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Title: Man to Man
Author: Gregory, Jackson, 1882-1943
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Man to Man" ***

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[Frontispiece: The blazing heat was such that men and horses and steers
suffered terribly.]



MAN TO MAN


BY

JACKSON GREGORY



AUTHOR OF

JUDITH OF BLUE LAKE RANCH, THE BELLS OF SAN JUAN, SIX FEET FOUR, ETC.



ILLUSTRATED BY

J. G. SHEPHERD



GROSSET & DUNLAP

PUBLISHERS -------- NEW YORK



COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY

CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS


Published October, 1920



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

     I. STEVE DIVES INTO DEEP WATERS
    II. MISS BLUE CLOAK KNOWS WHEN SHE'S BEAT
   III. NEWS OF A LEGACY
    IV. TERRY BEFORE BREAKFAST
     V. HOW STEVE PACKARD CAME HOME
    VI. BANK NOTES AND A BLIND MAN
   VII. THE OLD MOUNTAIN LION COMES DOWN FROM THE NORTH
  VIII. IN RED CREEK TOWN
    IX. "IT'S MY FIGHT AND HIS.  LET HIM GO!"
     X. A RIDE WITH TERRY
    XI. THE TEMPTING OF YELLOW BARBEE
   XII. IN A DARK ROOM
  XIII. AT THE LUMBER CAMP
   XIV. THE MAN-BREAKER AT HOME
    XV. AT THE FALLEN LOG
   XVI. TERRY DEFIES BLENHAM
  XVII. AND CALLS ON STEVE
 XVIII. "IF HE KNOWS--DOES SHE?"
   XIX. TERRY CONFRONTS HELL-FIRE PACKARD
    XX. A GATE AND A RECORD SMASHED
   XXI. PACKARD WRATH AND TEMPLE RAGE
  XXII. THE HAND OF BLENHAM
 XXIII. STEVE RIDES BY THE TEMPLE PLACE
  XXIV. DOWN FROM THE SKY!
   XXV. THE STAMPEDE
  XXVI. YELLOW BARBEE KEEPS A PROMISE
 XXVII. IN HONOR OF THE FAIRY QUEEN!



ILLUSTRATIONS


The blazing heat was such that men and horses and steers suffered
terribly . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

The men about him and Packard withdrew this way and that leaving empty
floor space.

Terry's head, her face flushed rosily, her eyes never brighter, popped
up on one side of the log.

"Say it!" laughed Terry.  "Well, I'm here. Came on business."



MAN TO MAN


CHAPTER I

STEVE DIVES INTO DEEP WATERS

Steve Packard's pulses quickened and a bright eagerness came into his
eyes as he rode deeper into the pine-timbered mountains.  To-day he was
on the last lap of a delectable journey.  Three days ago he had ridden
out of the sun-baked town of San Juan; three months had passed since he
had sailed out of a South Sea port.

Far down there, foregathering with sailor men in a dirty water-front
boarding-house, he had grown suddenly and even tenderly reminiscent of
a cleaner land which he had roamed as a boy.  He stared back across the
departed years as many a man has looked from just some such resort as
Black Jack's boarding-house, a little wistfully withal.  Abruptly
throwing down his unplayed hand and forfeiting his ante in a card game,
he had gotten up and taken ship back across the Pacific.  The house of
Packard might have spelled its name with the seven letters of the word
"impulse."

Late to-night or early to-morrow he would go down the trail into
Packard's Grab, the valley which had been his grandfather's and,
because of a burst of reckless generosity on the part of the old man,
Steve's father's also.  But never Steve's, pondered the man on the
horse; word of his father's death had come to him five months ago and
with it word of Phil Packard's speculations and sweeping losses.

But never had money's coming and money's going been a serious concern
of Steve Packard; and now his anticipation was sufficiently keen.  The
world was his; he had no need of a legal paper to state that the small
fragment of the world known as Ranch Number Ten belonged to him.  He
could ride upon it again, perhaps find one like old Bill Royce, the
foreman, left.  And then he could go on until he came to the other
Packard ranch where his grandfather had lived and still might be living.

After all of this--Well, there were many sunny beaches here and there
along the seven seas where he had still to lie and sun himself.  Now it
was a pure joy to note how the boles of pine and cedar pointed straight
toward the clear, cloudless blue; how the little streams trickled
through their worn courses; how the quail scurried to their brushy
retreats; how the sunlight splashed warm and golden through the
branches; how valleys widened and narrowed and the thickly timbered
ravines made a delightful and tempting coolness upon the mountainsides.

It was an adventure with its own thrill to ride around a bend in the
narrow trail and be greeted by an old, well-remembered landmark: a
flat-topped boulder where he had lain when a boy, looking up at the sky
and thrilling to the whispered promises of life; or a pool where he had
fished or swum; or a tree he had climbed or from whose branches he had
shot a gray squirrel.  A wagon-road which he might have taken he
abandoned for a trail which better suited his present fancy since it
led with closer intimacy into the woods.

It was late afternoon when he came to the gentle rise which gave first
glint of the little lake so like a blue jewel set in the dusty green of
the wooded slopes.  As he rose in his stirrups to gaze down a vista
through the tree-trunks, he saw the bright, vivid blue of a cloak.

"Now, there's a woman," thought Packard without enthusiasm.  "The woods
were quite well enough alone without her.  As I suppose Eden was.  But
along she comes just the same.  And of course she must pick out the one
dangerous spot on the whole lake shore to display herself on."

For he knew how, just yonder where the blue cloak caught the sunlight,
there was a sheer bank and how the lapping water had cut into it,
gouging it out year after year so that the loose soil above was always
ready to crumble and spill into the lake.  The wearer of the bright
garment stirred and stood up, her back still toward him.

"Young girl, most likely," he hazarded an opinion.

Though she was too far from him to be at all certain, he had sensed
something of youth's own in the very quality of her gesture.

Then suddenly he clapped his spurs to his horse's sides and went racing
down the slope toward the spot where an instant ago she had made such a
gay contrast to dull verdure and gray boulders.  For he had glimpsed
the quick flash of an up-thrown arm, had heard a low cry, had guessed
rather than seen through the low underbrush her young body falling.

As he threw himself from his horse's back, his spur caught in the blue
cloak which had dropped from her shoulders; he kicked at it savagely.
He jerked off his boots, poised a moment looking down upon the
disturbed surface of the water which had closed over her head, made out
the sweep of an arm under the widening circles, and dived straight down.

And so deep down under water they met for the first time, Steve Packard
with a sense of annoyance that was almost outright irritation, the girl
struggling frantically as his right arm closed tight about her.  A
quick suspicion came to him that she had not fallen but had thrown
herself downward in some passionate quarrel with life; that she wanted
to die and would give him scant thanks for the rescue.

This thought was followed by the other that in her access of terror she
was doing what the drowning person always does--losing her head,
threatening to bind his arms with her own and drag him down with her.

Struggling half blindly and all silently they rose a little toward the
surface.  Packard tightened his grip about her body, managed to
imprison one of her arms against her side, beat at the water with his
free hand, and so, just as his lungs seemed ready to burst, he brought
his nostrils into the air.

He drew in a great breath and struck out mightily for the shore,
seeking a less precipitous bank at the head of a little cove.  As he
did so, he noted how her struggles had suddenly given over, how she
floated quietly with him, her free arm even aiding in their progress.

A little later he crawled out of the clear, cold water to a pebbly
beach, drawing her after him.

And now he understood that his destiny and his own headlong nature had
again made a consummate fool of him.  The same knowledge was offered
him freely in a pair of gray eyes which fairly blazed at him.  No
gratitude there of a maiden heroically succored in the hour of her
supreme distress; just the leaping anger of a girl with a temper like
hot fire who had been rudely handled by a stranger.

Her scanty little bathing-suit, bright blue like the discarded cloak,
the red rubber cap binding the bronze hair--she must have donned the
ridiculous thing with incredible swiftness while he batted an
eye--might have been utterly becoming in other eyes than those of Steve
Packard.  Now that they merely told him that he was a blundering ass,
he was conscious solely of a desire to pick her up and shake her.

"Gee!" she panted at him with an angry scornfulness which made him
wince.  "You're about the freshest proposition I ever came across!"

Later, perhaps, he would admit that she was undeniably and most
amazingly pretty; that the curves of her little white body were
delightfully perfect; that she had made an armful that at another time
would have put sheer delirium into a man's blood.

Just now he knew only that in his moment of nothing less than stupidity
he had angered her and that his own anger though more unreasonable was
scarcely less heated; that he had made and still made but a sorry
spectacle; that he was sopping wet and cold and would be shivering in a
moment like a freezing dog.

"Why did you want to yell like a Comanche Indian when you went in?" he
demanded rudely, offering the only defense he could put mind or tongue
to.  "A man would naturally suppose that you were falling."

"You didn't suppose any such thing!" she retorted sharply.  "You saw me
dive; if you had the brains of a scared rabbit, you'd know that when a
girl had gone to the trouble to climb into a bathing-suit and then
jumped into the water she wanted a swim.  And to be left alone," she
added scathingly.

Packard felt the afternoon breeze through the wet garments which stuck
so close to him, and shivered.

"If you think," he said, as sharply as she had spoken, "that I just
jumped into that infernal ice-pond, clothes and all, for the pure joy
of making your charming acquaintance in some ten feet of water, all I
can say is that you are by no means lacking a full appreciation of your
own attractiveness."

She opened her eyes widely at him, lying at his feet where he had
deposited her.  She had not offered to rise.  But now she sat up,
drawing her knees into the circle of her clasped arms, tilting her head
back as she stared up at him.

"You've got your nerve, Mr. Man," she informed him coolly.  "Any time
that you think I'll stand for a fool man jumping in and spoiling my fun
for me and then scolding me on top of it, you've got another good-sized
think coming.  And take it from me, you'll last a good deal longer in
this neck of the woods if you 'tend to your own business after this and
keep your paws off other folks' affairs.  Get me that time?"

"I get you all right," grunted Packard.  "And I find your gratitude to
a man who has just risked his life for you quite touching."

"Gratitude?  Bah!" she told him, leaping suddenly to her feet.  "Risked
your life for me, did you?"  She laughed jeeringly at that.  "Why, you
big lummox, I could have yanked you out as easy as turn a somersault if
you started to drown.  And now suppose you hammer the trail while it's
open."

He bestowed upon her a glance whose purpose was to wither her.  It
failed miserably, partly because she was patently not the sort to be
withered by a look from a mere man, and partly because a violent and
inopportune shiver shook him from head to foot.

Until now there had been only bright anger in the girl's eyes.
Suddenly the light there changed; what had begun as a sniff at him
altered without warning into a highly amused giggle.

"Golly, Mr. Man," she taunted him.  "You're sure some swell picture as
you stand there, hand on hip and popping your eyes out at me!  Like a
king in a story-book, only he'd just got a ducking and was trying to
stare the other fellow down.  Which is one thing you can't do with me."

Her eyes had the adorable trick of seeming to crinkle to a mirth which
would have been an extremely pleasant phenomenon to witness had she
been laughing with him instead of at him.  As matters stood, Packard
was quite prepared to dislike her heartily.

"I'd add to your kind information that the trail is open at both ends,"
he told her significantly.  "I'm going to find a sunny spot and dry my
clothes.  No objection, I suppose?"

He clambered up the bank and made his way to the spot whence he had
dived after her, bent on retrieving his boots and spurs.  Her eyes
followed him interestedly.  He ignored her and set about extricating a
spur rowel from the fabric of the bright blue cloak.  Her voice floated
up to him then, demanding:

"What in the world are you up to now?  Not going to swipe my clothes,
are you?"

"I'd have the right," he called back over his shoulder, "if I happened
to need a makeshift dressing-gown.  As it is, however, I am trying to
get my spur out of the thing."

"You great big brute!" she wailed at him, and here she came running
along the bank.  "You just dare to tear my cloak and I'll hound you out
of the country for it!  I drove forty miles to get it and this is the
first time I ever wore it.  Stupid!"  And she jerked both the garment
and the spur from him.

The lining was silken, of a deep, rich, golden hue.  And already it was
torn, although but the tiniest bit in the world, by one of the sharp
spikes.  Her temper, however, ever ready it seemed, flared out again;
the crinkling merriment went from her eyes, leaving no trace; the color
warmed in her cheeks as she cried:

"You're just like all of the rest of your breed, big and awkward,
crowding in where you don't belong, messing up the face of the earth,
spoiling things right and left.  I wonder if the good Lord Himself
knows what he made men for, anyway!"

The offending spur, detached by her quick fingers, described a bright
arc in the late sunlight, flew far out, dipped in a little leaping
spurt of spray, and went down quietly in the lake.

"Go jump in and get that, if you are so keen on saving things," she
mocked him.  "There's only, about fifteen feet of water to dig through."

"You little devil!" he said.

For the spur with its companion had cost him twenty dollars down on the
Mexican border ten days ago and he had set much store by it.

"Little devil, am I?" she retorted readily.  "You'll know it if you
don't keep on your side of the road.  Look at that tear!  Just look at
it!"

She had stepped quite close to him, holding out the cloak, her eyes
lifted defiantly to his.  He put out a sudden hand and laid it on her
wet shoulder.  She opened her eyes widely again at the new look in his.
But even so her regard was utterly fearless.

"Young lady," he said sternly, "so help me God, I've got the biggest
notion in the world to take you across my knee and give you the
spanking of your life.  If I did crowd in where I don't belong, as you
so sweetly put it, it was at least to do you a kindness.  Another time
I'd know better; I'd sooner do a favor for a wildcat."

"Take your dirty paws off of me," she cried, wrenching away from him.
"And--spank me, would you?"  The fire leaped higher in her eyes, the
red in her cheeks gave place to an angrier white.  "If you ever so much
as dare touch me again----"

She broke off, panting.  Packard laughed at her.

"You'd try to scratch me, I suppose," he jeered; "and then, after the
fashion of your own sweet sex when you don't have the strength to put a
thing across, you'd most likely cry!"

"I'd blow your ugly head off your shoulders with a shot-gun," she
concluded briefly.

And despite the extravagance of the words it was borne in upon
Packard's understanding that she meant just exactly what she said.

He was getting colder all the time and knew that in a moment his teeth
would chatter.  So a second time he turned his back on her, gathered up
his horse's reins, and moved away, seeking a spot in the woods where he
could get dry and sun his clothes.  And since Packard rage comes
swiftly and more often than not goes the same way, within five minutes
over a comforting cigarette he was grinning widely, seeing in a flash
all of the humor of the situation which had successfully concealed
itself from him until now.

"And I don't blame her so much, after all," he chuckled.  "Taking a
nice, lonely dive, to have a fool of a man grab her all of a sudden
when she was enjoying herself half a dozen feet under water!  It's
enough to stir up a good healthy temper.  Which, by the Lord, she has!"



CHAPTER II

MISS BLUE CLOAK KNOWS WHEN SHE'S BEAT

Half an hour later, his clothing wrung out and sun-dried after a
fashion, Packard dressed, swung up into the saddle, and turned back
into the trail.  And through the trees, where their rugged trunks made
an open vista, he saw not two hundred yards away the gay spot of color
made by the blue cloak.  So she was still here, lingering down the road
that wound about the lake's shores, when already he had fancied her far
on her way.  He wondered for the first time where that way led?

He drew rein among the pines, waiting in his turn for her to go on.
The blue cloak did not move.  He leaned to one side to see better,
peering around a low-flung cedar bough.  His trail here led to the
road; he must pass her unless she went on soon.

Beside the vivid hue of her cloak the sunlight streaming through the
forest showed him another bright, gay color, a streak of red which
through the underbrush he was at first at a loss to account for.  He
would have said that she was seated in a low-bodied, red wagon, were it
not that if such had been the case he must have seen the horses.

"An automobile!" he guessed.

He rode on a score of steps and stopped again.  Sure enough, there she
sat at the steering-wheel of a long, rakish touring-car, the slump of
her shoulders vaguely hinting at despair and perhaps a stalled engine.
His grin widened joyously.  He touched his horse with his one spur,
assumed an expression of vast indifference, and rode on.  She jerked up
her head, looked about at him swiftly, gave him her shoulder again.

He rode into the road and came on with tantalizing slowness, knowing
that she would want to turn again and guessing that she would conquer
the impulse.  A few paces behind her he stopped again, rolling a fresh
cigarette and seeming, as he had been before the meeting, the most
leisurely man in the world.

He saw her lean forward, busied with ignition and starter; he fancied
that the little breeze brought to him the faintest of guarded
exclamations.

"The blamed old thing won't go," chuckled Packard with vast
satisfaction.  "Some car, too.  Boyd-Merril Twin Eight, latest model.
And dollars to doughnuts I know just what's wrong--and she doesn't!"

She ignored him with such a perfect unconsciousness of his presence in
the same world with her that he was moved to a keen admiration.

"I'll bet her face is as red as a beet, just the same," was his
cheerful thought.  "And right here, Steve Packard, is where you don't
'crowd in' until you're called on."

She straightened up, sitting very erect, her two hands tense upon the
useless wheel.  He noted the poise of her head and found in it
something almost queenly.  For a moment they were both very still, he
watching and feeling his sense pervaded by the glowing sensation that
all was right with the world, she holding her face averted and keeping
her thoughts to herself.

Presently she got out and lifted the hood, looking in upon the engine,
despairing.  But did not glance toward him.  Then she closed the hood
and returned to her seat, once more attempting to get some sort of
response from the starting system.  Packard felt himself fairly beaming
all over.

"I may be a low-lived dog and a deep-dyed villain besides," he was
frank to admit to himself.  "But right now I'm having the time of my
life.  And I wouldn't bet two bits which way she's going to jump next,
either--never having met just her type before."

"Well?" she said abruptly.

She hadn't moved, hadn't so much as turned her head to look at him.  If
she had done so just then perhaps Packard's extremely good-humored
smile, a contented, eminently satisfied smile, would not have warmed
her to him.

"Speak to me?" he asked innocently.

"I did.  Simply because there's nobody else to speak to.  Don't happen
to know anything about motor-cars, do you?"

It was all very icily enunciated, but had no noticeably freezing effect
upon the man's mood.

"I sure do," he told her cheerfully.  "Know 'em from front bumper to
tail-lamp.  Yours is a Boyd-Merril, Twin Eight, this year's model.
Fox-Whiting starting and lighting system.  Great little car, too, if
you ask me."

"What I was going to ask you," came the cool little voice, more
haughtily than ever, "was not what you think of the car but if you--if
you happened to know how to make the miserable thing go."

"Sure," he replied to the back of her head, with all of his former
pleasant manner.  "Pull out the ignition button; push down the starter
pedal with your right foot; throw out the clutch with your left; put
her into low; let in your clutch slowly; give her a little----"

"Smarty!"  He had counted upon some such interruption, and chuckled
when it came.  "I know all that."

"Then why don't you do it?" he queried innocently.  "You're right
square in my way, the road's narrow, and I've got to be moving on."

"I don't do it," she informed that portion of the world which lay
immediately in front of her slightly elevated nose, "because it won't
work.  I pulled out the ignition button and--and nothing happened.
Then I tried to force down the starter pedal and the crazy thing won't
go down."

"I see," said Packard interestedly.  "Don't know a whole lot about
cars, do you?"

"The world wasn't made overnight," she said tartly.  "I've had this
pesky thing a month.  Do you know what's the matter?"

He took his time in replying.  He was so long about it, in fact, that
Miss Blue Cloak stirred uneasily and finally shot him a questioning
look over her shoulder, just to make sure, he suspected, that he hadn't
slipped away and left her.

"Well?" she asked again.

"Speak to me?" he repeated himself, pretending to start from a deep
abstraction.  "Oh, do I know what's the matter?  Sure!"

She waited a reasonable length of time for him to go on.  He, secure in
the sense of his own mastery of the situation, waited for her.  Between
them they allowed it to grow very quiet there in the wood by the lake
shore.  He saw her glance furtively at the lowering sun.

"If you do know," she said finally and somewhat faintly, but as
frigidly as ever, "will you tell me or won't you?"

"Why," he said, as though he had not thought of it, "I don't know.  If
I were really sure that I was needed.  You know it's mighty hard
telling these days when you stumble upon a damsel in distress whether a
stranger's aid is welcome or not.  If there's one thing I won't do it's
shove myself forward when I'm not wanted."

"You're a nasty animal!" she cried hotly.

"For all I know," he resumed in an untroubled tone, "the end of your
journey may be just around the bend, about a hundred yards off.  And if
I plunged in to be of assistance I might be suspected of being a fresh
guy."

"It's half a dozen miles to the ranch-house," she condescended to tell
him.  "And it's going to get dark in no time.  And if you want to know,
Mr. Smarty, that's as close as I've ever come or ever will come to
asking anything of any man that ever lived."

He could have sat there until dark just for the sheer joy of teasing
her, making her pay a little for her recent treatment of him.  But
there was a note of finality in her voice which did not escape him; in
another moment she would jump down and go on on foot and he knew it.
So at last he rode up to the car, dismounted, and lifted the hood.

"Ignition," he ordered her.

She pulled out the little button again.  His eyes upon hers, his grin
frank and unconcealed, he took a stone from the road and with it tapped
gently upon the shaft running from the pump.  Immediately there came
that little hissing sound she had waited for.

"Starter," he commanded.

And now her foot upon the pedal achieved the desired results; the
engine responded, humming pleasantly.  He closed the hood and stood
back eying her with a mingling of amusement and triumph.  Her face
reddened slowly.  And then, startling him with its unheralded
unexpectedness, a gay peal of laughter from her made quite another girl
of her, a dimpling, radiant, altogether adorable and desirable creature.

"Oh, I know when I'm beat!" she cried frankly.  "You've put one across
on me to-day, Mr. Man.  And since you meant well all along and were
just simply the blunderheaded man God made you, I guess I have been a
little cat.  Good luck to you and a worth-while trail to ride."

She blew him a friendly kiss from her brown finger-tips, bent over her
wheel, and took the first turn in the road at a swiftly acquired speed
which left Steve Packard behind in dust and growing wonderment.

"And she's been driving only a month," was his softly whistled comment.
"Reckless little devil!"

Then, in his turn cocking a speculative eye at the sun in the west, he
rode on, following in the track made by the spinning automobile tires.



CHAPTER III

NEWS OF A LEGACY

When Packard came to a forking of the roads he stopped and hesitated.
The automobile tracks led to the left; he was tempted to follow them.
And it was his way in the matter of such impulses to yield to
temptation.  But in this case he finally decided that common sense if
not downright wisdom pointed in the other direction.

So, albeit a bit reluctantly, he swerved to the right.

"We'll see you some other time, though, Miss Blue Cloak," he pondered.
"For I have a notion it would be good sport knowing you."

An hour later he made out a lighted window, seen and lost through the
trees.  Conscious of a man's-sized appetite he galloped up the long
lane, turned in at a gate sagging wearily upon its hinges, and rode to
the door of the lighted house.  The first glance showed him that it was
a long, low, rambling affair resembling in dejectedness the drooping
gate.  An untidy sort of man in shirt-sleeves and smoking a pipe came
to the door, kicking into silence his half-dozen dogs.

"What's the chance of something to eat and a place to sleep in the
barn?" asked Packard.

The rancher waved his pipe widely.

"Help yourself, stranger," he answered, in a voice meant to be
hospitable but which through long habit had acquired an unpleasantly
sullen tone.  "You'll find the sleeping all right, but when it comes to
something to eat you can take it from me you'll find damn' poor
picking.  Get down, feed your horse, and come in."

When he entered the house Packard was conscious of an oddly bare and
cheerless atmosphere which at first he was at a loss to explain.  For
the room was large, amply furnished, cheerfully lighted by a crackling
fire of dry sticks in the big rock fireplace, and a lamp swung from the
ceiling.  What the matter was dawned on him gradually: time was when
this chamber had been richly, even exquisitely, furnished and
appointed.  Now it presented rather a dejected spectacle of faded
splendor, not entirely unlike a fine gentleman of the old school fallen
among bad companions and into tattered ill repute.

The untidy host, more untidy than ever here in the full light, dragged
his slippered feet across the threadbare carpet to a corner cupboard,
from which he took a bottle and two glasses.

"We can have a drink anyhow," he said in that dubious tone which so
harmonized both with himself and his sitting-room.  "After which we'll
see what's to eat.  Terry fired the cook last week and there's been
small feasting since."

Packard accepted a moderate drink, the rancher filled his own glass
generously, and they drank standing.  This ceremony briefly performed
and chairs dragged comfortably up to the fireplace, Packard's host
called out loudly:

"Hi, Terry!  There's a man here wants something to eat.  Anything left?"

"If he's hungry," came the cool answer from a room somewhere toward the
other end of the long house, "why can't he forage for himself?  Wants
me to bring his rations in there and feed it to him, I suppose!"

Packard lifted his eyebrows humorously.

"Is that Terry?" he asked.

"That's Terry," grumbled the rancher.  "She's in the kitchen now.  And
if I was you, pardner, and had a real hankering for grub I'd mosey
right along in there while there's something left."  His eye roved to
the bottle on the chimneypiece and dropped to the fire.  "I'll trail
you in a minute."

Here was invitation sufficient, and Packard rose swiftly, went out
through the door at the end of the room, passed through an untidy
chamber which no doubt had been intended originally as a dining-room,
and so came into lamplight again and the presence of Miss Blue Cloak.

He made her a bow and smiled in upon her cheerfully.  She, perched on
an oilcloth-covered table, her booted feet swinging, a thick sandwich
in one hand and a steaming cup of coffee in the other, took time to
look him up and down seriously and to swallow before she answered his
bow with a quick, bird-like nod.

"Don't mind me," she said briefly, having swallowed again.  "Dig in and
help yourself."

On the table beside her were bread, butter, a very dry and
black-looking roast, and a blacker but more tempting coffee-pot.

"I didn't follow you on purpose," said Packard.  "Back there where the
roads forked I saw that you had turned to the left, so I turned to the
right."

"All roads lead to Rome," she said around the corner of the big
sandwich.  "Anyway, it's all right.  I guess I owe you a square meal
and a night's lodging for being on the job when my car stalled."

"Not to mention for diving into the lake after you," amended Packard.

"I _wouldn't_ mention it if I were you," she retorted.  "Seeing that
you just made a fool of yourself that time."

She openly sniffed the air as he stepped by her reaching out for
butcher-knife and roast.  "So you are dad's kind, are you?  Hitting the
booze every show you get.  The Lord deliver me from his chief blunder.
Meaning a man."

"He probably will," grinned Packard genially.  "And as for turning up
your nose at a fellow for taking a drop o' kindness with a hospitable
host, why, that's all nonsense, you know."

Terry kicked her high heels impudently and vouchsafed him no further
answer beyond that easy gesture.  Packard made his own sandwich, found
the salt, poured a tin cup of coffee.

"The sugar's over there."  She jerked her head toward a shelf on which,
after some searching among a lot of empty and nearly empty cans,
Packard found it.  "That's all there is and precious little left; help
yourself but don't forget breakfast comes in the morning."

"This is the old Slade place, isn't it?" Packard asked.

"It was, about the time the big wall was building in China.  Where've
you been the last couple of hundred years?  It's the Temple place now."

"Then you're Miss Temple?"

"Teresa Arriega for my mother, Temple for my dad," she told him in the
quick, bright way which already he found characteristic of her.  "Terry
for myself, if you say it quick."

He had suspected from the beginning that there was Southern blood of
some strain in her.  Now he studied her frankly, and, just to try her
out, said carelessly:

"If you weren't so tanned you'd be quite fair; your eyes are gray too.
Blue-gray when you smile, dark gray when you are angry; and yet you say
your mother was Mexican----"

"Mexican, your foot!" she flared out at him, her trim little body
stiffening perceptibly, her chin proudly lifted.  "The Arriegas were
pure-blooded Castilian, I'd have you understand.  There's no mongrel
about me."

He drowned his satisfied chuckle with a draft of coffee.

"I'm looking for a job," he said abruptly.  "Happen to know of any of
the cattle outfits around here that are short-handed?"

"Men are scarce right now," she answered.  "A good cattle-hand is as
hard to locate as a dodo bird.  You could get a job anywhere if you're
worth your salt."

"I was thinking," said Packard, "of moseying on to Ranch Number Ten.
There's a man I used to know--Bill Royce, his name is.  Foreman, isn't
he?"

"So you know Bill Royce?" countered Terry.  "Well, that's something in
your favor.  He's a good scout."

"Then he is still foreman?"

"I didn't say so!  No, he isn't.  And I guess he'll never be foreman of
that outfit or any other again.  He's blind."

Old Bill Royce blind!  Here was a shock, and Packard sat back and
stared at her speechlessly.  Somehow this was incredible, unthinkable,
nothing short.  The old cattle-man who had been the hero of his
boyhood, who had taught him to shoot and ride and swim, who had been so
vital and so quick and keen of eye--blind?

"What happened to him?" asked Packard presently.

"Suppose you ask him," she retorted.  "If you know him so well.  He is
still with the outfit.  A man named Blenham is the foreman now.  He's
old Packard's right-hand bower, you know."

"But Phil Packard is dead.  And----"

"And old 'Hell-Fire' Packard, Phil Packard's father, never will die.
He's just naturally too low-down mean; the devil himself wouldn't have
him."

"Terry!" came the voice of the untidy man, meant to be remonstrative
but chiefly noteworthy for a newly acquired thickness of utterance.

Terry's eyes sparkled and a hot flush came into her cheeks.

"Leave me alone, will you, pa?" she cried sharply.  "I don't owe old
Packard anything; no, nor Blenham either.  You can walk easy all you
like, but I'm blamed if I've got to.  If you'd smash your cursed old
bottle on their heads and take a brace we'd come alive yet."

"Remember we have a guest with us," grumbled Temple from his place by
the sitting-room fire.

"Oh, shoot!" exclaimed the girl impatiently.  Reaching out for a second
sandwich she stabbed the kitchen-knife viciously into the roast.  "I've
a notion to pack up and clear out and let the cut-throat crowd clean
you to the last copper and pick your bones into the bargain.  When did
you ever get anywhere by taking your hat off and side-stepping for a
Packard?  If you're so all-fired strong for remembering, why don't you
try to remember how it feels to stand on two feet like a man instead of
crawling on your belly like a worm!"

"My dear!" expostulated Temple.

Terry sniffed and paid no further attention to him.

"Dad was all man once," she said without lowering her voice, making
clearer than ever that Miss Terry Temple had a way of speaking straight
out what lay in her mind, caring not at all who heard.  "I'm hoping
that some day he'll come back.  A real man was dad, a man's man.  But
that was before the Packards broke him and stepped on him and kicked
him out of the trail.  And, believe me, the Packards, though they ought
to be hung to the first tree, are men just the same!"

"So I have heard," admitted the youngest of the defamed house.  "You
group them altogether?  They're all the same then?"

"Phil Packard's dead," she retorted.  "So we'll let him go at that.
Old Hell-Fire Packard, his father, is the biggest lawbreaker out of
jail.  He's the only one left, and from the looks of things he'll keep
on living and making trouble another hundred years."

"There was another Packard, wasn't there?" he insisted.  "Phil
Packard's son, the old man's grandson?"

"Never knew him," said Terry.  "A scamp and a scalawag and a tomfool,
though, if you want to know.  If he wasn't, he'd have stuck on the job
instead of messing around in the dirty ports of the seven seas while
his old thief of a grandfather stole his heritage from him."

"How's that?" he asked sharply.  "How do you mean 'stole' it from him?"

"The same way he gobbles up everything else he wants.  Ranch Number Ten
ought to belong to the fool boy now, oughtn't it?  And here's old
Packard's pet dog Blenham running the outfit in old Packard's interests
just the same as if it was his already.  Set a thief to rob a thief,"
she concluded briefly.

Steve Packard sat bolt upright in his chair.

"I wouldn't mind getting the straight of this," he told her quietly.
"I thought that Philip Packard had sold the outfit to his father before
his death."

"He didn't sell it to anybody.  He mortgaged it right up to the hilt to
the old man.  Then he up and died.  Of course everything he left,
amounting mostly to a pile of debts, went to his good-for-nothing son."

A light which she could not understand, eager and bright, shone in
young Packard's eyes.  If what she told him were true, then the old
home ranch, while commonly looked upon as belonging already to his
grandfather, was the property legally of Steve Packard.  And
Blenham--yes, and old Bill Royce--were taking his pay.  Suddenly
infinite possibilities stretched out before him.

"Come alive!" laughed Terry.  "We were talking about your finding a
job.  There's one open here for you; first to teach me all you know
about the insides of my car; second--  What's the matter?  Gone to
sleep?"

He started.  He had been thinking about Blenham and Bill Royce.  As
Terry continued to stare wonderingly at him he smiled.

"If you don't mind," he said non-committally, "we'll forget about the
job for a spell.  I left some stuff back at the Packard ranch that
belongs to me.  I'm going back for it in the morning.  Maybe I'll go to
work there after all."

She shrugged distastefully.

"It's a free country," she said curtly.  "Only I can't see your play.
That is, if you're a square guy and not a crook, Number Ten size.
You've got a chance to go to work here with a white crowd; if you want
to tie up with that ornery bunch it's up to you."

"I'll look them over," he said thoughtfully.

"All right; go to it!" she cried with sudden heat.  "I said it was a
free country, didn't I?  Only you can burn this in your next
wheat-straw: once you go to riding herd with that gang you needn't come
around here again.  And you can take Blenham a message for me: Phil
Packard knifed dad and double-crossed him and made him pretty nearly
what he is now; old Hell-Fire Packard finished the job.  But just the
same, the Temple Ranch is still on the map and Terry Temple had rather
scrap a scoundrel to the finish than shake hands with one.  And one of
these days dad's going to come alive yet; you'll see."

"I believe," he said as much to himself as to her, "that I'll have to
have a word with old man Packard."

She stared at him incredulously.  Then she put her head back and
laughed in high amusement.

"Nobody'd miss guessing that you had your nerve with you, Mr. Lanky
Stranger," she cried mirthfully.  "But when it comes to tackling
Hell-Fire Packard with a mouthful of fool questions--  Look here; who
are you anyway?"

"Nobody much," he answered quietly and just a trifle bitterly.  "Tom
Fool you named me a while ago.  Or, if you prefer, Steve Packard."

She flipped from her place on the table to stand erect, twin spots of
red leaping into her cheeks, startling him with the manner in which all
mirth fled from her eyes, which narrowed and grew hard.

"That would mean old Hell-Fire's grandson?" she asked sharply.

He merely nodded, watching her speculatively.  Her head went still
higher.  Packard heard her father rise hurriedly and shuffle across the
floor toward the kitchen.

"You're a worthy chip off the old stump," Terry was saying
contemptuously.  "You're a darned sneak!"

"Terry!" admonished Temple warningly.

Her stiff little figure remained motionless a moment, never an eyelid
stirring.  Then she whirled and went out of the room, banging a door
after her.

"She's high-strung, Mr. Packard," said Temple, slow and heavy and a bit
uncertain in his articulation.  "High-strung, like her mother.  And at
times apt to be unreasonable.  Come in with me and have a drink, and
we'll talk things over."

Packard hesitated.  Then he turned and followed his host back to the
fireplace.  Suddenly he found himself without further enthusiasm for
conversation.



CHAPTER IV

TERRY BEFORE BREAKFAST

A gay young voice singing somewhere through the dawn awoke Steve
Packard and informed him that Terry was up and about.  He lay still a
moment, listening.  He remembered the song, which, by the way, he had
not heard for a good many years, the ballad of a cowboy sick and lonely
in a big city, yearning for the open country.  At times when Terry's
humming was smothered by the walls of the house, Packard's memory
strove for the words which his ears failed to catch.  And more often
than not the words, retrieved from oblivion, were less than worth the
effort; no poet had builded the chant, which, rather, grown to goodly
proportions of perhaps a hundred verses, had resulted from a natural
evolution like a modern Odyssey, or some sprawling vine which was what
it was because of its environment.  But while lines were faulty and
rhymes were bad, and the composition never rose above the commonplace,
and often enough sank below it, the ballad was sincere and meant much
to those who sang it.  Its pictures were homely.  Steve, catching
certain fragments and seeking others, got such phrases as:

  "My bed on dry pine-needles, my camp-fire blazin' bright,
  The smell of dead leaves burnin' through the big wide-open night,"

and with moving but silent lips joined Terry in the triumphant refrain:

  "I'm lonesome-sick for the stars through the pines
    An' the bawlin' of herds . . . an' the noise
  Of rocks rattlin' down from a mountain trail . . .
    An' the hills . . . an' my horse . . . an' the boys.
  An' I'd rather hear a kiote howl
    Than be the King of Rome!
  An' when day comes--if day does come--
    By cripes, I'm goin' home!
      . . .  Back home!  Hear me comin', boys?
      _Yeee_!  I said it: 'Comin' home!'"


He sat up in bed.  The fragrance of boiling coffee and frying bacon
assailed his nostrils pleasurably.  Terry's voice had grown silent.
Perhaps she was having her breakfast by now?  With rather greater haste
than the mere call of his morning meal would seem to warrant, he
dressed, ran his fingers through his hair by way of completing his
toilet, and, going down a hallway, thrust his head in through the
kitchen doorway.

"Good morning," he called pleasantly.

Terry was not yet breakfasting.  Down on one knee, poking viciously
into the fire-box of an extremely old and dilapidated stove, she was
seeking, after the time-honored way of her sex, to make the fire burn
better.  Her face was rosy, flushed prettily with the glow from the
blazing oak wood.  Packard's eyes brightened as he looked at her,
making a comprehensive survey of the trim little form from the top of
her bronze hair to the heels of her spick-and-span boots.  About her
throat, knotted loosely, was a flaming-red silken scarf.  The thought
struck him that the Temple fortunes, the Temple ranch, the Temple
master, all were falling or had already fallen into varying states of
decay, and that alone in the wreckage Terry Temple made a gay spot of
color, that alone Terry Temple was determined to keep her place in the
sun.

Terry, having poked a goodly part of the fire out, made a face at what
remained and got to her feet.

"I've been thinking about you," she said.

"Fine!" said Packard.  "You can tell me while we have our coffee."

But he did not fail to mark that she had given him no ready smile by
way of welcome, that now she regarded him coolly and critically.  In
her morning attitude there was little to lead him to hope for a
free-and-easy chat across a breakfast-table.

"You strike me," said Terry abruptly and emphatically, "as a pretty
slick proposition."

"Why so?" asked Packard interestedly.

"Because," said Terry.  For a moment he thought that she was going to
stop there.  But after a thoughtful pause, during which she looked
straight at him with eyes which were meant to be merely clear and
judicial but which were just faintly troubled, she went on: "Because
you're a Packard, to begin with."

"Look here," protested young Packard equably, "I didn't think that of
you; honestly, I didn't.  How are you and I ever going to get
anywhere . . . in the way of being friends, I mean . . . if you start
out by blaming me for what my disreputable old scamp of a grandfather
does?"

Terry sniffed openly.

"Forget that friendship gag before you think of it, will you?" she said
quickly.  "Talking nice isn't going to get you anywhere with me and you
might as well remember that.  It won't buy you anything to start in
telling me that I've got pretty eyes or a dimple, and I won't stand one
little minute for your pulling any of that girlie-stuff on me. . . .  I
said, to begin with, you're a Packard.  That ought to be enough, the
Lord knows!  But it's not all."

"First thing," he suggested cheerfully, "are you going to ask me to
have breakfast with you?"

"Yes," she answered briefly.  "Since you are here and since dad had you
stay all night.  If you were the devil himself, I'd give you something
to eat."

"Being merely the devil's grandson," grinned Packard, "suppose I tuck
in and help?  I'll set the table while you do the cooking."

"I don't bother setting any table," said Terry as tartly as she knew
how.  "Besides, the coffee and bacon are both done and that's all the
cooking there is.  You know where the bread and butter and sugar are.
Help yourself.  There isn't any milk."

She poured her own coffee, made a sandwich of bacon and bread, and went
to sit as he had found her last night, on the table, her feet swinging.

Steve Packard had gone to sleep filled with high hopes last night, and
had awakened with a fresh, new zest in life this morning.  Like the
cowboy in the ballad, he had wanted nothing in the world save to be
back on the range, and he had his wish, or would have it fully in a few
hours, when he had ridden to Ranch Number Ten.  Fully appreciating
Terry's prejudices, he had meant to remember that she was "just a kid
of a girl, you know," and to banter her out of them.  Now he was ready
to acknowledge that he had failed to give Terry her due; with a sudden
access of irritation it was borne in upon him that if she was fully
minded to be stand-offish and unpleasant, he had something more than
just a kid of a girl to deal with.  Frowning, he sought his tobacco and
papers.

"Going to eat?" asked Terry carelessly.  "Or not?"

"I don't know . . . yet," he returned, lifting his eyes from his
cigarette.  "Most certainly not if you don't want me to."

"Ho!" taunted Terry, the bright light of battle in her eyes.  "Climbing
on your high horse, are you?  Well, then, stay there."

Packard lighted his cigarette and returned her look steadily.

"Kid of a girl, nothing!" he told himself.  And going back to his
epithet of yesterday, "Little wildcat."

"Then," continued the girl evenly, taking up the conversation where it
had broken down some time ago, "I'll say what I've got to say.  First,
because you're a Packard.  Next, because it was pretty slick work, that
stunt of yours, diving into the lake for me, pretending you didn't know
who I was, and grabbing the first chance to get acquainted.  Much good
it'll do you!  Maybe I haven't been through high school and you have
fussed around at college; just the same, Mr. Steve Packard, Terry
Temple's not your fool or any other man's!  And, on top of all of your
other nerve, to try and make me think you didn't know you owned your
own ranch!  And trying to pump me and corkscrewing away at dad when he
was full of whiskey. . . .  Pah!  Your kind of he-animal makes me sick."

"You think," he offered stiffly, "that I'm hand and glove with Blenham?
And, perhaps, that I'm taking orders from my grandfather, trying to put
one over on you?"

"Thinking's not the right word," she corrected sharply.  "I know."

He shrugged.  As he did so it struck him that there was nothing else
for him to do.  She had the trick of utter finality.

"And," she called after him as he turned abruptly to leave the room,
"you can tell old Hell Fire for me that maybe he's got the big bulge on
the situation right now but that it's bad luck to count your chips
until the game is over.  There's a come-back left in dad yet, and . . .
and if you or your hell-roaring old granddad think you can swallow the
Temple outfit whole, like you've done a lot of other outfits . . ."

Packard went out and slammed the door after him.

"Damn the girl!" he muttered angrily.

Terry, sitting on the table, grew very still, ceased the swinging of
her feet, and turned to peek cautiously out at him from the kitchen
window.  Her look was utterly joyous.

"Men are always horrid creatures before they've had their breakfasts,"
she informed the stillness about her complacently.



CHAPTER V

HOW STEVE PACKARD CAME HOME

Had Steve Packard ridden straightway back to Ranch Number Ten he would
have arrived at the ranch headquarters long before noon.  But, once out
in the still dawn, he rode slowly.  His mind, when he could detach it
from that irritating Terry Pert, was given over to a searching
consideration of those conditions which were beginning to dawn on him.

It was clear that his destiny was offering him a new trail to blaze,
one which drew him on with its lure, tempting him with its vague
promises.  There was nothing to cause surprise in the fact that the
ranch was his to have and to hold if he had the skill and the will for
the job; nor yet in the other fact that the outfit was mortgaged to his
grandfather; nor, again, was it to be wondered at that the old man was
already acting as actual owner.  For never had the oldest Packard had
any use for the subtleties and niceties and confusing technicalities of
the law.  It was his way to see clearly what he wanted, to make up his
mind definitely as to a desired result, and then to go after it the
shortest way.  And that way had never led yet through the law-courts.

These matters were clear.  But as he dwelt upon them they were made
complex by other considerations hingeing upon him.  Most of all he had
to take stock of what lay in his own mind and soul, of all that dwelt
behind his present purpose.

Riding back to Ranch Number Ten, saying, "It is mine and I mean to have
it," was simple enough.  But for him actually to commit himself to the
line of action which this step would entail would very obviously
connote a distinct departure from the familiar, aimless,
responsibility-free career of Steve Packard.

If he once sat into the game he'd want to stick for a showdown; if he
started out now bucking old man Packard, he would perhaps wind up in
the scrap-heap.  It was just as well to think things over before he
plunged in--which set him musing upon Terry again.

Swerving from yesterday's path, he followed a new trail leading about
the edge of the Temple ranch and into the southeastern borders of Ranch
Number Ten.  At a logging-camp well up on the slope of the mountains
just after he had forded the upper waters of Packard's Creek, he
breakfasted on warmed-over coffee and greasy hot cakes.

He opened his eyes interestedly as he watched a gang of timberjacks
cutting into a forest of his pines.

"Old man Packard's crowd?" he asked the camp cook.

"Sure thing," was the cook's careless answer.  Steve Packard rode on,
grown more thoughtful than before.  But he directed his course this way
and that on a speculative tour of investigation, seeking to see the
greater part of the big, sprawling ranch, to note just what had been
done, just what was being done, before having his talk with Blenham.
And so the first stars were out before he came once more to the home
corrals.


While Steve was turning down into Packard's Grab from the foot-hills
the men working for Ranch Number Ten, having eaten their supper, were
celebrating the end of a hard day's work with tobacco smoke and
desultory talk.

There were a dozen of them, clear-eyed, iron-muscled, quick-footed to
the last man of them.  For wherever Packard pay was taken it went into
the pockets of just such as these, purposeful, self-reliant, men's men
who could be counted on in a pinch and who, that they might be held in
the service which required such as they, were paid a better wage than
other ranches offered.

Young, most of them, too, boisterous when upon occasion their hands
were idle, devil-may-care scalawags who had earned in many a little
cattle town up and down the country their title as "that wild gang of
Packard's," prone to headlong ways and yet dependable.

