lugged me to the next water-tank. He was pourin' water
on me when the Limited come along and stopped, and _she_ throwed the
rose to us. Red told me about it after. You wouldn't go back on a pal
like that, would you?"

"No, I don't know that I should."

"That's me!" said the boy. "Then they went to work and pinched us at
Barstow. Said we killed the guy because his head was smashed in where he
hit the rails. They tried to make Red say that he robbed the guy after
killin' him. But Red told everything, except he didn't tell about the
letters and the gold-dust. They tried to make me say it, but I dassent.
I knowed they would fix Red sure if I did, and he told me not to tell
about the gold if they did pinch us."

"They let you go--after the police examination. Then how is it that the
authorities are after you again?"

"It's the bunch," replied the boy. "Them guys out there knowed the dead
guy had a mine or a ledge or somethin' where he got the gold. Nobody was
wise to where. They told at the jail how he used to come in once in a
while and send his dust to Los Angeles by the express company. All them
guys like the sheriff and the station agent and all the people in that
town are workin' tryin' to find out where the gold come from. They think
because Red and me is tramps that they can make us tell and arrest us
whenever they like. But even Red don't know, unless it's in the papers
he hid in the sand."

"That sounds like a pretty straight story," said Stone. "So you intend
to stick to this man Red?"

"Sure! Would you quit him now, when they're after him worst?"

"They will get him finally."

"Mebby. But Red's pretty slick at a getaway. If they do pinch him again,
that's where I come in. I'm the only witness and the only friend he's
got."

"Of course. But don't you see, my boy, that your way of living is so
much against you that you couldn't really help him? A man's naked word
is worth just what his friends and neighbors will allow him for it, and
no more."

"But ain't a guy got no rights in this country?"

"Certainly he has. But he has to prove that he is entitled to them, by
his way of living."

"Then he's got to go to church, and work, and live decent, or he don't
get a square deal, hey?"

"But why shouldn't he do that much?"

Collie did not answer. Instead, he inspected his questioner critically
from head to foot. "I guess you're right," he said finally. "I've heard
folks talk like that before, but I never took no stock. They kind of
said it because they knowed it. I guess you say it because you mean it."

"Of course I do," said Stone heartily. "Well, here comes my niece with
the mail. See! Over there is El Camino Real, running north. My ranch is
up _there_, in the hills. My foreman's name is Williams. If you should
ask him for work, I believe he might give you something to do. I heard
him say he needed a man, not long ago."

Walter Stone cinched up the saddle and mounted his pony. The boy's eyes
shone as he gazed at the strong, soldierly figure. Ah, to look like
that, and ride a horse like that!

Boyar, the black pony, clattered up and stopped. "Hello, folks!" said
Louise, purposely including the boy in her greeting.

Collie flushed happily. Then a bitterness grew in his heart as he
thought of his friend Overland, hunted from town to town by the same law
that protected these people--an unjust law that they observed and
fostered.

"Well?" said Stone.

Collie's gaze was on the ground. "I don' know," he muttered. "I don'
know."

"Well, good luck to you!" And the ponies swung into that philosophical
lope of the Western horse who knows his journey's length.

The figures of the riders grew smaller. Still the boy stood in the road,
watching them. Undecided, he gazed. Then came an answer to his stubborn
self-questioning. Louise glanced back--glanced back for an instant in
mute sympathy with his loneliness.

Slowly the boy turned and entered the jail. He folded his coat over his
arm, stepped outside, and closed the door.

Before him stretched the hot gray level of El Camino Real, the road to
the beyond. From it branched a narrower road, reaching up into the
southern hills,--on, up to the mysterious Moonstone Canon with its
singing stream and its gracious shade. Somewhere beyond, higher, and in
the shadowy fastness of the great ranges lay the Moonstone Ranch ... her
home.

"I guess, steppin' up smart, I'll be there just about in time for
supper," said the boy. And whistling cheerily, he set his feet toward
the south and the Moonstone Trail.




CHAPTER VIII

THE TEST


After a week of weeding in the vegetable garden, Collie was put to work
repairing fence. There were many miles of it, inclosing some twenty
thousand acres of grazing-land, and the cross-fencing of the oat,
alfalfa, fruit, and vegetable acreage. The fence was forever in need of
repair. The heavy winter rains, torrential in the mountains, often
washed away entire hillsides, leaving a dozen or so staggering posts
held together by the wires, tangled and sagging. Cattle frequently
pulled loosened posts from the earth by kneeling under the wire and
working through, oblivious to the barbs. Again, "stock gone a little
loco" would often charge straight through the rigid and ripping wire
barriers as though their strands were of thread. Posts would split in
the sun, and staples would drop out, leaving sagging spaces which cattle
never failed to find and take advantage of. Trees uprooted by the rain
and wind would often fall across the fence.

Altogether, the maintaining of a serviceable fence-line on a
well-ordered ranch necessitates eternal vigilance.

The Moonstone Rancho was well ordered under the direct supervision of
Walter Stone's foreman, "Brand" Williams. Williams was a Wyoming cowman
of the old school; taciturn, lean, sinewy.

Some ten years before, Williams, seeking employment, had ridden over the
range with Stone. Returning, the cowman remarked disconsolately, "I like
your stock, and I'll tie to you. But, say, it's only playin' at ranchin'
on twenty thousand fenced. I was raised in Wyoming."

"All right," Stone had replied. "Play hard and we'll get along
first-rate."

Every inch of Brand Williams's six feet was steeped in the astringent of
experience. He played hard and prospered, as did his employer.

Collie stood awaiting the foreman's instructions.

"Ever mend fence?" asked Williams.

"Nope."

"Good. Then you can learn right. Go rope a cayuse--get some staples and
that leetle axe in my office, and go to it. There's plenty fence."

The "Go rope a cayuse" momentarily staggered the boy, but he went
silently to the corral, secured a riata, and by puzzling the playful
ponies by his amateur tactics he finally entangled "Baldy," a
white-faced cow-pony of peaceful mien but uncertain disposition.

Williams, watching the performance, lazily rolled a straw-paper
cigarette.

Snubbed to the post, bridled and saddled awkwardly, Baldy gave no
outward sign of his malignant inward intent of getting rid of the lad
the minute he mounted.

Williams slowly drew a match across his sleeve from elbow to wrist,
ending with a flame that was extremely convenient to his cigarette. He
wasted no effort at anything. He was a man who never met a yawn halfway,
but only gave in to it when actually obliged to. Collie climbed into the
saddle and started for the corral gate. He arrived there far ahead of
the horse. He got to his feet and brushed his knees. The pony was
humping round the corral with marvelous agility for so old a horse.

"He never did like a left-handed man," said Williams gravely. "Next time
get on him from the _other_ side, and see if he don't behave. Hold on;
don't be in a hurry. Let him throw a few more jumps, then he'll quit for
to-day most likely. And say, son, if he does take to buckin' with you
again, don't choke that saddle to death hangin' on to the horn. Set up
straight, lean a little back, and clinch your knees. You'll get piled,
anyhow, but you might as well start right."

The boy approached the horse again, secured the dangling reins, and
again mounted. Baldy was as demure as a spinster in church. He actually
looked pious.

Collie urged the pony toward the gate. Baldy reared.

"A spade bit ain't made to pull teeth with, although you can," said
Williams. "Baldy's old, but his teeth are all good yet. Just easy now.
Ride in your saddle, not on your reins. That's it! And say, kid, I would
'a' got them staples and that axe before crawlin' the hoss, eh?"

Collie flushed. He dismounted and walked to the foreman's office. When
he returned to the corral, the horse was gone. Williams still sat on the
corral bars smoking and gazing earnestly at nothing.

Round the corner of the stable Collie saw the pony, his nose peacefully
submerged in the water-trough, but his eye wide and vigilant. The boy
ran toward him. Baldy snorted and, wheeling, ran back into the corral,
circled it with an expression which said plainly, "Let us play a little
game of tag, in which, my young friend, you shall always be 'It.'"

Again Collie tried to rope the pony.

"Want any help?" asked Williams, as he slid from the corral bars to the
ground.

"Nope." And Collie disentangled his legs from an amazing contortion of
the riata and tried to whirl the loop as he had seen the cowmen whirl
it.

"Hold on, son!" said Williams. "You mean right, but don't go to rope him
with the saddle on. If you looped that horn, he, like as not, would yank
you clean to Calabasas before you got your feet out of that mess of rope
you're standin' in. Anyway, you ain't goin' to Calabasas; you're due up
the other way."

Collie was learning things rapidly, and, better still, he was learning
in a way that would cause him to remember.

Williams spoke sharply to the pony. Baldy stopped and eyed the foreman
with vapid inquisitiveness. "Now, son, I got three things to tell you,"
and the foreman gathered up the reins. "First--keep on keepin' your
mouth shut and tendin' to business. It pays. Second--always drop your
reins over a hoss's head when you get off, whether he's trained that way
or not. And last--always figure a hoss thinks he knows more than you do.
Sometimes he does. Sometimes he don't. Then he won't fool you so
frequent, for you'll be watchin' him. I wouldn't 'a' said that much,
only you're a tenderfoot from the East, I hear. If you was a tenderfoot
from the West, you would 'a' had to take your own medicine."

Collie's shoulder was lame from his fall and was becoming stiff, but he
grinned cheerfully, and said nothing, which pleased Williams.

The foreman leveled his slow, keen eyes at him for a minute. "You'll
find a spring under the live-oaks by the third cross-fence north. Reckon
you'll get there about noon. Keep your eye peeled for fire. I thought I
seen somebody up there as I come across from the corral early this
mornin'. We come close to burnin' out here once, account of a hobo's
fire. Understand, if you ketch anybody cantelopin' around _a-foot_, you
just ride 'em off the range pronto. That's all."

As Collie rode away through the morning sunshine, Williams loafed across
the corral, roped and saddled a white-eyed pinto, and, spurring up a
narrow canon west of the ranch buildings, disappeared round a turn of
the shady trail. As the foreman rode, he alternately talked to the pony
and himself.

"Tramp, eh?" he said, addressing the pony. "What do you say, Sarko?
Nothin', eh? Same as me.... Overland Red's kid pal, eh? Huh! I knowed
Jack Summers, Red Jack Summers, down in Sonora in '83. Mexico was some
open country then. Jack was a white pardner, too. Went to the bad,
account of that Chola girl that he was courtin' goin' wrong.... Funny
how the boss come to pick up that kid. Thinks there's somethin' in him.
O' course they is. But what? Eh, Sarko, what? You say nothin', same as
me.... Here, you! That's a lizard, you fool hoss. Never seen one before,
so you're try in' to catch it by jumpin' through your bridle after it,
eh? Never seen one before, oh, no! Don't like that, eh? Well, you quit,
and I will. Exactly. It's me, and my ole Spanish spurs. I'm
listenin'.... Nothin' to say?... Uhuh! I reckon little Louise had
somethin' to do with gettin' the kid the job. Well, if _she_ likes him,
I got to. Guess I'd love a snake if she said to. Yes, I'm listenin' to
myself ..." And the taciturn foreman's hard, weathered face wrinkled in
a smile. "I'm listenin' ... None of the boys know Red's camped up by the
spring. I do. Red used to be a damn white Injun in the old days. I'll
give the kid a chance to put him wise for old times. And I'll find out
if the kid means business or not ... which is some help to know how to
handle him later."

Williams picketed his pony in the meadow above the third cross-fence.
Loafing down the slope toward the spring, he noticed the faint smoke of
a fire. Farther down the line fence, he could see Collie in the
distance, riding slowly toward the three live-oaks. The foreman found a
convenient seat on a ledge, rolled another of his eternal cigarettes,
and watched the boy approach from below.

Collie had already dismounted three times that morning; twice to mend
fence, and once more involuntarily. He determined, with a mighty vow to
the bow-legged god of all horseflesh, to learn to stay on a broncho or
die learning.

The boy had a native fondness for animals, and he had already thought of
buying a pony with his first few months' wages. But the vision of his
erstwhile companion Overland, perhaps imprisoned and hopeless in the
grip of the "bunch," annulled that desire. He would save every cent for
that emergency.

Arrived at the spring, both boy and horse drank gratefully, for the day
was hot. Then Collie noticed the thin smoke coming through the trees and
strode toward it.

"It ain't much of a fire yet," said Overland. "Our hired girl--" and he
grinned through a two-weeks' tangle of red beard. "Oh, but ain't he the
'cute little workin'-man with his little ole hoss and his garments of
toil."

"Oh, Red!" exclaimed the boy.

"Me sure! I been hidin' in my whiskers so long I didn't know if you'd
know me."

"I been thinking about you every day."

"Uhuh. So have I. I reckon some others has, too. Say, what you been
doin' lately, studyin' law or learnin' the piano? I been lookin' for
you for a week. It's the first day I seen you out on the range."

"I was working in the garden first. Then they put me at this, this
mornin'."

"Uhuh. Well, Col, that there getaway of mine is in all the papers.
'Tramp Cowboy Steals Horse and Escapes.' Say, did she yip about my
borrowin' the cayuse?"

"She was mad at first. But your fancy ridin' kind of made her forget. I
told her you was square, Red."

"Huh! I guess she could tell that herself."

"But, Red, I'm not kidding. I told her uncle about the bunch and the guy
on the desert."

"Did he believe it?"

"I guess so. He ain't said much. But he gives me the chance to make
good. He must have believed somethin'."

"Well, stick to it, Collie. You never was cut out for a genuine towerist
like me, anyhow. It ain't in your blood."

"What you goin' to do now, Red?"

"Me? Listen! There's gold out there, somewhere. I'm broke now. I need
some dough. I got ideas. Ten dollars does it. I get a new set of clothes
and get shaved and me hair trimmed close. Then I commence me good work
in Main Street, in Los. Down on North Main is where I catch the gent
from the East who will fall for anything that wears a Stetson and some
outdoors complexion. I tell all about my ledge in the Mojave and get
staked to go out and prospect. It's bein' done every day--it and the
other fella."

"But, Red--"

"Hold on, kid. I ain't goin' to bunk nobody. This here's square. I need
financin'--a burro and a grubstake and me for the big dry spot. Ship the
outfit to the desert town, and then hit it along the rails to where we
hid it. If the papers we hid is any good, me to locate the ledge.
Anyhow, there's a good five hundred in the poke, and that's better than
a kick in the pants."

"You'll get pinched sure, Red."

"Nix, kiddo. Not out there. Money talks. 'Course it ain't makin' any
distressin' sounds around here jest now, but, say, got the makin's?"

"I ain't smoked since I been here, Red."

"Excuse me, Miss Collie. What denomination did you say?"

"Straight, Red. I'm savin' my money."

"What do they pay you for settin' on that cayuse?"

"Fifteen a month, and board, and the horse to ride."

"Don't mention the hoss, pal. Jest make motions with your hands when you
mean him. Talkin' is apt to wake him up."

"He pitched me twice."

"Just havin' bad dreams, that's all," said Overland, grinning. "Fifteen
a month and found ain't bad for a bum, is it?"

"Cut that out, Red. I ain't no bum."

"Ex-cuse me. There I gone and laminated your feelin's again. Why in hell
don't you blush, or drop your little ole lace handkerchief, or fix your
back hair, so I can remember I'm talkin' to a lady? It ain't manners,
this here impersonatin' you're a boy like that."

"Quit your kiddin', Red. Mebby you think it was easy to cut out the old
stuff, and everybody on the ranch on to what I used to be. I was cryin'
the first night. I was lonesome for you."

Overland's eyelids flickered. He grinned. "Uhuh! I could hear you clean
over in the Simi Valley. I was thinkin' of comin' right back, only--"

"Oh, if you think I'm lyin to you--"

Overland thrust up a soiled palm. "Nix; you never did yet. How much coin
can you rustle?"

"I got that eight-and-a-half I had when we was pinched. It's down to the
bunk-house."

"Well, bring it up here to-morrow mornin'. And, say, swipe a sogun for
me. I near froze last night."

Collie's brows drew together. "I'll bring the money, sure! but I can't
swipe no blanket, even for you. The boss thinks I'm square, and so does
she. I'll bring tobacco and papers. Got any grub?"

"Well, some. I ain't exactly livin' on sagebrush and scenery yet. I been
trainin' some chickens to do the Texas Tommy. Every one that learns to
do it in one lesson gets presented with a large hot fryin'-pan.
Surprisin' how them chickens is fond of dancin'. I reckon I learned six
of 'em since I seen you last. But don't forget the eight rollers and
four bits. I need ten, but eight-fifty will do. I'll have to leave out
the silk pejammies and the rosewater this trip. But kickie pants is good
enough for me to sleep in. How's that sheriff gent?"

"Busted his collar-bone and killed his horse."

"I'm sad for the hoss. How do you like livin' decent?"

"Fine, Red! I wish you would--"

"Hold on, Collie, not me! I'm gettin' too old, too plumb old and
disgusted with this vale of steers to change and tie down to short
grass. Now you're near enough to the age of that little Louise girl to
make life interestin'."

"Who said anything about her?"

"Whoa, Chico! Back up. You're steppin' on your bridle. Don't go 'way
mad. Why, I said somethin' about her, that's who. You got any idea of
hobblin' my talk?"

"No. But--"

"Oh, you can't flim your ole pal, nohow. You're just commencin' life on
what that little Louise lady thinks you ought to be. And you will be it
some day, if you keep straight. So will I."

"You?" Collie was unable to associate a reconstructive idea with
Overland's mode of life.

"Say! Just as if I never knowed a good woman. Say, I could actooly give
up smokin' for her, if I had to hire some guy to do it for me. That's
what I think of her. When I get me plush rags and the dizzy lid, I'll
call around in me private caboose and take you both for a little ride."

For a moment the boy gazed away to where the silver of the Southern
Pacific rails glinted in the valley. Overland Red's presence brought
back poignantly the long, lazy days of loafing and the wide, starry
nights of wayside fire, tobacco, and talk. There was a charm in the free
life of the road--that long gray road that never ended--never ended in
the quiet shade of a mountain ranch or in the rose-bordered pathway to a
valley cottage. The long gray road held out no promise of rest for worn
and aged folk. After all, its only freedom was the freedom of eternal
wandering ... until one could adventure no longer ... and then? Better
to tread the harder path of duty.

The boy's black eyes were lifted pleadingly. "Red," he said
hesitatingly. "Red, I got to tell you to camp the other side of that
line fence till I come to-morrow."

Overland understood instantly that the lad was but following general
instructions. He loved the boy, and so, perversely, worked upon his
feelings. "Oh, the _other_ side? Ex-cuse me, chief, for intrudin' on
this here resavation. Sorry I'm crowdin' you so."

"Now, Red, wait--"

"Wait? What, for you to insult your ole pal again by tellin' him he
might drink all the water in this here spring, mebby, or inflooence the
morals of the cattle, or steal the wire off the fence? Huh! I thought I
was your _pal_?"

"Oh, Red, quit kiddin'. Don't you see I got orders? I got orders."

"You're gettin' civilized fast, all right. The first thing civilization
does is to projooce hobos and bums. Then she turns up her nose because
hobos and bums ain't civilized. Did you ever see a ma cat get mad
because one of her kittens was born with sore eyes? I guess not. Cats
has got sense. Now, what if I don't indignify myself to the extent of
crawlin' under that line fence?"

"'Course I'll bring you the coin in the mornin'. But if you don't go
now, why, I got to quit this job. I got to play square to him."

"So it's orders or me, eh?"

"Yes, Red, and I want to use you right, and be square, too."

Overland Red's beard hid the quiver of his lips as he asked huskily:
"And you would be comin' back on the road with your ole pal again? You
would give up the job and the chance of a smile from that little
Rose-Lady Girl and flew the coop with me again if I said the word?"

"Sure I would. You come first and the job comes second; but--but I want
to keep the job."

Overland's keen blue eyes filled with instant emotion. "Oh, you go chase
a snake up your sleeve. Do you think I'd bust your chances of makin'
good here? Do you reckon I'd let a line fence stand between me and you,
speakin' poetical? Say, I'll go camp in that sheriff gent's front yard
if it'll do any good to you, or before I'll see you in bad with the
little Rose Girl!"

"Please, Red; I mean it."

"So do I. I'll fade quicker than spit on a hot stove. Don't forget
to-morrow mornin'. Some day I'll put you hep to how to ride. You better
get to your fence job."

Brand Williams watched the man and the boy as they walked along the
line-fence trail together. Collie leading the pony, the man talking and
gesticulating earnestly. Finally they shook hands. The tramp crawled
under the fence. The boy mounted Baldy and rode away.

Williams, catching up his own horse, spurred quickly across the ridge
above the spring that the boy might not see him.




CHAPTER IX

A CELESTIAL ENTERPRISE


Broad avenues of feathery pepper trees, long driveways between shadowy
rows of the soldierly eucalyptus, wide lawns and gigantic palms of the
southern isles, weaving pampas grass, gay as the plumes of romance,
jasmine, orange-bloom, and roses everywhere. Over all is the eternal
sunshine and noon breeze of the sea, graciously cooling. Roundabout is a
girdle of far hills.

Some old Spanish padre named it "Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles,"
making melody that still lures with its ancient charm. A city for
angels, verily. A city of angels? Verily; some fallen, indeed, for there
is much nefarious trafficking in real estate, but all in all the
majority of souls in Los Angeles are celestial bound, treading upon
sunbeams in their pilgrimage.

The plaza, round which the new town roars from dawn to dusk, is still
haunted by a crumbling old adobe, while near it droop dusty pepper trees
that seem to whisper to each other endlessly--"Manana! Manana!" Whisper
as did those swarthy vaqueros and the young, lithe, low-voiced
senoritas who strolled across the plaza in the dusk of by-gone days.
"Manana! Manana!--To-morrow! To-morrow!"

And the to-morrows have come and gone as did those Spanish lovers,
riding up through the sunshine on their silver-bitted pinto ponies and
riding out at dusk with tinkling spur-chains into that long to-morrow
that has shrouded the ancient plaza in listless dreams. Mexicans in
black sombreros and blue overalls still prowl from cantina to cantina,
but the gay vaquero and his senorita are no more.

Overland Red, a harsh note in the somnolence of the place, stepped
buoyantly across the square. And here, if ever, Overland was at home.

A swarthy, fat Mexican shaved him while a lean old rurale of Overland's
earlier acquaintance obligingly accepted some pesos with which to drink
the senor's health, and other pesos with which to purchase certain
clothing for the senor.

The retired rurale drove a relentless bargain with a countryman,
returning with certain picturesque garments that Overland donned in the
back room of the little circus-blue barber shop.

The tramp had worthily determined to hold wise and remunerative converse
with the first Easterner that "looked good to him." He would make
half-truths do double duty. He needed money to purchase a burro, packs,
canteen, pick, shovel, dynamite, and provisions. He intended to repay
the investor by money-order from some desert town as soon as he found
the hidden gold. This unusual and worthy intention lent Overland added
assurance, and he needed it. Fortune, goddess evanishing and coy, was
with him for once. If he could but dodge the plain-clothes men long
enough to outfit and get away....

The "Mojave Bar," on North Main Street of the City of Angels was all but
empty. Upon it the lassitude of early afternoon lay heavily. The
spider-legged music-racks of the Mexican string orchestra, the empty
platform chairs, the deserted side-tables along the pictured wall, the
huge cactus scrawled over with pin-etched initials,--all the impedimenta
of the saloon seemed to slumber.

The white-coated proprietor, with elbows on the bar, gazed listlessly at
a Remington night-scene--a desert nocturne with a shadowy adobe against
the blue-black night, a glimmer of lamplight through a doorway, and in
the golden pathway a pony and rider and the red flash of pistol shots.

Opposite the bartender, at a table against the wall, sat a young man,
clad in cool gray. He smoked a cigarette, and occasionally sipped from a
tall glass. He was slender, clean-cut, high-colored, an undeniable
patrician. In his mild gray eyes, deep down, gleamed a latent humor, an
interior twinkling not apparent to the multitude.

Sweeney Orcutt, the saloon-keeper, noticed this reserve characteristic
now for the first time, as the young man turned toward him. Sweeney was
a retired plain-clothes man with a record, and a bank account. It was
said that he knew every crook from Los Angeles to New York. Be it added,
to his credit, that he kept his own counsel--attending to his own
business on both sides of the bar.

"Do they ever do those things now?" queried the young man, nodding
toward the picture.

Sweeney Orcutt smiled a thin-lipped smile. "Not much. Sometimes in Texas
or Mexico. I seen the day when they did."

The young man lazily crossed his legs. "Nice and cool here," he remarked
presently.

"Been in town long?" asked Sweeney.

"No, only a few days."

"I was goin' to say there's a good show over on Spring
Street--movin'-pictures of the best ridin' and buckin' and ropin' I seen
yet."

"Yes? Is there any one in town who is not working for the movies?"

Again Sweeney Orcutt smiled his thin-lipped smile. "Yes, I guess there
is. I might scare up one or two I used to know who is workin' the
transients, which ain't exactly workin' _for_ the movies."

"I should like to meet some character who is really doing something in
earnest; that is, some cowboy, miner, prospector, teamster,--one of
those twenty-mule-team kind, you know,--or any such chap. Why, even the
real estate men that have been up to my hotel seem to be acting a part.
One expects every minute to see one of them pull a gun and hold up a
fellow. No doubt they mean business."

"Bank on that," said Orcutt dryly.

"You see," continued the young man, "I have too much time on my hands
just now. The doctors tell me to rest, and I've been doing nothing else
all my life. It's pretty monotonous. I've tried to get interested in
some of the chaps on North Main Street, and around the plaza. I've
offered to buy them drinks and all that, but they seem to shy off. I
suppose they think I'm a detective or something of that kind."

"More like, a newspaper man after a story. Hello, there! Now, what's
doin'?"

Outside near the curb a crowd had collected. A traffic officer was
talking to the driver of an automobile. As Sweeney Orcutt strolled
toward the doorway, Overland Red, clean-shaven, clothed in new corduroys
and high lace boots, and a sombrero aslant on his stiff red hair, dove
into the saloon and called for a "bucket of suds."

"Close--shave--Red--" whispered Orcutt.

"Had me Orcutt, likewise," replied the tramp. "Say, Sweeney, stall off
the Dick out there. I think he piped me as I blew in, but I ain't sure.
He'll be pokin' in here in a minute. If he sees me talkin',--to the guy
there, for instance,--and you give him a steer, he won't look too close.
Sabe?" And Overland drank, observing the Easterner at the table over the
top of his glass.

"They got that guy Overland Red mugged in every station from here to
Chicago," whispered Orcutt. "Paper says he put it over a desert rat up
near Barstow. Did you hear about it?"

"Some," replied Overland sententiously.

"And did you hear about his last get-away on one of the Moonstone Rancho
ponies? Some class to that!"

"I read somethin' about it," replied Overland.

"Well, Red, if you won't tumble, all I got to say is, beat it. You're
worth a thousand bucks to any fly-cop that nips you in this town. I'm
handin' you a little dope that you can slide out on and not get stuck."

"Thanks, Sweeney. Well, I'll ring you up from Kalamazoo."

"Kalamazoo? In them clothes?"

"Sure. There's a law against travelin' naked in some States. Where you
been grazin' lately?"

"In the bull-pasture; and say, Red, it's gettin' warm there, for some."

"Well, I guess I'll beat it," said Overland.

"Take a slant at the door first."

Overland turned leisurely. In the doorway stood the traffic officer. He
glanced from Orcutt to the two men near the table. "Hello, Sweeney!" he
called, glancing a second time at Overland.

"Hello!" answered Sweeney, strolling to the end of the bar. "Somebody
speedin'?"

"Yes. Say, who's the guy, the big one?"

"Him? Oh, that's Billy Sample, the fella that does the desert stuff for
the General Film Company. The kid is his pardner who acts the
tenderfoot. They 're waitin' for the machine now to take 'em out to
Glendale. Got some stunt to pull off this afternoon, so Billy was
tellin' me. They're about half-stewed now. They make me sick."

"Thought I saw the big guy out on the street a minute ago," said the
officer, hesitating. "There's a card out for a fella that looks like
him. I guess--"

"He thought it was his machine comin'," said Orcutt. "He run out to see.
It's a wonder how them movie actors can make up to look like most
anybody. Why, I been in your line of business, as you know, and I been
fooled lots of times. Makes a fella feel like he don't know where he's
at with the town full of them movin'-picture actors."

"Well, so long, Sweeney." And the traffic officer, a little afraid of
being laughed at by the famous ex-officer, Sweeney Orcutt, departed,
just a thousand dollars poorer than he might have been had he had the
courage of his convictions.

Overland and Orcutt exchanged glances. Orcutt's glance rested meaningly,
for an instant, on the Easterner at the table. Overland grinned. Orcutt
spoke to the young Easterner, who immediately rose to his feet and
bowed.

"You was lookin' for somebody that's the real thing, you said. This
here's my friend Jack Summers. He used to be sheriff of Abilene once. He
ain't workin' for a movin'-picture outfit and he won't borrow your
watch. Mebby he has a little business deal to put up to you and mebby
not. Take my word for it, he's straight."

"I'm William Winthrop, back East. 'Billy' will do here. I'm a
tenderfoot, but I'm not exactly a fool. I observed the delicacy with
which you engineered the recent exodus of the policeman. I'm
interested."

"Sounds like plush to me," said Overland. "I got a little time--not
much. You're correct about the cop. I got a pretty good thing out in
the Mojave--gold--"

Winthrop laughed. "You aren't losing any time, are you?"

"You wouldn't neither if you was in my boots," said Overland, grinning
cheerfully.

"Oh, Red's all right," said Orcutt. "What'll you gents have?"

"Seein' I'm all right, Sweeney, I'll take five dollars in small change.
I need the coin for entertainin' purposes, I'll pay you in the mornin'."

"You got me that time," said Orcutt. "Here's the coin."

"Shall we sit down here?" asked Winthrop, indicating one of the tables.

"Sure! Now this ain't no frame-up. No, I'll set where I can watch
Sweeney. He's like to steal his own cash-register if you don't watch
him." And Winthrop noticed that his companion faced the door. He also
noticed, as the man's coat brushed against a chair as he sat down, that
that same coat covered a shiny black shoulder holster in which gleamed
the worn butt of an automatic pistol.

"My real name is Jack Summers," began Overland Red. "Some folks took to
callin' me 'Overland Red,' seein' as I been some towerist in my time."

"Great!" murmured the Easterner. "'Overland Red!' That name has me
hypnotized."

"You was sayin'?" queried Overland.

"Beg your pardon. Nothing worth while. I haven't been so happy for a
year. Let me explain. I have a little money, pretty well invested. I
also have lungs, I believe. The doctors don't quite agree about that,
however. The last one gave me six months to live. That was a year ago. I
owe him an apology and six months. I'm not afraid, exactly, and I'm
certainly not glad. But I want to forget it. That's all. Go ahead about
that desert and the gold. I'm listening."




CHAPTER X

"PERFECTLY HARMLESS LITTLE OLE TENDERFOOT"


William Stanley Winthrop woke next morning with a vague impression of
having lost something. He gazed indolently at the sunlight filtering
through the curtains of his sleeping-room. Beyond the archway to the
adjoining room of his suite, a ray of sunshine lay like living gold upon
the soft, rich-hued fabric of the carpet.

"Gold!" he murmured. "Mojave Desert! Overland Red! Lost gold! No, it
isn't the two hundred dollars I invested in the rascal's story, for it
was worth the money. I never spent four happier hours in my life, at
fifty dollars an hour. The best of it is he actually made me believe
him. I think he believed himself."

Winthrop sat up in bed, yawning. "I think black coffee will be about
all, this morning," he murmured, as he dressed leisurely.

He was tying a fastidiously correct bow on his tan oxford when he
happened to glance out of the window. It was early, altogether too
early, he reflected, to appear in the breakfast-room of the hotel.
Winthrop's indefinite soliloquy melted into the rapt silence of
imagination. Below on the smooth black pavement pattered two laden
burros. On their packs hung dusty, weatherworn canteens, a pick and
shovel, and a rifle in its soiled and frayed scabbard. The sturdy,
shaggy burros followed a little, lean old man, whose flop-brimmed hat,
faded shirt, and battered boots told a tale of the outlands, whispered
of sun-swept immensities, of sage and cacti, sand and silence. Winthrop
drew a long breath. Such an adventurer was the Overland Red he had
talked with the evening previous. The tramp had mentioned a town far out
on the desert. Winthrop sauntered down to the deserted office and
secured a timetable.

When the east-bound express left Los Angeles the following morning,
Winthrop was aboard, uncomfortably installed in the private drawing-room
of a sleeper. He had cheerfully paid the double fare that he might have
the entire space to himself, and he needed it. Around him, on the floor,
in the seats, in the racks, and on the hooks were innumerable packages,
bags, and bundles.

"Very eccentric. He must be rich," whispered the wife of a dry-goods
merchant from Keokuk, as her husband pushed her ahead of him past the
door of the drawing-room.

"Just plain hog!" said the dry-goods merchant. "A man that'll pay
double fare to have the whole earth to himself when other folks has to
be packed into a berth and suffocate! The conductor said he paid double
to Chicago to get that compartment, and he's only goin' out in the
desert a little ways. I'd 'a' took it myself."

"Well, we could hardly afford it, anyway," said the woman pleasantly.
"We've had such a good time I don't mind sleeping in a berth, Hiram."

They crowded on and finally found their seats.

Winthrop smiled to himself. He liked the woman's voice.

He lighted a cigarette and gazed wistfully, even despairingly, at the
"outfit" which surrounded him. He sighed. "Awful accumulation of
plunder. Wonder what I'll do with it?"

As the train climbed the grade beyond San Bernardino, he grew restless.
Flinging down his cigarette, he began unwrapping his belongings. Out
came blankets, extra clothing, a rifle, canteens of several patterns,
two pack-saddles, a coil of rope, a pair of high lace boots,--hobnailed,
heavy, and unserviceable,--a pocket compass, a hunting-knife, a patent
filter, two halters, two galvanized pails, a small, compact, silk tent,
an axe, a fishing-rod, a rubber cup, a box of cigars, a bottle of
brandy, several neckerchiefs, a cartridge-belt, a Colts revolver of
large and aggressive caliber, cartridges, a prospector's pick, a shovel,
a medicine-case, a new safety razor, a looking-glass, a clinic
thermometer, and a copy of "Robinson Crusoe."

He pondered over the agglomeration of articles pensively. "He was a good
salesman," he said, smiling. "I'll be either a juggler or a strong man
before I'm through with these things. I think I'll begin now and
re-pack. I'll make one glorious bundle of it. That's the ticket!"

Winthrop went to work, whistling cheerfully. He spread the blanket and
rearranged his possessions, finally rolling them up into an uncertain
bundle which he roped with the weird skill of the amateur packer. He
tried to lift the bundle to the opposite seat. He decided to leave it on
the floor.

Over the grade and on the level of the desert the train gathered speed.
The shimmering spaces revolved slowly, to meet the rushing track ahead.
Hour after hour sat Winthrop, reading and occasionally glancing out
across the desert. His was the wildest of wild-goose chases. A stranger
had told him of a mysterious ledge of gold somewhere out on the desert,
and the stranger had named a desert town--the town toward which Winthrop
was journeying. Would the eccentric Overland Red be there? Winthrop
hoped so. He wanted to believe that this Ulysses of the outlands had
spoken truth. He imagined vividly Overland Red's surprise when one
William Stanley Winthrop, late of New York, should appear, equipped to
the chin and eager to participate in the hunt for the lost gold. Then
again, the prospector might not care to be burdened with the
companionship of a tenderfoot. Still, the uncertainty of his welcome
lent zest to Winthrop's enterprise. He closed the door of his
drawing-room and wound through a mahogany maze toward the dining-car.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning, as the train slowed down for the desert town, Winthrop was
in the vestibule, peering out anxiously. It did not occur to him that
Overland Red knew nothing of his coming, or that the other would be
waiting on the station platform if he did. The tramp had not the
faintest desire to make himself conspicuous. Some of Winthrop's
enthusiasm had evaporated during the hot night in the sleeper.

