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Title: The Furnace of Gold
Author: Mighels, Philip Verrill
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 "The Furnace of Gold" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



The Furnace of Gold

By

PHILIP VERRILL MIGHELS



Author of

THE PILLARS OF EDEN, BRUVVER JIM'S BABY, ETC



Illustrations by

J. N. MARCHAND



GROSSET & DUNLAP

Publishers   ::   New York



Copyright, 1909, by

P. V. Mighels


Copyright, 1910, by

Desmond FitzGerald, Inc.



_All Rights Reserved_



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

       I.  PRINCE OR BANDIT
      II.  INTO THE MOUNTAINS
     III.  A RESCUE
      IV.  CONGENIAL COMPANY
       V.  VAN'S PARTNERS
      VI.  THE BATTLE
     VII.  AN EXCHANGE OF QUESTIONS
    VIII.  A NIGHT'S EXPENSES
      IX.  PROGRESS AND SALT
       X.  THE LAUGHING WATER CLAIM
      XI.  ALGY STIRS UP TROUBLE
     XII.  BOSTWICK LOSES GROUND
    XIII.  A COMBINATION OF FORCES
     XIV.  MOVING A SHACK
      XV.  HATCHING A PLOT
     XVI.  INVOLVING BETH
    XVII.  UNEXPECTED COMPLICATIONS
   XVIII.  WHEREIN MATTERS THICKEN
     XIX.  VAN AND BETH AND BOSTWICK
      XX.  QUEENIE
     XXI.  IN THE SHADOW OF THE ROPE
    XXII.  TWO MEETINGS AFTER DARK
   XXIII.  BETH'S DESPERATION
    XXIV.  A BLIZZARD OF DUST
     XXV.  A TIMELY DELIVERANCE
    XXVI.  THE NIGHT IN THE DESERT
   XXVII.  TALL STORIES
  XXVIII.  WORK AND SONG
    XXIX.  SUSPICIOUS ANSWERS
     XXX.  BETH'S ONE EXPEDIENT
    XXXI.  McCOPPET BUSIES HIS MIND
   XXXII.  THE HARDSHIPS OF THE TRAIL
  XXXIII.  THE CLOUDS OF TROUBLE GATHER
   XXXIV.  THE TAKING OF THE CLAIM
    XXXV.  THE MEETINGS OF TWO STRONG MEN
   XXXVI.  VAN RUNS AMUCK
  XXXVII.  THE PRIMITIVE LAW
 XXXVIII.  BETH MAKES DEMANDS
   XXXIX.  ALGY'S COOKING AND BETH'S DESPAIR
      XL.  GLEN AND REVELATIONS
     XLI.  SUVY PROVES HIS LOVE
    XLII.  THE FURNACE OF GOLD
   XLIII.  PREPARING THE NET FOR A DRAW
    XLIV.  THE ENGINES OF CLIMAX
     XLV.  THE LAST CIGARS
    XLVI.  WASTED TIME
   XLVII.  A TRIBUTE TO THE DESERT



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


He Proceeded to Pan from a Dozen Different
  Places in the Cove . . . . Frontispiece [missing from book]

His Hold Was Giving Way

The Angry Miner Lurching in Closer to Shoot [missing from book]

"Don't You Want to Give This Man a Chance?"

Beth Felt Her Heart Begin New Gymnastics [missing from book]

No Corpse Snatched from Its Grave Could Have
  Been More Helplessly Inert

"Yesh, He's Broke the Law"

Till the Mechanism Burst, He would Chase His
  Man Across the Desert [missing from book]



THE FURNACE OF GOLD


CHAPTER I

PRINCE OR BANDIT

Now Nevada, though robed in gray and white--the gray of sagebrush and the
white of snowy summits--had never yet been accounted a nun when once
again the early summer aroused the passions of her being and the wild
peach burst into bloom.

It was out in Nauwish valley, at the desert-edge, where gold has been
stored in the hungry-looking rock to lure man away from fairer pastures.
There were mountains everywhere--huge, rugged mountains, erected in the
igneous fury of world-making, long since calmed.  Above them all the sky
was almost incredibly blue--an intense ultramarine of extraordinary
clearness and profundity.

At the southwest limit of the valley was the one human habitation
established thereabout in many miles, a roadside station where a spring
of water issued from the earth.  Towards this, on the narrow, side-hill
road, limped a dusty red automobile.

It contained three passengers, two women and a man.  Of the women, one
was a little German maid, rather pretty and demure, whose duty it was to
enact the chaperone.  The other, Beth Kent, straight from New York City,
well--the wild peach was in bloom!

She was amazingly beautiful and winning.  It seemed as if she and not the
pink mountain blossoms must be responsible for all that haunting
redolence in this landscape of passionless gray.  Her brown eyes burned
with glorious luminosity.  Her color pulsed with health and the joyance
of existence.  Her red lips quivered with unuttered ecstacies that surged
in the depths of her nature.  Even the bright brown strands of her hair,
escaping the prison of her cap, were catching the sunlight and flinging
it off in the most engaging animation.  She loved this new, unpeopled
land--the mountains, the sky, the vastness of it all!

For a two-fold reason she had come from New York to Nevada.  In the first
place her young half-brother, Glenville Kent--all the kin she had
remaining in the world--had been for a month at Goldite camp, where she
was heading, and all that he wrote had inflamed her unusual love of
adventure till she knew she must see it for herself.  Moreover, he was
none too well.  She had come to visit and surprise him.

In the second place, her fiancé, Searle Bostwick, he who was now at the
wheel, had also been marooned, as it were, in this sagebrush land, by the
golden allurements of fortune.  Beth had simply made up her mind to come,
and for two days past had been waiting, with her maid, at the pretty
little town of Freemont, on the railroad, for Searle to appear in his
modern ship of the desert and treat her to the one day's drive into
Goldite, whither he also was bound.

The man now intent on the big machine and the sandy road was a noticeable
figure, despite the dust upon his raiment.  He was a tall, well-modeled
man of thirty-five, with an air of distinction upon him, materially
heightened by his deep-set, piercing gray eyes, his firm, bluish jaw, and
the sprinkling of frost in his hair.

He wore no moustache.  His upper lip, somewhat over long, bore that same
bluish tint that a thick growth of beard, even when diligently shaved,
imparted to his face.  He was, indeed, a handsome being, in a somewhat
stern, determined style.

He was irritated now by the prospect of labor at the station.  Even
should he find some willing male being whose assistance with the tire
might be invoked, the task would still involve himself rather
strenuously; and above all things he loathed rough usage of his hands.
For three more miles he cursed the mechanism, then he halted the car at
the station.

A shack that served as lodging-house, saloon, and dining-room, a shack
for a stable, and a shack for a shed, together with a rough corral,
comprised the entire group of buildings at the place.  Six or eight fine
cottonwoods and a number of twisted apple trees made the little place
decidedly inviting.  Behind these, rising almost sheer from the level
yard, the mountains heaved upward grayly, their vast bulk broken, some
hundred yards away, by a yawning rock canyon, steep and forbidding.

The station proprietor, who emerged from the door at sound of the halting
machine, was a small, lank individual, as brown as an Indian and as
wrinkled as a crocodile.  The driver in the car addressed him shortly.

"I wonder if you can help me put on a tire?"

The lank little host regarded him quietly, then looked at the women and
drew his hand across his mouth.

"Wal, I dunno," he answered.  "I've set a tire and I've set a hen, but I
wouldn't like to tell ye what was hatched."

The girl in the tonneau laughed in frank delight--a musical outburst that
flattered the station host tremendously.  The man at the wheel was
already alighting.

"You'll do," he said.  "My name is Bostwick.  I'm on my way to Goldite,
in a hurry.  It won't take us long, but it wants two men on the job."

He had a way of thrusting his disagreeable tasks upon his fellow beings
before they were prepared either to accept or refuse a proposition.  He
succeeded here so promptly that the girl in the car made no effort to
restrain her amusement.  She was radiantly smiling as she leaned above
the wheel where the two men were presently at work.

In the midst of the toil a sound of whistling came upon the air.  The
girl in the auto looked up, alertly.  It was the Toreador's song from
Carmen that she heard, riotously rendered.  A moment later the whistler
appeared--and an exclamation all but escaped the girl's red, parted lips.

Mounted on a calico pony of strikingly irregular design, a horseman had
halted at the bend of a trail that led to the rear of the station.  He
saw the girl and his whistling ceased.

From his looks he might have been a bandit or a prince.  He was a roughly
dressed, fearless-looking man of the hills, youthful, tall, and as
carelessly graceful in the saddle as a fish in its natural clement.

The girl's brown eyes and his blue eyes met.  She did not analyze the
perfect symmetry or balance of his features; she only knew his hair and
long moustache were tawny, that his face was bronzed, that his eyes were
bold, frank depths of good humor and fire.  He was splendid to look
at--that she instantly conceded.  And she looked at him steadily till a
warm flush rose to the pink of her ears, when her glance fell, abashed,
to the pistol that hung on his saddle, and so, by way of the hoofs of his
pinto steed, to the wheel, straight down where she was leaning.

The station-keeper glanced up briefly.

"Hullo, Van," was all he said.

The horseman made no reply.  He was still engaged in looking at the girl
when Bostwick half rose, with a tool in hand, and scowled at him silently.

It was only a short exchange of glances that passed between the pair,
nevertheless something akin to a challenge played in the momentary
conflict, as if these men, hurled across the width of a continent to
meet, had been molded by Fate for some antagonistic clash, the essence of
which they felt thus soon with an utter strangeness between them.

Bostwick bent promptly to his labors with the tire.  The girl in the
tonneau stepped past her maid and opened the door on the further side of
the car.  Bostwick stood up at once.

"I wouldn't get out, Beth--I wouldn't get out," he said, a little
impatiently.  "We'll be ready to go in five minutes."

Nevertheless she alighted.

"Don't hurry on my account," she answered.  "The day is getting warm."

The eyes of both Bostwick and the horseman followed her graceful figure
as she passed the front of the car and proceeded towards the orchard.
Above the medium height and superbly modeled, she appeared more beautiful
now than before.  She had not descended for a change of position, or even
to inspect the place.  As a matter of fact she was hoping to secure a
profile view of the bold-looking horseman on the pony.  Her opportunity
soon arrived.  He spoke to the station proprietor.

"Want to see you for a moment, Dave," and he rode a little off to a tree.

Dave ceased helping on the tire with marked alacrity and went to the
horseman at once.  The two engaged in an earnest conversation, somewhat
of which obviously concerned the auto and its passengers, since the lank
little host made several ill-concealed gestures in the car's direction
and once turned to look at the girl.

She had halted by the orchard fence from which, as a post of vantage, she
was apparently looking over all the place.  Her brown eyes, however,
swung repeatedly around to the calico pony and its rider.

Yes, she agreed, the horseman was equal to the scene.  He fitted it all,
mountains, sky, the sense of wildness and freedom in the air.  What was
he, then?  Undoubtedly a native--perhaps part Indian--perhaps----

There was something sinister, she was certain, in the glance he cast
towards the car.  He was armed.  Could it be that he and the station man
were road-agents, plotting some act of violence?  They were certainly
talking about the machine, or its owner, with exceptional earnestness of
purpose.

Bostwick had finished with the tire.

"Come along, Beth, come along!" he called abruptly.

No sooner had she turned to walk to the car than the horseman rode up in
her path.  Her heart sank suddenly with misgivings.  She halted as the
unknown visitor addressed himself to Bostwick.