There are such men; Packard knew it and sought them out and held them
to him.  The oldest man there, saving Bill Royce only, was Blenham the
foreman, and Blenham had yet to see his thirty-fifth birthday.

Ten years ago, that is to say before he came into the cattle country
and found work for Packard, Blenham had been a sergeant in the regular
army, had seen something of service on the border.  Now, in his
dealings with the men under him, he brought here all that he had
learned from a military life.

He held himself aloof, was seldom to be found in the bunk-house, making
his quarters in the old ranch-house.  He was crisp and final in his
orders and successful in exacting swift attention when he spoke and
immediate obedience when he ordered.

Few of his men liked him; he knew this as well as another and cared not
the snap of his big, blunt fingers.  There was remarkably little of the
sentimental about Blenham.  He was a capable lieutenant for such as the
master of the Packard millions, he earned and received his increase in
wages every year, he got results.

This evening, however, the man's heavy, studied indifference to all
about him was ruffled.  During the afternoon something had gone wrong
and no one yet, save "Cookie" Wilson, had an inkling of what had
plunged the foreman into one of his ill-tempered fits.

To-morrow it would be a ranch topic when Cookie could have had ample
time to embroider the thin fabric of his surmise; for it had fallen to
the cook's lot to answer the bunk-house telephone when there had been a
long-distance message for Blenham--and Wilson recognized old man
Packard's voice in a fit of rage.

No doubt the foreman of Ranch Number Ten had "slipped up" somewhere,
and his chief, in a very few words and those of a brand not to be
misunderstood, had taken him to task.  At any rate Cookie was swelling
with eager conjecture and Blenham was in an evil mood.  All evening his
spleen had been rising in his throat, near choking him; now suddenly he
spewed it upon Bill Royce.

"Royce!" he burst out abruptly.

The blind man was lying upon the edge of his bunk at the far end of the
room, smoking his pipe.  He stirred uneasily.

"Well?" he asked.  "What is it?"

"Cool old cucumber, ain't you?" jeered Blenham.  "Layin' there like a
bag of mush while you listen to me.  Damn you, when I talk to you,
stand up!"

Royce's form stiffened perceptibly and his lips tightened about the
stem of his pipe.  But before he could shape his rejoinder there came
an unexpected voice from one of the four men just beginning a game of
pedro under the swinging lamp, a young voice, impudent, clear-toned,
almost musical.

"Tell him to go to hell, Bill," was the freely proffered counsel.

Blenham swung about on his heel, his eyes narrowing.

"That you, Barbee?" he demanded sharply.

"Sure it's me," rejoined Barbee with the same cool impudence.  And to
the man across the table from him, "Deal 'em up, Spots; you an' me is
goin' to pry these two bum gamblers loose from their four-bit pieces
real _pronto_ by the good ol' road of high, low, jack, an' the game.
Come ahead, Spots-ol'-Spotty."

Blenham stared a moment, obviously surprised by this attitude taken by
young Barbee.

"I'll attend to you when I got nothin' else to do, Barbee," he said
shortly.  And, giving the whole of his attention again to the man on
the bunk, "Royce, I said when I talk to you to stand up!"

To the last man of them, even to young Barbee, who had made his
youthful pretense at an all-embracing interest in the cards, they
turned to watch Bill Royce and see what he would do.

They saw that Royce lay a moment as he was, stiff and rigid to his
hands and feet, that his face had gone a fiery red which threw the
white of the long scar across his nose into bloodless contrast, that
the most obvious thing in the world was that for the moment his mind
was torn two ways, dual-purposed, perfectly balanced, so that in the
grip of his contending passions he was powerless to stir, a picture of
impotence, like a man paralyzed.

"Blenham," he said presently without moving, his voice uncertain and
thick and ugly, "Blenham----"

"I said it once," cried Blenham sharply, "an' I said it twice.  Which
ought to be enough, Bill Royce!  Hear me?"

They all watched interestedly.  Bill Royce moistened his lips and
presented his pitiful spectacle of a once-strong man on the verge of
yielding to his master, to the man he hated most on earth.  A smile
came into Blenham's expectant eyes.

The brief silence was perfect until the youthful Barbee broke it, not
by speech but by whistling softly, musically, impudently.  And the air
which Barbee selected at this juncture, though not drawn from the
classics, served its purpose adequately; the song was a favorite in the
range-lands, the refrain simple, profane, and sincere.  Translated into
words Barbee's merry notes were:

"Oh, I don't give a damn for no damn man that don't give a damn for me!"


Blenham understood and scowled at him; Bill Royce's hesitant soul may
have drawn comfort and strength from a sympathy wordlessly expressed.
At any rate his reply came suddenly now:

"I've took a good deal off'n you, Blenham," he said quietly.  "I'd be
glad to take all I could.  But a man can't stand everything, no, not
even for a absent pal.  Like Barbee said, you know where you can go."

Cookie Wilson gasped, his the sole audible comment upon an entirely
novel situation.  Barbee smiled delightedly.  Blenham continued to
frown, his scowl subtly altered from fierceness to wonder.

"You'll obey orders," he snapped shortly, "or----"

"I know," replied Royce heavily.  "Go to it.  All you got to do is fire
me."

And now the pure wonder of the moment was that Blenham did not
discharge Royce in three words.  It was his turn for hesitation, for
which there was no explanation forthcoming.  Then, gripped by a rage
which made him inarticulate,--he whirled upon Barbee.

Yellow-haired Barbee at the table promptly stood up, awaiting no second
invitation to that look of Blenham's.  Were one staging a morality play
and in search of the personification of impertinence, he need look no
farther than this cocksure youth.  He was just at that age when one is
determined that there shall be no mistake about his status in the
matters of age and worldly experience; in short, something over
twenty-one, when the male of the species takes it as the insult of
insults to be misjudged a boy.  His hair was short--Barbee always kept
it close cropped--but for all that it persisted in curling, seeking to
express itself in tight little rings everywhere; his eyes were very
blue and very innocent, like a young girl's--and he was, all in all,
just about as good-for-nothing a young rogue as you could find in a ten
days' ride.  Which is saying rather a good deal when it be understood
that that ten days' ride may be through the cattle country back of San
Juan.

"Goin' to eat me alive?" demanded Barbee lightly, "Or roast me first?"

"For two cents," said Blenham slowly, "I'd forget you're just a kid an'
slap your face!"

Barbee swept one of the fifty-cent pieces from the table and tossed it
to the foreman.

"You can keep the change out'n that," he said contemptuously.

It was nothing new in the experience of Blenham, could be nothing
unforeseen for any ranch foreman, to have his authority called into
question, to have a rebellious spirit defy him.  If he sought to remain
master, the foreman's answer must be always the same.  And promptly
given.

"Royce," said Blenham, his hesitation passed, "you're fired.  Barbee,
I'll take you on right now."

Few-worded was Blenham, a trick learned from his master.  Across the
room Bill Royce had floundered at last to his feet, crying out mightily:

"Hi!  None o' that, Blenham.  It's my fight, yours an' mine, with
Barbee jus' buttin' in where he ain't asked.  If you want trouble, take
a man your size, full-grown.  Blind as I am--and you know the how an'
the why of it--I'm ready for you.  Yes, ready an' anxious."

Here was diversion and the men in the bunkhouse, drawing back against
the walls, taking their chairs with them that there might be room for
whatever went forward, gave their interest unstintedly.  So completely
that they did not hear Steve Packard singing far out in the night as he
rode slowly toward the ranch-house:

  "An' I'd rather hear a kiote howl
    Than be the King of Rome!
  An' when day comes--if day does come--
    By cripes, I'm goin' home!
  Back home!  Hear me comin', boys?
    Yeee!  I said it.  Comin' home!"


But in very brief time Steve Packard's loitering pace was exchanged for
red-hot haste as the sounds winging outward from the bunk-house met
him, stilled his singing, and informed him that men were battling in a
fury which must have something of sheer blood-thirst in it.  He raced
to the closed door, swung down from the saddle, and threw the door open.

He saw Bill Royce being held by two men, fighting at them while he
reviled a man whom Steve guessed to be Blenham; he saw Blenham and a
curly-haired, blue-eyed boy struggling up and down, striking the savage
blows of rage.  He came just in time to see Blenham drive a big, brutal
fist into the boy's face and to mark how Barbee fell heavily and for a
little lay still.

The moment was charged with various emotions, as though with contending
electrical currents.  Bill Royce, championed by a man he had never so
much as seen, had given fully of his gratitude and--they meant the same
thing to Bill Royce--of his love; after to-night he'd go to hell for
"yellow" Barbee.

Barbee, previsioning defeat at Blenham's hard hand, suffering in his
youthful pride, had given birth, deep within him, to an undying hatred.
And Blenham, for his own reasons and after his own fashion, was
bursting with rage.

"Get up, Barbee," he yelled.  "Get up an', so help me----"

"I'm goin' to kill you, Blenham," said Barbee faintly, lifting himself
a little, his blue eyes swimming.  "With my hands or with a knife or
with a gun or anyway; now or to-morrow or some time I'm goin' to kill
you."

"They all heard you," Blenham spat out furiously.  "You're a fool,
Barbee.  Goin' to get up?  Ever goin' to get up?"

"Turn me loose, boys," muttered Bill Royce.  "I've waited long enough;
I've stood enough.  I been like an ol' woman.  Jus' let me an' Blenham
finish this."

They had, none of them, so much as noted Steve Packard's entrance.
Now, however, he forced them to take stock of him.

"Bill Royce," he said sharply, "keep your shirt on.  Barbee, you do the
same.  Blenham, you talk with me."

"You?" jeered Blenham.  "You?  Who are you?"

"I'm the man on the job right now," answered Packard crisply.  "And
from now on, I'm running the Ranch Number Ten, if you want to know.  If
you want to know anything else, why then you don't happen to be foreman
any longer.  You're fired!  As for foreman under me--my old pardner,
Bill Royce, blind or not blind, has his old job back."

Bill Royce grew rigid.

"You ain't--you ain't Stevie come back?" he whispered.  "You ain't
Stevie!"

With three strides Packard reached him, finding Bill Royce's hand with
his.

"Right you are, Bill Royce," he cried warmly as at last his and Royce's
hands locked hard.

"I'm fired, you say!" Blenham was storming, his eyes wide.  "Fired?
Who says so, I want to know?"

"I say so," returned Packard shortly.

"You?" shouted Blenham.  "If you mean ol' man Packard has sent you to
take my place just because--  It's a lie; I don't believe it."

"This outfit doesn't happen to belong to old man Packard--yet," said
Steve coolly.  "Does it, Royce?"

"Not by a jugful!" answered the blind man joyously.  "An' it never will
now, Steve!  Not now."

Blenham looked mystified.  Rubbing his skinned knuckles he glared from
Steve to Royce, then to the other faces, no less puzzled than his own.

"Nobody can fire me but ol' man Packard," he muttered heavily, though
his tone was troubled.  "Without you got an order from him, all signed
an' ready for me to read----"

"What I have," cut in Steve crisply, "is the bulge on the situation,
Blenham.  Ranch Number Ten doesn't belong to the old man; it is the
property of his grandson, whose name is Steve Packard.  Which also
happens to be my name."

Blenham sneered.

"I don't believe it," he snapped.  "Expect me to pull my freight at the
say-so of the first stranger that blows in an' invites me to hand him
my job?"  He laughed into the newcomer's face.

Packard studied him a moment curiously, instinctively aware that the
time might come when it would be well to have taken stock correctly of
his grandfather's lieutenant.  Then, before replying, he looked at the
faces of the other men.  When he spoke it was to them.

"Boys," he said quietly, "this outfit belongs to me.  I am Steve
Packard, the son of Philip Packard, who owned Number Ten Ranch and who
mortgaged it but did not sell it to his father--my grandfather.  I've
just got back home; I mean to have what is mine; I am going to pay the
mortgage somehow.  I haven't jumped in with my sleeves rolled up for
trouble either; had Blenham been a white man instead of a brute and a
bully he might have kept his job under me.  But I guess you all know
the sort of life he has been handing Royce here.  Bill taught me how to
ride and shoot and fight and swim; pretty well everything I know that's
worth knowing.  Since I was a kid he's been the best friend I ever had.
Anything else you boys would like to know?"

Barbee had risen slowly from the floor.

"Packard's son or the devil's," he said quickly, his eyes never leaving
Blenham, "I'm with you."

The man whom, over the card-table, Barbee had addressed as Spotty and
whose nickname had obviously been gained for him by the peculiar tufts
of white hair in a young, tousled head of very dark brown, cleared his
throat and so drew all eyes to himself at his side of the room.

"Bill Royce bein' blind, if you could only prove somehow who you are--"
he suggested, tone and expression plainly indicating his willingness,
even eagerness, to be convinced.

"Even if I can't see him," said Royce, his own voice eager, "I know!
An' I can prove it for my part by a couple of little questions--if you
boys will take my word for it?"

"Shoot," said Spotty.  "No man's called you liar yet, Bill."

"Then, Stevie," said Royce, just a shade of anxiety in his look as his
sightless eyes roved here and there, "answer me this: What was the
first horse you ever rode?"

"A mare," said Steve.  "Black Molly."

"Right!" and Royce's voice rang triumphantly.  "Next: Who nailed the
board over the door?  The ol' cedar board?"

"I did.  Just before I went away."

"An'," continued Royce, his voice lowered a trifle, "an' what did you
say about it, Stevie?  I was to know----"

"Coach him up!  Tell him what to say, why don't you?" jeered Blenham.

"I don't think I need to," replied Royce quietly.  "Do I, Steve?"

"I was pretty much of a kid then, Bill," said Packard, a half-smile
coming into his eyes for the first time, a smile oddly gentle.  "I had
been reading one of the Arabian Nights tales; that's what put it into
my head."

"Go ahead, Steve; go ahead!"

"I said that I was going to seek my fortune up and down the world; that
the board above the door would be a sign if all went well with me.
That as long as I lived it would be there; if I died it would fall."

There was a little, breathless silence.  It was broken by Bill Royce's
joyous laughter as Bill Royce's big hand smote his thigh.

"Right again, Steve!  An' the ol' board's still there.  Go look at it;
it's still there."

Again all eyes sought Blenham.  For a moment he stood uncertain,
looking about him.  Then abruptly he swept up his hat and went out.
And Barbee's laughter, like an evil echo of Royce's, followed him.



CHAPTER VI

BANK NOTES AND A BLIND MAN

"He'd as soon set fire to the hay-barns as not," said Royce.  "Better
watch him, Steve."

And so Steve, stepping outside, watched Blenham, who had gone swiftly
toward the ranch-house and who now swung about sharply and stopped dead
in his tracks.

"He's up to something, Bill," conceded Packard.  And called quietly to
Blenham: "Every step you take on this ranch, I'm right along with you,
Blenham."

Whereupon Blenham, his hesitation over, turned abruptly and went down
to the corral, saddled, and rode away.

On the heels of the irate foreman's wordless departure Steve Packard
and Bill Royce went together to the old ranch-house, where, settled
comfortably in two big arm-chairs, they talked far into the night.  A
sharp glance about him as he lighted a lamp on the table showed Packard
dust and disuse everywhere excepting the few untidy signs of Blenham's
recent occupancy.

An old saddle sprawled loosely upon the living-room floor, littered
about with bits of leather and buckles; from a nail hung a rusty,
long-rowelled Mexican spur; on the hearth-stone were many cigarette
stumps and an occasional cigar-end.  An open door showed a tumbled bed,
the covers trailing to the floor.

"I'd give a year off my life for a good look at you, Steve," said Royce
a trifle wistfully.  "Let's see--thirty-five now, ain't you?"

"Right," answered Packard.

"An' big?" asked Royce.   "Six foot or better?"

"A shade better.  About an inch and a half."

"Not heavy, though?  Kind of lean an' long, like Phil Packard before
you?"

Packard nodded; then, with Royce's sightless eyes upon him, he said
hastily:

"Right again, Bill; kind of lean and long.  You'd know me."

"Sure, I would!" cried Royce eagerly.  "A man don't change so all-fired
much in a dozen years; don't I remember just how you looked when you
cut loose to see the world!  Ain't made your pile, have you, Steve?"

Packard laughed carelessly.

"I'm lord and master of a good horse, saddle, bridle, and seventy-odd
bucks," he said lightly.  "Not much of a pile, Bill."

"An' Number Ten Ranch," added Royce quickly.

"And Number Ten Ranch," Packard agreed.  "If we can get away with it."

"Meaning what?  How get away with it?"

"It's mortgaged to the hilt, it seems.  I don't know for how much yet.
The mortgage and a lot of accrued interest has to be paid off.  Just
how big a job we've got to find out."

"Seen your grandfather yet?"

"No.  I should have looked him up, I suppose, before I fired Blenham.
But, being made of flesh and blood----"

"I know, I know."  And Royce filled his lungs with a big sigh.  "Bein'
a Packard, you didn't wait all year to get where you was goin'.  But
there'll be plenty of red tape that can't be cut through; that'll have
to be all untangled an' untied.  Unless your grandfather'll do the
right thing by you an' call all ol' bets off an' give you a free hand
an' a fresh start?"

"All of which you rather doubt, eh, Bill?"

Royce nodded gloomily.

"I guess we've gone at things sort of back-end-to," he said
regretfully.  "You'd ought to have seen him first, hadn't you?  An'
then you kicked his pet dawg in the slats when you canned Blenham.  The
old man's right apt to be sore, Steve."

"I shouldn't be surprised," agreed Steve.  "Who are the Temples, Bill?"

"Who tol' you about the Temples?" came the quick counter-question.

"Nobody.  I stayed at their place last night."

Royce grunted.

"Didn't take you all year to find her, did it?" he offered bluntly.

"Who?" asked Packard in futile innocence.

"Terry Temple.  The finest girl this side the pearly gates an' the
pretties'.  What kind of a man have you growned to be with the women,
Steve?"

"No ladies' man, if that's what's worrying you, old pardner.  I don't
know a dozen girls in the world.  I just asked to know about these
people because they're right next-door to us and because they're
newcomers since my time."

Again Royce grunted, choosing his own explanation of Packard's
interest.  But, answering the question put to him, he replied briefly:

"That little Terry-girl can have anything I got; her mother was some
class, too, they tell me.  I dope it up she just died of shame when she
come to know what sort she'd picked for a runnin' mate.  An' as for
him, he's a twisty-minded jelly-fish.  He's absolutely no good.  An',
if I ain't mistaken some considerable, you'll come to know him real
well before long.  Watch him, Steve."

"Well," said Packard as Royce broke off, sensing that this was not all
to be said of Temple; "let's have it.  What else about him?"

But Royce shook his head slowly, while his big, thick fingers filled
his pipe.

"We ain't got all night to jus' squat here an' gossip about our
neighbors," he said presently.  "There's other things to be said before
things can be done.  First rattle, an' to get goin', I'm much obliged
for that little bluff you threw Blenham's way about me being your
foreman.  What you need an' what you got to have is a man with both
eyes wide open.  Oh, I know, Steve," as Packard started to speak.
"You'd offer me the job if both my legs an' arms was gone, too.  But it
don't go."

"I'm going to need a man right away," argued Steve.  "I'll have to do a
lot of running around, I suppose, looking up the law, arranging for
belated payments, and so forth.  I don't want to leave the ranch
without a head.  You know the men, you know the outfit."

But Royce, though his lips twitched, was firm.

"I don't know the men any too well either," he said.  "They're all your
grandfather's hirin'.  But they're all live an' they all know the game.
I won't swear as to how far you can trust any one of 'em; but you'll
have to find that out for yourself as we go on."

"Name one of them for me," was Packard's quiet way of accepting his old
foreman's ultimatum.  "I'll put him on at least temporarily."

"There's Yellow Barbee," suggested Royce.  "Somethin' of a kid, maybe
kind of wild an' harum-scarum, maybe not worth much.  But he ain't a
Blenham man an' he did me a good turn."

Already Packard was on his feet, going to the door.

"Barbee!" he shouted.  "Oh, Barbee!"

The bunk-house door opened, emitting its stream of light.

"Call me?" came Barbee's cool young voice, impudent now as always.

"Yes, come here a minute, will you?"

Barbee came, his wide hat far back upon his tight little curls, his
swagger pronounced, his sweet blue eyes shining softly--his lips
battered and bruised and already swelling.

"Come in and shut the door," said Packard.

Barbee entered and stepped across the room to lounge with his elbow on
the chimney-piece, looking curiously from Packard to Royce.

"I'm here to run this outfit myself, Barbee," Packard told him while
returning the youth's regard steadily.  "But I need a foreman to keep
things going when I'm obliged to be away.  I gave the job to Royce.  He
won't have it.  He suggests you."

Barbee opened his eyes a trifle wider.  Also the quick flush running up
into his brown cheeks made him look more boyish than ever, giving him
almost a cherubic air.  But for all that he managed to appear tolerably
unmoved, quite as though this were not the first time he had been
offered such a position.

"How much is in it?" was what Barbee said, with vast indifference.

Steve hesitated.  Then he frowned.  And finally he laughed.

"You've got me there," he admitted frankly.  "All the money I've got in
the world to-night is right here."  He spilled the contents of his
pocket upon a table.  "There's about seventy-five bucks.  Unless I can
turn a trick somewhere before pay-day all you boys will have to take
your pro rata out of that."

Bill Royce shifted nervously in his chair, opened his mouth, then
closed it wordlessly.  Barbee shrugged elaborately.

"I'll take a chance," he said.  "It would be worth it if I lost; jus'
to put one across on Blenham."

"All right," and still Packard eyed young Barbee keenly, wondering just
how much ability lay hidden under that somewhat unsatisfactory
exterior.  "You can go back to the boys now and tell them that you're
boss when I'm not on hand.  Before they go to work in the morning you
show up here again and we'll talk a lot of things over."

Barbee ducked his head in token of acquiescence and perhaps to hide the
glitter in his eyes, and walked on his heels to the door.  Packard's
voice arrested him there.

"Just one thing, Barbee: I don't want any trouble started.  Not with
Blenham or with any of old man Packard's men.  I know how you feel, but
if you work for me you'll have to let me be the one who starts things.
Understand?"

The new foreman paused irresolutely.  Then, without turning so that
Packard might see his face, and with no spoken reply, he ducked his
head again and went out, slamming the door after him.

"I ain't sure he's the right man for the job, Steve," began Royce a
trifle anxiously.  "An' I ain't sure whether he's square or crooked.
But I don't know the rest of the men any better an'----"

"I'll watch him, Bill.  And, as I've said already, I'm here to do most
of the foreman act myself.  We'll give Barbee his chance."

He came back to the table from whose top there winked up at him the few
gold and silver coins which spelled his working capital, and stood
looking at them quizzically.

"I got a yarn to spin, Stevie," came thoughtfully from Royce with a
great puff of smoke.  "You better listen in on it now--while we're
alone."

Packard returned to his chair, made his own smoke, and said quietly:

"Go to it, Bill.  I'm listening."

"Barbee's gone, ain't he?  An' the door shut?"

"Yes."

"Then pull up close so's I won't have to talk loud an' I'll get it out
of my system: Before your father died he wasn't makin' much money, not
as much as he was spendin'.  He'd tied into some minin'-stock game that
he didn't savvy any too well, an' for a long time all I'd been clearin'
here he'd been droppin' outside.

"An' the deeper he got in the hole the wilder he played the game: there
was times when I didn't believe he cared a tinker's damn what happened.
Whenever he needed any cash all he had to do was soak another plaster
on the ranch, borrow again from his father.  An' ol' Number Ten is
plastered thick now, Steve; right square up to the hilt.

"Well, when Phil Packard died he did it like he'd done everything else,
like he had lived, makin' a man think he was in a hurry to get a job
over an' done with.  Ridin' horseback one week an' the nex' week
sendin' for me in there."  He jerked his head toward a remote room of
the big house.  "An' he talked to me then about you."

Packard waited for him to go on, offering no comment.  Royce, hunched
over in his chair, straightened up a little, shook himself, and
continued:

"He had drawed some money out'n the bank, all he had left.  I dunno
what for, but anyways he had it under his pillow alongside his ol'
Colt.  An' he give it to me, sayin' he was caught sudden an' unexpected
by his death, an' for me to take care of it an' see that you got it
when you come back.  It was in greenbacks, a little roll no bigger'n
your thumb, an' when I counted 'em I near dropped dead.  Ten little
slips of paper, Steve, an' each good for one thousan' bucks!  Ten
thousan' dollars did Phil Packard slip me that night not a half-hour
before he went over.  For you.  An' I got 'em for you, Steve; I got 'em
safe for you."

His big shoulders rose and fell in a deep sigh; he ran a toil-hardened
hand across his forehead.  Packard opened his lips as though to speak,
but was silent as Royce continued:

"I took the money, Steve, an' went outside for a smoke, an' my hands
was shakin' like I was cold!  Ten thousan' bucks in my tail pocket!  It
was a dark night an' I didn't lose nineteen secon's hidin' the wad in a
good safe place.  Which," slowly, "was the las' time I ever saw it!"

"I thought you said----"

"I got it safe?  I have.  But I ain't ever seen anything since that
night, Steve.  The night your dad died, the night I hid the money, was
the night I went blind."

"You haven't told me about that yet, Bill," said Packard gently.

"No; but I'm goin' to now.  It's part of the yarn I got to spin
to-night.  Like I said I took the wad--your father had slipped it back
in a flat sort of pocketbook--an' went outside.  It was night already
an' dark.  Ten thousan' bucks for me to keep safe for you!"

Again he ran his hand across his forehead.

"I knew where there was a rock in the corner foundation of the house
that I could work loose; where if I put the greenbacks they wouldn't
spoil if it rained or even if the house burned down.  I stuck 'em in
there, got the rock back like it was before, made sure nobody saw me,
an' went off by myself for a smoke.

"'Cause why did I take that chance?  I didn't take no chances at all, I
tell you, Steve!  How did I know, your father gettin' delirious at the
finish which came downright quick, but he'd give the game away?  An' on
the ranch then there was men that would do mos' anything for ten
thousan', give 'em the show.

"Your gran'father had come over an' he had brought Blenham with him an'
his mechanic, Guy Little; an' there was a couple of new men in the
outfit I'd picked up myself that I knew was tough gents.

"No!  I didn't take no chances, seein' the money was yours an' not mine
to fool with.  I stuck it in the wall an' I sneaked off an' for three
hours I squatted there in the dark with my gun in my hand, waitin' an'
watchin'.  Which was playing as safe as a man could, wasn't it, Steve?"

Packard got up and came to Royce's side, putting his hand gently on the
foreman's shoulder.

"It strikes me you've done rather a good deal for me, Bill," he said
quite simply.

"Maybe," said Royce thoughtfully.  "But no more'n one pardner ought to
do for another; no more'n you'd do for me, Stevie.  Don't I know you?
Give you the chance you'd do as much for me; eh, boy?  Well, here's the
rest of the story: Your dad was dead: ol' Hell-Fire was blowin' his
nose so you'd hear it a mile an' I was feelin' weak an' sick-like,
knowin' all of a sudden that Phil Packard had been damn' good to me an'
wantin' to tell him so now it was too late.  Late an' dark as it was I
went down to the bunk-house, tol' the boys to stick aroun' for orders
in the mornin', saddled my horse and beat it for a quiet place where I
could think.  I never wanted to think so much in my life, Steve.
Remember the ol' cabin by the big timber over on the east side?"

"The old McKittrick place?  Yes."

"Well, I went there to make a fire in the ol' fireplace an' sit an'
think things over.  But I got to tell you about a feller name of Johnny
Mills.  You didn't know him; he's workin' for the Brocky Lane outfit
now.  Well, Johnny was as good a cow-man as you want, but you always
had to watch him that he didn't slip off to go quail-huntin'.  With a
shot-gun he was the best wing-shot I ever heard a man tell about.

"He used to sneak for the McKittrick cabin where he kep' an ol'
muzzle-loadin' shot-gun, an' shot quail aroun' them springs up there
when he'd ought to be workin'.  Then he'd come in an' brag, tellin' how
he'd never missed a shot.  The boys, jus' to tease Johnny, had gone to
the cabin that very day an' drawed his shot out, jus' leavin' the
powder alone so Johnny would think he'd missed when he pulled the
trigger an' no birdies dropped.

"See what I'm drivin' at?  I tied my horse an' started along the little
trail through the wild-holly bushes to the cabin.  Somebody was waitin'
for me an' give me both barrels square in the face.  That's when an'
how my lights went out, Steve."

It came as a shock, and Packard paled; Royce had been so long making
his explanations and then put the actual catastrophe so baldly that for
a moment his hearer sat speechless.  Presently--

"Know who did it, Bill?" he asked.

"If I knew--for sure--I'd go get him!  But I don't know; not for sure."
His big hands clenched until they fairly trembled with their own
tenseness.  "It's tough to go blind, Steve!"

His hands relaxed; he sat still, staring into that black nothingness
which always engulfed him.  When he spoke again it was drearily,
hopelessly, like a man communing with his own sorrow, oblivious of a
listener:

"Yes, it's fair hell to be blind.  If there's anything worse I'd like
to know what it might be.  To be walkin' along in the dark, always in
the dark--to stumble an' fall an' hear a man laugh--to pitch head firs'
over a box that had been slipped quiet in your way----"

"Blenham did that sort of thing?" demanded Packard sharply.

It would have done Bill Royce good to see the look in his eyes then.
Royce nodded.

"Blenham did whatever he could think of," he muttered colorlessly.
"An' he could think of a good many things.  Just the same--maybe some
day----"

"And yet you stayed on, Bill?" when Royce's voice stopped.

"I'd promised your dad I'd be here--with the coin--when you come back.
He knew an' I knew you might blow in an' blow out an' never get word
unless I was right here all the time.  An' ol' man Packard, after I was
blind I went to him an' he promised I could stick as long as I just
obeyed orders.  Which, I've done, no matter what they was.

"But the end's come now; ain't it, Steve, ol' pardner?  But to get this
tale tol' an' the money in your hands: I didn't know who'd tried to do
for me, but I guessed it must have been some one who'd found out
somehow about the ten thousan' an' thought I had it on me.  When I come
to at the cabin an' firs' thing tried to get a chaw of tobacco I foun'
my pockets all turned wrong side out.  It might have been Johnny Mills
himself; he didn't know about the gun bein' fooled with; it might have
been Blenham; it might have been Guy Little; it might have been
somebody else.  But I've thought all along an' I pray God I was right
an' that some day I'll know, that it was Blenham."

He rose suddenly.

"Come ahead, Steve," he said, his voice matter of fact as of old.
"It's up to you to ride herd on your own simoleons now."

"You've left it in the same place?  In the rock foundation-wall?"

"Yes.  I couldn't find a safer place."

"And you haven't been back to it all these months?"

"Not until las' Saturday night.  It was jus' six months then.  I
figgered it out I'd make sure once every six months.  I went in the
middle of the night an' made sure nobody followed me, Steve.  Come
ahead."

Packard slipped his arm through Royce's and they went side by side.
The night was filled with stars; there was no moon.  The wall, as they
came around the corner of the house, shone palely here and there where
a white surface glinted vaguely through the shadows.

"Nobody aroun', is there, Steve?" whispered Royce.

"Nobody," Packard assured him.  "Where is it, Bill?"

Royce's hands, groping with the wall, rested at last upon a knob of
stone near the base of the foundation.  He tugged; the stone, rudely
squared, came away, leaving a gaping hole.  Royce thrust his hand in,
searched briefly, and in a moment brought out a flat wallet clutched
tightly.

"Yours, Steve!" he said then, a quick, palpitating note of pure joy in
his cry.  "Blind as I was, I put it over for you!  Here's ten thousan',
Steve.  An' the chance to get ol' Number Ten back."

Packard was taking the wallet proffered him.  Suddenly Royce jerked it
back.

"Let me make sure again," he said hastily.  "Let me be dead sure I've
made good."

He fumbled with the wallet, opened the flap, drew out the contents, a
neat pack of folded bank-notes.  He counted slowly.

"Ten of 'em," he announced triumphantly as he gave the wallet over to
its proper owner.

Packard took them and they went back to the house.  The rays of the
lamp met them; through the open door, back to the living-room, they
walked side by side.  The table between them, they sat down.  Packard
put the wallet down, spread out the ten bank-notes.

"Bill," he said, and there was a queer note in his voice, "Bill, you've
gone through hell for me.  Don't I know it?  And you say I'd do as much
for you?  Are you sure of it, Bill?"

Royce laughed and rubbed his hands together.

"Dead sure, Stevie," he said.

Packard's eyes dropped to the table.  Before him were the ten crisp
bank-notes.  Each was for one dollar.  Ten dollars in all.  His
heritage, saved to him by Bill Royce.

"Bill, old man," he said slowly, "you've taught me how to play the
game.  Pray God I can be as white with a pardner as you have been."

And, crumpling the notes with a sudden gesture, he thrust them into his
pocket.



CHAPTER VII

THE OLD MOUNTAIN LION COMES DOWN FROM THE NORTH

It was perhaps eight o'clock, the morning blue, cloudless, and still.
Packard had conferred briefly with Barbee; the Ranch Number Ten men had
gone about their work.  Steve and Bill Royce, riding side by side, had
mounted one of the flat, treeless hills in the upper valley and were
now sitting silent while Royce fumbled with his pipe and Steve sent a
long, eager look down across the open meadow-lands dotted with grazing
cattle.

Suddenly their two horses and the other horses browsing in a lower
field, jerked up their heads, all ears pricked forward.  And yet Steve
had heard no sound to mar the perfect serenity of the young day.  He
turned his head a little, listening.

Then, from some remote distance there floated to him a sound strangely
incongruous here in the early stillness, a subdued screech or scream, a
wild, clamorous, shrieking noise which for the life of him he could not
catalogue.

It was faint because it came across so great a distance and yet it was
clear; it was not the throbbing cry of a mountain lion, not the scream
of a horse stricken with its death, nothing that he had ever heard, and
yet it suggested both of these sounds.

"Bill!" he began.

"I heard it," Royce muttered.  "An' I've heard it before!  In a
minute----"

Royce broke off.  The sound, stilled a second, came again, seeming
already much closer and more hideous.  Steve's horse snorted and
plunged; some of the colts in the pasture flung up their heels and fled
with streaming manes and tails.  Royce calmly filled and lighted his
pipe.

Stillness again for perhaps ten or twenty seconds.  Steve, about to
demand an explanation from his companion, stared as once more came the
shrieking noise.

"You can hear the blame thing ten miles," grunted Royce.  "It's only
about half that far away now.  Keep your eye glued on the road across
the valley where it comes out'n Blue Bird Cañon."

And then Steve understood.  Into the clear air across the valley rose a
growing cloud of dust; through it, out of the cañon's shadows and into
the sunlight, shot a glistening automobile, hardly more than a bright
streak as it sped along the curving down-grade.

"Terry Temple?" gasped young Packard.  Royce merely grunted again.

"Jus' you watch," was all he said.

And, needing no invitation, Packard watched.  The motor-car's siren--he
had never heard another like it, knew that such a thing would not be
tolerated in any of the world's traffic centres--sounded again a long,
wailing note which went across the valley in billowing echoes.

Then it grew silent as, with the last of the dangerous curves behind
it, the long-bodied roadster swung into the valley.  Packard, an
experienced driver himself, with his own share of reckless blood,
opened his mouth and stared.

It was hard to believe that the big, spinning wheels were on the ground
at all; the machine seemed more like an aeroplane content with skimming
the earth but hungry for speed.  Only the way in which it plunged and
lurched and swerved and plunged again testified to highly inflated
tires battling with ruts and chuck-holes.

"The fool!" he cried as the car negotiated a turn on two wheels with
never a sign of lessened speed.  "He'll turn turtle.  He's doing sixty
miles an hour right now.  And on these roads----"

"More likely doin' seventy-five," grunted Royce.  "Can do ten better'n
that.  Out on the highway he's done a clean hundred.  That car, my
boy----"

"He's going into the ditch!" exclaimed Steve excitedly.

The car, racing on, was already near enough for Steve to make out its
two passengers, a man bent over the steering-wheel, another man, or
boy, for the figure was small, clinging wildly to his place on the
running-board, seeming always in imminent danger of being thrown off.

"He's drunk!" snapped Packard angrily.  "Of all blind idiots!"

Another strident blast from the horn, that sent staid old cows
scurrying this way and that to get out of the way, and the car swerved
from the road and took to the open field, headed straight toward the
hill where the two horsemen were.  Jerking his horse about, Steve rode
down to meet the new arrivals.  And then----

"My God!  It's my grandfather!  He's gone mad, Bill Royce!"

"No madder'n usual," said Royce.

The car came to a sudden stop.  The man on the running-board--he had a
man's face, keen and sharp-eyed and eager, and the body of a slight
boy--jumped down from his place and in a flash disappeared under the
engine.  The man at the wheel straightened up and got down, stretching
his legs.  Steve, swinging down from his saddle, and coming forward,
measured him with wondering eyes.

And he was a man for men to look at, was old man Packard.  Full of
years, he was no less full of vigor, hale and stalwart and breathing
power.  A great white beard, cut square, fell across his full chest;
his white mustache was curled upward now as fiercely as fifty years ago
when he had been a man for women to look at, too.

He was dressed as Steve had always seen him, in black corduroy
breeches, high black boots, broad black hat--a man standing upward of
six feet, carrying himself as straight as a ramrod, his chest as
powerful as a blacksmith's bellows, the calf of his leg as thick as
many a man's thigh; big, hard hands, the fingers twisted by toil; the
face weatherbeaten like an old sea captain's, with eyes like the frozen
blue of a clear winter sky.

His voice when he spoke boomed out suddenly, deep and rich and hearty.

"Stephen?" he demanded.

Steve said "Yes" and put out his hand, his eyes shining, the surprising
realization upon him that he was tremendously glad to see his father's
father once more.  The old man took the proffered hand into a
hard-locked grip and for a moment held it, while, the other hand on his
grandson's shoulder, he looked steadily into Steve's eyes.

"What sort of a man have they made of you, boy?" he asked bluntly.
"There's the makings of fool, crook an' white man in all of us.  What
for a man are you?"

Steve flushed a little under the direct, piercing look, but said
steadily--

"Not a crook, I hope."

"That's something, if it ain't everything," snorted the old man as,
withdrawing his hand, he found and lighted a long stogie.  "Blenham
tells me you fired him las' night?"

Young Packard nodded, watching his grandfather's face for the first
sign of opposition.  But just now the old man's face told nothing.

"Thinking of runnin' the outfit yourself, Stephen?" came the next
question quietly.

"Yes.  I had intended looking in on you in a day or so to talk matters
over.  I understand that my father left everything to me and that it is
pretty heavily mortgaged to you."

"Uhuh.  I let Phil have a right smart bit of money on Number Ten firs'
an' las', my boy.  Don't want to pay it off this mornin', do you?"

Steve laughed.

"I'm broke, Grandy," he said lightly, unconsciously adopting the old
title for the man who had made him love him and hate him a score of
times.  "My working capital, estimated last night, runs about
seventy-five dollars.  That wouldn't quite turn the trick, would it?"

The old man's eyes narrowed.

"You mean that seventy-five dollars is all you've got to show for
twelve years?" he asked sharply.

Again, hardly understanding why, Steve flushed.  Was a man to be
ashamed that he had not amassed wealth, especially when there had never
been in him the sustained desire for gold?  He owed no man a cent, he
made his own way, he asked no favors--and yet there was a glint of
defiance in his eye, a hint of defiance in his tone, when he replied
briefly.

"That's all.  I haven't measured life in dollars and cents."

"Then you've missed a damn' good measure for it, my son!  I ain't
sayin' it's the only one, but it'll do firs' class.  But you needn't
get scared I've gone into the preaching business. . . .  An' with that
seventy-five dollars you're startin' out to run a big cow outfit like
this, are you?"

There was a gleam of mockery in the clear blue eyes which Steve gave no
sign of seeing.

"I've got a big job on my hands and I know it," he said quietly.  "But
I'm going to see it through."

"There's no question about the size of the job!  It's life-size, man's
size--Number Ten size, if you want to put it that way.  It wants a real
man to shove it across.  Know just how much you're mortgaged for?"

"No.  I was going to ask you."

"Close to fifty thousan' dollars, countin' back interest, unpaid.
More'n you ever saw in a day, I reckon."

Steve shrugged.  This to hide his first inclination to whistle.  Fifty
thousand--why, he didn't know Number Ten ranch was worth that much
money.  But it must be worth a good deal more if his grandfather had
advanced so much on it.

"It is a nice little pile," he admitted carelessly.

The old man grunted, thrust his hands into his pockets, and drew deeply
at his stogie.  Steve rolled a cigarette.  In the silence falling upon
them they could hear the sound of the mechanician's wrench.

"Anything wrong with the car?" asked Steve for the sake of breaking
unpleasant silence.

"Not that I know of.  He's jus' takin' a peek to make sure, I guess.
That's what he's for.  He knows I got to get back to my place in a
couple of shakes."

Steve smiled; by wagon road his grandfather's ranch home was fifty
miles to the northward.

"You won't think of going back before noon."

"Won't I?  But I will, though, son; Blenham's sticking aroun', waitin'
for my say-so what he'll do nex'."  He snapped open a big watch and
stared at it a moment with pursed lips.  "I'll be back home in jus' one
hour an' a half.  All I got is fifteen minutes to talk with you this
mornin'."

"You mean that you can drive those fifty miles in an hour and a
quarter!"

"Have done it in less; if I was in a hurry I'd do it in an hour flat.
But allowin' for time out I want fifteen minutes more'n that.  And now,
if we're goin' to get anywhere----"

He stopped suddenly and stood toying with his big watch passing it back
and forth through the loop he made of its heavy chain, his gaze steady
and earnest and searching upon his grandson.

"Stephen," he said abruptly, "I ain't playin' any favorites in my ol'
age.  An' I ain't givin' away big chunks of money hit or miss.  You
wasn't countin' on anything like that, was you?"

"No, I wasn't," announced Steve quickly.  "I remember your old theory;
that a man should make his own way unaided, that----"

"That whatever he got he's got to get with his one head an' one set of
han's.  Now, the things I got to say I'll spit out one at the time:
Firs', I'd like to have you come visit me for a spell at my place.
Will you do it?  To-day, to-morrow, any time you feel like it."

"Yes; I'll be glad to."

"That's good.  Nex', not even if you was the right man for the job you
can't save this ranch now; it's too late, there's to much to dig up in
too short a time.  I've got my hooks in deep an' whenever that happens
I don't let go.  I want you to quit before you get started."

Steve looked his surprise.

"Surely," he said wonderingly, "you don't want me to give you the ranch
just because you happen to hold the mortgages on it?"

"Business is business, Stephen," said the old man sternly.  "Sometimes,
between Packards, business is hell.  It'd be that for you.  I've
started out to get this outfit an' I'd get it.  An' doin' it I'd be
wastin' my time besides breakin' you all to smithereens.  Better drop
it."

Steve had hardly expected this.  But he answered calmly, even lightly.

"I think I'd like a try at holding it."

"That's two things," old man Packard said crisply.  "Number three is
this here: Blenham tells, me you've put Royce in as foreman under you?"

"I offered him the place.  He could have it yet if he wanted it.  But
he refused.  I've passed the job on to a man named Barbee."

"Barbee!" cried the old man.  "Barbee!  That yellow canary-bird?
Meaning him?"

"Yes," retorted Steve a trifle stiffly.  "Anything wrong with him?"

"I didn't roll them fifty miles to talk about jay-birds an'
canary-birds an' such," growled his grandfather.  "But here's one thing
I've got to say: This ranch is goin' to be mine real soon; that's in
the cards, face up.  It's as good as mine now.  I've been runnin' it
myself for six months.  I want it right, hear me?  What do you know
about running a big outfit?  What does a kid without whiskers like
Barbee know about it?  Think I want it all run down in the heel when it
comes to me?  No, sir!  I don't.  Blenham knows the lay of the land,
Blenham knows my ways, Blenham knows how to run things.  I want you to
put Blenham back on the job!"

Steve bit his lip, holding back a hot reply.

"Grandfather," he said slowly, "suppose we take a little more time in
getting squared around?  I want to do what's right; I know that you
want to do what's fair and square.  I am willing to consult you about
ranch matters; I'll come to you for advice, if you'll let me; I'll try
to keep the ranch up to time and"--with a smile--"in my hands and out
of yours.  That's a good sporting proposition.  But as for Blenham----"

"Put him back as foreman and I'll talk fair with you.  I want Blenham
back here, Stephen.  Understand that?"

"And," cried Steve a trifle heatedly at last, "I tell you that I am
going to run the ranch myself.  And that I don't like Blenham."

"Damn it," cried the old man violently, "hear the boy!  Don't like
Blenham, huh?  Goin' to run the ranch yourself, huh?  Why, I tell you
it's as good as mine right now!  How are you goin' to pay your men, how
are you goin' to buy grub for 'em, where are you goin' to find
runnin'-expense money?  Go an' tell folks you're mortgaged to me for
fifty thousan' dollars an' see how much they'll stake you for on top of
that.  Or come over my way an' try to borrow some more, if you think
I'm an easy guy.  Why, Steve Packard, you--you're a tomfool!"

"Thanks," said Steve dryly.  "I've heard that before."

"An' you'll hear it again, by the Lord!  In ten languages if you'll
find men talkin' that many lingos.  Here I come chasin' all this way to
be decent to you, to see if there ain't some way to help you out----"

"Help me out of my property," amended Steve.  "I can't remember
anything else you offered to do for me!"

"I said it once," shouted his grandfather, his two big fists suddenly
clinched and lifted threateningly; "you're a howlin' young ass!  That's
what for a man you've turned out to be, Stephen Packard.  Come here
empty-handed an' try to buck me, would you?  Me who has busted better
men than you all my life, me who has got my hooks in you deep already,
me who ain't no pulin' ol' dodderin' softy to turn over to a lazy,
shiftless vagabond all I've piled up year after year.  Buck me, would
you?  Tuck in an' fire my men, butt on my affairs--  Why, you impudent
young puppy-dog, you: I'll make you stick your tail between your legs
an' howl like a kiote before I'm done with you!"