"Thank you very much," called the lady from Keokuk, Iowa.

"Don't mention it," said Winthrop, disembarking behind the porter with
his "plunder." Then, as the Pullman slid away, Winthrop deliberately and
gracefully threw a kiss to the dry-goods merchant's wife. "Nice little
woman," he reflected. "Too nice to associate with that grampus. Well, I
hope they'll enjoy the rest of the trip in the drawing-room. I'm glad I
was able to arrange it."

He watched the train crawl down the track. He wondered how long he would
be able to distinguish the pattern of the brasswork on the observation
car-rail.

Out of the empty distance came the _click_, _clink_, _clank_ of hammers
and shovels as the section-men, a mile down the track, stepped into work
behind the train.

"Prospectin'?" queried a lank individual, slouching up to Winthrop.

"A little," said Winthrop. "It's pretty dry work."

"Uhuh. It's goin' to be hot about noon."

"I suppose so. Will you kindly give me a hand with this monstrosity,"
said Winthrop, indicating the pack. "The agent seems to be busy."

"Sure! She ain't roped very tight."

Which proved to be true. The bundle, with a kind of animate
indifference, slowly sagged, opened, and things began to trickle from it
in its journey across the platform. Among the things was the bottle of
brandy. The lank individual picked this up tenderly and set it to one
side. Winthrop noticed his solicitude, and smiled.

"We can rope 'em up again," said the lank one, suddenly becoming
enthusiastic. "My name's Jim Hicks. I'm constable here."

"I see. Well, I'm William Winthrop, from Los Angeles. I'm a naturalist.
Will you accept a cigar?"

"Thanks. You want to pack this here bottle, too?"

"Not right away. Whew! It is getting hot."

"Goin' up to the hotel?" queried the constable.

Winthrop glanced along the street. The hotel did not look inviting. "I
don't know. I'd like to get in the shade somewhere."

"There's old Fernando's 'dobe down the track under them pepper trees.
He's a friend of mine. He ain't to home to-day. Mebby you'd like to set
down there and wait for your friend."

"My friend?"

"Why, ain't you waitin' for anybody? You ain't goin' to tackle that
bug-huntin' trip alone, be you? It's dangerous out there for a
tenderfoot. Now I have took folks out, and brought 'em back all
right,--gone as far as them hills over there, and that's a good jag from
here,--and I only charge four dollars a day and grub."

"I thought you said you were constable?"

"So I be. Takin' parties across the desert is on the side. How far you
figurin' on goin'?"

"I haven't made up my mind yet. Say we go down as far as the adobe you
spoke about, as a beginning. Perhaps we can arrange terms."

"I'm on, pard," said the constable.

       *       *       *       *       *

Under the pepper trees shading Fernando's adobe sat Winthrop and the
constable. The brandy-bottle was half empty and a box of cigars was open
beside it on the bench. The afternoon shadows were lengthening. The
constable had been discursive, voluminous, in his entertaining. Time was
as nothing. He borrowed generously of to-morrow and even the next day.
He became suddenly quite fond of this quiet, gentlemanly chap opposite
him, who said little, but seemed to be a prince of good fellows.

"'S this way," said the constable, leaning forward and waving his cigar.
"You're fren' of mine--sure thing. 'S af'ernoon now, but I was plumb
fooled this mornin'. Y' know i's af'ernoon now. Thought you was the guy
I'm lookin' for. H'overlan' Red--bum--tram'. Wire from Loshangeles to
upperan' him if he shows up here. See?"

"You're not quite clear to me," replied Winthrop. "But never mind about
apprehending any one. Let's talk about this glorious prospect of sand,
silence, and solitude. I feel like a fallen angel. Never mind about
arresting anybody. Life is too short. Let's talk of roses."

"Roshes! Huh!" sniggered the constable. "You're kin' of sof, ain't you?
Roshes nothin'! I'm goin' talk 'bout business. It's business, my
business to talk 'bout it, see? 'T ain't your business. You c'n lissen,
an' when I get through, then you c'n talk roshes."

"But what is your business?" asked Winthrop, with an indifference that
he did not feel.

"S-s-s-h-h! I'm cons'able. Tha's on the quiet. Thousand dollars rewar'
f'r th' appr'enshun of 'Verlan' Red. Thought you was him--hic--hee!
hee!"

"Please don't laugh like that. It hurts my feelings," said Winthrop. "It
is bad enough to be taken for a--er--tramp."

"Nobody's feelin's--pologishe. '_Course_ you ain' him! You're jus' a
li'l' ole ten'erfoot--perfec'ly harmless li'l' ole ten'erfoot."

"Thanks. May I ask you to have another?"

"Nope. 'Nough's 'nough. 'S time f'r dinner."

"Nearly. Well, if you flatly refuse to drink my health, I'll have to
drink it alone, and that's rather egotistical, isn't it?"

"Never. B' Gosh! You're sport. Funny li'l' ole ten'erfoot--perf'ly
harmless. Sure, I'll drink all th' health you got, 'n then go
home--dinner."

"One will be sufficient, I think," said Winthrop.

"Sufficen' wha'?" And the constable leered cunningly.

"To drown all pangs. Well, here's pleasant dreams."

Far down the line came the faint thrill of wheels and the distant,
clear-cut blast of a locomotive. The local freight from Los Angeles was
whistling for the "block."

Winthrop glanced at his watch, then at the constable. "What train is
that?" asked the Easterner.

The constable's eyelids drooped, then opened languidly. "Railro' train,
'f course." And he slid forward to his elbow and thence to the bench.
Presently he snored.

Winthrop strolled toward the approaching train. "Pretty stiff session,"
he commented. "Now if happy chance should bring Overland Red on this
freight, with his burro and outfit; I'll have one reason to offer for
wanting to go with him. I've probably saved him some annoyance,
indirectly, but rather effectively, I think."

The great oil-burning locomotive roared in, casting heat-waves that
smelled of steam, iron, and mechanical energy. The hot air sickened
Winthrop.

A car was cut out and shunted to a siding. Then the engine, pausing to
drink a gargantuan draught at the tank, simmered away in the dusk,
clanking across the switch-points. A figure leaped from the freight-car
to the ground. Then out came a burro and several bundles. The figure
strode to the station and filled two canteens. Winthrop walked toward
the burro. When he of the burro and canteens returned, he found Winthrop
stroking the little animal's nose.

"What the--! How the--! Who lost you out here?" asked Overland.

Winthrop spoke rapidly and to the point. "Express this morning. Lonesome
again. Thought I'd make a change. My outfit is over at the station.
Don't say 'No' before you hear me. You're going to need me--tenderfeet
and all."

"But you can't--"

"Wait. The local constable has a wire from the Los Angeles police to
look out for you. Perhaps you got this far because you're traveling in a
freight-car. No doubt all the passenger trains have been watched all
along the line. The constable has been my--er--my guest since morning.
He is asleep now. I had to do it. He told me, after either the sixth or
seventh glass, I forget which, that he was looking for you. Come on over
to the station and inspect my outfit, please. I think we had better
vanish."

Overland breathed once, deeply. "Lead me to it!" he exclaimed. "You got
my number. I guess you're some lame chicken, eh? No? I'll never call you
a tenderfoot as long as I live. Shake!"

The inspection of the outfit was brief. "Take the Colts and the
cartridges, and the blankets and the rope. T' hell with the rest."




CHAPTER XI

DESERT LAW


Away out in the night of stars and silence plodded the patient burro,
and beside him shuffled Overland Red and Billy Winthrop.

"We'll fool 'em," said Overland. "Keep joggin'. We'll be over the range
before mornin'. Then let 'em find us."

Winthrop, staggering along, felt his moral stamina crumbling within him.
"I don't know--about that. Perhaps I'll be a drag to the expedition. I'm
pretty tired."

Overland, experienced in the remorse that follows liquor on an empty
stomach, swore vigorously and picturesquely. "You'll stick! Do you
suppose I'd shake you now after you overcomin' a genuine nickel-plated
desert constable? Nix. That ain't my style. You believed me when I said
I was comin' to this particular town. It's worth somethin' to have a
fella around that believes a fella once in a while. But what I want to
know is, why you done up the constable so offhand like, not knowin'
whether I'd show up here or not?"

"Why?" And Winthrop smiled wanly. "Because I'm a perfectly harmless
little old tenderfoot." And his voice caught as he tried to laugh.

An hour of plodding through the dusk, two hours, and they were at a
water-hole near the northern hills. Overland unroped one of the packs,
made a fire, and presently had some hot coffee for his companion, who
was pretty well used up. Nature was taking inexorable toll for his
conquest of the constable.

"You take it easy and don't worry," said Overland.

Winthrop raised on his elbow and gazed at the tiny fire. "Tiger, tiger
burning bright!" he quoted.

"This here coffee'll fix you right," responded Overland Red, grinning.
"Didn't know I was a pote, did you? Now if I was a doc, I'd give you a
shot in the arm that would put you to sleep. Seein' I ain't, it's coffee
for yours."

"Do you think they will follow us?" Winthrop asked presently.

"As sure as snakes," said Overland. "And this here water-hole is the
first place they'll strike for. They'll wait till mornin' to find our
trail."

"When they do find it?"

"I'll show 'em a Mexican trick with a hole in it. You go to sleep,
pardner."

       *       *       *       *       *

The moon rolled down to the rim of the world. The infinitesimal
mountain peaks rose slowly along the lower edge of the flat silver
shield, black and growing bolder in outline and size as they blotted
half, three quarters, finally all of the burnished radiance. Then along
the edge of the far range ran an instant delicate light, a light that
melted into space and was gone, leaving a palpitating glory of myriad
summer stars.

The little fire died down. The barren outland wastes slumbered in the
charitable dusk of night.

Overland, cross-legged on his blanket, smoked moodily. His thoughts
drifted out on the tide of silence to Moonstone Canon and Collie and the
Rose Girl, Louise Lacharme. For them he planned impossibly. Of them he
dreamed absurd dreams.

Out of the flotsam of his pondering came memories of other nights such
as this, desert nights on the border ranges of old Mexico--that lost
world of his adventurous youth. Mingled with his waking dreams were the
sounds of many familiar names--Sonora, Trevino, Nueva Laredo, Nava, San
Jose, Las Cruces, Nogales, Yuma, San Antonio,--each a burning ember of
memory that glowed and faded while the music of silver strings and
singing girls pulsed rhythmically in the stillness--to break at last
into the querulous wailing of a lone coyote. Winthrop stirred restlessly
and muttered.

All at once the tramp realized that this easygoing young Easterner,
wealthy, unused to hardship, delicate of health, had his battle to
fight, as well. "I've knowed 'em to get over it," reflected Overland.
"She's high and dry up here on the desert, and I reckon to go where it's
higher. He's game, but he's desp'rate. He's tryin' to dodge the verdict,
which can't be did. Well, if excitement will help any, I guess he's
ridin' the right range. If he's got to pass over, he might as well go
quick. Mebby he's the best kind of a pal for this deal, after all."

Overland looked across at the muffled form. "Pardner!" he called.
Winthrop did not answer.

"Well, it saves explainin'," muttered the tramp, and he rose quietly. He
gathered the few camp-utensils together, rolled his blankets, brushed
sand over the embers of the fire, and groped stealthily toward the
burro. He roped the pack, glancing back toward the water-hole
occasionally. Winthrop slept heavily.

"Guess I'll go back and get that gun," muttered Overland. "I might need
two; anyway, he might wake up and plug his old friend the constable
before he knowed it. I ain't givin' a whoop for the constable, but I
don't want to see the kid get in wrong."

Then Overland, wily and resourceful in border tactics, led the burro
round the camp in a wide circle, from which he branched toward the hills
to the north. For two hours he journeyed across the starlit emptiness.
Arriving at a narrow canon in the foothills, he picketed the burro. Then
he sat down. Why not continue with his pack and provisions? He could
camp in the fastness of the mountain country and explore it alone. He
would run less risk of capture. Winthrop was not strong. The Easterner
meant well enough, but this was the desert.

The blue of the eastern horizon grew shallower, changing to a cold thin
gray which warmed slowly to the straw color of tempering steel. The
tramp, watching the sky, shook his clenched fist at the dawn. "You, up
there!" he growled. "You didn't give me a square deal when I was down
and out that time--in Sonora. I had to crawl to it alone. But I'll show
you that I'm bigger than you. I'm goin' back to the tenderfoot and see
him through if I swing pole-high for it."

It was light when the tramp had arrived at the water-hole. He crept
behind a sharp dip in the hummocks. The crest of his hiding-place was
covered with brush. It was a natural rifle-pit affording him seclusion
and shelter.

With the sun came the faint thud of hoofs as two riders came warily up
to the water-hole. One dismounted and stooped over Winthrop. The other
sat his horse, silent, vigilant, saturnine.

"Say, where's your pal, that there Overland Red guy?" asked the
constable, shaking Winthrop awake and glaring at him with a bleared and
baleful eye.

The man on the horse frowned, considering, in the light of his
experience as a successful and still living two-gun man, that such
tactics were rather crude.

The Easterner sat up, coughed and blinked in the dawn. "Where is what?
Why, good-morning! You're up early." And his eye swept the empty camp.
So Overland Red had deserted him, after all. He might have expected as
much. "I haven't any 'pal,' as you can see. I'm out here studying insect
life, as I told you I would be, yesterday. You needn't shake me any
more. I'm awake. I can't say that I'm exactly pleased with my first
specimen."

"Oh! I'm a specimen, am I? I'm a insect, hey? Well, you're crooked, and
you just talk up quick or the calaboose for yours!"

"No. I beg your pardon--but, no. You are in no condition, this morning,
to talk with a gentleman. However, you are my guest. Have a cigar?"

The horseman's eyes twinkled. He admired the young Easterner's
coolness. Not so the constable.

"See here, you swindlin' tin-horn shell-shover, you cough up where
Overland Red is or there'll be somethin' doin'. You doped that booze
yesterday, but you can't throw no bluff like that to-day."

"I did what? Please talk slowly."

"You doped that booze you--"

Much to the constable's surprise he found himself sitting on Winthrop's
blankets and one of his eyes felt as though some one had begun to stitch
it up quickly with coarse thread.

Winthrop, smiling serenely, nodded. "Sorry to have to do it. I know I
don't look like that kind, and I'm not, but I happen to know how."

The constable got to his feet.

"I didn't doctor the brandy, as you intimated," said Winthrop. "And you
needn't finger that belt of yours. I haven't a gun with me, and I
believe it is not the thing for one man to use a gun on another when
the--er--victim happens to be unarmed."

The horseman, who had courage, admired Winthrop's attitude. He rode
between them. "Cut it out, Hicks," he said. "You're actin' locoed. Guess
you're carryin' your load yet. I'll talk to the kid. We 're losing time.
See here, stranger...."

Overland, watching and listening from his hiding-place, grinned as the
constable sullenly mounted his horse.

Winthrop politely but firmly declined to acknowledge that he had had a
companion. Overland was pleased and the riders were baffled by the young
man's subtle evasion of answering them directly.

"Size of it is, you're stung," said the man who had questioned Winthrop
last. "He's lit out, now he's done you."

To this the Easterner made no reply.

The horsemen rode away, following the circle of burro tracks toward the
hills. Winthrop watched them, wondering what had become of his
companion. He could hardly believe that the tramp had deserted him, yet
the evidence was pretty plain. Even his revolver was gone, and his belt
and cartridges. Winthrop yawned. He was hungry. There was no food. But
there was water. He walked toward the water-hole.

"Stand still--and listen," said a voice.

Winthrop jumped back, startled and trembling. The voice seemed to come
from the water-hole at his feet.

"Over here--this way," the voice said.

Winthrop smiled. If it were a disembodied spirit talking, it was no
other than the spirit of Overland Red. The accent was unmistakable. The
Easterner glanced round and observed a peculiar something behind the
brush edging the rise beyond the water-hole.

"It's me," said Overland, still concealed. "Thought I quit you, eh? Are
them fellas out of sight yet?"

"No. They're still in sight. They are too far to see anything, though."

"And you can see them all right, son? That don't figure out correct."

Winthrop laughed. "That's so. Where's the burro?"

"He's hid--right in plain sight up a little arroyo."

"Won't they find him, and confiscate him and the things?"

"Not on your life! 'T ain't exactly healthy, even for constables, to go
round confiscatin' outfits they don't know who's connected with. They
can't say for sure that burro and stuff is mine. They'll look it over
and leave it right there."

"But why did you come all the way back here?" asked Winthrop.

"Seein' they's lots of time, I'll explain. If I had kep' on goin', they
would 'a' trailed me, and mebby got a crack at me in them hills. They
are two to one, and they could get me at night. Now they'll either give
it up, or spot my back tracks and find me here. That's all."

"Perhaps that won't be all," ventured Winthrop, walking toward the ridge
where Overland lay concealed.

The tramp grinned up at him. "Mebby not, pardner. You was tellin'
Sweeney Orcutt back in Los Angeles that you wanted to get up against the
real thing. I reckon you bought the right ticket this trip."

"Will they--will there be any shooting?" asked the Easterner.

"Not if I can help it," replied Overland. "I borrowed your gun on the
chance of it. 'Course, if they get sassy, why, they's no tellin' what
will happen. I'm mighty touchy about some things. But listen! I'm actin'
as your travelin' insurance agent, pro temperly, as the pote says, which
means keepin' your temper. If they do spot me, and get foolish enough to
think that I got time to listen to any arguments against my rights as a
free and unbranded citizen of the big range, why, you drop and roll
behind the first sand-hill that is a foot high. After the smoke blows
away, I'll be dee-lighted to accept your congratulations."

"I guess you mean business," said Winthrop, becoming serious. "I'm game,
but isn't there any other way out of it?"

"Not for me, son. What chance would I have with the whole desert town to
swear against me? They're after the gold, and they reckon to scare me
into tellin' where it is. I'm after that same gold, and I don't reckon
to be bluffed off by a couple of pikers like them."

"The dark one, the man on the bay horse, seemed to be a pretty
capable-looking individual," said Winthrop.

"Glad you noticed that. You're improvin'. He is a capable gent. He's a
old two-gun man. Did you see how he had his guns tied down low so they
would pull quick. Nothin' fancy about him, but he's good leather. The
other one don't count."

"What shall I do when they come back?"

"You jest go to studyin' bugs or rattlesnakes or tarantulas or
somethin'. Make a bluff at it. If they ask you anything, answer 'em nice
and polite, _and so I can hear_. A whole pile depends on my keepin' up
with the talk. I'll figure from what they say, or don't say."

"They seem to be turning. They've stopped. One of them is down on the
ground looking at something. Now he's up again. They're riding back,"
said Winthrop.

"They cut my back trail," said Overland, snuggling down behind the
brush. "You go and set down by the water-hole and find a bug to study."

"Are you going to fight?"

"Not if it can be helped. Otherwise--till me wires are down and me lamps
are out. She's desert law out here. They seems to be some chance for a
argument about who's goin' to be judge. I'm out for the job myself. I
reckon to throw about fifteen votes--they's six in your gun and nine in
the automatic. The election is like to be interestin' and close."

"I wish I could help," said the Easterner.

"You can--by keepin' your nerve," replied Overland. Then he rolled a
cigarette and lay smoking and gazing at the sky. Winthrop watched the
approaching horsemen. Presently he got up and sauntered to the
water-hole.

The tramp lay curled like a snake behind the mound. He drew Winthrop's
gun from its holster and inspected it, shaking his head as he slid it
back again. "She's new and will pull stiff. That means she'll throw to
the right. Well, I got the little Gat. to open up the show with."

William Stanley Winthrop, despite his resolution, found that his hands
trembled and that his heart beat chokingly. He wanted to shout, to run
out toward the horsemen, to do anything rather than sit stupidly silent
by the water-hole.

The two riders loped up. The constable dismounted. "Nothin' doin'," he
said, stooping to drink.

"No. Nothing doing," echoed the man on horseback.

"That," muttered Overland Red, squirming a little higher behind the
bushes, "was intended for me. I know that tone. It means there's a hell
of a lot doin'. Well, I'm good and ready." And he lifted both of his
red, hairy hands to the edge of the hole and both his hands were
"filled."

About then the man on the pony began to ride out from the water-hole in
a wide circle. The constable came from the spring. Overland noticed that
he kept Winthrop between himself and the sage on the ridge. "That
settles it," Overland swiftly concluded. "They're on. I'm right sad to
have to do it."

The heavy, space-blunted report of the circling horseman's gun--and
Overland calmly spat out the sand that flitted across his lips. The
rider had ventured a shot and had ridden behind a ridge instantly.

Winthrop exclaimed at these strange tactics.

"He seen a jack run in there," explained the constable, leering.

"This here's gettin' interestin'," mumbled Overland as the constable
unholstered his gun and sauntered toward the ridge. "I got to get the
gent on the cayuse. The other one don't count."

The rider had appeared from behind the ridge. Slowly Overland raised
his right hand. Then the old fighting soul of Jack Summers, sheriff of
Abilene, rebelled. "No! Dam' if I'll ambush any white man." And he
leaped to his feet. "Overland Limited!" he shouted, and with his
battle-cry came the quick tattoo of shots. The horseman wavered, doubled
up, and pitched forward to the sand.

Overland Red dropped and rolled to one side as the constable's gun
boomed ineffectually. The tramp lay still.

A clatter of empty stirrups, the swish of a horse galloping past, and
silence.

Slowly the constable approached Overland's prostrate figure. "Time's up
for you!" he said, covering the tramp with his gun.

"Water!" groaned Overland.

"Water, eh? Well, crawl to it, you rat!"

Winthrop, his heart thumping wildly, followed the constable. So this was
desert law? No word of warning or inquiry, but a hail of shots, a
riderless horse,--two men stretched upon the sand and the burning sun
swinging in a cloudless circle above the desolate silence.

"You seem to kind of recognize your friend now," sneered the constable.

That was too much for Winthrop's overstrung nerves. His pulses roared in
his ears. With a leap he seized the constable's gun and twisted at it
with both hands. There was an explosion, and Winthrop grinned savagely,
still struggling. With insane strength he finally tore the gun from the
other's grasp. "You're the only coward in this affair," he gasped, as he
levelled the gun at the constable. That officer, reading danger in
Winthrop's eye, discreetly threw up his hands.

"Good!" exclaimed Overland, sitting up suddenly. "That was risky, but it
worked out all right. I had a better plan. You go set down, Billy. I'll
see this gent safe toward home."

Winthrop laughed hysterically. "Why, you--you--you're a joke!" he cried.
"I thought--"

"So did the little man with the pie-pan pinned on his shirt," said
Overland. "You keep his gun. I got to see how bad the other gent's hit."

An hour later the constable of the desert town led his pony toward the
railroad. On the pony was his companion, with both arms bandaged. He
leaned forward brokenly, swaying and cursing. "I'll--get him, if it
takes--a thousand years," he muttered.

"I reckon it'll take all of that," growled the constable. "You can have
all you want of his game, Saunders,--I'm through."

Out by the water-hole, Overland turned to Winthrop. "I'm glad you
enjoyed the performance," he said, grinning. "We've opened the pot and
the best man rakes her down. She's desert law from now to the finish."




CHAPTER XII

"FOOL'S LUCK"


Gaunt, unshaven, weary, Winthrop rested on the crest of the northern
range. Overland, looking for water, toiled on down the slope with the
little burro. Winthrop rose stiffly and shuffled down the rocks. Near
the foot of the range he saw the burro just disappearing round a bend in
a canon. When he came up with Overland, the tramp had a fire going and
had pitched the tent. The canon opened out to a level green meadow,
through which ran a small stream. They had come a long day's journey
from the water-hole on the other side of the range. They were safe from
ordinary pursuit. That evening beside the fire, Overland Red told again
the story of the dead prospector, the gold, and the buried papers. In
his troubled slumbers the Easterner dreamed of pacing along the track
counting the ties, and eventually digging in the sand, digging until his
very soul ached with the futility of his labor. Waking, he never lost
faith in the certainty of finding the place. He now knew the tramp well
enough to appreciate that the other had not risked his own life and
nearly killed one of his pursuers through sheer bravado, or fear, or
personal hatred. Something more potent was beneath the tramp's
motives--some incentive that was almost a religion. So far, Winthrop was
correct. He erred, however, in supposing Overland to be obsessed with a
mania for gold for its own sake. The erstwhile sheriff of Abilene had
dreamed a dream about an adopted waif and a beautiful young girl. The
dream was big. Its fulfillment would require much money. There was more
of the poet in Overland Red than his best friend had ever imagined.

Three days they rested in the wild seclusion of the canon. The silence,
the solemnity of the place, fascinated Winthrop. The tiny stream, cold
and clear, the vegetation, in a region otherwise barren-gray and
burning,--the arid Mojave with its blistering heat, the trees, the
painted rocks,--ochre, copper, bronze, red, gray, and dim lilac in the
distances,--the gracious shade, the little burro, half ludicrous, half
pathetic in its stolid acceptance of circumstances,--all had a charm for
him that soothed and satisfied his restlessness.

Meanwhile the indefatigable Overland spun yarn after yarn of the road
and range, and rolled innumerable cigarettes with one hand, much to
Winthrop's amusement.

The third morning Winthrop had awakened feeling so completely refreshed
that he begged Overland to allow him to make an attempt to find the
hidden papers and the little bag of gold. Overland demurred at first,
fearing that the Easterner would become lost or stricken with the heat.
Throughout the day Winthrop argued stubbornly that he ran no risk of
capture, while Overland did. He asserted that he could easily find the
water-hole, which was no difficult task, and from there he could go by
compass straight out to the tracks. Overland had told him that somewhere
near a little culvert beneath the track was the marked tie indicating
the hiding-place of the dead prospector's things. It would mean a
journey of a day and a night, traveling pretty continuously.

Finally Overland agreed to Winthrop's plan to make the attempt the
following day.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the foot of the range Overland gave his companion a canteen and a
piece of gunnysack wrapped round some hardtack and jerked beef.

"Don't I need my gun this time?" queried Winthrop.

"Nope, Billy. 'Cause why? You don't generally kill a little gopher or a
little owl that's settin' up tendin' to his business, because you ain't
scared of them. But you will go off of the trail to kill a rattler, a
side-winder, because he's able to kill you if he takes a notion.
Correct. Now a tenderfoot totin' a gun is dangerouser than any rattler
that ever hugged hisself to sleep in the sun--and most fellas travelin'
the desert knows it. Why, I'm plumb scared of a gun-totin' tenderfoot,
myself. Not havin' a gun will be your best recommend, generally
speakin'. Stick to the bugs, Billy; stick to the bugs."

"Well, you ought to know."

"I got seven puckers in my hide to prove what I say. Six of 'em were put
there by plumb amachoors in the gun line; fellas I never took pains to
draw on quick, never suspectin' nothin'. The other, number seven, was
put there by a gent that meant business. He died of a kind of lead
poisonin' right immediate."

They shook hands, the battered, sunburned adventurer, rough-bearded,
broad-chested, genial with robust health, and the slender, almost
delicately fashioned Easterner, who had forgotten that there were such
things as lungs, or doctors,--for the time being.

"Say, Billy, you need a shave," commented Overland, as the other turned
to begin his journey across the desert.

Winthrop grinned. "You need--er--decapitating," he retorted, glancing
back. Then he faced the south and strode away.

Overland, ascending the range, paused halfway up. "Decap-itating," he
muttered. "Huh! That's a new one on me. De-cap--Let's see! Somethin' to
do with a fella's hat, I reckon. It's easy to run a word down and hole
it if you got brains. Mebby Billy meant for me to get a new one. Well,
the constable's friend only put one hole in her--she's a pretty good hat
yet."

       *       *       *       *       *

Overland found his slow way back to the hidden canon. He felt a little
lonely as he thought of Collie. He gave the burro some scraps of camp
bread, knowing that the little animal would not stray so long as he was
fed, even a little, each day.

It was while he was scouring the fry-pan that he noticed the black sand
across the stream. Leisurely he rose and scooped a panful of the sand
and gravel and began washing it, more as a pastime than with an idea of
finding gold. Slowly he oscillated the whispering sand, slopping the
water out until he had panned the lot. He spread his bandanna on a
smooth rock and gently emptied the residue of the washing on it.
"Color--but thin," he said. "Let's try her again."

He moved farther upstream--this time with one of his regular pans. He
became absorbed in his experiment. He washed panful after panful,
slowly, carefully, collectedly. Suddenly he stood up, swore softly, and
flung the half-washed dirt of the last pan on the rocks. "I'm a nut!"
he exclaimed. "This livin' in civilization has been puttin' my intellec'
to the bad. Too much Eastern sassiety." And with this inexplicable
self-arraignment he stooped at the tent-door, buckled on his gun, and
started upstream. He glanced from side to side of the steep and
narrowing walls as he advanced slowly. He passed places where the stream
disappeared in the sand to find some subterranean channel and reappear
below again. Rounding an angle of the cliff, he dropped to his knees and
examined some tiny parallel scratches on a rounded rock--the marks made
by a boot-heel that had slipped. For an hour he toiled over the rocks on
up the diminishing stream. "Gettin' thin," he muttered, gazing at the
silver thread of water rippling over the pebbles. A few feet ahead the
cliffs met at the bottom in a sharp-edged "V," not over a foot apart in
the stream-bed, but widening above. Overland scrambled through. On the
other side of the opening he straightened up, breathing hard. His hand
crept to his hip. On a sandy level a few yards ahead of him stood a
ragged and faded canvas tent, its flap wavering idly in a breath of
wind. In front of the tent was the rain-washed charcoal of an old fire.
A rusted pan, a pick, and the worn stub of a shovel lay near the stream.
A box marked "Dynamite" was half-filled with odds and ends of empty
tins, cooking-utensils, and among the things was a glass fruit-jar half
filled with matches.

Slowly Overland's hand dropped to his side. He stepped forward, stooped,
and peered into the tent. "Thought so," he said laughing queerly. Save
for a pair of old quilts and an old corduroy coat, the place was empty.

"Fool's luck," muttered Overland. "Wonder the Gophertown outfit didn't
find him and fix him. But come to think of it, they ain't so anxious to
cross over to this side of the range and get too clost to a real town,
and get run in or shot up. Fool's luck," he reiterated, coolly rolling a
cigarette and gazing about with a critical eye. "They's another trail
into this canon that the prospector knowed. I got to find it. Billy'll
be some interested."




CHAPTER XIII

THE RETURN


Overland Red lay concealed in an arroyo at the foot of the range. He
could overlook the desert without being seen. It was the afternoon of
the day following Winthrop's departure.

Since discovering the dead prospector's camp and all that it meant, the
tramp was doubly vigilant. He tried to believe that his anxiety was for
his own safety rather than for Winthrop's. He finally gave up that idea,
grumbling something about becoming "plumb soft in his feelin's since he
took to associatin' with sassiety folks." However, had Winthrop been of
the West and seasoned in its more rugged ways, Overland would have
thought little of the young man's share in recent events. While he knew
that Winthrop looked upon their venture as nothing more than a rather
keenly exciting game, Overland realized also that the Easterner had
played the game royally. Perhaps the fact that Winthrop's health was not
of the best appealed to some hidden sentiment in the tramp's peculiar
nature. In any event, Overland Red found himself strangely solicitous
for his companion's return.

Far in the south a speck moved, almost imperceptibly. The tramp's keen
eyes told him that this was no horseman. He rolled a cigarette and lay
back in the shade of a boulder. "He's a couple of points off his course,
but he can't miss the range," he reflected.

Desiring to assure himself that no horseman followed Winthrop, Overland
Red made no sign that might help the other to find the trail over the
range. The rim of Winthrop's hat became distinguishable; then the white
lacing of his boots. Nearer, Overland saw that his face was drawn and
set with lines of fatigue.

No riders appeared on the horizon. Overland stepped out from behind the
rock. "Well, how did you make it?" he called.

Winthrop came forward wearily "No luck at all."

"Couldn't find it, eh?"

"I counted every tie between the tank and that little ditch under the
track. The entire stretch has been relaid with new ties."

Overland whistled. Then he grinned. "You had a good healthy walk,
anyhow," he observed.

"It doesn't seem to worry you much," said Winthrop.

"Nope. Now you're back, it don't. I reckon you done your dam'dest as
the song says. Angels can do no less. Buck up, Billy! You 're limper'n a
second-hand porous-plaster. Here, take a shot at this. That will stiffen
your knees some. Did you meet up with anybody?"

"Not a soul. I thought I should freeze last night, though. I didn't
imagine the desert could get so cold."

"Livin' out here on the old dry spot will either kill you or cure you.
That's one reason I let you go look for them things. The harder you hit
the trail, and can stand it, the quicker you'll get built up." Then
Overland, realizing that his companion was worse than tired, that he was
dispirited, became as wily as the proverbial serpent. His method,
however, could hardly be compared with the dove's conciliatory cooing.
"You sure are a bum scout," he began.

Winthrop flushed, but was silent.

"Bet a banana you didn't even leave the track and look for it."

"No, I didn't. Where could I have begun?"

Overland ignored the question. "I'm hungrier than a gorilla. Just send a
wireless to them feet of your'n. We got some climbin' to do afore dark."

"I'd just as soon camp here. Go up to-morrow," said Winthrop.

"So'd I if it wasn't for bein' scared some of the hills would mosey off
before I got back." And Overland set a brisk pace up the mountain,
talking as he climbed. Winthrop could do nothing but listen. He was
breathless.

"Or that canon," continued Overland. "She might not be there if we
stayed away all night. Besides, I'm scared to leave _it_ alone by
itself."

"Leave what?" gasped Winthrop.

"It. The find I made while you was out surveyin' the Santa Fe. I was
feared you'd get nervous prosecution if I told you all to once, so I
breaks it easy like."

"What was it?"

"Nothin' but a tent in the canon we're campin' in. But, Billy, when you
find a tent and some minin' tools and other signs of trouble 'way up
some lonesome old slot in the hills, you want to get ready for a
surprise. Mebby it'll be nothin' but some old clothes and bones. Mebby
it'll be them and somethin' else. I didn't find the bones, but I found
the somethin' else, coarse, and fair dribblin' thick in the dirt. It's
there and rich, Billy, rich!"

Overland Red turned and paused as Winthrop leaned against a rock.

"It's the--the real thing?" queried the Easterner.

"The real thing, pardner. Now what do you think of that for highbrow
stuff?"

"Meaning that you stumbled on the secret?"

"If you want to say it that way, yes. Just like fallin' into a sewer and
findin' a gold watch where you lit."

"Then it's all true? We've found the gold? You really believed we
should, and for that matter, so did I. I can't say why. I rather felt
that we should."

"I guess I'm some class when it comes to findin' the incubator that
hatches them little yella babies with the come-and-find-me eyes."

Winthrop straightened his tired shoulders. "You seem to think that
you're pretty clever," he said, laughing. "But in the elegant and
expressive diction of the late--the late Overland Red Summers, 'I think
you're a bum scout.'" And they shook hands, laughing as they turned to
climb the trail.

Near the crest, Overland again paused. "Say, Billy, you said the 'late'
Overland Red Summers. You took particular noise to make me hear that
word 'late.' Have you got any objections to explainin' that there idea?
I been examinin' the works of that word 'late,' and it don't tick right
to me. 'Late' means 'planted,' don't it?"

"Sometimes. It may also mean behind time. Do you remember that I said, a
day or two ago, that I shouldn't be surprised if the lost gold were in
the very canon where we camped? I claim precedence of divination,
auto-suggestion, and right of eminent domain. I shall not waive my
prerogative."

"I never owned one," said Overland. "But afore I'll let you come any
style over me, I'll have one made with a silk linin' and di'monds in the
buttons, jest as soon as the claim gets to payin' good. Say, pardner,
it's _free_ gold, and _coarse_. I wisht Collie was here--the little
cuss."

"Collie?"