"May I speak to you a moment privately?"

Bostwick bristled with suspicions at once.

"I have nothing of a private nature to discuss with you," he answered.
"If you have anything to say to me, please say it and be prompt."

The horseman changed color, but lost no whit of the native courtesy that
seemed a part of his being.

"It isn't particularly private," he answered quietly.  "I only wished to
say I wouldn't rush off to Goldite this morning.  I'd advise you to stay
here and rest."

Bostwick, already irritated by delay, and impervious to any thought of a
possible service in the horseman's attitude, grew more impatient and far
more irritating.

"I haven't desired your advice," he answered sharply.  "Be good enough to
keep it to yourself."  He advanced to the station owner, held out a bill,
and added: "Here you are, my man, for your trouble."

"Heck!" said the lank little host.  "I don't want your money."

Across the horseman's handsome visage passed a look that, to the girl,
boded anything but peace.  Bostwick's manner was an almost intolerable
affront, in a land where affronts are resented.  However, the stranger
answered quietly, despite the fact that Bostwick nettled him to an
extraordinary degree.

"I agree that the sooner _you_ vamoose, the prompter the improvement in
the landscape.  But you're not going off to Goldite with these ladies in
the car."

Matters might still have culminated differently had Bostwick even asked a
civil "Why?" for Van was a generous and easy-going being.

Beth, in the road, felt her heart beat violently, with vague excitement
and alarm.  Bostwick glared, in sudden apprehension as to what the
horseman had in mind.

"Is this a hold-up?" he demanded.  "What do you mean?"

The rider dismounted, in a quick, active manner, and opened the door of
the tonneau.

"You wouldn't have thanked me for advice," he replied; "you would hardly
thank me more for information."  He added to the maid in the car:

"Please alight, your friend is impatient to be starting."  He nodded
towards the owner of the auto.

The maid came down, demurely, casting but a glance at the tall,
commanding figure by the wheel.  He promptly lifted out a suitcase and
three decidedly feminine-looking bags.

Bostwick by now was furious.

"It's an outrage!" he cried, "a dastardly outrage!  You can see I am
wholly unarmed!  Do you mean to restrain these ladies here by force?"

The horseman slipped his arm through the reins of his pony's bridle,
surveying Bostwick calmly.

"Do you mean to desert them if I do?  I have not yet ordered you to
leave."

"Ordered me to leave!" echoed the car owner fiercely.  "I can neither be
ordered to leave nor to stay!  But I shall go--do you hear?--I shall
go--and the ladies with me!  If you mean to rob us, do so at once and
have it over!  My time is precious, if yours is not!"

Van smiled.  "I might be tempted to rob a gentleman," he said, "but to
deprive your passengers of your company would be a charity.  Pray waste
no more of your precious time if that is your only concern."

Beth had regained a shadow of her former composure.  Her courage had
never been absent.  She was less alarmed than before and decidedly
curious as to what this encounter might signify.  She dared address the
horseman.

"But--but surely--you seem----  You must have some excellent reason
for--for acting so peculiarly."

He could not repress the brightness in his eyes as he met her
half-appealing gaze.

"Reason, advice, and information would apparently be alike unwelcome to
your chauffeur," he answered, doffing his hat.  "He is eager to hasten on
his way, therefore by all means let us bid him begone."

Bostwick grew rapidly wilder at each intimation of his social standing--a
friend of the maid, and Beth's chauffeur!  His impatience to proceed with
all possible haste to Goldite was consuming.  He had not intended that
anything under the sun should delay him another single hour--not even
Beth, should occasion arise to detain her.  Even now he was far more
concerned about himself and the business of his mission than he was for
the women in his charge.  He was much afraid, however, of the horseman's
visible gun.  He was not at all a person of courage, and the man before
him presented such an unknown quantity that he found himself more or less
helpless.  At most he could merely attempt a bluff.

"You'll pay for this!" he cried somewhat shrilly, his face a black mask
of anger.  "I'll give you just half a minute to release these ladies and
permit them to go with me in peace!  If you refuse----"

The horseman interrupted.

"I said before you had not been ordered on your way, but now I've changed
my mind.  Don't talk any more--get into your car and hike!"

The gleam in his eye achieved two results: It cowed the last vestige of
bravado in Bostwick's composition and ignited all the hatred of his
nature.  He hesitated for a moment, his lips parting sidewise as if for a
speech of defiance which his moral courage refused to indorse.  Then, not
daring to refuse the horseman's command, he climbed aboard the car, the
motor of which had never ceased its purring.

"You'll pay for this!" he repeated.

The girl, now pale again and tremendously disturbed, was regarding
Bostwick with a new, cold light in her eyes--a light that verged upon
contempt.  She had never seen this lack of courageous spirit in the man
before.

"But, Searle!  You're not going--you're not really going, like this?"

It was the horseman who replied.

"You see, his time is precious.  Also in his present state of mind he is
certainly unfit company for--well, for Dave, here, a man who loves the
pure white dove of peace."  The station owner grinned.  Van turned once
more to the car owner, adding, placidly: "There, there, driver----"

Bostwick broke in vehemently.

"I refuse to abandon these ladies!  Your conduct is not only that of a
coward, it is----"

Van looked him over in mock astonishment.

"Say, Searle," he said, "don't you savvy you've lost your vote in this
convention?  I told you to do these ladies the kindness to sweeten the
atmosphere with your absence.  Now you hit the trail--and hit it quick!"

Bostwick looked helplessly at the girl.

"I am entirely unarmed," he said as before, though she knew there was a
pistol in the car.  "This ruffian----"

The horseman cut him short.

"So long, Searle.  I trust you'll meet congenial company on the road, but
I advise you even now to return the way you came."

Bostwick glared at him vindictively, but impotently.  His jaw was set and
hard.  A cold fire glittered in his eyes.  How selfishly eager he was to
be started on his way not even the girl could have known.  Moreover, some
sort of plan for the horseman's speedy punishment had taken possession of
his mind.

"Have courage, Beth," he said to the girl.  "Have courage."

He speeded up his motor, dropped in his clutch, and the car slowly
started on its way.



CHAPTER II

INTO THE MOUNTAINS

Beth stood perfectly still beside the road, watching the auto round the
hill where it presently disappeared from view.  The station owner
picked up a sliver of wood and began to whittle industriously.  The
horseman remained with his bridle reins in hand, amusedly looking at
his captive.  The maid sat down upon the suitcase, dropped her skirt in
a modest little manner, and cast her gaze upon the ground.

Beth was the first to speak.

"Well, Elsa, I hope you are comfortable."

"Yes, Miss, thank you," said the maid.

Thereupon Miss Kent turned to the horseman and laughed.  Someway she
could not feel alarmed, in the presence of this man of the hills, in
whose eyes merry devils were dancing.

"Isn't this absurd?" she said.

"Searle must have been born absurd," replied the horseman, once more
removing his hat.  He waved it towards the station host imperiously.
"Dave, present me to the lady."  And as Dave floundered, hopelessly
puzzled, he added: "Give me a knock-down, man, don't you savvy?"

Dave dropped his sliver, snatched off his hat, and rid himself of a
quid of something strong--all in one convulsion of activity.

"'Scuse me," he apologized, approaching nearer.  "Miss--Miss--Miss
Laffin' Water, this is Van.  His whole name's----"

"That's enough," Van interrupted.  "I'm gratified to meet you,
Señorita, I'm sure."

He extended his hand.  Beth knew not what to do, wherefore she gave him
her own.

"How do you do, Mr. Van?" she answered tremulously, and she drew her
fingers back again at once.  "If you don't mind," she added, "we really
must continue on to Goldite as soon as possible."  A fleeting look of
doubt and alarm had swept all the mirth from her eyes.  After all, even
with this "introduction" what were these men's intentions?  It was a
grave affair to be halted thus--to be practically abducted--to be left
with no protection, in the hands of roadside strangers, one, at least,
of whom was certainly inclined to be lawless and outrageously bold.

The horseman regarded her seriously, as if with a certain divination of
her worry.  Someway, from the look in his eyes her confidence returned,
she knew not why.

"Do you ride?" he asked her, "--you and your maid?"

"Why, yes--that is----" she addressed the maid on the suitcase.  "Elsa,
can you ride--on a horse?"

Elsa said: "Yes, Miss, if it is part of my duty."

Beth's composure increased.  After all, it was a glorious day, the
horseman was handsome, and she had wished for a little adventure--but
not too much!

"What does it mean?" she asked of Van more boldly.  "We were perfectly
comfortable, riding in the car.  If you really intend to permit us to
go, why couldn't we have gone on as we were?"

Dave started to answer.

"You see, Miss----"

Van cut in abruptly.

"Never mind, Dave; this isn't your pie."  To Beth he added: "If you've
brought any particularly appropriate garments for riding, suppose you
retire for preparations.  Dave will tote the bags inside the house."

"You bet I will!" said Dave, who, as Elsa rose, took suitcase and all
in one load.

Beth hesitated.  The horseman had started already for the stable at the
rear.  How superbly straight was his figure!  What a confident,
impudent grace beset him as he moved!  How could it be possible for
such a man to be other than a gentleman--no matter where he was found?
Some strange little thrill of excitement and love of adventure stirred
in the girl's full veins.  Resistance was useless.  Come what might,
she was helpless in the hands of this man--and he seemed a person to be
trusted.

"Come, Elsa," she said, bravely deciding to face whatsoever might
arise.  "You may wear the second of my skirts."

Fifteen minutes later, therefore, she and her maid emerged from the
shack attired in brown cloth, and kahki, respectively, her own skirt
long and graceful, while Elsa's was shorter and divided.  Aside or
cross-saddle Beth was equally at home upon a horse--or always had been,
in the parks.

Van and Dave now returned, leading two extra ponies from the stable.
One was a bay, accoutered with a man's deep Mexican saddle, whereon was
secured a coiled lasso; the other was a wiry little roan mare, with a
somewhat decrepit but otherwise sound side-saddle tightly cinched upon
her back.

"Our stable chamberlain has slipped a cog on the outfits for ladies
recently," said Van apologetically, "but I reckon these will have to
do."

Beth looked the two mounts over uncritically.  They seemed to be
equally matched, as to general characteristics, since neither appeared
either strong or plump.  She said:

"Shall we ride very far?"

"No, just a pleasant little jog," replied the horseman.  "They call it
forty miles to Goldite by the ridge, but it isn't an inch over thirty."

Thirty miles!--over the mountains!--with an unknown man and her maid!
Beth suppressed a gasp of despair and astonishment, not to mention
trepidation, by making an effort that verged upon the heroic.

"But we--we can never arrive in Goldite tonight!" she said.  "We can't
expect to, can we?"

"It takes more than that to kill these bronchos," Van cheerfully
assured her.  "I can only guarantee that the horses will make it--by
sunset."

Beth flushed.  He evidently entertained a very poor notion of her
horsemanship.  Her pride was aroused.  She would show him something--at
least that no horse could make this journey without her!

"Thank you," she said, and advancing to the roan she addressed herself
to Dave.  "Will you please help me up.  Mr. Van may assist my maid."

Dave grinned and performed his offices as best he could, which was
strongly, if not with grace.  Van shook a threatening fist, behind his
captive's back.  He had meant to take this honor to himself.

Fairly tossing the greatly delighted little Elsa to the seat on the
bay, he mounted his own sturdy animal and immediately started for the
canyon below, leaving Beth and her maid to trail behind.