Steve looked at him hopelessly; he might have expected this all along
though he had hoped for amity at least.  If there were to be a conflict
of purpose he could have wished that it be conducted in friendly
fashion.  But when did Hell-Fire Packard ever clasp hands with the man
he opposed in anything, when did he ever see a business rival without
cloven hoof, horns, and spiked tail?

"I am sorry you look at it that way, Grandy.  It is only natural that I
should seek to hold what is mine."

"Then hold your tongue, you young fool!" blazed out the old man.  "But
don't ask me to hold my hand!  I'm goin' after you tooth and big
toe-nail!  If Ranch Number Ten ain't mine in all partic'lars before
you're a year older I want to know why!"

"I think," said the grandson, fighting with himself for calmness and
quiet speech, "that any further business I can take up with your
lawyer.  Past due interest----"

"Lawyer?" thundered Packard senior.  "Since when did I ever have call
for law an' lawyers in my play?  Think I'm a crook, sir?  Mean to
insinuate I'm a crook?"

"I mean nothing of the kind.  A mortgage is a legal matter, the payment
of interest and principal----"

"Guy Little!" called the old man.  "Guy Little!  Goin' to stay under
that car all day?"

The mechanician promptly appeared, hands and face greasy and black and
took his place on the running-board.

"All ready, sir," he announced imperturbably.

With half-a-dozen strides his master reached the car; in as many
seconds the powerful engine was throbbing.  The screaming horn gave
warning, the quiet herds in the valley heeded, lifted their heads and
stood at attention, ready to scamper this way or that as need arose.
The wheels turned, the car jolted over the inequalities presented by
the field, swerved sharply, turned, gathered speed and whizzed away
toward the valley road.


Three times before they shot back into the mouth of Blue Bird Cañon the
mechanician fancied that his employer had spoken; each time listening,
he failed to catch any other sound than that made by the engine and
speeding wheels.  Once he said, "Sir?" and got only silence for an
answer.

He shook his head and wondered; it was not Packard's way to mumble to
himself.  And again, ready to jump for his life as the big car took a
dangerous turn, his eyes glued to the sheer bank a few inches from the
singing tires, he caught a sound through the blast of the sparton which
surely must have come from the driver's lips.

"What say?" yelled Guy Little.

No answer.  He caught a fleeting glimpse of a farmer at the head of his
two plunging horses where the man had hurriedly got them out of the way
and up the flank of the mountain.  They raced on.  And again, surely
Packard had said something.

"Talkin' to me?" called Little.

Then, for just a wee fraction of a second, Packard drew his eyes from
the road and his look met the mechanician's.  The old man's eyes were
shining strangely.

"Damn it, Guy Little," he boomed out boisterously, "can't a man laugh
when he feels that-away?"

And it suddenly dawned upon Guy Little that ever since they had left
Ranch Number Ten the old man had been chuckling delightedly.



CHAPTER VIII

IN RED CREEK TOWN

The little town of Red Creek had an individuality all its own.  It
might have prided itself, had it any civic sense whatever, upon its
aloofness.  It stood apart from the rest of the world, at a safe
distance from any of its rival settlements, even drawn apart as though
distrustfully from its own railroad station which baked and blistered
in the sun a good half-mile to the west.  Grown up here haphazardly
long before the "Gap" had been won through by the "iron trail," it
ignored the beckoning of the glistening rails and refused to extend
itself toward the traffic artery.

More than all this, Red Creek gave the impression, not in the least
incorrect, of falling apart into two watchful sections which eyed each
other suspiciously, being cynically and unsociably inclined.  Its main
street was as wide as Van Ness Avenue and down the middle of it, like a
border line between two hostile camps, sprawled a stream which shared
its name with the town.

The banks here and there were the brick-red of a soil whose chief
mineral was iron; here and there were screened by willows.  There were
two insecure-looking bridges across which men went infrequently.

For the spirit which had brooded over the birth of Red Creek when a
sheepman from the north and a cow-man from the south had set their
shacks opposite each other, lived on now; long after the old feuds were
dead and the whole of the grazing lands had been won over to the cattle
raisers, a new basis for quarrels had offered itself at Red Creek's
need.

Much of this Steve Packard knew, since it was so in his time, before he
had gone wandering; much he had learned from Barbee in a long talk with
him before riding the twenty-five miles into the village.  Old Man
Packard had drawn to himself a host of retainers since his interests
were big, his hired-men many, his wages generous.  And, throughout the
countryside across which he cast his shadow, he had cultivated and
grown a goodly crop of enemies, men with whom he had contended, men
whom he had branded sweepingly as liars and thieves and cutthroats, men
whose mortgages he had taken, men whom, in the big game which he
played, he had broken.  The northern half of Red Creek was usually and
significantly known as Packard's Town; the southern half sold liquor
and merchandise, offered food and lodging, to men who harbored few
friendly feelings for Packard's "crowd."

Hence, in Red Creek were two saloons, confronting each other across the
red scar of the creek; two stores, two lunch-counters, two blacksmith
shops, each eying its rival jealously.  At this time the post-office
had been secured by the Packard faction; the opposition snorted
contempt and called attention to the fact that the constable resided
with them.  Thus honors were even.


Steve Packard rode into town in the late afternoon, his motive
clear-cut, his need urgent.  If Blenham had stolen his ten thousand
dollars for which he had so imperative a call now, then Blenham had
been the one who had replaced the large bank-notes with the small;
there was the chance that Blenham, just a week ago to-night, had gotten
the dollar bills in Red Creek.  If such were the case Packard meant to
know it.

"There are things, Barbee," he had said bluntly, "which I can't tell
you yet; I don't know you well enough.  But this I can say: I am out to
get Blenham's tag."

"So'm I," said Barbee.

"That's one reason you've got the job you're holding down right now.
Here's one point though, which it's up to you to know; I very much
suspect that for reasons of his own Blenham hasn't set foot for the
last time on Ranch Number Ten.  He'll come back; he'll come snooping
around at night; he'll perhaps have a way of knowing the first night
I'm away and come then.  There's something he left there that he wants.
At least that is the way I'm stringing my bet.  And while I am away
you're foreman, Barbee."

A flickering light danced in Barbee's blue eyes.

"Orders from you, if Blenham shows up at night----"

"To throw a gun on him and run him out!  The quickest way.  To-night I
want you to squat out under a tree and keep awake--all night.  For
which you can have two days off if you want."

"If I thought he'd show," and the boy's voice was little more than an
eager whisper, "I couldn't sleep if I tried!"

Then Packard had spoken a little about Red Creek, asking his few
questions and had learned that Blenham had his friends in "Packard's
Town" where Dan Hodges of the Ace of Diamonds saloon was an old pal,
that "Whitey" Wimble of the Old Trusty saloon across the street hated
both Hodges and Blenham like poison.

"Us boys," added Barbee, "always hung out at the Ace of Diamonds, bein'
Packard's men.  After now, when I go on a rampage, I'm goin' to make
frien's across the street.  Friends sometimes comes in handy in Red
Creek," he added smilingly.


The road, as one comes into Red Creek from the east, divides at the
first bridge, one fork becoming the northern half of the intersected
street, the other the southern half.  Steve Packard, filling his eyes
with the two rows of similar shacks, hesitated briefly.

Until now he had always gone to the Packard side; when a boy he had
regarded the rival section with high contempt, looking upon it as
inferior, sneering at it as a thoroughbred might lift lip at an
unworthy mongrel.  The prejudice was old and deep-rooted; he felt a
subtle sense of shame as though the eyes of the world were upon him,
watching to see him turn toward the "low-down skunks an' varmints"
which his grandfather had named these denizens of the defamed section.

The hesitation was brief; he reined his horse impatiently to the left,
riding straight toward the flaunting sign upon the lofty false front of
the Old Trusty saloon.  But short as was his indecision it had not
ended before he had glimpsed at the far end of the street the
incongruous lines of an automobile--red racing type.

"Boyd-Merril.  Twin Eight," thought Packard.  "So we'll meet on the
same side after all, Miss Terry Pert!"

There were seeds of content in the thought.  If it were to be range war
between him and his grandfather, then since obviously the Temples had
already been drawn into contention with the old man Packard, it was
just as well the fates decreed that he and Terry should be on the same
side of the fence, the same side of the fight, the same side of Red
Creek.

He tickled his horse with a light spur; despite the manner of their
last encounter he could look forward with something akin to eagerness
to another meeting.  For, he told himself carelessly, she amused him
vastly.

But the meeting was not just yet.  He saw Terry, jauntily, even saucily
dressed, as she came out of the store and jumped into her car, marked
how the bright sunlight winked from her high boots, how it flamed upon
her gay red scarf, how it glinted from a burnished steel buckle in her
hat band.  As bright as a sunbeam herself, loving gay colors about her,
across the distance she fairly shone and twinkled.

There was a faint shadow of regret in his eyes as she let in the clutch
and whizzed away.  She was headed down the street, her back to him,
driving toward the remote railroad station.  Off to the north he saw a
growing plume of black smoke.

"Going away?" he wondered.  "Or just meeting some one?"

But he had come into Red Creek on a business in no way connected with
Terry Temple.

He had figured it out that Blenham, if it had been Blenham who had
chanced on Bill Royce's secret and no longer ago than last Saturday
night, would have wasted no time in acquiring the one-dollar bills for
his trick of substitution; that if he had come for them to Red Creek
that same night, after post-office and stores were closed, he would
have sought them at one of the two saloons; that, since currency is at
all times scarce in cattle towns in the West, he might have had to go
to both saloons for them.

Packard began investigations at the Old Trusty saloon whose doors stood
invitingly open to the faint afternoon breeze.

In the long room half-a-dozen idle men looked up at him with mild
interest, withdrawing their eyes briefly from solitaire or newspaper or
cribbage game or whatever had been holding their careless attention as
he entered.

A glance at them showed him no familiar face.  He turned to the bar.

Behind it a man was polishing glasses with quick, skilful hands.  Steve
knew him at once for Whitey Wimble.  He was a pronounced albino,
unhealthy-looking, with overlarge, thin ears, small pale eyes, and
teeth that looked like chalk.  Steve nodded to him and spun a dollar on
the bar.

"Have something," he suggested.

Wimble returned his nod, left off his polishing to shove forward a
couple of the glistening glasses, and produced a bottle from behind him.

"Regards," he said apathetically, taking his whiskey with the
enthusiasm and expression of a man observing his doctor's orders.
"Stranger in Red Creek?"

"I haven't been here," Steve answered, "for several years.  I never saw
the town any quieter.  Used to be a rather gay little place, didn't it?"

"It's early yet," said Whitey, going back to his interrupted task.
"Bein' Saturday, the boys from the ranches will be showin' up before
long.  Then it ain't always so quiet."

Packard made his cigarette, lighted it, and then said casually: "How
are you fixed for dollar bills in your strong-box?"

"Nary," returned Whitey Wimble without troubling himself to look into
his till.  "We don't see overmuch rag money in Red Creek."

"Guess that's so," admitted Steve.  "They do come in handy, though,
sometimes; when you want to send a dollar in a letter or something of
that kind."

"That's a fac', too; never thought of that."  Which, since he never
wrote or received letters, was no doubt true.

"Men around here don't have much use for paper money, do they?"
continued Packard carelessly, his interest seeming to centre in his
cigarette smoke.  "I'd bet a man the drinks nobody else has asked you
for a dollar bill for the last six months."

"You'd lose," said Whitey.  "I had three of 'em in the drawer for a
coon's age; feller asked me for 'em jus' the other night."

"Yes?"  He masked his eagerness as he thrust a quarter forward.  "The
drink's on me then.  Let me have a cigar."

Whitey also took a cigar, indicating friendliwise the better box.

"Who was it asked you for the paper money?" Steve went on.  "He might
have one he doesn't need."

"It was Stumpy Collins.  The bootblack across the street."

"I'll look him up; yesterday he had them, you say?"

Wimble shook his head, gave the matter his thought a moment, and said:

"It was las' Saturday night; I remember 'cause there was a right smart
crowd in an' I was busy an' Stumpy kep' pesterin' me until I 'tended to
him.  He won't have nothin' lef by this, though; it ain't Stumpy's way
to save his money long.  Firs' time I ever knowed him to have three
dollars all at once."

From the Old Trusty Steve went across the street, leaving his horse in
front of Wimble's door where there was a big poplar and a grateful
shade.  Crossing the second of the two bridges he turned his eyes
toward the railroad station; the red touring-car stood forth
brilliantly in the sunshine, a freight train was just pulling in, Terry
was not to be seen.

"She'll eat before she starts back home," he thought, hastening his
stride on to Hodges's place, the Ace of Diamonds.  "I'll see her at the
lunch-counter."

Tucked in beside the Ace of Diamonds was a bootblack stand, a crazy,
home-made affair with dusty seat.  The wielder of the brush and polish
was nowhere in evidence.   Steve passed and turned in at the saloon
door, wishing to come to Hodges, Blenham's pal.  For it required little
imagination to suspect that it had been Hodges at Blenham's behest, or
Blenham himself, who had sent Stumpy across the street to the Old
Trusty.

Here, as in Wimble's place, a few men loitered idly; here as there the
proprietor stood behind his own bar.  Hodges, a short, squat man with a
prize-fighter's throat, chest, and shoulders and a wide, thin-lipped
mouth, leaned forward in dirty shirt-sleeves, chewing at a moist
cigar-stump.

"Hello, stranger," he offered offhandedly.  "What's the word?"

"Know Blenham, don't you?" asked Steve quietly.  "Works for old man
Packard."

"Sure, I know him.  What about him?"

"Seen him lately?"

"Ten minutes ago.  Why?  Want him?"

Packard had not counted on this, having no idea that Blenham was in
town.  He hesitated, then said quickly:

"Hasn't left yet, has he?  Where is he now?"

"Down to the depot.  Trailin' a skirt.  An' some skirt, too, take it
from me."

He laughed.

Steve wanted suddenly to slap the broad, ugly face.  Since, however, he
could formulate no logically sufficient reason for the act, he said
instead:

"Maybe I'll see him before I pull out.  If I don't, ask him if he lost
a wad like this?"

Fleetingly he flashed the little roll of banknotes before Hodges's eyes.

"Greenbacks?" asked Hodges.  "How much?"

Packard laughed.

"Not so all-fired much," he said lightly.  "But enough to buy a hat!"

"If hats are sellin' ten dollars or under?" ventured Hodges.

Packard affected to look surprised.

"What do you know about how much is in this roll?" he demanded
innocently.

"One-dollar bills?" said Hodges.  "Ten of 'em?"

"You don't look like a mind-reader."

"Well, you're right about the wad bein' Blenham's.  Leave it with me,
if you want.  I'll see he gets it.  There ain't enough there for a man
to steal," he added reassuringly.

"How do you know it's Blenham's?  If he told you that he had lost it
he'd have told you where.  What's the answer; where did I pick this up?"

"Blenham didn't say he los' nothin'.  But I know it's his because he
got most of them bills from me."

"Tell me when," and Packard held the roll in a tight-shut hand, "and
I'll leave them with you."

"Las' Saturday night," said Hodges, after a brief moment of reflection.

Packard tossed the little roll to the bar.

"There's the money.  Tell Blenham I thought it was his!"

He turned to the door, his blood suddenly stirred with certainty:
Blenham had stolen the ten thousand dollars, and the theft had been
committed no longer ago than last Saturday night.  Just a week--there
was the chance----

"Hey, there," called Hodges.  "Who'll I say lef this?  What name,
stranger?"

Steve turned and regarded him coolly.

"Tell him Steve Packard called.  Steve Packard, boss of Ranch Number
Ten."

And Dan Hodges, dull wit that he was, felt that something was wrong.
The look in the stranger's eyes had altered swiftly, the eyes had grown
hard.  Steve went out.  As he reached the sidewalk he glimpsed a red
automobile racing townward from the station.  Behind it, riding in its
dust, came Blenham.



CHAPTER IX

"IT'S MY FIGHT AND HIS.  LET HIM GO!"

Steve Packard, walking swiftly, reached the west bridge just before the
front tires of Terry's car thudded on the heavy planks.  He glimpsed
Blenham jogging along behind her and knew that Blenham had seen him.

But his eyes were for Terry now.  She, too, had recognized him with but
a few yards separating them.  She gave him a blast of her horn
warningly, and, slowing down no more than was necessary for the sharp
turn, came on across the bridge.  He read it in her eye that it would
be an abiding joy for Miss Terry if she could send him scampering out
of her way; the horn as much as said: "You step aside or I'll run you
down!"

With no intention of going under the wheels, Steve waited until the
last moment and then jumped.  But not to the side as Terry had
anticipated.  Obeying his impulse and taking his chance, he sprang up
to her running-board as she whizzed over the bouncing planks of the
bridge, grasping the door of her car to steady himself.  The feat
safely accomplished, he grinned up into Terry's startled eyes.

"We meet again," he laughed sociably.  "Howdy!"

Her lips tight-pressed, she gave her attention for a moment to her
wheel and the rutty road in front of her.  Her cheeks were red and grew
redder.  Perhaps a dozen men, here and there upon the street, had seen.
She had meant them to see; it would have tickled her no little to have
had them note Steve Packard flying wildly to the side of the road while
she shot by.  She had not counted upon him doing anything else.

"Smarty!" she cried hotly.

"Smart enough to climb out from under when an automobile driven by a
manslaughter artist comes along," he chuckled, sensing an advantage and
drawing a deep enjoyment from it.  "Don't you know, young lady, you've
got to be careful sometimes?  Now, if you had run over me----"

"Serve you right," sniffed Terry.

"Yes, but think!  Running over a man who hasn't had time to take his
spurs off yet, why you stood all kinds of chances getting a puncture!
You don't want to forget things like that."

Terry bit her lip, stepped on the throttle, swung across the street,
made a reckless turn, and brought up in front of the lunch-counter.

"Do you know," remarked Packard lightly, ignoring the fact that she had
answered him with only the contempt of her silence, "you remind me of
my grandfather.  Fact!  You two have the same little trick of driving.
Wonder what would happen if you and he met on a narrow road?"

"At least," said Terry, eying him belligerently, "he is a man, if he is
a scoundrel.  Not just a hobo!"

"Oh, I didn't mean to call you a scoundrel!  Nor yet to say that you
struck me as mannish.  Of course----"

"Oh, you make me sick!" cried Terry.  And she flashed away from him,
going into the lunch-room.

He followed her with speculative eyes.  Then he glanced across the
street.  Blenham had dismounted in front of the Ace of Diamonds and was
watching.  As Packard turned Blenham went into Hodges's saloon.

"Wonder what he'll have to say when Hodges hands him his roll?" mused
Packard.

Well, he had accomplished his purpose.  He had done all that he had
hoped to do in Red Creek this afternoon, had assured himself that his
suspicions against Blenham were justified by the fact and that the
theft was only a week old.  He went back slowly to his horse in front
of the Old Trusty.  But his eyes were frowning thoughtfully.

What would be Blenham's next move?  What would Blenham do, what would
he say when Hodges gave him Packard's message?  Might he, in an
unguarded moment, give a hint toward the answer of that other question
which now had become the only consideration: "Were the larger banknotes
still hidden at Ranch Number Ten or had Blenham already removed them?"

Instead of mounting to ride away, Packard hung his spurs upon his
saddlehorn and turned again into Whitey Wimble's place.

The late afternoon faded into dusk, the first stars came out, Whitey
Wimble lighted his lamps.  Steve, advised of the fact by the purr of a
motor, knew when Terry left the lunch-room and drove to the store for a
visit with the storekeeper's wife.  Was she going to remain in town
overnight?  It began to look as though she were.

Across the street Hodges came out and lighted the big lamps at each
side of his doorway.  A cowboy swung down from his horse and went in,
his spurs winking in the lamplight as though there were jewels upon
them.  A buckboard pulled up and two other men went in after him.  A
voice in sudden laughter boomed out.  Saturday night had come.  As
Whitey Wimble had predicted, the boys were showing up and Red Creek
stood ready to lose something of its brooding afternoon quiet.

Once again Packard crossed the bridge and made his way along the
echoing wooden sidewalk to the Ace of Diamonds.  A dozen saddle-horses
were tied at the hitching-rail.  Among them was Blenham's white-footed
bay.  Up and down the street glowing cigarette ends like fireflies came
and went.  In front of the saloon a number of men made a good-natured,
tongue-free crowd, most of whom had had their first drinks and were
beginning to liven up as in duty bound on a Saturday night.

A four-horse wagon came rattling into town from the east to pour out
its contents, big, husky men, at Hodges's door.  Among them Packard
recognized one man.  He was the lumber-camp cook from whom he had
gotten coffee and hotcakes the other day, that morning after he had
refused to accept Terry's cool invitation to breakfast.

"I'll have to look in on those fellows tomorrow," he thought as they
shouldered past, boisterous and eager.  "Grandy's sure had his nerve
cutting my timber with never so much as a by-your-leave."

Their foreman was with them; one glance singled him out.  He was of
that type chosen always by old man Packard to head any one of the
Packard units, a sort of confident mastery in his very stride, the
biggest man of them, unkempt and heavy, with a brutal face and hard
eyes.  Joe Woods, his name.  Packard had already heard of him, a rowdy
and a rough-neck but a capable timberjack to the calloused fingers of
him.  He followed the men into the saloon.

At his place behind the long bar was Hodges, busy filling imperative
orders, taking in the money which he counted as good as his once it
left the paymaster's pocket.  But it struck Packard that the bartender
did not appear happy; his face was flushed and hot, his eyes looked
troubled.  Now and then he flashed a quick look at Blenham who stood
leaning against the bar at the far end, twisting an empty whiskey-glass
slowly in his big hand, staring frowningly at nothing.

"Hodges is a fool and he has just been told so!" was Steve's answer to
the situation.

"Hi, Blenham!" called big Joe Woods.  "Have a drink."

"No," growled Blenham, deep down in his throat.  "I don't want it.
I----"

His eyes, lifted to the lumber-camp boss, passed on and rested on Steve
Packard.  He broke off abruptly, his look changing, probing, seeming
full of question.

"Get the money I gave Hodges for you?" asked Packard, coming into the
room.  "The ten one-dollar bills that you left behind you?"

"They wasn't mine," said Blenham quickly, his hand hard about the
whiskey glass, his manner vaguely nervous.  "I tol' Dan to give 'em
back to you."

Steve smiled.

"Funny," he said carelessly.  "Hodges said----"

"I made a mistake," called Hodges sharply.  "I got Blenham mixed up
with some other guy.  I don't know nothin' about this here."  He
slammed the little roll down on the bar.  "Come get it, if you want
it."  Packard promptly stepped forward, taking the money.

"I figured there was a chance to make ten dollars, easy money, if I
just walked across the street for it," he said, looking pleasantly from
Hodges to Blenham.  "Sure, I want it.  It's luck-money; didn't you
know?  You see, when a man loses anything he loses some of his luck
with it; when another man gets it, he gets the luck along with it.
Thanks, Blenham."

Blenham made no answer.  His eyes were bright with anger and yet
troubled with uncertainty.  The uncertainty was there to be recognized
by him who looked keenly for it.  Blenham did not know just which way
to jump.  From that fact Steve drew a deep satisfaction.  For there
would have been no reason for indecision if Blenham knew that he had
those other, bigger bank-notes, safe.

At the rear of the long room a man was dealing cards for
seven-and-a-half.  As though to demonstrate the truth of his boast
about "luck-money" Steve stepped to the table, the roll of bills in his
hand.  He was dealt a card.  Without turning it up to look at it he
shoved it under the ten banknotes.

"Standing?" said the dealer.

Steve nodded.

"Playing my luck," he answered.

The dealer turned lack-lustre eyes upon Steve's card, then upon his own
which he turned up.  It was the four of clubs.

"I've the hunch that will beat you, pardner," he said listlessly.  "But
I'll come again."

He turned another card, a deuce.

"That'll about beat you," he suggested.  He leaned forward for Steve's
card.  "Unless you've got a seven in the hole."

And a seven it was; the bright red seven of hearts.  The dealer paid,
ten dollars to Steve's ten.

"Come again?" he asked.

"Not to-night," returned Packard.  "I took just the one flutter to show
Blenham."

He turned and saw that Blenham had already slipped quietly out of the
room.  Dan Hodges, his face a fiery red, was just coming back from the
card-room.  With him was the big timber boss.

"Tin-horn!" shouted Joe Woods at Packard.  "Quitter!"

A quick joy spurted up in Steve Packard's heart; he was right about
Blenham.  Blenham, filled with anxiety, had gone already, would be
rushing back to Ranch Number Ten to make sure if the ten thousand
dollars were safe or had been discovered already by the rightful owner.
He had slipped away hurriedly but, after the fashion of a careful,
practical man, had taken time to confer with Dan Hodges and had
commissioned Joe Woods to hold Packard here.  And so, though he could
not remember of having ever run away from a fight before, Steve Packard
was strongly of that mind right now.

"Joe Woods, I believe?" he said coolly, his mind busy with the new
problem of a new situation.  "Boss of the timber crew on the east side
of Number Ten?  I was planning on riding out to-morrow for a word with
you, Woods."

"So?" cried Woods.  "What's the matter with havin' that word to-night?"

"Haven't time," was the simple rejoinder.  "I'm about due across the
street now; at Whitey Wimble's place."

"Which is where you belong," growled Woods, his under jaw thrust
forward, his whole attitude charged with quarrelsome intent.  "Over at
the White Rat's with the rest of the Willies!"

The ever-ready Packard temper was getting into Steve's head, beating in
his temples, pounding along his pulses.  He had never had a man bait
him like that before.  But he strove to remember Blenham only, to take
stock of the fact that this was a bit of Blenham's game, and that any
trouble with another than Blenham was to be avoided at this juncture.
So, though the color was rising into his face and a little flicker of
fire came into his eyes, he said briefly:

"Then I'd better go across, hadn't I?  See you in the morning, Woods."

But there is always the word to whip the hot blood into the coolest
head, to snare a man's caution out of him and inject fury in its stead,
and Joe Woods, a downright man and never a subtle, put his tongue to
it.  On the instant Packard gave over thought of such side issues as a
man named Blenham and hidden bank-notes.

He cried out inarticulately and leaped forward and struck.  Joe Woods
reeled under the first blow full in the face, staggered under the
second, and was borne back into the tight-jammed crowd of his followers.

The men about him and Packard withdrew this way and that, leaving empty
floor space to accommodate the two pairs of shuffling boots.  Joe Woods
wiped his lips with the back of a big, hairy hand, saw traces of blood,
and charged.  The sound of blows given and taken and of little grunts
and of scraping feet were for a space the only sounds heard in Hodges's
saloon.

[Illustration: The men about him and Packard withdrew this way and
that, leaving empty floor space.]

Packard's attack had been swift and sure and not without a certain
skill; against it Woods opposed all he had, ponderous strength,
slow-moving, brutal force, broad-backed, deep-chested endurance.  But
from the first it was clear to all who watched and was suspected by
Woods himself that he had chosen the wrong man.

Steve was taller, had the longer reach, was gifted by the gods with a
supple strength no whit less than the bearish power of the timber boss.
With ten blows struck, with both men rocking dizzily, it was patently
Steve Packard's fight.  But a dull, dogged persistence was in Joe
Woods's eyes as again he shook his head and charged.

Steve struck for the stomach and landed--hard.  Woods doubled up; the
sweat came in drops upon his forehead; his face went suddenly a sick
white.  But the light in his eyes, as again he lifted his head, was
unaltered.

"He can lick me--I know it!  He can lick me--I know it!" he muttered
and kept muttering.  "But, by God, he's got to do it!"

And Steve did it and men looked on queerly, appraising him anew.  He
took Woods's blows when he must and felt the pain go stabbing through
his body; but he stood up and struck back and forced the fight
steadily, crowding his adversary relentlessly, seeming always to strike
swifter and harder.

It was a bleeding fist driven into Joe Woods's throbbing throat,
followed by the other fist, going piston-like, at Joe Woods's stomach,
that ended the fight.

The bigger man crumpled and went down slowly like one of his own trees
just toppling, and lay staring up into Packard's face with dull eyes.
Steve stepped over him, going to the door.

"I'll see you in the morning, Woods," he panted.

But again boots were shuffling on the floor and already several men,
Dan Hodges among them, were between him and the door.  It dawned upon
him that Blenham must have given emphatic orders and that Blenham had
the trick of exacting obedience.

"Hold him here," shouted Hodges, and being a man of little spirit he
withdrew hastily under Steve's eyes, thrusting another man in front of
him.  "Keep him for the sheriff.  Startin' a fight in my place--it's
disturbin' the peace, that's what it is!  I won't stand it!"

Packard drew back two or three paces, his eyes narrowing.  At that
instant he was sure of what he saw in the faces of at least three of
the men confronting him; they were going to rush him together.

But now Joe Woods was on his feet again.  Packard drew still further
back, getting the wall behind him.  And then came a diversion.  It was
Joe Woods speaking heavily:

"I fought him fair an' he licked me.  Think I'm the kind of a she-man
as stands for you guys buttin' in on my fight?  Stand back an' let him
go!"

"Blenham said--" screamed Hodges.

"Damn Blenham an' you, too," growled Woods.  "It's my fight an' his.
Let him go!"

They let him go, drawing apart slowly.  With watchful eyes Steve passed
down the little lane they made.  At the door he turned, saying briefly:

"I'll see you in the morning, Woods!"

Then he went out.



CHAPTER X

A RIDE WITH TERRY

Returning at once to the Old Trusty, on the way passing Terry's car
which still stood in front of the store, Steve Packard asked for the
use of a telephone.  Whitey nodded toward the office, a little room
thinly partitioned off from the larger.  A moment later Barbee's voice
was answering from Ranch Number Ten.

"He's on the way, Barbee," said Steve quickly.  "Left Red Creek just a
few minutes ago.  I'll trail him.  Give him the chance to prowl around
a little; try and find what he's after.  But don't let him get away
with it!  Understand?  Shoot the legs out from under him if you have
to.  I'll give you a month's pay for the night's work if you nail him
with the goods on."

Clicking up the receiver he went out on the street again, giving no
heed to the many glances which followed him.  They knew who he was;
they were speculating on him.  "Ol' man Packard's gran'son," he heard
one man say.

In the thick darkness lying under the poplar tree it was several
minutes before he was certain that his horse was gone.  He had tethered
the animal himself; there was no dangling bit of rope to indicate a
broken tie-rope.  Blenham, the practical, had simply taken thought of
detail.

"Not missing a single bet, is Blenham," he thought savagely.

He swung about and reentered the saloon.  A buzz of talk up and down
the long room promptly died away as again the eyes of many men
travelled his way.  It struck him that they had all been talking of
him; he knew that they must have marked those signs which Joe Woods's
fists had left on his face; he stood a moment looking in on them,
conscious for the first time of his rapidly swelling right eye, seeking
to estimate what these men made of him.

It seemed to him that the one emotion he glimpsed on all hands and in
varying degrees, was distrust.  Little cause for surprise there: he was
a Packard and this was not the Packard side of Red Creek.

"Somebody's put me on foot," he announced crisply.  "I left my horse
outside, tied.  It's gone now.  Know anything about it, any of you
boys?"

They looked their interest.  Hereabouts one man did not trifle with
another man's horse.  But there was no answer to his direct question.

"I've got to be riding," he went on quietly.  "Who can lend me a
saddle-horse for the night?  I'll pay double what it's worth."

Whitey Wimble gave his bar a long swipe with his wet towel.

"If you're askin' favors, seems to me you're on the wrong side the
street, ain't you, stranger?"

"Meaning I am a Packard?"

"You got me the firs' time.  That's Packard's Town over yonder.  Your
crowd----"

"Look at my eye!" then said Steve quickly.

A big man with a thin little voice at the far end of the room giggled.

"I seen it already," said Wimble.

"Know Joe Woods?  Well, he's got another just like it.  Know Blenham?
Blenham sicked him on me!  Know old man Packard?  He's sicking Blenham
on me.  Want to know what I want a horse for?  Blenham's got a head
start and I want to overhaul him!  To tell him he's a crook and a
thief.  Now is this side of Red Creek open to me or is it shut?  What's
the answer, Whitey Wimble?"

Wimble appeared both impressed and yet hesitant.  Here was a Packard to
deal with and Whitey Wimble when taking over the destiny of the Old
Trusty had been set clear in the matter that he had a ripe, old feud to
maintain; and still, looking at it the other way, here was a man who
carried the sign of Joe Woods's fist upon his bruised face, who
announced that he was out to get Blenham, that there was open trouble
between him and old man Packard.

Whitey Wimble, beginning by looking puzzled, wound up by turning a
distressed face toward Steve.

"It's kind of a fine point," he suggested finally.  "Now, come right
down to it, it sort of looks to me----"

"Fine point!" cried Steve hotly, a sudden anger growing within him as
he thought how Blenham had played the game all along the line, how
Blenham might well prove too shrewd for a boy like Barbee, how a set of
prejudiced fools here in the Old Trusty by denying him the loan of a
horse might seriously be aiding Blenham whom none of them had any love
for.  "Why, damn it, man, haven't I told you that Blenham has just put
a raw deal across on me, that he's coming close to getting away with
it, that all I ask is a horse to run him down?  Who's going to let me
have one?  I'm in a hurry!"

Never until now did he realize how strong a factor in the life of the
community was the prejudice against his blood.  On every hand he saw
doubt, clouded eyes, distrust.  Plainly many a man there held him for a
liar; would even go so far, it was possible, as to suggest later that
Steve Packard had meant to steal the horse he asked for.  Steve stared
about him a moment, his back stiffening.  Then, with a little grunt of
disgust, he strode across the room.

"At least," he flung over his shoulder at Whitey Wimble, "I am going to
use your telephone again!"

Without waiting for an answer and caring not the snap of his fingers
what that answer might be, he went to the telephone, jerking down the
receiver, saying brusquely to the operator:

"Ranch Number Ten, please.  In a hurry."

He waited impatiently and, it seemed to him, an inexcusably long time.
Finally the operator said after the aloof manner of telephone girls:

"I am ringing them."

And again----

"I am ringing them."

And then----

"They do not answer."

And at last, and then only when Steve made emphatic that there must be
some one at the Number Ten bunk-house at this hour, the girl said:

"Wait a minute."

And after that:

"There seems to be something the matter with the line.  I can't raise
any of the ranch-houses out that way.  We'll send a man out in the
morning."

So he couldn't even warn Barbee that Blenham had made good his
head-start; that Blenham was plainly of one mind to-night; that it was
up to young Barbee to keep his eyes open and his gun cocked.  He began
to understand why his grandfather had made Blenham one of his
right-hand men; he had the cool mind and the way of acting quickly
which makes for success.

"I got a horse for you, pardner," said a slow voice as Packard came out
of the office.  "A cayuse as can't be beat for legs an' lungs.  Come
ahead."

Steve looked at him eagerly.  He was a little fellow, leather-cheeked,
keen-eyed, leisurely; a stranger, obviously a cowboy.

"I work for Brocky Lane," offered the stranger as they went out
together.  "Know him, don't you?"

"I did a dozen years ago," answered Steve absently.  "Where's your
horse?"

"You're Steve Packard, ain't you?  You done Brocky a favor when you was
a kid, didn't you?  Brocky told me.  Brocky's done me a favor.  I'm
doin' you a favor.  That squares us up all 'round.  Like a circle, all
in a ring, sort of; get me?"

"Yes," agreed Steve, feeling vaguely that the cowman had unknowingly
touched upon a problem in higher mathematics.  He slipped a hand into
his pocket.

But the friend whom an old, long-forgotten kindness raised now for him
at his need, shook his head, would have none of Packard's money, and
led the way to a shed behind the saloon.  Out of the darkness he
brought a tall, wall-eyed roan, quickly saddled and bridled and handed
over to Steve.

"Heeled?" came solicitously from the little man as Steve swung up into
the saddle.

"No."

"Well, Blenham is.  He goes that way all the time.  An' he's a right
good shot, the boys say.  If there's some real sour blood stirred up
between him an' you there's no use bein' a plumb fool, is there?  The
store's apt to be open yet; there's a firs'-class double-barrel
shot-gun, secon'-hand but as good as new, in the window.  Only seven
dollars an' a half."

"I'll send the horse over to Brocky's to-morrow," called Steve.  "And
as for being square--call on me at any time for the next favor.  So
long."

"So long," responded the slow-voiced man.

Steve swung out toward the east, curbing his mount's eagerness,
settling himself in the saddle for a couple of hours of hard riding.
Slowly he would warm up the big roan, letting him out gradually,
steadily.  Already he sensed that in truth here was "a cayuse hard to
beat for legs an' lungs."  And Blenham's head-start was but a matter of
minutes, half an hour at most.

But before he had ridden fifty yards Steve whirled his horse and rode
back, going straight to the store.  After all, since Blenham was
playing a game in which the stakes were no less than ten thousand
dollars, since Blenham was without doubt the man who had sought to kill
Bill Royce six months ago for the very same money, since Blenham always
"went heeled and was a right good shot," why then, as Brocky Lane's
cowboy put it, "there was no use bein' a plumb fool."  And to ride a
hundred yards or so and buy a Colt .45 and a box of cartridges required
but a moment.

In the store the long shelves upon one side held dry-goods, while upon
the opposite shelves a miscellany of groceries was displayed; toward
the rear was the storekeeper's assortment of hardware near a counter
piled high with sweaters, boots, chaparejos, all jumbled hopelessly.
At the flank of this confusion was a show-case containing a rather fair
line of side-arms.  Steve, his eye finding what it sought, went
straight to the back of the house.  And then, looking through an open
door which gave entrance to the living-room of the storekeeper's
family, his glance met Terry's.  She was rising to her feet, drawing on
her gauntlets.

"That's your train now," a woman's voice was saying.

Packard heard the whistling of a distant engine.  He lifted his hat,
she promptly whirled about, giving him her back to look at.

"Here's what I want," said Steve as the storekeeper came to his side.
"That .45, and a box of cartridges."

Terry turned again quickly and he surprised a little look of interest
in her slightly widened eyes.  A man doesn't buy a gun and a box of
cartridges at this time of night unless he has a use for them.  Packard
took up his new purchases, went out, swung again into the saddle, and
clattered down the street.

The night was bright with stars, clear and sweet.  Presently, with only
a handful of miles behind him, the moon rose above the distant ridge,
at the full, glorious and generous of light.  He loosened his reins a
little, gave the big roan his head, and swept on through the
ghostly-lighted country.

Now and then, remarking some old remembered landmark, he glanced from
it to his watch; more than once, having slipped his watch again into
his pocket, he leaned forward and patted the horse's neck.

Then--he had done a little more than half the distance and was riding
through the thick shadows of Laurel Cañon, which marks the beginning of
the long grade--the unforeseen occurred; the unlooked-for which, he
knew now, he would have fully expected, had he not counted always upon
Blenham playing a lone hand.

In the middle of the inky blotch made by the laurels standing up
against the moon there was a spot through which the moon-rays found
their way, making a pool of light.  As Packard rode into this bright
area he heard a rifle-shot, startlingly loud; saw the spit of flame
from just yonder, perhaps ten feet, certainly not more than twenty feet
away; felt the big roan plunge under him, race on unsteadily, and sink.

He slipped out of the saddle as the horse crashed down in the bushes at
the side of the road, and as he did so emptied his revolver into the
shadows whence had come the rifle-shot.  But he knew that he was a fool
to hope to hit; the man had had time to select his spot, to screen his
own body with a boulder or fallen log, to leave open behind him a way
to safety and darkness.

"Not Blenham himself but one of his crowd did that," muttered Packard
as he turned back to the fallen horse.  "Just to set me on foot again.
He isn't up to murder when he sees another way.  And for ten dollars he
could hire one of his hangers-on to kill a horse."

Well, it was just another trick for Blenham.  On foot now he must make
what time he could to the Pinchot farm, some three or four miles
further on, demand a horse there, and pray that Barbee was equal to his
task.  But first he must not leave the big roan to suffer needlessly
and hopelessly.

He struck a match and made a flaring torch of a little wisp of dry
grass.  Loving a good horse as he did, he felt a sudden and utterly new
sort of hatred of Blenham go rushing along his blood.

It was with a deep sigh of relief that he straightened up when he saw
that either chance or a remarkable skill with a rifle had saved Brocky
Lane's roan from any protracted pain.

Packard pushed on, seeking to make what time he could, breaking into a
jog-trot time and again upon a down-slope, conserving wind and strength
for the up-hill climbs, keeping in the shadows for the most part but
taking his chance over and over in the moonlit open.

Yet it was being borne in upon him that it was useless to hurry now;
that Blenham had made of his advantage a safe lead; that he might as
well slow down, make a cigarette, take his time.  And still, being the
sort of man he was, he kept doggedly on, telling himself that a race is
anybody's race until the tape is broken; that Blenham might be having
his own troubles somewhere ahead; that quitting did no good and that it
is not good to be a "quitter."  But he had little enough hope of coming
up again with Blenham that night.

And then, when he had been on foot not more than twenty minutes, a
faint, even, drumming sound swelling steadily through the night
somewhere behind him put a new, quick stir in his blood.  He stopped,
stood almost breathless a moment, listening.

The smooth drumming grew louder; suddenly topping a rise the two
headlights of an automobile flashed into his eyes.  Terry Temple, her
errand done in Red Creek, was racing homeward.

"And I'll beat Blenham to it yet!" cried Steve.

Where the moonlight streamed brightest and whitest across the road he
sprang out so that she could not fail to see him, tossing up both arms
in signal to her to stop.  Her headlights blinded him one moment; he
heard the warning blast of her horn; he entertained briefly the
suspicion that she was going to refuse to stop.

Incredible--and yet he had not thought of her own likely emotions.  To
have a man leap out into the road in front of her, all unexpectedly,
waving his arms and calling on her to stop--  Why, she'd think herself
fallen into the hands of a highwayman!

She was coming on, straight on, her horn emitting one long, sustained
shriek of menace.  Packard ground his teeth; either she did not
recognize him and was bound upon getting by him, or she did recognize
him and was accepting her opportunity to emphasize her attitude toward
him.

In any case she was going by, she in whom lay his sole hope to come to
grips with Blenham.  If he let her evade he might as well quit, quit in
utter disgust with the world.

With the world?  Disgust with himself, that he had let Blenham beat
him, that he wasn't much of a man, that his old grandfather was right
about him.  Her car was rushing down upon him; if he let it pass, why,
he'd be letting, not only a girl laugh at him, but he'd be letting his
chance rush by him.  His chance that loomed up bigger than the oncoming
machine and more real; his chance not for to-night alone but for ever
after.

For if Blenham beat him to-night and his grandfather beat him again
later on, he knew that he would pass away from the country about Ranch
Number Ten, that he would give over all sustained effort to make
something of his life, that he would go back to drifting, rounding out
his days after the fashion of the last twelve years.  It was while
Terry's car was speeding toward him that all of this ran through his
mind.

There was the possibility that, knowing who he was, Terry would try to
bluff him out of the road, counting confidently upon his leaping to
safety at the last moment; there was the other possibility that she
mistook his motives and would run him down in a sort of panic of
self-defense.

Packard, with his rather clear-cut conception of the girl's character
to steer by, saw the one way to master the situation.  Whirling about,
his back to her now, he broke into a run, speeding along the road in
front of her.  As he ran the hard lines about his mouth softened into a
rare grin: he'd have her guessing for a minute, anyway.  And by the
time she got through guessing----

He had duplicated his feat of the afternoon at the bridge in Red Creek.
Terry, in her first astonishment that the man should turn and run
straight on in front of her, slowed down, hesitation in her mind.  What
was he up to?  Then there came sudden shadows in a narrow part of the
road, a sharp turn, the absolute necessity of slowing down just a
trifle more, and then----

"It's all right; go ahead!" called Packard lightly.  He was standing on
her running-board.

She had thrown off her hat to the cool of the evening.  As they passed
out from the shadows he could see her eyes.  He pushed back his own hat
and Terry saw his eyes.  For a moment, while the car sped on, neither
spoke.

Looking at her he had glimpsed wonder, an annoyance that was swiftly
growing into anger, and a certain assurance that Miss Terry Temple
fully intended to remember this day and to square accounts with Stephen
Packard.

Returning his look, Terry had seen but one emotion in his eyes: pure
triumph.  She could not know how the man of him, having but just now
succeeded in this first task he had set himself, felt a sudden
confidence of the future.

"If I had let you go by," said Packard quietly, "I should have felt
that I had let my destiny pass me!"

"Don't you start in getting fresh just because it's moonlight!"

Steve looked puzzled, understood, put back his head and laughed
joyously.  Then, his face suddenly serious again, he considered her
speculatively.  Now for the first time he became aware that Terry was
already carrying a passenger.  A small man, Japanese, immaculate, and
frightened so that his teeth were chattering.

He was Iki, who had come into Red Creek this evening by train and due
to cook for the Temple ranch.  Just now he was screwed up in his place,
ready to jump if Steve moved his way, his purse clutched in his plump
hand, half offered already.  Steve beamed upon him, then turned his
eyes, still speculative, upon Terry.

"Do you care to tell me," said Terry tartly, "why you're always getting
in my way?  Think you're smart, climbing aboard like a monkey?  You've
done the trick twice; do I have to look out for you every time I take
the car out?"

"I just happen to be in a hurry," said Packard.  "And going your way.
Somebody shot my horse back there for me."

Her eyes grew actually round; Iki shivered audibly.  But in the girl's
case the emotion aroused by Packard's words was short-lived.  Why
should a man shoot the horse under Steve Packard?  Disbelief reshaped
her eyes; she cried out at him as her foot went down on the accelerator:

"Think I'm the kind to believe all the yarns you can tell?  If you want
to know what I think, Steve Packard--you're a liar!"

He laughed, well content with the moment and the situation, well
content with his unwilling companion just as she was.