"Uhuh. The kid I was tellin' you about, that I adopted back in
Albuquerque. He's got a share in this here deal, by rights. He invested
his eight rollers and four bits in the chances of my findin' the stuff.
It was all the coin he had at the time. You see, I was campin' up on the
Moonstone for a change of air, and Collie and me had a meetin' of the
board of dissectors. The board votes unanimous to invest the paid-in
capital in a suit of new jeans for the president, which was me. I got
'em on now. You see, I had to be dollied up to look the part so I could
catch a come-on and get me grubstake."

"I see," said Winthrop, his gray eyes twinkling. "And I was the
come-on?"

"Well," said Overland, scratching his head, "mebby you _was_, but you
ain't no more. If she pans out anything like I expect, you'll be
standin' up so clost to bein' rich that if she was a bronc' you'd get
kicked sure."

They rested for a few minutes, both gazing down on the evening desert.
The reflected light, strong and clear, drew abrupt, keen-edged contrasts
between the black, triangular shadows of the peaks and the gray of the
range. Something elusive, awesome, unreal was in the air about them. The
rugged mountain-side with its chaos of riven boulders, its forest of
splintered rocky spires, silver cold in the twilight, its impassive bulk
looming so large, yet a mere segment in the circling range, was as a
day-dream of some ancient Valhalla, clothed in the mystic glory of
ever-changing light, and crowned with slumbering clouds.

Winthrop sighed as he again faced the range. Overland heard and smiled.
"You said it all," he muttered. "You said it all then."

"You're something of a poet, aren't you?" queried Winthrop.

"You bet! I'm some artist, too. A lady I was figurin' on acceptin' a
invite to dinner with, once,--one of them rich kind that always wants to
get their money's worth out of anything they do for a poor
guy,--happened to come out on the back steps where I was holdin' kind of
a coroner's request over a lettuce san'wich. 'My man,' she says, 'I have
always been interested to know if you--er--tramps ever think of
anything else but food and lodging and loafing. Nothing personal, I
assure you. Merely a general interest in social conditions which you
seem so well fitted to explode from experience. For instance, now, what
are your favorite colors?'

"I couldn't see what that had to do with it, and I got kind of mad. A
lettuce san'wich ain't encouragin' to confidence, so I up and says,
'What are me favorite colors, lady? Well, speakin' from experience, they
is _ham_ and _eggs_.'

"She took a tumble to herself and sent me out some of the best--and a
bottle of Red Cross beer with it."

On up the slope they toiled, Winthrop half-forgetting his weariness in
thinking of Overland's sprightly experiences with what he termed "the
hard ole map--this here world."

At the summit they paused again to rest.

"That was the time," began Overland, "when I writ that there pome called
'Heart Throbs of a Hobo.' Listen!"

  "Oh, my stummick is jest akein'
   For a little bite of bacon,
   A slice of bread, a little mug of brew.
   I'm tired of seein' scenery,
   Jest lead me to a beanery,
   Where there's something more than only air to chew."

"The last line sounds like a sneeze," said Winthrop, laughing.

"Speakin' of sneeze," said Overland, "makes me think you ain't coughed
so much lately, Billy."

"I had a pretty bad time yesterday morning," replied Winthrop.

"Well, you'll get cured and stay cured, up here," said Overland, hugely
optimistic.

"Of course," rejoined Winthrop, smiling. "It's such hard work to breathe
up here that I have to keep alive to attend to it."

"That's her! Them little old bellowsus of your'n 'll get exercise--not
pumpin' off the effects of booze an' cigarettes, neither, but from
pumpin' in clean thin air with a edge to it. Them little old germs will
all get dizzy and lose their holt."

"That's getting rather deep into personalities," said Winthrop. "But I
think you're correct. I could eat a whole side of bacon, raw."

And he followed Overland silently across the range and down into the
cool depths of the hidden canon, where the tramp, ever watchful of the
younger man's health, slipped from his coat and made Winthrop put it on,
despite the latter's protest that he was hot and sweating.




CHAPTER XIV

"CALL IT THE 'ROSE GIRL'"


"What are you going to do with those things?" asked Winthrop. "Not burn
them?"

"Yep; every strap and tie-string," replied Overland, gathering together
the dead prospector's few effects. "Cause why? Well, Billy, if this
claim ain't filed on,--and I reckon it ain't,--why, we files on her as
the original locators. Nobody gets wise to anything and it saves the
chance of gettin' jumped. The bunch over there would make it interestin'
for us if they knowed we was goin' to file on it. They'd put up a fight
by law, and mebby one not by law. Sabe?"

"I think so. Going to burn that little--er--cradle arrangement, too?"

"Yep. Sorry, 'cause it's wood, and wood is wood here. That little rocker
is a cradle all right for rockin' them yella babies in and then out. The
hand that rocks that cradle hard enough rules the world, as the pote
says."

"So this is how gold is mined?" queried Winthrop, examining the crude
rocker and the few rusted tools.

"One way. Pan, cradle, or sluice for free gold. They's about four other
ways. This here's our way."

"Is it a rich claim?"

"Tolerable. I panned some up the branch. She runs about two dollars a
pan."

"Is that all?"

Overland smiled as he poked a smouldering corner of blanket into the
fire. "It is and it ain't. I reckon you could pan fifty pans a day.
That's a hundred dollars. Then I could do that much and the cookin',
too. That's another hundred. Two hundred dollars a day ain't bad wages
for two guys. It ought to keep us in grub and postage stamps and some
chewin'-gum once in a while."

"Two hundred a day!" And Winthrop whistled. "That doesn't seem much in
New York--on the street, but out here--right out of the ground. Why,
that's twelve hundred a week."

"Nope--not exactly. She's a rich one, and bein' so rich at the start
she'll peter out fast, I take it. I know these here kind. When we come
to the end of the canon we're at the end, that's all. Besides, she's so
rich we won't work six days every week. If she was half as good, mebby
we would. You never done much fancy pick-handle exercise, did you?"

"No, but I'm going to. This beats signing checks all to pieces."

"Never got cramps that way myself," grunted Overland. "But I have from
swingin' a pick. Your back'll be so blame stiff in about three days that
you'll wish you never seen a pan or a shovel. Then you'll get over the
fever and settle down sensible. Three of us could do a heap better than
two. I wish Collie was on the job."

"I'm willing," said Winthrop.

"'Course you are, but you get your half of this as agreed. Collie's
share comes out of my half. I'm playin' this hand over the table, in
plain sight."

Winthrop glanced quickly at Overland's inscrutable face. "Suppose I
should tell you that my income, each week, is about equal to what we
expect to get from this claim?"

"Makes no difference," growled Overland. "It wasn't your money that
stood off the constable--and later out in the desert. It was _you_.
They's some places left on this old map yet where a man is jest what his
two fists and his head is worth. This here Mojave is one of 'em. Are you
squeak to that?"

"I understand," said Winthrop.

       *       *       *       *       *

They worked steadily until evening. They staked out their respective and
adjoining claims, dropped the rusted tools in a bottomless crevice, and
removed the last shred and vestige of a previous occupancy.

"This here's been too easy," said Overland, as he sliced bacon for the
evening meal. "When things comes as easy as this, you want to watch out
for a change in the weather. We ain't through with the bunch yet."

The Easterner, making the evening fire, nodded. "How are we to get
provisions?" he asked.

"First, I was thinkin' of packin' 'em in from Gophertown, over yonder.
She's about thirty miles from here, across the alkali. 'T aint a regular
town, but they got grub. But if we got to comin' in regular, they'd
smell gold quicker than bees findin' orange-blossoms. They got my
number, likewise."

"How's that?"

"They know I been standin' out on the edge ever since I had a little
fuss with some folks over at Yuma, quite a spell ago."

"Won't you tell me about it?"

"Sure! They was three parties interested--me and another gent and a
hoss. I guess the hoss is still alive."

Winthrop laughed. "That's a pretty brief epic," he said.

"Uhuh. It was. But I reckon we got to hit the breeze out of here right
soon. Here, le' me take that fry-pan a minute. It's this way. Me and
you's located this claim. Now we go and file. But first we got to get
some dough. I got a scheme. I'm thinkin' of gettin' a dude
outfit--long-tailed coat and checker pants and a elevated lid with a
shine to it. Then you and me to the State House and file on this here
claim. You stay right in them kickie clothes and that puncher hat. We
file, see? The gents supportin' the bars and store corners will be so
interested in seein' me do you for your pile that they'll forget to
remember who I am, like I would be in me natural jeans. They'll size me
for a phoney promoter excavatin' your pocketbook. It's a chance--but we
got to take it."

"That's all very weird and wonderful," said Winthrop, "and not so very
flattering to me, but I am game. I'll furnish the expense money."

After the evening meal they drew nearer the fire and smoked in the chill
silence. The flames threw strange dancing shadows on the opposite cliff.

Winthrop, mindful of Overland's advice, slipped on his coat as the night
deepened. "About your adopting a disguise," he began; "I should think
you would look well enough clean-shaven and dressed in some stylish,
rough tweed. You have fine shoulders and--"

"Hold on, Billy! I'm a livin' statoo, I know. But listen! I got to go
the limit to look the part. You can't iron the hoof-marks of hell and
Texas out of my mug in a hundred years. The old desert and the border
towns and the bottle burned 'em in to stay. Them kind of looks don't go
with business clothes. I got to look fly--jest like I didn't know no
better."

"Perhaps you are right. You seem to make a go of everything you tackle."

"Yep! Some things I made go so fast I ain't caught up with 'em yet. You
know I used to wonder if a fella's face would ever come smooth again in
heaven. That was a spell ago. I ain't been worryin' about it none
lately."

"How old are you?"

"Me? I'm huggin' thirty-five clost. But not so clost I can't hear
thirty-six lopin' up right smart."

"Only thirty-five!" exclaimed Winthrop. Then quickly, "Oh, I beg your
pardon."

"That's nothin'", said Overland genially. "It ain't the 'thirty-five'
that makes me feel sore--it's the 'only.' You said it all then. But
believe me, pardner, the thirty-five have been all red chips."

"Well, you have _lived_," sighed Winthrop.

"And come clost to forgettin' to, once or twice. Anyhow,--speakin' of
heaven,--I'd jest as soon take my chances with this here mug of mine,
what shows I earned all I got, as with one of them there dead-fish faces
I seen on some guys that never done nothin' better or worse than get up
for breakfast."

Winthrop smiled. "Yes. And you believe in a heaven, then?"

"From mornin' till night. And then more than ever. Not your kind of a
heaven, or mebby any other guy's. But as sure as you're goin' to crease
them new boots by settin' too clost to the fire, there's somethin' up
there windin' up the works regular and seein' that she ticks right, and
once in a while chuckin' out old wheels and puttin' in new ones. Jest
take a look at them stars! Do you reckon they're runnin' right on time
and not jumpin' the track and dodgin' each other that slick--jest
because they was throwed out of a star-factory promiscus like a shovel
of gravel? No, sir! Each one is doin' its stunt because the other one
is--same as folks. Sure, there's somethin' runnin the big works; but
whether me or you is goin' to get a look-in,--goin' to be let in on
it,--why, that's different."

Winthrop drew back from the fire and crossed his legs. He leaned
forward, gazing at the flames. From the viewless distance came the howl
of coyotes.

"They're tryin' to figure it out--same as us," said Overland, poking a
half-burned root into the fire. "And they're gettin' about as far along
at it, too. Like most folks does in a crowd--jest howlin' all together.
Mebby it sounds good to 'em. I don' know."

"I'm somewhat of a scoffer, I think," said Winthrop presently.

"Most lungers is," was Overland's cheerful comment. "They're sore on
their luck. They ain't really sore at the big works. They only think so.
I've knowed lots of 'em that way."

"To-night,--here in this canon,--with the stars and the desert so near,
you almost persuade me that there is something."

"Hold on, Billy! You're grazin' on the wrong side of the range if you
think I'm preachin'. My God! I hate preachin' worse than I could hate
hell if I thought they was one. My little old ideas is mine. I roped 'em
and branded 'em and I'm breakin' 'em in to ride to suit me. I ain't
askin' nobody to risk gettin' throwed ridin' any of my stock. Sabe?"

"But a chap may peek through the fence and watch, mayn't he?"

"Sure! Mebby you're breakin' some stock of your own like that. If you
are, any little old rig I got is yours."

"Thank you. And I'm not joking. Perhaps I'll get the right grip on
things later. I've been used to town and the pace. I've always had
money, but I never felt really clean, inside and out, until now. I
never before burned my bridges and went it under my own flag."

Overland nodded sagely. "Uhuh. It's the air. Your feelin' clean and
religious-like is nacheral up here. Don't worry if it feels queer to you
at first--you'll get used to it. Why, I quit cussin', myself, when
everything seems so dum' quiet. Sounds like the whole works had stopped
to listen to a fella. Swearin' ain't so hefty then. Sort of outdoor
stage fright, I reckon. Say, do you believe preachin' ever did much
good?"

"Sometimes I've thought it did."

"I seen a case once," began Overland reminiscently. "It was Toledo
Blake. He was a kind of bum middleweight scrapper when he was workin' at
it. When he wasn't trainin' he was a kind of locoed heavyweight--stewed
most of the time. It was one winter night in Toledo. Me and him went
into one of them 'Come-In-Stranger' rescue joints. 'Course, they was
singin' hymns and prayin' in there, but it was warmer than outside, so
we stayed.

"After a while up jumps the foreman of that gospel outfit. His foretop
was long, and he wore it over one ear like a hoss's when the wind is
blowin'.

"He commenced wrong, I guess. He points down the room to where me and
Toledo was settin', and he hollers, 'Go to the ant, you slugger!
Consider her game and get hep to it,' or somethin' similar.

"That word 'slugger' kind of jarred Toledo. He jumps up kind of mad.
'Mebby I am a slugger, and mebby I ain't, but you needn't to get
personal about it. Anyhow, I ain't got no aunt.'

"'The text,' says the hoss-faced guy on the platform, 'the text, my
brother, is semaphorical.'

"Toledo couldn't understand that, so I whispers, 'Set down, you mutt!
Semaphore is a sign ain't it? Well, he's givin' you the sign talk. Set
down and listen.'

"Toledo, he hadn't had a drink for a week, and he was naturally feelin'
kind of ugly. 'All right,' he growls at the preacher guy. 'All right. I
pass.'

"'Ah, my brother!' says the hoss-faced guy. 'I see the spirits is at
work.' That kind of got Toledo's goat.

"'Your dope is _bum_,' says Toledo. 'I ain't had a drink for a week.
First you tell a fella to go see his aunt, when she's been planted for
ten years. Then--'

"'Listen, brother!' says the preacher guy. 'I referred to ants--little,
industrious critters that are examples of thrift to the idle, the
indignant, the--'

"'Hold on!' says Toledo. 'Do you mean red ants or black ants?' And I
seen that a spark had touched Toledo's brainbox and that he was
wrastlin' with somethin' that felt like thinkin'.

"'Either, my brother,' says the hoss-faced guy, smilin' clear up to his
back teeth.

"'Well, you're drawin' your dope from the wrong can,' says Toledo,
shufflin' for the door. 'Because,' says he, turnin' in the doorway,
'because, how in hell is a fella goin' to find any ants with two feet of
snow on the ground?'

"And then Toledo and me went out. It was a mighty cold night."

Overland Red rolled a cigarette, pausing in his narrative to see whether
Winthrop, who sat with bowed head, was asleep or not.

Winthrop glanced up. "I'm awake," he said, smiling. "Very much awake. I
can see it all--you two, down on your luck, and the snow freezing and
melting on the bottoms of your trousers. And the stuffy little rescue
mission with a few weary faces and many empty chairs; the 'preacher
guy,' as you call him, earnest, and ignorant, and altogether wrong in
trying to reason with Toledo Blake's empty stomach."

"That's it!" concurred Overland. "A empty stomach is a plumb
unreasonable thing. But the preacher guy done some good, at that. He set
Toledo Blake to thinkin' which was somethin' new and original for
Toledo.

"It was nex' spring Toledo and me was travelin' out this way, inspectin'
the road-bed of the Santa Fe, when we runs onto a big red-ant's nest in
the sand alongside of the track. Toledo, he squats down and looks. The
first thing he sees was a leetle pa ant grab up a piece of crust twice
his size and commence sweatin' and puffin' to drag it home to the kids.

"'The leetle cuss!' says Toledo. 'He's some strong on the lift!' And
Toledo, he takes the piece of crust from the pa ant and sticks it at the
top of the hole, thinkin' to help the pa ant along. But the pa ant, he
hustles right up and grabs the crust and waves her around his head a
couple of times to show how strong he is, and then starts back to where
he found the crust. Down he plumps it--gives it a h'ist or two and then
grabs it up. He waves it around in his mitts and wobbles off toward the
hole again. Independent? Well, mostly!

"Toledo, he said nothin', but his eyes was pokin' out of his head tryin'
to think. You never see a man sweat so tryin' to get both hands onto a
idea at once. His dome was kind of flat, but he could handle one idea,
in single harness, at a time.

"Anyhow, the next town we strikes, Toledo, he quits me and gets a sort
of chambermaid's job tidyin' up around a little old boiler-factory and
machine-shop; pilin' scrap-iron and pig-iron and little things like
that. And he stuck, too.

"A couple of years after that I was beatin' it on a rattler goin' west,
and I drops off at that town. About the first thing I seen was Toledo
comin' down the street. Alongside of him was a woman carry in' a kid in
her arms, and another one grazin' along close behind. And Toledo had a
loaf of bread under his arm.

"'This here is Mrs. Blake,' says Toledo, kind of nervous.

"'I am glad she is,' says I. 'Toledo, you're doin' well. Don't know
nothin' about the leetle colt in the blanket, but the yearlin' is built
right. He's got good hocks and first-class action.'

"Mrs. Toledo, she kind of sniffed superior, but said nothin'. You know
that kind of sayin' nothin' which is waitin' for you to move on.

"'Won't you come up to the shack and have grub?' says Toledo, hopin' I'd
say 'No.'

"'Nope,' says I. 'Obliged jest the same. I see you got hep to the ant
all right.'

"'I'll let you know I'm nobody's aunt!' says Mrs. Toledo, yankin' the
yearlin' off his hoofs and settin' him down again. For a fact, she thunk
I was alludin' to her.

"'Of course not, madam,' says I, polite, and liftin' me lid. 'And I
judge somebody's in luck at that.'

"I guess it was her not used to bein' spoke and acted polite to that got
her goat. Mebby she smelt somethin' sarcastic. I dunno. Anyhow, she was
a longhorn with a bad eye. 'Go on, you chicken-lifter!' she says.

"Bein' no hand to sass a lady, I said nothin' more to _her_. But I hands
Toledo a jolt for bein' ashamed of his old pal.

"'Well, so long,' says I, kind of offhand and easy. 'So long. I'll tell
Lucy when I see her that you was run over by a freight and killed. Then
she can take out them papers and marry Mike Brannigan that's been
waitin' in the hopes you'd pass over. You remember Mike, the cop on
Cherry Street. You oughta. He's pinched you often enough. 'Course you
do. Well, so long. Little Johnny was lookin' fine the last I seen of
him. He's gettin' more like his pa every day. But I got to beat it.'"

Overland Red leaned back and puffed a great cloud of smoke from a fresh
cigarette.

"Who was Lucy?" asked Winthrop.

"Search me!" replied Overland. "They wasn't any Lucy or nobody like
that. But I'd like to 'a' stayed to hear Toledo explain that to Mrs.
Toledo, though. She was a hard map to talk to."

"I suppose there's a moral attached to that, or, more properly, embodied
in that story. But it is good enough in itself without disemboweling it
for the moral."

"You can't always go by ants, neither," said Overland.

Winthrop nodded. His eyes were filled with the awe of great distances
and innumerable stars. "Gold!" he whispered presently, as one whispers
in dreams. "Gold! Everywhere! In the sun--in the starlight--in the
flowers--in the flame. In wine, in a girl's hair.... Gold! Mystery....
Power ... and as impotent as Fate." Winthrop's head lifted suddenly.
"What shall we call the mine?" he asked.

Overland Red started, as though struck from ambush. "How did you guess?"
he queried.

"Guess what?"

"That I was thinkin' about the claim?"

"I didn't guess it. I was dreaming. Suddenly I asked a question,
without knowing that I was speaking."

"Mebby I was bearin' down so hard on the same idea that you kind of felt
the strain."

"Possibly. That's not unusual. What _shall_ we call it?"

"Wha--I was thinkin' of callin' it the 'Rose Girl' after a girl Collie
and me knows up Moonstone Canon way."

"It's rather a good name," said Winthrop. "Is the girl pretty?"

"Pretty? Gosh! That ain't the word. Her real name is Louise Lacharme,
and, believe me, Billy, she's all that her name sounds like, and then
some."




CHAPTER XV

SILENT SAUNDERS


One after another, in the course of the two years following Collie's
arrival, the old riders of the Moonstone Rancho drifted away. There
remained but Brand Williams the foreman, Collie, and the sturdy,
hard-riding Miguel, a young Spanish vaquero who was devoted to but two
things in life, his splendid pinto pony, and the Moonstone Ranch.

The others had been lured to the new oil-fields up north--to the
excitement of Goldfield, or to Mexico City, where even more excitement
promised. In their stead came new men--Bud Light, Parson Long, Billy
Dime, and one Silent Saunders.

Louise became acquainted with the new men while riding with her uncle.
She was his constant companion in the hills. One by one the new arrivals
became devoted to her. Her sincere interest in the ranch work pleased
them, and naturally, for it was their work. Walter Stone was also
pleased with his niece's interest in the detail of the ranch work. She
was as a daughter to him. Some day the property would be hers.

Fully conscious, from within herself, of her dependence upon her uncle,
Louise managed to be of inestimable service. She performed her
self-allotted tasks without ostentation. She had that rare quality of
stimulating enthusiasm among the men--enthusiasm for their work and
pride in giving faithful and energetic service--pride in accomplishing a
little more each day than was asked or expected of them. Louise's youth,
her beauty, her sincerity, and, above all, her absolute simplicity of
manner commanded admiration and respect among the hard-riding Moonstone
boys. She was, to them, a "lady," yet a lady they could understand. Hers
was a gentle tyranny. A request from her was deemed a great compliment
by its recipient.

All of them, with the exception of Collie, openly praised her
horsemanship, her quiet daring, her uniform kindness. Her beauty had
ceased to be commented upon. It was accepted by them as one accepts the
fragrant beauty of a rose, naturally, silently, gratefully.

Collie had gained in height and breadth of shoulder. He no longer needed
instruction in managing broncho stock. He loved the life of the hills;
the cool, invigorating mornings, the keen wind of the noon peaks, the
placidity of the evening as the stars multiplied in the peaceful sky.

He became that rare quantity among cowmen, a rider who handled and
mastered unbroken horses without brutality. This counted heavily for him
both with Louise and Walter Stone. Men new to the range laughed at his
method of "gentling" horses. Later their laughter stilled to envious
desire. Lacking his invariable patience, his consistent magnetism, they
finally resumed their old methods, and earned dominance by sheer
strength of arm--"main strength and awkwardness," as Williams put it.

"It's easy--for him," commented Brand Williams, discussing Collie's
almost uncanny quelling of a vicious, unbitted mustang. "It's easy. You
fellas expect a boss to buck and bite and kick and buffalo you
generally. _He_ don't. He don't expect anything like that, and he don't
let 'em learn how."

"Can you work it that way?" asked Billy Dime.

"Nope. I learned the other way and the bosses knows it. I always had to
sweat. He's born to it natural, like a good cow-pony is."

And Collie looked upon his work as a game--a game that had to be played
hard and well, but a game, nevertheless. Incidentally he thought often
of Overland Red. He had searched the papers diligently for a year,
before he received the first letter from Overland. The news it contained
set Collie to thinking seriously of leaving the Moonstone Rancho and
joining his old companion in this new venture of gold-digging which, as
Overland took pains to explain, was "paying big." But there was
Louise.... They were great friends. They had even ridden to town
together and attended the little white church in the eucalyptus
grove.... He thought of their ride homeward late that Sunday
afternoon....

       *       *       *       *       *

Once and once only had Overland's name been mentioned in the bunk-house.
Saunders, discussing horses and riders in general, listened to Collie's
account of Overland's escape from the deputy, Tenlow. Then he spoke
slightingly of the feat, claiming that any man who had ever ridden range
could do as much, with the right pony.

Brand Williams tried to change the subject, for shrewd reasons of his
own, but Collie flamed up instantly. "I got a little saved up," he said;
"mebby eight hundred. She's yours if you dast to walk a horse, comin' or
goin', over that drift that Red took on the jump. Are you game?"

"I'm not on the bet," replied Saunders. "So Overland Red is a friend of
yours, eh?"

"Overland Red could ride where you dassent to walk and drag a halter,"
asserted Collie. Then he relapsed to silence, a little ashamed in that
he had been trapped into showing temper.

Williams the taciturn astonished the bunk-house by adding: "The kid is
right. Red could outride most men. I was his pal once, down in Sonora.
There ain't a better two-gun artist livin'." And the lean foreman looked
pointedly at Saunders.

Saunders smiled evilly. He had reason to believe that Williams had
spoken the truth.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few weeks later, Williams, returning unexpectedly to the bunk-house,
found Saunders changing his shirt preparatory to a ride to town. The
rest of the boys were already on their way to the Oro Rancho across the
valley. Williams saw two puckered scars, each above the elbow on
Saunders's bared arms.

"That was dam' good shootin'," said the foreman, indicating the other's
scarred arms.

"Fair," said Saunders gruffly.

"Takes a gun-artist to put a man out of business that way and not finish
him," said Williams, smiling.

"Cholo mix-up," said Saunders.

"And shootin' from the ground, at that," continued Williams. "And at a
fella on a horse. Easy to see that, for the both holes are slantin' up.
The shootin' was done from below."

Saunders flushed. He was about to speak when Williams interrupted him.
"Makes me think of some of Overland Red's--that is, old Red Jack
Summers's fancy work. I don' know why," he drawled, and turning he left
the bunk-house.

Collie, returning from a visit to the Oro Rancho that evening, was met
by Williams. The latter was on foot.

"Drop into my shack after dark," said the foreman. Then he stepped back
into the bushes as the other men rode up.

The foreman's interview with Collie that evening was brief. It left a
lot to the imagination. "You said too much about Overland Red the other
night, when you was talkin' to Silent Saunders," said Williams. "He's
tryin' to find out somethin'. I don't know what he's after. Keep your
eye peeled and your teeth on the bit. That's all."




CHAPTER XVI

BLUNDER


"Oh, he's built all right, and he comes of good stock," said Brand
Williams, nodding toward a bay colt that stood steaming in the sun.

It had rained the night before--an unexpected shower and the last of the
winter rains. Now that the snow had left the hills, the young stock,
some thirty-odd year-old colts had been turned into the north range.
Collie and Williams had ridden over to look at the colts; Williams as a
matter of duty, Collie because he was interested and liked Williams's
society.

The colt, shaking itself, turned and nipped at its shoulder and switched
its tail.

"He's stayed fat, too," continued Williams. "But look at him! He's
bitin' and switchin' because he's wet. Thinks it's fly-time a'ready.
He's jest a four-legged horse-hide blunder. I know his kind."

Collie, dismounting and unbuttoning his slicker, rolled it and tied it
to the saddle. "I guess you're right, Brand. Last week I was over this
way. He had his head through the corral bars at the bottom and he
couldn't get loose. He was happy, though. He must have been there quite
a spell, for he ate about half a bale of hay. I got him loose and he
tried his darndest to kick my head off."

"Uhuh," grunted the foreman. "Reckon it's the last rain we'll get this
year. Now would you look at that! He's the limit!"

The colt, sniffing curiously at a crotch in the live-oak against which
he had been rubbing, had stepped into the low fork of the tree. Perhaps
he had some vague notion to rub both his sides at once as an economy of
effort. His front feet had slipped on the wet ground. He went down,
wedged fast. He struggled and kicked. He nickered plaintively, and
rolled his terror-stricken eyes toward the cowmen in wild appeal.

"And like all of his kind, hoss and human," said Williams, dismounting,
"he's askin' for help in a voice that sounds like it was our fault that
he's in trouble. He's the limit!"

With much labor they finally released the colt, who expressed prompt
gratitude by launching a swift and vicious kick at Collie.

"He's feeling good enough," said that youth, coolly picking up his hat
that had dropped as he dodged.

"Yes. All he needs is a couple of punchers and a hoss-doctor and a
policeman to ride round with him and keep him out of trouble. He's no
account; never will be," growled Williams.

"I don't know, Brand. He's a mighty likely-looking and interesting
specimen. He's different. I kind of like him."

"Well, I don't. I ain't got time. He's always goin' to manufacture
trouble, when he don't come by it natural. He's got a kind eye, but no
brains behind it."

They mounted and rode up the hill, looking for breaks in the fences and
counting the colts, some of whom, luxuriously lazy in the heat of the
sun, stood with lowered heads, drowsing. Others, scattered about the
hillsides and in the arroyos, grazed nippingly at the sparse
bunch-grass, moving quickly from clump to clump.

The "blunder" colt seemed to find his own imbecilities sufficiently
entertaining, for he grazed alone.

The foreman's inspection terminated with the repairing of a break in the
fence inclosing the spring-hole, a small area of bog-land dotted with
hummocks of lush grass. Between the hummocks was a slimy, black ooze
that covered the bones of more than one unfortunate animal. The heavy,
ripe grass lent an appearance of stability, of solidity, to the
treacherous footing.

Williams and Collie reinforced the sagging posts with props of fallen
limbs and stones carried from the trail below. They piled brush where
the wire had parted, filling the opening with an almost impassable
barrier of twisted branches. Until the last rain, the spring-hole fence
had appeared solid--but one night of rain in the California hills can
work unimaginable changes in trail, stream-bed, or fence line.

"Get after that fence first thing in the morning," said Williams as he
unsaddled the pinto that afternoon. "I noticed the blunder colt followed
us up to the spring. If there's any way of gettin' bogged, he'll find
it, or invent a new way for himself."

The blunder colt's mischief-making amounted to absolute genius. There
was much of the enterprising puppy in his nature and in his methods. The
impulse which seemed to direct the extremely uneven tenor of his way
would have resolved itself orally into: "Do it--and then see what
happens!" He was not vicious, but brainlessly joyful in his mischief.

As the foreman and Collie disappeared beyond the crest of the hill, the
colt, who had watched them with absurdly stupid intensity, lowered his
head and nibbled indifferently at the grass along the edge of the
spring-hole fence. He approached the break and sniffed at the props and
network of branches. This was interesting! And a very carelessly
constructed piece of fence, indeed! He would investigate. The blunder
colt was never too hungry to cease grazing and turn toward adventure.

He nosed one of the props. He leaned against it heavily, deliberately,
and rubbed himself. Verily "His eye had all the seeming of a demon's
that is dreaming"--of unalloyed mischief.

The prop creaked, finally became loosened, and fell. The colt sprang
back awkwardly, snorting in indignant surprise. "The very idea!" he
would have said, even as he would have chewed gum and have worn a
perpetual tear in his trousers had he been human.

With stiff stealthiness he approached the break again, pretending a
hesitancy that he enjoyed immensely. He reached under the lower wire,
neck outstretched, and nibbled at a bunch of ripe grass. There was
plenty of grass within easier reach, but he wanted the unattainable. A
barb caught in his mane. He jerked his head up. The barb pricked his
neck. He jerked harder. Another prop became loosened. Then he strode
away, this time with calm indifference. He pretended to graze, but his
eye roved back to the break. His attitude expressed a sly
alertness--something of the quiet vigilance a grazing horse betrays when
one approaches with a bridle. He drew nearer the fence again. With head
over the top wire he gazed longingly at the clumps of grass on the
hummocks scattered over the muck of the overflow. His shoulder needed
scratching. With drooping head, eyes half-closed, and lower lip pendant,
he rubbed against the loosened post. The post sagged and wobbled.
Whether it was deliberate intent, or just natural "horse" predominating
his actions, it would be difficult to determine. Finally the post gave
way and fell. The colt drew back and contemplated the opening with a
vacuous eye. It was not interesting now. No, indeed! He wandered away.

But in the dusk of that evening, when a chill dew sparkled along the
edges of the bog, he came, a clumsy shadow and grazed among the
hummocks. Slowly he worked toward the treachery of black ooze that shone
in the starlight. He sank to his fetlocks. He drew his feet up one after
another, still progressing toward the centre of the bog, and sinking
deeper at each step. He became stricken with fear as he sank to his
hocks. He plunged and snorted. The bog held him with a soft, detaining
grip--and drew him slowly down. He nickered, and finally screamed in
absolute terror. Up to his heaving belly the black mud crept. He flung
himself sideways. Exhausted, he lay with neck and head outstretched.
Again he struggled, his eyes wild and protruding with the blood pressure
of his straining. Then the chill of night crept over him. He became
quiet--shivered a little, and nickered faintly.

In the willows a little owl called pensively.

       *       *       *       *       *

The morning light, streaming across the hills, spread like raw gold over
the bog. Collie whistled as he rode down the trail, and beat his gloved
hands to keep warm. He heard a plaintive whinny and a bubbling gasp. He
leaped from his pony, the coiled riata in his hand as he touched the
ground.

The blunder colt, neck outstretched, was still above the ooze. His eyes
were bloodshot, as their white rims showed. His nose quivered and
twisted with his quick, irregular breathing.

It was a "two-man job," but Collie knew that the colt would probably be
gone before he could ride back and return with help. He swung the riata,
then hesitated. To noose the colt's neck would only result in strangling
it when he pulled. He found a branch large enough to stiffen the brush
near the break. Swiftly he built a shaky footing and crept out toward
the colt. By shoving the riata under the colt's belly with a forked
stick, and fishing the loose end up on the other side, he managed to get
a loop round the animal's hind quarters. He mounted his own horse and
took a turn of the riata round the saddle-horn.

His pony set its feet and leaned to the work. Slowly the colt was drawn
to solid ground.

He was a pitiful object as he lay panting and shivering, plastered with
mud and black slime, and almost dead from shock and chill. Collie spread
his slicker over him and rode up the hill at a trot. The blunder colt
raised its head a little, then dropped it and lay motionless.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Collie and Billy Dime returned with gunnysacks and an old blanket,
the sun had warmed the air. The mud on the colt's side and neck had
begun to dry.

Billy Dime commented briefly. "He's a goner. He's froze clean to his
heart. Why didn't you leave him where he was?"

Collie spread the gunnysacks on a level beneath a live-oak, beneath
which they dragged the colt and covered him with the blanket. They gave
him whiskey with water that they heated at a little fire of brush. The
colt lifted its head, endeavoring spasmodically to get to its feet.

"He's wearin' hisself out. He ain't got much farther to go," said Billy
Dime, mounting and turning his pony. "Come on, kid. If he's alive
to-morrow mornin'--good enough."

"I think I'll stay awhile," said Collie. "Brand says he isn't worth
saving, but--I kind of like the cuss. He's different."

"Correct, nurse, he is. You can telephone me if the patient shows signs
of bitin' you. Keep tabs on his pulse--give him his whiskey regular, but
don't by no means allow him to set up in bed and smoke. I'll call again
nex' year. So long, sweetness."

"You go plump!" laughed Collie.

And Billy Dime rode over the hill singing a dolefully cheerful ditty
about burying some one on the "lo-o-ne prairee." To him a horse was
merely something useful, so long as it could go. When it couldn't go, he
got another that could.

Collie replenished the smoking fire, scraped some of the mud from the
colt's thick, winter coat, and heated a half-dozen large stones.

His brother cowmen would have laughed at these "tender ministrations,"
and Collie himself smiled as he recalled Billy Dime's parting
directions.

Collie placed the heated stones round the shivering animal, re-dried the
blanket at the fire, and covered the pitifully weak and panting
creature. The colt's restless lifting of its head he overcame by sitting
near it and stroking its muzzle with a soothing hand.