The girl's heart all but failed her.  Whither were they going?--and
towards what Fate?  What could be the outcome of a journey like this,
undertaken so blindly, with no chance for resistance?  The horseman had
stubbornly refused a reply to her question; he was calmly riding off
before them now with the utmost indifference to her comfort.  There was
nothing to do but to follow, and resign herself to--the Lord alone knew
what.  The little roan mare, indeed, required no urging; she was
tugging at the bit to be off.  With one last look of helplessness at
the station and Dave--who someway bore the hint of a fatherly air upon
him--she charged her nerves with all possible resolution and rode on
after her leader.

Elsa permitted her broncho to trudge at the tail of the column.  She
dared to cast one shy, disconcerting little glance at Dave--and he
suddenly felt he would burst into flame and consume himself utterly to
ashes.

The great canyon yawned prodigiously where its rock gates stood open to
grant the party admission to the sanctum of the hills.  Sheer granite
walls, austere and frowning, rose in sculptured immensity on either
side, but the trail under foot was scored between some scattered
wild-peach shrubs, interspersed with occasional bright-green clumps of
manzanita.  The air was redolent of warmth and fragrance that might
with fitness have advertised the presence in the hills of some
glorified goddess of love--some lofty, invisible goddess, guarded by
her mountain snows, yet still too languorous and voluptuous to pass
without at least trailing on the summery air the breath that exhaled
from her being.  It was all a delight, despite vague alarms, and the
promise ahead was inviting.

Van continued straight onward, with never so much as a turn of his
head, to the horses in the rear.  He seemed to have quite forgotten the
two half-frightened women in his wake.  Beth had ample opportunity for
observing again the look of strength and grace upon him.  However, she
found her attention very much divided between tumultuous joyance in the
mountain grandeur, bathed in the marvelously life-exciting air, and
concern for the outcome of the day.  If a faint suggestion of pique at
the manner in which the horseman ignored her presence crept
subconsciously into all her meditations, she did not confess it to
herself.

Elsa's horrid little habit of accepting anything and everything with
the most irresponsible complacency rendered the situation aggravating.
It was so utterly impossible to discuss with such a being even such of
the morning's developments as the relationship of mistress and maid
might otherwise have permitted.

A mile beyond the mouth of the canyon the slight ascent was ended, the
chasm widened, rough slopes succeeded the granite walls, and a charming
little valley, emerald green and dotted with groups of quaking aspen
trees, stretched far towards the wooded mountain barriers, looming
hugely ahead.  It was like a dainty lake of grass, abundantly supplied
with little islands.

The sheer enchantment of it, bathed as it was in sun-gold, and
sheltered by prodigious, snow-capped summits, so intensely white
against the intensity of azure, aroused some mad new ecstacy in all
Beth's being.  She could almost have done something wild--she knew not
what; and all the alarm subsided from her thoughts.  As if in answer to
her tumult of joy, Van spurred his pinto to a gallop.  Instantly
responding to her lift of the reins, Beth's roan went romping easily
forward.  The bay at the rear, with Elsa, followed rhythmically,
pounding out a measure on the turf.

A comparatively short session of this more rapid locomotion sufficed
for the transit of the cove--that is, of the wide-open portion.  The
trail then dived out of sight in a copse where pine trees were
neighbors of the aspens.  Van disappeared, though hardly more than
fifty feet ahead.  Through low-hanging boughs, that she needs must push
aside, Beth followed blindly, now decidedly piqued by the wholly
ungallant indifference to her fate of the horseman leading the way.

She caught but a glimpse of him, now and again, in the density of the
growth.  How strange it was to be following thus, meekly, helplessly,
perforce with some sort of confidence, in the charge of this unknown
mountain man, to--whatsoever he might elect!  The utterly absurd part
of it all was that it was pleasant!

At length they emerged from the shady halls of trees, to find
themselves confronted by the wall of mountains.  Already Van was riding
up the slope, where larger pines, tall thickets of green chincopin, and
ledges of rock compelled the trail to many devious windings.  Once more
the horseman was whistling his Toreador refrain.  He did not look back
at his charges.  That he was watching them both, from the tail of his
eye, was a fact that Beth felt--and resented.

The steepness of the trail increased.  At times the meager pathway
disappeared entirely.  It lay upon rocks that gave no sign of the hoofs
that had previously rung metallic clinks upon the granite.  How the man
in the lead discerned it here was a matter Beth could not comprehend.
Some half-confessed meed of admiration, already astir in her nature for
the horseman and his way, increased as he breasted the ascent.  How
thoroughly at home--how much a part of it all he appeared, as he rode
upon his pony!

Two hours of steady climbing, with her mare oblique beneath her weight,
and Beth felt an awe in her being.  It was wonderful; it was almost
terrible, the fathomless silence, the altitudes, this heretofore
unexperienced intimacy with the mountains' very nakedness!  It was
strange altogether, and impressive, the vast unfolding of the world
below, the frequency with which the pathway skirted some dark
precipice--and the apparent unconcern of the man ahead, now so
absolutely master.  And still that soul-inviting exhilaration of the
air aroused those ecstacies within her spirit that she had not known
were there.

They were nearing the summit of the pass.  It was still a thousand feet
below the snow.  To the left a mighty chasm trenched the adamant, its
bottom lowered away to depths of mysterious blue.  Its side, above
which the three stout ponies picked their way, was a jagged set of
terraces, over the brink of which the descents were perpendicular.

Rising as if to bar the way, the crowning terrace apparently ended the
trail against all further advance.  Here Van finally halted,
dismounted, and waited for the advent of his charges.

Beth rode up uncertainly, her brown eyes closely scrutinizing his face.
It appeared as if they had come to the end of everything--the place for
leaping off into downward space.

"Let me see if the cinches are tight," said the horseman quietly, and
he looked to the girth of her saddle.

It was found to be in a satisfactory condition.  The girth on the bay
he tightened, carelessly pushing Elsa's foot and the stirrup aside for
the purpose.

His own horse now showed unmistakable signs of weariness.  He had
traveled some twenty odd miles to arrive at Dave's before undertaking
this present bit of hardship.  Since then Van had pushed him to the
limit of his strength and speed, in the effort to reach Goldite with
the smallest possible delay.

If a sober expression of sympathy came for a second in the horseman's
steady eyes, as he glanced where his pony was standing, it quickly gave
way to something more inscrutable as he looked up at Beth, in advancing
once more to the fore.

"Both of you give them the reins," he instructed quietly.  "Just drop
them down.  Let the bronchos pick the trail."  He paused, then added,
as if on second thought, "Shut your eyes if you find you're getting
dizzy--don't look down."

Beth turned slightly pale, in anticipation of some ordeal, undoubtedly
imminent, but the light in her eyes was one of splendid courage.  She
might feel they were all at the gate of something awful, but her nature
rose to meet it.  She said nothing; she simply obeyed directions and
looked with new emotions on the somewhat drooping mare to whom her own
safety was entrusted.

Van was once more in his saddle.  He started, and the ponies behind
resumed their faithful plodding at his heels.

A few rods ahead they encountered a change, and Beth could scarcely
repress a gasp of surprise and apprehension.  The trail was laid upon
the merest granite shelf, above that terrible chasm.  She was
terrified, frankly.  The man and pony in the lead were cut with
startling sharpness against the gray of the rock--the calico coloring,
the muscular intensity, the bending of the man to every motion--as they
balanced with terrifying slenderness above the pit of death.

For a moment the girl thought nothing of herself and of how she too
must pass that awful brink, for all her concern was focused on the man.
Then she realized what she must do--was doing--as her roan mare
followed on.  She was almost upon it herself!

Her hand flew down to the reins to halt the pony, involuntarily.  A
wild thought of turning and fleeing away from this shelf of destruction
launched itself upon her mind.  It was folly--a thing impossible.
There was nothing to do but go on.  Shutting her eyes and holding her
breath she felt the mare beneath her tremulously moving forward,
smelling out the places of security whereon to rest her weight.

Elsa, sublimely unresponsive, alike to the grandeur or the danger of
the place, rode as placidly here as in the valley.

They passed the first of the shelf-like brinks, traversed a safer
contour of the wall, and were presently isolated upon the second bridge
of granite, which was also the last, much longer than the first, but
perhaps not so narrow or winding.

Van had perspired in nervous tension, as the two women rode above the
chasm.  Men had gone down here to oblivion.  He was easier now, more
careless of himself and horse, less alert for a looseness in the
granite mass, as he turned in his saddle to look backward.

Suddenly, with a horrible sensation in his vitals, he felt his pony
crumpling beneath him, even as he heard Beth sound a cry.

A second later he was going, helplessly, with the air-rush in his ears
and the pony's quiver shivering up his spine.  All bottomless space
seemed to open where they dropped.  He kicked loose the stirrups, even
as the pony struck upon the first narrow terrace, ten feet down, and
felt the helpless animal turned hoofs and belly upward by the blow.

He had thrust himself free--apart from the horse--but could not cling
to the rotten ledge for more than half a second.  Then down once more
he was falling, as before, only a heart-beat later than the pinto.

Out of the lip of the next shelf below the pony's weight tore a jagged
fragment.  The animal's neck was broken, and he and the stone-mass
plunged on downward together.

Van half way fell through a stubborn bush--that clung with the
mysterious persistency of life to a handful of soil in a crevice--and
his strong hands closed upon its branches.

He was halted with a jolt.  The pony hurtled loosely, grotesquely down
the abyss, bounding from impacts with the terraces, and was presently
lost to mortal sight in the dust and debris he carried below for a
shroud.  Sounds of his striking--dull, leaden sounds, tremendous in the
all-pervading silence--came clearly up to the top.  Then Van found his
feet could be rested on the shelf, and he let himself relax to ease his
arms.



CHAPTER III

A RESCUE

Beth had uttered that one cry only, as man and horse careened above the
pit.  She now sat dumbly staring where the two had disappeared.
Nothing could she see of Van or his pony.  A chill of horror attacked
her, there in the blaze of the sun.  It was not, even then, so much of
herself and Elsa she was thinking--two helpless women, lost in this
place of terrible silence; she was smitten by the fate of their guide.

Van, for his part, looked about as best he might, observing his
situation comprehensively.  He was safe for the moment.  The ledge
whereon he was bearing a portion of his weight was narrow and crumbling
with old disintegration.  The shrub to which he clung was as tough as
wire cable, and had once been stoutly rooted in the crevice.  Now,
however, its hold had been weakened by the heavy strain upon it, and
yet he must continue to trust a part of his weight to its branches.
There was nothing, positively nothing, by which he could hope to climb
to the trail up above.

He deliberately rested and fostered his breath, not a trifle of which
had been jolted in violence from his body.  Presently he raised his
voice and called out, as cheerfully as possible:

"Ship ahoy!  Hullo--Miss Laughing Water!"

For a moment there was no response.  Beth was to utterly overcome to
speak.  She hardly dared believe it was his call she heard, issuing up
from the tomb.  She feared that her hope, her frantic imagination, her
wish to have it so, had conjured up a voice that had no genuine
existence.  Her lips moved, but made no audible sound.  She trembled
violently.  Van called again, with more of his natural power.

"Hullo!  Hullo!  Miss Beth--are you up there on the trail?"

"Oh, yes!  Oh! what shall I do?" cried Beth in a sudden outburst of
relief and pent-up emotions.  "Tell me what to do!"

Van knew she was rather near at hand.  The bridge and trail were
certainly no more than twenty-five feet above his head.  He could make
her hear with little effort.

"Brace up and keep your nerve," he instructed.  "We're O.K. up to date.
Just ride ahead till you come to the flat.  Let Elsa hold your mare.
Can you hear me plainly?"