"And do you know that what I told you this afternoon was true?" he
countered cheerfully.  "You're just like my blazing old Grandy!
Instead of being my grandfather he ought to be yours.  By golly, Miss
Terry Pert," teasing the blood higher into her cheeks with his
laughter, "that might be arranged, too!  Mightn't it?  You and I----"

"Oh!" cried Terry, and he had no doubts about her meaning what she
said.  "Oh, I hate you!  Yes, worse than I hate old Hell-Fire: he keeps
out of my trail, anyway.  And you, you big bully, you woman-fighter,
you--you----"

Just in time he guessed her purpose and threw out his hand across her
steering-wheel and grasped her right hand.  The car swerved dangerously
a moment, then came back to its steady course as Steve's other hand
closed over Terry's left.  Slowly, putting his greater strength gently
against hers, he took her automatic from her.

"Thirty-eight calibre?"  he  said  coolly.  "There's nothing little
about your way of doing things, is there?  And you meant to drill a
hole through me, I'm bound!"

Terry's face gleamed white in the pale light; and he knew from the look
in her eyes as they seemed fairly to clash with his, that it was the
white of sheer rage.

"I'd just as lief blow your head off as shoot a rattlesnake," she
announced crisply.

"I believe you," he grunted.  "Just the same, if you'd only----"

"Oh, shut up!" she cried, shaking his hand free from hers on the wheel
and driving on recklessly.

"I would like to mention," came an uncertain voice from a very pale
Japanese, "that I must walk on my feet.  I am most regretful----"

"Oh, shut up!" cried Terry.  "Shut up!"

And for the rest of the ride both Iki and Steve Packard were silent.



CHAPTER XI

THE TEMPTING OF YELLOW BARBEE

"Here's where I get down," said Steve after a very long silence during
which he watched Terry's pretty, puckered face while Terry, gripping
her wheel, recklessly assumed the responsibilities of their three
lives, hurling the car on through the moonlit night.

Iki, breathing every now and then a long quivering sigh and forgetting
to breathe betweenwhiles, held on tightly with both hands.

"Here's where I get down," said Steve again.  Here the road followed
the line of his north fence; less than a mile to the southward he could
see a light like a fallen star, gleaming cheerfully through the trees.

He sensed rather than saw a quick stiffening of Terry's already tense
little body; fancied that the car was steadily taking on greater speed,
read Terry's purpose in a flash.  If he forced her to carry him, why
then she would take him as far out of his way as possible.

"Terry Temple!" he cried sharply, leaning in a little toward her.
"What's the matter with you anyway?  What if we're not friends exactly?
I never did you any harm, did I?  Why, good Lord, girl, when a man
tells you his horse has been shot under him; when he is trying to
overhaul the crook at the bottom of the whole mess whom you hate as
well as I do--  Oh, I mean Blenham and you know it----"

"Liar!" cried Terry, flashing her eyes at him, and back to the road
alternately white with the moon and black with shadows.  "Liar on two
counts!  Didn't I see your horse this afternoon?  Tied in front of
Wimble's whiskey joint?  Oh, it's where I'd expect him!  Well--and you
needn't think I looked to see or cared, either--when I came by just
now, leaving town, I saw your horse standing there yet.  So you
needn't----"

"That couldn't be," muttered Steve.  "And yet--  Anyhow, I've got to
get off here.  Will you stop, please?"

"No, I won't stop please!  Nobody asked you to ride that I know of.
Get off the same way you got on!"

Packard realized two things very clearly then:

If he jumped with the car going at its present speed he would probably
break his neck; if he gave any considerable time to arguing the matter
with her he would be carried as far in five minutes as he could walk in
an hour.

"I mean business to-night," he told her bluntly.  "If you don't slow
down before I count ten I am going to lean out a little--like this--and
shoot a hole in your tire.  Then, if you keep on, I'll shoot a hole in
the other tire.  Understand?"

Terry laughed mockingly.

"You wouldn't dare!" she told him serenely.  "That would be some kind
of a crime; they could put you in jail for it.  You'd be scared to."

"One, two, three, four, five," he counted briskly.

"I would seek to interrupt to advise, oh, Miss Lady!" chattered Iki.
"His voice has the sound of bloodthirstiness."

"Six, seven, eight, nine--ten," counted Packard.

Terry sniffed.  He leaned out, she saw the glint of the moon upon his
revolver.

She threw out her clutch and jammed down both brakes, hard.  Steve
swung out and down to the ground.  The car, as though it had gained
fresh power from the fact of being freed of his weight, shot forward,
stopped again.

"Not exactly friends?" cried Terry, and he marked a new trembling in
her voice.  "I should say not.  You--you darned snake, you!"

And she was gone, spinning along into the night, hidden from him by the
first hill around whose base the road curved.  He stared after her a
moment, shrugged, turned his back, and strode rapidly toward the Ranch
Number Ten corrals.

He had planned correctly; he had correctly measured Blenham's impulses
and desires.  Further, he had come in time, just in time.

The light was in the ranch-house.  Though but little after eleven
o'clock it was dark within the bunk-house, the men long ago asleep.
But Barbee was awake, his wits about him; his voice and Blenham's, both
quiet, met Steve's ears as he slipped about the corner of the house,
coming under the window where the light was.

Blenham was talking now.  He sat loosely in a chair, his hands one upon
the other, idle in his lap.  Barbee, his eyes narrowed and watchful,
stood at the far side of the room.  On the floor, near his feet, was a
revolver; from its position Steve guessed that Barbee had just kicked
it safely out of Blenham's reach.  Barbee's own gun was in the boy's
hand.

"You're a pretty foxy kid, Barbee," Blenham was saying tonelessly.
"You got the drop on me; you're the firs' man as ever did that little
trick.  Yes; you're a pretty foxy kid!"

Barbee shrugged and spat and answered Blenham with a curse and a
grunted:

"Nobody's askin' your opinion, Blenham."

But Steve saw and Blenham must have seen the gleam of triumph in
Barbee's eye.

"What are you goin' to do with me?" asked Blenham presently.

"Nothin'," replied Barbee.  "Jus' keep you where I got you until Steve
Packard comes back.  Which ought to be mos' any time now."

"He'll be late," said Blenham.  "He won't be here for two or three
hours.  Suppose while we wait, let's me an' you talk!" he said sharply,
sitting forward in his chair.

"Well?" said Barbee.  "Talk an' be damned to you, Blenham.  Only you
don't talk yourself out'n the hole you're in right now.  An', I promise
you, you make a quick jump for a get-away, an' I'll shoot you dead."

"I know," Blenham nodded.  "You'd do it.  But I ain't goin' to try any
fool thing like that.  I'm jus' goin'--  Like I said to you, let's
talk.  What's Packard payin' you for this night's work?"

"He's no tightwad, if that's what you're drivin' at.  I'd of done
to-night's job an' glad of the chance an' you know it, Blenham, an'
never asked pay for it.  But I'm drawin' down a whole month's pay
extra, if I've got you like you are when he comes in."

Blenham laughed softly.  Then he moved the hands resting in his lap.
Packard saw that they were folded loosely about an old leather wallet.

"He's sure payin' you generous, Barbee," jeered Blenham.  "You know it!
Why, look here: This is yours an' more to trail it if you jus' pocket
your gun an' let me go!  I ain't askin' much an' I'm payin' my way.
Look it over, kid!"

Packard saw how he stripped a bank-note from a thin sheaf of its
fellows; how he tossed it toward Barbee.  It fell to the floor; a
little draft set it drifting; Blenham set his foot upon it.

"Look at it!" he snapped, for the first time giving sign of the strain
he was laboring under.  "It's yours--if you ain't a fool."

Barbee, not to be tricked were this some ruse to snare his attention,
said crisply:

"Put you' han's up while I get it!"

Blenham obeyed; Barbee stooped swiftly, all the while with eyes riveted
on his prisoner.  Then, the muzzle of his gun raised another inch, he
looked at what he held.  When he looked back at Blenham his eyes were
round, his mouth stood a little open.

"My God!" he gasped.  "It's a thousan' dollars!"

"Yes," said Blenham quietly.  "It's a thousan' dollars.  That's quite a
little wad, Barbee; it's more, anyhow, than an extra month's wages,
ain't it?  An' it's yours if you want it!  Think of the times you can
go on, think of the way you could make Red Creek open its eyes!  An'
there's more to come if you take that an' let me go an' jus' watch my
play an' take a chance with me when I say so.  What's the word, Barbee?"

Packard, having held back thus long, remained motionless, glimpsing
unexpectedly something of Barbee's soul; watching a little human drama,
become spectator to the battle royal of the two contending factions
which made up a man's self.

It seemed to him that young Barbee was pale and grew paler; that a
shiver ran through him; that he was, for the moment, like one drugged.
And, side by side, two emotions, both primal and unmistakable, peered
out of his eyes: a savage hatred of Blenham, a leaping greed of gold.

Thus for a little forgetting his own interest in this scene, Packard
watched, wondering what the outcome would be.  Blenham tempted.  Barbee
hesitated.

"Right here in my hand," Blenham was saying coldly, "are nine more like
that, Barbee.  Ten thousan' dollars in all.  One thousan' to go to you
for jus' keepin' out of my way.  I said once you're a foxy kid.  Now
let's see if you are.  Tie to a man like me that's out to make a pile,
a damn big pile, Barbee--or hang to a fool like Steve Packard an' take
his pay in dribbles an' let him be the one that gathers in all the big
kale.  Him an' me when I get things goin' right; him an' me with you
jus' gettin' the scraps.  Which is it?  Eh, kid?  Which way're you
goin'?"

Barbee held the bank-note in his left hand; slowly his calloused
fingers closed tightly about it, crumpling it, clutching it as though
they would never release it.  And then slowly the fingers opened so
that the wrinkled bit of paper lay in his palm under his eyes.  Barbee
ran his tongue back and forth between his dry lips.  Steve, staring in
at him through the window, saw in his eyes the two lights, that of
hate, that of covetousness; they burned side by side as a yellow candle
and a red might have done.

Which way would Barbee go?  Did Barbee know?  Blenham did not; Steve
did not.  Suddenly, seeing how the two fires flickered in Barbee's
eyes, Steve cried out within himself:

"It's unfair!  It's asking too much of Barbee!"

And aloud, shoving the nose of a Colt .45 through the window-pane which
splintered noisily:

"Hands up there, Blenham!  Good boy, Barbee.  You've got him, all
right!  Watch him while I slip in."

Blenham jumped to his feet, threw out his arms, and cursed savagely.
Then, grown abruptly quiet, he dropped back into his chair, his two big
hands loose about the wallet hidden under them.  Steve threw a leg over
the window-sill and came in, his gun ready, his eyes taking stock of
Barbee while they appeared to be for Blenham only.  And Barbee, white
now as he had never been until now, shivered, filled his lungs with a
long sigh, and fell back a couple of paces, staring at Steve, at
Blenham, but most of all at the thing in his hand.

"You put it across, Barbee!" cried Steve heartily.

He reached forward and snatched the wallet from Blenham's knee.
Blenham's big hands, clenching slowly, fell to his sides; Blenham's
eyes, sullen and evil, clung steadily to Packard's.

"You've saved me my inheritance to-night; you've helped save me my
ranch.  You've helped me square the game with a dirty dog named
Blenham!"

Like a dog Blenham showed his teeth.  His drawn face was stamped in the
image of fury.

"You're a sweet picture of a dead game sport," he growled, shifting
nervously in his chair.  "I ain't got a gun; you an' Barbee have; go
ahead an' call me all the names you like!"

Steve counted the bank-notes in the wallet.  Blenham had spoken truly;
there were nine one-thousand-dollar bills.  He put out his hand to
Barbee for the tenth.  Barbee, staring strangely like one rudely
awakened from sleep and not yet certain of his surroundings, let the
bank-note go.  His eyes, leaving it at last to rest steadily on
Blenham, looked red and ugly.  Packard slipped the wallet into his
shirt.

"Barbee," he said quietly, while he busied his eyes with Blenham's
slightest movement, "this money was left to me by my father.  He gave
it to Bill Royce to keep for me.  You know all that Bill has stood from
Blenham; now you know why.  There's quite a load of scoundrelism dumped
off at Blenham's door.  And, thanks to you, we've got the dead wood on
him at last!"

"What are you goin' to do with him?"  Barbee, speaking for the first
time since Steve's entrance, was husky-voiced.  Blenham shifted again
in his chair; now there was only cold hatred in the boy's look.  "We'd
ought to be able to put him in the pen for a good long time."

Blenham laughed jeeringly.

"Try it!" he blustered.  "See what you can prove, actually prove to a
jury an' a judge!  Try it!  You go to the law an' see----"

"To hell with the law!" cut in Steve, and though his voice was not
lifted for the imprecation Blenham shot a quick, startled look at him.

And both Blenham and Barbee, listening wonderingly, understood that
here was a Packard talking; that in the shoes of the grandson, even
now, there might be standing the big bulk of the uncompromising
grandfather.

"What do I want with the law now?  Blenham would wriggle out, I
suppose; or he would get a light sentence and trim that down to nothing
with good behavior.  No, Blenham, if you ever go to jail it will be
somebody's else doing; not mine.  Is it just jail for the man who shot
down my old pardner in cold blood, just for the sake of a handful of
money?  Is it to be just jail for the man who has made Bill Royce's
life a hell for six months?  Just jail for the brute who had a horse
shot under me to-night?  Why, damn you--" and at last his voice broke
through the ice of restraint and rang out angrily, full of menace--"do
you think I'm going to let you go out of my hands into the hands of
judge and jury after all you've done?"

Blenham sprang up, drawing back.  The muzzle of Steve's .45 followed
him threateningly.

"Barbee," said Packard, his voice once more under control, "go to the
bunk-house and send Bill Royce here.  Don't wake the other boys.  Then
you come back here with him.  And bring a whip with you."

"A whip?" repeated Barbee.

"Yes; a whip.  Any kind you can lay your hands to in a hurry; quirt or
buggy-whip or bull-whip!"

Blenham watched Barbee go.  Then, drawn back into a corner of the room,
sullen and vigilant, he stood biting nervously at a big, clenched,
hairy fist.



CHAPTER XII

IN A DARK ROOM

Bill Royce, hastily and but half dressed, came promptly to the house,
stumbling along at Barbee's heels.  Blenham, his silence and
watchfulness unbroken, still chewed at his fist.  Barbee brought a
heavy blacksnake in his hand.

"Barbee says you want me, Steve?" said Royce from the threshold.  "An'
that Blenham's here?"

"Yes, Bill," Steve answered.  And to Barbee, "Close the door behind
you.  Lock it.  Give me the key.  Now fasten the shutters across both
windows."

Barbee obeyed silently.  Blenham's eyes followed him, seeming
fascinated by the whip in Barbee's hand.

"Listen a minute, Bill," said Steve when Barbee had done.  "I want to
tell you something."

And, as briefly as might be, he told Royce of the ten dollar bills
substituted for the real legacy, of the results of his evening in Red
Creek, of Barbee's trapping Blenham, of the recovery of the ten
thousand dollars, of a horse shot dead on the Red Creek road.

"Then," said Royce at the end of it, his mind catching eagerly one
outstanding fact, "I was right, Steve?  An' it was Blenham as gave me
both barrels of Johnny Mills's shot-gun?  It was Blenham for sure,
wasn't it, Steve?"

"Yes, Bill.  It was Blenham."

"An'--an' Blenham's right across there now?  It's him I can hear
breathin', Steve?"

"Yes, Bill."

"An'--an' what for did you sen' for me, Steve?  What are you goin' to
do to him?"

Packard beckoned to Barbee.  The boy came quickly to his side, giving
him the blacksnake.  Steve laid it across Bill Royce's hand.

"I'm going to give him a taste of that, Bill," he said.  "And I wanted
you here.  You can't see it; but before I am through with him, you can
hear it!"

"Goin' to tie him up an' whip him, Steve?  That it?"

"Pack of low-bred mongrel pups!" cried Blenham wrathfully, for the
first time breaking his silence.  "Sneakin', low-lived curs an'
cowards!"

"That it, Steve?" persisted Royce.  "Goin' to tie him up an' give him a
whippin' with a blacksnake?"

"I am going to whip him--for your sake, Bill," answered Steve sternly.

He threw off his coat, tossing it behind him.

"Get the chairs and table out of the way, Barbee!  No, I am not going
to tie him up; that isn't necessary, Bill.  I can handle him with my
hands without tying him; I am going to do it.  And then I am going to
take the whip and lay it across him until his hide is in strips--or
until he begs to be let go.  Ready, Blenham?"

"Mean that?" snarled Blenham, a new look in his eye.  "Mean you're
goin' to give me an even break?"

But Bill Royce, fairly trembling with an eagerness strange to him, had
clutched at Steve's arm, had found it, was holding him back, crying out
excitedly:

"You're a good pal, Stevie; you're the best pal as ever was an' I know
it!  Didn't I always know you'd be like this?  But can't you see,
Stevie, can't you see it ain't enough another man should lick him, even
when that man's my pardner, even when it's Stevie himself doin' it!
Ain't I been waitin' an' waitin' to get my hands on him!"

Blenham, a little comforted by Steve's words, jeered openly now.

"Come on, Blind Billy," he taunted.  "An' when I've throwed you into
the junk pile I'll take on your friends!  One at the time--you know how
the sayin' goes!"

Steve was shaking Royce's hand from his arm.

"Let me do this for you, Bill," he said firmly.  "It's only fair.  If
you could see, it would be different."

But Royce clung on desperately, crying out insistently:

"Blind as I am I can lick him!  I know I can lick him!  Ain't I done it
in my sleep a dozen times, a dozen ways?  Ain't I always promised
myself sometime I'd get him in my two hands, I'd feel him wriggle an'
squirm?  This is my fight, Steve, an'--Blenham, where are you?"

"Here!" cried Blenham.  "An' gettin' tired of waitin'!"

Royce plunged toward him.  But Steve Packard caught his old friend
about the body, holding him back a moment.

"Easy, Bill," he said gently.  "Easy.  I was wrong, you are right.
It's your fight.  But take your time.  Get your coat off.  Barbee,
stand by that window there; if Blenham tries to get out stop him.  I'll
stand here.  All ready, Bill?"

"Ready!" cried Royce, his voice a roar of eagerness.

"All ready, Blenham?"

"Ain't I said it?" jeered Blenham.

"Then--" and suddenly Steve had snatched up the lamp, blowing down the
chimney and plunging the room into thick darkness--"go to it!  The
light is out, Bill!  The room is pitch-black.  You're as well off as he
is.  And now, old pardner.  Now!"

It was suddenly very still in the room; the thick, impenetrable
darkness seemed almost a palpable curtain screening what went forward;
the silence was for a little literally breathless.

Then there came the first faint, tell-tale sound, the slow, tortured
creaking of a board as a man put his weight upon it.  Through the
darkness, across the room, Bill Royce was going slowly, questing the
man who, surprised by the action of Steve's which had reduced his
advantage over a blind man, held to his corner.  And then, stranger
sound still through that tense silence, came Bill Royce's low laugh.

"Good boy, Steve," he said softly.  "I'd never thought of that!  In the
dark Blenham's as blind as me!  How do you like it, Blenham?  How'd you
like to have it this way all the time?"

Blenham's only answer lay in his leaping forward, out from his corner,
and striking; Royce's answer to that was another quiet laugh.  He had
slipped aside; Blenham had flailed at the thin air; Royce, grown still
again, knew one of the moments of sheer joy which had been his during
these last weary months.

Packard and Barbee, frowning unavailingly toward each little noise,
could only guess at what went forward so few inches from them.  A
scraping foot might be either Royce's or Blenham's; a long, deep sigh
or quick breathing now here, now there, might emanate from either man.
The strange thing, thought both Barbee and Packard, was that even ten
seconds could pass without these two men at each other's throats.

But, a supreme moment his at last, Bill Royce found himself grown
miserly in its expenditure; he would dribble the golden seconds through
his fingers, he would draw out the experience, tasting its joy fully.

For the moment his blindness was no greater than Blenham's; for a
little Blenham would grope and wonder and hesitate and grow tense after
the fashion the blind man knew so well.  And then at the end, when an
end could no longer be delayed, Bill Royce would mete out the
long-delayed punishment.

But, since the natures of both men were downright, since their hatreds
were outright, since there was little of finesse in either and a great
impatience stirring both, Royce's playing with Blenham was short.

There came a sudden shuffling of feet--and Royce's laugh; a blow
landing heavily--and Royce's laugh; another blow, a grunt, and a panted
curse from Blenham--and Royce's laugh.

And then only a scraping of feet up and down, back and forth along the
bare floor, the thudding of heavy shoulders into an unexpected wall,
the impact of fist against body.  In the utter darkness the two men
gripped each other, struck, swayed together, staggered apart, only to
come together again to strike harder, more merciless blows.

Packard and Barbee now held their breaths while the others panted
freely; both Packard and Barbee, stepping quickly now this way and now
that as the battling forms swayed up and down, sought to gauge what was
happening by the sounds which came to their ears.

Muttered imprecations, scuffling feet in a rude dance of rage, another
heavy, thudding blow, a coughing curse.  Whose?  Blenham's, since after
it came Bill Royce's laugh.  Another blow, fresh pounding and scraping
of boots--blow on top of blow, curse on top of curse--a man falling
heavily----

Who was down?  Royce of Blenham?

"Bill!" called Packard.  "Bill!"

No answer save that of two big bodies rolling together on the floor.
Both were down, Royce and Blenham.  Both were fighting, wordless and
infuriated.  Who was on top?

No man on top long, no man under the other more than a second.  The
rolling bodies struck against Packard's leg and he drew back, giving
them room.  The dust puffing up from the floor filled his nostrils.
The room was becoming unendurably close, sickeningly close.  The sweat
must be streaming from both men by now.  Packard sniffed, fancying the
acrid smell of fresh blood.  The big bulks rolled and threshed and
whipped here and there----

"Hell!"

It was a cry of mingled rage and pain; it came bursting explosively
from Blenham's lips.  Royce's laugh followed it; Packard shivered.

"Bill!" he cried.  "Bill!"

Royce did not answer; perhaps for the very good reason that he did not
hear.  There were other matters now engaging his attention solely and
exclusively.  The fighting fury, the hate frenzy was riding him and he
in turn was riding his enemy.  Cool sanity and hot blood-lust do not
find places side by side in the same brain.  A second time came the
horrible cry from Blenham.  Packard struck a match hastily and lighted
the lamp.

Packard and Barbee together dragged Royce away, letting Blenham lie
there.  Both men were naked to their waists, their shirts and
undershirts in rags and strips hanging grotesquely about their hips;
Royce looked like some hideously painted burlesque of a ballet-dancer
in a comic skirt.  Only there was nothing of burlesque or comedy in his
face.

Packard, glancing from him down to the tortured body of Blenham that
breathed jerkily, noisily, turned with a sudden revulsion of feeling
and hurled the heavy blacksnake away from him.  He had not fancied the
sharp smell of fresh blood.

"I got him!" said Royce shakily.  "With my two hands, I got him!
Didn't I, Stevie?"

"Better than you know, Bill!" muttered Packard.  "Better than you know."

The thing had been an accident, at least in so far as Bill Royce's
intent was concerned.  Packard knew that; he knew that his old pardner
fought hard, fought mercilessly, but fought fair.  But in a larger
sense was it an accident?  Or rather a mere retributive punishment
decreed by an eternal justice?  There in the pitch dark, for no man to
see the how of it, this is perhaps what had happened:

There had been the old, long-rowelled Mexican spur hanging on the wall;
Royce's shoulder or Blenham's had knocked it down; their feet had
pushed it out to the middle of the floor.  They had fallen, together,
heavily; they had rolled.  Blenham had gone over on his face, Royce's
hands worrying him.  The spur----

But it mattered little how it had come about.  The result was the
thing.  Blenham would never see with his right eye again.



CHAPTER XIII

AT THE LUMBER CAMP

They did what they could for Blenham--which was but little--and let him
go when he was ready.  Before daylight he had ridden away, dead white,
sick-looking, and wordless save for his parting words in a strangely
quiet voice--

"I'll get all three of you for this, s'elp me!"

They had bound his head up in a strip torn from an old sheet; the last
they saw of him in the uncertain light was this bandage, rising and
falling slowly as his horse bore him away.

Blenham gone, Barbee and Bill Royce went down to the bunk-house again,
slipping in quietly.  Steve Packard, alone in the ranch-house, sat
smoking his pipe for half an hour.  Then he went to bed, the bank-notes
still in his shirt, his gun under his pillow.

Twice last night he had said to Joe Woods, the lumber-camp boss, "I'll
see you in the morning."

Morning come, Steve breakfasted early, saddled his horse, and turned
out across the fields to meet the rising sun.  And it seemed to his
fancies, set a-tingle in the early dawn freshness, that the rising sun,
ancient symbol of youth and vigor and hope with triumph's wings, was
coming to meet him.

At this period of the day, especially when he rides and is alone and
the forests thicken all about him, man is prone to confidence.  It had
been a simple matter, so he looked upon it now, to have discovered the
truth of the substituted bills last night; as simple a matter had been
his winning at seven-and-a-half or his whipping big Joe Woods or his
recovery of the lost legacy.

Blenham, or rather an agent of Blenham, had killed his horse; what
then?  His destiny had stepped forward; Terry had come; he had whizzed
back to the ranch in her car and on time.

What if the ranch were mortgaged and to the hardest man in seven
counties?  What though his grandfather had obviously fallen supine
before the old man's tempting sin, which is avarice, and was bound to
break him?  Was fate not playing him for her favorite?

To Steve Packard, riding to meet the sun and to keep his promise to the
lumber boss, the world just now was an exceedingly bright and lovely
place; in this hour of a leaping optimism he could even picture Terry
Temple in a companionably laughing mood.

So early did he take to saddle that the fag end of the dawn was still
sweet in the air when he passed under the great limbs of the stragglers
of the forests clothing his eastern hill-slopes.  He noted how between
the widely separated boles the grass was thick and rich and untrampled;
reserved against the time of need.  There was no stock here yet.

He passed on, swung into the little-used trail which brought him first
to the McKittrick cabin where a double-barrelled shot-gun six months
ago had brought Bill Royce his blindness; then to the lumber-camp a
mile further on.  Both were on the bank of Packard's Creek; the flume
constructed by Joe Woods's men followed the line of the stream.

The new sun in his eyes, Steve drew his hat low down on his forehead
and looked curiously about him.  The timberjacks had come only
recently; so much was obvious.  They had come to stay; that was as
plainly to be seen.  Rough slabs of green timber, still drying and
twisting and splitting as it did so, had been knocked together rudely
to make a long, low building where cook and cookstove and a two-plank
table indicated both kitchen and dining-room.

A half-dozen other shacks and lean-tos, seen here and there through the
trees, completed the camp.  Great fallen trees--they were taking only
the full-grown timber--looking helpless and hopeless, lay this way and
that like broken giants, majestically resigned to the conqueror's axe.

Here in the peace and quiet of the pinking day this inroad of
commercialism struck Steve suddenly both as slaughter and sacrilege;
among the stalwart standing patriarchs and their bowed brethren he sat
his horse staring frowningly at the little ugly clutter of buildings
housing the invaders.

"My beloved old granddad had his nerve with him," he grunted as he rode
on into the tiny settlement.  "As usual!"

The cook, yawning, bleary-eyed, unthinkably tousled, was just
bestirring himself.  Steve saw his back and a trailing suspender as he
went into the cook-shed carrying some kindling-wood in one hand and a
bucket of water in the other.  It was only when Packard, having ridden
to his door and looked in, startled the cook into swinging about, that
the dull-eyed signs of a night of dissipation showed in the other's
face.

"Up late last night, I'll bet," laughed Steve, easing himself in the
saddle.  The cook made a face unmistakably eloquent of a bad taste in
his mouth and went down on his knees before his stove, settling slowly
like a man with stiff, rheumatic joints or else a head which he did not
intend to jar.

"Drunk las' night," he growled, settling back on his haunches as his
fire caught.  "A man that'll get drunk is a damn' fool.  I'm t'rough
wid it."

"Where's Woods?" asked Steve.  "Up yet?"

"Yes, rot him, he's up.  He's always up.  He's--holy smoke, I got a
head!"

"Where is he?" demanded Packard.

The cook rose gently and for a moment clasped his head with both hands.
Then he immersed it gradually in his bucket of icy water.  After which,
drying himself with a dirty towel and setting the bucket of water on
his stove, he turned red-rimmed eyes upon Steve.

"You're the guy I fed the other mornin', ain't you?" he asked.

Steve nodded.

"More'n which," continued the cook, "you're the guy as licked Woodsy
las' night in Red Crick?"

Again Steve nodded.

"An' again you're claimin' to run the ranch here?  An' to own it?  An'
to be ol' Hell-Fire's gran'son?"

"I asked you where Woods was," Packard reminded him sharply.  The cook
threw up his hand as though to ward off a blow.

"Whatcha yellin' in my ear for?" he moaned dismally.  "Want to split my
head off?  Woodsy's over yonder; talkin' with a man name of Blenham.
Ever hear of him?"

"Over yonder" plainly meant just across the creek where there was a
little flat open space among the trees in which stood one of the larger
shanties.  Steve saw a stove-pipe sticking out crookedly through the
shed roof; noted a thin spear of smoke.  He spurred across the stream
and to the timber boss's quarters.

Woods heard him and came out into the brightening morning, drawing the
door closed behind him.  His eyes, like the cook's though to a lesser
degree, showed indications of a wild night in town.  Steve guessed that
he hadn't undressed all night; that he was not entirely sober just now
though he carried himself steadily and spoke well enough.

"I thought you'd show," said Woods quietly, his big hands down in his
pockets, his shoulders against the wall.

"What is Blenham doing here?" Steve asked.

Woods narrowed his eyes in a speculative frown.

"He's damn' near dead.  He's waitin' for me to get one of the boys to
hitch up an' haul him to a doctor.  He says you an' two other guys
gouged his eye out for him."

"He's a liar," announced Packard angrily.  "The thing was an accident.
It was a fair fight between him and Bill Royce.  Blenham fell on an old
spur.  I promised you I'd be here this morning, Woods."

"Yes," said Woods.  "I expected you."

"You were square with me last night," went on Packard quietly.  "I
appreciate the fact.  If ever I can do you a favor, just say so.  So
much for that part of it.  Next: Maybe you've heard I'm the owner of
Ranch Number Ten?  And that I'm running it myself?  I've come over to
tell you this morning that we're knocking off work here.  I don't want
any more timber down."

There came a little twitching at the corner of Woods's broad mouth.  He
made no answer.

"Hear me?" snapped Steve.

"Sure I hear you," said Woods insolently.  "So does Blenham; he's right
inside where he can hear.  I guess it's him you want to talk with.  I'm
takin' my orders off'n Blenham an' nobody else."

"I've talked already with Blenham.  I've told him not to set his hoofs
on my ranch again after to-day.  Since he's pretty badly hurt I'll let
you haul him to the doctor but I don't want him hauled back.  Further,
I want work stopped here right now.  The men will be having breakfast
in a few minutes.  After breakfast you can explain to them and let them
go."

Woods shrugged.

"My orders, hot out'n Blenham's mouth, is to stick on the job here an'
saw wood," he said colorlessly.  "I'm takin' my pay off'n him an' I'm
doin' what he says."

There seemed only a careless indifference in his gesture as he partly
turned his back, staring up-stream; but the slight movement served to
show Packard that Woods carried a gun on his hip, in plain sight.
Well, Woods himself had said--"I expected you!"

Last night and for a definite purpose Steve had armed himself; this
morning, setting out on this errand, he had tossed the revolver into a
table drawer at the ranch-house.  He had never been a gunman; if
circumstance dictated that he must go armed, well and good.  But his
brows contracted angrily at the display of Woods's readiness for
gun-play.

"Look here, you Joe Woods!" he cried out.  "And listen, too, you
Blenham!  I'm no trouble-seeker; I know it's a dead easy thing to start
a row that will see more than one man dead before it's ended, and
what's the use?  But I mean to have what is mine in spite of you and
Hell-Fire Packard and the devil!  The right of the whole deal is as
plain as one and one: This is my outfit, if it is mortgaged; nobody
excepting me has any business ordering my timber cut.  And I say that
it's not going to be cut.  If there is any trouble it's up to you
fellows."

From Blenham in the cabin came no sound; Woods, having glanced swiftly
at Packard's angry face, again stared up-stream.

For a little Steve Packard gnawed at his lip, caught in an eddy of
helpless rage.  Never an answer from Blenham, never an answer from
Woods; angry already, their silences maddened him.  Across the creek he
saw the cook standing in his kitchen door, listening and smiling in
sickly fashion; two or three of the men, coming out for their
breakfasts, were watching him.

They were an ugly, red-eyed bunch, he thought as he swept them with his
flashing eyes; they'd fight like dogs for the joy of fighting; soon or
late, if Blenham persisted, he'd have the job on his hands of throwing
them off his land.  Of course he could go "higher up"; he could appeal
to his grandfather.

He could, but in his present mood he had no intention of doing any such
thing.  His grandfather, before now, should have withdrawn these men.

"Don't ask me to hold my hand!" the old man had shouted at him.  "I'm
goin' after you tooth an' big toe-nail!"

Well, if the old man wanted trouble and range war----

His blood was rushing swift and hot through his veins; his mind working
feverishly.  One man alone against the crowd of them, he could do
nothing.  But he could ride back to the ranch, gather up a dozen men,
put guns into their hands, be back here in the matter of a couple of
hours.

He saw the timberjacks as one by one they came out into the clearing by
the cook's shack; counted them as they went in.  The thought of a
morning cup of coffee was attracting them; among the faces turned
briefly his way he recognized several he had seen last night in the Ace
of Diamonds saloon.  He saw two of them hitching up the big wagon,
evidently the only conveyance in the camp.  They were getting ready to
take Blenham.

Suddenly a new light flashed into Steve's eyes; he turned his head
abruptly that Joe Woods should not see.

"How many men have you got here, Woods?" he asked.

Wondering at the question Woods answered it:

"Fourteen; startin' a new camp across the ridge."

Steve had counted nine men go into the cook's shed; with the cook there
were ten; the two with the horses made twelve.  There should be two
more.  He waited.  Meanwhile, secretly so that Woods might not guess
what he was doing or see the busy hand, he loosened his latigo, seeming
merely to slouch in his saddle; while he made a half-dozen random
remarks which set Woods wondering still further, he got his cinch
loose.  Another man had gone into the kitchen.  Thirteen.

"Fourteen counting you?" he asked Woods.

"Yes."

Then they were all accounted for; two with the horses; eleven in the
shed; Joe Woods in front of him.

"My cinch is loose," said Packard and dismounted, throwing the stirrup
up across the saddle out of his way, his fingers going to the latigo
which he had just loosened.

Woods watched him idly.  Then suddenly both men looked toward the
kitchen.  The door had been slammed shut; there was a fairly hideous
racket as of all of the cook's pots and pans falling together; after it
a boom of laughter, and finally the cook's voice lifted querulously.
Woods grinned.  Unruffled by Packard's presence he said casually:

"Cookie mos' usually has the hell of a head after a night like las'
night.  The boys knows it an' has a little fun with him!"

The two men harnessing the horses had evidently guessed as did Woods
what was happening in the cook's domain; at any rate, they hastily tied
the horses and hurried to see.  Packard, still busied with his latigo,
saw them and watched them until the door had shut behind them.

His horse stood between him and Woods.  He tickled the animal in the
flank; it spun about, pulling back, plunging, drawing Woods's eyes.
And the next thing which Woods clearly understood was that Steve
Packard was upon him, that one of Packard's hands was at his throat,
that the other had gone for the gun on Woods's hip and had gotten it.

"Back into your shack!" commanded Packard, jabbing the muzzle of
Woods's big automatic hard into Woods's ribs.  "Quick!"

To himself just now Steve had said: "One man against the crowd of them,
he could do nothing!"  Just exactly what Woods would be thinking; what
Blenham inside would be thinking; just exactly what the rest of the men
thought since they turned their backs on him and forgot him in their
sport of badgering the cook.

What he was doing now was what he would term, did he hear of another
man attempting it, "A fool thing to do!"  And yet he had told himself
many a time that a man stood a fair chance to get away with the
unexpected if he hit quick and hard and kept his wits about him.

Woods, taken thoroughly aback, allowed himself to be driven again into
his cabin.  Packard followed and closed the door.  Within was Blenham,
lying on Woods's bunk, his head still swathed, a half-empty whiskey
bottle on the floor at his side.  With one watery eye he looked from
one to the other of the two men bursting in on him.

"Blenham," cried Packard, standing over him while he was careful not to
lose sight of Joe Woods's working face, "I want work stopped here and
this crowd of men off the ranch.  You heard what I said outside, didn't
you?"

Blenham answered heavily:

"Woods, don't you pay no attention to what this man says.  You keep
your men on the job.  An' if you got another drop of whiskey----"

"The bottle's where you put it," retorted Woods.  "Under your pillow."

Blenham rolled on his side, slipping his hand under his pillow.  All
the time his one red eye shone evilly on Steve, who, his wits about
him, stepped back into the corner whence he might at the same time
watch Woods and that hand of Blenham's which was making its stupid
little play of seeking a bottle.

"Take it out by the neck, Blenham," said Steve sternly.  "Take it out
by the neck and pass it to me, butt end first!  _Sabe_?  I'm guessing
the kind of drink you'd like to set up."

Blenham's one eye and Steve's two clashed; Woods watched interestedly.
He even laughed as at last, with an exclamation which was as much a
groan as a curse, Blenham jerked out his gun and flung it down on his
quilt.  Steve took it up and shoved it into his pocket.

"There's jus' a han'ful of men over to the cookhouse," said Woods
humorously.  "Havin' stuck up me an' Blenham you oughtn't to have no
trouble over there!"

"How many men?" demanded Steve quietly.  "Thirteen, if I counted right,
eh, Woods?  That's no kind of a number to pin your hopes on!  And now
listen; I'll cut it short: If there is any trouble this morning, if any
man gets hurt, remember that this is my land, that you jaspers are
trespassing, that I am simply defending my property.  In other words,
you're in wrong.  You'll be skating on pretty thin ice if you just
plead later on that you were obeying orders from Blenham; follow
Blenham long enough and you'll get to the pen.  Now, I'm going outside.
You and Blenham stay in here until I call for you.  I'll shut the door;
you leave it shut.  Take time to roll yourself a smoke and think things
over before you start anything, Joe Woods."

Then swiftly he whipped open the door, stepped out, and snapped it shut
after him.

"I'm taking a chance," he muttered, his eyes hard, his jaw set and
thrust forward.  "A good long chance.  But that's the way to play the
game!"

The door of the cook's shed, facing him from across the creek, was
still closed.  Steve moved a dozen paces down-stream; now he could
command Woods's cabin with the tail of his eye, look straight into the
kitchen when the door opened, keep an eye upon the one little square
window.

"It's all in the cards," he told himself grimly.  "A man can win a jack
pot on a pair of deuces, if he plays the game right!"

At this point Packard's Creek is narrow; the distance between the spot
where he stood and the door of the cook-shed was not over forty feet.
He shifted Woods's gun to his left hand, taking into his right
Blenham's old-style revolver which was more to his fancy.  Then, to get
matters under way in as emphatic a manner as he knew how, he sent a
bullet crashing through the cook's roof.

The murmur of voices died away suddenly; it was intensely still for a
moment; then there was a scrambling, a scraping of heavy boots and
dragging benches, and the cook's door snapped back against the outside
wall, the opening filled with hulking forms, as men crowded to see what
was happening.  What they saw was the nose of Blenham's gun in Steve's
hand.

"Back up there," shouted Packard.  "Stand still while you listen to me."

They hesitated, wondering.  A man growled something, his voice
deep-throated and truculent.  Another man laughed.  The forms filling
the doorway began a slow bulging outward as other forms behind crowded
upon them.

Within Woods's cabin there was a little noise.

"You men are leaving to-day," said Steve hastily.  "Just as fast as you
can pull your freight.  Blenham and Woods are going with you.  All told
there are above a dozen of you and only one of me.  But I've got
Woods's gun and Blenham's and I happen to mean business.  This is my
outfit; if you fellows start anything and there is trouble, why you're
on the wrong side of the fence.  Besides, you're apt to get hurt.
Blenham and Woods are quitting cold; so far as I can see you boys would
be a pack of fools to make more of a stand than they are doing."

The man who had laughed and who now thrust his face forward through his
companions, grinned widely and announced:

"We mightn't worry none about where Blenham an' Joe get off.  But we
ain't had our breakfasts yet!"

"You don't get any breakfast on my land!" said Steve sharply, more
afraid just now of having to do with good nature than with anger.

For if the dozen men there simply laughed and stepped out and
dispersed, his hands would be tied; he couldn't shoot down a lot of
joking men and he knew it.  And they would know it.

"You're on your way right now!  You, there!"  This to a big,
stoop-shouldered young giant in the fore, blue-eyed, straw-haired,
northern-looking.  "Step out this way, Sandy!  And step lively."

The northerner shrugged and looked belligerent.  Steve moistened his
lips.

"You can't bluff me--" began the northerner.

And Steve knew that, having gone this far, he could not stop at
bluffing.  And he knew that he must not seem to hesitate.

"I can shoot as straight as most men," he said smoothly.  "But
sometimes I miss an inch or two at this distance.  You men who don't
want to take any unnecessary chances had better give Sandy a little
more elbow-room!"

The stoop-shouldered man squared himself a little, jerked up his head,
took on a fresh air of defiance.  Slowly Steve lifted the muzzle of his
gun--slowly a man drew back from the northerner, a man fell away to the
right, a man drew a hasty pace back at the left.  He was left standing
in the middle of the open doorway.  He shifted a little, doubled his
fists at his sides, twisted his head.

Again a noise from Woods's cabin.  Steve saw that the door had quietly
opened six inches.  There was a quick movement within; the door was
flung wide open.  Woods was standing in the opening, a rifle in his
hands, the barrel trained on Steve's chest.  Steve saw the look in
Woods's eye, whirled and fired first.  The rifle bullet cut whistling
high through the air; Woods dropped the rifle and reeled and went down
under the impact of a leaden missile from a forty-five calibre
revolver.  The rifle lay just outside now.

The squat young giant with the blue eyes and shock head of hair had not
stirred.  His mouth was open; his face was stupidly expressionless.

"Throw up your hands and step outside!" Steve called to him roughly.

The man started, looked swiftly about him, stepped forward, lifting his
big hands.  They were still clenched but opened slowly and loosely as
they went above his head.

"Turn your back this way," commanded Steve, feeling his mastery of the
moment and knowing that he must drive his advantage swiftly.  "Belly to
the wall.  That's it.  Next!"

A man, the man who had twice laughed, stepped forward eagerly.  He
needed no invitation to lift his hands, nor yet to go to the other's
side, his face to the wall.  His eyes were bulging a little; they were
fixed not on Steve Packard but on the body of Joe Woods.  The timber
boss lay across the threshold, half in, half out, twisting a little
where he lay.

Now, one after another, speaking in low voices or not at all, the
timber crew came out into the stillness of the new day.  Steve counted
them as they appeared, always keeping the tail of his eye on Woods's
door, always realizing that Blenham was still to be dealt with, always
watchful of the small square window in the cook's shed.  Once he saw a
face there; he called out warningly and the face hastily withdrew.

At last they were outside, thirteen men with their backs to him, their
hands lifted.  Stepping backward Steve went to Woods's cabin.

"Come out, Blenham," he called curtly.

Blenham cursed him but came.  Stepping over Woods's body he said
threateningly:

"Killed him, have you?  You'll swing for that."

"Stand where you are, Blenham."  He wondered dully if he had killed
Woods.  He considered the matter almost impersonally just now; the game
wasn't yet played, cards were out, the mind must be cool, the eye
quick.  "You two boys on the end come over here and help me with Woods."

Again Woods's big body twisted; it even turned half over now, and Woods
sat up.  His hand went to his shoulder; Steve saw the hand go red.
Woods's face was white and drawn with pain.  His eyes went to the rifle
at his feet.  Steve stepped forward, took the thing up, tossed it back
into the cabin.  Woods swayed, pitched a little forward, caught
himself, steadied himself with a hand on the door-jamb, and shakily
drew himself to his feet.  Steve marvelled at him.

"If you like, Woods," he said quietly, "I'll have you taken over to my
place and will send for a doctor for you."

"Aw, hell, I ain't hurt bad," said Woods.

Steve saw how his brows contracted as he spoke.  The red hand was laid
rather hurriedly on the shoulder of one of the two men whom Steve had
summoned across the creek.

Blenham turned away and went down-stream, toward the big wagon.  Woods
followed, walking slowly and painfully, leaning now and again on his
support.

As Steve called to them the men lined up along the wall of the cook's
shed, turned, and, their hands still lifted, went down-stream.  One
after another they climbed up into the wagon.  Two or three laughed;
for the most part there were only black faces and growing anger.  Many
of them had drunk much and slept little last night; not a man of them
but missed his coffee.

Packard caught up his horse's reins and swung into the saddle calling
out:

"I don't know anything you're waiting for.  Climb into the seat,
somebody.  Get started.  Blenham and Woods both need a doctor.  And you
needn't come back for anything you left; I'll have all your junk boxed
and hauled into Red Creek this afternoon."

A man gathered up the four reins and climbed to the high seat.  The
brake was snapped back, the horses danced, set their necks into their
collars, and the wheels turned.  Behind them Steve Packard, still
watchful, rode to escort them to a satisfactory distance beyond the
border of his property.


Terry Temple out in front of the dilapidated Temple home was amusing
herself with a pair of field-glasses.  Her big wolf-hound had just
temporarily laid aside his customary dignity and was chasing a rabbit.
Terry had her binoculars focussed on a distant field, curious as to the
outcome.

Suddenly she lost this interest.  Far down the road she glimpsed a big
wagon; it was filled with standing men.  She altered her focus.