Time and again he rose to re-heat the stones and replenish the fire. The
colt's breathing became less irregular. He gave it more of the hot
whiskey and water.

Then he mended the fence. He had brought an axe with him and a supply of
staples.

Toward mid-afternoon he became hungry and solaced himself with a
cigarette.

Again the blunder colt became restless, showing a desire to rise, but
for lack of strength the desire ended with a swaying and tossing of its
head.

Evening came quickly. The air grew bitingly chill. Collie wished that
one of the boys would bring him something to eat. The foreman surely
knew where he was. Collie could imagine the boys joking about him over
their evening "chuck."

With the darkness he drew on his slicker and squatted by the fire. He
fell asleep. He awoke shivering, to find the embers dull. The stars were
intensely brilliant and large.

Once during the evening he made up his mind to return to the
ranch-house, but a stubborn determination to save the colt, despite the
ridicule he knew he would elicit, held him to his task. Should he leave,
the colt might become chilled again and die. Then he _would_ be open to
ridicule. Collie reasoned that he must finish the task as he had begun
it--thoroughly.

Again he heated the stones, warmed the blanket, and gave "Blunder," as
he now called him affectionately, some hot whiskey. Then he built a
larger fire, wrapped himself in his saddle-blankets, and, with feet to
the blaze, slept. His own pony grazed at large, dragging a rope.

Habit brought Collie awake early. The fire had gone out. He was stiff
with cold. Arising, he glanced at the heap beneath the blanket ringed
with stones. "Time to eat!" he cried lustily, and whipped the blanket
from the mud-encrusted Blunder. The colt raised its head, struggled, put
out one stiff fore leg, and then the other. Collie grabbed the animal's
tail and heaved. Blunder humped himself--and was on his feet, wobbling,
dizzy-eyed, scandalously "mussed up"--but alive!

"Whoop-ee!" shouted Collie as the colt staggered a pace or two trying
his questionable strength. "Gee! But I'm hungry!"

The Blunder, a mere caricature of a horse in pose and outward seeming,
gazed at his rescuer with stupid eyes. He had not the faintest idea what
all the joy was about, but something deep in his horse nature told him
that the boisterous youth was his friend. Timidly he approached Collie,
wagged his head up and down experimentally, as if trying his neck
hinges, and reached out and nuzzled the young man's hand, nipping
playfully at his fingers.

Collie was dumbfounded. "He's thankin' me--the little cuss! Why, you
rubber-kneed, water-eyed mud turtle you! I didn't know you had that
much sense."

The youth did not hear the regular beat of hoofs as Williams loped up,
until the colt, stilt-legged, emitted a weak nicker. Collie turned.

Williams smiled grimly. "Knew you'd stick," he said.

He gazed at the revived colt, the circle of stones, and the blanket. He
made no comment.

Collie caught up his pony and mounted. As they rode over the hill
together, Williams, turning in the saddle, laughed and pointed down
toward the arroyo.

The blunder colt, apparently overjoyed to be alive, had ambled awkwardly
up to one of his mates who stood stolidly waiting for the sun to warm
him. The other colt, unused to the Blunder's society and perhaps
unfavorably impressed by his dissipated appearance, received this
friendly overture with a pair of punishing hoofs. Blunder staggered and
fell, but scrambled to his feet again, astonished, indignant, highly
offended.

"If you was to drive that blunder colt up to horse-heaven and he knew it
_was_ horse-heaven, you'd have to turn him around and back him in. Then
I reckon he'd bust the corral tryin' to get out again."

Collie grinned. "Well, I wouldn't this morning--if there was anything
to eat there, even hay."

"Well, you don't get your breakfast at the chuck-house _this_ morning,"
said Williams gruffly.

"I don't, eh? Since when?"

Williams again turned in his saddle, observing Collie for a minute
before he spoke. "I see you're smilin', so I'll tell you. Since when?
Well, since about two hours ago, when Miss Louise come steppin' over to
the bunk-house and asks where you are. Billy Dime ups and tells her you
was sick-nursin' the blunder colt. She didn't smile, but turned to me
and asked me. I told her about what was doin'. I seen she had it in for
somebody. It was me. 'Brand,' she says, quiet-like, 'is it customary on
the Moonstone for lunch or dinner to be taken to the men that are
staying out from camp?'

"'Yes, ma'am,' says I.

"And the plumb hell of it was," continued Williams, "she didn't say
another word. I wisht she had. I feel like a little less than nothin'
shot full of holes this lovely mornin'."

Collie rode on silently.

"Why don't you say somethin'?" queried Williams.

"I was waiting for the rest of it," said Collie.

Williams laughed. "I guess you ain't such a fool, at that, with your
nussin' stock and settin' up nights with 'em. Miss Louise says to tell
you to come right up to the house,--the _house_, you understand,--and
get your breakfast with them. They said they was goin' to wait for you.
I guess that ain't throwin' it into the rest of us some. Keep it up,
Collie kid, keep it up, and you'll be payin' us all wages some day."




CHAPTER XVII

GUESTS


A month had passed since the rescue of the blunder colt. The air was
warm and clear, the sky intensely blue. Moonstone Canon grew fragrant
with budding flowers. The little lizards came from their winter crevices
and clung to the sun-warmed stones. A covey of young quail fluttered
along the hillside under the stately surveillance of the mother bird.
Wild cats prowled boldly on the southern slopes. Cotton-tails huddled
beneath the greasewood brush and nibbled at the grasses. The canon
stream ran clear again now that the storm-washed silt had settled. On
the peaks the high winds were cold and cutting, but on the slopes and in
the valleys the earth was moist and warm.

Louise, humming a song, rode slowly along the Moonstone Canon Trail. At
the "double turn" in the canon, where dwelt Echo and her myrmidons,
Louise rode more slowly.

  "Dreaming Fance, the cobbler's son, took his tools and laces,
  Wrought her shoes of scarlet dye, shoes as pale as snow.
  They shall lead her wild-rose feet all the faery paces,
  Danced along the road of love, the road such feet should go."

She sang slowly, pausing after each line that the echoes might not blur.

"Danced along ... along ... the road ... of love, the road ... of
love ... of love," sang the echoes.

Louise smiled dreamily. Then the clatter of Boyar's shod hoofs rang and
reechoed, finally to hush in the gravel of the ford beyond.

Why Louise thought of Collie just then, it would be difficult to
imagine. Still, she had, ever since his night's vigil with the blunder
colt, caught herself noting little details associated with him and his
work. He brushed his teeth. Not all of the other men did. He did not
chew tobacco. Despite his lack of early training, he was naturally neat.
He disliked filth instinctively. His bits, spurs, and trappings shone.
He had learned to shoe his string of ponies--an art that is fast
becoming lost among present-day cowmen. With little comment but faithful
zeal he copied Brand Williams. This, of course, flattered the taciturn
cowman, who unobtrusively arranged Collie's work so that it might bring
the younger man before the notice of Walter Stone, and incidentally
Louise. Of course, Louise was not aware of this.

The girl no longer sang as she rode, but dreamed, with unseeing eyes on
the trail ahead--dreamed such dreams as one may put aside easily until,
perchance, the dream converges toward reality which cannot be so lightly
put aside.

Brand Williams had his own ideas of romance; ideas pretty well submerged
in the deeps of hardy experience, but existing, nevertheless, and as
immovable as the bed of the sea. He badgered Collie whenever he chanced
to have seen him with the Rose Girl, and smiling inwardly at the young
man's indignation, he would straightway arrange that Collie should ride
to town, for, say, a few pounds of staples wanted in a hurry, when he
knew that the buckboard would be going to town on the morrow, and also
that there were plenty of staples in the storeroom.

Something of the kind was afoot, or rather a-saddle, as Louise rode down
the Moonstone Trail, for beyond the turn and the rippling ford she saw a
lithe, blue-shirted figure that she knew.

Louise would not have admitted even to herself that she urged Boyar.
Nevertheless the reins tightened and slackened gently. Boyar swung into
his easy lope. It pleased the girl that Collie, turning in his saddle at
the sound of hoofs, waved a salute, but did not check his horse. He had
never presumed on her frank friendship and "taken things for granted."
He kept his place always. He was polite, a little reticent, and very
much in love with Louise. Louise did not pretend to herself that she
was not aware of it. She was all the more pleased that Collie should act
so admirably. She had loaned him books, some of which he had read
faithfully and intelligently. In secret he had kissed her name written
on the flyleaf of each of them. He really rather adored Louise than
loved her, and he builded well, for his adoration (unintimate as
adoration must ever be until perchance it touches earth and is
translated into love) was of that blithe and inspiriting quality that
lifts a man above his natural self and shapes the lips to song and the
heart to unselfish service. He knew himself to be good-looking and not
altogether a barbarian. No morbid hopelessness clouded his broad
horizon. He knew himself and cherished his strength and his optimism. He
ate slowly, which is no insignificant item on the credit side of the big
book of Success.

Collie lifted his broad-brimmed hat as Louise rode up. His face was
flushed. His lips were smiling, but his dark eyes were steady and grave.

"'Morning, Collie! Boyar is just bound to lope. He never can bear to have
a horse ahead of him."

"He don't have to, very often," said Collie.

"Of course, there are Kentucky saddle-horses that could beat him. But
they are not cow-ponies."

"No. And they couldn't beat him if they had to do his work in the
hills. About a week of the trails would kill a thoroughbred."

"Boyar is very conceited, aren't you, Boy?" And she patted the sleek
arch of his neck.

"I don't blame him," said Collie, his eyes twinkling.

"Going all the way to town?" asked Louise.

"Yes. Brand wants some things from the store."

"I'm going to the station. We expect a telegram from some friends. Maybe
they'll be there themselves. I hope not, though. They said they were
coming to-morrow, but would telegraph if they started sooner. We would
have to get Price's team and buckboard--and I'd be ashamed to ride
behind his horses, especially with my--my friend from the East."

"Boyar and this here buckskin colt would make a pretty fair team,"
ventured Collie, smiling to himself.

"To drive? Heavens, Collie, no! They've neither of them been in
harness."

"I was just imagining," said Collie.

"Of course!" exclaimed Louise, laughing. "I understand. Why, I must be
late. There's the train for the north just leaving the station. I
expected to be there in case the Marshalls did come to-day. But they
said they'd telegraph."

"I can see three folks on the platform," said Collie. "One is the
agent; see his cap shine? Then there's a man and a woman."

"If it's Anne, she'll never forgive me. She's so--formal about things.
It can't be the Marshalls, though."

"We can ride," suggested Collie. And the two ponies leaped forward. A
little trail of dust followed them across the valley.

At the station Louise found her guests, young Dr. Marshall and his wife;
also the telegram announcing the day they would arrive.

"I'm sorry," began Louise; but the Marshalls silenced her with hearty
"Oh, pshaws!" and "No matters!" with an incidental hug from Anne.

"Why, you have changed so, Anne!" exclaimed Louise. "What _have_ you
been doing? You used to be so terribly formal, and now you're actually
hugging me in public!"

"The 'public' has just departed, Miss Lacharme, with your pony, I
believe. He rides well--the tall dark chap that came with you."

"Oh, Collie. He's gone for the buckboard, of course. Stupid of me not to
drive down. We really didn't expect you until to-morrow, but you'll
forgive us all, won't you? You can see now how telegrams are handled at
these stations."

Anne Marshall, a brown-eyed, rather stately and pleasingly slender girl,
smiled and shook her head. "I don't know. I may, if you will promise to
introduce me to that fascinating young cowboy that rode away with your
horse. I used to dream of such men."

Young Dr. Marshall coughed. The girls laughed.

"Oh, Collie?" said Louise. "Of course, you will meet him. He's our
right-hand man. Uncle Walter says he couldn't get along without him and
Aunty Eleanor just thinks he is perfect."

"And Louise?" queried Anne Marshall.

"Same," said Louise non-committally. "I don't see why he took Boyar with
him to the store, though."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Marshalls and Louise paced slowly up and down the station platform,
chatting about the East and Louise's last visit there, before Anne was
married. Presently they were interrupted by a wild clatter of hoofs and
the grind and screech of a hastily applied brake. The borrowed
buckboard, strong, light, two-seated, and built for service, had arrived
dramatically. Collie leaned back, the reins wrapped round his wrists,
and his foot pressing the brake home. In the harness stood, or rather
gyrated, Boyar and Collie's own pony Apache. It is enough to say that
neither of them had ever been in harness before. The ponies were trying
to get rid of the appended vehicle through any possible means. Louise
gasped.

"Price's team is out--over to the Oro Ranch. I knew you wanted a team in
a hurry--" said Collie.

"It looks quite like a team in a hurry," commented Dr. Marshall. "Your
man is a good driver?"

"Splendid!" said Louise. "Come on, Anne. You always said you wanted to
ride behind some real Western horses. Here they are."

"Why, this is just--just--bully!" whispered the stately Anne Marshall.
"And isn't he a striking figure?"

"Yes," assented Louise, who was just the least bit uncertain as to the
outcome of Collie's hasty assembling of untutored harness material. "It
is just 'bully.' Where in the world did you unearth that word, Anne?"




CHAPTER XVIII

A RED EPISODE


Dr. Marshall's offhand designation of the buckboard as "a team in a
hurry" was prophetic, even unto the end.

What Boyar could not accomplish in the way of equine gymnastics in
harness, Apache, Collie's pony, could.

Louise was a little fearful for her guests, yet she had confidence in
the driver. The Marshalls apparently saw nothing more than a pair of
very spirited "real Western horses like one reads about, you know,"
until Dr. Marshall, slowly coming out of a kind of anticipatory haze, as
Boyar stood on his hind feet and tried to face the buckboard, recognized
the black horse as Louise's saddle animal. He took a firmer grip on the
seat and looked at Collie. The young man seemed to be enjoying himself.
There wasn't a line of worry on his clean-cut face.

"Pretty lively," said the doctor.

Collie, with his foot on the brake and both arms rigid, nodded.
Moonstone Canon Trail was not a boulevard. He was not to be lured into
conversation. He was giving his whole mind and all of his magnetism to
the team.

Boyar and Apache took advantage of every turn, pitch, steep descent, and
ford to display the demoniacal ingenuity inspired by their outraged
feelings. They were splendid, obedient saddle-animals. But to be buckled
and strapped in irritating harness, and hitched to that four-wheeled
disgrace, a buckboard!...

Anne Marshall chatted happily with Louise, punctuating her lively
chatter with subdued little cries of delight as some new turn in the
trail opened on a vista unimaginably beautiful, especially to her
Eastern eyes.

Young Dr. Marshall, in the front seat with Collie, braced his feet and
smiled. _He_ had had experience, in an East-Side ambulance, but then
that had been over level streets. He glanced over the edge of the canon
road and his smile faded a little. It faded entirely as the front wheel
sheared off a generous shovelful of earth from a sharp upright angle of
the hill as the team took the turn at a gallop. The young physician had
a sense of humor, which is the next best thing to courage, although he
had plenty of his kind of courage also. He brushed the earth from his
lap.

"The road needs widening there, anyway," commented Collie, as though
apologizing.

"I have my--er--repair kit with me," said the genial doctor. "I'm a
surgeon."

Collie nodded, but kept his eyes rigidly on the horses. Evidently this
immaculate, of the white collar and cuffs and the stylish gray tweeds,
had "sand."

"They're a little fussy--but I know 'em," said Collie, as Boyar,
apparently terror-stricken at a manzanita that he had passed hundreds of
times, reared, his fore feet pawing space and the traces dangerously
slack. Louise bit her lower lip and quickly called Anne's attention to a
spot of vivid color on the hillside. To Dr. Marshall's surprise, Collie
struck Apache, who was behaving, smartly with the whip. Apache leaped
forward, bringing Boyar down to his feet again. The doctor would have
been inclined to strike Boyar for misbehaving. He saw Collie's wisdom
and smiled. To have punished Boyar when already on his hind feet would
have been folly.

At the top of the next grade the lathering, restive ponies finally
settled to a stubborn trot. "Mad clean through," said Collie.

"I should say they were behaving well enough," said the doctor, not as
much as an opinion as to relieve his tense nerves in speech.

"When a bronc' gets to acting ladylike, then is the time to look out,"
said Collie. "Boyar and Apache have never been in harness before. Seems
kind of queer to 'em."

"What! Never been--Why! Huh! For Heaven's sake, don't let Mrs. Marshall
hear that."

       *       *       *       *       *

Walter Stone and his wife made the Marshalls feel at home immediately.
Walter Stone had known Dr. Marshall's father, and he found in the son a
pleasant living recollection of his old friend. Aunt Eleanor and Louise
had visited with Anne when they were East. She was Anne Winthrop then,
and Louise and she had found much in common to enjoy in shopping and
sightseeing. Their one regret was that Louise would have to return to
the West before her marriage to the young Dr. Marshall they all admired
so much. There had been vague promises of coming West after "things were
settled," as Anne put it. Which was merely another way of saying, "After
we are married and have become enough used to each other to really enjoy
a long trip West."

The Marshalls had arrived with three years of happiness behind them, and
apparently with an aeon or so of happiness to look forward to, for they
were quiet, unassuming young folks, with plenty of money and no desire
whatever to make people aware of it.

The host brought cigars and an extra steamer-chair to the wide veranda.
"It's much cooler out here. We'll smoke while the girls tell each other
all about it."

"I _should_ like to sit on something solid for a few minutes," said the
doctor. "It was a most amazing drive."

"We're pretty well used to the canon," said Stone. "Yet I can see how it
would strike an Easterner."

"Indeed it did, Mr. Stone. There is a thrill in every turn of it, for
me. I shall dream of it."

"Were you delayed at the station?" queried Stone.

"We wired," said the doctor. "It seems that the telegram was not
delivered. Miss Lacharme explained that messages have to wait until
called for, unless money is wired for delivering them."

"That is a fact, Doctor. Splendid system, isn't it?"

"I am really sorry that we put Miss Lacharme to so much trouble. She had
to scare up a team on the instant."

"Price, the storekeeper, brought you up, didn't he?"

"I don't think so. Miss Louise called him 'Collie,' I believe. He'd make
a splendid army surgeon, that young man! He has nerves like tempered
steel wire, and I never saw such cool strength."

"Oh, that's nothing. Any one could drive Price's horses."

The doctor smiled. "The young man confided to me that their names were
'Boyar' and 'Apache,' I believe. They both lived up to the last one's
name."

"Well, I'll be--Here, have a fresh cigar! I want to smoke on that.
Hu-m-m! Did that young pirate drive those saddle-animals--drive 'em from
the station to this rancho--Whew! I congratulate you, Doctor. You'll
never be killed in a runaway. He's a good horseman, but--Well, I'll talk
to _him_."

"Pardon me if I ask you not to, Stone. The girls enjoyed it immensely.
So did I. I believe the driver did. He never once lost his smile."

"Collie is usually pretty level-headed," said Walter Stone. "He must
have been put to it for horses. Price's team must have been out."

"He's more than level-headed," asserted Dr. Marshall. "He's magnetic. I
could feel confidence radiating from him like sunshine from a brick
wall."

"I think he'll amount to something, myself. Everything he tackles he
tackles earnestly. He doesn't leave loose ends to be picked up by some
one else later. I've had a reason to watch him specially. Three years
ago he was tramping it with a 'pal.' A boy tramp. Now see what he's
grown to be."

"A _tramp_! No!"

"Fact. He's done pretty well for himself since he's been with us. He had
a hard time of it before that."

"I served my apprenticeship in the slums," said Dr. Marshall. "East-Side
hospital. I think that I can also appreciate what you have done for
him."

"Thank you, Doctor,--but the credit belongs with the boy. Hello! Here
are our girls again." And Walter Stone and the doctor rose on the
instant.

"I think I shall call you Uncle Walter," said Anne Marshall, who had not
met Walter Stone until then.

"I'm unworthy," said the rancher, his eyes twinkling. "And I don't want
to be relegated to the 'uncle' class so soon."

"_Thanksawfully_," said Louise.

"Jealous, mouse?"

"Indeed, no. I'm not Mrs. Marshall's husband."

"I have already congratulated the doctor," said Walter Stone, bowing.

"Doctor," said Anne, in her most formal manner. "You're antique. Why
don't you say something bright?"

"I do, every time I call you Anne. I really must go in and brush up a
bit, as you suggest. You'll excuse me, I'm sure."

"Yes, indeed,--almost with pleasure. And, Doctor, _don't_ wear your
fountain-pen in your white vest pocket. You're not on duty, now."

In the shadows of the mountain evening they congregated on the veranda
and chatted about the East, the West, and incidentally about the
proposed picnic they were to enjoy a few days later, when "boots and
saddles" would be the order of the day. "And the trails are not bad,
Anne," said Louise. "When you get used to them, you'll forget all about
them, but your pony won't. He'll be just as deliberate and anxious about
your safety, and his, at the end of the week as he was at the
beginning."

"Imagine! A week of riding about these mountains! How Billy would have
enjoyed it, Doctor."

"Yes. But I believe he is having a pretty good time where he is."

"We wish he could be here, Anne," said Louise. "I've never met your
brother. He's always been away when I have been East."

"Which has been his misfortune," said Dr. Marshall.

"He writes such beautiful letters about the desert and his mining
claim,--that's his latest fad,--and says he's much stronger. But I
believe they all say that--when they have his trouble, you know."

"From Billy's last letter, I should say he was in pretty fair shape,"
said the doctor. "He's living outdoors and at a good altitude, somewhere
on the desert. He's making money. He posts his letters at a town called
'Dagget,' in this State."

"Up above San Berdoo," said Walter Stone. And he straightway drifted
into reverie, gazing at the bright end of his cigar until it faded in
the darkness.

"Hello!" exclaimed Dr. Marshall, leaning forward. "Sounds like the
exhaust of a pretty heavy car. I didn't imagine any one would drive that
canon road after dark."

"Unusual," said Stone, getting to his feet. "Some one in a hurry. I'll
turn on the porch-light and defy the mosquitoes."

With a leonine roar and a succeeding clatter of empty cylinders, an
immense racing-car stopped at the gate below. The powerful headlight
shot a widening pathway through the night. Voices came indistinctly from
the vicinity of the machine. Before Walter Stone had reached the bottom
step of the porch, a huge figure appeared from out the shadows. In the
radiance of the porch-light stood a wonderfully attired stranger. Frock
coat, silk hat, patent leathers, striped trousers, and pearl gaiters, a
white vest, and a noticeable watch-chain adorned the driver of the
automobile. He stood for a minute, blinking in the light. Then he swept
his hat from his head with muscular grace. "Excuse me for intrudin'," he
said. "I seen this glim and headed for it. Is Mr. Walter Stone at
lee-sure?"

"I'm Walter Stone," said the rancher, somewhat mystified.

"My name's Summers, Jack Summers, proprietor of the Rose Girl Mine." And
Overland Red, erstwhile sheriff of Abilene, cowboy, tramp, prospector,
gunman, and many other interesting things, proffered a highly engraved
calling-card. Again he bowed profoundly, his hat in his hand, a white
carnation in his buttonhole and rapture in his heart. He had seen Louise
again--Louise, leaning forward, staring at him incredulously. Wouldn't
the Rose Girl be surprised? She was.

"I can't say that I quite understand--" began Stone.

"Why, it's the man who borrowed my pony!" exclaimed Louise.

"Correct, Miss. I--I come to thank you for lendin' me the cayuse that
time."

Walter Stone simply had to laugh. "Come up and rest after your trip up
the canon. Of course, you want to see Collie. He told me about your
finding the claim. Says you have given him a quarter-interest. I'm glad
you're doing well."

"I took a little run in to Los to get some new tires. The desert eats
'em up pretty fast. The Guzzuh, she cast her off hind shoe the other
day. I was scared she'd go lame. Bein' up this way, I thought I'd roll
up and see Collie."

"The 'Guzzuh'?" queried Stone. "You rode up, then?"

"Nope. The Guzzuh is me little old racin'-car. I christened her that
right after I got so as I could climb on to her without her pitchin' me
off. She's some bronc' she is."

Overland Red, despite his outward regeneration, was Overland Red still,
only a little more so. His overwhelming apparel accentuated his
peculiarities, his humorous gestures, his silent self-consciousness. But
there was something big, forceful, and wholesouled about the man,
something that attracted despite his incongruities.

Anne Marshall was at once--as she told Louise later--"desperately
interested." Dr. Marshall saw in Overland a new and exceedingly virile
type. Even gentle Aunt Eleanor received the irrepressible with
unmistakable welcome. She had heard much of his history from Collie.
Overland was as irresistible as the morning sun. While endeavoring
earnestly to "do the genteel," as he had assured Winthrop he would when
he left him to make this visit, Overland had literally taken them by
storm.

Young Dr. Marshall studied him, racking his memory for a name. Presently
he turned to his wife. "What was Billy's partner's name--the miner? I've
forgotten."

"A Mr. Summers, I believe. Yes, I'm sure. Jack Summers, Billy called him
in his letters."

"Just a minute," said the doctor, turning to Overland, who sat,
huge-limbed, smiling, red-visaged, happy. "Pardon me. You said Mr. Jack
Summers, I believe? Do you happen to know a Mr. Winthrop, Billy
Winthrop?"

"Me? What, Billy? Billy Winthrop? Say, is this me? I inhaled a whole lot
of gasoline comin' up that grade, but I ain't feelin' dizzy. Billy
Winthrop? Why--" And his exclamation subsided as he asked cautiously,
"Did you know him?"

"I am his sister," said Anne Marshall.

Overland was dumbfounded. "His sister," he muttered. "The one he writ to
in New York. Huh! Yes, me and Billy's pardners."

"Is he--is he better?" asked Anne hesitatingly.

"Better! Say, lady, excuse me if I tell you he's gettin' so blame frisky
that he's got me scared. Why, I left him settin' on a rock eatin' a
sardine san'wich with one hand and shootin' holes in all the tin cans in
sight with the other. 'So long, Red!' he hollers as I lit out with the
burro to cross the range. 'So long, and don't let your feet slip.' And
_Pom!_ goes the .45 that he was jugglin' and another tin can passed
over. He takes a bite from the san'wich and then, _Pom!_ goes the gun
again and another tin can bites the dust, jest as free and easy as if he
wasn't keepin' guard over thirty or forty thousand dollars' worth of
gold-dust and trouble, and jest as if he ain't got no lungs at all."

"Billy must have changed a little," ventured Dr. Marshall, smiling.

"Changed? Excuse me, ladies. But when I first turned my lamps on him in
Los, I says to myself if there wasn't a fella with one foot in the grave
and the other on a banana-peel, I was mistook. And listen! He come out
to the Mojave with me. He jest almost cried to come. I was scared it was
vi'lets and 'Gather at the River,' without the melodeum, for him. But
you never see a fella get such a chest! Search me if I knows where he
got it from, for he wasn't much bigger around in the works than a
mosquito when I took him up there. And eat! My Gosh, he can eat! And a
complexion like a Yaqui. And he can sleep longer and harder and louder
than a corral of gradin' mules on Saturday night! 'Course he's slim
yet, but it's the kind of slim like rawhide that you could hobble a
elephant with. And, say, he's a pardner on your life! Believe me, and
I'm listenin' to myself, too."

"His lungs are better, then?"

"Lungs? He ain't got none. They're belluses--prime California skirtin'
leather off the back. Lady, that kid is a wonder."

"I'm awfully glad Billy is better. He _must_ be, judging from what you
tell me."

"I wisht I'd 'a' had him runnin' the 'Guzzuh' instead of that little
chicken-breasted chaffer they three-shelled on to me in Los Angeles. I
hired him because they said I 'd better take him along until I was some
better acquainted with the machine. The Guzzuh ain't no ordinary
bronc'."

"The 'Guzzuh'?" queried Dr. Marshall.

"Uhuh. That's what I christened her. She's a racer. She's sixty
hoss-power, and sometimes I reckon I could handle sixty hosses easier to
once than I could her. We was lopin' along out in the desert, 'bout
fifty miles an hour by the leetle clock on the dashboard, when all of a
sudden she lays back her ears and she bucks. I leans back and keeps her
head up, but it ain't no use. She gives a jump or two and says
'_Guzzuh!_' jest like that, and quits. I climbs out and looked her over.
She sure was balky. I was glad she said _somethin'_, if it was only
'Guzzuh,' instead of quittin' on me silent and scornful. Sounded like
she was apologizin' for stoppin' up like that. I felt of her chest and
she was pretty much het up. When she cooled off, I started her
easy--sort of grazin' along pretendin' we wasn't goin' to lope again.
When she got her second wind I give her her head, and she let out and
loped clean into the desert town, without makin' a stumble or castin' a
shoe. Paid three thousand for her in Los. She is guaranteed to do eighty
miles on the level, and she does a whole lot of other things that ain't
jest on the level. She'd climb a back fence if you spoke right to her. A
sand-storm ain't got nothin' on her when she gets her back up."

"Your car must be unique," suggested Walter Stone.

"Nope. She ain't a 'Yew-neck.' I forget her brand. I ain't had her very
long. But I can run her now better than that little
two-dollar-and-a-half excuse they lent me in Los. He loses his nerve
comin' up the canon there. You see the Guzzuh got to friskin' round the
turns on her hind feet. So I gives him a box of candy to keep him quiet
and takes the reins myself. I got my foot in the wrong stirrup on the
start--was chokin' off her wind instead of feedin' her. Then I got my
foot on the giddap-dingus and we come. The speed-clock's limit is ninety
miles an hour and we busted the speed clock comin' down that last
grade. But we're here."

Dr. Marshall and Walter Stone gazed at each other. They laughed.
Overland smiled condescendingly. Anne Marshall had recourse to her
handkerchief, but Louise did not smile.

"Does Billy ever drive your car?" asked Anne Marshall presently.

"He drives her in the desert and in the hills some. He drove her into a
sand-hill once clean up to her withers. When he came back,--he kind of
went ahead a spell to look over the ground, so he says,--he apologizes
to her like a gent. Oh, he likes her more 'n I do. Bruck two
searchlights at one hundred dollars a glim, but that's nothin'. Oh, yes,
Billy's got good nerve."

Overland shifted his foot to his other knee and leaned back luxuriously,
puffing fluently at his cigar.

"Billy did get to feelin' kind of down, a spell back. He had a argument
with a Gophertown gent about our claim. I wasn't there at the time, but
when I come back, I tied up Billy's leg--"

"Goodness! His leg?" exclaimed Anne.

"Yes, ma'am. The Gophertown gent snuck up and tried to stick Billy up
when Billy was readin' po'try--some of mine. Billy didn't scare so easy.
He reaches for his gun. Anyhow, the Gophertown gent's bullet hit a rock,
and shied up and stung Billy in the leg. Billy never misses a tin can
now'days, and the gent was bigger than a can. We never seen nothin' of
him again."

"Gracious, it's perfectly awful!" cried Anne.

"Yes, lady. That's what Billy said. He said he didn't object to gettin'
shot at, but he did object to gettin' hit, especially when he was
readin' po'try. Said it kind of bruck his strand of thought. That guy
was no gent."

Walter Stone again glanced at Dr. Marshall. Aunt Eleanor rose, bidding
the men good-night. Louise and Mrs. Marshall followed somewhat
reluctantly. Stone disappeared to return with cigars, whiskey and
seltzer, which he placed at Overland's elbow. "My friend Dr. Marshall is
an Easterner," he said.

Overland waved a comprehending hand, lit another cigar, and settled
back. "Now I can take the hobbles off and talk nacheral. When you gents
want me to stop, just say 'Guzzuh.'"




CHAPTER XIX

"TO CUT MY TRAIL LIKE THAT!"


Overland Red was concluding his last yarn, a most amazing account of
"The night the Plancher boys shot up Abilene."

It was exactly two o'clock by Dr. Marshall's watch.

"Both my guns was choked up with burnt powder. I reached down and
borrowed two guns off a gent what wasn't usin' his jest then. Next day I
was elected sheriff unanimous. They was seven of us left standin'. That
was back in '98." Overland yawned and stood up.

"The boys are all asleep now," said Walter Stone. "We have plenty of
room here. You'll not object to taking one of the guest-rooms as you
find it, I'm sure."

"For better or for worse, as the pote says." And Overland grinned. "But
I got to put that little chaffer to roost somewhere."

"That's so."

"I'll go wake him up." And Overland strode to the racing-car. The
"chaffer" had departed for parts unknown.

"I guess he was scared at that last grade," said Overland, returning to
the house. "He's gone. He must 'a' been scared, to beat it back down the
road afoot."

"Perhaps he has gone to the stables," said Stone. "Well, we'll take care
of you here. You can see Collie in the morning."

Overland, closing the door of the spacious, cool guest-room, glanced
about curiously. What was it made the place seem so different from even
the most expensive hotel suites? The furniture was very plain. The
decorations were soft-toned and simple. "It's--it's because the Rose
Girl lives here, I guess," he soliloquized. "Now this kind of a roost
would jest suit Billy, but it makes me feel like walkin' on eggs. This
here grazin' is too good for me."

He undressed slowly, folding his unaccustomed garments with great care.
He placed his automatic pistol on the chair by the bed. Then he crept
beneath the sheets, forgetting to turn out the light. "Huh! Gettin'
absent-minded like the old perfessor what picked up a hairbrush instead
of a lookin'-glass to see if he needed shavin'. He was dum' near scared
to death to see how his beard was growin'." And Overland chuckled as he
turned out the lights.

He could not go to sleep at once. He missed the desert night--the spaces
and the stars. "I left here in a hurry once," he muttered. "'Bout three
years ago. Then I was kiddin' Collie about wearin' silk pejammies. Now I
got 'em--got 'em on, by thunder! Don't know as I feel any heftier in the
intellec'. And I can't show 'em to nobody. What's the good of havin' 'em
if nobody knows it? But I can hang 'em on the bedpost in the mornin',
careless like, jest like I was raised to it. Them pejammies cost four
dollars a leg. Some class...." And he drifted to sleep.

After breakfast Dr. Marshall, who had taken a fancy to Overland,
strolled with him over to the bunk-house. Most of the men were on the
range. Collie was assembling bits and bridles, saddles, cinchas, and
spurs, to complete an equipment for the proposed camping trip in the
hills. He was astounded at Overland's appearance. However, he had
absorbed Western ideals rapidly. He was sincerely glad, overjoyed, to
see his old friend, but he showed little of it in voice and manner. He
shook hands with a brief, "How, Red!" and went on with his work.

Dr. Marshall, after expressing interest in the equipment, excused
himself and wandered over to the corrals, where he admired the horses.

"Where did you get 'em?" queried Collie, adjusting the length of a pair
of stirrup-leathers.

"These?" And Overland spread his coat-tails and ruffled. "Why, out of
the old Mojave. Dug 'em up with a little pick and shovel."

"You said in your letter you found the claim."

"Uhuh. Almost fell over it before I did, though. We never found the
other things, by the track. New ties. No mark. Say, that Billy Winthrop
I writ about is the brother of them folks stayin' here! What do you
think!"

"Wish I was out there with you fellows," said Collie.

"You're doin' pretty good right here, kiddo. The boss don't think you're
the worst that ever came acrost, and I expect the ladies can put up with
havin' you on the same ranch by the way they talk. Got a hoss of your
own yet?"

"Nope. I got my eye on one, though. Say, Red, this is the best place to
work. The boss is fine. I'm getting forty a month now, and savin' it.
The boys are all right, too. Brand Williams, the foreman--"

"Brand who?"

"Williams. He came from Wyoming."

"Well, this here's gettin' like a story and not like real livin'. Why, I
knowed old Brand in Mex. in the old days when a hoss and a gun was about
all a guy needed to set up housekeepin'. We was pals. So he's foreman
here, eh? Well, you follow his trail close about cattle or hosses and
you'll win out."

"I been doing that," said Collie. "The other day he told me to keep my
eye on one of the boys. Silent Saunders, he's called. Kind of funny. I
don't know anything about Saunders."

"Well, you bank on it. Stack 'em up chin-high on it, Collie, if Brand
says that. He knows some-thin' or he would never talk. Brand is a
particular friend of yours?"