"Oh! yes--yes--then what next?" replied the worried girl.

Van resumed calmly: "You'll find a rawhide rope on Elsa's saddle.  Come
back with that, on foot.  Then I'll tell you what to do.  Don't try to
hurry; take your time, and don't worry."  After a moment, as he got no
reply, he added: "Have you started?"

Beth had not budged her mare, for terror of what she must do.  She was
fortifying all her resolution.  She answered with genuine bravery:

"Yes--I--I'll do what you say."

She took up the reins.  Her pale face was set, but she did not close
her eyes to cross the dizzying brink.  The mare went forward--and
Elsa's bay resumed his patient tagging, up to and past the fateful
place where a part of the shelf-edge, having been dislodged, had let
Van's pony fall.

For ten age-long minutes Van waited on his ledge, feeling the
treacherous, rotted stuff break silently away beneath his feet.  The
shrub, too, was showing an earthy bit of root as it slowly but
certainly relinquished its hold on the substance which the crevice had
divided.  The man could almost have calculated how many seconds the
shelf and the shrub could sustain their living burden.

Then Beth returned.  She had left her maid with the horses; she held
the lasso in her hand.  To creep on foot along the granite bridge was
taxing the utmost of her courage.  She could not ascertain precisely
where it was that the horseman was waiting below.  She was guided only
by the broken ledge, where pony and all had disappeared.  Therefore,
she called to him weakly.

"Mr. Van--Mr. Van--where are you?"

Van's heart turned over in his breast.

"Just below that split boulder in the trail," he answered cheerily.
"Go to that."

A silence succeeded, then he heard, in tremulous accents:

"I'm here--but how am I going to tie the rope?"

Van answered distinctly, for much depended on precision.

"Uncoil it first.  On one end there's an eye that runs the loop.  Open
the loop to a pretty good size and slip it over the smaller portion of
the boulder.  Then push it well down in the crevice, and pull it tight."

He knew that the rope was far too short to loop the larger rock and
reach his hands.  He waited while he thought she might be working--as
indeed she was--and presently added: "Got that done?"

"Yes," she called.  "Yes--but are you sure----"

His hold was giving way.  He answered crisply:

"Now drop me the end.  Don't wait!"

[Illustration: His hold was giving way.]

Beth had forgotten all danger to herself.  She had ceased to tremble.
She paid out the rope with commendable promptness.

"Does it reach?" she cried.  "Can you get it?"

He could not.  Though sufficiently long it was ten feet away, on his
right.  His seconds were growing fearfully precious.

"Just shift it over, more towards Elsa," he called, still calmly.
"Move it about ten feet."

It began to approach him jerkily.  It halted, then once more it moved.
The shrub in his grasp gave out an inch, and was coming from its
anchorage.  Then his fist was closed on the rope.

"All right!" he called.  "Let go--and stand aside!"

"But--oh, if the rock shouldn't hold!" cried the girl.  "Are you sure
it won't pull over?"

He was not at all certain of the boulder.  This explained his
directions, "stand aside!"  If it came--it must not involve the girl.
There was nothing for him but to trust to its weight against his own.
He was strong.  He began to come up, bracing a foot against the
crumbling wall, winding the rope around one of his legs--or his leg
around the rope, and resting whensoever he could.

Beth stood there, nearly as tense as the rope.  Her brown eyes were
fixed on the bedded boulder; her face was more gray than its bulk.

At the edge, where the lasso impinged upon the granite, small particles
were breaking and falling ominously.  Scarcely daring to breathe, as
she felt how the man was toiling up from the maw of the chasm, Beth
could not bear to look where he must come--if come he ever should.

It seemed an eternity of waiting.  At last, when new misgivings had
seized upon her heart, she heard his labored breathing.  Even then she
did not turn.  She feared to watch his efforts; she feared to break the
spell.  A minute later she heard his even voice.

"It's a wonderful view--from down below."

The glad, eager light in her eyes, which his eyes met from the brink,
put strength in both his arms.  He came up to safety in an outburst of
vigor that was nothing short of magnificent.

"Oh!" said the girl, and she leaned against the wall in a sudden need
for support.

"I really had no intention of--deserting like that," panted Van, with a
smile that was just a trifle forced.  "But it's so much easier to--drop
into a habit than it--ever is to get out."

She made no reply, but remained where she was, weakly leaning against
the wall and slowly regaining the strength she had lost at the moment
of beholding him safe.  She was not the fainting kind, but she was
human--womanly human.

Van began immediately to release and re-coil the rope.

"Too bad to throw away a pony like that," he resumed regretfully.  "I
always intended, if he died a Christian death, to have his hide tanned
for a rug."

He was saying anything, no matter what, to dissipate the reactionary
collapse into which he feared the girl was falling.

"Now then," he added, when the rope was well in hand, "we've wasted all
the time we can spare on a second-rate vaudeville performance.  Come
along."



CHAPTER IV

CONGENIAL COMPANY

He started ahead as he had before, with that show of utter unconcern
towards the girl that was absolutely new to her experience.  Her eyes
were wide with appeal as she watched him striding up the trail.  For
herself she wanted nothing; but her womanly nature craved some trifling
sign, some word of assurance that the man was uninjured--really safe
again and whole--after that terrible plunge.  But this from the
horseman was impossible.  He had not even thanked her for the rescue.

"You horrid, handsome wretch!" she murmured vexedly, stimulated to
renewed activity by her resentment; then she followed along the narrow
way.

They came to the flat, beyond the wall, where Elsa sat keeping the
horses.  The maid looked the horseman over quite calmly, inquiring:

"What for dit you did it--go down there?"

"Just for ducks," said Van.  He halted for Beth's approach, put her up
on the roan, and once more strode off in the trail ahead with a
promptness that was certainly amazing.

There was no understanding such a person.  Beth gave it up.  The whole
affair was inexplicable--his attitude towards Searle at the station,
his abduction of herself and the maid, and this trailing of the pair of
them across these terrible places, for no apparent reason in the world.

Her mare followed on in the tracks of the muscular figure, over whom,
for a moment, she had almost wished to yearn.  His escape from death
had been so slender--and he would not even rest!

The flat was, in reality, the hog's back or ridge of a lofty spur of
the mountains.  Except for the vast bluish canyons and gorges far
below, the view was somewhat restricted here, since towering summits,
in a conclave of peaks, arose to right and left.

After a time, as they swung around on the trend of the ridge, they came
abreast a mighty gap in the mountains to the left, and there, far down,
lay a valley as flattened by perspective as the unruffled surface of a
lake.

Here Van presently halted, peering down and searching the vast gray
floor with the keenest attention.  He went on further, and halted
again, Beth meanwhile watching his face with increasing curiosity.

At the third of his stops she gazed no more on the panorama of
immensity, but rather gazed at him.

"What is it you expect to see?" she inquired at last.  "Goldite isn't
down there, is it?"

"I'm rather expecting--if I haven't miscalculated on the time----
There he is now," he answered, still staring afar off down upon the
valley.  He raised his arm and extended a finger to point towards the
north-most limit of the level stretch of land.  "Do you see that small,
dark object in the road?  That's a road, that slender yellow streak
that you can follow."

Beth obeyed directions and thereby discerned, with remarkable
clearness, the moving object, far away below.  She did not in the least
suspect its nature.

"Why, yes--what is it?" she asked with languid interest, having
expected something more significant.  "Is it some small animal?"

"Yes," responded Van.  "It's Searle."

Beth was instantly all attention.

"Not Mr. Bostwick, in his car?"

Van continued to study the gray of the world-wide map.

"I rather wonder----" he mused, and there he halted, presently adding,
"He's climbing a hill.  You might not think so, looking down from here,
but it's steep and sandy, for a car."

She was watching eagerly.

"And he's no further along towards Goldite than this?"

"He's had some tough old going," answered Van.  "He's in luck to----"
then to himself, as he continued to scan the scene for something he did
not apparently find.  "By Jupe!  I'd have sworn Matt Barger----"  He
broke off abruptly, adding in a spirit of fairness, "Searle is getting
right up to the ridge all right.  Good boy!  He must have a powerful
motor under the--There!  By George!  I knew it!  I knew it!  Got him!
right there in the gravel!"

The girl looked suddenly upon him, wholly unable to comprehend the
sharp exclamations he was making.

"What has got him?  What do you mean?" she demanded in vague alarm.  "I
don't see what you----"

"That's Matt every time--I thought so," he resumed, as he stepped a
little closer to the girl.  "Don't you see them?--those lively little
specks, swarming all around the machine?"

Beth bent her gaze on the drama, far below--a play in which she knew
but one of the characters, and nothing of the meaning of the scene.

"I see--yes--something like a lot of tiny ants--or something.  What are
they?--not robbers?--not men?"

"Part men, part hyenas," he told her quietly.  "It's a lot of State
convicts, escaped from their prison, two days free--and desperate."

She was suddenly very pale.  Her eyes were blazing.

"Convicts!  Out of prison?"

"A good long way out," he told her watching, "and clever enough to hike
for the mines, with the camps all full of strangers.  They learn to be
good mixers, when they're trying to escape."

Beth gazed at him searchingly.

"You--knew they were out--and waiting on the road?"

"Everyone knew they were out--and I certainly thought big Matt would do
precisely what you see he has done."

"Matt?" she echoed.

"The leader," he explained, "a clever brute as ever worried a sheriff."

She was not in the least interested in the personality of the convict
thus described.  Her mind had flown to another aspect of the case--the
case involving herself.

"And this was why you wouldn't let us go in the auto?" she said.  "You
expected this?"

He looked at her quickly.

"Searle wouldn't take my advice, you know."  His eyes were once more
merry.  "What could I do?"

"But Mr. Bostwick wouldn't have gone if you had told him!" she said.
"Oh, I'm surprised you'd do it--let him go and be captured like that!"
She was looking down upon the silent drama intently as she added: "I
don't see why you ever did it!"

He was still amused.

"Oh, I thought perhaps Searle deserved it."

She blazed a little.

"You told him you hoped he'd meet congenial company on the road.  You
didn't mean----"

"Guilty as charged in the indictment.  I guess I did."

"Oh!  I wouldn't have thought----" she started, then she shivered in
horror, reflecting swiftly on the fate that might have befallen herself
and Elsa had they too been captured with Searle.  It was all explained
at last--the horseman's earnest talk with Dave, his quiet but grim
refusal to permit herself and Elsa to remain with the car, and the
hazardous ride he had since dared compel them to take at such peril to
his life!  And now, his persistent advance on foot, when perhaps he was
painfully injured!  He had done then such a service as she could never
in her life forget.  His treatment of Searle had perhaps, even as he
said, been deserved.  Nevertheless, Searle was much to her, very much,
indeed--or had been--up to this morning--and she was worried.

"What do you think they will do?" she added in a spirit of contrition
that came at once upon her.  "They must be terrible men!"

"They won't do much but take his money and clothes, and maybe beg for a
ride," said Van reassuringly.  "They'll see he isn't fit to kill."

Beth glanced at him briefly, inquiringly.  What a baffling light it was
that played in the depths of his eyes!  What manner of being was he,
after all?  She could not tell.  And yet she felt she could trust
him--she certainly knew not why.  Despite his ways of raillery she felt
he was serious, true as steel, and big in heart and nature.

"I mustn't forget to thank you," she murmured.  "I mean for sparing
us--all that.  I do thank you, most sincerely, for----"

"Never mind that," he interrupted.  "We're going to be late to lunch."