"Dad!" she called quickly.  "Oh, dad!  Come here!"

Her father came out on the porch.

"What do you want?" he asked irritably.

Terry came running to him, flushed with her excitement, and shoved the
glasses up to his eyes.  Temple dodged, fussed with the focussing
apparatus, lowered the glasses, and blinked down the road.

"It's just a wagon, ain't it?" he demanded.  "Looks like----"

Again she snatched the binoculars.

"A lot of men are standing up," she announced.  "That's the team from
the Packard logging-camp, There's a man sitting on the front seat with
the driver and he's got a rag around his head.  There's some sort of a
bed made in the bottom of the wagon; a man's lying down.  I actually
believe, Dad Temple----"

She broke off in a strange little gasp.  Behind the wagon a man rode on
horseback; the sun glinted on a revolver in his hand.  They came closer.

"It's Blenham on the front seat with a bandage around his head!" she
cried.  "He's hurt!  And--dad, that man back there is Steve Packard!
And he's driving that crowd off his ranch, as sure as you are Jim
Temple and I'm Teresa Arriega Temple!"

Temple started.

"What's that?" he demanded with a genuine show of interest.

Together they stared down the road.  On came the wagon and the rider
behind it.  Slowly the look in Terry's eyes altered.  In a moment they
were fairly dancing.  And then, causing her father to stare at her
curiously, she broke out into peal after peal of delicious laughter.

"Steve Packard," she cried out, her exclamation meant for her own ears
alone and reaching no further than those of her newly imported Japanese
cook who was peering out of his kitchen window just behind her, "I
believe you're a white man after all!  And a gentleman and a sport!
Dad, he's nabbed the whole crowd of them and put them on the run.  By
glory, it looks to me like a man has turned up!  Maybe he was telling
me the truth last night."

The wagon came on, drew abreast of the Temple gate, passed by.  Temple
stared in what looked like consternation.  Steve, following the wagon,
came abreast of the gate, stopped, watched the four horses draw their
freight around the next bend in the road, accounted his work done, and
turned toward the Temples.

"Good morning," he called cheerily, highly content with life just at
this moment.  "Fine day, isn't it?"

Terry looked at him coolly.  Then she turned her back and went into the
house.  Iki, the new cook, looked at her wonderingly.

"To me it appears most probable certain," said the astute Oriental
within his soul, "that inhabitants of these wilderness places have much
madness within their brains."

Steve swung his horse back into the road and set his face toward his
own ranch.

"Darn the girl," he muttered.



CHAPTER XIV

THE MAN-BREAKER AT HOME

In a short time the cattle country had come to know a good deal of
Steve Packard, son of the late Philip Packard, grandson of Old Man
Packard, variously known.  Red Creek gossiped within its limits and
sent forth word of a quarrel of some sort with Blenham, a winning game
of seven-and-a-half, a fight with big Joe Woods.  Red Creek was
inclined to set the seal of approval on this new Packard, for Red
Creek, on both sides of its quarrelsome street, stood ready to say that
a man was a man even when it might go gunning for him.

As the days went by Packard's fame grew.  There were tales that in a
savage mêlée with Blenham he had eliminated that capable individual's
right eye; and though there were those who had had it from some of the
Ranch Number Ten boys that Blenham's loss was the result of an
accident, still it remained unquestioned that Blenham had suffered
injury at Packard's ranch and had been driven forth from it.

Then, Packard had followed Blenham to the logging-camp; he had tackled
the crowd headed by Joe Woods; he had come remarkably close to killing
Woods; he had broken up the camp and sent the timberjacks on their way.
He had had a horse killed under him; he had quarrelled with his
grandfather; he was standing on his own feet.  In brief--

"He's a sure enough, out an' out Packard!" they said of him.

To be sure, while there were men who spoke well of him there were
others, perhaps as many, who spoke ill.  There were the barkeeper of
the Ace of Diamonds, Joe Woods, Blenham; they had their friends and
hangers-on.  On the other hand, offsetting these, there were old
friends whom Steve had not seen for twelve or more years.

Such was Brocky Lane whose cowboy had loaned Steve a horse which had
been killed on the Red Creek road.  Young Packard promptly paid for the
animal and resumed auld lang syne with the hearty, generous Brocky Lane.

What men had to say of him came last of all to Steve.  But some fifty
miles to the north of Ranch Number Ten, on the far-flung acres of the
biggest stock-ranch in the State, there was another Packard to whom
rumors came swiftly.  And this was because the old grandfather went far
out of his way upon every opportunity to learn of his grandson's
activities.

"What for a man is he growed up to be, anyhow?" was what Hell-Fire
Packard was interested in ascertaining.

When the old man wanted to get anywhere he ordered out his car and Guy
Little.  When he wanted information he sent for Guy Little.  The
undersized mechanician was gifted with eyes which could see, ears which
could hear, and a tongue which could set matters clear; he must have
been unusually keen to have retained his position in the old man's
household for the matter of five or six years.

To his employer he had come once upon a time, half-starved and weary, a
look of dread in his eyes which had the way of turning swiftly over his
shoulder; the old man had had from the beginning the more than
suspicion that the little fellow was a fugitive from the law and in a
hurry at that.

He had immediately taken him in and given him succor and comfort.  The
poor devil fumbled for a name and was so obviously making himself a new
one that Packard dubbed him Guy Little on the spot, simply because, he
explained, he was such a little guy.  And thereafter the two grew in
friendship.

Guy Little's first coming had been opportune.  The old man had only
recently bought his first touring-car; in haste to be gone somewhere
his motor failed to respond to his first coaxing and subsequent bursts
of violent rage.  While he was cursing it, reviling it, shaking his
fist at it, and vowing he'd set a keg of giant powder under the thing
and blow it clean to blue blazes, Guy Little ran a loving hand over it,
stroked its mane, so to speak, whispered in its ear, and set the engine
purring.  Old Man Packard nodded; they two, big-bodied millionaire and
dwarfed waif, needed each other.

"Climb on the runnin'-board, Guy Little," he said right then.  "You go
wherever I go."  And later he came to say of his mechanician, "Him?
Why, man, he can take four ol' wagon wheels an' a can of gasoline an'
make the damn' thing go.  He's all automobile brains, that's what Guy
Little is!"

On the Big Bend ranch, the old man's largest and favorite of several
kindred holdings, an outfit which flung its twenty thousand acres this
way and that among the Little Hills and on either side of the upper
waters of the stream which eventually gave its name to Red Creek, the
oldest of the name of Packard had summoned Guy Little.

It was some ten days after the stopping of all activity in the Ranch
Number Ten lumbercamp.  He had been sitting alone in his library,
smoking a pipe, and staring out of his window and across his fields.
Suddenly he sprang to his feet, went to his door, and shouted down the
long hall:

"Ho, there!  Guy Little!"

The house was big; rooms had been added now and then at intervals
during the last thirty or forty years; the master's library was of
generous dimensions and could have stabled a herd of fifty horses.
This chamber was in the southwest corner of the rambling edifice; Guy
Little's quarters were diagonally across the building.  But Packard
asked no tinkling electric bell; as usual he was content to stick his
head out into the hall and yell in that big, booming voice of his:

"Ho, there!  Guy Little, come here!"

Having voiced his command he went back to his deep leather chair and
refilled his pipe.  It was the time of early dusk; not yet were the
coal-oil lamps lighted; shadows were lengthening and merging out in the
rolling fields.  Packard's eyes, withdrawn from the outdoors, wandered
along his tall and seldom-used book-shelves, fell to the one worn
volume on the table beside him, went hastily to the door.  Down the
hall came the sound of quick boot-heels.  He took up the single volume
and thrust it out of sight under the leather cushion of his chair.  The
mechanician was in the room before he could get his pipe lighted.

"You called, m'lord?"

Guy Little stood drawn up to make the most of his very inconsiderable
height, eyes straight ahead, hands at sides, chin elevated and
stationary.  Nothing was plainer than that he aped the burlesqued
English butler--unless it be that it was even more obvious that in his
chosen role he was a ridiculous failure.  There never was the man less
designed by nature for the part than Guy Little.

And yet he insisted; in the beginning of his relationship with his
employer, his soul swelling with gratitude, his imagination touched by
the splendors into which his fate had led him, awed by the dominant
Packard, he had wanted always upon an occasion like this to demand
stiffly:

"You rang, your majesty?"

Packard had cursed and threatened and brow-beaten him down to----

"You called, m'lord?"

But not even old Hell-Fire Packard could get him any further.

"Yes, I called," grunted the old man.  "I hollered my head off at you.
I want to know what you foun' out.  Let's have it."

Guy Little made his little butler-bow.

"Your word is law, m'lord," he said, once more rigid and unbending.

Although Packard knew this very well without being told and had known
it a good many years before Guy Little had been born, and although Guy
Little had repeated the phrase time without number, the old man
accepted it peacefully as a necessary though utterly damnable
introduction.

"It's like this," continued the mechanician.  "Not knowin' what you
thought an' not even knowin' what you wanted to think, an' figgerin' to
play safe, I've picked up the dope all over.  Which is sayin' I bought
drinks on both sides the street, whiskey at Whitey Wimble's joint an'
more of the same at Dan Hodges's.  An' I foun' out several things,
m'lord.  If it is your wish----"

"Spit 'em out, Guy Little!  What for a man is he?"

"Firs'," said Guy Little, shifting his feet the fraction of an inch so
that his chin bore directly upon Packard, "he's a scrapper.  He beat up
Joe Woods, a bigger man than him; later he took part in some sort of a
party durin' which, like is beknown to you, somebody gouged Blenham's
eye out; after that, single-handed, he cleaned out your lumber-camp,
fifteen men countin' Blenham.  Tally one, he's a scrapper."

For an instant it seemed that all of the light there was in the swiftly
darkening room had centred in the blue eyes under the old man's bushy
white brows.  He drew deeply upon his pipe.

"Go on, Guy Little," he ordered.  "What more?  Spit it out, man."

"Nex'," reported the little man, "he's a born gambler.  If he wasn't he
wouldn't of tied into a game of buckin' you; he wouldn't of played
seven-an'-a-half like he did in at the Ace of Diamonds; he wouldn't of
took them long chances tacklin' Woodsy's timberjacks before breakfas'.
Scrapper an' gambler.  That's tally one an' two."

The old man frowned heavily, his teeth remaining tight clamped on his
pipestem as he cried sharply:

"That's it!  You've said it: gambler!  Drat the boy, I knowed he had it
in his blood.  An' it'll ruin him, ruin him.  Guy Little, as it would
ruin any man.  We got to get that fool gamblin' spirit out'n him.  A
man that's always takin' chances never gets anywhere; take a chance an'
you ain't got a chance!  That's the way of it, Guy Little!  Go on,
though.  What else about him?"

"He's a good sport," went on the news-gatherer, "an' he don't ask no
help from nobody.  He stan's on his two feet like a man, m'lord.  When
he sees a row ahead he don't go to the law with it; no, m'lord; no
indeed, m'lord.  He says 'Hell with the law!'  Like a man would, like
me an' you . . . an' he kills his own rats himself."

"That's the Packard of him!  For, by God, Guy Little, he is a Packard
even if he has got a wrong start!  Rich man's son--silver-spoon
stuff--why, it would spoil a better man than you ever saw!  Didn't I
spoil my son Phil that-a-way?  Didn't Phil start out spoilin' his son
Stephen that same way?  But he's a Packard--an'--an'----"

"An' what, m'lord?"

The old man's fist fell heavily on the arm of his chair.

"An' I'm still hopin' he's goin' to be a damn' good Packard at that!
But you go on, Guy Little.  What else?"

"Sorta reckless, he is," resumed Guy Little.  "But that's purty near
the same thing as havin' the gamblin' spirit, ain't it?  Nex' an'
final, m'lord, he's got what you might call an eye for a good-lookin'
girl."

"The devil you say, Guy Little!"  The old man, beginning to settle in
his chair, sat bolt upright.  "Is some female woman tryin' to get her
hooks in my gran'son already?  Name her to me, sir!"

"Name of Temple," said Little.  "Terry Temple as they call her, an' a
sure good-lookin' party, if you ask me!  Classy from eyes to ankles an'
when it comes to----"

"Hold on, Guy Little!" exploded old man Packard, leaping to his feet,
towering high above the little man, who looked up at him with an
earnest and placid expression.  "That wench, that she-devil, that
Jezebel!  Settin' her traps for my boy Stephen, is she?  Why, man
alive, she ain't fit to scrape the corral-mud off'n his boots.  She's a
low-down, deceitful jade, that's what she is, sired by a
sheep-stealin', throat-cuttin', ornery, no-'count, worthless cuss!  The
whole pack of them Temples, he an' she of 'em, big an' little of 'em,
ought to be strung up on the firs' tree!  The low-down bunch of little
prairie dawgs, tryin' to trap a Packard with puttin' a putty-faced fool
girl in their snare.  I say, Guy Little, I'll make the whole crowd of
'em hunt their holes!"

And he hurled his pipe from him so that on the hearthstone it broke
into many pieces.

Now that was a long speech for old man Packard and Guy Little listened
interestedly.  At the end, when the old man went growling back to his
chair, the mechanician took up his tale.

"She's purty, though," he maintained.  "Like a picture!"

"Doll-faced," snorted the old man, who had not the least idea what
Terry Temple looked like, not having laid his eyes on her for the
matter of years.  "Dumpy, pudgy, squidge-nosed little fool.  I'll run
both her and her thief of a father out of the country."

"An'," continued Guy Little, "I didn't exac'ly' say, m'lord, as how
this Terry Temple party was after him.  I said as how he was after her!
That is, as how, roundin' out what I know about him, he's got a eye for
a fine-lookin' lady.  Which, against argyment, I maintain that Terry
Temple girl is."

"Guy Little," cried Packard sharply, "you're a fool!  Maybe you know
all there is about motor-cars an' gasoline.  When it comes to females
you're a fool."

"Ah, m'lord, not so!" protested Guy Little, a gleam in his eye like a
faint flicker from a dead fire.  "There was a time--before I set these
hoofs of mine into the wanderin' trail--when----"

The rest might best be left entirely to the imagination and there he
left it.  But the old man was all untouched by his henchman's utterance
and innuendoed boast for the simple reason that he had heard nothing of
it.

"Those Temple hounds," he muttered, staring at Guy Little who stared
butlerishly back, "are leeches, parasites, cursed bloodsuckers and
hangers-on.  They think I'm goin' to take this boy in an' give him all
I got; they think they see a chance to marry him into their rotten
crowd an' slip one over on me this way!  That simperin', gigglin' fool
of a girl try an' hook my gran'son!  I'll show 'em, Guy Little; I'll
show the whole cussed pack of 'em!  I'll exterminate 'em, root an'
branch an' withered leaf!  By the Lord, but I'll go get 'em!"

"He'll do it," nodded Guy Little, addressing the invisible third party
in order not to directly interrupt his patron's flow of words.

But for a little the old man was silent, running his calloused fingers
nervously through his beard, frowning into the dusk thickening over the
world outside.  When he spoke again it was softly, thoughtfully, almost
tenderly.  And the words were these:

"Break a fool an' make a man, Guy Little!  That's what we're goin' to
do for Stephen Packard.  He's always had too much money, had life too
easy.  We'll jus' nacherally bust him all to pieces; we'll learn him
the big lesson of life; we'll make a man out'n him yet.  An' when
that's done, Guy Little, when that time comes--  Go send Blenham here,"
he broke off with sharp abruptness.

Guy Little achieved his stage bow and departed.  The door only half
closed behind him, he was shouting at the top of his voice:

"Hey, Blenham!  Oh, Blenham!  On the jump.  Packard wants you!"

The door slammed behind him.  His back once turned on "m'lord," Guy
Little did not wait to get out of earshot to become less butler than
human sparrow.

Blenham needed but the one summons and that might almost have been
whispered.  He was fidgeting in his own room, waiting for this moment,
knowing that he was to receive definite instructions concerning Stephen
Packard.  Over his right eye was a patch; his face was still a sickly
pallor; his one good eye burned with a sullen flame which never went
out.

Guy Little was the one human being in the world with whom the old man
talked freely, to whom he unburdened himself.  With his chief
lieutenant Blenham he was, as with other men, short, crisp-worded,
curt.  Now, seeming to take no stock of Blenham's disfigurement, in a
dozen snapping sentences he issued his orders.

Their gist was plain.  Blenham was to go the limit to accomplish two
purposes: the minor one of making the world a dreary place for certain
scoundrels, name of Temple; the major one of utterly breaking Steve
Packard.  When Blenham went out and to his own room again the sullen
fire in his good eye burned more brightly, as though with fresh fuel.

A little later Guy Little returned, lighted the lamps, made a small
fire in the big fireplace, and ignoring the presence of his master,
went to stand in front of the high book-shelves.  After a long time he
got the step-ladder and placed it, climbed to the top, and squatted
there in front of his favorite section.  Ultimately he drew down a
volume with many colored illustrations; it was a tale of love, its
_mise en scène_ the mansions of the lords and ladies whose adventures
occurred in that atmosphere of romance which had captivated the soul of
Guy Little.

When he climbed down and sought the big chair in which he would curl up
to read and chew countless sticks of gum, chewing fast when the action
hurried, slowly when there was the dramatic pause, stopping often with
mouth wide open when tense and breathless interest held him, he
discovered that the old man had gone out.

Guy Little pursed his lips.  Then he went to the recently vacated
leather chair.  Not to sit in it; merely to draw out the little volume
from under the cushion.

"'Lyrics from Tennyson,'" he read aloud.  "What the devil are them
things?"

He turned the pages.

"Pomes!" he grunted in disgust.

Whereupon he carried his own book to his own chair.  But, beginning to
turn the pages, he stopped and looked up wonderingly.

"Funny ol' duck," he mused.  "Here I've knowed him all these years an'
I never guessed he read pomes!"

He shook his head, admitted to himself that the "ol' duck" was a keen
ol' cuss, returned to his book, began stripping the paper from the
first stick of gum, and knew no more of what went on about him.



CHAPTER XV

AT THE FALLEN LOG

Since the hill ranch operated by the Temples and the Packard Ranch
Number Ten had over two miles of common border-line, it was unavoidable
that Steve and Terry should meet frequently.  Truly unavoidable since
further they were both young, Terry as pretty as the proverbial
picture, Steve the type to stick somehow in such a girl's mind.  She
turned up her nose at him; she gave him a fine view of her back; but in
riding her father's range she let her eyes travel curiously across the
line.

For his part Steve, seeing where some of his calves had invaded Temple
property, followed the errant calves himself instead of sending one of
his men.  And as he rode he was apt to forget his strayed cattle as he
watched through the trees for a fluttering, gay-hued scarf.

Certainly of girls and women he had known she was the most refreshing;
certainly she was the prettiest after an undeniably saucy style.  And
life here of late, with Blenham and Woods gone and unheard from, was a
quiet, uneventful affair.

Terry, for her part, told herself and any one else who cared to listen,
that he was a Packard, hence to be distrusted, avoided, considered as
beneath a white person's notice.  His breed were all crooked.  Sired
and grandsired by precious scoundrels, he was but what was to be
expected.  And yet----

For "yets" and "ifs" and "howevers" had already begun to intrude,
befogging many a consideration hitherto clear as cut glass.  He had not
lied about a horse being shot under him; he had been party to Blenham's
departure from the ranch; he had been man enough in Red Creek to whip
Joe Woods; and, single-handed, he had driven a crew of rough-and-ready
timberjacks off his property.

Further, it was undeniable that he had a good-natured grin, that his
eyes though inclined either to be stern or else to laugh at her, were
frank and steady, that he made a figure that fitted well in the eye of
a girl like Terry Temple.

"Oh, the Packards are men," said Terry begrudgingly, "even if they are
pirates!"

This to her father and, it is to be suspected, for her father's sake.
For, despite the girl's valiantly repeated hope that Temple "would come
back yet" and be again the man he once was, he seemed in fact to grow
more shiftless day after day, communing long over his fireplace with
his drink, passing from one degree to another of untidiness.  He made
her "feel just like screaming and running around the house breaking
things" at times.

"You are impatient, my dear," said Temple as one speaking to a very
young child.  "And there are matters which you don't understand; which
I cannot even discuss with you.  But," and he winked very slyly, less
at Terry than just in a general acknowledgment of his own acumen, "you
just wait a spell!  I've got somethin' up my sleeve--somethin' that----
Oh, you just wait, my dear!"

Terry sniffed.

"I ought to be pretty good at waiting by now," she told him, little
impressed.  "And if you have anything up your sleeve besides the flabby
arm of a do-nothing, then it must be another bottle of whiskey!  You
can't flim-flam me, dad, and you ought to know it."

She whisked out of the house, her face reddened with vexation, a sudden
moisture in her eyes.  It took all of the fortitude she could summon
into her dauntless little bosom to maintain after days like this that
there was still a "come-back" left in her father.

In an hour made fragrant by the resinous odors of the upland pines and
the freshly liberated perfumes of the little white evening flowers
thick in the meadows, Terry on her favorite horse went flashing through
the long shadows of the late afternoon, riding as Terry always rode
when her breast was tumultuous and her temper rising.

The recently imported Japanese cook and houseboy peered out after her
from his kitchen window, his eyes actually losing their Oriental cast
and growing round; a trick, this, of Iki's whenever Terry came into his
view.

"Part bird," mused Iki, "part flower, big part wild devil-girl!  Oof!
Nice to look at, but for wife Japonee girl more better.  Think so."

Little by little as she rode, letting her horse out until she fairly
raced through the fields and into the woods beyond, the pitiful picture
of her father faded from her mind.  As the vision dimmed of Temple's
shoddiness in his worn-out slippers another image formed in Terry's
mind; an image which was there more than the girl had as yet come to
realize.

Yes, as types the Packards were all right; how many times had she
admitted that to herself?  But as individuals . . .  Oh, how she hated
them!  And to-day, for some reason not clearly defined in Terry's
consciousness, she found it convenient to assure herself with new
emphasis that she hated and despised the Packards with a growing
detestation, and from this point to go on and inform Miss Teresa Temple
exactly why she looked on those of the Packard blood just as she did.

She summoned a host of reasons, set them in ranks like so many soldiers
to wage war for her, marshalled and deployed and reviewed and
dress-paraded them, and found them all eminently satisfactory
mercenaries.

There was one reason which she thrust into the background, seeking to
keep it hidden behind the serried ranks of its brothers-in-arms.  And
yet it insisted in mutinous fashion on pushing to the fore.  Seeking to
consider the Packards en masse, as a curse rather than as individuals,
she found that she was remembering Steve Packard rather vividly.

In the outward seeming Steve Packard was a gentleman; he had that vague
something called culture; he bore himself with the assurance and ease
of one who knew the world; he had been to college--and Terry knew
nothing more of school than was to be learned at a country high school.
Steve's father had "broken" her father financially; had such not been
the fact Terry herself would have had her own college diploma on her
wall; Terry would have known something more of the world than she now
knew; she would have been "a lady."

"Oh, pickles!" cried Terry aloud, bringing her runaway thoughts to a
sharp halt.  "What difference does it make if he knows Latin and I
don't?  And a hot specimen of a 'lady' I'd make anyhow!"

Over a ridge she flew, the low sun glistening from her spurs and the
polished surfaces of her boot-tops, down into the dusk-filled fragrance
of a woodsy cañon, into the mouth of a silent trail, around a wide
curve, and to her own favorite spot of all these woods.  A nook of
haunting charm with its sprawling stream, its big-boled and widely
scattered trees, its grass and flowers.  "Mossy Dell," she called it,
having borrowed the name from an old romance read in breathless fashion
in her room.

Slipping out of her saddle and leaving her horse to browse if such
pastime suited him, Terry went through the trees and down along the
flashing creek, humming softly, her voice confused with the gurgle of
the noisy little stream, her eyes at last growing content.

She was half smiling at some shadowy thought before she had gone twenty
paces; she tossed off her hat and let it lie, meaning to come back for
it later; she unfastened the scarf about her neck, baring her white
throat to the hour's cool invitation, she let her bronze-brown hair
down in two loose, curling braids across her shoulders, toying with the
ends as she went.

Coming here at troubled moments altered the girl's mood very much as an
hour in a quiet cathedral may soothe the soul of the orthodox.

A little further on, lying across the stream and just around another
bend, was a great fallen cedar, its giant trunk eight or ten feet
through at the base.  Approximately it marked the border-line between
the Temple Ranch and Ranch Number Ten; it was quite as though the
wilderness itself had cast down the big tree across an old trail to
indicate a line which must not be crossed.

Upon the top of this supine woodland monarch Terry was accustomed to
sit, her back against one of the big limbs, her heels kicking at the
mossy sides, while she glanced back and forth from Temple property to
Packard land and told herself how much finer was her side than the
other.

Just where the tree had fallen the creek-bed was rocky and uneven; the
water eddied and whirled and plunged noisily into its pools.  Terry,
clambering up from her side of the big log, heard only the shouting of
the brook.  She grasped the dead branches, pulled herself up, slipped a
little, got a new foothold; Terry's head, her face flushed rosily, her
eyes never brighter, popped up on one side of the log just in time with
the tick of her destiny's clock.

[Illustration: Terry's head, her face flushed rosily, her eyes never
brighter, popped up on one side of the log.]

That is to say just as Steve Packard, climbing up from the other side,
thrust his head up above the top.  An astonished grunt from Steve who
in the first start of the encounter came close to falling backward; a
little choking ejaculation from Terry whose eyes widened
wonderfully--and the two of them settled silently into their places on
the cedar and stared at each other.  Some three or four feet only lay
between the brim of Steve's hat and Terry's upturned nose.

"Well?" demanded Terry stiffly.

"Well?" countered Steve.

He regarded her very gravely.  He had never had a girl materialize this
way out of space and his own thoughts.  This sudden confronting savored
of the supernatural; for the moment it set him aback and he was content
to stare wonderingly into the sweet gray eyes so near his own and to
take note of the curve of her lips, the redness of them, the dimple
which, though departed now and, he felt, in hiding, had left a hint of
itself behind in its hasty flight.

"If there's one thing I hate worse than a potato-bug," said Terry,
"it's a fresh guy!  Think you're funny, don't you?"

"Fresh?  Funny?"

He lifted his eyebrows.  And then, her suspicion clear to him, his
gravity departed the way Terry's dimple had gone and he put back his
head and laughed.  Laughed while the girl with deepening color and
darkening eyes looked at him indignantly.

"Think I did that on purpose?" he cried in vast good nature.  "That I
was spying on you?  That I waited until you started to climb up here
and that then I popped my head up just at the same time?  All on
purpose?"

"That's just exactly what I do think!" Terry told him hotly.  "You--you
big smarty!  Everywhere I go, have you got to keep showing up?"

"I'll tell you something," said Steve.  "If I had climbed up here just
to give you a little surprise party; if I had known you were there and
that I could have poked my head up just as you did yours--know what I
would have done?"

"What?" Terry in her curiosity condescended to ask.

"I'd have kissed the prettiest girl I ever saw!" he chuckled.  "Honest
to grandma!  That's just what I'd have done.  As it was, you half
scared me out of my wits; I came as close as you please to going over
backward and breaking my neck."

"Not as close as I please.  And as for kissing me, Long Steve Packard,
you just try that on sometime when you want your face slapped good and
hard and a bullet pumped into you besides!"

"Mean it?" grinned Steve.

"I most certainly do," she retorted emphatically.

"Offered merely as information?" he wanted to know.  "Or as a dare?  Or
an invitation?"

When she did not reply at once but contented herself by putting a deal
of eloquence into a look--which, by the way, had no visible effect upon
his rising good humor--he went on to remark:

"If you just slapped my face it would be worth it.  If you just shot me
through the finger-nail or something like that, it would be worth it
still."  He examined her critically.  "Even if you plugged me square
through the thumb----"

"If you don't know it," she informed him aloofly, "you are trespassing
right now where you are not wanted.  The sooner you trail your big feet
off Temple land the better I'll like it!"

"Temple land?  Since when was a tree considered as land, Miss Teresa
Arriega Temple?"

"Think that's funny?" she scoffed.

"And besides," he continued, "the tree is on Packard property.  See
that old pine stump over yonder?  And that big rock there?  Those
things mark the boundary-line and you'll notice we're on my side!"

Terry's temper flamed higher in her eyes, flashed hotter in her cheeks.

"We are not!  And you know we are not!  The line runs yonder, just
beyond that big white rock on the creek-bank.  And you are a good ten
feet on my side.  Where, if you please, you are not wanted."

"That isn't a pretty enough thought to bear repetition," he offered
genially.  "Look here, Terry Temple, what's the use----"

"Are you going?  Or do you intend just to squat there like a toad and
spoil the view for me?"

"Toads are fat animals," he corrected her.  "I'm not.   More like a
bullfrog, if you like.  What am I going to do?  Why, just squat, I
guess."

As he leaned back against the limb which offered its support to his
shoulders Terry noted that he wore in full sight at his side the heavy
Colt he had bought the other night in Red Creek.  A new habit, with
Steve Packard.

"Gunman, are you?" she jeered.  "I might have known it.  Gunmen are all
cowards."

He sighed.

"You can be the most irritating young lady I ever met.  And why?  What
have I ever done to you--besides save you from drowning?  Since we are
neighbors, why not be good friends?  By the way, where do you carry
your gun?"

"It's different with a girl," she said bluntly.  "There's some excuse
for her.  With the kind that's filling the woods lately she's apt to
need it."

"And you wouldn't be afraid to use it?"

"I'm not here to chin with you all day," observed Terry coolly.  "And
you haven't told me what you're doing on my land."

"Your land?" he demanded.

"On my side of the line, then."

He considered the question.

"I'm here to meet some one," he answered finally.

"I like your nerve!  Arranging to meet your friends here!  Steve
Packard, you are the--the--the----"

"Go on," he prompted.  "You'll need a cuss-word now; any other finish
will sound flat."

"--the _Packardest_ Packard I ever heard of!" she concluded.  "You and
your friend----"

"No more my friend than he is yours," he said, interrupting her.  "An
individual named Blenham.  And I'm not here so much to meet him
as--let's say to head him off."

Terry set it down that, since it was next to impossible at any time for
a Packard to speak the truth, he was just lying to her for the sake of
the devious exercise.  As she was on the point of saying emphatically
when Steve said "Sh!" and pointed.  She heard a breaking of brush and
saw the horns of a steer; the animal was coming into the trail from the
Packard side.

"You just watch," whispered Steve.  "And sit right still.  It won't do
you any harm to know what's going on."

The big steer broke through into the trail, stopped and sniffed, and
then came on up the stream.   Behind came another and another, emerging
from the shadows, passing through the swiftly fading light of the open,
gone again into the shadows that lay over the wooded Temple acreage.
In all nine big fat steers.  And behind them, sitting loosely in his
saddle, came Blenham.

Only when the last steer had crossed the line did Steve rise suddenly,
standing upright on the great log, his hands on his hips.  Terry
looking up into his face saw that all of the good humor had gone from
it and that there was something ominous in the darkening of his eyes.

"Hold on, Blenham!" he called.

Blenham drew a quick rein.

"That you, Packard?" he asked quietly.

"It is," answered Steve briefly.  "On the job, too, Blenham.  All the
time."

Blenham laughed.

"So it seems," he said, his look like his tone eloquent of an innuendo
which embraced Terry evilly.  "If you're invitin' me to join your
little party, I ain't got the time.  Thanks jus' the same."

Since one's consciousness may harbor several clear-cut impressions
simultaneously, Steve Packard, while he was thinking of other matters,
felt that never until this moment had he hated Blenham properly; no,
nor respected him as it would be the part of wisdom to do.

The man's glance running over Terry Temple's girlishness was like the
crawling of a slug over a wild flower and supplied a new and perhaps
the key-note to Blenham's ugliness.  It was borne in upon Steve that
his grandfather's lieutenant was bad, absolutely bad; that, old adages
to the contrary notwithstanding, here was a character with not a hint
of redemption in it; after the Packard outright way, this youngest
Packard was ready to condemn out of hand.

And further, to all of this Steve marked how Blenham had drawn a quick
rein but had shown no tremor of uneasiness; had considered that though
the man had been taken completely by surprise he had given no sign of
being startled, but had answered a sharp summons with a cool, quiet
voice.  So, summing it up, here was one to be hated and watched.

"What are you doing on my land, Blenham?" asked Steve sharply.  "And
where are you driving those steers?"

Blenham eased himself in his saddle, drew his broad hat lower over his
eyes; thus he partly hid the patch which he had worn since he came from
the doctor's hands.

"I ain't on your land any more," he returned.  "An' as for them
steers--what's it to you, anyhow?"

Open defiance was one thing Steve had not looked for.

"Looking for more trouble yet, Blenham?" he asked briefly.

Blenham shrugged.

"I'm tendin' to business," he said slowly.  "No, I'm not lookin' for
trouble--yet.  Since you want to know, I'm hazin' them cow-brutes the
shortes' way off'n Number Ten an' on to the North Trail.  I'm puttin'
'em on the trot to the Big Bend ranch where they happen to belong."

Steve lifted his brows, for the moment wondering.  Blenham was not
waiting for pitch dark to move these steers; he manifested no alarm at
being discovered; now he calmly admitted that he was driving them to
old man Packard's ranch where they belonged.  It was possible that he
was right.

In the few weeks that he had been back Steve had not had the time to
know every head on his wide-scattered acreage; as the steers had
trotted through the shadows and into the open his eyes had been less
for them than for the coming of Blenham and he was not sure of the
brands.

He felt that Terry's eyes, as Terry sat very still on her log, were
steadily upon him.

"Blenham," he said curtly, "I don't know whose cattle those are.  But I
do know this much: If they are mine I am going to have them back; if
they are not mine I am going to have them back just the same."

"How do you make that out?" demanded Blenham.

"I make out that neither you nor any other man has any business driving
stock off my range without consulting me first."

"They're Big Bend cows," muttered Blenham.  "The ol' man's orders----"

"Curse the old man's orders!" Steve's voice rang out angrily.  "If he
can't be decent to me, can't he at least let me alone?  Need he send
you here to do business with me?  If you want orders, Blenham, you just
take these from me: Ride back to the old man on Big Bend ranch and tell
him that what stock is on my ranch I keep here until he can prove it is
his!  Understand?  If he can prove that these steers belong to him--and
I don't believe he can and you can tell him that, too--why then, let
him send me the money to pay for their pasturage and he can have them.
And in the meantime, Mr. Blenham, get out and be damned to you!"

For the moment Steve lost all thought of Terry sitting very still so
close to him, his mind filled with his grandfather and his
grandfather's chosen tool.  So when he thought that he heard the
suspicion of a stifled giggle, a highly amused and vastly delighted
little giggle, he was for the instant of the opinion that Blenham was
laughing at him.

But the intruder was all seriousness.  He sat motionless, his glance
stony, his thought veiled, his one good eye giving no more hint of his
purpose than did the patch over the other eye.  In the end he shrugged.

"My orders," he said finally, "was simply to haze them steers back to
the Big Bend.  The ol' man didn't say nothin' about startin' anything
if you got unreasonable."  Again he shrugged elaborately.  "I'll come
again if he says so," he concluded and, jabbing his spurs viciously
into his horse's flanks, his sole sign of irritation, Blenham rode away
through the woods.

"He let go too easy," murmured Terry.  "He's got a card in the hole
yet."

Her eyes followed the departing rider, she pursed her lips after him.

Steve turned and looked down upon her.

"I hope you don't mind if I trespass to the extent of riding after
those steers?" he offered.  "I want to drive them back and at the same
time I don't mind making sure that Blenham is still on his way."

Terry regarded him long and searchingly.

"Go ahead," she said at last.  And, as though an explanation were
necessary, she continued: "There's just one animal I hate worse than I
do a Packard!  For once the fence is down between you and Temple land,
Steve Packard."

"Let's keep it down!" he said impulsively.  "You and I----"

"No, thanks!"  Terry rose swiftly to her feet, balancing on her log,
reminding him oddly of a bright bird about to take flight.  "You just
remember that there's just one animal I hate _almost_ as much as I do
Blenham; and that that's a Packard."

And so she jumped down from the log and left him.



CHAPTER XVI

TERRY DEFIES BLENHAM

Blenham must have ridden late into the night.  For at a very early hour
the next morning he was at the Big Bend ranch fifty miles to the north
and reporting to his employer.  Early as it was, the old man had
breakfasted, and now the wide black hat far back on his head, the spurs
on his big boots, bespoke his readiness to be riding.

At times he stood stock-still, his hands on his hips, staring down at
Blenham's lesser stature; at other times and in a deep, thoughtful
silence he strode back and forth in the great barn-like library, his
spurs jingling.

"Why, burn it, man," he exploded once during the fore part of the
interview, "the boy is a Packard!  I'm proud of him.  We're going to
make a real man out of Stephen yet.  Haven't I said the words a dozen
times: 'Break a fool an' make a man!'  I'm tellin' you, the las'
Packard to be spoiled by havin' too much easy money has lived an' died.
All we got to do with Stephen is put him on foot; set him down in the
good ol'-fashioned dirt where he's got to work for what he gets, an'
he'll come through.  Same as I did.  Yessir!"

Blenham waited for his signal to continue his report, and when he got
it, a look and a nod, he resumed, face, voice, and eye alike
expressionless of any personal interest in the matter.

"You know them nine big steers as strayed from here some time ago?  I
tol' you about 'em two or three weeks ago?  Well, I found 'em like I
said I would, all nine of 'em, an' on Ranch Number Ten."

"It's quite a way for cattle to stray," said the old man sharply.
Blenham shrugged carelessly.

"Oh, I dunno," he returned lightly.  "I've knowed 'em to go fu'ther
than that.  Well, I made a pass to haze 'em on back this way an' young
Packard blocks my play."

The old man's eye brightened.

"What did he say?" he asked eagerly.

"He said," said Blenham, picking at his hat-band, "as how if the stock
was yours which he didn't believe he'd hold 'em until you sent over
enough coin to pay for their feed.  He said as how, if you couldn't be
decent you better anyhow leave him alone.  He said hell with both of
us."

"He did?" cried old Packard.  "He said that, Blenham?"

"He did," answered Blenham with a quick, curious, sidewise glance.

Packard's big hand was lifted and came down mightily upon his thigh as,
suddenly released, the old man's voice boomed out in a great peal of
laughter.

"Ho!" he cried, shouting out the words to be heard far out across the
open meadow.  "Say to hell with me, does he?  Holds my stock for
pasture money, does he?  Defies me to do my worst, him a young,
penniless whippersnapper, me a millionaire an' a man-breaker!  Why,
curse it, he's a man already, Blenham!  He's a Packard to his backbone,
I tell you!  By the Lord, I've a notion to jump into my car and go get
the boy!"

A troubled shadow came and went swiftly across Blenham's face, not to
be seen by the old man who was staring out of his window.  All of the
craft there was in the ranch foreman rose to the surface.

"Yes," he agreed quietly, "he's got the makin's in him.  He ain't
scared of the devil himself, which is one right good earmark.  He's
independent, which is another good sign.  Why, when I runs across him
an' that Temple girl out in the woods----"

"What's that!" snapped the old man, though he had heard well enough.
"Do you mean to tell me----"

"They was sittin' on top a big log," said Blenham tonelessly.
"Confidential lookin', you know.  I won't say he was holdin' her hands,
an' at the same time I won't say he wasn't.  An' I won't say he'd jus'
kissed her, two seconds before I rode aroun' a bend in the trail."  One
of his ponderous shrugs and a grimace concluded his meaning.  Then he
laughed.  "Nor I wouldn't say he hadn't.  But, like I was tellin'
you----"

"You were tellin' me," growled the old man, "that that scoundrel of a
Temple's fool of a girl is tryin' her hand at spellbindin' my gran'son
Stephen!  The dirty little saphead--  Look here, Blenham; you've got
more gumption than most: tell me how far things have gone an' what
Temple's game is.  Guy Little has been tellin' me the same sort of
thing."

"There ain't much to tell," answered Blenham.  "That is, that a man
couldn't guess without bein' told.  He's your gran'son; even with a
scrap on between you an' him, still blood is thicker'n water an' some
day, maybe, you'll pass on to him all you got.  Leastways, there's a
chance, an' also he oughta fit pretty snug in a girl's eye.  Fu'ther to
all that, it's jus' the same ol' story.  A feller an' a girl, an' the
girl with a fine figger an' a fine pair of eyes which, bein' a
she-girl, she knows how to use.  Seein' as you ask the question, I
guess I could answer it by jus' sayin' that the Temples are makin' the
one move they'd be sure to make."

The senior Packard's scowl had known fame as long as fifty years ago;
never was it blacker than right now.  For a little he stood still
glaring at the floor.  Blenham watched him covertly, a look of craft in
the one good eye.

"Better go over an' see Temple right away," said Packard presently.
"He won't be able to pay up his next instalment.  Tell him I'm goin' to
foreclose an' drive him out.  While you're at it you can show him the
plum foolishness of sickin' his idiot girl on Stephen.  How it won't
bring 'em any good an' will jus' get me out on his trail red-hot.
He'll understand."  And the stern old mouth set into lines of which
Blenham read the full and emphatic meaning.  "Go on: anything else to
report?"

After his fashion in business matters he had pondered deeply but
briefly upon this interference of Terry, had planned, had instructed
his agent, and now turned to whatever might next demand his attention
in connection with his campaign against and for Steve Packard.  And
Blenham, deeming that he had scored a certain point, moved straight on
to another.

"He said--an' she watched an' listened an' giggled--as how he was in
right an' you was in wrong; as how the law was on his side an' he'd
stick it out; how he could take the whole ruction into court an' beat
you; how----"

Old Hell-Fire Packard stared at him, mumbling heavily:

"He said that?  Stephen, my gran'son said that?"

"Yes," lied Blenham glibly.  "Them was his words.  An', not knowin' a
whole lot about law an' such----"

He ended there, knowing that his words went unheeded.  The look upon
the old man's face changed slowly from one of pure amazement to one of
pain, grief, disappointment.  Stephen, his gran'son, threatened to go
to law!  It was unthinkable that any one save a thief and an out-right
scoundrel, such by the way as were all of his business rivals and the
men who refused to tote and carry at his bidding, should make a threat
like that; worse than unthinkable, utterly, depravedly disgraceful that
one of the house of Packard should resort to such devious and damnable
practices.  For an instant Blenham thought that tears were actually
gathering in the weary old eyes.

But the emotion which came first was gone in a scurry before a sudden
windy rage.  The face which had been graven with humiliation and
chagrin went fiery red; the big hands clenched and were uplifted; the
great booming voice trembled to the shouted words:

"Let him; burn him, let him!  I can break the fool quicker that way
than any other; don't he know it takes money, money without end, for
the perjurin', trickery, slippery law sharks that'll bleed a man, aye,
suck out his life-blood an' then spit him out like the pulp of an
orange?  Infernal young puppy-dawg!  See what it's done for him
already, this rich-man's-son business.  To think that one of my blood,
my own gran'son, should go to law!  Why, by high heaven, Blenham, the
thing's downright disgraceful!"

Swiftly, deftly, employing a remark like a surgeon's lancet, Blenham
offered:

"I have the hunch that Temple girl put it in his head."

"You're right!"  This new suggestion required no weighing and fine
balancing.  You could attribute no villainy whatever to one of the old
man's enemies that he would not admit the extreme likelihood of your
being right.  "Stephen ain't that sort; she's got him by the nose, hell
take her!  She's drivin' him to it, an' it's Temple drivin' her.  An'
it's up to you an' me to drive him clean out'n this corner of the
universe.  Which we can do without goin' to the law!" he interjected
scornfully.  "I reckon you understan', don't you, Blenham?"

Blenham nodded and put on his hat.

"I'm to hound him from the start to finish; until we drive him an' her
out the country.  An' I'm to pound at your gran'son too an' at the same
time until we bust him wide open.  That right?"

"Right an' go to it!" cried Packard.

Blenham saluted as he might have done were he still a sergeant down on
the border, wheeled and went out.  Five minutes later he was riding
again toward the south.  And now the look on his face was one of near
triumph.  For at last the time had come when the old man had given
outright the instructions which could make many things possible.

That same day, about noon, Terry Temple, flashing across country in her
car, met Blenham on the country road.  She was going toward Red Creek,
her errand urgent as were always the errands of Terry.  Half a mile
away she knew him, first by the white stocking of his favorite mare,
second by his big bulk and the way it sat the saddle.

So, quite like the old Packard whom she so heartily detested, she gave
him the horn and never an inch of the road which was none too wide.
Blenham, his mouth working, jerked his horse out of the way, down over
the edge of the slope, and cursed after her as she passed him.

Terry, in Red Creek, went straight to the store and to a shelf in a far
and dusty corner where were all of the purchasable books of the
village.  A thumb in her mouth, a frown in her eyes, she regarded them
long and soberly.

In the end she severed the Gordian knot by taking an even dozen
volumes.  There were a grammar, an ancient history, some composition
books, and, most important of all, a treatise upon social usages.

How to write letters, what R. S. V. P. meant, "Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so
request and so forth," how a lady should greet a gentleman friend--in
short, an answer to all possible questions of right and wrong ways of
appearing in polite society.  With her purchases stowed away in a
cracker-box Terry turned again toward the ranch.

In the ordinary course of events Terry should have returned to her home
well ahead of Blenham.  But this afternoon she made a wide, circling
detour to chat briefly with Rod Norton's young wife at the Rancho de
las Flores, and so came under the Temple oaks after dusk.

As she turned in at the gate she saw Blenham's horse standing tied down
by the stable.  Terry's eyes opened wonderingly and a little flush came
into her cheeks.  Plainly Blenham was closeted with her father.  Terry
bit her lip, gathered her books in her arms, and hastened toward the
house.

The bawling of a mother cow and a baby calf, separated by a corral
fence, had quite drowned out the purr of her motor; her step as usual
was light upon the porch.  The first that Temple and Blenham knew of
her coming was her form in the doorway, her face turned curiously upon
them.