"You bet!"

"Well, tie to him. What he says is better than fine gold as the pote
says. I reckon coarse gold suits me better, outside of po'try. How does
the Saunders insec' wear his clothes?"

"He's kind of lame in one arm and--here he comes now. You can see for
yourself. The one on that pinto."

As Saunders rode past the two men, he turned in his saddle. Despite
Overland's finery he recognized him at once.

Overland's gaze never left the other's hands. "Mornin'," said Overland,
nodding. "Ain't you grazin' pretty far this side of Gophertown?"

"Who the hell are you talkin' to?" Saunders asked venomously, and his
eyes narrowed.

Overland grinned, and carelessly shifted the lapel of his coat from
beneath which peeped the butt of his automatic pistol. Collie felt his
scalp tightening. There was something tense and suggestive in the air.

"I'm talkin' to a fella that ought to know better than to get sassy to
me," said Overland, "or to cut my trail like that."

Saunders rode on.

"Seen him before?" asked Collie.

"Yep. Twice--over the end of a gun. He come visitin' me and Billy at a
water-hole out in the dry spot. We got to exchangin' opinions. Two of
mine he ain't forgot, I guess."

"Saunders is branded above the elbows on both arms," said Collie. "He's
been shot up pretty bad."

"You don't tell! Wonder how that happened. Mebby he was practicin' the
double roll and got careless. Now, I wonder!"

"He's one of the 'bunch'?" said Collie, suddenly awake to the situation.
"Come on over to the bunk-house where we can talk, Red. I'll introduce
you regular to Silent."

"All right. Here, you walk on the other side. I'm left-handed when I
shake with him."

But Saunders was not at the bunk-house. Instead he had ridden on down to
the gate and out upon the Moonstone Trail. He had become acquainted with
Deputy Tenlow. He would make things interesting for the man who had
"winged" him out in the desert.

"I smell somethin' burnin'," said Overland significantly. "The Saunders
man has got somethin' up his sleeve. He didn't turn his pony into the
corral, did he?"

"No."

"All right. Now, about them papers and your part of this here claim ..."

For an hour they talked about the claim, Winthrop, Collie's prospects,
and their favorite topic, the Rose Girl. They were speaking of her when
she appeared at the bunk-house door.

"Good-morning, Mr. Summers. Mrs. Marshall wished to know if you would
tell her more about her brother--when you have visited with Collie. She
was afraid you might leave without her seeing you again."

"I was thinkin' about that myself," replied Overland. "Yes, Miss, I'll
be right over direct."

Louise nodded, smiled, and was gone.

"Say, Red, you better go quick, in the machine," said Collie, fearful
that Saunders was up to mischief.

"Grand idea, that," said Overland, calmly brushing his hat. "But Tenlow
and Saunders--that you're thinkin' about--ain't neither of 'em goin' to
ride up too close to me again. They are goin' to lay for me down the
canon. They'll string a riata across the road and hold up the car, most
likely. They know I can't get out of here any other road."

"Then what will you do?"

"Me? Why, me and the Guzzuh'll go down the trail jest as slow and easy
as a baby-buggy pushed by a girl that's waitin' in the park for her
beau."

"You'll ditch the machine and get all broke up," ventured Collie.

"I am havin' too good a time to last, I know, seein' the Rose Girl again
and you and visitin' the folks up to the house. Well, if it's my turn, I
ain't kickin'. Sorry Brand ain't here. I'd like to see him. Here's a
little old map I drawed of the hills, and how to get to the claim in
case I get detained for speedin'. Get Brand, if anything happens. He's a
steady old boat and he'll tell you what to do."

"But, Red, you don't think--?"

"Not when it hurts me dome," interrupted Overland. "I got a hunch I'll
see you again before long. So long, Chico. I got to shine some of the
rust off my talk and entertain the ladies. You might get into my class,
too, some day, if you knowed anything except hoss-wrastlin' and
cow-punchin'," he added affectionately.

And Overland departed, sublimely content and not in the least disturbed
by future possibilities. "He's the great kid!" he kept repeating to
himself. "He's the same kid--solid clean through.... Good-morning,
ladies. Now about Billy--er--Mr. Winthrop; why, as I was say-in' last
night.... No, thanks, I'll set facin' the road. Sun? Why, lady, I'm
sun-cured, myself."




CHAPTER XX

THE LED HORSE


Anne Marshall had stepped from the porch to the living-room. Overland
Red was alone with Louise.

Facing her quickly, his easy banter gone, his blue eyes intense,
untroubled, magnetic, he drew a deep breath. "They're waiting for me
down the canon, about now," he said, and his tone explained his speech.

Louise frowned slightly, studying his face. "That is unfortunate, just
now," she said slowly.

"Or most any time--for the other fella," responded Overland cheerfully.

The girl gazed at the toe of her slipper. "I know you didn't speak
because you were afraid. What do you intend?"

"If I ain't oversteppin' the rules in invitin' you--why, I was goin' to
say, 'Miss Lacharme, wouldn't you like to take a little buggy-ride in
the Guzzuh, nice and slow. She's awful easy ridin' if you don't rein her
too strong.'"

"I don't know," said Louise pensively. "Your car can only hold two?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"I couldn't run away and leave Mrs. Marshall. Of course, you would go
on--after--after we were in the valley. How could I get back?"

"That's so!" exclaimed Overland, with some subtlety, pretending he had
not thought of that contingency. "'Course Collie could ride down ahead
with a spare hoss. You see the sheriff gent and Saunders--"

"Saunders? Our man Saunders?"

"Uhuh. Me and him ain't friends exactly. I figure he's rode down to tell
the Tenlow man that I'm up here."

"You are sure?"

"Yes, Miss. I don't make no mistakes about him."

"Then one of our men has gone to get the deputy to arrest you, and you
are our guest."

"Thanks, Miss, for sayin' that. It's worth gettin' pinched to be _your_
guest."

"I did intend to ride down for the mail. Boyar needs exercising."

"So does the Guzzuh, Miss. It's queer how she acts when she ain't been
worked every day."

"I don't believe Anne would care to come, in the machine. I'll ask her."
And Louise stepped to the living-room.

Collie, who had been watching anxiously from the corrals, came across
the yard to the veranda. He was dressed for riding, and he had a gun on
his hip. Overland scowled. "You little idiot," he said, "when your Uncle
Jack's brains get ossified, just give the sad news to the press. You're
jest itchin' to get in a muss and get plugged. I ain't. I figure to ride
down the Moonstone Trail, steerin' the Guzzuh with one hand and smellin'
a bunch of roses in the other. Watch my smoke. Now, beat it!"

Louise, coming blithely from the living-room, nodded to Overland. Her
pensiveness had departed. Her cheeks were flushed. "Oh, Collie! Saddle
Boyar--" she began, but Overland coughed disapprovingly. He did not wish
Tenlow and Saunders to suspect that the led horse was for Louise.

"Or--no. Saddle Sarko," said Louise, at once aware of Overland's plan.
"And have him at the foot of the hill for me as soon as you can."

"Yes, Miss Louise." And Collie departed for the corrals wonderingly.
Overland was too much for him.

They had luncheon and allowed Collie two hours to arrive at the valley
level with the led pony. After luncheon Louise appeared in riding-skirt
and boots. "Mr. Summers is going to take me for a ride in his new car,"
she said. "Don't worry, aunty. He is going to drive slowly. He finds
that he has to leave unexpectedly."

"I'm sorry you are going without seeing Mr. Stone and Dr. Marshall
again," said Aunt Eleanor. "You'll be careful, won't you?"

"So am I, ma'am.--Yes, I'll run slow."

"But how will you come back?" queried Anne.

"Collie has gone ahead with a spare pony. Good-bye, aunty."

"I can't thank you enough for all that you have done for Billy. I am so
glad he's well and strong again. We never could manage him. Good-bye,
and tell Billy he _must_ come over and see us right away."

"You'll drive carefully?" queried Aunt Eleanor again.

"Jest like I was goin' to get pinched," said Overland, bowing.

       *       *       *       *       *

As Collie rode down the last pitch, leading the restive Sarko, Dick
Tenlow stepped from the brush. "'Morning, Collie. Out for a little
pasear?"

"Shouldn't wonder, Dick."

"Horses are lookin' good. Feed good on the hills yet?"

"Pretty good."

"I hear you got company up to the Moonstone."

"Yep. Eastern folks, doctor and his wife." And Collie looked the deputy
hard in the eye.

"Oh, that was their machine I heard coughin' up the canon last night,
eh?"

"I didn't ask them about that," replied Collie.

"You're improvin' since you first come into these hills," said Tenlow,
with some sarcasm.

"I'm holdin' down a better job than I did then," said Collie
good-naturedly.

"Well, I ain't. I'm holdin' the same job, which you will recollect. It
ain't much of a job, but it's good to requisition that cayuse you're
leadin'."

"What you kiddin' about?"

"Straight goods," said Tenlow, reaching for Sarko's reins. "Just hand
over your end of that tie-rope."

"I guess not, Dick. You're on the wrong trail. What do you think I am?"

"Same as I always thought."

"Then you want to change your opinion of me," said Collie, relinquishing
the tie-rope. "I ain't breaking the law, but you are going to hear more
about this."

"I'll risk that. You can ride right along, pronto."

"And you keep Sarko? I guess not! I'll stick."

"You can't throw no bluff this morning," said Tenlow, irritated by the
youth's persistence. "I guess you know what I mean."

"You got the horse, but I don't leave here without him," said Collie
stubbornly. And there was an underlying assurance about Collie's
attitude that perplexed the deputy, who was satisfied that the led horse
was for Overland Red's use.

Saunders, hiding back in the brush, cursed Tenlow's stupidity. To have
let Collie go on and have followed him under cover would have been the
only sensible plan. Rapidly approximating the outcome of this muddle,
Saunders untied his pony and rode back toward the ranch, taking an
unused and densely covered bridle-trail.

From up in the canon came the thunder of the racing-car. Far above them
Tenlow and Collie could see it creeping round a turn in the road. It
disappeared in a dip, to reappear almost instantly, gliding swiftly down
the long slant toward the valley. The staccato drumming of the exhaust
echoed along the hillside. Overland's silk hat shone bravely in the sun.
Beside the outlaw was the figure of a woman. Tenlow foresaw
complications and muttered profanely.

Down the next ditch rolled the car, rocking to the unevenness of the
mountain road. Overland opened the throttle, the machine shot forward,
and in a few seconds drew up abreast of the deputy.

"Thank you so much, Mr. Summers," said Louise, stepping from the car.
"How are you, Mr. Tenlow."

"How'do, Miss Lacharme."

"Good-bye, Mr. Summers. I enjoyed the ride very much."

"Just a minute--" began the deputy.

"Where's my pony, Collie? He didn't get away, did he?"

"No, ma'am. Mr. Tenlow 'requisitioned' him. Thought I'd wait till you
came along so I could explain."

"Requisitioned my pony! What do you mean?"

"It's this way, Miss Lacharme. That man there in the machine is wanted.
He--"

"What has that to do with my pony, please?"

"I guess you know who he is. I figured he was layin' to get away on that
pony."

"You want to go back to school, pardner, and learn to figure correct,"
said Overland, his foot on the accelerator pedal of the throbbing car.
"One minus one is nothin'."

"Hold on there!" cried Tenlow, striding forward. Louise stood between
the deputy and the car.

"My horse, please," she said quietly. As she spoke the car roared,
jumped forward, and shot down the smooth grade of the valley road.

"Now, Mr. Tenlow, I wish you would explain this to me. And then to Uncle
Walter. I sent one of our men with a horse. He was to wait for me here.
What right have you to interfere with him?"

"I guess I got as much right as you have to interfere with me," said
Tenlow sullenly.

"Hold on there!" cried Collie, jumping forward.

"Collie, I'll talk with him."

"Take my horse, Miss Louise," said Collie, flushing.

"No, indeed. I'll ride Sarko."

"I'll get him," said Collie.

"No. Mr. Tenlow will get him, I am sure."

"A woman can make any deal look smooth--if she is interested," said
Tenlow, turning toward the brush. He came out leading the pony.

"Thank you. Collie, you may get the mail, please."

Collie stood watching her as she rode away. Then with much deliberation
he tied his own pony Apache to a clump of greasewood. He unbuckled his
belt and flung it, with gun and holster, to the ground.

"Now," he said, his face blazing white with suppressed anger. "I'm going
to make you eat that speech about any woman making things look
smooth--_if she's interested_."

"You go on home or I'll break you in two," said Tenlow.

Collie's reply was a flail-like blow between Tenlow's eyes. The deputy
staggered, gritted his teeth, and flung himself at the younger man. The
fight was unequal from the beginning. Apache snorted and circled as the
bushes crashed and crackled.

A few minutes later, Tenlow strode from the brush leading his pony. He
wiped the blood and sweat from his face and spat viciously.

       *       *       *       *       *

Louise, riding homeward slowly, heard a horse coming behind her. She
reined Sarko and waited. Collie saw no way out of it, so he rode up,
grinning from a bruised and battered face.

"Why, Collie!"

The young man grinned again. His lips were swollen and one eye was
nearly closed.

Dismounting, Louise stepped to the ford. "Oh, I'm sorry!" she cried.
"Your face is terribly bruised. And your eye--" She could not help
smiling at Collie's ludicrous appearance.

"I took a fall," he mumbled blandly. "Apache here is tricky at times."

Louise's gaze was direct and reproachful. "Here, let me bathe your face.
Stoop down, like that. You don't look so badly, now that the dirt is
off. Surely you didn't fall on your _eye_?"

Collie tried to laugh, but the effort was not very successful.

Tenderly she bathed his bruised face. Her nearness, her touch, made him
forget the pain. Suddenly he seized her hand and kissed it, leaving a
stain of blood where his lips had touched. She was thrilled with a
mingled feeling of pride and shame--pride in that he had fought because
of her, as she knew well enough, and shame at the brutality of the
affair which she understood as clearly as though she had witnessed it.
She was too honest to make herself believe she was not flattered, in a
way, but she made Collie think otherwise.

He evaded her direct questioning stubbornly. Finally she asked whether
Mr. Tenlow "had taken a fall," or not.

"Sure he did!" replied Collie. "A couple or three years ago--tryin' to
outride Overland Red. Don't you remember?"

"Collie, you're a regular hypocrite."

"Yes, ma'am."

"And you look--frightful."

"Yes, ma'am."

"You're not a bit ashamed."

"Yes, ma'am, I am."

"Don't say 'Yes, ma'am' all the time. You don't seem to be ashamed. Why
should you be, though. Because you were fighting?"

"No, Miss Louise. Because I got licked."

Louise mounted Sarko and rode beside Collie silently. Presently she
touched his arm. "But did you?" she asked, her eyes grave and her tone
conveying a subtle question above the mere letter.

"No! By thunder!" he exclaimed. "Not in a hundred years!"

"Well, get some raw meat from the cook. I'll give your explanation to
Dr. and Mrs. Marshall, for you will have to be ready for the trip
to-morrow. You will have to think of a better explanation for the boys."

While riding homeward, Louise dropped her glove. Collie was afoot
instantly and picked it up. "Can I keep it?" he said.

The girl looked curiously at him for a moment. "No, I think not,
Collie," she said gently.

Collie rode up to the corrals that afternoon whistling as blithely as he
could considering his injuries. He continued to whistle as he unsaddled
Apache.

At the bunk-house Brand Williams looked at him once, and bent double
with silent laughter. The boys badgered him unmercifully. "Fell off a
hoss!--Go tell that to the chink!--Who stepped on your face, kid?--Been
ridin' on your map, eh?--Where _was_ the wreck?--Who sewed up your
eye?"

"S-s-h-h, fellas," said Miguel, grinning. "If you make all that noise,
how you going to hear the tune he is whistling, hey?"

Collie glanced at Saunders, who had said nothing. "Got anything to offer
on the subject, Silent?" he asked.

"Nope. I take mine out in thinkin'."

"You're going to have a chance to do a whole lot more of it before
long," said Collie; and he said it with a suggestiveness that did not
escape the taciturn foreman, Brand Williams.




CHAPTER XXI

BORROWED PLUMES


"He speaks of a pretty round sum," said Walter Stone, returning the
letter that Collie had asked him to read. "I don't know but that the
land you speak of is a good investment. You were thinking of raising
stock--horses?"

"Yes, sir. The Oro people are making good at it. The land north of you
is good grazing-land and good water. Of course, I got to wait for a
while. Red says in the letter that my share of the claim so far is five
thousand. That wouldn't go far on that piece of land, but I've saved
some, too."

"You might make a payment to hold the land," said Stone.

"I don't like that way. I want to buy it all at once."

Walter Stone smiled. Collie was ambitious, and rather inexperienced. "So
you think you will leave us and go to mining until you have made enough
more to buy it outright?"

"Yes, sir. I don't want you to think I ain't satisfied here. I like it
here."

"I know you do, Collie. Well, think it over. Prospecting is gambling.
It is sometimes magnificent gambling. Miss Lacharme's father was a
prospector. We have never heard from him since he went out on the
desert. But that has nothing to do with it. If I didn't believe you'd
make a first-rate citizen, I shouldn't hesitate a minute about your
going. I'd rather see you ranching it. We need solid men here in
California. There are so many remittance-men, invalids, idlers,
speculators, and unbalanced enthusiasts that do more harm than good,
that we need a few _new_ landmarks. We need a few new cornerstones and
keystones to stiffen the structure that is building so fast. I realize
that we must build from the ground up--not hang out tents from the
trees. That day is past."

"It's a big thing--to be stuck on California more than getting rich,"
said Collie.

"Yes. The State of California is a bank--a new bank. The more depositors
we have, the stronger we shall be--provided our depositors have faith in
us. We have their good will now. We need solid, two-handed men who can
take hold and prove that investment in our State is profitable."

"You bet!" exclaimed Collie, catching some of the older man's
enthusiasm. Then he added with less enthusiasm: "But how about such
things as the Jap ranchers dumping carloads of onions in the rivers and
melons in the ocean, by the ton, and every one cut so it can't be used
by poor folks? If Eastern people got on to that they would shy off
pretty quick."

"Yes," said the rancher, frowning. "It's true enough that such things do
happen. I've known of boatloads of fish being dumped back in the ocean
because the middlemen wouldn't give the fishermen a living price. In
western Canada thousands of bushels of grain have been burned on the
ground because the Eastern market was down and the railroads would not
make a rate that would allow a profit to the farmer. Such things are not
local to California. California is in the limelight just now and such
things are naturally prominent."

"It looks awful bad for good fruit and vegetables and fish to be thrown
away when folks have to pay ten cents for a loaf of bread no bigger than
a watch-charm," said Collie.

"It is bad. Crookedness in real estate transactions is bad. We don't
want to waste our time, however, in feeling worried about it. What we
want to do is to show the other fellow that _our_ work is successful and
straight."

"Yes, sir. A fellow has got to believe in something. I guess believing
in his own State is the best."

"Of course. Now, about your leaving us. I had rather you would stay
until the Marshalls go. Louise and Mrs. Stone depend on you so much."

"Sure I will! You see, Red don't say to come, in his letter, but he sent
the check for three hundred if I did want to come. There's no hurry."

"All right. Hello, Louise! Dinner waiting?"

"Yes, Uncle Walter. How are you, Collie?" And Louise nodded to him.
"What are you two hatching? You seem so serious."

"Plans for the ultimate glory of the State," said Stone.

"Ultimate?"

"Yes. We've been going beneath the surface of things a little. Collie
expects to go even deeper, so he tells me."

Collie walked slowly toward the bunk-house. Halfway there he took
Overland's check from the letter and studied it. He put it back into his
pocket. As he passed the corrals, Apache nickered in a friendly way.
"Haven't got a thing for you," said Collie. "Not a bite. We're not goin'
to town to-day. To-morrow, maybe, for there'll be doings at the Oro
Rancho and we'll be there--we'll be there!"

With a run and a spring the young man leaped the gate and trotted into
the bunk-house.

Brand Williams was solemnly shaving. He turned a lathered face toward
Collie whose abrupt entrance had all but caused the foreman to
sacrifice his left ear. "Well," he drawled, "who is dead?"

"You mean, Who is alive? I guess. Say, Brand, what do you think that
Yuma horse over at the Oro is worth?"

"That dam' outlaw? Ain't worth the trouble of mentioning."

"But, oh, Brand, she's built right! I tell you! Short-coupled, and them
legs and withers! They ain't a pony in the valley can touch her. And
only three years old!"

"Nor a man neither," said Williams.

"She's been scared to death because the fellows was scared of her and
started in wrong."

"So'll the man be that tries to ride her. Say, I seen that
copper-colored, china-eyed, she-son of a Kansas cyclone put Bull O'Toole
so far to the bad once that his return ticket expired long before he got
back. I tell you, kid, she's _outlaw_. She's got the disposition of a
Comanche with a streak of lightnin' on a drunk throwed in. You keep off
that hoss!"

"Maybe," said Collie. "But I notice you put me to breakin' about all the
stock on this ranch that you can't handle yourself."

Which was true. Williams shaved and perspired in silence.

"Let's see," he said presently, emerging from the wash-basin. "When's
that barbecue comin' off?"

"To-morrow. As if you didn't know!"

"Sunday, eh? Well, you might as well get killed on a Sunday as any other
day. I suppose your askin' about that hoss means you are thinkin' of
ridin' her, eh?"

"I was thinkin' of it. They are putting her up as a chance for the man
that can. She has put three of their boys to the bad. Matt Gleason, the
Oro foreman, says he'll give her to any Moonstoner that can stay on her
two minutes."

"He said 'Moonstoner' particular?" queried Williams.

"He did. To me. I was over tryin' to buy her."

"You're plumb loco. So he said any _Moonstoner_ eh? Any Moonstoner. By
crip, I've a notion--Let's see, there's Miguel--he's too swift. Billy
Dime might make it if he didn't get too much red-eye in him first. Bud
ain't steady enough--and it wouldn't look right if I was the only rider
here to take a chance. I dunno."

"What you gaspin' about?" queried Collie.

"Nothin', kid. You can get hosses ready for all the ladies for to-morrow
mornin' at six sharp. Sabe? I got orders to send you over with 'em.
Mebby you're some proud now, eh? Well, don't fall off Apache pertendin'
you're so polite you can't spit."

"What you sore about, Brand?"

"I was thinkin' what a slashin' string of riders we got. Here a little
old ranch like the Oro says they'll give a hoss to any Moonstoner what
kin stay on him for two minutes. It's plumb sickenin'. Kids! Jest kids,
on this ranch."

"That so? Say, Brand, you ain't got rid of so much English talk at once
since I been here. You ought to talk more. You keep too quiet. Talking
sociable will help to take the wrinkles out of your neck."

"You talk so much you'll never live to get any."

"Say, Brand."

"Uhuh."

"Will you lend me the Chola spurs and that swell quirt old Miguel
plaited for you, and your Mexican bridle, just for to-morrow?"

"So that's what you been lovin' up to me for, eh?"

"Lovin' up to you, you darned old--darned old--_dude_, you."

"Hold on! You said it! Take the spurs! Take the quirt! Take the bridle!
Take the hat and gloves with the silk roses on! Anybody that's got nerve
enough to call _me_ a _dude_ can take anything I got. Say, you don't
want to borrow a pair of _pants_, do you?"

Honors were about even when Collie left the bunk-house, his arms laden
with the foreman's finery. He colored to his hair as he saw Louise
coming toward him. He fumbled at the gate, opened it, and stood aside
for her to pass. As she smiled and thanked him, he heard his name
called.

"Hey!" shouted Williams, coming suddenly from the bunk-house. "Hey,
Collie! You went away without them pants! I'll lend 'em to you--"

Collie, his face flaming, strode down the trail, the blood drumming in
his ears.




CHAPTER XXII

THE YUMA COLT


The Oro Rancho sent out word that the fiftieth year of its existence
would be celebrated with an old-fashioned Spanish barbecue. The
invitation was general, including every one within a radius of fifty
miles.

Added to the natural interest in good things to eat and drink was that
of witnessing the pony races. Each rancher would bring, casually, almost
accidentally, as it were, one pony that represented its owner's idea of
speed and quality. No set programme offered, which made the races all
the more interesting in that they were genuine.

The Oro Ranch had long ago established and proudly maintained a
reputation for breeding the best saddle-and work-stock in Southern
California. In fact, the ranch survived the competition of the
automobile chiefly because it was the only important stock-raising ranch
in the southland.

Good feeling went even so far as to include the sheep-ranchers of the
old Spanish Grant, by special invitation.

It was the delight and pride of native Californians to ride their best
saddle-horses on such occasions. True, motor-cars came from the city and
from the farthest homes, but locally saddle-horses of all sizes and
kinds were in evidence. Sleek bays with "Kentucky" written in every
rippling muscle, single-footed in beside heavy mountain ponies, well
boned, broad of knee, strong of flank, and docile; lean mustangs of the
valley, short-coupled buckskins with the endurance of live rawhide;
Mexican pintos, restless and gay in carved leather, and silver
trappings; scrawny stolid cayuses that looked half-starved, but that
could out-eat and out-last many a better-built horse; they all came, and
their riders were immediately made welcome.

Under the trees, along the corrals and fences, in and around the
stables, stood the ponies, heads tossing, bits jingling, stamping,
thoroughly alive to the importance of the festive occasion, and filling
the eye with an unforgettable picture--a living vignette of the old days
of the range and riata.

Mrs. Stone, Mrs. Marshall, Louise, Dr. Marshall, and Walter Stone were
among the earlier arrivals. A half-dozen men sprang to take their horses
as they rode up, but Collie gathered the bridle-reins and led the ponies
to the shade of the pepper trees. Then he wandered over to the corrals.
His eyes glowed as he watched the sleek ponies dodging, wheeling,
circling like a battalion, and led by a smooth-coated, copper-hued mare,
young, lithe, straight-limbed, and as beautifully rounded as a Grecian
bronze. He moistened his lips as he watched her. He pushed back his hat,
felt for tobacco and papers, and rolled a cigarette. This was the
renowned "Yuma colt," the outlaw. He wanted her. She was a horse in a
thousand.

In some strange way he was conscious that Louise stood beside him,
before he turned and raised his sombrero.

"More beautiful than strong men or beautiful women," said Louise.

"That's so, Miss Louise. Because they just live natural and act natural.
And that copper-colored mare,--she's only a colt yet,--there's a horse a
man would be willing to work seven years for like the man in the Bible
did for his wife."

Louise smiled. "Would you work seven years for her?" she asked.

"I would, if I had to," he said enthusiastically.

"Of course, because you really love horses, don't you?"

"Better than anything else. Of course, there are mean ones. But a real
good horse comes close to making an ordinary man feel ashamed of
himself. Why, see what a horse will do! He will go anywhere--work all
day and all night if he has to--run till he breaks his heart to save a
fellow's life, and always be a friend. A horse never acts like eight
hours was his day's work. He is willing at any time and all the
time--and self-respectin' and clean. I reckon a knowin' horse just plumb
loves a man that is good to him."

Louise, her gray eyes wide and pensive, gazed at the young cowboy. "How
old is the colt?" she asked.

"They say three years. But she's older than that in brains. She is
leading older horses than her."

"Then if you worked seven years for her, she would be ten years old
before you owned her."

"You caught me there. I didn't think of that."

"Uncle Walter says she is outlaw. I believe she could be tamed. Boyar
was pretty wild before he was broken to ride."

"If you want that pony, Miss Louise, she's yours. I guess I could break
her."

"They won't sell her. No, I was only romancing. Isn't she beautiful! She
seems to be almost listening to us. What a head and what a quick,
intelligent eye! Oh, you wonderful horse!" And laughing, Louise threw a
kiss to the Yuma colt. "I must go. I came over to see the horses before
the crowd arrived."

Collie stood hat in hand watching Louise as she strolled toward the
ranch-house. He saw her stop and pat Boyar.

"I kind of wish I was a horse myself," he said whimsically. "Either the
black or the outlaw. She treats them both fine."

Brand Williams, Bud Light, Parson Long, Billy Dime, and Miguel rode up,
talking, joking, laughing.

"Fall to the kid!" said Miguel, indicating Collie. "I guess I'm scalded
if he ain't nailed to the fence. He's just eating his head off thinking
about the Yuma horse he dassent ride. No? Eh, Collie?"

"Hello, Miguel. Nope. I'm taking lessons in tendin' to my own
business--like them." And Collie nodded toward the horses.

"Ain't he purty?" said Billy Dime. "All fussed up and walkin' round like
a new rooster introducin' hisself to a set of strange hens. Oh, pshaw!"

"And you're making a noise like one of the hens trying to get the notice
of the new rooster, I guess."

"Well, seem' I got the notice, come on over and I'll show you where they
keep the ice--with things on it," said Billy Dime.

The Moonstone riders dismounted, slapped the dust from their shirts and
trousers, and ambled over toward the refreshments.

The little group, happy, talkative, pledged each other and the Moonstone
Ranch generously.

Brand Williams, close to Collie, nudged him. "If you are thinkin' of
takin' a fall out of the outlaw cayuse, don't hit this stuff much," he
said. And Collie nodded.

The Moonstoners would one and all back Boyar for a place in the finals
of the pony races, despite the Mexican "outfit" that already mingled
with them making bets on their favorite pinto.

"Who's ridin' Boyar?" queried Bud Light.

"In the races? Why, Miguel here," said Williams, slapping the Mexican on
the shoulder. "He don't weigh much, but he's some glue-on-a-sliver when
it comes to racin' tricks. The other Mexicans are after our pesos this
time. Last year we skinned 'em so bad with Boyar takin' first that some
of 'em had to wait till dark to go home."

Collie, listening, felt his heart pump faster. He turned away for an
instant that his fellows might not see the disappointment in his face.
He had hoped to ride Boyar to victory.

"Miss Louise could get more out of Boyar in a race than even Miguel
here," said Billy Dime.

"I dunno," said Williams. "She give me orders that Miguel was to ride
Boyar if they was any racin'."

So Louise herself had chosen Miguel to ride the pony. Collie grew
unreasonably jealous. Once more and again he pledged the Moonstone
Rancho in a brimming cup. Then he wandered over to the Mexican ponies,
inspecting them casually.

A Mexican youth, handsome, dark, smiling, offered to bet with him on the
result of the races. Collie declined, but gained his point. He learned
the Mexican's choice for first place, a lean, wiry buckskin with a goat
head and a wicked eye, but with wonderful flanks and withers. Collie
meditated. As a result he placed something like fifty dollars in bets
with various ranchers, naming the Mexican horse for first place. Word
went round that the Moonstone Kid was betting against his own horse.

Later Brand Williams accosted him. "What you fell up against?" he asked
sternly. "What made you jar yourself loose like that?"

"It's horses with me to-day--not home-sweet-home, Brand. Bet you a pair
of specs--and you need 'em--to a bag of peanuts that the Chola cayuse
runs first."

"Your brains is afloat, son. You better cut out the booze."

Unexpectedly Collie encountered Louise as he went to look after his own
horses.

"I hear that you intend to ride the outlaw Yuma. Is it so?"

Collie nodded.

"I had rather you didn't," said Louise.

"Why?" asked Collie, tactlessly.

Louise did not answer, and Collie strode off feeling angry with himself
and more than ever determined to risk breaking his neck to win the
outlaw.

Boyar, the Moonstone pony, ran second in the finals. The buckskin of the
Mexicans won first place. Collie collected his winnings indifferently.
He grew ashamed of himself, realizing that a foolish and unwarrantable
jealousy had led him into a species of disloyalty. He was a Moonstone
rider. He had bet against the Moonstone pony, and _her_ pony. He was
about to ask one of the other boys to see to the horses when a tumult in
the corrals drew his attention. He strolled over to the crowd, finding a
place for himself on the corral bars.

Mat Gleason, superintendent of the Oro Ranch, loafed, his back against a
post. Two men with ropes were following the roan pony round the corral.
Presently a riata flipped out and fell. Inch by inch the outlaw was
worked to the snubbing-post. One of the Oro riders seized the pony's ear
in his teeth and, flinging his legs round her neck, hung, weighing her
head down. There was the flash of teeth, a grunting tug at the cinchas,
a cloud of dust, and Jasper Lane, foreman of the Oro outfit, was in the
saddle. The cloud of dust, following the roan pony, grew denser. Above
the dun cloud a sombrero swung to and fro fanning the outlaw's ears.
Jasper Lane had essayed to ride the Yuma colt once before. His broken
shoulder had set nicely, in fact, better than Bull O'Toole's leg which
had been broken when the outlaw fell on him. Billy Squires, a young
Montana puncher working for the Oro people, still carried his arm in a
sling. All in all, the assembled company, as Brand Williams mildly put
it, "were beginning to take notice of that copper-colored she-son of a
cyclone."

Jasper Lane plied spurs and quirt. The visiting cowmen shrilled their
delight. The pony was broncho from the end of her long, switching tail
to the tip of her pink muzzle.

Following a quick tattoo of hoofs on the baked earth came a flash like
the trout's leap for the fly--a curving plunge--the sound as of a
breaking willow branch, and then palpitating silence.

The dun cloud of dust settled, disclosing the foam-flecked,
sweat-blackened colt, oddly beautiful in her poised immobility. Near her
lay Jasper Lane, face downward. The pony sniffed at his crumpled
sombrero.

"That horse is plumb gentle," said Collie. "Look at her!"

"Crazy with the heat," commented Billy Dime, jerking his thumb toward
Collie.

Tall, slim, slow of movement, Collie slipped from the corral bars and
secured the dangling reins. Across the utter silence came the whistle of
a viewless hawk. The cowmen awakened from their momentary apathy. Two of
them carried Jasper Lane toward the ranch-house. Some one laughed.

Gleason, the superintendent, gazed at the outlaw pony and fingered his
belt. "That's the fourth!" he said slowly and distinctly. "She ain't
worth it."

"The fourth Oro rider," said a voice. "You ain't countin' any Moonstone
riders."

"Ain't seen any to count," retorted Gleason, and there was a general
laugh.

Strangely enough, the outlaw pony followed Collie quietly as he led her
toward Gleason, "The boys say there's a bet up that nobody can stick on
her two minutes. She's the bet. Is that right?" said Collie.

"What you goin' to do?" queried Gleason, and some of the Oro boys
laughed.

"I don't know yet," said Collie. "Maybe I'll take her back to the
Moonstone with me."

Miguel of the Moonstone removed his sombrero and gravely passed it.
"Flowers for the Collie kid," he said solemnly.

Collie, grave, alert, a little white beneath his tan, called for
Williams to hold the pony. Then the younger man, talking to her
meanwhile, slipped off the bridle and adjusted a hackamore in its place.
He tightened the cinchas. The men had ceased joking. Evidently the kid
meant business. Next he removed his spurs and flung them, with his
quirt, in a corner.

"Just defending yourself, eh, Yuma girl?" he said. "They cut all the
sense out of you with a horse-killin' bit and rip you with the spurs,
and expect you to behave."

"He'll be teachin' her to say her prayers next," observed Bud Light.
"He's gettin' a spell on her now."

"He'll need all _his_ for himself," said Pars Long.

The pony, still nervously resenting the memory of the mouth-crushing
spade-bit, and the tearing rowels, flinched and sidled away as Collie
tried to mount. Her glossy ears were flattened and the rims of her eyes
showed white.

"Jump!" whispered Williams. "And don't rough her. Mebby you'll win out."

And even as Collie's hand touched the saddle-horn, Williams sprang back
and climbed the corral bars.

With a leap the Moonstone rider was in the saddle. The pony shook her
head as he reined her round toward the corral gate. The men stared.
Gleason swore. Billy Dime began to croon a range ditty about "Picking
little Posies on the Golden Shore." The roan's sleek, sweating sides
quivered.

"Here's where she goes to it," said Williams.

"Whoop! Let 'er buck!" shouted the crowd.

Rebellion swelled in the pony's rippling muscles. She waited, fore feet
braced, for the first sting of the quirt, the first rip of the spurs, to
turn herself into a hellish thing of plunging destruction.