He turned once more to the trail and started off, in his active manner,
together with a thorough indifference as to what became of Bostwick.

Beth, with a feeling that something ought yet to be done for Searle,
down in the valley with the convicts, cast one helpless glance at the
scene of the hold-up, then perforce urged her pony forward.

Van halted no more.  He led the way doggedly onward, over the rises,
through great silent forests, past crystal springs, and down dark,
somber ravines.  At a quarter of one he emerged from a gorge upon the
level acre of a tiny cove, still high in the mountains fastnesses.
Here he let out a whoop like an Indian, its echo filling all the place.

An answering call came clearly from somewhere near at hand.  Beth felt
a sudden alarm to know there were human beings near.  What sort they
were was a matter entirely of conjecture.  Then presently she
discovered a number of small, rude buildings, and a fair-sized cabin,
planted next the hill.  The door of the latter was open.  A tall man
appeared in the frame.

"This," said Van, who had waited for the girl to ride once more to his
side, "is the Monte Cristo mine--the worst false alarm that ever
disfigured the map."



CHAPTER V

VAN'S PARTNERS

The Monte Cristo mining property comprised a tunnel in the hill, a
glory hole, a little toy quartz-mill--five stamps strong--the
bunk-house, kitchen, blacksmith-shop, stable, corral, and four human
beings.  These latter were a Chinese cook named Algy, a Piute Indian
half-breed called Cayuse, and two rare souls--Napoleon G. Blink and
"Gettysburg"--miners, and boastful old worthies, long partnered and
beloved by Van.

Just at present the tunnel was empty, the glory-hole was deserted, and
the quartz-mill was silent.  The mine had proved a failure.  Van had
expended many thousands of dollars and ten months of time to
demonstrate the facts; and now, in possession of much new experience,
an indomitable spirit, two tired partners, and a brand-new claim, he
was facing his fate, as heretofore, with a wonderful boyish cheer.

Not all this knowledge was vouchsafed to Beth when she and her maid
were presently put in possession of the place.  With the utmost gravity
Van introduced her by old Dave's appellation, Miss Laughing Water.  The
maid he merely called Elsa.  His explanation as to whence they hailed,
whither they were bound, why he had taken them in charge, and how he
had lost the pinto pony, was notable chiefly for its brevity.  He and
his charges were hungry and somewhat pressed for time, he announced,
and he therefore urged Algy to haste.

Dinner had been promptly served at twelve.  Algy was therefore in
despair--for Algy was proud of his art.  He still had good red beans,
most excellent coffee, corn-fed bacon, the best of bread and butter, a
hunger-inspiring stew of lamb, white potatoes, fine apple sauce, and
superlative gingerbread on hand in great abundance, however, but in
spite of it all he spluttered.

"What's mallah you, Van?" he demanded several times.  "Wha' for no tell
me blingee ladies?  How you s'plose I gettee dinner?  Sominagot, you
come like this, that velly superstich."

He would readily have laid down his very life for Van, but he laid a
good dinner instead.  During its preparation Beth and her maid sat down
on a bench beside the bunk-house, in the presence of Cayuse, Napoleon,
and Gettysburg, while Van led the horses to the stable for refreshment,
and Algy talked to himself in pigeon English.

It was an odd situation for the girl from New.  York, but she found
herself amused.  Both Napoleon and Gettysburg had been cast for amusing
roles, which they did not always fill.  Neither, as might be supposed
from his name, had ever even smelled the faintest suggestion of things
military.  Napoleon had once been a sailor, or, to be more accurate, a
river boatman.  He was fat, short, red-headed, red-necked, red-nosed,
and red-eyed.  His hands were freckled, his arms were hairy.  He turned
his head to one side like a bird--and promptly fell in love with demure
little Elsa.

Gettysburg was as thin as Napoleon was fat.  He had a straggling gray
beard, a very bald pate, high cheek bones, and a glass eye.  This eye
he turned towards the maid, perhaps because it was steady.  He also had
a nervous way of drawing one hand down his face till he lowered his jaw
prodigiously, after which, like the handle of a knocker, it would fall
back to place with quite a thump.  He did this twice as he stared at
Beth, and then he remarked:

"Quite a hike yit, down to Goldite."

"I suppose it is," said Beth in her interesting way.  "How far is it,
really, from here?"

"'Bout twenty miles of straight ahead, and two miles of straight up,
and three of straight down--if a feller could go straight," said
Gettysburg gravely, "but he can't."

Beth looked very much concerned.  She had hoped they were almost there,
and no more hills to climb or descend.  She felt convinced they had
ridden over twenty miles already, and the horseman had assured her it
was thirty at the most, from the station so far behind the mountains.

"But--Mr. Van can't walk so far as that," she said.  "I'm sure I don't
see what----"

She was interrupted by the reappearance of Van himself.

"Isn't there a horse on the place?" he asked his partners collectively.
"What have you done with the sorrel?"

Gettysburg arose.  "Loaned him to A. C., yistiddy," said he.  "But the
outlaw's on the job."

"Not Vesuvius?" Van replied incredulously.  "You don't mean to say he's
turned up again unslaughtered?"

"Cayuse here roped him, up to Cedar flat," imparted Gettysburg.
"Cornered him there in natural corral and fetched him home fer fun."

Napoleon added: "But Cayuse ain't been on board, you bet.  He likes
something more old-fashioned than Suvy.  Split my bowsprit, I wouldn't
tow no horse into port which I was afraid to board.  When I was bustin'
bronchos I liked 'em to be bad."

"Yes," agreed Gettysburg, "so bad they couldn't stand up."

A bright glitter came for a moment in Van's blue eyes.

"If Suvy's the only equine paradox on the place, he and I have got to
argue things out this afternoon," he said, "but I'll have my dinner
first."

Beth was listening intently, puzzled to know precisely what the talk
implied.  She was vaguely suspicious that Van, for the purpose of
escorting her on, would find himself obliged to wage some manner of war
with a horse of which the Indian was afraid.

Further discussion of the topic was interrupted now by the cook, who
appeared to announce his dinner served.  Beth and her maid were,
therefore, directed by Van to a table set for two, while he, with
Napoleon and Gettysburg for company, repaired to a place in the kitchen.

Beth was hungry.  She ate with all the relish of a mountaineer.  Algy,
moreover, was a kitchen magician in the art of transforming culinary
commonplaces into viands of toothsome delight.  Elsa became
speechlessly busy.  Despite her wishes in the matter, Beth could hear
the men talking beyond.

"So them convicts has hiked over this way already," said the voice of
Gettysburg distinctly.  "We heard from A. C. about the prison break,
but he wasn't on to which ones they was."

"One is Matt Barger," Van informed them.  "He's the only one I know."

"Matt Barger!  Not _your_ Matt Barger?" demanded Gettysburg sharply.

Van nodded.  "Mine when I had him."

Gettysburg arose excitedly.

"He ain't come hunting fer you as quick as this?" he inquired uneasily.
"That ain't what's fetched him over to the desert?"

"Haven't asked him," answered Van.  "He promised to look me up if ever
he got out alive."

"Look you up!"  Gettysburg was obviously over-wrought by the mere
intelligence that Barger was at liberty.  "You know what he'll do!  You
know him, boy!  You know he'll keep his word.  You can't go foolin'
around alone.  You've got to be----"

"Pass the beans," Van interrupted.  He added more quietly: "Sit down,
Gett, and shut the front door of your face."

Napoleon was eating, to "keep Van company." He pushed away his plate.

"Just our luck if these here derelicts was to foul us, skipper and
crew," he observed ruefully.  "Just our luck."

Gettysburg sat down, adding: "Why can't you wait, Van, wait till the
whole kit and boodle of us can move to the bran'-new claim?"

Van finished half a cup of coffee.

"I told you I should continue on without delay.  The horses will
probably come to-night for all of you to follow me to-morrow."

"Then why don't you wait and go with us?" repeated Gettysburg.  "We'll
git there by noon, and you ain't got nuthin' to ride."

The horseman answered: "Suvy's the prettiest gaited thing you ever
saw--when he gaits."

"Holy toads!" said the older man apprehensively, "you ain't
sure-a-goin' to tackle the outlaw today?"

"I've always felt we'd come to it soon or late," was Van's reply.  "And
I've got to have a horse this afternoon.  We can't kill each other but
once."

"Supposen he stoves in your pilot-house," said Napoleon.  "What shall
we do about the claim, and all this cargo, and everything?"

"The claim?  Work it, man, work it," Van responded.  "What's a mining
claim for but to furnish good hard work for a couple of old ring-tailed
galoots who've shirked it all their lives?"

"Work it, yep, but what on?" asked Gettysburg.  "We're as broke as a
hatched-out egg."

"Haven't you worked on shinbones and heavenly hopes before?" inquired
the busy leader of the partnership.  "And that reminds me, Algy, what
about you?" he added to the Chinese cook.  "We can't afford a
tippe-bob-royal chef of your dimensions after this.  I guess you'll
have to poison somebody else."

"What's mallah you, Van?" Algy demanded aggressively.  "You makee me
velly sick.  You get velly lich I cook your glub.  You go bloke, I cook
alle same.  Sominagot, I b'long go with you all time.  You no got good
luck I never want the money, you savvy?  You go hell--go anywhere--I go
same place--that's all.  You talkee big fool, that velly superstich."
He looked at Van fiercely to disguise a great alarm, a fear that he
might, after all, be dismissed in the break-up impending.

Van shrugged his shoulders.

"Sentenced for life.  All right, Algy, if your cooking kills us off, at
least, as the brave young husband remarked, it will all be in the
family."

Algy still looked as fierce as one of his heathen idols.

"You t'ink velly smart," he said, still concealing his feelings.
"Lats!" and with that he went out to chop some wood.

"Batten me into the pantry!" said Napoleon.  "I'll bet old Algy'd board
the outlaw himself, fer you, Van, squall and all."

"That horse ain't human," Gettysburg exploded anew.  "Van, you can't
ride no such Fourth-of-July procession!"

"Shut up!" murmured Van, with a gesture towards the room where Beth and
her maid were dining.  He added aloud: "The chances are we'll find he's
a cheap Sunday-school picnic.  Napoleon, you and Cayuse go out and
prepare his mind for work."

"Aye, aye," said Napoleon rising to go, "but I wish we had some
soothin' syrup, skipper."

He and the Indian were heard to depart, by Beth, sitting back in her
chair.  She was greatly alarmed by all she had heard of vengeful
convicts and the vicious horse, and could eat no more for nervous dread.

"That horse has killed his man, and you know it," said Gettysburg in a
whisper that the girl distinctly overhead.  "Boy, boy, let the Injun
ride him first."

"There, there, ease off," Van answered quietly.  "You keep the women
entertained about the mill while Suvy and I are debating."

He gulped down a last drink of coffee, silenced the miner's further
remonstrances, and departed by way of the kitchen door.

Beth arose hurriedly and hastened forth, intent upon immediate
prevention, if possible, of any further ordeals undertaken in behalf of
herself.  She was thoroughly frightened.  A prescience of something
ominous impending seemed to grip her very heart.  She glanced about,
helplessly, unfamiliar with the place.  Van was nowhere in sight.  She
started to run around the cabin when Gettysburg appeared in her path.

"Well, well," said he nervously, "now who'd a-thought you'd finished
eatin'?"

"Oh please," she said, "please go tell Mr. Van I'd rather he wouldn't
attempt to ride _any_ horse again to-day.  Will you please go tell him
that?"