And in that instant, while all three stood motionless, Terry saw and
wondered at a look of understanding which had flashed between her own
father and the despised representative of a hated race.  Further she
noted how the glass in Temple's hand was still lifted, as was the glass
in Blenham's, the whiskey still undrunk, winking at her in the pale
lamplight.

"Isn't your eternal drinking bad enough without your asking such as
that to drink with you?" she asked quietly.  Very, very quietly for
Miss Terry Temple.

Her father shifted a trifle uneasily.  Blenham watched her intently,
admiringly after a gross fashion and yet a bit contemptuously.  Blenham
could put a look like that into his eye; to him a girl was a thing that
might be both sneered at and coveted.

"My dear," said Temple, striving for clear enunciation and in the end
achieving it heavily, "I am glad you came.  I want you to listen.  We
must act wisely.  We must not misjudge Mr. Blenham."

While Terry remained silent, looking from one to the other of the two
men.  Temple drank his whiskey hastily, furtively, snatching the second
when her gaze had gone to Blenham.

"What's the game?" asked Terry in a moment.

She set her books down upon the table at her side, put out her hand to
the back of a chair, and like the men remained standing.

Temple looked to Blenham, who merely shrugged his thick shoulders and
sipped at his whiskey, as though it had been a light wine and very soft
to an appreciative palate.  In some vague way the act was vastly
insolent.  Temple appeared uncertain, no uncommon thing with him; then,
going to set his emptied glass down he put an elbow on the mantel,
dropped his head, and spoke in a low, mumbling voice:

"The game?  It's what it always was, Terry girl; what it always will
be.  The game of the ear of corn and the millstones; the game of the
unfortunate under the iron heel."

"Unfortunate!"  cried Terry in disgust.  "Pooh!"

"Listen to me," commanded her father.  "You ask: What's the game? and
I'm telling you."  His head was up now; Terry noted a new look in his
eyes, as he hurried on.  "It's just the game of life, after all.  The
war of those who have everything against those who have nothing; of men
like Old Hell-Fire Packard against men like me.  A game to be won more
often than not through the sheer force of massed money that squeezes
the life out of the under dog--but to be lost when the moneyed fool,
curse him, runs up against a team like Blenham and me!"

"Blenham and you?" she repeated.  "You and Blenham?  You mean to tell
me that you are chipping in with him?"

Blenham turned his whiskey-glass slowly in his great thick fingers.
His eye shone with its crafty light; his lips were parted a little as
though they held themselves in readiness for a swift interruption if
Temple said the wrong thing or went too far.

"You are prejudiced," said Temple.  "You always have been.  Just
because Blenham here has represented Packard, and Packard----"

"Is an old thief!" she cried passionately.  "And worse!  As Packard's
_Man Friday_ Blenham doesn't exactly make a hit with me!"

"Come, come," exclaimed Temple.  "Curb your tongue, Teresa, my dear.
If you will only listen----"

"Shoot then and get it over."

Terry sank into her chair, clasped her gauntleted hands about a pair of
plump knees which drew Blenham's gaze approvingly, and set her white
teeth to nibbling impatiently at her under lip as though setting a
command upon it for silence.

"Let's have it, Dad."

"That's sensible," mumbled Temple.  "You always were a smart girl,
Teresa, when you cared to be.  Let's see; where had I got?  Oh, yes;
speaking of Blenham chipping in with us, as you put it."

"With _you_!" corrected Terry briefly.

"We're mortgaged to old man Packard," continued Temple, somewhat hasty
about it now that he had fairly plunged into the current of what he had
to say, as though the water were cold and he was anxious to clamber out
upon the far side.  "Not much in a way; a good deal when you figure on
how tight money is and how little we've seen of it these last few
years.  Now, Packard sends Blenham across with a message; he's going to
foreclose; he is going to drive us out; to ruin us.  That is Packard's
word."

Terry stiffened in her chair; her chin rose a little in the air; her
eyes brightened; the color in her cheeks deepened.  That was her only
answer to Packard's ultimatum as quoted to her father by Blenham and by
Temple to her.  Knowing that there was still more to come, she sat
still, her clasped hands tightening about her knees.  Blenham, as still
as she, was sipping at his whiskey.

"But Blenham is a white man."

Temple attempted to say it with the force of conviction, but Terry
merely sniffed, and Temple himself failed somewhat to put his heart
into his words.  He hurried on, repeating:

"Yes, a white man.  And he's got a little money of his own that he's
been tucking away all these years of working for Packard.  He comes
over this evening, Teresa, my dear, and makes us a--curse it, a
generous offer.  You see, as things are, we are bound to lose the whole
place, lock, stock, and barrel, to Packard; you don't want to do that,
do you?"

"Go on," said Terry.  Her face was suddenly as white as the hands from
which she was swiftly, nervously stripping her gauntlets.  "Just what
is Blenham's generous offer, Dad?"

"It's one of two things."

He hesitated and licked his lips.  Terry's heart sank lower yet; it
took him so long to set the thing into words!  "You see, as Old Man
Packard's foreman and agent he comes to tell us that he is ordered to
foreclose; to break us utterly.  As a friend to us he says----"

"For God's sake!" cried Terry sharply.  "What does he say?"

"He will pay us a thousand dollars to let him take over everything!  He
will assume the mortgage; he will scrap it out with old Packard; he
will clear the title; and, if we get where we want the ranch back some
time, he will let us buy him out for just what he has put in it."

Terry looked at him gravely.

"In words of one syllable," she said quietly, "Blenham plans to give
you one thousand dollars; then to pay to old Packard the seven thousand
you owe him; and for this amount of eight thousand to grab an outfit
that is worth twenty thousand if it's worth a nickel!  That's his
generous offer, is it?"

"My dear----"

"Don't my dear me!" she snapped impatiently.  "Just go on and get the
whole idiotic thing out of your system.  What else?"

"That's all.  As I have said already, as things are we are bound to
lose everything to Packard.  Blenham steps up and offers us a
thousand----"

"I should think he would step up!  Lively!  Well, I can't stop you, can
I?  You don't have to have my consent to make a laughing-stock out of
yourself?  Have you signed up with Blenham already?"

Temple sought to assume an air of dignity which went poorly with his
ragged slippers and bleary eye.

"Blenham has his money in a safe in Red Creek.  There will be papers to
be signed.  We are going there now.  I--I am sorry you take it this
way, Teresa."

Then she sprang to her feet, her two hands clenched, her eyes blazing.

"And I," she cried hotly, "am sorry.  Oh, I am ashamed! that one of the
name of Temple should sink so low as to hobnob with a cur and a
scoundrel, a cheat, a liar, and all that Blenham is, and that you and I
and the whole country know he is!  I'd rather see Old Hell-Fire Packard
break you and grind you under foot than see you stand there and drink
with that thing!"

And that there should be no mistake her finger shot out, pointing at
Blenham.

"Terry!" commanded her father, "be silent.  You don't know what you are
saying!"

"Don't I, though!  I--I----"

Blenham laughed as she broke off, laughed again as he stood watching
how she was breathing rapidly.

"Pretty puss," he said impudently, "you need them pink-an'-white nails
of your'n trimmed."

"Don't you dare say a word to me," she flung at him.  "Not a word."

"Not a single little word, eh?"  He tossed off his whiskey, dropped the
empty glass to the floor behind him, and came a quick stride toward
her, an ugly leer twisting at the corner of his mouth, his one eye
burning.  "I've got your ol' man where I want him; he knows it an' I
an' you know it.  An' when I like I can have you where I want you, too.
Understan'?"

He had taken another step toward her.  The sudden thought leaped up in
her mind that he and her father had had many drinks together before her
arrival.  She drew back slowly.  Temple, seeing that for the moment all
attention had been drawn from him, reached out for a bottle on the far
end of the mantel.

Then suddenly and without another word being spoken Terry was
galvanized into action.  Blenham was coming on toward her and she saw
the look in his eye.  She whipped back; her breath caught in her
throat; the color ran out of her cheeks.  She glanced wildly toward her
father; his fingers were closing about the neck of a bottle when they
should have been at the neck of a man.

Terry whipped up a book from the table--it was a volume answering many
a question about how to act in society but without any mention of such
a situation as now had arisen--and flung it straight into Blenham's
hectic face.  Then she slipped through the door behind her, slammed it,
and ran out, down the porch and into the night.  Behind her she heard
Blenham's heavy, spurred boots and Blenham's curse.

"If he comes on I will kill him!"

She was at her car; her revolver was in her hand.  She saw Blenham come
outside.  A moment he seemed to hesitate, his big bulk outlined against
the door's rectangle of light.  Then she heard him laugh and saw him
return to the room.  She came back slowly, tiptoe, to stand under the
window.

"You can drive the girl's car, can't you?" Blenham was asking.  And
when Temple admitted that he could: "Let's pile in an' be on our way.
Like I said, you close with me tonight or I won't touch the thing."

Then again Terry ran back to her car.  She sprang in, started her
engine, opened the throttle as she let in the clutch, and making a wide
circle shot up the road, out the gate, and away into the darkness.

"I'll take this pot yet, Mr. Cutthroat Blenham!" she was crying within
herself.



CHAPTER XVII

AND CALLS ON STEVE

Though a tempest brewed in her soul and her blood grew turbulent with
it, Terry did not hesitate from the first second.  Just the other day
upon a certain historic log had she not said:

"I hate Blenham worse than a Packard!"

True, she had gone on to intimate that the youngest of the house of
Packard was scarcely more to her liking than was the detested foreman.
But--  Well, if Steve didn't know, at least Terry did, that that remark
was uttered purely for its rhetorical effect.

"He's been a pretty decent scout from the jump," Terry admitted
serenely to herself as she threw her car into high and went streaking
through the pale moonlight.  Then she smiled, the first quick smile to
come and go since she had hurled a book in Blenham's face.  "A pretty
decent scout from the jump!"

He had literally jumped into her life, going after her quite as
though----

"Oh, shucks!" laughed Terry.  "It's the moonlight!"

There came a certain sharp turn in the road where even she must slow
down.  Here Terry came to a dead stop, not so much in hesitation as
because she was conscious of a departure from the old trails and felt
deeply that the act might be filled with significance.  For when she
had made the turn she would have crossed the old dead line, she would
have passed the boundary and invaded Packard property.

"Well," thought Terry, "when you are between the devil and the deep sea
what are you going to do?"

So she let in her clutch, opened her throttle, sounded her horn purely
by way of defiance, and when next she stopped it was at the very door
of the old ranch-house where Steve Packard should be found at this
early hour of the evening.

The men in the bunk-house had heard her coming, and to the last man of
them pushed to the door to see who it might be.  Their first thought,
of course, would be that the old mountain-lion, Steve's grandfather,
had come roaring down from his place in the north.  Terry tossed up her
head so that they might see and know and marvel and speculate and do
and say anything which pleased them.  Having crossed her Rubicon, she
didn't care the snap of her pretty fingers who knew.

"I want Steve Packard," she called to them.  "Where is he?"

It was young Barbee who answered, Barbee of the innocent blue eyes.

"In the ranch-house, Miss Terry," he said.  And he came forward,
patting his hair into place, hitching at his belt, smiling at her after
his most successful lady-killing fashion.  "Sure I won't do?"

"You?"  Terry laughed.  "When I'm looking for a man I'm not going to
stop for a boy, Barbee dear!"

And she jumped down and knocked loudly at Steve's door, while the men
at the bunk-house laughed joyously and Barbee cursed under his breath.

Steve, supposing that it was one of his own men grown suddenly formal,
did not take his stockinged feet down from his table or his pipe from
his lips as he called shortly--

"Come in!"

And Terry asked no second invitation.  In she went, slamming the door
after her so that those who gawked at the bunk-house entrance might
gawk in vain.

And now Steve Packard achieved in one flashing second the removal of
his feet from the table, the shifting of his pipe from his teeth, the
swift buttoning of his shirt across his chest.  And as he stared at her
he gasped:

"I'll be----"

"Say it!" laughed Terry.  "Well, I'm here.  Came on business.  There's
a hole in the toe of your sock," she ended with a flash of malice, as
she noted how, embarrassed for the first time since she had known him,
he was trying to hide a pair of man-sized feet behind his table.

[Illustration: "Say it!" laughed Terry.  "Well, I'm here.  Came on
business."]

Steve grew violently red.  Terry laughed deliciously.

"I--I didn't know----"

"Of course you didn't," she agreed.  "Now, I'm in something of a rush
of the red streak variety, but in a little book of mine I have read
that a young gentleman receiving a young lady caller after dark should
have his hair combed, his shirt buttoned, and at least a pair of
slippers on.  I'll give you three minutes."

Packard looked at her wonderingly.  Then, without an answer, he strode
by her and to the window.  The shade he flipped up so that anyone who
cared to might look into the room.  Next he went to the door and called:

"Bill, oh, Bill Royce.  Come up here.  Here's some one who wants a word
with you!"

Terry Temple's face went a burning, burning red.  There came the
impulse to put both arms about this big shirt-sleeved, tousled Packard
man and squeeze him hard--and at the end of it pinch him harder.  For
in Terry's soul was understanding, and he both delighted her and shamed
her.

But when Steve came back and slipped his feet into his boots and sat
down across the table from her, Terry's face told him nothing.

"You're a funny guy, Steve Packard," she admitted thoughtfully.

"That's nothing," grinned Steve, by now quite himself again.  "So are
you!"

She had come from the Temple ranch without any hat; her hair had
tumbled down long ago and now framed her vivacious face most adorably.
Adorably, that is, to a man's mind; other women are not always agreed
upon such matters.  At any rate, Steve watched with both admiration and
regret in his eyes as Terry shook out the loose bronze tresses and
began to bring neat order out of bewilderingly becoming chaos.  Her
mouth was full of pins when Bill Royce came in.  But still she could
whisper tantalizingly--

"If you picked on Bill for a chaperon because he's blind----"

Royce stopped in the doorway.

"That you, Terry Temple?" he asked.  "An' you wanted me?  What's up?"

"I came to have a talk with Steve Packard," answered Terry promptly.

She got up and took Royce's hands between hers and led him to a chair
before she relinquished them.  And before she went back to her own
place she had said swiftly:

"I haven't seen you since you licked Blenham.  I--I am glad you got
your chance, Bill."

"Thank you, Miss Terry," said Royce quietly.  "I sorta evened up things
with him.  Not quite.  But sorta.  Then you didn't want me?"

"Not this trip, Bill.  It's just a play of Mr. Packard's here.  He
didn't like to have it known that I had him all alone here; afraid it
might compromise him, you know."

She giggled.

"Or queer him with his girl, mos' likely!" chuckled Royce.

Whereat Steve glowered and Terry looked startled.

"You're both talking nonsense," said Packard.  He reached out for his
pipe but dropped it again to the table without lighting it.  "If there
is anything I can do for you, Miss Temple----"

He saw how the look in her eyes altered.  Nothing less than an errand
of transcendent importance could have brought her here and he knew it.
And now, in quick, eager words she told him:

"Blenham has almost put one across on us.  Our outfit is mortgaged to
your old thief of a grandfather for a miserable seven thousand dollars.
Old Packard sent Blenham over to tell dad he is going to shove us out.
Blenham plays foxy and offers dad a thousand dollars for the mortgage.
Oh, I don't understand just how to say it, but Blenham has a few
thousand dollars he has saved and stolen here and there, and he means
to grab the Temple ranch for a total of eight thousand dollars; seven
thousand to old Packard, one thousand to dad----"

"But surely----"

"Surely nothing!  Dad's half full of whiskey as usual, and a thousand
dollars looks as big to him as a full moon.  Besides, he's sure of
losing to old Hell-Fire sooner or later."

"And you want me----"

"If you've got any money or can raise any," said Terry crisply, "I'm
offering you a good proposition.  The same Blenham is after.  The ranch
is worth a whole lot better than twenty thousand dollars.  My
proposition is--  But can you raise eight thousand?"

Steve regarded her a moment speculatively.  Then, quite after the way
of Steve Packard, he slipped his hand into his shirt and brought out a
sheaf of banknotes and tossed them to her across the table.

"I'm not a bloodsucker," he said quietly.  "Take what you like; I'll
stake you to the wad."

Terry looked, counted--and gasped.

"Ten thousand!" she cried.  "Good Lord, Steve Packard!  Ten
thousand--and you'd lend me----"

"To pay off a mortgage to my grandfather, yes," he answered soberly,
quite conscious of what he was doing and of its recklessness and,
perhaps, idiocy.  "And to beat Blenham."

She jumped up and ran around the table to put her two hands on his
shoulders and shake him.

"You're a God-blessed brick, Steve Packard!" she cried ringingly.  "But
I'm not a bloodsucker, either.  If you're a dead game sport--  Well,
that's what I'd rather be than anything else you can put a name to.
Lace your boots, get into a hat, shove that in your pocket."  And she
slipped the roll of bills into his hand.  "By now dad and Blenham will
be on the road to Red Creek; we'll beat them to it, have a lawyer and
some papers all ready, and when they show up we'll just take dad out of
Blenham's hands."

"I don't quite get you," said Steve.  "If you won't borrow the
money----"

"I'll make dad sell out to you for eight thousand; he pockets one
thousand and with the other seven your money-grabbing, pestiferous old
granddad is paid off.  Then you and I frame a deal between us----"

"Partners!" ejaculated Bill Royce.  "Glory to be!  Steve Packard an'
Terry Temple pardners----"

"Don't you see?"  Terry was excitedly tugging at Steve's arm.  "Come
on; come alive.  We're going to play freeze-out with Hell-Fire Packard
and his right-hand bower, both.  And we're going to keep dad from doing
a fool thing.  And we're going to--  Oh, come on, can't you?"

Steve got up and stood looking down at her curiously.  Then he laughed
and turned away for his coat and hat.

"Lead on; I'm trailing you," he said briefly.

Bill Royce rubbed his hands and chuckled.

"Even if I ain't got eyes," he mused, "there's some things I can see
real clear."



CHAPTER XVIII

"IF HE KNOWS--DOES SHE?"

There seemed no particular need for haste.  And yet Terry ran eagerly
to her car, and Steve hurried after her with long strides while the men
down at the bunkhouse surmised and looked to Bill Royce for a measure
of explanation.  Steve was not beyond the age of enthusiasm; Terry was
all atingle.  Life was shaping itself to an adventure.

And so, though it appeared that all of the time in the world was theirs
for loitering--for it should be a simple matter to come to Red Creek
well in advance of Blenham and his dupe--Terry yielded to her
excitement, Steve yielded out of hand to the lure of Terry, and, quite
gay about it, they sped away through the moonlight.   While Terry,
driver, perforce kept her eyes busied with the road, Steve Packard
leaned back in his seat and contented himself with the vision of his
fellow adventurer.

"Terry Temple," he told her emphatically and utterly sincerely, "you
are absolutely the prettiest thing I ever saw."

"I'm not a thing," said Terry.  "And besides, I know it already.
And----"

Then it was that they got their first puncture; a worn tire cut through
by a sharp fragment of rock so that they heard the air gush out
windily.  Terry jammed on her brakes.  Steve jumped out and made hasty
examination.

"Looks like a man had gone after it with a hand-ax," he announced
cheerfully.  "Good thing you've got a spare."

Terry flung down from her seat impatiently.

"I need some new tires," she said, as she from one side and he from the
other began seeking in the tool-box under the seat for jack and wrench.
"That spare is soft, too, and half worn through; I'll bet we get more
than one puncture before the job's done.  But it's mounted, anyway."

Steve went down on his knee and began jacking the car up; Terry
standing over him was busy with her wrench loosening the lugs at the
rim.  Then, while he made the exchange and tightened the nuts, she
strapped the punctured tire in its carrier and slipped back into her
seat.  As Steve got in beside her he marked how speculatively her eyes
were busied with the road.

"We've got them behind us, haven't we?" he asked.

Terry nodded quickly.

"Yes.  We've got the head start and they're on horseback.  It's no
trick to beat them to it.  But--  Oh, I saw a look on Blenham's face
to-night!  He's bad, Steve Packard; all bad; the kind that stops at
nothing!  And somehow, somehow he's got a strangle-hold on poor old dad
and is making him do this.  We've got the head start, we can beat them
to Red Creek, but----"

"But you don't like the idea of leaving your father alone in Blenham's
company to-night?" he finished for her.  "Is that it?"

Again she nodded.  He could see her teeth set to nibbling at her lips.

"Then," he suggested, "why go to Red Creek at all?  Why not turn back
here and stop them?  You can take Mr. Temple back home with you.  I
imagine that between the two of us we can make Blenham understand he is
not wanted this time."

"I was thinking of that," said Terry.

And where the Ranch Number Ten road runs into the country road, Terry
turned to the right, headed again toward her own home.

When, with Steve at her heels, she ran up on the porch it was to be met
by Iki, the Japanese cook, his eyes shining wildly.

"Where's my father?" she asked, and Iki waving his hands excitedly
answered:

"Departed with rapid haste and many curse-words from his gentleman
friend.  The master could not make a stop for one little more drink of
whiskey.  The other strike and vomit threats and say: 'Most surely will
I cause that you tarry long time in jail-side.'  Saying likewise: 'I
got you by the long hair like I want you and yes-by-God, like some day
soon I get your lovely daughter!'  Only he say the latter with
unpleasant words of----"

Terry was shaking him by both shoulders.

"Where did they go?" she demanded.  "How long ago?"

"On horses, running swiftly," gibbered Iki.  "Ten minutes,
maybe--perhaps twenty or thirty.  Who can tell the time when----"

"Why didn't we meet them?" asked Steve of Terry.  "If they are really
headed for Red Creek?"

"They are taking all of the short-cuts there are," she answered
promptly.  "They'll take a cow-trail through the ranch, cut across the
lower end of your place, and come into the old road just beyond.
Blenham's all fox; he has guessed that I am out to put a spoke in his
wheel somehow.  He won't be wasting any perfectly good moonlight.  Come
on!"  And again she was running to the car.  "We'll overhaul them just
the same.

"I believe you," grunted Steve, once more seated beside her, the engine
drumming, the wheels spinning.  "You don't know what a speed law is, do
you?"

"Speed law?" she repeated absently, her eyes on the next dark turn in
the road.  "What's that?"

He chuckled and settled back in his seat.  His eyes, like the girl's,
were watchfully bent upon the gloom-filled angle which Terry must
negotiate before the way straightened out again before her.  Her
headlights cut through the shadows; Terry's little body stiffened a bit
and her hands tensed on her wheel; her flying speed was lessened an
almost negligible trifle; she made the turn and opened the throttle.
Steve nodded approvingly.

For the greater part they were silent.  He had never seen her in a mood
like to-night's.  He read in her face, in her eyes, in the carriage of
her body, one and the same thing; and that was a complex something made
of the several emotions of determination, sorrow, and fiery anger.

He read her thought readily; it was clear that she made no attempt to
conceal it: She was going to consummate a certain deal, she was grieved
and ashamed for her father, she remembered the "look on Blenham's face
to-night," and again and again her fury shot its red tide into her
cheeks.

"Blenham put his dirty hands on her," was Steve's thought; "or tried
to."

And he found that his own pulses drummed the hotter as he let his
imagination conjure up a picture for him, Blenham's big, knotted hands
upon the daintiness that was Terry.  In that moment it seemed to him
that he had been drawn home across the seas to help mete out punishment
to a man: a man who had stricken old Bill Royce, and who now dared look
evilly upon Terry Temple.

Then came their second puncture, an ugly gash like the first caused by
a flinty fragment of rock driven against the worn outer casing.

"I ordered new tires a month ago," said Terry by way of explanation, as
she and Steve in the road together set about remedying the trouble.

While he was getting the inner-tube out, squatting in front of her car
so as to work in the glow from her headlights, she was rummaging
through her repair kit.

"These rocky roads, you know, and the way I drive."

He laughed.  "The way she drove!"  That meant, "Like the devil!" as he
would put it.  Over rocky roads, racing right up to a turn, jamming on
her brakes when she must slow down a little; swinging about a sharp
bend so that her car slid and her tires dragged; in short getting all
of the speed out of her motor that she could possibly extract from it,
regardless and coolly contemptuous of skuffed tires and other trifles.

Finding the cut in the inner-tube was simple enough; the moonlight
alone would have shown it.  He held it up for her to look at and she
shook her head and sighed.  But making the patch so that it would hold
was another matter; and pumping up the tire when the job was done was
still another, and required time and ate up all of Terry's rather
inconsiderable amount of patience.

"A little more luck like this," she cried as once more they took to the
road, "and Blenham will put one over on us yet!"

It was borne in upon Steve that Terry's fears might prove to be only
too well founded.  The time she had taken to drive to him at his ranch,
the time lost in returning to her home and in changing tires and
mending a puncture, had been put to better use by Blenham.  True, he
was on horseback while they motored.  And yet, for a score or so of
miles, a determined, brutally merciless man upon a horse may render an
account of himself.

But while they both speculated they sped on.  They came to the spot
where the "old road" turned into the new; Blenham and Temple were to be
seen nowhere though here the country was flat and but sparsely
timbered, and the moon pricked out all objects distinctly.

And so on and on, beginning to wonder at last, asking themselves if
Blenham and Temple had drawn out of the road somewhere, hiding in the
shadows, to let them go by?  But finally only when they were climbing
the last winding grade with Red Creek but a couple of miles away, they
saw the two horsemen.

Terry's car swung about a curve in the road her headlights for a brief
instant aiding the moon in garishly illuminating a scene to be
remembered.  Blenham had turned in his saddle, startled perhaps by the
sound of the oncoming car or by the gleam of the headlights; his
uplifted quirt fell heavily upon the sides of his running horse; rose
and fell again upon the rump of Temple's mount, and the two men, their
horses leaping under them, were gone over the ridge and down upon the
far side.

In a few moments, from the crest of the ridge, they made out the two
running forms on the road below.  Blenham was still frantically beating
his horse and Temple's.  Terry's horn blared; her car leaped; and
Blenham, cursing loudly, jerked his horse back on its haunches and well
out of the road.  With wheels locked, Terry slid to a standstill.

"Pile in, dad," she said coolly, ignoring Blenham.  "Steve Packard and
I will take you into Red Creek.  Packard is ready to make you a better
proposition than Blenham's.  Turn your horse loose; he'll go home, and
pile in with us."

"He'll do nothing of the kind!" shouted Blenham, his voice husky with
his fury.  "Just you try that on Temple, an'--  He'll do nothing of the
kind," he concluded heavily, his mien eloquent of threat.

"We know you think you've got some kind of a strangle-hold on him,
Blenham," cut in Terry crisply.  "But even if you have, dad is a white
man and--dad!  What is the matter?"

Temple slipped from his saddle and stood shaking visibly, his face dead
white, his eyes staring.  Even in the moonlight they could all see the
big drops of sweat on his forehead, glistening as they trickled down.
He put out his hand to support himself by gripping at his saddle,
missed blindly, staggered, and began slowly collapsing where he stood
as though his bones were little by little melting within him.  Blenham
laughed harshly.

"Drunker'n a boiled owl," he grunted.  "But jus' the same sober enough
to know----"

"Dad!" cried Terry a second time, out in the road beside him now, her
arms belting his slacking body.  "It isn't just that.  You----"

"Sick," moaned Temple weakly.  "God knows--he's been hounding me to
death--I don't know--I wanted to stop, to rest back there but--I'm
afraid that----"

He broke off panting.  Steve jumped out and slipped his own arms about
the wilting form.

"Let me get him into the car," he said gently.  And when he had lifted
Temple and placed him in the seat he added quietly: "You'd better hurry
on I think.  Get a doctor for him.  I'll follow on his horse."

Terry flashed him a look of gratitude, took her place at the wheel and
started down grade.  Her father at her side continued to settle in his
place as long as Steve kept him in sight.

"Well?" growled Blenham, his voice ugly and baffled and throaty with
his rage.  "You butt in again, do you?"

Steve swung up into the saddle just now vacated by Temple.

"Yes," he retorted coolly.  "And I'm in to stay, too, if you want to
know, Blenham.  To the finish."

With only the width of a narrow road between them they stared at each
other.  Then Blenham jeered:

"Oho!  It's the skirt, huh?  Stuck on her yourself, are you?"

Steve frowned, but met his piercing look with level contempt.

"Your language is inelegant, friend Blenham," he said slowly.  "Like
yourself it is better withdrawn from public notice.  As to your
meaning--why, by thunder, I half believe you are right!  And I hadn't
thought of it!"

Blenham caught In one of his rare bursts of heady rage shook his fist
high above his head and cried out savagely:

"I'll beat you yet, the both of you!  See if I don't.  Yes you an' your
crowd an' him an' her an'----"

"Don't take on too many all at once," suggested Steve.

Only the tail of his eye was on Blenham; he was looking wonderingly and
a bit wistfully down the moonlit, empty road.

"I got him where I want him right now," snarled Blenham.  "An'
her--I'll have her, too, where I want her!  An', inside less time than
you'd think I'll have----"

But he clamped his big mouth tight shut, glared at Steve a moment and
then, striking with spur and quirt together, so that his frightened
horse leaped out frantically, he was gone down the road after Temple
and Terry.

As Steve followed a smile was in his eyes, a smile slowly parting his
lips.

"The scoundrel was right!" he mused.  "And I hadn't even thought of it.
Now how the devil do you suppose he knew?"

And then, before he had gone a dozen yards a curious, puzzled,
uncertain look come into his face.

"If he knows," was his perplexity, "Does she?"



CHAPTER XIX

TERRY CONFRONTS HELL-FIRE PACKARD

"Father's got it in his head he is going to die!" cried Terry.  "He
sha'n't.  I won't let him!"

Steve Packard, riding into Red Creek, met Terry coming out.  She was
just starting, her car gathering speed; seeing him she drew down
abruptly.

"I left him at the store," she added breathlessly.  "He is sick.  They
are friends there; they'll take care of him.  He knows you are coming;
he has promised to do business with you and shut Blenham out of the
running.  You are to hurry before Blenham gets there--he's across the
street at the saloon already.  After his money, I guess; next thing,
unless you block his play, he'll be standing over poor old dad's bed,
bullyragging him.  Come alive, Steve Packard, and beat him to it."

And with the last words she had started her car, after Terry's way of
starting anything, with a leap.  Steve reined in after her, urging his
horse to a gallop for the first time, calling out sharply:

"But you--where are you going?  Why----"

"After Doctor Bridges," Terry called back.  "The fool is over at your
old thief of a grandfather's, playing chess!  The telephone won't----"

He could merely speculate as to just what the telephone would not do.
Terry was gone, was already at the fork of the roads, turning
northward, hasting alone on a forty-mile drive over lonely roads and
into the very lair of the old mountain-lion himself.  Steve whistled
softly.

"I wish she had invited me to go along," he grunted.

But, instead she had commissioned him otherwise.  So, though his eyes
were regretful he rode on to the store.  A backward glance showed him a
diminishing red tail-light disporting itself like some new species of
firefly gone quite mad; it was twisting this way and that as the road
invited; it fairly emulated the gyrations of a corkscrew what with the
added motion necessitated by the deep ruts and chuck-holes over and
into which the spinning tires were thudding.

Then the shoulder of a hill, a clump of brush, and Terry and her car
were gone from him, swallowed up in the night and silence.  He looked
at his watch.  It was twenty minutes after eight.  She had forty miles
ahead of her, a return of forty miles.

"It will take her two hours each way," he muttered, "unless she means
to pile her car up in a ditch somewhere.  Four hours for the trip.
That means I won't see her until well after midnight."

And then he grinned a shade sheepishly; Blenham was right.  He had
thought of those four hours as though they had been four years.

But for her part Terry had no intention of being four hours driving a
round trip of any eighty miles that she knew of; she had never done
such a thing before and could see no cause for beginning to-night.
True, the roads were none too good at best, downright bad often enough.

Well, that was just the sort of thing she was used to.  And to-night
there was need for haste.  Great haste, thought the girl anxiously, as
she remembered the look on her father's face when she and the
storekeeper's wife had gotten him into bed.

"I'll have the roads all to myself; that's one good thing."

She settled herself in her seat, preparing for a tense hour.  She, too,
had marked the time; it had been on the verge of twenty minutes after
eight as she left the store.  "What right has the only doctor in the
country to play chess, anyway?  And with old Hell-Fire Packard at that?
Two precious old rascals they are, I'll be bound.  But a rascal of a
doctor is better than no doctor at all, and--  Ah, a good, open bit of
road!"

The car leaped to fresh speed under her.  She glanced at her
speedometer; the needle was wavering between twenty-seven and thirty
miles.  She narrowed her eyes upon the road; it invited; she shoved the
throttle on her wheel a little further open; thirty miles,
thirty-three, thirty-five--forty, forty-five--there she kept it for a
moment--only a moment it seemed to her breathless impatience.  For next
came a series of curves where her road, rising, went over the first
ridge of hills and where on either hand danger lurked.

Beyond the ridge the road straightened out suddenly.  Better time now:
twenty-five miles, thirty, thirty-five--and then, down in the valley,
forty-five miles, fifty, fifty-five--her horn blaring, sending far and
wide its defiant, warning echoes, her headlights flashing across trees,
fences, patches of brush, and rolling hills--sixty miles.

"If my tires only stick it out--they ought to--this road hasn't a sharp
rock on it."

But from sixty miles she must pull down sharply.  Far ahead something
was across the road; perhaps only a shadow, perhaps a tangible barrier;
she didn't know these roads any too well.

She cut off her power, jammed on foot and emergency brakes, and so came
to a stop just in time.  Here a fence stretched across the road; the
tall gate throwing its black shadows on the white moonlit soil was not
five feet from her hood when she stopped.

She jumped down, threw the gate wide open, propped it back with a stone
knowing full well how the farmers and cattlemen hereabouts builded
their gates to shut automatically, drove through in such haste that she
grazed the gate itself and so jarred it into closing behind her, and
was again glancing from road to speedometer--twenty-five, thirty-five,
a turn to negotiate, seen far ahead, dropping back to twenty-five, to
twenty.  A straight, alluring stretch--twenty-five, thirty-five,
forty-five, fifty, fifty-five, sixty, sixty-two, sixty-three--the far
rim of the valley, another line of hills black under the stars--fifty
again and down to twenty-five, to twenty and horn blowing as she sped
into the mouth of the first cañon.

And again, when at last she was down in Old Man Packard's valley and
within hailing distance of his misshapen monster of a house, she set
her horn to blaring like the martial trumpet of an invading army.
Cattle and horses along her road awoke from their dozing in the
moonlight, perhaps leaped to the conclusion that it was old Hell-Fire
himself in their midst, flung their tails aloft and scampered to right
and left, and Terry's car stood in front of Packard's door.

Right square in front of the door so that Terry herself could jump from
her running-board and so that her front wheels were planted firmly in
the old man's choice bed of roses.  There were two flat tires,
punctured on the way; two ruined, battered rims; her tank still held
perhaps a gallon of gasoline.  But she had arrived.

Before she leaped out Terry had glanced at her clock; she had made the
trip of forty miles in exactly fifty-three minutes.  Considering the
state of the roads----

"Not bad," admitted Terry.

Then with a final clarion call of her horn she had presented herself at
Packard's door.  She had got a few of the wildest blown wisps of brown
hair back where they belonged before the door opened.  She heard
hurrying feet and prepared herself by a visible stiffening for the
coming of the arch villain himself.  There was a sense of
disappointment when she saw that it was only the dwarfed henchman come
in the master's stead.  Guy Little stared at her in pure surprise.

"Terry Temple, ain't it?" gasped the mechanician.  "For the love of
Pete!"

"I want Doctor Bridges," said Terry quickly.  "He's here, isn't he?"

Guy Little instead of making a prompt and direct answer presented as
puzzled a countenance as the girl ever saw.  He was in slippers and
shirtsleeves; he had a large volume which in his hands appeared little
less than huge; his hair was as badly tousled as Terry's own;  his eyes
were frankly bewildered.  Terry spoke again impatiently:

"Answer me and don't gawk at me!  Is the doctor here?"

"For the love of Pete!" was quite all that Guy Little offered in
response.

She sniffed and pushed by him, standing in the hallway and for the
first time in her life fairly in the lion's den.  She looked about her
with lively interest.

"Say," said Little then.  "Hold on a minute."

He came quietly close to her, his slipper-feet falling soundlessly.

"Doc Bridges is in there with the ol' man."  He jerked his head toward
the big library and living-room whose door stood closed in their faces.
"They're playin' chess.  Unless your sick man's dyin' I guess you
better wait until they get through.  Even if he is dyin'----"

"I'll do nothing of the kind!" retorted Terry emphatically.  "When I've
raced all the way from Red Creek, banging my car all up, risking my
precious life every jump of the way, doing the trip in fifty-three
minutes do you think that------"

"Hey?" cried Guy Little.  "How's that?  How many minutes?
Fifty-three, you said, didn't you?  Fifty-three minutes from Red Crick
to here?  Hey?"

"Is the man crazy?" demanded Terry.  "Didn't I say I did?  I could have
done it in less, too, only with a flat tire and----"

"Hey?" repeated Guy Little, over and over.  "You done that?  Hey?  You
say----"

"I say," cut in Terry starting toward the closed door, "that there is a
man sick and a doctor wanted."

"Oh, can that part of it!" cried Little, coming after her again in his
excitement.  "Chuck it!  Forget it!  The thing is that you made the run
from there to here--an' in the night time--an' with tire trouble
an'----"

"Doctor Bridges----"

"Is in there.  Like I said.  Playin' chess with the ol' man.  You don't
know what that means.  I do.  Mos' usually, askin' a lady's pardon for
the way of sayin' it, it means Hell.  Capital H.  An' to-night the ol'
man has got the door locked an' he's two games behind an' he's sore as
a hoot-owl an' he says that anybody as breaks in on his play is--  No,
I can't say it; not in the presence of a lady.  There's times when the
ol' man is so awful vi'lent he's purty near vile about it.  Get me?"

"Guy Little, you just stand aside!"  Terry's eyes blazed into his as
she threw out a hand to thrust his back.  "I came for the doctor and
I'm going to get him."

Guy Little merely shook his head.

"You don't know the ol' man," he said quietly.  "An' I do.  I'm the
only man, woman or child livin' as does know him.  You stan' aside."

He stepped quickly by her and rapped at the door.  When only silence
greeted him he rapped again.  Now suddenly, explosively, came Old Man
Packard's voice, fairly quivering with rage as the old man shouted:

"If that's you, Guy Little, I'll beat your head off'n your fool body!
Get out an' go away an' go fast!"

"It's important, your majesty," returned Guy Little's voice
imperturbably.

He rubbed one slippered toe against his calf and winked at Terry,
looking vastly innocent and boyish.

"I'm pullin' for you," he whispered.  "There's jus' one way to do it."
Aloud he repeated.  "It's important, your majesty.  An' there's a lady
here."

"Lady?" shouted the old man, his voice fairly breaking with the emotion
that went into it.  "Lady?  In my house?  What do you mean?"  Then,
without waiting for an answer, "I don't care who she is or what she is
or what the two of you want.  Get out!  This fool pill-roller in here
thinks he can beat me playin' chess; you're in league with him to
distract me, you traitor!"

Guy Little smiled broadly and winked again.

"Ain't he got the manner of a dook?" he whispered admiringly.  And to
his employer, "Say, Packard, it's the little Temple girl.  Terry
Temple, you know.  An'----"

Even Terry started and drew back a quick step from the closed door.
She did not know that a man's voice could pierce to one's soul like
that.

"An'," went on Guy Little hurriedly, knowing that he must rush his
words now if he got them out at all, "she's jus' drove all the way from
Red Crick--in a Boyd-Merrill, Twin Eight car--had tire trouble on the
road--an' done the trip in fifty-three minutes!"

He got it all out.  A deep silence shut down after his words.  A
silence during which a man's eyes might have opened and stared, during
which a man's mouth too might have opened and closed wordlessly, during
which a man's brain might estimate what this meant, to drive forty
miles in fifty-three minutes over such roads as lay between the Packard
ranch and Red Creek.

"It's a lie!" shouted Packard.  "She couldn't do it."

"I want Doctor Bridges----"

"Sh!" Guy Little cut her short.  "I got the ol' boy on the run.  Leave
it to me."  And aloud once more: "She done it.  She can prove it.
An'----"

There came a snort of fury from the locked room followed by the noise
of a chess-board and set of men hurled across the room and by an old
man's voice shouting fiercely:

"It's a cursed frame-up.  Bridges, you're a scoundrel and I can beat
you any three games out of five and I'll bet you ten thousan' dollars
on it, any time!  An' as for that thief of a Temple's squidge-faced
girl--  Come in.  Damn it all, come in and be done with it!"

And as he unlocked the door with a hand that shook and flung it wide
open he and Terry Temple confronted each other for the first time.



CHAPTER XX

A GATE AND A RECORD SMASHED

The man never yet lived and knew old man Packard who would have
suggested that he was not a good and thorough-going hater.  His enemy
and all of his enemy's household, wife and child, maid-servant and
man-servant were all as the spawn of Satan.

Now he stood back, his face flushed, his two hands on his hips, his
beard thrust forward belligerently and fairly seeming to bristle.
Terry Temple, her heart beating like mad all of a sudden and for no
reason which she would admit to herself, lifted her head and stepped
across the threshold defiantly.  For a very tense moment the two of
them, old man and young girl, stared at each other.

Doctor Bridges still sat at the chess-table, his mouth dropping open,
his expression one of pure consternation; Guy Little stood in the
doorway just behind Terry, rubbing a slippered toe against his leg and
watching interestedly.

"So you're Temple's girl, are you?" snorted the old man.  "Well, I
might have guessed it!"

And the manner of the statement, rather than the words themselves, was
very uncomplimentary to Miss Teresa Arriega Temple.

And, as a mere matter of fact--and old man Packard knew it well enough
down in his soul--he would have guessed nothing of the sort.  So long
had he held her in withering contempt, just because of her relationship
to her father, so long had he invested her with all thinkably
distasteful attributes, so long had he in his out-of-hand way named her
squidge-nosed, putty-faced, pig-eyed, and so on, that in due course he
had really formed his own image of her.

And now, suddenly confronted by the most amazingly pretty girl he had
ever seen, he managed to snort that she was just what he knew she
was--and in the snorting no one knew better than old man Packard that,
as he could have put it himself, "He lied like a horse-thief!"

Terry had seen him once when she was a very little girl.  He had been
pointed out to her by one of her father's cowboys who, for reasons of
his own, heartily hated and a little feared the old man.  Since then
the girl's lively imagination had created a most unseemly brute out of
the enemy of her house, a beetle-browed, ugly-mouthed, facially-hideous
being little short of a monstrosity.

And now Terry's fine feminine perception begrudgingly was forced to set
about constructing a new picture.  The old man, black-hearted villain
that he was, was the most upstanding, heroic figure of a man that she
had ever seen.

Beside him Doctor Bridges was a spectacle of physical degeneracy while
Guy Little became a grotesque dwarf.  The grandfather was much like the
grandson, and--though she vowed to like him the less for it--was in his
statuesque, leonine way quite the handsomest man she had ever looked on.

Perhaps it was at just the same instant that each realized that rather
too great an interest had been permitted to go into a long, searching
look.  For Terry suddenly affected a look of supreme contempt while the
old man jerked his eyes away, transferring his regard to the serene Guy
Little.

"You said, Guy Little----"

"Yes, sir, I said it!"  Guy Little nodded vigorously.  "Them forty
miles in fifty-three minutes.  In the dark.  An' with tire trouble.
It's a record.  The best you ever done it in was fifty-seven minutes.
She beat you four minutes.  Her!"

He indicated Terry.

"Doctor Bridges--" began Terry.

"It's a lie!" cried the old man, smashing the table top with a clenched
fist.  "I don't care who says it; she couldn't do it!  No girl could;
no Temple could.  It ain't so!"

"Call me a liar?" cried Terry, a sudden flaming, surging, hot current
in her cheeks, her eyes blazing.  "You are a horrid old man.  I always
knew you were a horrid old man and you are a lot horrider than I
thought you were.  And--you just call me a liar again, Hell-Fire
Packard, and I'll slap your face for you!"

For a moment, gripped by his ever-ready rage, the old man stood
towering over her, looking down with blazing eyes into eyes which
blazed back, a little tremor visibly shaking him as though he were
tempted almost beyond resistance to lay his hands on her and punish her
impudence.  A bright, almost eager, fearlessness shone in her eyes.

"I dare you," said Terry.  "Old man that you are, I'll slap you so that
you'd know who it is you're insulting.  Pirate!" she flung at him.
"And land-hog--  Oh!

"Doctor Bridges, you are to come with me right now."  She had flung
about giving her shoulder to Packard's inspection.  "We must hurry back
to Red Creek."

"Say, Packard," chimed in Guy Little.  "Her car's all shot to pieces.
An' her gas is all gone.  An' her ol' man is awful sick in Red Creek
an' needin' a doc in a hurry--or not any.  You understan'----"

"What's it got to do with me?" boomed Hell-Fire Packard.  "What do I
care whether her old thief of a father dies to-night or next week?
What do I----"

"Aw, rats," grunted Guy Little.  "What's eatin' you, Packard?  Listen
to me: She says how she done it in fifty-three minutes an' you can't do
it any better'n fifty-seven; how you ain't no dead-game sport noways;
how she's short of change but would bet a man fifty dollars you
couldn't an' wouldn't."

"She said them things?" roared the old man.

"I--" began Terry.

"She did!" answered Guy Little hastily and loudly.  "She did!"

"Bridges," snapped old Packard, "grab your hat an' black poison bag an'
be ready in two minutes."  Packard was on his way to the door.  "Guy
Little, you get my car at the front door--quick!  An' as for you--"  He
was at the door and half turned to stare angrily into Terry's
eyes--"You can do what you please.  I'm goin' to take the only
pill-slinger in the country to the worst ol' thief I ever heard a man
tell about."

"I'm going back with you," said Terry briefly.

Old man Packard shrugged.  Then he laughed.