Collie, leaning forward, patted her neck. "Come on, sis. Come on, Yuma
girl. You're just a little hummingbird. You ain't a real horse."

With a leap the pony reared. Still there came no sting of spur or quirt.
She dropped to her feet. Collie had cleverly consumed a minute of the
allotted time.

"One minute!" called Williams, holding the watch.

"Why, that ain't ridin'," grumbled an Oro man.

"See you later," said Williams, and several of his companions looked at
him strangely. The foreman's eyes were fixed on the watch.

Collie had also heard, and he dug his unspurred heels into the pony's
sides. She leaped straight for the corral gate and freedom. With a
patter of hoofs, stiff-legged, she jolted toward the plain. The men
dropped from the bars and ran toward the gate, all, except Williams, who
turned, blinking in the sun, his watch in his hand.

A few short jumps, a fish-like swirl sideways, and still Collie held his
seat. He eased the hackamore a little. He was breathing hard. The horse
took up the slack with a vicious plunge, head downward. The boy's face
grew white. He felt something warm trickling down his mouth and chin. He
threw back his head and gripped with his knees.

"They're off!" halloed a puncher.

"Only one of 'em--so far," said Williams. "One minute and thirty
seconds."

Then, like a bolt of copper light, the pony shot forward at a run.

On the ranch-house veranda sat Walter Stone conversing with his host,
where several girls, bright-faced and gowned in cool white, were talking
and laughing.

The pony headed straight for the veranda. The laughing group jumped to
their feet. Collie, using both hands, swung the hackamore across the
outlaw's neck and tugged.

She stopped with a jolt that all but unseated him. Walter Stone rose.
"It's one of my boys," he said. And he noticed that a little stream of
red was trickling from Collie's mouth and nostrils.

His head was snapped back and then forward at every plunge. Still he
gripped the saddle with rigid knees. The outlaw bucked again, and flung
herself viciously sideways, turning completely round. Collie pitched
drunkenly as the horse came down again and again. His eyes were blurred
and his brain grew numb. Faintly he heard Brand Williams cry, "Two
minutes! Moonstone wins!" Then came a cheer. His gripping knees relaxed.
He reeled and all around him the air grew streaked with slivers of
piercing fire. He pitched headforemost at the feet of the group on the
veranda.

In a flash Louise Lacharme was beside him, kneeling and supporting his
head. "Water!" she cried, wiping his face with her handkerchief.

Boot-heels gritted on the parched earth and spurs jingled as the men
came running.

The pony, with hackamore dangling, raced across the plain toward the
hills.

"This'll do jest as well," said Williams, pouring a mouthful of whiskey
between Collie's lips. Then the taciturn foreman lifted the youth to his
feet. Collie dragged along, stepping shakily. "Dam' little fool!" said
Williams affectionately. "You ain't satisfied to get killed where you
belong, but you got to go and splatter yourself all over the front yard
in front of the ladies. You with your bloody nose and your face shot
plumb full of gravel. If you knowed how you looked when she piled you--"

"I know how she looked," said Collie. "That's good enough for me. Did I
make it?"

"The bronc' is yours," said Williams. "Bud and Miguel just rode out
after her."

Then Williams did an unaccountable thing. He hunted among the crowd till
he found the man who had said, "Why, that ain't ridin'." He asked the
man quietly if he had made such a remark. The other replied that he had.
Then Williams promptly knocked him down, with all the wiry strength of
his six feet of bone and muscle. "Take that home and look at it," he
remarked, walking away.

Through the dusk of the evening the Moonstone boys jingled homeward, the
horses climbing the trail briskly. Two of them worked the outlaw up the
hill, each with a rope on her and each exceedingly busy. Collie was too
stiff and sore to help them.

Miguel, hilarious in that he had ridden Boyar to second place, and so
upheld the Moonstone honor, sang many strange and wonderful songs and
baited Collie between-whiles. Proud of their companion's conquest of the
outlaw colt, the Moonstone boys made light of it proportionately.

"Did you see him reclinin' on that Yuma grasshopper," said Bud Light,
"and pertendin' he was ridin' a hoss?"

"And then," added Billy Dime, "he gets so het up and proud that he rides
right over to the ladies, and 'flop' he goes like swattin' a frog with a
shingle. He rides about five rods on the cayuse and then five more on
his map. Collie's sure tough. How's your mug, kid?"

"It never felt so bad as yours looks naturally," responded Collie,
puffing at a cigarette with swollen lips. "But I ain't jealous."

"Now, ain't you?" queried Williams, who had ridden silently beside him.
"Well, now, I was plumb mistook! I kind of thought you was."




CHAPTER XXIII

SILENT SAUNDERS SPEAKS


Meanwhile Collie kept a vigilant eye on Silent Saunders. The other,
somewhat sullenly but efficiently, attended to his work. Collie's
vigilance was rewarded unexpectedly and rather disagreeably.

One day, as he stood stroking Black Boyar's neck, he happened to glance
across the yard. Saunders was saddling one of the horses in the corral.
Louise, astride Boyar, spoke to Collie of some detail of the ranch work,
purposely prolonging the conversation. Something of the Collie of the
Oro barbecue had vanished. In its stead was an inexplicable but positive
quality of masterfulness, apparent in poise and manner.

Louise, because she knew him so well, was puzzled and curious. She could
not account for the change. She was frankly interested in him in spite
of, or perhaps because of, his early misfortunes. Instinctively she felt
that he had gained a moral confidence in himself. His physical
excellence and ability had always been manifest. This morning, his
grave, dark eyes, upturned to her face as he caressed Boyar, were
disconcertingly straightforward. He seemed to be drinking his fill of
her beauty. His quick smile, still boyish, and altogether irresistible,
flashed as she spoke humorously of his conquest of the outlaw colt Yuma.

"I learned more--ridin' that cayuse for two minutes--than I ever expect
to learn again in that time."

Remembering that she had been first to reach him when he was thrown, the
fresh bloom of her cheeks deepened. Her eyelids drooped for an instant.
"One can learn a great deal quickly, sometimes," she said. Then added,
for he had smiled again,--"About horses."

"And folks." He spoke quietly and lifted her gauntleted hand, touching
it lightly with his lips. So swift, so unexpected had been his homage
that she did not realize it until it was irrevocably paid.

"Why, Collie!"

"Because you wasn't ashamed to help a guy in front of the others."

"Please don't say 'guy.' And why should I be ashamed to help any of our
boys?" she said, laughing. She had quite recovered herself.

"'Course you wouldn't be. But this is a kind of 'good-bye,' too. I was
going to ask you to mail this letter to Overland Red. I told him in it
that I was coming."

"We are sorry that you are leaving," said Louise. "Uncle Walter said you
had spoken to him."

"It isn't the money. I could wait. But I don't feel like taking all that
money and not doing anything for it. I guess Red needs me, too. Brand
says I'm a fool to quit here now. Mebby I am. I like it here; the work
and everything."

Saunders, watching them, saw Collie give Louise a letter. He saw her
tuck it in her waist and rein Boyar round toward the gate.

As Collie came toward the corrals he noticed that Saunders had saddled
the pinto Rally. He was a little surprised. Rally was Walter Stone's
favorite saddle-horse and used by none but him. He knew his employer was
absent. Perhaps Saunders had instructions to bring Rally to the station.

Collie paid no further attention to Saunders until the latter came from
his quarters with a coat and a blanket-roll which he tied to the saddle.
Then Collie became interested. He left the road and climbed the hill
back of the corrals. He watched Saunders astride the pinto as he opened
the gate and spurred through without closing it. That was a little
unusual.

"I feel almost like taking a cayuse and following him," muttered Collie.
"But, no. What for, anyway?"

On a rise far below was Black Boyar, loping along easily. Collie saw him
stop and turn into the Old Meadow Trail. He watched for Saunders to
appear on the road below the ranch. Presently out from the shoulder of a
hill leaped Rally. Saunders was plying quirt and spur. The pinto was
doing his best.

"Something's wrong. I'll just take a chance." And Collie ran to the
corral and roped the Yuma colt. He saddled her, led her a few steps that
she might become used to the feel of the cinchas, and then mounted. He
turned the pony up the hill and sat watching the pinto on the road
below. He saw Saunders draw rein and dismount, apparently searching the
road for something. Then he saw him mount quickly and disappear on the
Old Meadow Trail.

Collie whirled the pony round and down the hill. Through the gateway he
thundered. The steel-sinewed flanks stiffened and relaxed rhythmically
as the hillside flew past. The Yuma colt, half-wild, ran with great
leaps that ate into space. They swept through the first ford. A thin
sheet of water spread on either side of them. The outlaw fought the curb
all the way up the hill beyond. Pebbles clattered from her hoofs and
spun skyward as she raced along the level of the hilltop.

Down the next grade the pony swung, taking the turns with short leaps.
On the crest Collie checked her. The road beyond, clear to the valley,
was empty.

He examined the tracks entering the Old Meadow Trail. He had not been
mistaken. Saunders had ridden in. Mounting, Collie spurred through the
greasewood, trusting to the pony's natural activity and sure-footedness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Louise, sitting on the dream-rock in the old meadow, gazed out across
the valley. Black Boyar stood near with trailing bridle-reins.

Despite herself the girl kept recalling Collie's face as he had talked
with her at the ranch. Admiration she had known before and many
times--adoration never, until that morning.

For a long time she dreamed. The shadows of the greasewood lengthened.
The air grew cooler. Louise ended her soliloquy by saying aloud: "He's a
nice boy, though. I do hope he will keep as he is."

Boyar, lifting his head, nickered and was answered by Rally, entering
the meadow. Silent Saunders rode up hurriedly.

"Why, Saunders,--what is it? That's Rally! Were you going to meet Uncle
Walter?"

"No, Miss. I'm in a hurry. Just hand over that letter that young Collie
give to you at the ranch. I want it. I mean business."

"You want the letter? What do you mean? What right have you--"

"No right. Only I want it. I don't want to make trouble."

"You! A Western man, and speak that way to a woman! Saunders, I'm
ashamed to think you ever worked for us."

"Oh, I know you got nerve. But I'm in a hurry. Hand it over. Then you
can call me anything you like."

"I shall not hand it over."

"All right. I got to have it."

The girl, her gray eyes blazing with indignation, backed away as he
strode toward her. "You'd dare, would you?" And as Saunders laughed she
cut him across the face with her quirt.

His face, streaked with the red welt of the rawhide, grew white as he
controlled his anger. He leaped at her and had his hands on her when she
struck him again with all her strength. He staggered back, his hand to
his eyes.

A wild rush of hoofs, a shock, a crash, and he was beneath the plunging
feet of the Yuma colt. The pony flashed past, her head jerking up.
Louise saw Collie leap to the ground and come running back.

Saunders, rolling to his side, reached for his holster, when he saw that
in Collie's hand which precluded further argument.

"Don't get up!" said Collie quietly. "I never killed a man--but I'm
going to, quick, if you lift a finger."

Saunders kept still. Collie stepped round behind him. "Now, get up,
slow," he commanded.

When Saunders was on his feet, Collie reached forward and secured his
gun.

"I'll send your check to the store," said Louise, addressing Saunders.
"I shall tell Mr. Stone that I discharged you. I don't believe I had
better tell the men about this."

"Beat it, Saunders," said Collie, laughing. "You are leaving here afoot,
which suits me fine. Red would be plumb happy to know it."

"Red's goin' to walk into my lead some of these days."

"That's some day. This is to-day," said Collie.

Saunders, turning, gazed covetously at the pinto Rally. Collie saw, and
smiled. "I missed twice. The third trick is goin' to be mine. Don't you
forget that, Mister Kid," said Saunders.

"Oh, you here yet?" said Collie; and he was not a little gratified to
notice that Saunders limped as he struck off down the trail.




CHAPTER XXIV

"LIKE SUNSHINE"


Louise drew off her gauntlets and tossed them on the rock. Collie saw
the print of Saunders's fingers on her wrist and forearm. "I ought to
'a' made him kneel down and ask you to let him live!" he said.

"I was afraid--at first. Then I was just angry. It was sickening to see
the marks grow red and swell on his face. I hit him as hard as I could,
but I'm not sorry."

"Sorry?" growled Collie. "He takes your brand with him. He didn't get
the letter. I got to thank you a whole lot for that."

"But how did he know I had it? What did he want with the letter?"

"He saw me give it to you. He's one of the bunch, the Mojave bunch
that's been trailing Red all over the country. When Red disappeared up
in those desert hills, I reckon Saunders must have got hold of a paper
and read about the get-away here at the Moonstone. He just naturally
came over here and got a job to see if he couldn't trace Red."

"You are thinking of joining Mr. Summers at the claim?"

"Yes. The Eastern folks are gone now. I hate to go. But I got to get
busy and make some money. A fellow hasn't much of a show without money
these days."

Louise was silent. She sat gazing across the valley.

Collie approached her hesitatingly. "I just got to say it--after all
that's happened. Seems that I could, now."

Louise paled and flushed. "Oh, Collie!" she cried entreatingly. "We have
been such good friends. Please don't spoil it all!"

"I know I am a fool," he said, "or I was going to be. But please to take
Boyar and go. I'll bring Rally. I was wrong to think you would listen a
little."

But Louise remained sitting upon the rock as though she had not heard
him. Slowly he stepped toward her, his spurs jingling musically. He
caught up one of her gloves and turned it over and over in his fingers
with a kind of clumsy reverence. "It's mighty little--and there's the
shape of your hand in it, just like it bends when you hold the reins. It
seems like a thing almost too good for me to touch, because it means
_you_. I know you won't laugh at me, either."

Louise turned toward him. "No. I understand," she said.

"Here was where Red and I first saw you to know who you was. I used to
hate folks that wore good clothes. I thought they was all the same, you
and all that kind. But, no, it ain't so. You looked back once, when you
were riding away from the jail that time. I was going to look for Red
and not go to work at the Moonstone. I saw you look back. That settled
it. I was proud to think you cared even anything for a tramp. I was
mighty lonesome then. Since, I got to thinking I'd be somebody some day.
But I can see where I stand. I'm a puncher, working for the Moonstone.
You kind of liked me because I had hard luck when I was a kid. But that
made me _love_ you. It ain't wrong, I guess, to love something you can't
ever reach up to. It ain't wrong to keep on loving, only it's awful
lonesome not to ever tell you about it."

"I'm sorry, Collie," said Louise gently.

"Please don't you be sorry. Why, I'm glad! Maybe you don't think it is
the best thing in the world to love a girl. I ain't asking anything but
to just go on loving you. Seems like a man wants the girl he loves to
know it, even if that is just all. You said I love horses. I do. But
loving you started me loving horses. Red said once that I was just
living like what I thought you wanted me to be. Red's wise when he
takes his time to it. But now I'm living the way I think I want to. I
won't ask you to say you care. I guess you don't--that way. But if I
ever get rich--then--"

"Collie, you must not think I am different from any other girl. I'm just
as selfish and stubborn as I can be. I almost feel ashamed to have you
think of me as you do. Let's be sensible about it. You know I like you.
I'm glad you care--for--what you think I am."

"That's it. You are always so kind to a fellow that it makes me feel
mean to speak like I have. You listened--and I am pretty glad of that."

He turned and caught Boyar's bridle. Mounting he caught up Yuma and
Rally. Slowly Collie and the girl rode the trail to the level of the
summit. Slowly they dropped down the descent into Moonstone Canon. The
letter, Overland Red, Silent Saunders, were forgotten. Side by side
plodded the pony Yuma and Black Boyar. Rally followed. The trees on the
western edge of the canon threw long, shadowy bars of dusk across the
road. Quail called from the hillside. Other quail answered plaintively
from a distance. Alternate warmth and coolness swam in the air and
touched the riders' faces.

At a bend in the road the ponies crowded together. Collie's hand
accidentally brushed against the girl's and she drew away. He glanced
up quickly. She was gazing straight ahead at the distant peaks. He felt
strangely pleased that she had drawn away from him when his hand touched
hers. Some instinct told him that their old friendship had given place
to something else--something as yet too vague to describe. She was not
angry with him, he knew. Her face was troubled. He gazed at her as they
rode and his heart yearned for her tenderly. Life had suddenly assumed a
tensity that silenced them. The little lizards of the stones scurried
away from either side of the road. One after another, with sprightly
steps, a covey of mountain quail crossed the road before them, leaving
little starlike tracks in the dust. Though homeward bound the ponies
plodded with lowered heads. Moonstone Canon, always wonderful in its
wild, rugged beauty, seemed as a place of dreams, only real as it echoed
the tread of the ponies. The canon stream chattered, murmured, quarreled
round a rock-strewn bend, laughed at itself, and passed, singing a
cool-voiced melody.

They rode through a vale of enchantment, only known to Youth and Love.
Her gray eyes were misty and troubled. His eyes were heavy with
unuttered longing. His heart pounded until it almost choked him. He bit
his lips that he might keep silent.

The glint of the slanting sunlight on her hair, the turn of her wrist as
she held the reins, her apparent unconsciousness of all outward things
enthralled him. A spell hung round him like a mist, blinding and
baffling all clearer thought. And because Louise knew his heart, knew
that his homage was not of books, but of his very self, she lingered in
the dream whose thread she might have snapped with a word, a gesture.

Generously the girl blamed herself that she had been the one to cause
him sorrow. She could not give herself to him, be his wife as she knew
he wished her to be. Yet she liked him more than she cared to admit. He
had fought for her once and taken his punishment with a grin. She felt
joy in his homage, and yet she felt humility. In what way, she asked
herself, was she better, cleaner of heart, kinder or cleverer than
Collie? Why should people make distinctions as to birth, or breeding, or
wealth, when character and physical excellence meant so much more?

"Collie!" she whispered, and the touch of her fingers on his arm was as
the touch of fire,--"Collie!"

She drew one of her little gray gauntlets from her belt. "Here," she
said, and the word was a caress.

But he put the proffered token away from him with a trembling hand.
"Don't!" he cried. "I tried not to want you! I did try! This
morning--before I told you--I could have knelt and prayed to your glove.
But now, Louise, Louise Lacharme, I can't. That glove would burn me and
drive me wild to come back to you."

"To come back to you ...?" The words sung themselves through her
consciousness. "Come back to you...." He was going away. "You care so
much?" she asked. There was a new light in her eyes. Her face was almost
colorless. So she had looked when Saunders threatened her. She swayed in
the saddle. Collie's arm was about her. She raised one arm and flung it
round his neck, drawing his face down to her trembling lips. Then she
drew away, her face burning.

Across the end of the canon a vagrant sunbeam ran like a bridge of faery
gold. It pelted the gray wall with a million particles of mellow fire.
It flickered, flashed anew, and faded. The ponies drew apart. The colt
Yuma grew restless.

"Good-bye," murmured Louise.

"Like the sunshine," he said, pointing to the cliff.

"It is gone," she whispered, shivering a little as the shadows drew
down.

"It will shine again," he said, smiling.

Without a word she touched Black Boyar with the spurs. A stone clattered
down as he leaped forward, and she was gone.

Collie curbed the colt Yuma, who would have followed. "No, little
hummingbird," he said whimsically. "We aren't so used to heaven that we
can ride out of it quite so fast."

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning, with blanket and slicker rolled behind his saddle, he rode
down the Moonstone Canon Trail. At the foot of the range he turned
eastward, a new world before him. The far hills, hiding the desert
beyond, bulked large and mysterious.

Louise had not been present when he bade good-bye to his Moonstone
friends.




CHAPTER XXV

IN THE SHADOW OF THE HILLS


The afternoon of the third day out from the Moonstone Ranch, Collie
picketed the roan pony Yuma near a water-hole in the desert. He spread
his saddle-blankets, rolled a cigarette, and smoked. Presently he rose
and took some food from a saddle-pocket.

The pony, unused to the desert, fretted and sniffed at the sagebrush
with evident disgust. Collie had given her water, but there was no
grazing.

After he had eaten he studied the rough map that Overland had given him.
There, to the south, was the desert town. He had passed that, as
directed, skirting it widely. There to the east were the hills.
Somewhere behind them was the hidden canon and Overland Red.

Stiff and tired from his long ride, he stretched himself for a short
rest. He dozed. Something touched his foot. It was the riata with which
he had picketed the pony. He meant to travel again that night. He would
sleep a little while. The horse, circling the picket, would be sure to
awaken him again.

He slept heavily. The Yuma colt stood with rounded nostrils sniffing the
night air. The pony faced in the direction of the distant town. She knew
that another horse and rider were coming toward her through the
darkness. They were far off, but coming.

For a long time she stood stamping impatiently at intervals. Finally she
grew restive. The oncoming horse had stopped. That other animal, the
man, had dismounted and was coming toward her on foot. She could not see
through the starlit blanket of night, but she knew.

The man-thing drew a little nearer. The pony swerved as if about to run,
but hesitated, ears flattened, curious, half-belligerent.

       *       *       *       *       *

That afternoon Silent Saunders, riding along the border of the desert
town, had seen a strange horse and rider far out--away from the road and
evidently heading for the water-hole. Saunders rode into town, borrowed
a pair of field-glasses, and rode out again. He at once recognized the
roan pony as the Oro outlaw, but the rider? He was not so sure. He would
investigate.

The fact that he saw no glimmer of fire as he now approached the
water-hole made him doubly cautious. Nearer, he crouched behind a bush.
He threw a pebble at the pony. She circled the picket, awakening Collie,
who spoke to her sleepily. Saunders crept back toward his horse. He
knew _that_ voice. He would track the young rider to the range and
beyond--to the gold. He rode back to town through the night, entered the
saloon, and beckoned to a belated lounger.

Shivering in the morning starlight, Collie arose and saddled the pony.
He rode in the general direction of the range. The blurred shadow of the
foothills seemed stationary. His horse was not moving forward--simply
walking a gigantic treadmill of black space that revolved beneath him.
The hills drew no nearer than did the constellations above them.

Suddenly the shadows of the hills pushed back. Almost instantly he faced
the quick rise of the range. Out of the silence came the slithering step
of some one walking in the sand. The darkness seemed to expand.

Overland Red stood before him, silent, alert, anxious. "You, Chico?" he
asked.

"Sure. Hello, Red."

"Anybody see you come across yesterday?"

"Not that I know of. I kept away from the town."

"Your hoss shod?"

"Yes. All around. Why?"

"Nothin'. I'm sufferin' glad to see you again. When we get on top of the
hills, you take the left trail and keep on down. You can't miss the
canon. I'll leave you here. I got to stay here a spell to see that
nothin' else comes up but the sun this mornin'."

"All right, Red. Your pardner down there?"

"Yep. Whistle when you get up to the meadow in the canon. Billy'll be
lookin' for you."

"Any trouble lately?"

"Nope. But Billy's got a hunch, though. He says he feels it in the air."

At the crest Collie rode on down the winding trail, or rather way, for
no regular trail existed. At the foot of the range he turned to the
right and entered the narrow canon, following the stream until he came
to the meadow, where he picketed the pony.

He continued on up the canon on foot. When he arrived at the camp,
Overland was there waiting. Winthrop and he greeted Collie cordially.
"Short cut," explained Overland, jerking his thumb over his shoulder.
"No hoss trail, though. Too steep."

Faint dawn lights were shifting along the canon walls as they had
breakfast. As the morning sunlight spread to their camp Collie's natural
curiosity in regard to Overland's pardner was satisfied. He saw a
straight, slender figure, in flannel shirt and khaki. The gray eyes were
peculiarly keen and humorous. Winthrop was not a little like his sister
Anne in poise and coloring. The hands were nervously slender and
aristocratic, albeit roughened and scarred by toil. There was a
suggestion of dash and go about Winthrop that appealed to Collie. Even
in repose the Easterner seemed to be alert. Undoubtedly he would make a
good companion in any circumstance.

"There's spare blankets in the tent. Roll in for a snooze, Collie. Billy
and me'll pack your saddle and stuff up here later."

"I guess I will. You might sponge Yuma's back a little, Red. She's
brought me close to two hundred miles in the last three days."

"Sure, Bo! I'll brush her teeth and manicure her toe-nails if you say
the word. I guess that hoss has kind of made a hit with you."

Collie yawned. "Mebby. But it isn't in it with the hit she'll make with
you if you try to take up her feet. She's half-sister to a shot of
dynamite. I'm only telling you so she won't kick your fool head off."

"You talk like most a full-size man," said Overland.

Down at the meadow, Overland looked at the colt and shook his head. "He
is correct," he said succinctly. "That hoss don't welcome handlin' worth
a bean."

Winthrop's silence rather stirred Overland's sensitive pride in his
horsemanship. "'Course I broke and rode hundreds like her, down in Mex.
But then I was paid for doin' it. It was my business then. Now, minin'
and educatin' Collie is my business, and a busted neck wouldn't help
any."

Winthrop realized for the first time that Overland's supreme interest in
life was Collie's welfare. Heretofore the paternal note had not been
evident. Winthrop had imagined them chums, friends, tramps together.
They were more than that. Overland considered Collie an adopted son.

The Easterner glanced at Overland's broad shoulders stooped beneath the
weight of the heavy stock saddle. Something in the man's humorous
simplicity, his entire willingness to serve those whom he liked and his
stiff indifference to all others, appealed to Winthrop. So this flotsam
of the range, this erstwhile tramp, this paradox of coarseness and
sentiment, had an object in life? A laudable object: that of serving
with his sincerest effort the boy friend he had picked up on the desert,
a castaway.

As they toiled up the stream toward the camp, Winthrop recalled their
former chats by the night-fire. Now he began to see the drift of
Overland's then frequent references to Collie. And there was a
girl,--mentioned by Overland almost reverently,--the Rose Girl, Louise
Lacharme, of whom Anne Marshall had written much in eulogy to him. And
Winthrop himself?

His swift introspection left him aware that of them all he alone seemed
to lack a definite aim. Making money--mining--was still to him a game,
interesting and healthful, but play. To Overland it was life. Winthrop
saw himself as he was. His improved health scoffed at the idea of
becoming sentimental about it. He laughed, and Overland, turning,
regarded him with bushy, interrogative brows.

"Nothing," said Winthrop.

"Ain't you feelin' good lately, Billy?"

"I'm all right."

"Glad of that. It's good to forget you got such a thing as health if you
want to keep it. If you get to lookin' for it, like as not you'll find
it's gone."

"I'm looking for something entirely different. Something you
have--something that I never possessed."

"I don't know anything I got that you haven't 'less it's that new
Stetson I got in Los. You can have her, Billy, and welcome. Your lid
_is_ gettin' on the bum."

"Not that," laughed Winthrop. "Something you keep under it."

"'T ain't me hair. I'm plumb sure of that."

"No."

"Mebby you're jealous of some of me highbrow ideas?"

"Add an 'l' and you have it."

"I-d-e-a-l-s. Oh, ideals, eh? Never owned none except that little
electric do-diddle-um of the Guzzuh what makes the spark to keep the
machinery goin'. That's called the 'Ideal.'"

"The spark to keep the machinery going--that's it," said Winthrop.

At the camp he prepared to make his trip to the Moonstone Ranch. He read
his sister's letter over and over again. Finally he sauntered up the
canon to where Overland was at work. "I'll lend a hand," he said, in
answer to Overland's questioning face. "I don't believe I'll go before
to-morrow night. It is hardly right to leave the minute my new pardner
arrives. I want to talk with him."

Overland nodded. "Guess you're right. It won't hurt to keep in the
shadow of the hills for a day or two. Can't tell who might 'a' spotted
Collie ridin' out this way."

       *       *       *       *       *

That afternoon, toward evening, Collie arose, refreshed, and eager to
inspect the claim. He could hear the faint click of pick and shovel up
the canon. He stretched himself, drank from the stream, and sauntered
toward the meadow. He would see to his pony first.

He found the horse had been picketed afresh by Overland when he had come
for the saddle. He was returning toward camp when he heard a slight
noise behind him--the noise a man's boot makes stepping on a pebble that
turns beneath his weight.

Collie wheeled quickly, saw nothing unusual, and turned again toward the
camp. Then he hesitated. He would look down the canon. He realized that
he was unarmed. Then he grew ashamed of his hesitancy. He picked his way
down the stream. A buzzard circled far above the cliffs. The air hummed
with invisible bees in the rank wild clover. He peered past the next
bend. A short distance below stood a riderless horse. The bridle was
trailing. For an instant Collie did not realize the significance of the
animal waiting patiently for its rider. Then, like the flash of a
speeding film, he saw it all--his pony's tracks up the canon--the rider
who had undoubtedly seen him crossing to the water-hole, and who had
waited until daylight to follow the tracks; who had dismounted, and was
probably in ambush watching him. He summoned all his reserve courage.
Turning away, he remarked, distinctly, naturally, casually, "Thought I
heard something. Must have been the water."

He walked slowly back to the notch in the canon walls. Stepping through
it, he continued on up the stream. A few paces beyond the notch, and a
face appeared in the cleft rock, watching him. The watcher seemed in
doubt. Collie's action had been natural enough. Had he seen the horse?
The hidden face grew crafty. The eyes grew cold. The watcher tapped the
side of the cliff with his revolver butt. The noise was slight, but in
that place of sensitive echoes, loud enough to be heard a long way up
the canon. Then it was that Collie made a courageous but terrible
mistake. He heard the sound, and seemed to realize that it was made
intentionally--to attract his attention. Yet he was not sure. He kept
on, ignoring the sound. Had he not suspected some one was in the canon,
to have glanced back would have been the most natural thing in the
world. The watcher realized this. He knew that the other had heard
him--suspected his presence, and was making a daring bluff.

"Got to stop that," muttered the watcher, and he raised his hand.

The imprisoned report rolled and reechoed like mountain thunder. Collie
threw up his arms and lurched forward.

Below in the canon clattered the hoofs of the speeding horse. The rider,
still holding his six-gun, muzzle up, glanced back. "I didn't care
partic'lar about gettin' _him_, but gettin' the kid hits the red-head
between the eyes. I guess I'm about even now." And Silent Saunders
holstered his gun, swung out of the canon, and spurred down the
mountain, not toward the desert town, but toward Gophertown, some thirty
miles to the north. He had found the claim. The desert town folk he had
used to good advantage. They had paid his expenses while he trailed
Overland and Collie. They had even guaranteed him protection from the
law--such as it was on the Mojave. He had every reason to be grateful to
them, but he was just a step or two above them in criminal artistry. He
had been a "killer." Like the lone wolf that calls the pack to the hunt,
he turned instinctively to Gophertown, a settlement in the hills not
unknown to a few of the authorities, but unmolested by them. The
atmosphere of Gophertown was not conducive to long life.




CHAPTER XXVI

SPECIAL


Overland, leaning on his shovel, drew his sleeve across his forehead.
"Reckon I'll go down and wake Collie. He'll sleep his head off and feel
worse 'n thunder."

"I'll go," said Winthrop, throwing aside a pan of dirt with a fine
disregard of its eventual value. "I want some tobacco, anyway."

"Fetch a couple of sticks of dynamite along, Billy. I'll put in one more
shot for to-night."

A distant, reverberating report caused the two men to jerk into
attitudes of tense surprise.

"What the hell!" exclaimed Overland, running toward the tent. "That
wasn't the kid. Collie's only packin' a automatic, and here it is."

He stopped in the tent-door, grabbed up the gun and belt, and ran down
the canon, Winthrop following breathlessly. Near the notch he paused,
motioning Winthrop to one side. "Mebby it was to draw us on. You keep
there, Billy. I'll poke ahead."

But Overland did not go far. He almost stumbled over the prone figure of
Collie. With a cry he tore his handkerchief from his throat and plugged
the wound. "Clean through," he said, getting to his feet. "Get the
whiskey."

"Shan't I help you carry him?" queried Winthrop.

Overland shook his head. "Get the whiskey and get a fire goin'. I'll
bring him."

"Will he--live?" asked Winthrop, hesitating.

"I reckon not, Billy. He was plugged from behind--close--and clean
through. Here's the slug."

Then Overland picked up the limp form. So this was the end of all his
planning and his toil? He cursed himself for having urged Collie to come
to the desert. He strode carefully, bent with the weight of that
shattered body. He felt that he had lost more than the visible Collie;
that he had lost the inspiration, the ideal, the grip on hope that had
held him toward the goal of good endeavor. His old-time recklessness
swept down upon him like the tides, submerging his better self. Yet he
held steadily to one idea. He would do all that he could to save
Collie's life. Failing in that ... there would be a red reckoning. After
that he would not care what came.

Already he had planned to send Winthrop, in his big car, for a doctor.
The car was at the desert town, where a liveryman accepted a royal
monthly toll in advance to care for it.

At the tent Overland laid Collie on the blankets, bathed and bandaged
the wound, and watched his low pulse quicken to the stimulant that he
gave him in small doses.

"It's the shock as much as the wound," said Overland. "He got it close,
and from behind--_from behind_ do you hear?"

Winthrop, startled by the other's intensity, stammered: "What shall I
do? What shall I do?"

Overland bit his nails and scowled. "You will ride to town. Collie's
hoss is here. Take the Guzzuh and burn the road for Los and get a
doctor. Not a pill doctor, but a knife man. Bring the car clean back
here to the range. To hell with the chances."

Winthrop slipped into his coat and filled a canteen.

"If that horse throws me--" he began.

"You got to ride. You _got_ to, understand? I dassent leave him."

Down in the meadow Overland saddled the pony Yuma. He mounted and she
had her "spell" of bucking. "Now, take her and ride," said Overland.
"After you hit the level, let her out and hang on. If any one tries to
stick you up this time--why, jest nacherally _plug_ 'em. Sabe?"

Winthrop nodded.

Two hours later a wild-eyed, sweating pony tore through the desert town
at a run. Her rider slid to the ground as the liveryman grabbed the
pony's bridle.

"Take--care--of her," gasped Winthrop. "I want--the machine."

"Anybody hurt?"

"Yes. Who did that?"

Winthrop stood with mouth open and eyes staring. The tires of the big
machine were flat.

"I dunno. I watched her every day. I sleep here nights. Las' Sunday I
was over to Daggett."

"And left no one in charge?"

"The boy was here."

"Well--the job is done. Take care of the horse. I'll be back in a
minute."

At the station Winthrop wired for a special car and engine. He gave his
check for the amount necessary and went back to the stable. He was
working at the damaged tires when the agent appeared. "Special's at the
Junction now. Be here in five minutes."

Winthrop climbed to the engine-cab. "I'll give you ten dollars for every
minute you cut from the regular passenger schedule," he said.

The engineer nodded. "Get back on the plush and hang on," was his brief
acknowledgment.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was dark when the surgeon, drying his hands, came from the canon
stream to the tent. "That's about all I can do now," he said, slipping
into his coat.

Overland, who was sitting on a box beside the tent, stood up and
stretched himself. "Is he goin' to make it?" he asked.

"I can't say. He is young, in good condition, and strong. If you will
get me some blankets, I'll turn in. Call me in about two hours."




CHAPTER XXVII

THE RIDERS


Several days passed before the surgeon would express a definite opinion.

Collie lay, hollow-cheeked and ghastly, in the dim interior of the tent.
His eyes were wide and fixed. Overland came in. Collie recognized him
and tried to smile. Overland backed out of the tent and strode away
growling. The tears were running down his unshaven cheeks. He did not
return until later in the day. Then he asked the surgeon that
oft-repeated question.

"I don't see how he can recover," said the surgeon quietly. "Of course
there's a slim chance. Don't build on it, though."

"If there's a chance, I reckon he will freeze to it," said Overland.
"From what he was ramblin' about when he was off his head, I reckon he's
got somethin' more to live for than just himself."

"Has he any relatives?" queried the surgeon.

"Nope. Except me. But he was expectin' to have, I guess. And I tell you
what, Doc, she's worth gettin' shot up for."

"Too bad! Too bad," muttered the surgeon.

"What's too bad, eh?"

The other shook his head. "If there is any one that he would care to
see, or that would care to see him, you had better write at once."