"You bet your patent leathers!" said Gettysburg.  "You just go over and
globe-trot the quartz-mill while I'm gone, and we'll fix things right
in a shake."

He strode off in haste.  Beth watched him go.  She made no move towards
the quartz-mill, which Gettysburg had indicated, over on the slope.

She soon grew restive, awaiting his return.  Elsa came out and sat
down.  The old miner failed to reappear.

At length, unable to endure any longer her feeling of alarm and
suspense, Beth resolutely followed where Gettysburg had gone, and soon
came in sight of the stable and high corral.  Then her heart struck a
blow of excitement in her breast, and her knees began to weaken beneath
her.



CHAPTER VI

THE BATTLE

Too late to interfere in the struggle about to be enacted, the girl
stood rigidly beside a great red pine tree, fixing her gaze upon Van,
on whose heels, as he walked, jingled a glinting pair of spurs.

From the small corral he was leading forth as handsome an animal as
Beth had ever seen, already saddled, bridled--and blindfolded.  The
horse was a chestnut, magnificently sculptured and muscled.  He was of
medium size, and as trim and hard as a nail.  His coat fairly glistened
in the sun.

Despite his beauty there was something about him that betokened menace.
It was not altogether that the men all stood away--all save Van--nor
yet that the need for a blindfold argued danger in his composition.
There was something acutely disquieting in the backward folding of his
ears, the quiver of his sinews, the reluctant manner of his stepping.

Beth did not and could not know that an "outlaw" is a horse so utterly
abandoned to ways of broncho crime and equine deviltry that no man is
able to break him--that having conquered man after man, perhaps even
with fatal results to his riders, he has become absolutely depraved and
impossible of submission.  She only knew that her heart was beating
rapidly, painfully, that her breath came in gasps, that her whole
nervous system was involved in some manner of anguish.  She saw the
Chinese cook run past to witness the game, but all her faculties were
focused on the man and horse--both sinister, tense, and grim.

Van had not turned in Beth's direction.  He was wholly unaware of her
presence.  He halted when the horse was well out towards the center of
the open, and the outlaw braced awkwardly, as if to receive an attack.

With the bridle reins held in his hand at the pommel of the saddle, Van
stood for a moment by the chestnut's side, then, with incredible
celerity of movement, suddenly placed his foot in the stirrup and was
up and well seated before the blinded pony could have moved.

Nothing happened.  No one made a sound.  No one, apparently, save Beth,
had expected anything to happen.  She felt a rush of relief--that came
prematurely.

Van now leaned forward, as the horse remained stiffly braced, and
slipping the blindfold from the pony's eyes, sat back in the saddle
alertly.

Even then the chestnut did not move.  He had gone through this ordeal
many times before.  He had often been mounted--but not for long at a
time.  He had even been exhausted by a stubborn "broncho buster"--some
hardy human burr who could ride a crazy comet--but always he had won in
the end.  In a word he had earned his sobriquet, which in broncho-land
is never lightly bestowed.

Van was not in the least deceived.  However, he was eager for the
conflict to begin.  He had no time to waste.  He snatched off his hat,
let out a wild, shrill yell, dug with his spurs and struck the animal a
resounding slap on the flank, that, like a fulminate, suddenly
detonated the pent-up explosives in the beast.

He "lit into" bucking of astounding violence with the quickness of
dynamite.

It was terrific.  For a moment Beth saw nothing but a mad grotesquerie
of horse and man, almost ludicrously unnatural, and crazed with
eccentric motion.

The horse shot up in the air like a loose, distorted piece of statuary,
blown from its pedestal by some gigantic disturbance.  He appeared to
buckle in his mid-air leap like a bended thing of metal, then dropped
to the earth, stiff-legged as an iron image, to bound up again with mad
and furious gyrations that seemed to the girl to twist both horse and
rider into one live mass of incongruity,

He struck like a ruin, falling from the sky, went up again with
demon-like activity, once more descended--once more hurtled wildly
aloft--and repeated this maneuver with a swiftness utterly bewildering.

Had some diabolical wind, together with a huge, volcanic force, taken
insane possession of the animal, to fire him skyward, whirl him about,
thrash him down viciously and fling him up again, time after time, he
could not have churned with greater violence.

He never came down in the same place twice, but he always came down
stiff-legged.  The jolt was sickening.  All about, in a narrow,
earth-cut circle he bucked, beginning to grunt and warm to his work and
hence to increase the deviltry and malice of his actions.

Van had yelled but that once.  He saw nothing, knew nothing, save a
dizzy world, abruptly gone crazy about him.

To Beth it seemed as if the horror would never have an end.  One
glimpse she had of Van's white face, but nothing could it tell of his
strength or the lack thereof.  She felt she must look and look till he
was killed.  There could be no other issue, she was sure.  And for
herself there could be no escape from the awful fascination of the
merciless brute, inflicting this torture on the man.

It did end, however, rather unexpectedly--that particular phase of the
conflict.  The horse grew weary of the effort, made in vain, to
dislodge the stubborn torment on his back.  He changed the program with
the deadliest of all a broncho's tricks.

Pausing for the briefest part of a second, while Van must certainly
have been reeling with hideous motion and jolt, the chestnut quickly
reared on high, to drop himself clean over backwards.  It was thus that
once he had crushed the life from a rider.

"Oh!" screamed Both, and she sank beside the tree.

The men all yelled.  They were furious and afraid.

With hoofs wildly flaying the air, while he loomed tall and unreal in
such an attitude, the broncho hung for a moment in mid-poise, then
dropped over sheer--as if to be shattered into fragments.

But a mass of the bronze-like group was detached, and fell to one side,
on its thigh.  It was Van.  He had seen what was coming in time.

Instantly up, as the brute rolled quickly to arise, he leaped in the
saddle, the horn of which had snapped, and he and the chestnut came
erect together, as if miraculously the equestrian group had been
restored.

"Yi!  Yi!" he yelled, like the madman he was--mad with the heat of the
fight--and he dug in his spurs with vicious might.

Back to it wildly, with fury increased, the broncho leaped responsively.

Here, there, all the field over, the demon thrashed, catapulting
incredibly.  He tried new tricks, invented new volcanics of motion,
developed new whirlwinds of violence.

Once more, then, as he had on the first occasion, the beast reared up
and fell backward to the earth.  Once more Van dropped away from his
bulk and caught him before he could rise.  This time, however, he did
not immediately mount--and the men went running to his side.

"Fer God's sake, boy, let me kill the brute!" cried Gettysburg taking
up a club.

"I'll shoot him!  I'll shoot him!  I'll shoot him!" said Napoleon
wildly, but without any weapon in his hands.

Beth beheld and heard it all.  She was once more standing rigidly by
her tree, unable to move or speak.  She wished to run to Van as the men
had run, but not to slay the broncho--only to beg the horseman not to
mount again.

She saw him push the men away and stand like the broncho's guard.  His
face was streaked with blood--his blood--jolted alike from his mouth
and nose by the shocks to which he had been subjected.

"Let the horse alone!" he commanded roughly.  "Good stuff in this
broncho--somewhere.  Get me a bottle of water, right away--a big
one--get it full."

His partners started at once to raise objections.  The Indian stood by
stolidly looking on.

"You can't go no further.  Van, you can't----" started Gettysburg.

"Sominagot!  Una ma, hong oy!  Una ca see fut!" said the Chinese-cook,
swearing vehemently in the language likeliest to count, and he ran at
once towards the kitchen.

Van was replacing the blindfold on the broncho's eyes.  The animal was
panting, sweating, quivering in every muscle.  His ears went backward
and forward rapidly.  The blindfold shut out a wild, unreasoning
challenge and defiance that burned like a torch in his eyes.

Algy came running with a big bottle, filled and corked.

"Fer God's sake, leave me kill him!" Gettysburg was repeating
automatically.  "Van, if you ain't got no respect fer yourself, ain't
you got none left fer us old doggone cusses?"

"Give me the bottle, Algy," Van replied.  "You're the only game sport
on the ranch."

Still he did not discover Beth.  His attentions were engrossed by the
horse.  He was dizzy, dazed, but a dogged master still of his forces.
Up he mounted to the saddle again, the bottle held firmly in his grasp.

"Slip off the blinder," he said to his friends, and Algy it was who
obeyed.

"Damn you, now you buck!" cried Van wildly, and his heels ignited the
volcano.

For five solid minutes the broncho redoubled his scheme of demoniac
fury.  Then he poised, let out a shrill scream of challenge, and
abruptly raised to repeat the backward fall.

Up, up he went, an ungainly sight, and then--the heavens split in twain.

He was only well lifted from the earth when, with a thunderous,
terrible blow, Van crashed the bottle downward, fairly between his
ears, and burst it on his skull.

The weapon was shattered with a frightening thud.  Red pieces of glass
and streaming water poured in a cataract down across the broncho's eyes
as if very doom itself had suddenly cracked.  A cataclysm could not
have been more horrible.  An indescribable fright and awe overwhelmed
the brutish mind as with a cloud of lead.

Down swiftly he dropped to his proper position, perhaps with a fear
that his crown was gaping open from impact with the sky.  He was
stunned by the blow upon his brain, and weakened in every fiber.  He
started to run, in terror of the thing, and the being still solid in
the saddle.  Wildly he went around the cove, in the panic of utter
defeat.

The men began to cheer, their voices choked and hoarse.  Van rode now
as fate might ride the very devil.  He spurred the horse to furious,
exhausting speed, guiding him wildly around the mountain theater.
Again and again they circled the grassy arena, till foam and lather
whitened the broncho's flank, chest, and mouth, and his nostril burned
red as living flame.

When at last the animal, weary and undone, would have sobered down to a
trot or walk, Van forced him anew to crazy speed.  At least five miles
he drove him thus, till the broncho's sides, like the rider's face,
were red with blood mingled with sweat.

Beth, at the climax, had gone down suddenly, leaning against the tree.
She had not fainted, but was far too weak to stand.  Her eyes only
moved.  She watched the two, that seemed welded into one, go racing
madly against fatigue.

At last she beheld the look of the conquered--the utter surrender of
the broken and subdued--gleam dully from the wilted pony's eyes.  She
pitied the animal she had feared and hated but a few brief moments
before.  She began to think that the man was perhaps the brute, after
all, to ride the exhausted creature thus without a sign of mercy.

She rose to her feet as the two came at last to a halt, master and
servant, conquered and conqueror, man and quivering beast.

Then Van got down, and her heart, that had pitied the horse, welled
with deeper feeling for the rider.  She had never in her life seen a
face so drawn, so utterly haggard beneath a mask of red as that
presented by the horseman.

Van nearly fell, but would not fall, and instead stood trembling, his
arm by natural inclination now circling the neck of the pony.

"Well, Suvy," he said not ungently, "we gave each other hell.
Hereafter we're going to be friends."

Beth heard him.  She also saw the chestnut turn and regard the man with
a look of appeal and dumb questioning in his eyes that choked her--with
joy and compassion together.  She someway knew that this man and horse
would be comrades while they lived.

Half an hour afterward as she, Van, and Elsa rode forward as before,
she saw the man in affection pat the broncho on the neck.  And the
horse pricked his ears in a newfound gladness in service and friendship
that his nature could not yet comprehend.



CHAPTER VII

AN EXCHANGE OF QUESTIONS

Youth is elastic, and Van was young.  An hour of quiet riding restored
him astoundingly.  He bore no signs of fatigue that Beth could detect
upon his face.  Once more, as he had in the morning, he was riding ahead
in the trail, apparently all but oblivious of the two anxious women in
his charge.