"If you ain't scared," he grunted, "to ride alongside a man as swears,
so help him God, in spite of smash-bang-an'-be-damn', is goin' to make
that little run back to Red Creek--in less'n fifty minutes!"

"Mind you," said old man Packard at the front door, his eye stony as it
marked how Terry's car stood among his choice roses, "I ain't doin'
this because I got any use for a Temple, he or she.  Especially she.
You jus' get that in your head, young lady.  An' before we start let me
tell you one more thing: You keep your two han's off'n my gran'son!"

"What!" gasped Terry.

"I said it," he fairly snorted.  "Come on there, Guy Little, with that
car.  Ready there, Bridges, you ol' fool?  Pile in."

He took his seat at the wheel, his old black hat pushed far back on his
head, his eye already on the clock in the dash.  Terry slipped ahead of
Doctor Bridges and took her seat at the old man's side.

"You said--just what?" she demanded icily.

"I said," he cried savagely, "as I know how you been chasin' my fool of
a gran'son Stephen, an' as how you got to stop it.  I won't have you
makin' a bigger fool out'n him than he already is."

Terry sat rigid, speechless, grown suddenly cold.  For once in her life
no ready answer sprang to her lips.

Then Hell-Fire Packard had started his engine, sounded his horn, and
they were on their way.  And Terry, because no words would come, put
her head back and laughed in a way that, as she knew perfectly well,
would madden him.

The drive from Hell-Fire Packard's front door to the store in Red Creek
was made in some few negligible seconds over forty-eight minutes.  The
three occupants of the car reached town alive.  Never in her life after
that night would Terry Temple doubt that there was a Providence which
at critical times took into its hands the destinies of men.

There had been never a word spoken until they had come to the gate
which had closed behind Terry on the way out.  Old man Packard had
looked at speedometer, clock and obstruction.  Terry had seen his hands
tighten on his wheel.

"Set tight an' hang on," he had commanded sharply.

The big front tires and bumper struck the gate; there was a wild flying
of splinters and at sixty miles an hour they went through and on to Red
Creek.

"The old devil!" whispered Terry within herself.  "The old devil!"



CHAPTER XXI

PACKARD WRATH AND TEMPLE RAGE

No far-sighted, inspired prophet's services were needed to predict a
rather stormy scene upon the arrival of old Hell-Fire Packard and Miss
Terry Temple at the place of the storekeeper of Red Creek.  It was to
be expected that Steve Packard would be on hand; that he would be
impatiently awaiting the drum of a racing motor; that he would be on
the sidewalk to greet Temple's daughter.

"Terry!" he called.  "So soon?"

He couldn't have made a worse beginning had he pondered the matter long
and diabolically.  Blenham had been right and Steve had had ample time
to admit the fact utterly and completely; now there was a ringing note
in his voice, the effect of which, falling upon his grandfather's ears,
might be likened with no great stretch of imagination to that of a
spark in a keg of gunpowder.

The old man's brakes, applied emphatically, brought his car to a
standstill.

"Look at that clock!" was his first remark, at once apprising Steve of
his relative's presence and hinting, by means of its no uncertain tone,
at an unpleasant situation on hand or about to burst upon them.  "Made
it in fifty-three minutes, did you?  Well, I done it in less'n
forty-nine!  What have you got to say about that?"

But Terry ignored him and jumped down, her hand impulsively laid on
Steve's arm.  Thus she, in her turn, may be said to have added another
spark to young Packard's in the powder keg.

"How's dad?" she asked quickly.

Steve patted the hand on his arm and either Terry did not notice the
act or did not mind.  Old man Packard both noted and minded.  His grunt
was to be heard above Doctor Bridges's devout "Thank God, we're here!"
as the physician stepped stiffly to the sidewalk.

"Better," said Steve.  "I think he's going to be all right after all.
I hope so.  He----"

"Blenham?" she asked insistently.  "He didn't put one over on you?  The
mortgage----"

Steve tapped his breast pocket.

"The papers have been signed; we got a notary; everything is shipshape.
Go in; I'll tell you all about it later."

He turned toward the car and the stiffened figure of the man gripping
the wheel with tense, hard hands.

"Grandy----"

"Grandy, your foot!" boomed old Packard suddenly, one hand jerked away
to be clenched into a lifted fist.  "An' _Terry_!  My God!"

"What do you mean?" asked Steve.  "I don't understand."

"I mean," shouted Packard senior, his voice shaking with emotion, "that
no mouth in the world is big enough to hold them two words the same
night!  If you want to chum with any Temple livin', he-Temple or
she-Temple, if, sir, you intend to go 'round slobberin' over the
low-down enemies of your own father an' father's father, why, sir, then
I'm Mr. Packard to you and the likes of you!"

Still was Steve mystified.

"I thought," he muttered, "that since you two came together, since you
yourself have driven her in----"

"If I, sir," thundered his grandfather, "have chosen to bring that
petticoated wildcat there an' that ol' pill-slinger from my place to
Red Creek in a shake less'n forty-nine minutes--jus' to show her that
anything on God's earth done by a Temple can be better done by a
Packard--you got to go to thinkin' things, have you?  Why, sir, so help
me, sir, I've a notion to jump down right now an' give you the
horsewhippin' of your life!"

Steve, in spite of himself, chuckled.  Terry, reassured about her
father, giggled.  Both sounds were audible; the two, mingled, were
entirely too much to be borne.

"You--you disgrace to an honorable name," the old man called bitterly
and wrathfully.  "You----"

He broke off, hesitated, glared from Steve at the car's side to Terry
already on the steps of the store, and concluded something more quietly
though not a whit less furiously for all that: "You speak of papers
signed.  You don't mean you're actually havin' any kind of business
dealin's, frien'ly dealin's, with the Temples?"

"Blenham brought word you were foreclosing on Temple; he had some sort
of a crooked scheme to cheat Temple out of his land.  I have just
framed a deal whereby I put up the money to pay you your mortgage
and----"

"You?  _You_, Stephen Packard?"

"Yes," said Steve, wondering whether the old man were the more moved
because of the shock of finding his nephew able to pay off so large a
sum or because of the "frien'ly dealin's with the Temples."

There was a brief silence.  Doctor Bridges mounted the steps; he and
Terry were going in.  Then again Hell-Fire Packard's voice burst out
violently and Terry stopped short, her hands going suddenly to her
breast.  Her face, could they have noted in the pale light, was flaming
scarlet.

"That hussy, that jade, that Jezebel!" came the ringing denunciation.
"The tricky, shameless, penurious, graspin' unprincipled little
she-devil!  She's after you, my boy, after you hard.  An', you poor
miserable blind worm of a fool, you ain't got the sense to see it!
Everybody knows it; the whole country's talkin' about it; how Temple's
baitin' his trap with her an' she's baitin' her trap with herself
an'----"

"Grandfather!" cried Steve, his own face flushing under the scathing
torrent.  "You don't know what you are saying!"

"I know what he's saying."

Terry, her hands still tight pressed to her breast, came slowly down
the steps.  Though but a moment had passed her face was now dead white
in the moonlight.

"You are saying," and her eyes shone straight up into the old man's,
"that I am setting a trap for your grandson?  That I, Teresa Arriega
Temple, would for an instant consider a Packard, the son and the
grandson of a Packard, as worthy of shining my boots for me?  Why, I
spit upon the two of you!"

She whirled and was gone into the house.  Steve instead of watching her
going kept his eyes hard upon his grandfather's face.  Now that the
door closed he said quietly:

"Grandfather, we have seen rather little, of each other.  I think we
had better see even less from now on.  You have insulted that girl in a
way that makes me want to climb into your car and drag you down--and
beat you half to death!"

His restraint was melting under the fire of his passion; his voice grew
less quiet and began to tremble.

"I am going to make that girl the next Mrs. Packard or know the reason
why!"

"Defy me, do you?  Defy me an' go an' run with a pack of thieves
an'----"

"That's enough!" shouted Steve.  "I am going right straight and ask
her----"

"Ask her an' hell swallow you!" came the vociferous permission from the
infuriated old man.  "But remember one thing: Blenham has slipped up
to-night, maybe, an' let you an' her an' her lyin', thievin',
scoundrelly father steal a march on me.  But it's the last one; mark
that!  Blenham gets his orders straight from me to-night; he goes after
you to break you, smash you, literally pull you to pieces root an'
branch--an' with me an' Blenham workin' on the job night an' day,
stoppin' at nothin'.  Hear me?  I mean it!"  His two fists were now
lifted high above his head.  "Stoppin' at nothin' I'll step on you an'
your Temple frien's like you was a nest of caterpillars.  You hear me,
Stephen!"

But Stephen, his lips tight pressed as he fought with himself to keep
his hands off his own father's father, turned and went the way Terry
had gone.

"You hear me, Stephen.  There's nothin' I'll stop at to smash you!"

So his grandfather's voice followed him mightily.  But young Packard
had already set his thought upon another matter.  Before him in the
tiny living-room of the ramshackle store building a kerosene lamp was
burning palely and lying upon an old sofa, face down, shaken with sobs
was Terry.

"Terry!" he called softly.  "Your father isn't----"

He thought that she had not heard.  He came closer and laid his hand
gently--there was a deep tenderness even in the action--upon her
shoulder.  But Terry had heard and now flung his hand violently aside
and sprang to her feet, her eyes blazing angrily into his.

"My father is asleep.  Doctor Bridges rather thinks there is nothing
very much the matter with him," she remarked crisply.  "I am sorry I
troubled you in any way, Mr. Packard.  You say you arranged matters
with dad?  Well, I want you to tear up the papers; I'll see that your
money is returned to you."

"Terry!" he muttered.

Then she flared out hotly, her two small hands clenched at her sides,
her chin lifted, her voice a new voice in his ears, bitter and hostile.

"Don't you Terry me, Steve Packard!  Now or ever again.  I am sorry
that I ever saw you; I am ashamed that I ever spoke to you.  I had
rather be dead or--yes, I'd rather be in Blenham's arms than have you
look at me!"

"Good Lord!" ejaculated Steve, utterly at sea.  "I don't understand."

"You don't have to," snapped Terry.  "All you've got to know is that I
won't have anything further in any way whatever to do with you.  I
won't have you helping us with our mortgage; I won't have you advancing
money to us; I won't stand one little minute for any of your--your
wretched interference with our affairs!  If you think you can--can butt
in on our side of any fight in the world----"

She ended abruptly, beginning to flounder, panting so that the swift
rise and fall of her breast was an outward token of inward emotion.
Steve Packard stared and flushed hotly and began to feel his own anger
mount quickly.

"Butt in on your affairs!" he snorted after a fashion more than vaguely
reminiscent of his grandfather.  "I like that!  As if I'd have come a
step without your invitation."

And so he blurted out the one thing he should have left unsaid, the
thing which already rankled in Terry's proud heart.  She had asked him
to come; she had in a way suggested a--a sort of partnership.

"Oh! how I hate you!" cried Terry.  "You--you Packard!"

"If there's some crime, some string of crimes that I have committed----"

"Will you tear up those papers?  I'll get you back your money.  Will
you tear up those papers?"

"Will you explain what's gone wrong?"

"I will not."

He shrugged exasperatingly.

"I'll keep the papers," he returned stonily.  "I put over rather a good
deal to-night, come to think of it."

He put on his hat, jamming it down tight, and half turned to go.

"When you want to talk ranch matters over with me--come to my
ranch-house, little pardner!"

"Oh!" cried Terry.  "Oh!"



CHAPTER XXII

THE HAND OF BLENHAM

"Each man's life is what he shapes it for himself."

"A stupid, bare-faced, platitudinous lie!"

Steve Packard, grown irritable here of late, flung the offending book
through an open window and got to his feet.

"A man's life is what the evil little gods of chance make it, curse
them.  Or what a fool of a girl tangles and twists it into."

He shook himself viciously and went to his door, staring out across the
hills vaguely moulded under the stars.

Life was just a very unsatisfactory sort of a proposition.  It was a
game that wasn't worth the players' serious attention, a game all of
chance and not in the least of skill, and not even interesting!  So, in
the sombre depths of his soul Steve Packard admitted freely.  And,
until a certain night only some six months ago, he had never divined
this great truth.

That night Blenham had sneered, "Stuck on her yourself, are you?" and
Steve had recognized a vital fact inelegantly expressed; that night
Terry Temple had appeared to him more than just a "good little sport";
that night he had somewhat brusquely considered the sweet femininity of
her under her assumed surface of _diablerie_ and had found her
infinitely desirable; that same night Terry, for no reason in the world
that Steve Packard could discover, had suddenly congealed into a thing
of ice that had never since thawed save only briefly before burning
fits of wrath.

Two hours after he had admitted to himself that he loved her she
informed him with all of the emphasis she could summon for the occasion
that she hated him.  And life hadn't been what he had made it at all.

The papers which Temple had signed were still in existence, safely
deposited in a bank in San Juan.  Steve had paid off the Temple
mortgage to his grandfather; he had paid Temple a thousand dollars in
cash; thereby he had acquired a half interest in the Temple ranch.
That had all been quite in accordance with Terry's suggestions and
entirely satisfactory.

Not being a thief, Steve counted upon relinquishing his right to his
half at any time that Temple paid back just what had been advanced.
But it became evident very soon that Temple would never pay back
anything.  Though Doctor Bridges found nothing very much the matter
with him, nevertheless Temple died less than two weeks later.

During those two weeks Steve had not seen Terry.  With word of the
girl's bereavement, however, he had gone immediately to her.  She
looked at him curiously, saying quietly that the boys were doing all
that was necessary and had asked him to go.

Then, after another two weeks, he had ridden again to the Temple ranch.
He found it deserted, doors and windows shut, dead leaves thick in the
path.  His heart sank and thereafter knocked hard at his ribs; Terry
was gone and had said nothing to him.  He turned and went home, bitter
and angry and hurt.

Where had she gone?  He didn't know; he told himself he didn't care;
certainly he would bite his tongue out before he would ask any of her
friends.  But he knew within himself that he did care as he had cared
about nothing else in the world; and he asked himself a thousand times:

"Where has Terry gone?"

For the world was not right without her; the sunlight was thin; the
season of bursting buds was but a pale, lack-lustre imitation of
spring.  And as the long, hot days dragged by and the verdure died on
hill and plain and dusty mountainside, he asked himself "When will she
come back to us?"

Long after every one else had heard and forgotten the story, or at
least had given over all thinking upon it, Steve heard how Terry had
drawn against the last of the inconsiderable legacy left her long ago
by her Spanish mother, and had gone to San Juan.

She had friends there; the banker's wife, Mrs. Engle and her
fluffy-haired daughter, Florrie, had opened their arms to her and made
her tarry with them until the family made their annual trip East.  Then
Terry had gone with them.

And never a word to Steve Packard.  He cursed himself, tried to curse
her, and found that he couldn't quite make a go of it, and settled down
to good, hard work and the job of forgetting what a pair of gray eyes
looked like and how two certain red lips smiled and the tinkly notes of
a laughing voice.

In the good, hard work of stock ranching he succeeded more than well;
in the other task he set himself he failed utterly.  Never, when alone
out on the range a shadow fell across, did he fail to look up quickly
with his lips half forming to the word, "Terry!"  And, after all this
time, still no word from her, no word of her.

Eight thousand dollars he had paid to Temple.  The remaining two
thousand of his father's heritage he had turned over promptly to his
grandfather to apply on his own indebtedness.  He had consulted with
Bill Royce and Barbee and had cut down his crew of men, thereby
curtailing expenses.

He had sold a few head of beef cattle and banked the money for the
men's wages and current expenses.  By the same means he had managed to
keep abreast of his interest payments to old man Packard and had even
paid off a little more of the principal.  Then, catching the market
right "going and coming," he had bought a lot of young cattle from an
overstocked ranch adjoining, and had made a second profitable sale a
month later.

Finally, to indicate that he was still in the game and playing it to
win, consequently overlooking never a bet, he had cashed in pretty
fortunately on a section of his timber-land.

The Rollston mills were just opening upon the other side of the
mountains; he showed the firm's buyer a stretch of his big timber and
closed the deal to their common satisfaction.  And with every deal of
this sort old man Packard felt his grip being pried loose from Ranch
Number Ten.

From the beginning Steve had been puzzled to know what to do with the
Temple outfit.  Terry had paid off the men and had let them go; the
stock on the place she had left, and without a word, to Steve's care.
Since the place was well stocked, chiefly with young cattle, there was
enough here to demand the attention which so busy a man as Steve
Packard could not give.

He talked matters over with Bill Royce and in the end sent both Bill
and Barbee to the Temple place, riding over once or twice a week
himself to see how matters went.

And so the months dragged by.  Twice, swearing to himself that he was
doing so only because the management of the business made it absolutely
necessary, Steve wrote to Terry.  He got no answer.  He did not even
know if she had received his notes.  The first he had signed, by the
way, "Yours very truly, Steve."  The second ended "Respectfully, S.
Packard."


"Terry's havin' the time of her life," Bill Royce startled him by
announcing one day out of a clear sky.

"How do you know?" asked Steve sharply.

"Oh, she writes letters to her frien's," said Royce.  "One of the boys
brought word from the Norton place.  Terry wrote her an' wrote some
folks in Red Creek an' wrote the Lanes an'----"

"Appears to be quite a letter-writer," remarked Steve stiffly.  "And
she's having the time of her life, is she?"

"Sure," said Royce innocently.  "Why not?  The boys are bettin' she's
dead gone on some young down-East jasper an' that maybe she'll be
married in no time.  What do you think, huh, Steve?"

"Where is she?" demanded Steve, very brusque about it.

"Blessed if I know," admitted Royce.  "Chicago, I think.  Or New York.
Or Pennsylvany.  One of them towns.  Shucks.  She'd ought to come on
home where she belongs."

"Oh, I don't know," said Steve.

But in Royce's ears the voice didn't ring quite true.  It was meant to
be careless in the extreme and--no, it didn't ring quite true.

Hot, cloudless skies as the season dragged on, dry, burning fields
under a blazing sun, the cattle seeking shade wherever it was to be
had, crowding at the water-holes, browsing early and late and
frequenting the cooler cañons during the heat of the days.  And nights
of stars and a vast silence and emptiness.

A girl had come, had for a little posed laughing outlined against the
window of a man's soul, had flashed her unforgettable gray eyes at him
and had gone.  And so, and just because of her, the blistering hills
seemed but ugly, lonely miles, the nights under a full moon were just
the more silent and empty.

But Steve Packard held on, grown grim and determined.  He had entered
the game, lightly enough he had demanded his stack of chips, now he
would stay for the show-down.  Either he would clear his ranch of its
mortgage and thus make clear to his meddlesome old grandparent that he
was a man grown and no mere boy to be disciplined and badgered
willy-nilly, or else his meddlesome old grandparent would in truth
"smash" him.

In either case there would be the end soon.  For, win or lose, Steve,
tired of the game, would draw out and set his back to Ranch Number Ten
and the country about it and go back to the old rudderless life of
vagabondage.  Just because a girl had come, had tarried, and then had
gone.

So, though the game had long ago lost its zest, Steve Packard like any
other thoroughbred played on for a finish.  Now and then, but seldom,
he saw Blenham.  Often, in little, annoying, mean ways Blenham made
himself felt.  Early in the season Steve's riders had found three of
his steers dead on the outskirts of the range; a rifle bullet had done
for each one of them.

Since old man Packard had promised to stop at nothing, since Blenham
was full of venom, Steve never for a moment doubted whose hand had
fired the three shots.  But he merely called his cowboys together, told
them what had happened, ordered them to keep their eyes open and their
guns oiled, and hoped and longed for the time when he himself could
come upon Blenham busied with some act like this.

There were other episodes which he attributed to Blenham though he must
admit in each case that anything in the vaguest way approaching a proof
was lacking.  Just before he closed the deal with the lumber company
that had taken over his timber tract a forest fire had broken out.
Luck and a fortuitous shifting of the wind had saved him from a heavy
loss.

Incidents, these and others of their kind, to fill Steve Packard with
rage; but Blenham's supreme blows--Blenham's and old man
Packard's--were reserved for late in the dry season when they fell
hardest.

A growing shortage of feed and the necessity for cash for the
forthcoming substantial sum to be paid on the mortgage held by his
grandfather, combined with the fact that his lean acres were
overstocked, drove Steve in search of a market late in the summer.
Bill Royce shook his head and raised his objections.

"Everybody else is doin' the same thing an' at the same time," he said
lugubriously.  "Which'll mean the market all glutted up so's you won't
get no kind of figger.  If you could only hold on till next spring."

But Steve merely said--

"Oh, well, Bill, it's all in a lifetime," and shaped his plans for a
sale.

And within ten days there came an offer which startled him.  It was
from the big buyers, Doan, Rockwell, and Haight, who, their
communication said, knew his line of stock thoroughly and were prepared
to pay the top prices for all he had.  He estimated swiftly and sent a
man hurrying into town with a message to go by wire; he would round up
between a hundred and fifty and two hundred head and would have them in
San Juan when desired.

"Old Doan's a sport and a wise boy, both," announced Steve triumphantly
when he made the news known to Bill Royce.  "He knows high-grade stuff
and he's willing to pay the price."  He narrowed his eyes
speculatively.  "We'll scare up close to two hundred head, William.
And they'll bring us just about twenty thousand.  Maybe a thousand or
so above that.  And, Bill, did you ever know the time when twenty
thousand dollars would look more like twenty thousand full moons just
showing up over the skyline?"

Bill's grin reflected Steve's lively satisfaction.  Now there would be
the money for old Hell-Fire Packard's next payment, there would be a
long respite from him, there would be ample feed for the rest of the
cattle.  Steve might even spend a part of the money for a herd of
calves to be had dirt-cheap just now from the Biddle Morris dairy
outfit, down near San Juan.

The prospect was exceedingly bright; just as though in truth a string
of full moons were shining down upon them.  And still there was the
shadow, even at this time, the shadow cast by Terry's absence and
silence.  If she were only here to rejoice with them.

Steve snorted his disgust with himself, got on a horse and went
streaking across the fields, riding hard as was a habit here of late,
yelling an order to Barbee as he went.  Barbee's innocent blue eyes
followed him thoughtfully: then Barbee shrugged and spat and thereafter
called to his men to "get busy."  The round-up began immediately.

Then came a handful of long, hot, feverishly busy days.  Strayed steers
carrying the Number Ten brand were hazed back to the big fenced-in
meadows from the mountain slopes, were counted and held, in an
ever-swelling herd.  There was little rest for the men, who, shifted
from one sweating horse to another, rode late and early.

Word came from Doan setting the date for the delivery in San Juan.
Steve wired his satisfaction with the arrangement, undertaking to have
the cattle in the stock pens just out of the town two or three days
before Doan's coming.  And no one knew better than did Steve Packard
the true size of the job he had on his hands at this time of year and
with a herd of close to two hundred wild steers.

The drive began one morning in the dark long before the dawn.  Steve
estimated that he could make the Rio Frio the first night and had
arranged beforehand with the Talbot boys for the night's pasturage.
The second day would find them on the edge of the bad lands; his wagons
hauling baled hay were to push on ahead and be waiting at the only
sufficient water-holes to be found within a number of miles.  San Juan
in four days was the schedule.

"We'll lose weight all along the road," he conceded.  "But it can't be
helped.  And a couple of day's rest and lots of feed and water in San
Juan before Doan shows up will put back a part of the lost weight."

He had made allowances for a hard drive.  Nevertheless the actuality
was a sterner matter than he had foreseen.  All along the way the feed
was scant.  Water was low in the holes, Rio Frio for the first time in
years was a mere series of shallow pools.  The blazing heat was such
that men and horses and steers all suffered terribly.

At the end of the second day he ordered a full dozen of the less hardy
of his beasts cut out from the herd and turned into a neighboring
range; it was questionable if they would have been able to drag on the
two remaining days and even had they done so they would have brought no
top price from the buyer.

The drive was made on schedule time.  Circumstances not only permitted
but insisted.  There were no places for loitering, there were only the
major water-holes upon which Steve had counted, the distances between
them regulating each day's progress.  And so the stock was in San Juan
a full two days before the time for Doan's coming.

For Steve the two days dragged heavily.  He camped with his herd on the
edge of the settlement, allowing the boys to disport themselves as they
saw fit a large part of the time, himself having little desire for the
bad whiskey and crooked gaming of La Casa Blanca.

Tuesday morning Doan was to arrive.  Steve met the stage and one glance
showed him that Doan was not on it.  He asked the driver if he knew
anything of Doan and the man shook his head.  Steve supposed that he
was coming up from the railroad by auto and so idled about the town all
forenoon, waiting.

By midday, when Doan still failed to put in an appearance, Steve had
grown impatient.  By the middle of the afternoon his impatience gave
place to anger.  He had kept his appointment bringing his herds over a
hard trail, and Doan with nothing to do but travel luxuriously, had
failed him.

But it was not until the stage came in Wednesday morning and again
brought no Doan and no word of Doan that Steve telephoned a message to
the nearest Western Union office at Bidwell demanding to know what the
trouble was.  Not only was he on heavy expenses; his mood never had
been one to take kindly to the long waiting game.  And yet he was
forced to wait all that day and all the next day with no word from Doan.

He telegraphed again Wednesday night, a third time Thursday morning.
No answers came.  But a little before noon, Thursday, Doan came.  Came
by automobile from the railroad, a man with him.  Steve saw them as
they drove into town; he noted Doan's thin face and his tall form in
the gray linen duster; then he marked the man with him.  The man was
Blenham.

Steve, raw-nerved through these long hours of inaction and uncertainty,
pushed straightway to Doan bent upon demanding an explanation.  He got
an inkling of one from an unexpected quarter, Blenham's lips.

"We sure appreciate this, Mr. Doan," Blenham said, getting down and
offering his hand to the cattle-buyer.  "Count on me an' ol' man
Packard doin' you a favor any time.  So long."

And casting to Steve a look of blended triumph and venom he hurried
down to the stable and his horse.

"Mr. Doan," said Steve bluntly, "what in hell's name do you mean by
treating me this way?"

Doan turned his thin impassive face with the hawk-eyes toward young
Packard.

"Who do you happen to be?" he asked coolly.

"I'm Steve Packard from Ranch Number Ten.  And I've got a herd of
steers out here that's been waiting for you some time now."

"Oh, yes," said Doan, still very cool.  "Got my wire, didn't you,
saying that I was unavoidably detained?"

"I did not!" snapped Steve.  "Detained by what?  Blenham?"

"Strange," murmured Doan.

He got down from his car and stretched his long legs.

"I've had a new secretary, Mr. Packard.  I found out that he drank.  He
has been discharged.  Hem.  Let me see: you've got about fifty steers,
haven't you?"

"I've got a hundred and eighty-six," Steve said sharply, staring at
Doan's inscrutable face and wondering just what was up.

"A hundred and eighty-six!" Doan shook his head.  "I couldn't take that
many on just now; I've made other plans.  Unless, of course, you are in
a position to tempt me to buy by making me a very attractive figure!"

Steve came a sudden step nearer, his eyes blazing, his two fists
clenched.

"What's this game of yours?" he demanded.  "Out with it.  What are you
up to?  You wired me an offer of ten to twelve cents, twelve and a half
for the fancy."

"What!" cried Doan.  "Why, my dear fellow, you must have lost your
senses!  With the market the way it is now I don't have to pay more
than seven and eight cents."

Steve waited for no more.  His days of waiting were past.  He drew
back, swung from the shoulder and struck with all of his might.  His
fist against Doan's chin hurled the lean body of the cattle-buyer half
across the street.

"Barbee," said Steve quietly, "round up the boys.  We start our herd
back in ten minutes."

And Barbee, taking stock of Steve's white face, went hastily on his
errand.



CHAPTER XXIII

STEVE RIDES BY THE TEMPLE PLACE

"Dear me, Mr. Man!  How savage you do look!"

Steve started and whirled.  No; this time he was not dreaming.  It was
Terry.

Terry laughed lightly, deliciously.  She had grown prettier.  She had
learned a new way to smile.  No, it was just the old way, after all.
But she had discovered a new way to do her hair, an amazingly charming
way.  Her lips were redder than ever before; her eyes were gayer and
grayer and softer and sweeter.  Her voice tinkled with new, thrilling
music.  She was just exactly perfect in Steve Packard's eyes.

"You're super," said Steve.  "You're superlative.  You haven't done a
thing all these long, weary months except grow more devilishly
attractive."

"Are you as savage as you looked?" she asked swiftly.

For a brief instant he turned his eyes away from her and gazed after a
herd that was moving slowly toward the north, Barbee and the other boys
heading again toward the home range.  But, no matter what rage and
sullen chagrin lay in his heart, his eyes, returning to Terry, showed
that already her coming had worked its change.  He appeared almost
content.

"Are you going to shake hands?" he asked.

"Shall I?" she asked.  "We are to be good friends after all?"

"Or, are you going to kiss me?"

Terry arched her brows at him.  But there was a live fire in her eyes
and a crimsoning tide under her lovely skin.

"Smarty!" cried the old Terry.  "Just try getting fresh with me and
you'll get your face slapped!"

Whereupon Steve's laughter boomed out joyously.

"It's Terry come home again!" he announced to the open meadow about
them.  "Terry herself."

Was it Terry herself?  She seemed strangely embarrassed all of a
sudden.  Just why?  Terry didn't know.

"We are going out in my car," she said hurriedly.  It seemed that she
must hasten to make some safe remark each time that his eyes, busied
with her, rested upon her eyes.  "We'll be at the ranch long before you
get your cows home.  You may come to see me--if you please to."

"Who is we?" he asked.

"Oh," said Terry, "that means Mrs. Randall who is going to be cook and
chaperon."

San Juan dozed in the late afternoon heat.  The corrals were between
them and the quiet street.  He threw out his arms, caught Terry in them
and kissed her.  And Terry, whipping back, slapped his face.

"You--you----" she panted, her face scarlet.

He touched tenderly with his finger-tips the place where her hand had
struck him.

"I'll be over to call on you and Mrs. Randall," he said.  "Real soon."


Now as Steve Packard rode slowly after his cowboys and a diminishing
herd, the dust-filled air, dry and hot as it was, seemed sweet and
caressing to his temples, his eyes mused happily.  Blenham had just
worsted him, Blenham had tricked him, had put him to the heavy expense
of the long drive, had knocked his steers up for him, had laughed at
him.

Very well; tally for Blenham.  A matter to be considered in due time.
A body blow, perhaps, but then what in God's good world is a strong
body for if not to buffet and be buffeted?  He and Blenham would come
to grips again, soon or late, and in some way still hidden by the
future matters would finally adjust themselves.

All considerations with which only some dim future was concerned.  Just
now, in the living, breathing, quivering present there was room for but
the one thought: Terry had come back to him.

Yes.  Terry had come back to him.  And he had kissed her.  And she had
slapped him.  He smiled and again his finger-tips went their way
tenderly to his cheek.  He had kissed her because he loved her, meaning
her no harm, offering her no insult.  She had slapped him because she
was Terry, and because she couldn't very well help it.  Not because she
did not love him!

Somewhere in the world, off in some misty distance, there was a man
named Blenham, a trickery, treacherous, cruel hound of a man.  He would
require attention presently.  Just now----

"You've come back to me!" whispered Steve Packard.

And he sighed and shook himself and wished longingly that the return
drive were over and that he had a bath and a shave and were just
calling at the Temple ranch.

Though presently he overhauled his men Steve rode all that day pretty
well apart, maintaining a thoughtful silence which Barbee and the
others supposed had to do solely with the failure of his plans for a
good market.  His men knew that he had banked pretty heavily on this
deal; and that now again he would be confronted by the old problem of
finding sufficient feed to pull his herds through.

Hay was scarce and high and would need to be hauled far, making its
final cost virtually prohibitive.  The herders, grumbling among
themselves, were for the most part of the opinion that he should have
accepted his defeat at Blenham's hands and sold to Doan at a sacrifice
figure.

That night they camped at the Bitter Springs, making but a brief stop
to water and feed and rest the road-weary cattle.  Then in the night
and moving slowly they pushed on planning to get to the next
water-holes before the heat of another day.  And now Steve, giving his
orders to Barbee, left them and struck out ahead.

There was small need of accommodating his impatience to the sluggish
progress of the leg-dragging brutes and there were matters to be
arranged.  Further, it was his intention to have a talk with Terry
Temple just as soon as might be.

That day Terry's automobile with shrieking horn swept on by him.  He
caught a glimpse of two veils, a brown and a black; the car's top was
up.  Terry appeared not to see him.

"She hasn't lost a speck of her impudence!"

He frowned after her departing car, praying in his heart for a puncture
or a stalled engine.  She deserved as much for the way in which she
tooted her infernal horn.  But his prayer went unanswered and his
displeasure vanished presently as he pushed on steadily in her wake,
eager to come to the end of his ride.

But he must never entirely forget the panting herd straggling on far
behind him, choking and coughing in its own dust.  He must arrange
somewhere, somehow for pasturage.  So he made a detour and looked in on
Brocky Lane first, then on Rod Norton.  Both old friends were glad to
see him and gave him hard brown hands in grips that were good to feel.

But they merely shook their heads when he mentioned his errand.  Lane
had sold a few head last week; Norton was afraid that he would have to
make a sacrifice sale himself.  They would do anything that they could
but it was only too clear that they could not give him that which they
themselves did not have and could not get.

"Old man Packard," offered Norton bluntly, "is the only man I can think
of who has pasture to rent.  Drop Off Valley, just up in the mountains
back of your place."

Steve laughed shortly and swung up into his saddle.

"So long, Nort," he said colorlessly  "The old man would burn his grass
off before he'd let me have it."

And he rode on, two problems in his mind, both growing more difficult
as he drew nearer the home ranch.  Problem One: Just what was Terry
going to say?  Problem Two: How was he going to pull his stock through?

As though he did not already have enough on his hands, Bill Royce
greeted him at the home ranch-house with the significant word--

"Trouble!"

"I know it," grunted Packard, swinging down stiffly from his saddle.
"What kind this time, Bill?"

"Blenham-brand, I'd reckon," said Bill angrily.  Steve noted that both
of the old hand's cheeks were flushed hotly.  "Barbee telephoned in
about four hours ago.  Seven steers dead, some more sick.  An'," the
explanation coming quickly, "Barbee's got the hunch Blenham had rode on
ahead an' had poisoned the water-holes an'----"

"Damn him!" cried Steve, a sudden fury seeming to leap out upon him and
take him by the throat.  "Am I to stand everything from that man and
from my old fiend of a grandfather?  It's this and that and any other
thing they want to turn loose and here I stick like a cursed
toad-stool, doing nothing for want of proof!  Proof," he snorted
disgustedly.  "Bill Royce, let's quit waiting for anything but just go
get the trouble-seeking outfit!"

"Which sounds good to me," retorted Royce eagerly.

And yet when his rage cooled a bit Steve ground his teeth in his
impotence.  He must wait until Barbee came with what God chose to leave
him of his steers, he must hear the foreman's account and decide
whether Blenham were really at the bottom of this or if it were just
his way and his men's to blame all things upon Blenham.

"The first thing, Bill," he said when he had turned his tired horse
loose in the pasture, "is to decide what we are going to do with what
cattle Blenham hasn't poisoned for us.  We are fed off pretty short
down at this end.  I'll ride over to the Temple place and see if we
can't arrange with Miss Terry to run a few head there."

"Yes," said Royce dryly.  "I'd hurry if I was you, Steve.  But, say!"
He slapped his leg and jerked up his head.  "How about the old Indian
Valley, Drop Off Valley, as they call it now?"

"Gone crazy, Bill?  When did my grandfather ever show any inclination
to help out?"

Then Royce, thoroughly excited, explained.  Andy Sprague from beyond
the ridge had ridden by only yesterday afternoon.  If Royce had only
known at that time that Steve was bringing back the cattle from San
Juan he would have arranged with Andy.  For the man had said that he
had just bought Drop Off Valley from old Packard; that he wouldn't want
the range this year as he had only recently sold close.  He would rent
and reasonably.

"There's close on a couple of thousan' acres in there; there's plenty
water an' enough good grass to run two or three hundred head easy until
your feed comes in again down this way.  Nail him, Steve; for the love
of Mike, nail Andy Sprague quick before the crooked little cuss finds
out jus' how bad you need the pasture an' sticks you accordin'.  Go
nail him, Steve."

And Steve, seeing hope like a brightening flush of a new day, hurried
to the corrals and a fresh horse.  He was going straight after Andy
Sprague.  But----

"Guess I'll ride by the Temple place," he said carelessly.



CHAPTER XXIV

DOWN FROM THE SKY!

Drop Off Valley, its name won to it by its salient feature, was but a
long, narrow, and very high plateau in the mountains lying to the east
of Ranch Number Ten.  It was well watered from springs at the upper end
which wandered the entire length of the tract and spilled down the
cliffs which cut in abrupt fashion across the lower end, making a
natural and fearsome boundary.

From this portion of the "valley" one might kick a stone a sheer and
dizzy distance down into the head-waters of Indian Creek, which
indicated the beginning of the narrow pass which led through the
mountains and to the misty blue hills of Old Mexico.

Here in the abundant, rich, dry feed wandered upward of two hundred
head of Ranch Number Ten and Temple Ranch cattle, mingling freely, the
herds of one outfit carrying their brands in and out of the herds of
the other.  A sign and a token that at last a certain dead-line had
ceased to exist.

Steve had found Andy Sprague, as crooked a little man as he looked to
be according to Bill Royce and others who should know, and had arranged
with him for the leasing of the mountain pasturage.  Less than a week
later Sprague was back saying that he had seen Hell-Fire Packard and
that that old mountain-lion had roared at him terribly, had threatened
him with utter ruin if ever again he helped out Steve Packard and had
bade him carry a message.

"Tell that smart young fool of a gran'son of mine," was the word
Sprague gave Steve, "that right now I'm gettin' ready to polish him off
final.  Tell him what I done to him, blockin' his sale in San Juan,
wasn't a patch on what I can do; tell him he'll lose more steers than
he ever los' before.  Tell him if he don't want to get hisself all
mussed up in this deal he'd better come over to my place an' throw up
his han's.  I'm gettin' mad!"

Before having these words from Andy Sprague's twisted mouth Steve
Packard had been puzzled to explain two matters: According to count, on
one hand there were too few cattle by perhaps a score while on another
hand there were too many by at least a half dozen.  And, though Terry
Temple was directly concerned, he had said nothing to her.

The first mystifying suggestion that some strange juggling of stock had
been going on came to him just before he had driven the hundred and
eighty-six steers to San Juan.  Rounding up his own stock and cutting
it out from Temple stock, he had had the opportunity to check up
carefully in Terry's interests.

Calves, cows, steers, and horses, he knew to the head just what Terry
numbered them.  And in the round-up, going over his figures carefully,
he had found that wearing the Temple brand there were six steers more
than there should be.  A matter of some five or six hundred dollars.

Were it only the financial end of it Steve would have thought little of
the matter.  But, going over the herd animal by animal, he made a
discovery which shocked him.  He found six big steers in the lot which
wore fairly recently burned Temple brands--crudely scrawled over the
brands of the Big Bend ranch, old man Packard's favorite outfit in the
north.

It was impossible to know just how long ago a searing-hot iron had
altered the range indication of ownership; Steve could merely stare and
wonder and finally hazard a guess.  Temple had been hard-driven; he had
succumbed to temptation and opportunity as he had to whiskey and many
other things.  Seeing life obliquely he had no doubt told himself that
he was squaring accounts.  So, in the end, Steve was inclined to
believe.

Just what to do he did not know.  It seemed best to him to bide his
time, to keep his eyes open, to hope for the way out of an embarrassing
situation.  He would willingly have made restitution himself, to save
Terry from knowing and to save her name from the smudge which old man
Packard would eagerly put upon it were he offered the opportunity.  And
right here was the trouble; he did not care to let his grandfather know
what had happened.

While striving with this matter the other was brought to his attention.
Also at the time of the round-up Barbee reported a black-and-white
steer missing, the prize of the beef herd, said Barbee.  Strayed into
some far out-of-the-way cañon, perhaps.  But as the days went by other
cattle, finally totalling a score, were reported missing.  And Steve
remembered how one evening he and Terry from a log had watched Blenham
driving off a string of steers.

"My beloved grandfather has no love for the courts of law," mused Steve
many a time.  "And he knows that in that I am like him.  So to his way
of thinking it's just Packard eat Packard and the rest of the world
'Hands Off.'  And so he is going the limit.  Well, I guess that's as
good a way as any other."

The day came when Steve put his cattle into Drop Off Valley.  The
herds, his and Terry's, were counted twice, once as they filed through
the gate of the round-up corrals, again as they were turned into the
upland range.  Two hundred and thirty-four head.

"Two hundred and thirty-four head where I defy Blenham or the devil
himself to steal a single one of them," said Steve positively.

For though there were no fences here nature had raised sufficient
barriers in the way of the sheer Drop Off Chasm cutting across the
southern end of the plateau and in rocky, uninviting and all but
impassable mountain peaks on north and east and a section of the
western boundary.

It seemed the simplest matter in the world here with but ordinary
diligence and vigilance on the part of his cowboys to make good Steve's
vow.  Therefore, with Barbee in charge of the men here and under
instructions to keep the eyes of trusted night riders always open,
Steve thought to have heard the last of cattle losses.

The steers were to be counted every day if Barbee thought necessary; so
much Steve had said coolly, merely for the emphasis of the words.
Barbee had looked at him curiously, making no rejoinder and going about
his business with a puzzled look on his face.

A week later Barbee reported to Steve down at Ranch Number Ten.

"Five steers gone," he said succinctly, his eyes hard and expectant,
challenging his employer's.

"Gone?" repeated Steve.  "Where?  And when?"

"I don't know," replied Barbee.  "I missed 'em four days ago.  I
wouldn't believe they'd gone for good.  I didn't see how they could of
gone.  I've looked for 'em ever since; I've rode into an' out of every
cañon an' pass; I've been everywhere they could go.  But--they're gone.
Five big steers."

For a moment their eyes, Steve's as hard as Barbee's, held steady and
unwinking in a deeply probing gaze.

"Barbee," said Steve after a little, "remember the night Blenham tried
to bribe you with a thousand-dollar bill?"

Barbee flushed and nodded.

"I get you," he said quietly.  "Think he's bought me up, maybe?"

"I don't know what to think.  But this much is clear; If you are on the
level it's up to you to see that I don't lose any more stock.  And it's
also up to you to find where those five steers went.  And get them
back.  Every single hoof of them."

That night Steve himself spent in Drop Off Valley, a rifle over his
arm.  He had ordered his men to carry guns, and if Blenham or another
man were detected driving off his cattle, to shoot and to shoot to kill.

But the next day he returned to the home ranch.  He trusted his
cowboys--all but Barbee, and in Barbee's case he was not sure what to
think--and it was only too clear to him that there were enough men
there to cope with the situation without his interference.  Two days
later Barbee reported to him again.

The boy's face was haggard and drawn, his eyes burned sullenly.

"Six head more gone!" he announced defiantly.  His look said plainly:
"What are you going to say about it?  They're gone."

"So you've turned cattle-thief, have you, Barbee?" was what Steve said.

A sickly flush stained Barbee's hollow cheeks.

"No!" he snapped hotly.  "I ain't.  But----"

He swung on his heel and started to the door.  Steve called him back.

"What are you going to do, Barbee?"

"I'm goin' an' get Blenham," said Barbee between his teeth.  "I been
wantin' him a long time.  Now this is his work an' he makes it look
like it's mine.  I'm goin' an' get him."

"If it is Blenham," Steve offered coldly, "and if you are playing
square with me, how does it happen that he can get away with a thing
like this?  Right under your nose--and you not know?  It sounds--  You
know how it sounds, Barbee."

"I don't know how he does it," growled Barbee.  "I don't know how a man
could run off a string of cows like that in them mountains an' not
leave no tracks.  Why, there ain't half-a-dozen places where they could
be drove out'n the valley an' through the cliffs, an' I been watchin'
every one of them places myself all night an' keepin' the other boys
ridin' until they're saddle-weary.  An'--an' six head more gone----"

"You're either a clever little actor, Mr. Barbee," muttered Steve
sharply, "or you are straight, and I'm hanged if I know which.  Just
leave Blenham alone for a while; go back to your job."

Barbee, his spurs dragging disconsolately, went out.  Steve saw how the
boy's shoulders slumped and again asked himself if Barbee were acting
or if Blenham were simply too sharp for him?  In the end he decided
that he had better move his headquarters to Drop Off Valley.

That same day there came a cowboy riding from the Big Bend ranch
bringing a brief note from Steve's grandfather.  It ran:


DEAR STEPHEN: Better not go too far, my boy.  Eye for an eye is
first-class gospel.  And there ain't no game yet I ever been bluffed
out on.  Guess you understand.

PACKARD.


Steve didn't altogether understand but the messenger could add nothing
save that the old man was chuckling with Blenham when he gave the
message.  Steve, in no mood to hear of his grandfather's high good
humor, tore the letter to bits, distributed them upon the afternoon
wind and told the lean cowboy that he could tell Grandfather Packard
and Blenham to go straight to everlasting blazes.  The cowboy laughed
and rode away.


Steve, riding slowly through the lengthening shadows falling through
the pines of the mountain slopes before one comes to Drop Off Valley,
was overtaken by Terry Temple riding furiously.  Terry's horse was
dripping with sweat; Terry's face was troubled; there was a look almost
of terror in her eyes.

"Steve Packard," she cried out as she came abreast of him and they
stared into each other's eyes in the dusk under the big trees.  "Tell
me everything you know about those stolen steers!  Everything."

So she knew, too?  Yet he had cautioned Barbee not to talk and to
instruct the other boys to keep their mouths shut until such time as
they could understand this hand being played in the dark.

"Who told you?" he asked quickly.

"I saw them!" she told him, her spirit shining like fire in her eyes.
"The whole six of them.  I knew they were not our cattle.  I saw how
the brands had been worked, clumsily worked.  Oh, my God, Steve
Packard, what does it mean?"