Overland was stunned. The doctor's word had been given at last, and it
was not a word of hope.

Overland Red bowed to the doctor's opinion, but his heart was
unconquerable. He wrote a long letter to his old-time friend, Brand
Williams, of the Moonstone Ranch. The letter was curiously worded. It
did not mention Louise Lacharme, nor Mrs. Stone, nor the rancher. It
was, in the main, about Mexico and the "old days"; no hint of Collie's
accident was in the page until the very end. The letter concluded with
"But you needn't think you owe me anything for that. I was glad to put
him to the hush because we was pals them days. Collie was shot by
Saunders. The doctor says he will die most likely. He was shot in the
back. It would go bad with Saunders if the Moonstone boys ever heard of
this."

       *       *       *       *       *

The letter dispatched by Winthrop, Overland Red took courage. He felt
that he himself was holding Collie's life from sinking. His huge
optimism would not admit that his friend _could_ die.

He was leaning back against a rock near the notch and gazing at the
slanting moonlight that spread across the somber canyon walls. A week
had gone since he mailed his letter to Brand Williams, of the
Moonstone, and Collie was still alive. Overland shifted his position,
standing beside him the Winchester that had lain across his knees, and
pulling his sombrero over his eyes. The notch made an excellent
background for an object over the sights of a rifle, even at night, so
long as the moon shone. Gophertown riders would never venture that far
up the canon with horses. They would tether their ponies at the entrance
and come afoot and under cover. Still, they would have to pass the notch
in any event.

Thus it was that when, some few minutes later, Overland heard the faint
jingle of rein-chains, he grinned. It was celestial music to him.

The sound came again, nearer the notch, and clearer. He remained
motionless gazing at the shadowy opening.

Slowly a shaft of moonlight drew down toward the notch, silvering its
ragged edges. Lower the light slid until it revealed the opening and in
it the figure of a horseman. In the white light Overland could see the
quirt dangling from the other's wrist. The horseman's wide belt
glittered.

"Brand!" called Overland Red softly. The opposite wall took up the name
hesitatingly and tossed it back.

"Brand!" whispered the echoes that drifted to the darkened corners of
the cliff and were lost in voiceless murmurings.

"Brand your own stock," came the answer, low and distinct.

Overland laughed. It was their old-time pun upon the foreman's name. He
got to his feet and approached. "It does me good," he said, extending
his hand.

"How is Collie?" asked Williams, dismounting.

Overland heaved great sigh. "He's floatin' somewhere between here and
the far shore. Mebby he's tryin' to pull through. The doc says the kid
don't seem to care whether he does or not. Did--the little Rose
Girl--tell you anything to--to say to him?"

"When I was leavin' she come out to the gate," said Williams. "She
didn't say much. She only hands me this, and kind of whispered, 'Give
him this. He will understand.'"

And Williams drew a small gray gauntlet from his shirt. Overland took
the glove and tucked it in his pocket.

"Anything doing?" asked Williams.

"Nope. They're overdue to jump us if shootin' Collie was any sign."

"Like old times," said Williams.

"Like old times," echoed Overland. "No trouble findin' your way across?"

"Easy. Followed them automobile tracks clear to the range. We fed up at
the town. The boys gets kind of restless--"

"Boys? Ain't you alone?"

"Hell, no!" replied Williams disgustedly. "I wish I was! I got four
pigeon-toed, bow-legged, bat-eared Moonstoners down in that meadow, just
itchin' mad to cut loose. And they ain't sayin' a word, which is
suspicious. Worryin' across the old dry spot the last three days has
kind of het 'em up. And then hearin' about Collie...."

"How'd you come to have so much comp'ny?" queried Overland.

"I was plumb fool enough to read that letter of yours to 'em. They all
like Collie first-rate. Better than I calculated on. The boss talked
turkey to 'em, but he had to let 'em come. He did everything he could to
hold 'em, knowin' what was in the wind."

"And they quit?"

"Quit? Every red-eyed bat of 'em. Bud and Pars and Billy and Miguel.
Told the boss they quit, because me bein' foreman they would do as I
says, but if they quit I wasn't their foreman any longer, and they would
do as they dum please. They had the nerve to tell me that I could come
along if I was wishful."

"Kind of bad for Stone, eh?"

"The Price boys are holdin' down the ranch. You see, Jack, it hit us
kind of hard, Collie ridin' away one mornin', and next thing your
letter that he was down and pretty nigh out. The boys didn't just like
that."

Overland nodded. "Well, Brand, I guess I'll step down and look 'em
over."

"Only one thing, Jack. I feel kind of responsible for them boys, even if
I ain't their foreman just now. Don't you go to spielin' to 'em and get
'em thinkin' foolish. They're about ready to shoot up a town, if
necessary."

"Been hittin' the booze any?"

"Some. But not bad."

"All right. I don't want to say only 'How!' and thank 'em for Collie. If
I say more than three words after that, you can have my hat."

"It don't take three words, sometimes," said Williams, somewhat
ambiguously.

"Leave it to me," said Overland, still more ambiguously.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ringed round their little fire in the meadow sat or lay the Moonstone
riders. While crossing the desert Williams had sketched a few of the red
episodes in Overland's early career. These pleased the riders mightily.
They were anxious to meet Red Jack Summers. When Williams did introduce
him, they were rather silent, asking after Collie in monosyllables. They
seemed strangely reticent.

Both Williams and Overland felt an inexplicable tensity in the
situation.

Miguel, the young Mexican vaquero, broke silence. "How long you call it
to this Gophertown place, I think?"

"Thirty miles," said Overland.

"Walkin' backwards--like Miguel's talk," said Billy Dime.

"That's easy," said Bud Light.

"What's easy?" questioned Williams.

"Walkin' backwards," replied the facetious Bud.

"If you don't step on your neck," said Pars Long.

"I'm gettin' cold feet," asserted Bud Light after a silence.

"That disease is ketchin'," said Billy Dime.

"I know it. I been sleepin' next to you," retorted Bud.

Brand Williams glanced across the fire at Overland, who smiled
inscrutably. The undercurrent was unfathomable to Williams, though he
guessed its main drift.

Suddenly Pars Long glanced at the foreman. "Brand," he said quietly, "we
expect you didn't read all of that letter from your friend here. You
said Collie was shot. You didn't say how, which ain't natural. We been
talkin' about it. Where was he hit?"

Overland saw his chance and grasped it with both hands. "In the back,"
he said slowly, and with great intensity.

Followed a silence in which the stamping of the tethered horses and the
whisper of the fire were the only sounds.

Presently Miguel ran his fingers through his glossy black hair. "In the
back!" he exclaimed. "And you needn't to tell that he was run away,
neither."

"In the back?" echoed Billy Dime.

Overland and Williams exchanged glances. "You done it now," said
Williams.

"'Cordin' to agreement," said Overland.

"Make it a wireless," said Billy Dime. "We ain't listenin', anyhow."

"Only thirty miles. What do you say, Brand?"

"Nothin'."

"_As_ usual," ejaculated Dime.

"I say about three to-morrow morning," ventured Pars Long. "Light will
be good about nine. We can do the thirty by nine. A fella would be able
to ride round town then without fallin' over anything."

"What you fellas gettin' at?" queried Williams.

"Gophertown," replied Dime. "You want to come along?"

"Is it settled?" asked the foreman.

The group nodded.

"Well, boys, it would 'a' been _my_ way of evenin' up for a pal."

"Then you're comin', too?"

"Do you think I'm packin' these here two guns and this belt jest to
reduce my shape?" queried Williams in a rather hurt tone.

"Whoop-ee for Brand!" they chorused, and the tethered ponies shied and
circled.

"I never rode out _lookin'_ for trouble," said Williams. "And I never
shied from lookin' _at_ it when it come my way."

"Who said anything about trouble?" queried Billy Dime innocently. "I'm
_dry_. I want a _drink_. I'm goin' over to Gophertown to get it. I'll
treat the bunch."

"Which bunch?"

"Any and all--come stand up and down it."

"We'll be there when you call our numbers, sister. You comin'?" asked
Pars Long, nodding toward Overland.

"Me? Nope.... I'm goin'. I'm goin' to ask you boys to kindly allow me
the privilege of gettin' my drink first and by my lonesome. There will
be a gent there with sore eyes. He got sore eyes waitin' and watchin'
for me to call. I expect to cure him of his eye trouble. After that you
will be as welcome as Mary's little lamb--fried."

"Bur-rie me not on the lo-o-ne prai-ree," sang Bud Light.

"Not while you got the fastest hoss in the outfit," said Williams.

"Collie's hoss is here," said Overland. "I'm ridin' her this trip. I
kind of like the idea of usin' his hoss on this here errand of mercy."

"Three--to-morrow mornin'!" called Billy Dime, as Overland disappeared
in the shadows.

       *       *       *       *       *

Brand Williams, the taciturn, the silent, stepped from the fire and
strode across the meadow. He paused opposite the Yuma colt and gazed at
her in the moonlight. He jerked up his chin and laughed noiselessly.
"Two-gun Jack Summers on that red Yuma hoss, ridin' into Gophertown with
both hands filled and lookin' for trouble.... God! He was bad enough
when he was dodgin' trouble. Well, I'm glad I'm livin' to see it. I was
commencin' to think they wasn't any more _men_ left in the country. I'm
forty-seven year old. To-morrow I'll be twenty again ... or nothin'."




CHAPTER XXVIII

GOPHERTOWN


Some towns "nestle" on the plain. Others, more aspiring, "roost" in the
hills. Gophertown squatted on the desert at the very edge of a range of
barren foothills. Its principal street was not much more than a
bridle-trail that led past eleven ramshackle cabins, derelicts of the
old mining days when Gophertown knew gold.

The population of Gophertown was of an itinerant order. This was not
always due to internecine disputes. Frequently a citizen became overbold
and visited his old haunts instead of remaining safely, even if
monotonously, at home. Train robbery was a sure passport to Gophertown's
protection. Man-killing lent an added distinction to an applicant for
hurried admission. Cattle-and horse-thieving were mere industries not to
be confounded with these higher professions.

Overland Red had once wintered in Gophertown. Immediately previous to
his arrival in Gophertown he had been obliged to maintain, in an
unofficial capacity, his former prestige as sheriff of Abilene. The town
of Abilene had sympathized with him heartily, but had advised him to
absent himself indefinitely and within the hour.

The general store and saloon of the old mining camp still stood at the
corner of the town facing the desert. A bleached and faded sign once
read, "Palace Emporium." The letters now seemed to be shrinking from
public gaze--vanishing into the wood as though ashamed of themselves.
The wording of the sign had been frequently and indifferently
punctuated. Each succeeding marksman had exploded his own theory, and
passed on.

Liquor was still to be obtained at the general store. Provisions were
occasionally teamed in and were made up of peculiarly conglomerate lots.
There were no women in Gophertown. There was little local gossip. There
was no regular watch kept on the outlands. Gophertown felt secure in
itself. Each man was his own argus. He was expected to know his enemies
by instinct. He was expected, as a usual thing, to settle his disputes
single-handed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Silent Saunders was in the general store and saloon. He was disgusted in
that he had been unable to induce the citizens to ride out with him and
clean up Overland Red's claim. Overland had once been of them, even if
briefly. He had been popular, especially as he was then the quickest
man with a gun they had ever honored with their patronage. Also, the
Gophertown folk had recently received a warning letter from the
superintendent of a transcontinental railroad. They were not interested
in Saunders's proposal.

Saunders, coming from the saloon, was not a little surprised to see a
band of horsemen far out on the desert. He felt that their presence in
his vicinity had something to do with himself. He counted the horses.
There were six of them. He knew instantly that the riders were cowmen,
although he could not distinguish one from another. He beckoned to the
saloon-keeper.

"We could 'a' stopped that," he said, pointing toward the desert.

"Big bunch. One--two--three--six of 'em. _Big_ bunch to come visitin'
here."

Saunders gestured toward the canon behind Gophertown.

The saloon-keeper shook his head. "Don't think most of our boys will be
back this week. Brandin' that bunch of new stock. Takes time to do it
right."

"Well, here comes Parks and Santa Fe Smith," said Saunders. "That makes
four of us."

"Mebby--and mebby not," said the saloon-keeper. "That depends. Depends
on the party that's callin' and who they're callin' _on_."

"There's Sago--just ridin' the ledge trail. That's five."

"'Lige and Joe Kennedy are up at the corrals," said the saloon-keeper.
"They would hate to miss anything like this."

"Mebby they won't, if that bunch gets past us," said Saunders.

"Seen the time when you could handle them alone, didn't you, Si?"

"Yes, and I can now."

"Nix, Si. Your gun arms ain't what they was sence Overland Red winged
you."

"How in hell do you know he did?"

"I could tell you more. But come on in and have one on the house. If I
was you, I'd set with my back to the door and be taking a drink. Red
Summers never shot a man in the back yet. If he's playin' for _you_,
why, that gives you a chance to pull a gun."

"How about you?" queried Saunders.

"Me? None of my business. I'm here to push the booze."

"And you'll do your collectin' with a gun, or go broke, if it's Red
Summers and his friends."

"Tryin' to scare me because you are?" asked the bartender.

"Red helped Kennedy out of a mix once. Kennedy is his friend."

"But Joe ain't here. What's gettin' into you? How do you know it is Red,
anyway? You act queer."

"I got a hunch," said Saunders.

"Then you want to go into action quick, for when a gunman gets a hunch
that he knows who is trailin' him, it's a bad sign."

Saunders drummed on the table with his fingers. The drink of liquor had
restored his nerve. Perhaps the riders were not coming to visit him,
after all. He rose and stepped to the door. The oncoming horses were
near enough for him to distinguish the roan outlaw Yuma--Collie's horse.
Her rider's figure was only too familiar. Saunders fingered his belt.
Unbuckling it, he stepped back into the barroom and laid the
two-holstered guns and the belt on the table.

Parks, from up in the canon, rode up, tied his pony, and strolled to the
bar, nodding to Saunders. Following him came Santa Fe Smith, a
bow-legged individual in sweater and blue jeans. He nodded to Saunders.
Presently Sago, the Inyo County outlaw, came in, wheezing and
perspiring. Saunders stepped to the bar and called for "one all around."

As they drank two more ponies clattered up and 'Lige and Joe Kennedy
joined the group at the bar. "Hutch and Simpson are comin' afoot," said
Joe Kennedy.

"That leaves Wagner and the Chink to hear from," said the saloon-keeper.

"Wagner's sick. I don't know where the Chink is. Everybody seems to 'a'
got up in time for dinner, this mornin', eh?" And big Joe Kennedy
laughed. "This here bar is right popular jest now."

"Goin' to be more popular," said the saloon-keeper.

"That so?" exclaimed several, facetiously.

"Ask Saunders there," said the saloon-keeper.

"Friends of yours, Silent?"

"Yes. Friends of mine."

"Whole six of 'em, eh?"

"Whole six of 'em."

"Well, we won't butt in. We'll give you lots of room."

Saunders said nothing. He paid for the liquor, and, stepping to the
table, sat with his back to the doorway. In front of him lay his guns,
placed handily, but with studied carelessness. He leaned naturally on
one elbow, as though half asleep. His hat was tilted over his brows.

From outside came the jingle of spurs and rein-chains and the distant
sound of voices. Saunders began leisurely to roll a cigarette. He laid a
few matches on the table. Several of the men at the bar grinned
knowingly.

Then came the gritting of heels on the hardpacked trail and Overland
Red stood in the doorway. "Mornin', gents--and Saunders," he said,
glancing at the figure seated back toward him.

"Hello, Red!" exclaimed Joe Kennedy. "Out early, ain't you. Have a
drink."

"Not out too early. Hello, Lusk!"

"How, Red," said the saloon-keeper.

"Where's your friends. Ask 'em in," said Kennedy.

"Shall I ask 'em in, Saunders?" queried Overland, his voice edged with a
double meaning.

"Not on my account," said Saunders over his shoulder.

"All right. Let's have a drink, boys."

Even "Go-Light" Sago, the vilest of the Gophertown crew, admired
Overland's coolness in turning his back on Saunders and facing the bar.

For a second Saunders's fingers twitched. He glanced up.

Joe Kennedy was looking at him over his glass of whiskey. "Ain't you
drinkin', Silent?" he asked.

"With some folks," said Saunders.

Overland whirled round. "Have a drink with me, then."

Saunders laughed.

"Then you don't smoke either, while I'm here," said Overland, his hand
on his hip.

"That so?"

"Yes, that's so! When you try to pull that old bluff of a match-game on
me, wait till I'm a hundred and four years old, Silent. That gun-trick
died of old age. Think up a new one."

"Ain't you talkin' a little loud for polite sassiety?" questioned Sago,
addressing Overland.

"Seein' you're the only one that thinks so, I reckon not," said
Overland.

"Then," said Sago, moving slightly from the bar, "Saunders smokes."

It was an open declaration of war. Sago, the Inyo County outlaw, sided
with Saunders.

According to the ethics of gunmen, Saunders was not armed. He was not
"packing iron." His weapons lay on the table within reach, but he knew
Overland would not precipitate matters by shooting him down where he
sat. He glanced at Sago. The other winked.

"Then I smoke," said Saunders, and reached for a match. He shot from the
hip, swinging his guns sideways. The stutter of Overland's automatics
mingled with the roar of Saunders's heavy Colts.

Sago, jumping clear, pulled his gun. Kennedy clutched his arm. Saunders
slid from his chair, coughed horribly, and wilted to the floor. Overland
backed toward the door, both guns leveled.

Sago, jerking his arm free, threw two shots at Overland, who replied
with a rippling tattoo of the automatics. The Inyo County outlaw sank to
his hands and knees. Then Overland leaped through the doorway. The
Moonstone riders spurred toward the saloon, thinking that the quarrel
had provoked too many guns. Overland tried to stop them, but they were
hot for fight.

"It's a clean up!" yelled Parks, running out of the saloon and mounting
his horse. "You framed it, you red-headed son--" He got no further.
Brand Williams, thundering down at the head of the Moonstone riders,
threw a level shot that cut through Parks, who wavered, but managed to
wheel his horse and fire at Overland Red. Then the outlaw slid from the
saddle clawing at it as he fell.

The Gophertown men poured from the saloon, and, seizing their ponies,
circled round to the back of the building, firing as they retreated.

Miguel spurred his big pinto in among them and emptied his gun. He rode
out at a lope, reloading. The front of his flannel shirt was shot away,
but he was not aware of it.

Billy Dime coolly sat his horse and "drew fine" at each shot, till a
leaden slug drilled his gun-arm. He swore profusely, and wisely spurred
out of range.

"I got one!" cried Miguel, swinging shut the cylinder of his gun. "I go
get another one."

"Give 'em my com-pli-ments," said Dime, winding a handkerchief round his
arm and knotting it with one hand and his teeth.

Williams, keeping under cover, fired slowly and with great precision.
Overland Red, utterly unable to manage the Yuma colt under fire, rode up
to Williams. "Let's call it off, Brand. I got my man. They was no need
of the rest of it. How did it start, anyhow?"

"That's about what the kid said when he let go the wagon on top of the
hill. I counted five Gophers down. Billy's hit, and Miguel's goin' to
be, the dam' little fool. Look at him!"

The Gophertown men were drawing away toward the canon. They turned
occasionally to throw a shot at Miguel and Pars Long, who followed them.

Bud Light sat his horse, gazing solemnly at the stump of his gun-finger.
His shirt was spattered with blood.

Suddenly Williams raised a shrill call. The Moonstone boys wheeled their
ponies and rode toward him. Williams pointed up the canon. Down it rode
a group of men who seemed to be undecided in their movements. They would
spur forward and then check and circle, apparently waiting for their
friends to come up to them. "It's the rest of the Gophertown outfit. We
might as well beat it," said Williams. "This here thing's gettin' too
popular all to once."

"Did that guy get you?" asked Williams, nodding to Overland.

"Not what you'd notice," replied Overland. "We'll take a drink on the
house. She ain't so tidy as she was."

"Neither is the guy behind the bar," said Bud Light, pointing with the
stub of his finger to Lusk's face. The saloon-keeper had been hit between
the eyes by a chance bullet.

"He's where he belongs," said Williams. "So is this one." And Williams
touched Saunders's body with his boot. "Let's drink and vamoose."

"Here's to the kid!" cried Overland, strangely white and shaky.

"Here's hoping!" chorused the Moonstone riders.

[Illustration: IT'S A CLEAN-UP]




CHAPTER XXIX

TOLL


None of the Moonstone boys had supposed that Overland Red was hit. He
rode joyfully and even began a poem to the occasion. Williams was first
to notice that Overland's speech was growing thick and that his free
hand clasped the saddle-horn.

The others, riding a little to the rear, burst suddenly into boisterous
laughter. "What you think, Brand?" called Pars Long. "Bud's jest been
countin' his fingers and he says there is one missin'. He ain't sure
yet, but he's countin' hard. He has to skip when he comes to number one
on his right mitt. Says he can't get started to count, that way."

"Some lucky it ain't his head," replied Williams.

"His head? Bud would never miss that. But his pore little ole finger,
layin' calm and cold back there. A very sad business, brethren."

"I paid twelve sweaty plunks for her in Los and look at her!" cried Pars
Long, doffing his sombrero. The high crown was literally shot to pieces.
"I guess I am some wise guy. You fellas kidded me about sportin' an
extra high lid. Come on, Chico, they're laughin' at us!"

"If they'd 'a' shot the crown off clean down to your ears, you'd never
noticed it," grumbled Billy Dime.

"Mebby I am a flat-headed chicken, Billy, but I got both wings yet,"
retorted Long.

Billy Dime looked down at the blood-soaked sleeve of his right arm. "The
fella that did it is eatin' grass now," he muttered.

"Now, what's the matter with Miguel? Discovered any bullets nestin' in
your manly buzzum, Miguel?"

"I think no. But I lose something," replied Miguel, smiling.

"That so?"

"I did have the tobacco and papers here," he said, and he put his hand
on his chest. "Now I look and the pocket and some of the shirt is not
there--and my tobacco is gone, and the little papers."

"Is that all? Sad. I thought you'd lost a railroad or a steamship or
something. Cheer up! Things might be better."

"I think I like to smoke," said Miguel, quite seriously. "I will ride
back and get some tobacco and some more papers."

"That ain't all you'll get. Here, smoke up. You look fine in that
peek-a-boo shirt. Never knowed you had such a good shape. What size
gloves do you wear, pet?" And Pars Long passed tobacco and papers to
Miguel, who rolled a cigarette and smoked contentedly.

"Billy, you look sick," said Bud Light.

"Oh, no! I want to go to a dance, right away. Whoa!"

They drew rein. Williams, dismounting, was bending over his companion
Overland, who had suddenly slipped from the saddle.

"Where's he punctured?" queried Bud Light.

Williams examined the prostrate man. "Kind of low down, and in the side.
'T ain't bad, but it's bad enough. Got any whiskey?"

"You bet! I got a pocket-gun here. Swiped it in the saloon." And Pars
Long handed a flask to Williams.

The riders, standing round the fallen man, watched Williams as he bound
up the wound, which was bleeding slowly. The whiskey partially revived
Overland. He managed finally to cling to the saddle, supported by
Williams.

"She's thirty hot miles to camp. Red won't last out," said Long.

"I say he does," said Bud Light. "Did you see them puckers in his hide?
I counted seven. He ain't made to be stopped by a gun."

"Mebby he ain't stopped, but he's slowed up considerable. Did you see
the two guys he got? Saunders was pretty nigh cut in two and the other
one by the bar had four holes in him. I counted 'em, to quit thinkin' of
my arm. Them automatics is fierce!"

"He would never 'a' got out if he'd been packin' a regular old six-gun,"
said Bud Light. "_Both_ them guys were throwin' lead at him."

"How do you know? You wasn't there."

"Easy. He went in to get Saunders. He gets him. The other one takes a
hand. He got _him_. _We_ didn't do any shootin' inside."

"Guess that's right. But how about the barkeep?"

"Oh, he just got in the way. He was drilled between the lamps. In a mix
like that who's goin' to take time to draw fine?"

"Did you see Brand lift the Gophertown guy out of his saddle--the one
that was shootin' at Red in front of the joint? Brand threw a forty-five
into him, and comin' on the jump, too. The Gopher humped up like he'd
been horned by the Santa Fe Limited. Now what's the dope?"

Overland Red had again fallen from his horse. Williams beckoned to Long.
"Take the Yuma colt, Pars, and fan it for the canon. Send the doc back,
and you stay with that young Winthrop and look after Collie. Your hoss
is quieter for Red, anyway. Tell the doc to bring his tools along. I
reckon we'll camp over there near the hills till to-morrow."

"Who was it got me?" questioned Overland as he was revived a second
time.

"I don't know," replied Williams. "The only distinguishin' brand on him
was one I put there. It ain't worryin' him now."

"Like old times," said Overland, trying to smile.

"Like old times," echoed Williams.

"I guess it was Parks," murmured Overland. "He had plenty of chance. I
wasn't after him."

       *       *       *       *       *

Slowly the group of horsemen rode across the desert. The afternoon sun
made queer shadows of them and their mounts. Billy Dime rode bent
forward. His face was white and beaded with sweat. Overland, on Long's
pony, was supported by Miguel and Brand Williams. Pars Long had
disappeared in the shadows of the range.

Billy Dime's eyes grew strangely bright. He laughed, gazing at the
foreman's back. "The whole damn fuss was wrong, _wrong_, I tell you! We
had no _business_ shootin' up that town."

"But it was considerable pleasure," said Bud Light. "You're off your
bean, Billy. I guess you forget what they did to Collie."

Billy Dime leered. The fever from his wound was working through his
blood. "Don't pertend to me, Bud Light, that you come on this little
pasear on account of _Collie_. It was _her_ eyes that said to go. You
know that. She never said words, but her _eyes_ said to go--and to kill!
Do you get that? That's what a woman can do to a man, without sayin' a
word. And what did Collie ever do for me? Look at that arm. _Look_ at
it! What did Collie ever do for me to get shot up this way?" And Billy
Dime began to weep. "I killed two of 'em--two of 'em. I saw 'em drop. I
was drawin' fine--_fine_, I tell you, and I couldn't miss."

Bud Light rode forward to Williams. "Billy's gone off his crust. He's
ravin' back there, Brand."

Williams drew Long's flask from his saddle-pocket. "Give him a shot of
this. Take some yourself. Miguel and I don't need any. Hold on--I'll
give Red a shot first. When it gets to workin', you yip and ride for the
hills. We'll all ride--_ride_, you understand? It'll be a dry camp, and
a hard flash, but we'll make it."




CHAPTER XXX

TWO ROSES


One morning, some three weeks after the invasion of Gophertown, Bud
Light, Billy Dime, and Brand Williams appeared at the Moonstone Ranch
office.

Quite casually they had dismounted, and jingling up had asked for Walter
Stone. Upon his appearance the younger men applied individually for
their old places. The room smelled of cigarette smoke and antiseptics.
Quite as though nothing unusual had happened the rancher reinstated
them.

"Have a good time, boys?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. Very good time. Better than we expected," replied Billy Dime.
Bud Light nodded.

Stone looked hard at Billy Dime's bandaged arm. "Miguel and Parson Long
have a good time also?"

"Stayed to help Overland Red work the claim. Overland Red got hurt a
little, doin' somethin'. He's all right now."

"None of the Moonstone boys were injured?"

"Nope. Not a one of us," replied Dime blandly.

Walter Stone's eyes twinkled, but he did not smile. "We will call it a
vacation this time, with pay. Tell Williams to step in here, please."
And the rancher dismissed his embarrassed and happy punchers with a
gesture.

The interview with Williams was not so brief. "The boys came out of it
all right?" asked Stone, shaking hands with his old foreman.

"Yes, sir."

"How did you manage that?"

"Didn't. They did."

"Any one--er--of the other side have an accident?"

"Saunders--and six gents got hurt pretty bad."

"Whew! Our boys were lucky."

"It was nothin' but luck that they ain't all back there now--on the
sand. You see, the Gophertown outfit are all what you'd call good with a
gun, but it was kind of a surprise, the spreadin' of the thing from
Red's little private deal to a six-hand game. We sure was lucky."

"And Collie?"

Williams shook his head. "I don't know. We thought he had crossed over.
Seems he took a new holt. The doc and Winthrop brung him to Los in the
automobile. He's at the hospital. But they say he don't pick up any
since he come there."

"All right, Brand. I think that is all."

"How about my name goin' back on the books?" asked Williams.

"It hasn't been off the books. You know, Louise attends to the
time-sheet."

Williams nodded. "I expect Miguel and Parson Long will be sniffin'
around lookin' for a job before long. They agreed to stay with Red till
he got on his feet again. But they told him they would go just as soon
as he was all right, for you couldn't run your ranch without 'em."

Walter Stone smiled broadly. "You're foreman, Brand."

"They was fightin' just as much for the name of the old Moonstone as for
Collie, or for fun," said Williams.

"I know it. But I don't believe in such methods. That sort of thing is
about done with," said Stone.

"I was readin' about the old days in the Panamint, not long ago," said
Williams, gazing at a corner of the office. "I--they was a list of names
of the ranchers that cleaned up the rustlers over there, back in '86. It
was interestin'--some of them names."

Walter Stone coughed and turned in his chair. He gazed out of the
window. Finally he faced Williams again. "We had to do it," he said,
smiling.

Williams nodded. They understood each other.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Marshalls, delighted with Los Angeles, had taken apartments in the
city. Dr. Marshall, at the urgent request of Walter Stone, had called at
the hospital to see Collie. The wound had healed slowly. Collie gained
no strength. He seemed indifferent as to whether he recovered or not.
Dr. Marshall, consulting with the surgeon, agreed that the young man's
recovery was still doubtful. His vitality was extremely low. His usual
optimism had stagnated.

Later, when Walter Stone, Mrs. Stone, and Louise visited the hospital,
Collie had smiled wanly and said but little, thanking them for their
visit with a word.

Louise returned home, heartsick and haunted by Collie's eyes that had
seemed so listless, so indifferent, so weary. She had hoped to cheer
him. His indifference affected her more than his actual physical
condition, which seemed to be the cause of it. Louise recognized in
herself a species of selfishness in feeling as she did. Like most folk
of superabundant health she was unable to realize the possibilities of
sickness. She longed for his companionship. She had not dared to ask
herself whether or not she loved him. She was glad that he should love
her--and yet she was not altogether happy. She had sent him her token,
the little gray riding-gauntlet. He had in no way acknowledged it.

The sentiment incident to Collie's almost fatal misfortune did not blind
her in the least. She told herself frankly that she missed him. At the
ranch he had been with her much. From her he had gleaned of books and
people. The actual advantage to him was not in the quantity of knowledge
he had gained, but in the quality and direction suggested by her
attitude toward all things. The advantage to her in his companionship
had been the joy of giving, of shaping his thought, of seeing him slowly
and unconsciously differentiate himself--stand apart from his fellows as
something she had helped to create. This much of him she possessed
through conscious effort.

Then to have seen him in the hospital, helpless, seemingly beyond any
noticeable influence of her presence, stirred in her a kind of maternal
jealousy. Straightway she visited Anne Marshall, who kissed her, held
her at arms' length, saw the soft rose glow in her face, and spoke to
the point, albeit in parables. Dr. Marshall had been very poor--a doctor
in the slums--just before _they_ were married. People had _said_ things
and had _looked_ things, which was even worse. They subtly intimated
that the doctor was marrying her for her money. She was the happiest
woman in the world. She thought Collie was the manliest and most
striking figure she had ever seen.

To all of which Louise listened quietly, blushing a little. "And he is
wealthy," concluded Anne. "For so young a man, he is wealthy. The Rose
Girl Mining Company, Incorporated, my dear, pays well. Collie is one of
the three largest stockholders. You see, Billy and Overland Red have
decided to turn the claim into a corporation."

"Don't you contradict your--your theory a little, Anne?" asked Louise.

"No, indeed! It doesn't matter in the least who has the money, so long
as the man is the right one."

And Louise was silent, and a bit happier.

The little parcel that came to the hospital, directed to Collie, was
from Overland. It was accompanied by a vividly worded note and a small,
stained, and wrinkled glove, at once familiar.

Overland's note explained the delay in forwarding the glove. "It's some
mussed up," he wrote, "because I had it in my shirt when I was hit. I
was some mussed up likewise, or I would not 'a' forgot it so long. The
little Rose Girl sent it to you by Brand when she thinks you was going
to cross over on the last sunset limited. And I am feeling Fine,
thanks. Do not rite to me if it gives you cramps.--Youres verry
fathefuly, Jack."

Collie turned the gauntlet over in his trembling fingers. His eyes
glowed. He called the nurse, telling her he was hungry.

Anne Marshall's visits were always refreshing. Well-gowned, cool,
fragrant, she came, next afternoon, to Collie's bedside.

"You _must_ get well," she said, smiling. "The doctor will be terribly
disappointed if you don't. Isn't that coldly encouraging? What a thing
to say!"

"I don't want to disappoint anybody," said Collie.

"Well, you will if you don't get better right away, sir! I wish I could
do something to help. I can only sympathize and encourage the doctor."

"I know he's doing a whole lot for me. I think mebby you could help--a
little--if you wanted to."

"Gracious! As though I didn't! Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

"It only came yesterday," said Collie, tremulously drawing the gauntlet
from beneath his pillow.

Anne Marshall gazed at the soiled and wrinkled glove with unenlightened
eyes. Then her quick smile flashed. "Oh! Now I know! So that is the
talisman? Came yesterday? No wonder you seem brighter."

Collie's answering smile was irresistible. "It isn't just the glove--but
would you--I mean, if you was like me--without being educated or
anything--" He hesitated, breathing deeply.

But Anne Marshall understood him instantly, and answered his shyly
questioning eyes.

"Indeed, I should. If I had half your chance, I shouldn't waste a minute
in claiming the mate to that glove. One glove is of absolutely no use,
you know."

"This one was--pretty much," sighed Collie. "I was feeling like letting
go inside and not trying to--to stay any longer, just before it came."

"S-s-s-h! Don't even think of that. Some one called on me a few days
ago. You are a very fortunate young man."

Anne Marshall's ambiguity was not altogether displeasing to Collie, in
that it was not altogether unintelligible.

       *       *       *       *       *

William Stanley Winthrop, sojourning briefly but fashionably in Los
Angeles, appeared at the hospital in immaculate outing flannels. It was
several weeks after his sister's last visit there. Winthrop took the
convalescent Collie to the Moonstone Rancho in his car.

Bud Light and Billy Dime accidentally met the car in the valley and
accompanied it vigorously through Moonstone Canon.

Aunt Eleanor and Walter Stone were at the gate. Collie was helped to the
house and immediately taken to the guest-room. He was much fatigued with
the journey. The question in his eyes was answered by Aunt Eleanor.
"Louise rode over to the north range to-day. She should be back now."

Winthrop scarce needed an introduction. He was Anne Marshall's brother.
That was sufficient for the host and hostess. He was made welcome--as he
was wherever he went. He had heard a great deal, from his sister, of the
Stones, and their beautiful niece, Louise Lacharme. He was enthusiastic
about the Moonstone Canon. He grew even more enthusiastic after meeting
Louise.

She came riding her black pony Boyar down the afternoon hillside--a
picture that he never forgot. Her gray sombrero hung on the saddle-horn.
Her gloves were tucked in her belt. She had loosened the neck of her
blouse and rolled back her sleeves, at the spring above, to bathe her
face and arms in the chill overflow. Her hair shone with a soft golden
radiance that was ethereal in the flicker of afternoon sunlight through
the live-oaks. From her golden head to the tip of her small riding-boot
she was a harmony of vigor and grace, of exquisite coloring and
infinite charm.

Her naturalness of manner, her direct simplicity, was almost, if not
quite, her greatest attraction, and a quality which Winthrop fully
appreciated.

"I have been quite curious about you, Mr. Winthrop," she said. "You are
quite like Anne. I adore Anne. Shall we turn Boyar into the corral?"