They had wound far downward through a canyon, and now at length were
emerging on a sagebrush slope that lowered to the valley.  Van halted for
Beth to ride to his side, and onward they continued together.

"I suppose you have friends to whom you are going in Goldite," he said,
"--or at least there's someone you know."

"Yes," she answered, "my brother."

Van looked at her in his quizzical way, observing:

"I don't believe I know him."

Her glance was almost one of laughter.

"Why, how can you tell?  You don't even know his name."  She paused, then
added quietly: "It's Glenmore Kent."  She felt he had a right to know not
only her brother's name, but also her own, if only for what he had done.
"You might, of course, know him after all," she concluded.  "He has quite
a number of acquaintances."

"Kent," said Van.  To himself it was "Beth Kent" he was saying.  "No,
guess not.  No such luck, but I hope you'll find him in the camp."

"Do you think I may not?"  She was just a trifle startled by the
possibility.

He was grave for once.

"Men come and go in a mining town, where everyone's unduly excited.  If
he isn't on deck, then have you no one else?  Have you any alternative
plan?"

"Why, no," she confessed, her alarm increasing, "not unless Mr. Bostwick
has arrived and arranged our accommodations."

"I wouldn't count on Searle," drawled Van significantly.  "He may have to
walk."

"Not across the awful desert?"

"If he goes around he'll be longer."

"Why--but----" she gasped, "there is nothing to eat--no water--there
isn't anything on the desert, is there?--anywhere?"

He was looking intently into the deep brown depths of her eyes as he
answered:

"There's so little to eat that the chipmunks have to fetch in their
lunches."

Beth continued to gaze upon him.  If she noted the lights of laughter
lying soberly subdued in his eyes, she also discerned something more,
that affected her oddly.  Despite the horseman's treatment of her
escort--a treatment she confessed he had partially deserved--and despite
the lightness of his speeches, she felt certain of the depth of his
nature, convinced of the genuine earnestness of his purposes--the honesty
and worth of his friendship.

She knew she was tremendously indebted for all he had done and was doing,
but aside from all that, in her heart of hearts she admired bravery,
courage, and a dash of boldness more than anything else in the world.
She was not yet certain, however, whether the man at her side was brave
or merely reckless, courageous, or indifferent to danger, bold or merely
audacious.  She knew nothing about him whatsoever, nothing except he must
be tired, lame, and bruised from exertions undertaken in her behalf.  It
had been a long, long day.  She felt as if they had known each other
always--and had always been friends.

Her mind went back to the morning as if to an era of the past.  The
thought of the convicts who had captured Bostwick aroused new
apprehensions in her breast, though not for the man with the car.
Someway Searle seemed strangely far away and dimmed in her regard.  She
was thinking of what she had overheard, back there at the Monte Cristo
mine.

"This has been a trying day," she said, apparently ignoring Van's last
observation.  "You have taken a great deal of trouble for--for us--and we
appreciate it fully."

Van said gravely: "Taking trouble is the only fun I have."

"You laugh at everything," she answered, "but isn't it really a serious
thing--a menace to everyone--having those convicts out of prison?"

"It isn't going to be a knitting-bee, rounding them up," Van admitted.
"And meantime they're going to be exacting of everyone they meet."

She looked at him half seriously, but altogether brightly.

"And what if they chance to meet you?"

"Oh, we'd exchange courtesies, I reckon."

She had no intention of confessing how much she had overheard, but she
was tremendously interested--almost fearful for the man's safety, she
hardly dared ask herself why.  She approached her subject artfully.

"Do you know them, then?"

"Well, yes, the leader--slightly," he answered.  "I sent him up for
murder, stealing cattle, and robbing sluices.  He was too annoying to
have around."

"Oh!  Then won't he feel ugly, resentful?" she inquired earnestly.
"Won't he try to hunt you up--and pay you back?"

Van regarded her calmly.

"He told me to expect my pay--if ever he escaped--and he's doubtless got
his check-book along."

"His check-book?"

"Colt--forty-four," Van drawled by way of explanation.

She turned a trifle pale.

"He'd shoot you on sight?"

"If he sighted me first."

Her breath came hard.  She realized that the quiet-seeming horseman at
her side would kill a fellow-being--this convict, at least--as readily as
he might destroy a snake.

"How long ago did you put him in jail?" she inquired.

"Four years ago this summer."

"Have you always lived here--out West?"

"I've lived every day I've been here," he answered evasively.  "Do I look
like a native?"

She laughed.  "Oh, I don't know.  We came here straight from New York, a
week ago, Elsa and I.  Mr. Bostwick joined us two days later.  I really
know nothing of the country at all."

"New York," he said, and relapsed into silent meditation.  How far away
seemed old New Amsterdam!  How long seemed the brief six years since he
had started forth with his youthful health, his strength, determination,
boyish dreams, and small inheritance to build up a fortune in the West!
What a mixture of sunshine and failure it had been!  What glittering
hopes had lured him hither and yon in the mountains, where each great
gateway of adventure had charged its heavy toll!

He had lost practically all of his money; he had gained his all of
manhood.  He had suffered privation and hardship; he had known the vast
comfort of friends--true friends, as certain as the very heart in his
breast to serve him to the end.

Like a panoramic dream he beheld a swift procession of mine-and-cattle
scenes troop past for swift review.  He lived again whole months of
nights spent out alone beneath the sky, with the snow and the wind hurled
down upon him from a merciless firmament of bleakness.  Once more he
stumbled blindly forward in the desert--he and Gettysburg--perishing for
water, giving up their liquid souls to the horribly naked and insatiate
sun.  Again he toiled in the shaft of a mine till his back felt like a
crackly thing of glass with each aching fissure going deeper.

Once more the gold goddess beckoned with her smile, and fortune was
there, almost in reach--the fortune that he and his partners had sought
so doggedly, so patiently--the fortune for which they had starved and
delved and suffered--only to see it vanish in the air as the sunshine
will vanish from a peak.

Old hopes, like ghosts, went skulking by, vain charlatans, ashamed.  But
friendships stood about in every scene--bright presences that cast a
roseate glow on all the tribulations of his life.  And it seemed as if a
failure here was half a failure only, after all.  It had not robbed him
either of his youth, his strength, or a certain boyish credulity and
trust in all his kind.  He still believed he should win his golden goal,
and he loved the land that had tried him.

His last, his biggest venture, the Monte Cristo mine was, however,
gone--everything sold to meet the company debts.  Nevertheless, he had
once more purchased a claim, with all but his very last dollar in the
world, and he and his partners would soon be on the ground, assaulting
the stubborn adamant with powder, pick, and drill, in the fever of the
miner's ceaseless dream.

To-day, as he rode beside the girl, he wondered at it all--why he had
labored so persistently.  The faint, far-off shadow of a sweetheart, long
since left behind, failed to supply him a motive.  She had grown
impatient, listened to a suitor more tangible than Van's absent self, and
so, blamelessly, had faded from his scheme of hopes, leaving no more than
a fragrance in his thoughts, with certainly no bitterness or anger.

"Old New York," he repeated, at the end of his reverie, and meeting once
more the steady brown eyes of the girl with whom the fates had thrown
him, he fetched up promptly with the present.

"How long has your brother been out here in Goldite?"

"About a month," she answered.  "He's been in the West for nearly a year,
and wrote Mr. Bostwick to come."

"Mr. Bostwick is doubtless a very particular friend of your family."

"Why, yes, he's my----  That is, he _was_--he always has been a very
particular friend--for several years," she faltered suddenly turning red.
"We haven't any family, Glen and I--and he's my half brother only--but
we're just like chums---and that was why I wanted to come.  I expect to
surprise him.  He doesn't know I'm here."

Van was silent and she presently added:

"I hope you and Glen will be friends.  I know how much he'll wish to
thank you."

He looked at her gravely.

"I hope he won't.  It's up to me to thank him."

They had come to a road at the level of the valley--a desert valley,
treeless, grassless, gray, and desolate.  The sun was rapidly nearing the
rim of the mountains, as if to escape pursuit of a monstrous bank of
clouds.

Van spurred his chestnut to a gallop, and the horses bearing the women
responded with no further need of urging.



CHAPTER VIII

A NIGHT'S EXPENSES

From Karrish to Goldite by the road was twenty-seven miles.  There were
fifteen mile of bottles by the way--all of them empty.  A blind man
with a nose for glass could have smelled out the trail unerringly
across that desert stretch.  Karrish was the nearest town for a very
great distance around.

Over the road innumerable caravans were passing.  Everything was
rushing to Goldite.  There were horsemen, hurried persons on foot, men
in carriages and autos, twenty-horse freight teams, and men on tiny
burros.  Nearly all were shedding bottles as they went.  A waterless
land is not necessarily devoid of all manner of moisture.

A dozen of the slowly laboring freight outfits were passed by Van and
his two companions.  What engines of toil they represented!  The ten
pairs of sweating, straining animals seemed almost like some giant
caterpillar, harnessed to a burden on wheels.  They always dragged
three wagons, two of which were huge gray hulks, incredibly heavy with
giant-powder, canned goods, bottled goods, picks, shovels, bedding,
hay, great mining machinery, and house-hold articles.  These wagons
were hitched entrain.  The third wagon, termed a "trailer," was small
and loaded merely with provisions for the teamster and the team.  The
whole thing, from end to end, beat up a stifling cloud of dust.

The sun went down while Beth, Van, and Elsa were still five miles from
their goal.  They rode as rapidly as possible.  The horses, however,
were jaded, and the way was slightly up grade.  The twilight was brief.
It descended abruptly from the western bank of clouds, by now as thick
and dark as mud.  Afar off shone the first faint light of the gold-camp
to which the three were riding.  This glimmering ray was two miles out
from the center of town.  Goldite was spread in a circle four miles
wide, and the most of it was isolated tents.

The darkness shut down like a pall.  A vivid, vicious bolt of
lightning--a fiery serpent, overcharged with might--struck down upon
the mountain tops, pouring liquid flame upon the rocks.  A sweeping
gust of wind came raging down upon the town, hurling dust and gravel on
the travelers.

Van rode ahead like a spirit of the storm.  He knew the need for haste.
Beth simply let her pony go.  She was cramped and far too wearied for
effort.

They were galloping now past the outskirts of the camp, the many
scattered tents of the men who were living on their claims.  All the
world was a land of claims, staked off with tall white posts, like
ghosts in the vanishing light.  Ahead, a multitude of lights had
suddenly broken on the travelers' vision, like a nearby constellation
of stars.

They rode into all of it, blazing lights, eager crowds upon the
streets, noise of atrocious music from the brilliant saloons, and rush
of wind and dust, not a minute too soon.  They had barely alighted and
surrendered their horses to a friend of Van's when the rain from the
hilltops swooped upon the camp in a fury that seemed like an elemental
threat to sweep all the place, with its follies, hopes, and woes, its
excitements, lawlessness, and struggles, from the face of the barren
desert world.

Beth and her maid were lame and numb.  Van could only hustle them
inside a grocery-and-hardware store to save them from a drenching.  The
store was separated from a gambling-hall saloon by the flimsiest board
partition.  Odors of alcohol, confusion of voices, and calls of a
gamester came unimpeded to the women's senses, together with some
mighty bad singing, accompanied lustily by strains and groans pounded
from a ghastly piano.

"Sit down," said Van, inverting a tub at the feet of the wondering
women.  "I'll see if I can rustle up your brother."