Now it flashed upon him.  Terry was not speaking of the cattle lost
from the upland valley; she referred to those half-dozen big steers
roaming on the Temple ranch whose brands had been crudely altered from
the sign of the Big Bend outfit to the sign of her father's.  Slowly
the red blood of shame, shame for her, crept up into his cheeks, dusky
under his tan.

"Terry," he began lamely.

But she halted him with the word, her ear catching the subtle note of
sympathy, her hand upflung, her temper flaring out that he, of all men,
should think shame of her blood.

"My father was never a thief!" she cried hotly, her voice ringing clear
and certain.  "Not that, Steve Packard.  Don't you dare say that!  And
yet--  You saw them, you knew, and you didn't say a word to me, to
anybody?"

"I didn't know what to say or what to do,", he explained gently.  "I
thought it best just to wait, to hope for the sense of all this
infernal jumble.  I hoped----"

"You big fool!" she called him with all due emphasis.  "Just like all
of the rest of your blundering sex.  If the good Lord had stopped with
the job of making Adam, his whole creation wouldn't have been worth the
snap of my thumb and finger."

"It isn't, anyway," said Steve.  "I wouldn't swap your little finger
for a king's gold crown----"

"Moonshine," cut in Terry.  "Listen to me, Steve Packard: You saw those
swapped brands and you kept your mouth shut."

"It is generally considered----"

"I said to listen to me!  You didn't say a word to me because you
believed my dad was a cattle-thief!"

Steve, despite himself, shifted uneasily in his saddle and finally
dropped his eyes.  Terry sat there staring at him fixedly, her own eyes
wide open and again harboring that look that was almost fear.

"You--you--Oh, Steve Packard!  This is contemptible of you!"

Then he lifted his eyes and looked at her solely enough.

"Terry Temple," he said very gently, "I pray God that you are right and
that I am wrong.  I did not know, I only saw what I saw, and wondered
and kept my mouth shut.  But--listen to me now, Terry Temple.  You are
not the one to dodge an issue, no matter how hard it is to face it.
Tell me: If your father did not shift those brands, then who did?  And
why?  Don't you see that is what it amounts to, that is what we've got
to answer?"

"Blenham!" she told him swiftly, hardly waiting for him to finish.
"Blenham, under orders.  Orders from your precious old thief of a
grandfather!"

He smiled back at her, hoping to coax an answering smile to her lips
and into her troubled eyes.  But she only shook her head and went on
steadily.

"Recrimination of a sort----"

"Recrimination is quite some word, no matter what it means," sniffed
Terry.  "But we can leave it out.  In words of one syllable, your old
thief of a grandfather ordered his pet dog and sub-thief to go tie
something on poor old dad.  And you fell for it!  You ought to go to a
school for the simple-minded."

"Just what," demanded Steve equably, "do you suppose a play like that
would win for anybody?  Any time my old thief of a grandfather, as you
call him, hands an enemy of his several hundred dollars in beef cattle,
why, just please wake me up."

"A play like that is just what old Hell-Fire would be up to right about
now," she told him positively.  "You have been proving something too
much for him to swallow whole and boots on; your chipping in with us
that time you took the mortgage over made him hungrier than ever to
gobble up the crowd of us.  So he plays the dirty trick of making it
appear my father is a cattle-thief."

"Blenham might do a trick like that.  My grandfather wouldn't.  That
is, I don't think he would."

"Better hedge!  Wouldn't he, though!  He's always been as mean as
gar-broth; the older he gets the meaner and nastier he is.  He'd do
anything to double-cross a Temple and you know it.  It's one crooked
play; there'll be more like it.  Just you see, Steve Packard.  And the
next one--at least if it concerns me--you see that you let me know
about it instead of going around like a dumb man."

Then he blurted out word of the recent losses from Drop Off Valley.
For her herds mingled there with his and a part of the losses were to
be borne by her.

"I'm on my way there now," he concluded.  "I've an idea----"

"You haven't!" she interrupted.  "Steve Packard, I don't believe you
ever had an idea in your life.  Don't you know--don't you know what's
going with those steers up there?"

"Do you?"

"You just bet your life I do!  It's that crook of a Yellow Barbee, in
cahoots with that crook of a Blenham who's taking orders from that
crook of an old Hell-Fire Packard!  Can't you see their play?"

"I rather think I can.  But I don't happen to be as positive about the
unknown as you do."

"You're just a man," said Terry.  "That's why.  And now you are on your
way to the feeding-grounds up there, to come in and say, 'Here I am,
Barbee, come to watch you and see that you don't steal any more stock
for me to-night.'  That the idea?"

Steve laughed.

"Not exactly.  I had intended leaving my horse before I got to the rim
of the valley and going on on foot, not telling everybody what I was
about."

"And you'd come to the rim of the valley either by Hell Gate pass or
through the old Indian Trail, wouldn't you?  And Barbee or Blenham
would see that both ways were watched."

"You seem to know the trails rather well," he began, but she merely
broke in:

"That's not all I know about this neck of the woods, either, Steve
Packard.  Maybe it's lucky for you and for me too that you told me all
this.  I'll take you into Drop Off Valley to-night, and Blenham and
Yellow Barbee can watch all they please and never guess we're there.
For there's a way up that not even Blenham knows and where they will
never look for us.  Come on, Steve Packard; use a spur."

She shot by him, leading the way.

So Steve and Terry rode through the forests, passing from the dull
fringe of the day into the calm glory of the night, feeling the air
grow cooler and sweeter against their faces, sensing the shutting-in
about them of the gentle serenity of the wilderness.  They followed
little-travelled trails where she rode ahead and he, following close at
her horse's heels, was glad each time that an open space beyond or a
ridge crested showed him her form pricked clearly against the sky.

They spoke less and less as they went on.  Deeper grew the silences
into which they made their way, with only the gush of a mountain brook
or the fluttering of a startled bird or the rustle of dead leaves under
some alert little wild thing, just these sounds occasionally and ever
the soft thud of shod hoofs on leaf mould and loose soil.

The stars multiplied swiftly, grew in brilliancy.  But down here close
to the face of the earth where the shadows were, the dark was
impenetrable.

For many a mile Terry led the way through the forests.  Steve was on
the verge of suggesting that she had lost her way, when she turned off
to the right and down a long slope in so decided a fashion that he
closed his lips to his suspicion.

She knew where she was going; as he once again saw her body against a
patch of sky--she had gone down the slope and climbed a ridge
ahead--and as he noted her carriage and the poise of a chin for the
instant clearly outlined, he knew that she was sure of herself.  Well,
she was that sort of a girl; she might have confidence in herself and a
man might place his confidence with hers.

So at last Terry brought him down into a creek-bed and the bottom on a
steep-sided cañon.  He merely said, "I'll take your word for it!" when
she told him that this was the deep-cleft ravine which lay like a gash
at the base of the sheer Drop Off Cliffs.

Yonder, perhaps a mile ahead and yet prominently asserting itself to
their view because of a certain widening and straightening of the cañon
here, a bold head of cliffs stood out like a monster carving in ebony.
Up there, at the top of these cliffs, was the southern end of Drop Off
Valley.

"And it is up those cliffs that we are going," Terry announced when,
having drawn nearer, they stopped again to gaze upward.  "There's a
trail climbing straight up from the bed of the pass; a trail to go
hand-and-foot style.  Once on top we'll be among Barbee's herds, Barbee
guessing nothing of our coming since he'll be busy watching the other
ways in.  And--  Look!"

They were close together and she gripped his arm in her sudden
amazement while she threw out one hand pointing.  He heard her little
gasp; he looked upward; an astonished ejaculation broke from his own
lips.  A breathless moment and already the thing, appearing from the
black nothingness, silhouetted but a moment against the sky, was gone
and he vaguely saw Terry's face turned toward him while they sought to
find each other's eyes and know if each had seen what the other had
glimpsed.

"It's impossible!" he muttered.  "We are imagining things."

"Wait!" said Terry.  "Maybe after all----"

They waited impatiently, their blood atingle.  And in a very few
moments there was, seeming absurd and impossible, a repetition of the
vision which had so startled them: a black form at the head of the
cliffs, the field of star-strewn sky back of it limning it into vivid
distinctness--the ebon bulk of a steer moving straight out from the top
of the precipice, straight out a half-dozen feet into nothingness of
empty space, then slowly descending through the air, gone silently in
the deeper shadows of the cañon below!

"Block and tackle!" muttered Steve abruptly.  "A small steel cable.
Two or three men up there; a man on horseback down below.  And while
Barbee and the boys guard the other end----"

"Blenham puts one across on us down here!" Terry finished it for him.

"Only here's where we put one over on Blenham," rejoined Steve hotly.
He threw a cartridge into his rifle-barrel and spurred ahead of her.
"You stay here, Terry.  I----"

"Will I?" Terry retorted with animation.  "Not on your life, Steve
Packard!  If this is the beginning of Blenham's finish--  Well, I'm in
on it."



CHAPTER XXV

THE STAMPEDE

Terry had sensed something of the truth.  In its way here was the
beginning of the end of many things.  Before she and Steve Packard,
making what haste was possible in the thick dark and with what silence
was allowed them, had gone a score of paces deeper into the cañon, the
crack of a rifle shouted its reverberating message of menace back and
forth in the rocky ravine, a spurt of flame showed where the rifleman
stood upon a pinnacle of rock almost directly above their heads and
there came the further sounds of men's startled voices and the
scampering of horses' hoofs, fleeing southward through the pass.

"They had lookouts all along!" cried Steve over his shoulder,
discarding caution and secrecy and throwing his rifle to his shoulder.
"Better hold back, Terry!"

He fired, accepted the precarious chances offered him by an uneven and
unknown trail in the dark and raced on deeper and deeper into the long
chasm.  It seemed to him that he had glimpsed something moving at the
top of the cliffs just about the place whence Blenham's men had lowered
the steers.  He asked no question but threw up his gun-barrel and fired
again.

From straight in front of him there came back to his ears the clang and
thud of iron horseshoes upon granite, the rattle of rocks along the
trail; now and again he saw a spark struck out underfoot.  Then, far
ahead as the cañon widened suddenly and a little thinning of the
darkness resulted, he made out dim, running forms, and again he fired
from his own leaping horse.

A flying bullet might find a target and it might not; at any rate the
sound of the shots volleyed and boomed echoingly between the stone
wails imprisoning them, and Barbee or one of Barbee's men should hear.
Steve was estimating hopefully as he dashed on after the fugitives and
as Terry dashed on after him, that the men at the top of the cliffs
would not try to come down now, not knowing who or how many the
attackers were, but would seek escape above.

Then, if his cowboys heard and rode toward the cliffs, it was all in
the cards that they might intercept at least a couple of Blenham's
tools.

A running form almost at his side drew his attention briefly, and all
but drew hot, questing lead after it.  Then he made out that it was but
one of the stolen steers, abandoned now; he pressed by, firing time
after time into the cañon ahead of him.  And behind him he heard
Terry's voice, eager and fearless, crying out:

"Good boy, Steve Packard!  We'll get 'em yet!"

A spurt of flame from far ahead and close to the wall of the cañon, the
crack of another rifle, long drawn out, and the whine of a bullet
singing its vicious way overhead, and again Steve fired, answering shot
with shot.  He heard a man shout and fired in the direction of the
voice.  And then the only sounds rising from the narrow gorge were
those of running horses and the accompanying noises of rattling stones.

Now the way was again tortuous, pitch-black, boulder-strewn.  Steve
slowed down rather than break his horse's legs or his own neck, not
knowing whether to turn to right or left.  In a moment of uncertainty
he felt and heard Terry push ahead of him.  He heard her hurrying on
and followed, shouting to her to come back.  Ten minutes later, out of
the pass now and upon a low-lying ridge whence he could look across the
hills billowing away darkly toward the southland, he came up with her
again.

"They got off that way."  She pointed south.  "Saw one figure and maybe
two going down the slope.  There's no use following.  The way is too
open and it's too dark.  They've got away after all."

"For to-night," said Steve.  "But maybe the fellows at the top of the
cliffs----"

"I'll show you the way up," said Terry.

So without delaying they turned back and came presently under Drop Off
Cliffs again.  Here they left their horses and, Terry showing the way,
found the old path up the precipice.  Along many a narrow shelf of rock
they went, over many a gigantic granite splinter where foothold was
precarious enough, up many a steep climb.  But in their present mood
they would have achieved even a more difficult and more hazardous task
with eagerness and assurance.  Twenty minutes brought them to the top.

"Who's that?" shouted a sudden voice as Steve's hat came up out of the
void.  "Hands up!"

"That you, Barbee?" grunted Steve.  "Hands up?  I'd drop a clean
hundred feet if I did a fool trick like that.  Did they get away?  The
men up here?"

He wriggled up to the top, lay on his stomach and gave a hand to Terry,
drew her to lie a moment breathless at his side and then again turned
to Barbee.  There was another man with him and both were looking
wonderingly at Steve and Terry.

"I never heard a man say," muttered the astounded Barbee, "that there
was stair-steps up here!  For a man an' girl to come up----"

"And for our cows to go down!" cried Steve, on his feet now and coming
to Barbee's side.  "You heard everything, Barbee?  You know what has
happened?"

"Yes," said Barbee.  "A hundred yards over that way--" he pointed along
the cliff's edge--"where a twisted cedar-tree stands in a little
washout, not hardly to be noticed unless you're on the lookout for it,
they had their pulleys hitched an' a long steel cable.  It was easy
shootin', come to think of it.  Jus' rope a cow, cinch her up tight
with two big straps they had all ready, slip a hook through the
belly-band, an' lower away!  Pretty smooth, huh?"

"And they all got away?"

"No, they didn't," said Barbee queerly.  "I got one of 'em!"

"You did?" Steve swung back toward him eagerly.  "Who is he, Barbee?
And where is he?  I want a talk with him."

Barbee shook his head and reached for his tobacco and papers.  He was
young after all, was Barbee, and this was his first man.

"Andy Sprague, it was," said Barbee.  "He's dead now."

There fell a heavy, breathless silence upon the three standing there
under the stars.  Terry shivered as though with cold and drew a step
closer to Steve; he felt her hand on his arm.  Barbee lighted his
cigarette, his hands steady, but his face looking terribly serious in
the brief-lived light shed upon it.

"I heard you shootin'," said Barbee.  "I rode this way, on the jump.  I
was only about a mile up the valley; maybe a shade less.  He had his
horse close an' was on him an' poundin' leather lively to get out.  We
come pretty close to runnin' into each other.  I hollered at him to
hold on an' he jus' rode on his spurs an' I shot.  Emptied my gun.  Got
him twice, bein' that lucky, an' him that unlucky.  He slid off his
cayuse an' clawed aroun' an'--an' he's dead now," ended Barbee briefly.

"Did he tell you anything?  Did he say anything that would implicate
anybody?"

"Meanin'," said Barbee steadily, "did he squeal on his pals?"

"Just that.  Did he mention any names?"

"No," replied Barbee thoughtfully.  "He jus' cusses me an' dies game.
But this here was in his pocket."

He passed it to his employer.  It was a bit of note-paper.  Steve and
Terry read it together as Steve struck one match after another.  Then
they looked into each other's faces, grown very tense, while Barbee
smoked in silence.  The few words were:


BLENHAM: This here Mex don't seem to know what I mean.  Next time send
a man as can talk English.  Anyway I am coming to-night.  I don't want
no killing if it ain't necessary, but there ain't going to be a hide or
hoof left in Drop Off by morning.


And the signature, cramped and stiff, was that of Steve's grandfather.

"So," muttered Steve heavily.  "The old man has gone the limit, has he?
He meant it when he said he'd stop at nothing to smash me.  And yet I
can't believe----"

"Let me see it again," Terry commanded.

She took the paper from his fingers and with it his block of sulphur
matches.  For even Terry, to whom old man Packard was as relentless and
unscrupulous as Satan himself, hesitated to believe that he was hand in
glove with Blenham in this.

There might be a way to read between the lines, to come to some other
understanding of the baffling situation.  Evidently the old man had
given the note to the "Mex" who did not know enough of the English
language to carry word of mouth; the Mex had passed it to Sprague.

Steve and Barbee and the man with Barbee--an old Ranch Number Ten hand
named Bandy Oliver--had stepped aside quietly.  Terry stood with the
note in her hand, forgetting it for the moment.  So, at the last,
matters had come to this: There lay a man over yonder, dead, with
Barbee's lead in him.

And old man Packard was coming to-night, now of all times when Steve's
heart was hard, when his brain was hot with his fury, when he had just
come upon men stealing his stock and had learned that his own
grandfather, the old mountain-lion from the north, was one of them.

"If they meet to-night," said Terry, "those two Packards, there are
going to be other men killed.  Good men and bad men.  And, as likely as
not, Blenham won't be one of them."

"There was another jasper with Sprague.  He got away.  That way, I
think.  Couldn't say, but there might have been more; what with the
dark an' the cattle scared an' churnin' aroun'."

Steve with Barbee and Bandy Oliver had moved slowly away and toward the
upper end of the plateau.  Detached words, fragments of their speech,
floated back to her more and more indistinctly on the night wind that
never sleeps upon these uplands.

Terry turned from them and stood for a little looking down into the
black void of the cañon into which the stolen cattle had been lowered,
from which she and Steve had just climbed.  She fancied that the
darkness down there was thinning.  The dawn was coming up almost
imperceptibly over the mountain-tops, filtering wanly into the depths
of the cañons.  The night had rushed by; it would soon be day.

And old man Packard had not come.  Thank God for that.  Down in her
heart Terry was conscious of a leaping gladness.  She knew, admitted
now, that she had been afraid.  A man lay dead over yonder; if Packard
met Packard to-night there would be other men dead.  Terry shivered and
drew back from the edge of the precipice.

"It's always colder just before day," she told herself.

"Sunrise already?"

Steve's voice, borne to her ears with startling distinctness.  He had
not come nearer; maybe the dawn wind was stiffening, thus bearing his
words to her more clearly.  Or it might be that Steve had lifted his
voice suddenly.

Why should a man be startled by a new sunrise?  True, the night had
gone quickly, but----

"The sun never rose there!" Steve's voice again, thrilling through her
with its portent.  "It's fire--range fire--in a dozen places!"

A bright glow lay across the far, upper end of Drop Off Valley.  At
first one might have done as Steve Packard did and wondered what had
happened to the sun.  The sky had merely brightened warmly, slowly,
gradually, showing a hint of pink.  And then, as the bone-dry grass
here and there had caught, vivid streaks of flame and a veritable
devil's dance of a myriad sparks shot high skyward.  And, as Steve had
cried out, not in one place only, but in a dozen spots had the fires
been lighted.

"To herald the wrathful coming of Hell-Fire Packard!"

Such was the thought springing full-fledged into Terry's brain, into
Steve's, into Yellow Barbee's.  A chain of fires had been started
across the whole width of the feeding grounds.  Now the rising wind
made of it a sudden burning barrier that extended from side to side of
Drop Off Valley, came rushing toward the lower end, threatening to
leave but a black charred devastation of the precious pasturage.

Barbee had run and thrown himself upon his horse.  Steve had grasped
the dragging reins of Andy Sprague's mount.  Terry saw him and his two
cowboys swing about toward the upper end.

"Terry!" he shouted over his shoulder.  "Down the cliffs again; quick!
The fire is coming this way; the herds will stampede!"

There was only the sound of thudding hoofs as the three men rode
furiously to meet the menace the dawn had brought and seek to grapple
with it.  Then that sound had gone and its place, for a little taken by
heavy silence, gradually gave way to new sounds.  The crack of rifles,
faintly heard--thin voices of men shouting a long way off--a sound like
that of a distant sea, moving restlessly--grown to suggest the coming
of a storm that ever swelled in violence--and then a deep and deepening
rumble, like thunder.

The herd had stampeded.

To Terry there came then, for the first time in her life, the sense of
utter helplessness and hopelessness.  At least the others were doing
something, no matter how fruitless it might prove, while she was doing
nothing.  Steve was riding full-tilt to meet the herd.  She saw him and
his men, strange figures in the uncertain light, looming big against
the dawn sky and the fires' glow.  They were shouting, waving their
arms.  Then, going down over a swell of earth they were lost to her.

Again and again there came to her the sound of shots and men's voices
shouting, cursing, yelling wild commands, a rising clamor meant to
divert the blind rush of frightened beasts, to turn them to right and
left so that they might scramble out of the valley before they came to
the lower end where Terry stood--where was the yawning chasm down into
which many a great, terror-filled body was doomed to plunge to
annihilation unless the way were found to swing the flood of fear aside
in time.

Barbee and Bandy Oliver and the other boys were obeying Steve's
commands, doing all that they could, seeking frantically to split the
herd and divert it and so save it.  But all of the time the wind
strengthened, the fires rose higher and higher against the sky, the
sparks soared to rarer altitudes, were flung further out, new fires
were catching everywhere.

The tall, dry grass was burning in a hundred places.  The herd,
sweeping on, was snorting its terror, yielding absolutely to the blind
instinct of flight.  And steadily the thunderous murmuring sound from
the hoof-smitten earth rose and swelled.  Closer and closer they came.
Terry could distinguish Steve's voice.

In her hand were the matches he had given her in order that she might
read again his grandfather's letter.  A little gasp broke from her
lips.  The letter fluttered from her hand, no longer of the slightest
importance and on the wings of the wind went outward and then down into
the chasm.  She ran forward swiftly, a hundred yards from the
precipice's edge.  She struck a match, stopped briefly, set it to the
grass.

The flame caught, leaping up avidly, licking hungrily for more fuel, a
demon for desire, newly born, yearning to rage a giant of destruction.
The girl snatched a handful of the burning grass and ran with it; a
little further forward, then to the side, scattering burning wisps as
she went.

Everywhere that a spark fell it made of itself a blaze.  Already, in
twenty seconds, she had created a broad belt of flame that rose swiftly
and spread to right and left.

About her everywhere the air grew stifling, hot, filled with smoke and
ash and cinder so that as she ran her lungs began to hurt her.  But she
kept on.  Nearer were the herds coming; Steve and his men had not been
able to stem the mad torrent; not yet had they succeeded in turning it.

And in another handful of minutes the black, tight-jammed mass of big
panting bodies would be hurtling out into space.  Unless she made her
fire extend from side to side in a wall of leaping, roaring, swirling
menace that would do what no men and horses could accomplish.

Terry was racing as never had Terry run before, her breath coming in
choking sobs, her eyes shining wildly, her body shaken with the effort
she put upon it.  She had her burning barrier across the more dangerous
end of the valley, where the cliffs dropped sheerest, she had but
another few yards to go and there would be hope that she would succeed.
But she must not stop yet, not yet.

She ran on toward the nearer rim of the valley, scattering burning
wisps of grass as she went, her heart beating wildly, seeming ready to
burst through her side.  She fell, rose, ran on.  She stood still a
moment, turning her back to the fires of her own building, looking
toward the upper end whence came the steady roar.

For an instant she stood fascinated.  It looked as though the ground
itself, in many a low-lying swell, were racing on to meet her.  Then
she saw the hundreds of horns glistening dully in the new light.  That
black mass, surging forward, was the herd and she was still in its path.

She cried out and threw down her last torch and ran just as the
frightened steers were running, fear in her heart, racing away from
death, just running for her life.  She saw a form ahead of the others,
breaking away from them, sweeping down upon her.  She cried out in
terror; then she knew and cried out again and threw up her arms and
turned toward the rider who had remembered her and feared for her and
come for her.  And Steve, bending from his saddle, equal to the need of
the moment, swept her up and caught her tight in his arm and rode out
of the way of herd and fire.

From a little crag-crested knoll, standing hand in hand, their forms
blended in silhouette against the dawn, they watched breathlessly the
end of the stampede.  The maddened brutes rushed on, straight toward
Terry's barrier of flame.  Then those in the van sought suddenly to
alter their headlong courses.

Steve's face was white with anger as he saw the result.  A full
half-dozen, perhaps ten, big bodies at the fore passed through the far
end of the flaming line, swept on, sought to swerve only at the last
frantic moment with their fellows crowding them to the brink, and,
struggling wildly, went over and down and out of sight.  Terry
shuddered.

The herd, however, broke, divided, swung to right and left and passed
about the burning danger-signal and to the outer rims of the valley,
achieving safety somewhere in the night, scattering, tossing their
gleaming fronts, snorting, and beginning to bellow their rage.

"If it hadn't been for you, Terry Temple--" Steve began, his voice a
little hoarse.

"If it hadn't been for you, Steve Packard,"' laughed Terry a trifle
unsteadily but quite happily, "where would I have been?"

And then, quite as though their destiny wished it made plain that not
yet had the time come for them to devote exclusively to themselves,
Barbee rode down toward them, spurring through the last of the fleeing
herd, shouting:

"There's a dozen men ridin' this way an' ridin' like----!  An' the
firelight's shinin' on their guns; every man's totin' one.  An' it's
ol' Hell-Fire Packard ridin' at their head."

"I'm glad he has come," muttered Steve heavily.

And then, as though he were uncertain of his return to her, he kissed
Terry's lips that were lifted toward his.  In a dull stupor, so much
had she experienced these last few minutes, she watched him swing again
to the back of a horse and ride to meet those who came.  The very way
he carried his rifle in front of him bespoke with rare eloquence his
readiness for anything.



CHAPTER XXVI

YELLOW BARBEE KEEPS A PROMISE

Terry started, shook off her apathy with a sudden effort and called out:

"Steve!  Steve!  Come back!"

He had gone but a half-dozen paces.  He swung about and returned to
her.  It was not light enough yet for her to see his eyes; they seemed
just unfathomable, sombre pools in the shadow of his hat-brim.  As he
turned his head a little, harking to the distant sounds of men's voices
earning on, the rigid profile was harsh and implacable.

"Terry," he said sternly, "you mustn't ask me to come back again.  I am
just standing on my own rights this time, as a man must now and then.
Old man Packard is over there.  He is coming on.  He wants trouble.  He
doesn't want the law courts.  He always preferred to play the game man
to man.  He has cost me a number of cattle; when I can figure just how
many I am going over and collect from him--if we are both left alive,
which is to be doubted.  And now, if he wants fight----"

Again he glanced over his shoulder.  Still she could not read what lay
in his eyes.  But a new, almost eager note, boyishly eager Terry
thought in dismay, had burst into his voice:

"If he wants fight--by God, Terry Temple, I'm as much Packard as he is!"

She watched him wheel again and go.  This time she did not call to him.
Her little figure stiffened, her hands were down at her sides and
clenched, her chin was lifted a little.  The whole attitude was
soldierlike.

"They are two of a kind," said Terry within herself.  "They are men.
They are Packards.  I am proud and--and afraid--and--  Oh, dear God!
Dear God!  Bring him back to me!"

She could hear Steve giving his brief orders crisply.  Other figures
loomed about him, coming out of the night and the shadows.  There was
young Yellow Barbee and Bandy Oliver; there was the Number Ten cowboy
whom she knew only as "Spotty"; in a moment these and two or three
other men were with Steve.  Six or seven; possibly eight of them all
told.  And Barbee had said that there were about a dozen men with old
man Packard.

"This is my fight, boys," Steve was saying.  "Mine and my
grandfather's.  I want you fellows to keep out of it unless the boys
with old man Packard mix in.  If they do----"

"We're with you," said Yellow Barbee.  "Huh, boys?"

And a little nervously and hurriedly they answered--

"Yes."

"Then," concluded Steve, "keep your eyes open.  Hang back, now."

She saw him lean forward in the saddle, noted how the horse leaped
under him, took anxious stock of the manner in which he carried his
rifle.  Then suddenly there came back into Terry's cheeks the good hot
blood, into her eyes the sparkle and shine, into her heart something
akin to the sheer joy of battle.  Had she a horse she would not have
hung back for want of a rifle, but would have ridden after him, with
him.  As it was she cried out ringingly:

"God go with you, Steve Packard!  I'm proud of you!"

She might not ride with him; at least she would not crouch and cringe
and hide her eyes.  She would watch him as he rode, watch him as he
fought, watch him to the end even though he slipped from the saddle.

So she made her way hastily to a point of vantage, running the brief
distance lying between the slight knoll on which she stood and the
eastern edge of the valley where the rugged peaks rose abruptly.  She
scrambled up the first bit of slope, her heart beating wildly,
expecting each second to hear the snap and crackle of rifle-fire.  She
turned and looked back; the floor of the valley was too uneven for her
to have a sweeping view.

She began climbing again.  Great boulders rose in her path; somehow she
got on them and over them.  Broken slabs of granite strewed the way;
she made of them steps on which to mount higher and higher.  Still no
sound of a shot and at last, upon a narrow shelf of rock offering
sufficient foothold, she stopped.

Here, with her back tight pressed to a rock, her hands gripping at
irregularities on each side of her to steady her, she sent her questing
gaze down into Drop Off Valley.

Now she understood why there had as yet been no rifle-fire.  The day,
coming on slowly, still offered more gloom than radiance, but she could
pick out two figures clearly.  One was that of Steve.  He had ridden on
ahead of his men, perhaps a hundred feet ahead, and was upon a bit of
higher ground.

The other form, bulking big in the thin light, was indisputably that of
old man Packard.  Like Steve, he had ridden on in advance of his men.
She could just make out a dull mass yonder behind him which might have
been but a group of boulders had not the impatient stirring showed
where his horsemen were waiting.

It was very still there on the uplands in the dim dawning.  In
breathless watchfulness a few men behind Steve watched; a few men
behind old man Packard watched; a girl upon a granite peak watched.
Down toward the lower end of the valley where the floor of the plateau
dropped precipitously into the steep-walled cañon the fire Terry had
set was still burning fiercely.  But the wind carried its fury away
from them, so that it was only an evil whisper.

Here and there, elsewhere in the valley, the fires still burned on.
There were wide stretches across which the flames had already swept so
that now they were ink-black, burnt-out, smoking a little.  Upon such
an open space, still hot under their horses' hoofs, the two Packards,
grandfather and grandson, came face to face.  And they were stern,
ominously set faces confronting each other.

At last they had pulled rein, both of them, looking grotesquely like
clockwork mechanisms, being actuated by the same impulse at the same
time.  Some ten feet only were between their horses' tossing heads.
They were almost opposite Terry's lookout and at no great distance.  In
the quiet pervading the valley their voices came to her.  Not each
word, but a word now and then, lifted above its fellows, and always the
purport.  For there was no mistaking the quality of the two voices.

Rage in old Packard was welcomed by wrath in young Packard.  Heat and
anger and explosive denunciation, these were to be looked for now.
Never had it been the Packard way to temporize; always had it been the
Packard way to leap in and strike.  Few-worded always was the old man;
as few-worded was the young man now.

"You are a damn' scoundrel, sir!"

"You will draw your men off.  You will pay for the damage Blenham has
done."

"By God, sir!"

There was little more said.  That thunderous "By God, sir!" from the
old man's lips carried to Terry where she stood tight pressed against
her rock.  And then all unexpectedly and from an unexpected quarter,
came the first rifle-shot.

The first shot and the second, close together.  The bullets passed
between grandfather and grandson, kicking up little puffs of dust
beyond them.  Neither looked to see whence the shots came.  The thought
was in each mind:

"Is this a Packard I am dealing with?  Setting one of his hired
assassins to shooting from a blind?"

The old man's rifle was thrown up before him; Steve's rose with it.
Over yonder old Packard's men squared themselves in their saddles and
made ready for grim work.  Yellow Barbee gave a signal all unneeded to
his men; his own rifle in his eager hands, was ready, the trigger
yielding to his calloused forefinger.

And then from the flinty spire of a peak rising between them and a sun
that was slowly wheeling into the clear sky, came scream after scream
that echoed and billowed across the open lands as Terry Temple, seeing
something of the truth, cried out in terrified desperation and warning.

A girl's voice screaming--Old man Packard turned sharply and stared in
wonderment.  Terry's voice--Steve swung about, his anger suddenly
quenched in alarm, his eyes seeking everywhere for her.

It was Barbee who saw her first.  Barbee called out, a strange note in
his voice, and clapped his spurs to his horse's sides and went racing
across the undulating lands toward her.  Then Steve saw and old man
Packard and the rest.  Saw but at first could not understand: the sun
was just behind her, winking into their eyes.  There was some one with
her, struggling with her.

"Blenham!" shouted Steve.

And he was racing wildly along after Barbee, yearning to shoot to kill
and yet not daring to shoot at all.  Blenham and Terry struggling upon
the iron side of the mountain, Terry striking and striking at him
frantically, Blenham with his arms about her, dragging her back toward
a wide fissure in the rocks, the sun bright above them.

To Terry it seemed that the universe had come crashing down about her
ears.  A moment ago, tense and rigid and breathless, she had stood
watching two men face each other threateningly.  Then there had been
the crack of the unexpected, unseen rifle; the dust struck up between
them; the second shot.  And the smoking rifle-barrel was not three feet
from where Terry stood, Blenham's convulsed face laid against the
stock, Blenham's one evil eye lining the sights.

Almost on the instant she guessed something of the truth.  Blenham in
this light was not sure of hitting; he would be a fool to shoot and
miss.  Unless--and it was then that she screamed out her warning, then
before he had so much as put out his hand toward her.

Unless Blenham, with all of the guile of him uppermost, knew that that
shot fired between the two would send them flying at each other's
throats, ending all parley and bringing about unthinkable tragedy.
Blenham had his own reasons for what he did; certainly it would fit in
with Blenham's plans to see the hand of a Packard set against a Packard.

But she had not thought to have him seize her.  Now his great,
calloused, soiled, hairy hands shut down upon her, gripping her
shoulders, jerking her from her place into the crevice from which his
face had emerged.  She fought, seeking to get the revolver in her
blouse.

Blenham must have known that she kept it there.  He snatched it and
threw it behind him and cursed her as he dragged her with him.  As
Barbee came on and Steve came just behind him, the figures of Blenham
and Terry were both gone as though the mountain-side had split for them
and closed after them.

"They've got in a hole," called out Barbee.  "Them mountains is full of
caves.  They can't get away far."

As they went up the steep slope Barbee was still in the lead.  He
mounted to the shelf of rock on which Terry had been standing.  He
stepped into the crevice through which Blenham had dragged Terry.

"There's a split in the rocks here," called Barbee.  "He went this way."

"Watch out for him!" warned Steve, now on the ledge close to the boy.
"Let me go ahead!"

Barbee laughed.

"Long ago I told him I'd get him!"

But Blenham was waiting in a little rock-rimmed hollow.  He shot from
the hip, using a heavy revolver.  Barbee stood a moment looking
foolishly at the sky as he slowly leaned back against the rock.  Then
he lurched and fell, twisting, spinning so that he lay half in the
fissure, his rifle clattering to the ledge outside, his body falling so
that his head and shoulders were across the rifle.

Steve stepped over Barbee's twitching body, alert, every nerve taut,
his finger crooked to the trigger of his rifle.  But again Blenham had
withdrawn.  In the little rudely circular hollow from which Blenham had
fired point-blank at Yellow Barbee was Terry's hat, trodden underfoot.
Again it was as though the mountain had swallowed the man and the girl
he had taken with him.

But a moment later Steve saw and understood.  Not ten steps from where
he stood was the mouth of a cave.  Into it Blenham had retreated.  In
there was Blenham now; Blenham and Terry with him.  And the way, for
the moment at least, was securely blocked.  Evidently here was a
hangout known before, previously employed.  It had a door made of heavy
cedar slabs.  The door was shut, and, of course, barred from within.

"Terry!" called Steve.

Terry sought to answer; he heard her voice in inarticulate terror,
little more than a gasp, choked back in her throat.  Steve went dead
white.  He visualized Blenham's hands upon her.

He came on to the door, his rifle clubbed.  There was but the one thing
to do; smash down the door and so come at Blenham the shortest,
quickest, only way.

Then Blenham called to him for the first time.

"Fool, are you, Steve Packard?  Look at that door.  Don't you know
before you can batter it down I can pick you off!  An' I can do more'n
that!"

As though he had cruelly drawn it from her, there came again Terry's
scream.  Steve sprang forward and struck at the heavy cedar planks.
And Blenham called out again:

"Maybe you can break your way in; there's enough of you.  But you'll
find her dead when the door falls!"

Steve had again lifted his rifle.  Now he let it sink slowly so that
the butt came to rest gently upon the rock at his feet.  Blenham held
the high hand; Blenham was unthinkably vile; Blenham was desperate.
And Terry, his little Terry on whom Blenham had always looked with the
eye of a brute and a beast, was in there, just beyond three inches of
solid seasoned cedar planking.

"If you harm her in the least--"  It was Steve's voice though certainly
at first neither Blenham nor even Terry could have recognized it.  "If
you harm her in the least, Blenham, I'll kill you.  Not all at
once--just by inches!"

Blenham answered him coolly.

"I know when I've lost a trick, Steve Packard.  This ain't the firs'
one an' it ain't goin' to be the last.  I've played 'em high an' I
always knowed I took chances.  But I'm playin' safe!  Get me?  Safe!"

"Go ahead; what do you mean?"

"Ol' man Packard is down there.  This girl's yellin' spoiled my play.
By now he has learned a thing or two.  All right; that's jus' the run
of luck, rotten luck!"

Under the words the restraint was gone and his rage flared out briefly.
But it was patent that Blenham's shrewdness was still with him.  He
continued almost calmly:

"You an' him can have two words together.  Then come back here an' give
me your promises, both of you, to let me go.  Then I'll let her go.
Otherwise, I'm as good as dead--an' so's she.  I'll jam a gun to her
head the las' thing an' blow her brains out.  An', what's more, I'll
get one or two of you besides before you drop me."

Into their parley, interrupting it, his eyes flaming, his face hot with
anger, mounted old man Packard.

"Stephen," he said sternly, his eyes hard on his grandson's face, "tell
me an' tell me the down-right truth, so help you God: Did you rent this
pasture from Andy Sprague, thinkin' he owned it?"

Though he wondered, Steve answered briefly, to have this done with so
that he could again turn to Blenham--

"Yes."

"An' the boys says you have been losin' stock an' blamin' it to me?
An' that you've had stock poisoned an' shot?  An' blamed it to me?"

"Yes," said Steve.

"So've I," said the old man heavily.  "An' I've always blamed it to
you.  An' I never sold to Andy Sprague.  Him an' Blenham--Blenham has
played us both ways for suckers, has stole enough cows from one an'
another----"

His voice was swept up into the roar of rage which had given him his
name of the old mountain-lion of the north.  He came stepping over poor
Barbee's body, thrusting by Steve, towering over the door of the cave.

"Hold back," commanded Steve queerly.  "He's in there.  But he's got it
on us.  We've got to promise to let him go!"

"Let him go!" shouted the old man, his big bulk seeming actually to
quiver with rage.  "After all he's done, let him go?  By the Lord,
Stephen Packard, if you're that sort of a man----"

"She is in there with him," said Steve heavily.  "Terry is in there.
Don't you see?"

"Terry?  That Temple girl?  What have we to do----"

"In the first place," cried Steve sharply, "she's a girl and he's a
brute.  In the second place, she is the next Mrs. Packard and I won't
have Blenham pawing over her!"

His grandfather stared at him, long and keenly.  Then he turned away
and called out commandingly--

"Blenham, come out of that!"

Blenham jeered at him.

"And be shot down like a dog?  There's a girl in here, Packard.  Young
Packard is gone on her; he wants to marry her.  An' unless you an' him
give your word to let me go, I'm goin' to jam a gun at her head an'
blow her brains out.  An' I'll get him as I come out; an' I'll get you."

"Let him go!" called Terry faintly.  "Let him go, Steve!  Oh, dear
God--if you love me----"

"Come out, Blenham!" shouted Steve.  "I give you my word, so help me
God, to let you go scot-free.  Come out!"

"Not so fast," mocked Blenham, lingering over his high card.  "You've
got to promise for your men; you've got to send 'em across the valley.
You've got to have a horse handy for me to ride.  You've got to back
down the valley yourse'f.  An' ol' man Packard has got to do the same."

Old man Packard roared out his curses, but in the end, seeing nothing
else to do, he went grumbling down the rocky slope, back to his horse
and to his men.  But first he had known perhaps the supreme humiliation
of his life.  He had said:

"Blenham, on my word of honor as a Packard an' a gentleman, I'll let
you go.  An' I'll make my men let you go."

And there were actually tears hanging to his lashes as he swung again
into his saddle.

"He has not hurt you, Terry?" asked Steve before he too would go down
the slope.

"No," cried Terry.  "No, no!  But, oh, hurry, hurry, Steve.  I feel
that I'll smother, I'll die!"

From down in the valley they watched, close to a score of hard-eyed,
wrath-filled men, as Blenham stepped out of the crevice and on to the
ledge.  They saw how he jeered as he stepped over the body of the man
he had shot.

"A fool was Barbee," he called.  "A fool the Packards, ol' an' young!"

They saw him come down the slope, carrying himself with a swaggering
air of braggadocio, but plainly watchful and suspicious.  Terry had
come out upon the ledge and she too watched him.  He came down swiftly
and swung up into the saddle of the horse they had left for him.

And now at last his suspicion was past.  His triumph broke out like a
streak of evil light.

"I was ready to go," he called, "any time!"

He swung his arm out toward the blue hills of Old Mexico.

"Down there-----"

Barbee whom they had thought dead stirred a little where he lay.  The
rifle under him he thrust forward six inches.

"Blenham!" he called weakly.

Blenham swung about and fired, again from the hip.  But he had fired
hastily.  Barbee's rifle, resting upon the rock, was steady.  Between
its muzzle and Blenham's broad chest there was but the brief distance
of some fifty feet.  The report of Barbee's rifle, the thin upcurling
smoke under the new sun--these were the chief matters in all the world
for their little fragment of time.

Then Blenham threw out his arms and pitched forward.  His foot caught
in the stirrup.  The frightened horse was plunging, running, dragging a
man whose body was whipped this way and that.

"I promised--a long time ago," whispered Barbee, "that I'd get you,
Blenham."



CHAPTER XXVII

IN HONOR OF THE FAIRY QUEEN!

"Guy Little!"

The old man's voice boomed out mightily as the old man himself strode
back and forth impatiently in the big barn-like library of his ranch
home.  Guy Little appeared with a promptness savoring either of magic
or prepared expectancy.

"You rang, your majesty?"

"Rang, your foot!" shouted old Packard.  "I hollered my ol' head off.
What's the day of the week, Guy Little?"

"It's Wednesday, your----"

"An' what's the day of the month?"

"It's the nineteenth, your----"

"Then tell me, sir," and the old man's tone was angry and challenging
to a remarkable degree, "why in the name of the devil my gran'son,
Stephen, ain't showed up yet!"

Guy Little might have remarked that it was rather early to expect any
one to show up.  It was not yet six o'clock of a morning which promised
to be one of the very finest mornings ever known.  The old man had, as
Guy Little expressed it, "been prancin' an' pawin' aroun'," for an hour.

Guy Little grinned like any cherub.

"He has showed up," he chuckled, though he had meant to hold back the
tidings teasingly.  "He come in late las' night.  You was asleep an'
sleepin' soun', so----"

"He did, did he?" bellowed the old man.  "Crept in like a damn' thief
in the night, did he?  Well, where is he now?  Sleepin' yet, I'll be
bound.  When he ought to be up an'--  Why, when I was a young devil his
age----"

"He's outside somewhere," said Guy Little.  "He has been down to the
crick for a mornin' dip, I'd guess, your majesty."

"Why would you guess that?"

"Because pretty near all he had on was a towel an' a--a sort of
a----immodes' britch-cloth," explained Guy Little confidentially.

"An'," continued old man Packard, "where's--she?"

"Meanin' the Fairy Queen, your majesty?"  Guy Little's voice was now a
whisper.

"Meanin' her--the Fairy Queen," said the old man gently.  "Sleepin',
Guy Little?  I won't have her woke!"

"Woke, your eyebrow!" chuckled Guy Little.  "I'd say she's gone for
a--a dip, too, your majesty.  An'--an', between just the two of us ol'
fellers, hers is purty near as immodes' as his!  Fact, an' I don't care
whose granddaughter she is.  Blue, you know; an' not very much of it.
An' a red cap.  An'--I couldn't see very well through the curtains an'
I dasn't let 'em know I was lookin'.  Only don't you let her know we
know; why, bless her little simple heart, she ain't got the least idea
how pretty an'--an'----immodes'----"

Old man Packard fixed him with a knowing eye.

"Ain't she?" he demanded.  "Ain't she, Guy Little?  Why, if there's one
thing in this world worth knowin' that my granddaughter don't know--
Go order breakfas' ready in two shakes, Guy Little."

"I did," said Guy Little.  "It's ready already.  There they come.
Happy-lookin', ain't they?  Like a couple kids."

"An' see that them two new saddle-horses is ready right after breakfas'
for 'em, Guy Little."

"They're ready now," chuckled Guy Little.  "I remembered."

"An--an' she likes----"

"Flowers on the table?  An' her grapefruit stacked high with sugar?
An' the coffee with hot milk?  Don't I know nothin' a-tall, Packard?"

Steve and Terry, dripping and laughing, breaking into a run as they
came on across the meadow, spied the big man and the little at the
window and shouted a joyous good morning and Terry threw them a kiss
apiece.  And old man Packard, his hands on his hips, a look of
absolute, ineffable content in his eyes, said softly:

"I've made a mistake or two in my life, Guy Little.  But ain't I lived
long enough to squeeze in a blunder or so here an' there?  An' I've
made a mistake a time or two on a man."

"Blenham did fool you pretty slick," suggested Guy Little.

"But," went on the old man hurriedly, "I know a real, upstandin',
thoroughbred----"

"Fairy Queen of a woman."

"Fairy Queen of a woman when I see her.  An' that little thing out
there, her eyes shinin' like I ain't seen a pair of eyes shine for
more'n fifty year, Guy Little--why, sir, she's what I call a--  Why,
she's a Packard, man!"





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