If William Stanley Winthrop had had any idea of making an impression, he
forgot it. The impression Louise was unconsciously making straightway
absorbed his attention.

"Yes, indeed! Turn him into the corral--turn him into _anything_, Miss
Lacharme. You have the magic. Make another admirer of him."

"Thank you, Mr. Winthrop. But Boyar could hardly be improved."

"You trained him, didn't you?" queried Winthrop.

Louise laughed. "Yes. But he was well-bred to begin with."

Winthrop ejaculated a mental "Ouch!" Simplicity did not necessarily mean
stupidity.

"Do you enjoy mining--the real work--out there in the desert, Mr.
Winthrop?"

"I could enjoy anything in company with Overland."

"Of course. Do you think people who have lots of money are apt to be
cynical?" she asked.

"Not more so than people without money. But what splendid animals!" he
exclaimed as they approached the corral.

"Uncle Walter and I are very fond of them," she said, turning Boyar into
the inclosure.

"Do you know, Miss Lacharme, I like horses and dogs and cats, and I just
revel in burros. But animals don't seem to like me. They're rather
indifferent to me. I wonder if it is a matter of health, or magnetism,
or something of that sort?"

"Oh, no! But it is difficult to explain. Even if you are very fond of
animals it doesn't follow that they will like you. That seems rather
cold, doesn't it? It's almost unfair."

"Yes, if one considers it seriously."

"Don't you?"

Winthrop gazed at her for a second before replying. "I see I must tell
you the truth," he said lightly. "You compel it. It _does_ hurt me to
have anything or any one that I care for indifferent to me. Perhaps it's
because I realize that I am giving affection and selfishly want 'value
returned,' so to speak. Pardon me for becoming serious."

"Surely! But I thank you, too. See Boyar roll! He's happy. No, he
doesn't roll because his back itches. You see, he's sweaty where the
saddle covered him. Before he rolled, you noticed that he deliberately
found a dusty spot. The dust dries the sweat and he doesn't take cold.
That's the real explanation."

"I knew it couldn't be through happiness at leaving you," said Winthrop.

"If you are determined to keep it up," said Louise mischievously, "all
right. But be careful, sir! I enjoy it. It's been dull--dreadfully dull
since Anne and the doctor left. May I have your knife?"

A belated crimson Colombe rose nodded beneath the guest-room window.
Louise cut the stem and pinned the flower in the lapel of Winthrop's
white flannel coat. He gazed at her intent on her task.

"There!" she said, with a light touch of her supple fingers. "That will
do." And slowly her gray eyes lifted to his.

The color flooded to his face. His eyes became momentarily brilliant. He
drew a deep breath. "You told me to be careful. I shall be," he said,
bowing slightly. "Please say something. Your silent attack was a little
too--too successful."

"Truce?" she queried, laughing.

"Never!" replied Winthrop. "Even as our rather mutual and distinctly
illustrious friend Overland says, 'Not till me wires are all down and
me lights are out.'"

Collie, standing at the open French window just above them, drew back.
Quite naturally, being a young man in love, he misinterpreted all that
he had seen and heard. Louise had been away the day he was expected to
return to the ranch. She had come back. She was seemingly satisfied with
Winthrop's society. She was even more than satisfied; she was flirting
with him. An unreasonable, bucolic jealousy, partly due to his
condition, overcame Collie's usual serenity. His invalidism magnified
the whole affair to absurd proportions.

Perhaps it was the intensity of his gaze that caused Louise to glance
up. His expression startled her. His eyes were burning. His face was
unnaturally white. He met her glance, but gave no sign of recognition--a
rudeness that he regretted even while he manifested it.

Louise turned away proudly, calling Winthrop's attention to a huge
garden-seat beneath the live-oaks. "We have dinner out there quite
often," she said, her eyes glowing. "Would you care to rest a while
after your ride?"

"'A jug of wine--a loaf of bread--'" he quoted.

"But it isn't a wilderness. And dinner won't be ready for an hour yet.
Don't you think a wilderness would have been utterly stupid with his
'thou' beside him singing everlastingly? Now please don't say, 'It would
depend on the _thou_.'"

"Do you sing, Miss Lacharme?"

"A little."

"Please, then,--a little. Then I'll answer your question."

"I had rather not, just now."

"My answer would be the same in either case. This is living, after the
desert and its loneliness. I discovered one thing out there,
however,--myself. It was a surprise. My 'way-back ancestors must have
been pirates."

"Mine--grew roses--in southern France."

"I am glad they eventually came to America," he said.

"Are you so fond of candy, Mr. Winthrop?"

"No."

"Neither am I."

"I'm glad they came, just the same. I simply can't help it."

"Overland--Mr. Summers--doesn't take life very seriously, does he?"
asked Louise.

"Not as seriously as life has taken him, at odd times."

"You brought Collie in your car, didn't you?"

"Yes."

"He's much better?"

"Yes. But he's pretty shaky yet. He's a little queer, in fact. As we
came up the canon he asked me to stop the car by the cliff, near this
end,--that place where the sunlight comes through a kind of notch in the
west. I thought he was tired of the motion of the car, so we stopped and
he lay back looking at the cliff. Pretty soon the sun shot a long ray
past us and it fairly splattered gold on the canon wall. Then the shaft
of sunlight went out. 'It will shine again,' he said, as if I didn't
know that. Collie's a pretty sick man."

Later Winthrop and Louise joined the others at the veranda. Louise
excused herself. She searched a long time before she found another rose.
This time it was a Colombe bud, full, red, and beautiful. She stepped to
Collie's window. "Boy!" she called softly.

White and trembling, he stood in the long window looking down at her.
"I'm glad you are home again," she said.

He nodded, and glanced away.

"Boy!" she called again. "Catch." And she tossed the rose. He caught it
and pressed it to his lips.




CHAPTER XXXI

NIGHT


Evening, placidly content with the warm silence, departed lingeringly.
Belated insects still buzzed in the wayside foliage. A bee, overtaken in
his busy pilfering by the obliterating dusk, hung on a nodding mountain
flower, unfearful above the canon's emptiness. An occasional bird
ventured a boldly questioning note that lingered unfinished in the
silence of indecision. Across the road hopped a young rabbit, a little
rounded shadow that melted into the blur of the sage. A cold white fire,
spreading behind the purple-edged ranges, enriched their somber panoply
with illusive enchantments, ever changing as the dim effulgence drifted
from peak to peak. Shadows grew luminous and were gone. In their stead
wooded valleys and wide canons unfolded to the magic of the moon. There
was no world but night and imagination.

With many rustlings the quail huddled in the live-oaks, complaining
querulously until the darkness silenced them.

The warm, acrid fragrance of the hills was drawn intermittently across
the cooler level of the shadowy road. A little owl, softly reiterating
his cadences of rue, made loneliness as a thing tangible, a thing
groping in the dusk with velvet hands.

Then came that hush of rest, that pause of preparation, as though night
hesitated to awaken her countless myrmidons. With the lisping of
invisible leaves the Great Master's music-book unfolded. That low,
orchestral "F"--the dominant note of all nature's melodies--sounded in
timorous unison--an experimental murmuring. Repeated in higher octaves,
it swelled to shrill confidence, then a hundred, then myriad invisibles
chanted to their beloved night or gossiped of the mystery of stars.

Then Night crept from the deep, cool canons to the starlit peaks and
knelt with her sister hill-folk, Silence and Solitude; knelt, listening
with bowed head to that ancient antiphony of thankfulness and praise;
then rose and faced the western sea.

Boyar, the black pony, shook his head with a silvery jingling of
rein-chains. His sleek flanks glistened in the moonlight. Louise curbed
him gently with hand and voice as he stepped through the wide gateway of
the ranch.

He paced lightly across the first shallow ford. Then the narrowing walls
of the canon echoed his clean-cut steps--a patter of phantom hoof-beats
following him, stride for stride. Down the long, ever-winding road they
swung.

Louise, impelled to dreams by the languorous warm night and Boyar's easy
stride up the steep, touched his neck with the rein and turned him into
the Old Meadow Trail.

The tall, slender stems of the yucca and infrequent clumps of dwarfed
cacti cast clear-edged shadows on the bare, moonlit ground. Boyar,
sniffing, suddenly swung up and pivoted, his fore feet hanging over
sheer black emptiness. Louise leaned forward, reining him round. Even
before his fore feet touched the trail again, she heard the sibilant
_bur-r-ing_ of the cold, uncoiling thing as it slid down the blind
shadows of the hillside.

"I shan't believe in omens," she murmured.

She reassured the trembling Boyar, who fretted sideways and snorted as
he passed the spot where the snake had been coiled in the trail.

At the edge of the Old Meadow the girl dismounted, allowing Boyar to
graze at will.

She climbed to the low rounded rock, her erstwhile throne of dreams,
where she sat with knees gathered to her in her clasped hands. The pony
paused in his grazing to lift his head and look at her with gently
wondering eyes.

The utter solitude of the place, far above the viewless valley, allowed
her thought a horizon impossible at the Moonstone Rancho. Alone she
faced the grave question of making an unalterable choice. Collie had
asked her to marry him. She had evaded direct reply to his direct
question. She knew of no good reason why she should marry him. She knew
of no better reason why she should not. She thought she was content with
being loved. She was, for the moment.

The Old Meadow, that had once before revealed a sprightly and ragged
romance, slumbered in the southern night; slumbered to awaken to the
hushed tread of men and strange whisperings.

Down in the valley the coyotes called dismally, with that infinite
shrill sadness of wild things that hunger, and in their wailing pulsed
the eternal and unanswerable "Why?" challenging the peaceful stars.
Something in their questioning cry impelled Louise to lift her hands to
the night. "What is it? What is it up there--behind everything--that
never, never answers?"

The moon was lost somewhere behind the ragged peaks. The night grew
deeper. The Old Meadow, shadowed by the range above it, grew dark,
impenetrable, a place without boundary or breadth or depth.

"Got a match, kid?"

Louise raised her head. Some one was afoot on the Old Meadow Trail. She
could hear the whisper of dried grasses against the boots of the men as
another voice replied, "Sure! Here you are." And Louise knew that Collie
was one of the men.

About to call, she hesitated, strangely curious as to who the other man
might be, and why Collie and he should foregather in the Old Meadow, at
night.

"Never mind," mumbled the first speaker; "I thought I wanted to smoke,
but I don't. I want to talk first--about the Rose Girl."

Louise tried to call out, but she was interrupted by Overland's voice.
The two men had stopped at the lower side of the great rock. She could
hear them plainly, although she could not see them.

"Collie--we're busted. We're done, Chico. I ain't said nothin' to Billy
yet. He's got money, anyway. This here only hits you and me."

"What do you mean, Red?"

"I mean that the Rose Girl Mining Company, Incorporated, Jack Summers,
President and General Manager, don't belong to us and never did. We been
sellin' stock that ain't ours and never was."

"How's that?"

"I was goin' to write. But I ain't no hand to write about business.
Writin' po'try is bad enough. You recollec' them papers and that dust
Billy tried to find, out there by the track?"

"Yes."

"Well, I found it all. Since the company is workin' the claim now and I
didn't have so much to do, I got to thinkin' of them papers. I went out
there, paced her off down the track, guessed at about where it was, and
found 'em."

"Found them?"

"Yes, sir. There was that little bag almost atop of the sand, account of
wind and rain. Then there was a record of the claim, our claim. It's
been filed on before. We made a mistake and filed on the wrong section.
When me and Billy went to file, I noticed the clerk said something about
havin' neighbors on the claim next, but I was scared of answerin' too
many questions, so I give him some cigars and beat it."

"Who owns our claim, then?"

"That's the queer part of it. You know the guy we give the water to--the
one that died out there. _He_ owns the claim, or he did. It belongs by
rights to his girl now. His name was Andre Lacharme."

"Lacharme!"

"Yes, Louise's pa. Recollect your boss tellin' us as how the Rose Girl's
daddy was missin' out in the Mojave? Then they was a letter--old and
'most wore out--from Walter Stone himself. It was to him--her
pa--tellin' him about the little Louise baby and askin' him to come to
the Moonstone and take a job and quit prospectin'. That's where we
stand."

Louise, breathless, listened and could not believe that she was real,
that this was not a dream. Andre Lacharme! Her father!

"I seen a lawyer about it," resumed Overland. "He said it was plain
enough that the claim belonged to the dead prospector or his girl, now.
You see, we worked the claim and kep' up the work accordin' to law. What
we made ain't ours, but I'm mighty glad it's hers. 'Course, we earned
what dust we dug, all right. Now I'm leavin' it up to you. Do we tell
her or do we say nothin', and go on gettin' rich?"

"Why do you put it up to me?" asked Collie.

"Because, kid, you got the most to lose. Your chance is about gone with
the Rose Girl if you let go the gold. Sabe? The little Rose Girl is
wise. She don't give two cents for money--but she ain't foolish enough
to marry a puncher that's workin' for wages on her uncle's ranch. And
when she gets all me and Billy made and your share, she'll be rich. That
won't be no time for you to go courtin' _her_. It ain't that you ain't
good enough for any girl. But now'days things is different. You got to
have money."

"Do you think Louise would take the money?" asked Collie.

"I don't know. But that ain't it. We either give it up--or we don't.
What do you say?"

"Why--to tell Louise, of course. I meant that right along. You ought to
know that."

"You givin' it up because you had some fuss with her, or anything like
that?"

"No, Red. I say tell her, because it's square. Did she stop to ask
questions when I was in trouble? No. She went to work to help me, quick.
I guess we care more for her than a whole carload of gold."

"Well, I guess. Once I wouldn't 'a' stopped to worry about whose gold it
was. But knowin' the Rose Girl,--knowin' what she _is_,--why, it's
makin' me soft in me morals."

"What do we do now, Red?"

"I'm goin' to beat it. Back to the dusty for mine."

"You don't have to do that, Red."

"That's just why I'm a-doin' it. I like to do what I like."

"Quitting now seems like saying, 'I'm whipped,'" said Collie. "Quitting
after giving up our money to her looks like we were sore--even if we do
it and smile. She would feel bad, Red. She'd think she drove us off."

"No, I reckon not. She'll see that I always been a good daddy to you and
put you right in this case. It was all right when you had a chance. It
ain't now. It ain't fair to her, neither, because she's like to stick to
any promises she might 'a' made you."

"Why don't you ask Stone for a job?" said Collie.

"What? Me? After bein' President of the Rose Girl Mining Company,
in--Say! They's no halfway house for me. It's all or nothin'. Why, I
don't even own the Guzzuh. Could you stand it to see her every day, and
you just a puncher workin' for the Moonstone. She would smile and treat
you _fine_, and you'd be eatin' your own heart out for her."

"No, I couldn't," said Collie slowly. "Red, I guess you're right."

Collie's perspective was distorted through sudden disappointment. The
old life of the road ... the vague to-morrows of indolence ... the
sprightly companionship of Overland Red, inventive, eloquent....

"Red, if I come with you, it's because I can't stand seeing her--after
everything that has happened. It is square to her, too, I guess."

"I ain't askin' you, Collie, but there's nothin' like ramblin' to make
you forget. It's got hard work beat to a mush, because when you're
ramblin' you're 'most always hungry. Listen! Love is when you ain't
satisfied. So is a empty stomach. A fella's got to eat. Do you get
that?"

"Yes. But, Red, you said you loved a woman once. You didn't forget."

"No, kid. I didn't. Once I didn't do nothin' else but remember. I got
over that. It's only accidental to circumstances pertainin' to the fact
that I remember now. You never seen _me_ cry in my soup, did you?"

"But you're different."

"That's the blat every yearlin' makes till he grows up and finds out
he's a cow jest like his ma. I ain't different inside. And bleedin'
inside is dangerouser than bleedin' outside. Listen! Remember the little
fire beside the track, when we was 'way up in the big hills? Remember
the curve, like a snake unwindin' where she run round the hill, and
nothin' beyond but space and the sun drippin' red in the ocean? Remember
the chicken we swiped and et that night? And then the smokes and lookin'
up at the stars? Remember that? Listen!

  "It's beat it, bo, while your feet are mates,
  And we'll see the whole United States.
  With a smoke and a pal and a fire at night,
  And up again in the mornin' bright,
  With nothin' but road and sky in sight
     And nothin' to do but go.

  "Then, beat it, bo, while the walkin' 's good;
  And the birds on the wires is sawin' wood.
  If to-day ain't the finest for you and me,
  There's always to-morrow, that's goin' to be.
  And the day after that is a-comin'. See!
     And nothin' to do but go.

  "I'm the ramblin' son with the nervous feet,
  That never was made for a steady beat.
  I had many a job for a little spell;
  I been on the bum, and I've hit it swell.
  But there's only one road to Fare-ye-well,
     And nothin' to do but go."

"With nothing to do but go," whispered Collie. "Red, we've always been
friends?"

"You bet your return ticket!"

"And we are always going to be," said Collie. "I guess that settles it.
I--I wish Saunders--had--finished me."

Louise, numb from sitting still so long, moved slightly.

"What's that?" exclaimed Collie.

"Jest some of your little old ideas changin' cars," replied Overland.
"You'll get used to it."

"No; I heard something."

"You'll be seein' things next. Got a match? I'm jest dyin' for a smoke.
Remember when she give us the makin's and you got hot at me?"

Overland cupped the flame in his hands and lighted his cigarette. The
soft glow of the match spread in the windless air, penetrating the
darkness. For an instant, a breath, Overland saw a startled face gazing
down at him; the white face of the Rose Girl!

"Great Snakes!" he cried, stepping back as the flame expired.

"What's the matter, Red?"

"Nothin'. I was just thinkin'. I burned my mitt. Come on, Collie.
Brand'll find a bunk for me to-night, I reckon. We'll tell the boss and
the Rose Girl all about it to-morrow."




CHAPTER XXXII

MORNING


"Something's goin' to happen," stated Brand Williams.

"How's that?" queried Bud Light.

"See them two bosses--the Yuma colt and Boyar--?"

"Uhuh."

"Well, Boyar's been standin' there since daylight, saddled. Nobody rides
him but Miss Louise."

"It's mighty early, but I don't see nothin' strange about the rest of
it."

"Wait a minute, Bud. Did you see Collie this mornin'? Was he all fixed
up with his hair jest _so_, and his bandanna jest _so_, and his new
sombrero and his silver spurs, and them new chaps, lookin' mighty
important? He saddles Yuma and ties her over there. While he was eatin',
the Boyar hoss trails his bridle over to where Yuma is tied. There they
stand visitin' like two old soldiers on crutches instead of two mighty
quick-actin' cayuses. Now that Yuma hoss has kicked the fancy linin' out
of every cayuse that dast come nigh her. They 're _all_ scared of her.
She's makin' an exception this mornin'. She's plumb friendly with
Boyar. That signifies! Hosses can see farther in the dark than folks."

"Signifies what?"

"Well, after all the talk I jest wasted on you, it signifies that you're
too thick-headed, Buddy, to waste any more on. I can learn you to
_spell_ if you wanta take lessons."

"You're dreamin', Brand. Wake up! As to spellin'--I'm spellin' right now
while the fo'man is entertainin' me."

"Thanks for callin' my attention to it. You can take your hoss and ride
over to the Three Oaks. There's some fence down, over at the North
Spring. I ain't dreamin' about that."

Bud Light departed, swearing to himself. He disliked mending fence.
Williams knew it. The cheerful Bud, "Reckoned he ought to 'a' known
better than to try to ride the old man into the fence. Next time he
would listen--and mebby learn something."

Louise, drawing on her gauntlets, came down the broad steps of the
ranch-house. The November air was crisp with the tang of early morning.

She was puzzled at finding Boyar and Yuma together. She noticed Boyar
had trailed his bridle across the yard--an unusual thing for him to do,
considering his training. Louise spoke to the Yuma colt, who sniffed at
her gloved hand. The girl wondered why Collie had saddled Yuma. He
usually rode one of the ranch horses to work. She wanted to talk with
him--to reason with him; for her knowledge of the previous night's
disclosures worried and distressed her. She thought Collie's half
promise to Overland Red to turn to their old life had been too easily
made. Her pride in him was touched. She was hurt, and not a little
angry. She saw the flaw in his ultimate decision to sacrifice himself
and his prospects through a too stringent and quixotic interpretation of
his duty. To go back to the old life again--a tramp!

But Collie was not to be seen. However, Louise never hesitated long.
Deliberately she untied the Yuma colt and swung into the saddle. Black
Boyar seemed to realize something unusual in her preference. He fretted
as the roan pony leaped sideways toward the gate.

Louise knew that Collie would follow her. She was riding his pony, the
Yuma colt, and he would be fearful for the rider's safety.

Collie, coming from the bunk-house, glanced up and saw Black Boyar
standing alone where his own pony had stood. This was not an invitation;
this was daring him to follow.

He rode into the canon, half conscious of Yuma's tracks ahead of him. He
rode past the tracks as they swerved toward a grassy level near the
stream.

"Collie!"

Louise stood beside the sweating Yuma, patting the pony's neck. Collie
raised his sombrero formally.

Louise was bareheaded. The clear morning sunlight enhanced her rich
coloring. Against the misty gray of the canon wall, her head in profile,
as she stood beside the horse, was as delicately beautiful as that
vision that imagination knows full well but may seldom realize.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Collie, don't! Say anything but that. You look awfully glum. Surely not
because I took Yuma."

"No. Only I was afraid for you."

"So you followed at break-neck speed to rescue the timorous, the
despairing, and-so-forth?"

"I can't joke like that this morning."

"Why? I'm here, safe enough. Had breakfast?"

"Yes. I wanted to see you about something, Louise."

"All right. But you are so unnaturally tall and severe and judicial
sitting there on Boyar. You look almost funereal. Please get down. Roll
a cigarette and act natural. I'm not going to scold you, sir."

"I wish you would."

"Why? What have you been doing that makes you look so ashamed of
yourself. Tell me!"

"I didn't know I was."

"You don't act naturally. Is there something about me that is different?
Is that it?"

"No. I wish you was different, sometimes."

"You do?"

"No," he said gently. "I don't wish you were different. I want to
remember you like you are."

"To _remember_ me?"

"Yes," he whispered, "to remember you."

He seemed to see regret, astonishment, questioning, gentle reproof, even
a hint of amusement in her eyes. But her expression changed instantly.
"I think you have something to remember me by; something you asked me
for once, long ago. I sent it to you. You have never spoken of
it--acknowledged it. I can't quite forgive that."

"Your glove. I know. I got it here." And he touched his breast. "I
thought you would understand."

"I do. But, Collie, a girl always likes to be told that she is
understood, even when she knows it."

"I was going to write about getting your glove, at the hospital. I guess
I was too tired."

"At the hospital?"

"Yes. Red sent it to me. Brand gave it to him to give to me--that time."

"Oh!" And Louise felt like retracting a little; but sweetly perverse,
she obeyed sheer instinct. "Collie, do you realize that I have already
asked you to dismount? Shall I have to ask you again? Do you realize
that I am standing while you are sitting your horse?"

"I am begging your pardon, Louise."

The girl nodded brightly, smiling as she noticed the little scar on his
chin--a wound that she had made him blush for when she had admonished
him for fighting with Dick Tenlow.

She watched the rise and fall of the muscles of his arm, beneath his
flannel shirt, as he lighted his cigarette. How broad-chested and strong
and wholesome he seemed in the morning sunlight! There was an untamed
grace about his movements, his gestures, which, together with his
absolute unconsciousness of self, pleased and attracted her.

"Yuma is a little wild, but she is a fine saddle-pony. I'm really
jealous for Boyar's prestige."

"I was afraid for you to ride her," said Collie.

"She behaves beautifully."

"Would you take her as a kind of present from me?" he asked.

"Give Yuma to me? I thought you loved her?"

"I do. That's why I want you to have her."

"He would give you away," said Louise, stroking Yuma's neck. "Give you
away just as you're learning to trust him and perhaps even like him a
little--and he says he loves you! Let's run away from him, Hummingbird!"

"I think I could stand it if you would just be mean once," said Collie.

"Stand what, Collie?"

He had been watching her shapely hand and supple, rounded wrist as she
stroked the pony's neck. Swiftly she turned from the horse and faced
him. "What, Collie?" There was laughter in her eyes, a laughter that
challenged more than his serious mood. Her lips were smiling. Her chin
was tilted provokingly.

His eyes grew wide with unspoken love, unuttered longing. He delighted
in the delicious curve of her cheek, and of her arm resting on the
saddle. Her poise had an inexplicable suggestion of royal courage, as
though she were battling for more than her lips could utter. In her
absence he had adored her. Now he forgot all that he had meant to tell
her in the sensuous delight of her mere presence. But even that was not
enough. He dropped the pony's reins and strode toward her. Louise paled
even as he drew near, but he saw nothing but her eyes and her lips, lips
that curved wistfully, provoking tenderness and love. For an instant
Louise held her heart aloof.

"Let me just worship you--a little while--a little while," he whispered.

"Only a little while?" she breathed; and the soft rose glowed in her
cheeks.

"Just forever," he said.

And Louise Lacharme, more beautiful than the morning, Louise, his most
gracious senorita, his Madonna of the Rose, lifted her arms to him. Her
lips quivered like a child's, tremulous with longing to tell him
silently, as his lips found hers, all that her heart was giving and all
the wealth of love it yet should give.

Gently his hands clasped her golden head. His whole being thrilled as he
touched her hair, her cheeks, her lips. "Oh, Collie! Collie! Love me
always," she whispered. And she drew him down to her breast and caressed
his cheek, sighing and murmuring little endearments and sweet, broken
words of love.

       *       *       *       *       *

Moonstone Canon, coldly beautiful, echoed the hoof-beats of the ponies
as they walked homeward.

Louise turned in the saddle. "Collie," she said with an indescribable
gesture of appeal, "you will always take care of me, won't you?"

"My Rose Girl! Why do you say that?"

"I was thinking of my father."

Louise saw his lips stiffen and his chin lift. "Louise, I had no right,
just now,--I haven't any right--I'm poor. The claim wasn't ours."

"I didn't mean that," she said, smiling wistfully. "But you will always
care for me, won't you? I don't care one bit about the claim. It has
made trouble and sorrow enough. I can't remember my father. I can hardly
think of him as my father. But it is horrible to think of his dying for
water because he cared so much for gold."

"But how did you know?"

"I know," she answered gravely. "And I know that you are a very, very
foolish boy, not to trust your friends more than you do. Did you suppose
you would be happier or better in leaving Moonstone Rancho? Did you
suppose I would be happier? Collie, you have so much to learn."

"I guess that's so," he sighed. Then his eyes brightened with his
old-time mischief. "Couldn't you begin now to teach me a little--like
back there in the canon?"

And being of a decisive habit of mind, he rode close to Louise and
claimed immediate and delicious instruction.

"But how _did_ you know?" he asked again--"about the claim and your
father and me?"

"A secret that I share with Overland," she replied.

[Illustration: CAN'T I HAVE ANOTHER ONE, ROSE GIRL?]

"So he told you! When? Not last night. He was asleep when I came away
this morning."

"So he is here, then?"

"Louise, you're joking. Didn't Red talk to you?"

"No."

"And you know all about it already?" He looked at her curiously for a
moment. "Did you know that I said I was going to leave the Moonstone?"

"Why?"

"For the same reason that I can't now--you. Red and Billy Winthrop and I
don't own a cent's worth of the claim now. I don't even own what's in
the bank. All I got is Yuma."

"You gave Yuma to me, Collie."

"I sure did. I haven't even her. But I've got you. Oh, Louise! I can't
believe it. I could just shout. Can't I have another one, Rose Girl?"

"Must I teach you not to ask?" said Louise.

Collie took her other meaning as she made a little mouth at him. "Not
after this," he said, and gave apt proof that he meant it.

"More than a whole carload of gold?" she asked, gazing at him.

"You know _that_, too?"

"Collie?"

"What is it?"

"Promise that you won't speak to any one about the claim, or the
desert, or my father until I say you may."

"Of course I promise."

"Nor about ourselves, until I tell you to."

"Never--if it will make you happy."

       *       *       *       *       *

Overland Red, sitting on a boulder beside the road, stooped and gathered
up a handful of pebbles. Then, for lack of other interest, he invented a
game of ancient and honorable origin. "She loves me," he said tossing
away a pebble. "She loves me not." And up spun another pebble. So he
continued until the pebbles were gone. "She loves me not," he muttered
lugubriously. Then his face brightened. "Of course she don't. She loves
_him_. That's what I was tryin' to get at, anyway."

He fumbled at a huge bunch of little red flowers called "Hummingbird's
Trumpets." He arranged the hastily constructed bouquet to suit him. Then
he laid it on the rock.

"Accordin' to the latest book on good table-manners, or 'How to Be Happy
Though Dressed Up,' this here bouquet is the proper thing. They'll think
I'm some wiz' when I step out and present these here hummin'birds'
bugles. Huh! I seen the two bosses gone, and I gets wise direct. But I
got to brace up. Wonder what she'll think about me--after hearin' what I
said last night at the Old Meadow? Gee! I wonder what I did say? Did I
cuss much? I forget. H-m-m. Good-mornin', folks! I--er--This here--Them
hummin'birds' bugles--flowers--Happy day--Collie, what's wrong with you?
What you laughin' at?"

"You, of course. Where did you get the posies?"

"Picked 'em along the Golden Shore. Just got back."

"You do look scared, Red."

"Seein' you're gettin' personal--_you_ needn't to think because _you_
just been there that I never will."

"Say, Overland--I--we--" began Collie.

"I knowed it! I won't say a word to nobody."

Collie glanced at Louise. She nodded. Then she gave Overland her hand.
He seized it and stood looking into her sweet gray eyes. "Little Rose
Girl," he said quietly, "you always was the best and kindest and
beautifullest we ever knowed. It ain't the first time you give your hand
to help them that ain't fit to touch it. If there _is_ any Golden Shore,
I guess me and Collie will be there just because we knowed you down here
and couldn't stay around, nohow, where you wasn't. And, believe me, if
he don't treat you from now on like you was a plumb angel, I'll--I'll
ride him off the big range and into space quicker'n shootin' stars!
These here flowers is for you--not for that long-legged grasshopper
ridin' your hoss there. I should think Boyar would be plumb ashamed."

"Then Collie can walk," said Louise promptly. "Collie, will you please
let Mr. Summers take Boyar? I want to talk with the President of--of my
mine a little while."

"Don't faint, Chico," said Overland, swinging into the saddle. "I always
was the 'cute little gopher with the ladies. You watch _us_ ride up this
trail if you want to see a pair that _can_ ride."

Collie shook his fist at the grinning Overland, who had turned as he
rode away. "You want to learn to act quick when a lady asks you," called
Overland. "You didn't get off this hoss any too spry."

Then Collie stooped and picked up a little red flower that had dropped
from the boisterous one's offering.




CHAPTER XXXIII

A SPEECH


The Marshalls and Billy Winthrop came in their car. The ride through the
canon had been pleasant. They were talking about Overland. They had been
discussing the rearrangement of a great many things since the news of
Louise's heritage had become known.

"You had better close the muffler, Billy. You are frightening that
pony!"

"That's the Yuma colt," said Winthrop. "Overland is riding her."

"Overland?"

"Yes. He's coming to meet us."

Plunging through the crackling greasewood at the side of the road, the
Yuma colt leaped toward the car. In broad sombrero, blue silk
neckerchief, blue flannel shirt, and silver-studded leather chaps, was a
strangely familiar figure. The great silver spurs rang musically as the
pony reared. The figure gave easily to the wild plunging of the horse,
yet was as firm as iron in the saddle.

Anne drew a deep breath. It was not the grotesque, frock-coated Overland
of a recent visit, nor was it the ragged, unkempt vision Louise had
conjured up for her in relating the Old Meadow story. In fact, it was
not Overland Red at all, but Jack Summers, the range-rider of the old
red Abilene days. He was clean-shaven, vigorous, splendidly strong, and
confident. In the saddle, bedecked in his showy trappings, surrounded by
his friends, Jack Summers had found his youth again, and the past was as
a closed book, for the nonce.

"I'm the boss's envy extraordinary," said Overland, by way of greeting.
"Walt said something else, too, about bein' a potentiary, but I reckon
_that_ was a joke."

"Good-morning! Don't get down! Glad to see you again!"

But Overland was in the road, hat in hand, and Yuma's bridle-reins over
one arm.

"'Mornin', Billy! 'Mornin', Doctor! You run right up to the house. I left
the gate open."

Then Overland rode back, following them. Later he reappeared, minus
spurs and chaps, but still clad in the garb of the range-rider. He was
as proud and happy as a boy. He seemed to have dropped ten years from
his shoulders. And he was strangely unlike his old boisterous self
withal.

The noon sun crept through the moon-vine. Out on the wide veranda was
the long table. They were a happy group at luncheon there. Even the
taciturn Brand Williams had been persuaded to come. His native
picturesqueness was rather effaced by a black, characterless suit of
"store clothes."

Walter Stone, at the conclusion of the luncheon, asked Overland to make
a speech. Nothing daunted, Overland rose briskly.

"I expect you're lookin' for me to fall off the roof of the cannery into
the tomato-vat and make a large red splash. Not me. I got somethin' to
say. Now the difference in droppin' a egg on the kitchen floor and
breakin' it calm-like, in a saucer, ain't only the muss on the floor.
You save the egg. Just recent I come nigh to losin' my whole basket. You
all know who saved 'em. Not namin' any names, the same person, by jest
bein' herself, and kind to everybody, put me wise to the fact that money
and clothes ain't all that goes to make a man. And, at the same time,
speakin' kind of orthodoxical, money and clothes has a whole lot to do
with makin' a man. I just got hep to that idea recent.

"Speakin' of clothes leads me to remark that I got a new outfit up at
the bunk-house. It's a automobilein' outfit. Billy says it's the correc'
thing. He helped me pick it out. Which leads Billy into this here thing,
too. He said to break the news gentle, and not scare anybody to death
and not get 'em to thinkin' that somebody was hurt or anything like
that, so I'm breakin' it to you easy. Me and Billy is goin' away. We're
goin' in the Guzzuh--'God save the mush,' as the pote says. We are the
Overland Red Towerist and Observation Company, Unlimited. We are goin'

  "'Round the world and back again;
  Heel and toe in sun and rain'--

as another pote says. Only we ride. I ain't got nothin' to say about
gettin' married, or happy days, or any of that ordinary kind of stuff. I
want to drink the health of my friends. I got so many and such good ones
that I dassent to incriminate any particular one; so I say, lookin' at
your faces like roses and lilies and--and faces, I say,--

  "'Here's to California, the darling of the West,
  A blessin' on those livin' here--
  And God help all the rest.'"

Overland sat down amid applause. He located his tobacco and papers,
rolled a cigarette with one hand, and gazed across the hills. Glancing
up, he saw Louise looking at him. He smiled. "I was settin' on a crazy
bronc' holdin' his head up so he couldn't go to buckin'--outside a
little old adobe down in Yuma, Arizona, then. Did you ever drift away
like that, just from some little old trick to make you dream?"

At a nod from Aunt Eleanor they all rose.

Louise stepped from her end of the table to where Overland stood gazing
out across the hills. She touched him lightly on the arm. He turned and
looked at her unseeingly. His eyes were filled with the dreams of his
youth, dreams that had not come true ... and yet.... He gazed down into
her face. His expression changed. His eyes grew misty with happiness. He
realized how many friends he had and how loyal and excellent they were.
And of all that he had gained his greatest treasure was his love for
Louise--for Louise Lacharme, the little Rose Girl of his dreams. That
love lay buried deep in his rugged heart. She would never know of it. No
one should ever know--not even Collie.

Louise, in an ecstasy of affection and pity that she could not
understand, suddenly flung her arms around Overland's neck and kissed
him full on the lips.

More than he had ever dared to dream had come true.

THE END

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STORIES OF WESTERN LIFE

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list


RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE, By Zane Grey.

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TITLES SELECTED FROM GROSSET & DUNLAP'S LIST

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