He went out in the rain, dived impartially into the first of the
crowded saloons, was somewhat hilariously greeted by a score of
convivial fellows, found no one who knew of young Glen Kent, and
proceeded on to the next.

The horseman was well and favorably known in all directions.  He was
eagerly cornered wheresoever he appeared by a lot of fellows who were
friends to little purpose, in an actual test.  However, he clung to his
mission with commendable tenacity of purpose, and kept upon his way.
Thus he discovered at length, when he visited the bank--an institution
that rarely closed before ten o'clock in the evening--that Kent had
been gone for the past two weeks, no one knew where, but somewhere out
south, with a party.

There was nothing to do after that but to look for fit apartments for
the gently reared girl and her maid.  Hunting a needle in the ocean
would have been a somewhat similar task.  Van went at once at the
business, with his customary spirit.  He was presently informed there
was nothing resembling a room or a bed to be had in all the place.  A
hundred men would walk the streets or sleep in chairs that night.  The
one apartment suitable for two lone women to occupy had been secured
the previous day by "Plunger" Trask, an Eastern young man who would bet
that grass was not green.

Van searched for Trask and found him "cashing in" a lot of assorted
chips, representing his winnings at a faro game at which he had been
"bucking."

"Hello, there, Van," he said familiarly as the horseman touched him on
the shoulder.  "Come and have a drink."

"My teeth are floating now from drink," said Van, "but I'll take
something else if you say so.  I want your apartments for the night."

"Say, wire me!" answered the plunger.  "That's the cutest little bunch
of nerve I ever saw off the Bowery!  How much money have you got in
your clothes?"

"About forty-five dollars," said Van.  "Is it good?"

"Not as a price, but O.K. in a flip," said Trask, with an itch for
schemes of chance.  "I'll throw you the dice, my room against your
forty-five--and the devil take your luck if you win!"

Van agreed.  They borrowed a box of dice, threw three times apiece--and
the horseman paid over his money.

"There you are, old man," said the plunger cheerfully.  "Satisfied, I
hope."

"Not quite," said Van.  "I'll owe you forty-five more and throw you
again."

"Right ho!" responded Trask.  "Go as far as you like."

They shook again.  Van lost as before.  He borrowed again,
undiscouraged.  For the third time they cast the little cubes of
uncertainty and this time Van actually won.  The room was his to
dispose of as he pleased.  It had cost him ninety dollars for the night.

In his pocket he had cautiously retained a little money--seven and
one-half dollars, to be accurate.  He returned to Beth, informed her of
all he had discovered concerning her brother, took herself and Elsa to
dine in the camp's one presentable restaurant, paid nearly seven
dollars for the meal, and gave what remained to the waiter.

Then Beth, who had never in her life been so utterly exhausted,
resigned herself to Elsa's care, bade Van good-night, and left him
standing in the rain before the door, gallant, and smiling to the end.



CHAPTER IX

PROGRESS AND SALT

Goldite, by the light of day, presented a wonderful spectacle.  It was
a mining camp positively crystallizing into being before the very eyes
of all beholders.  It was nearly all tents and canvas structures--a
heterogeneous mixture of incompleteness and modernity to which the
telegraph wires had already been strung from the outside world.  It had
no fair supply of water, but it did have a newspaper, issued once a
week.

A dozen new buildings, flimsy, cheap affairs, were growing like
toadstools, day and night.  Several brick buildings, and shacks of mud,
were rising side by side.  Everywhere the scene was one of crowds,
activity, and hurry.  Thousands of men were in the one straight street,
a roughly dressed, excited throng, gold-bitten, eager, and open-handed.
Hundreds of mules and horses, a few bewildered cows, herds of great
wagons, buggies, heaps of household goods, and trunks, with
fortifications of baled hay and grain, were crowded into two great
corrals, where dusty teamsters hastened hotly about, amidst heaps of
dusty harness, sacks of precious ore and the feed troughs for the
beasts.

Beth had slept profoundly, despite the all-night plague of noises,
penetrating vividly through the shell-like walls of the house.  She was
out with Elsa at an early hour, amazingly refreshed and absorbingly
interested in all she heard and saw.  The sky was clear, but a chill
wind blew down from the mountains, flapping canvas walls in all
directions.

The building wherein the women had rested was a wooden lodging house,
set barely back from the one business street of the camp.  Next door
was a small, squat domicile constructed of bottles and mud.  The
bottles were laid in the "mortar" with their ends protruding.  Near by,
at the rear of a prosperous saloon, was a pyramid of empty bottles,
fully ten feet high--enough to build a little church.

Drawn onward by the novelty of all the scene, Beth crossed the main
street--already teeming with horses, wagons, and men--and proceeded
over towards a barren hill, followed demurely by her maid.  The hill
was like a torn-up battlefield, trenched, and piled with earthworks of
defense, for man the impetuous had already flung up great gray dumps of
rock, broken and wrenched from the bulk of the slope, where he quested
for gleaming yellow metal.  He had ripped out the adamant--the matrix
of the gold--for as far as Beth could see.  Like ant-heaps of
tremendous dimensions stood these monuments of toil--rock-writings,
telling of the heat and desire, the madness of man to be rich.

The world about was one of rocks and treeless ridges, spewed from some
vast volcanic forge of ages past.  It was all a hard, gray, adamantine
world, unlovely and severe--a huge old gold furnace, minus heat or
fire, lying neglected in a universe of mountains that might have been a
workshop in the ancient days when Titans wrought their arts upon the
earth.

Beth gazed upon it all in wonder not unmingled with awe.  What a place
it was for man to live and wage his puny battles!  Yet the fever of all
of it, rising in her veins, made her eager already to partake of the
dream, the excitement that made mere gold-slaves of the men who had
come here compelling this forbidding place to yield up some measure of
comfort and become in a manner their home.

Van, in the meanwhile, having spent the time till midnight on his feet,
and the small hours asleep on a bale of hay, was early abroad, engaged
in various directions.  He first proceeded to the largest general store
in the camp and ordered a generous bill of supplies to be sent to his
newest claim.  Next he arranged with a friendly teamster for the prompt
return of the two borrowed horses on which Beth and her maid had come
to camp.  Then, on his way to an assayer's office, where samples of
rock from the claim in question had been left for the test of fire, he
encountered a homely, little, dried-up woman who was scooting about
from store to store with astonishing celerity of motion.

"Tottering angels!" said he.  "Mrs. Dick!"

"Hello--just a minute," said the lively little woman, and she dived
inside the newest building and was out almost immediately with a great
sack of plunder that she jerked about with most diverting energy.

"Here, fetch this down to the house," she demanded imperiously.
"What's the good of my finding you here in Goldite if you don't do
nothing for your country?"

Van shouldered the sack.

"What are you doing here anyhow?" said he, "--up before breakfast and
busy as a hen scratching for one chicken."

"Come on," she answered, starting briskly towards a new white building,
off the main thoroughfare, eastward.  "I live here--start my
boarding-house today.  I'm going to get rich.  Every room's furnished
and every bed wanted as fast as I can make 'em up.  Have you had your
breakfast?"

"Say, you're my Indian," answered Van.  "I've got you two customers
already.  You've got to take them in and give them your best if you
turn someone else inside out to do it."

Mrs. Dick paused suddenly.

"Bronson Van Buren!  You're stuck on some woman at last!"

"At last?" said Van.  "Haven't I always been stuck after you?"

Mrs. Dick resumed her brisk locomotion.

"Snakes alive!" she concluded explosively.  "She's respectable, of
course?  But you said two.  Now see here, Van, no Mormon games with me!"

"Her _maid_--it's her maid that's with her," Van explained.  "Don't
jump down my throat till I grease it."

"Her maid!"  Mrs. Dick said no more as to that.  The way she said it
was enough.  They had come to the door of her newly finished house, a
clean, home-like place from which a fragrance of preparing breakfast
flowed like a ravishing nectar.  "Where are they now?" she demanded
impatiently.  "Wherever they are it ain't fit for a horse!  Why don't
you go and fetch 'em?"

Van put the bag inside the door, then his hands on Mrs. Dick's
shoulders.

"I'll bet your mother was a little red firecracker and your father a
bottle of seltzer," he said.  Then off he went for Beth.

She was not, of course, at "home" when he arrived at the place he had
found the previous evening.  Disturbed for a moment by her absence, he
presently discerned her, off there westward on the hill from which she
was making a survey of the camp.

Three minutes after he was climbing up the slope and she turned and
looked downward upon him.

"By heavens!" he said beneath his breath, "--what beauty!"

The breeze was molding her dress upon her rounded form till she seemed
like the statue of a goddess--a goddess of freedom, loveliness, and
joy, sculptured in the living flesh--a figure vibrant with glowing
health and youth, startlingly set in the desert's gray austerity.  With
the sunlight flinging its gold and riches upon her, what a marvel of
color she presented!--such creamy white and changing rose-tints in her
cheeks--such a wonderful brown in her hair and eyes--such crimson of
lips that parted in a smile over even little jewels of teeth!  And she
smiled on the horseman, tall, and active, coming to find her on the
hill.

"Good morning!" she cried.  "Oh, isn't it wonderful--so big, and bare,
and _clean_!"

Van smiled.

"It's a hungry-looking country to me--looks as if it has eaten all the
trees.  If it makes you think of breakfast, or just plain coffee and
rolls, I've found a place I hope you'll like, with a friend I didn't
know was here."

"You are very kind, I'm sure," she said.  "I'm afraid we're a great
deal of trouble."

"That's what women were made for," he answered her frankly, a bright,
dancing light in his eyes.  "They couldn't help it if they would, and I
guess they wouldn't if they could."

"Oh, indeed?"  She shot him a quick glance, half a challenge.  "I
_guess_ if you don't mind we won't go to the place you've found, for
breakfast, this morning."

"You'd better guess again," he answered, and taking her arm, in a
masterful way that bereft her of the power of speech or resistance, he
marched her briskly down the slope and straight towards Mrs. Dick's.

"Thank your stars you've struck a place like this," he said.  "If you
don't I'll have to thank them for you."

"Perhaps I ought to thank you first," she ventured smilingly.  It would
have seemed absurd to resent his boyish ways.

"You may," he said, "when I get to be one of your stars."

"Oh, really?  Why defer mere thanks _indefinitely_?"

"It won't be indefinitely, and besides, thanks will keep--and breakfast
won't."

He entered the house, with Beth and her maid humbly trailing at his
heels.  Mrs. Dick came bustling from the kitchen like a busy little
ant.  Van introduced his charges briefly.  Mrs. Dick shook hands with
them both.

"Well!" she said, "I like you after all!  And it's lucky I do, for if I
didn't I don't know's I should take you or not, even if Van did say I
had to."

Van took her by the shoulders and shook her boyishly.

"You'd take a stick of dynamite and a house afire, both in one hand, if
I said so," he announced.  "Now don't get hostile."

"Well--I s'pose I would," agreed Mrs. Dick.  She added to Beth: "Ain't
he the dickens and all?  Just regular brute strength.  Come right
upstairs till I show you where you're put.  I've turned off two men to
let you have the best room in the house."

Beth had to smile.  She had never felt so helpless in her life--or so
amused.  She followed Mrs. Dick obediently, finding the two-bed room
above to be a bright, new-smelling apartment of acceptable size and
situation.  In answer to a score of rapid-fire questions on the part of
Mrs. Dick, she imparted as much as Van already knew concerning herself
and her quest.

Mrs. Dick became her friend forthwith, then hastened downstairs to the
kitchen.  Van and Beth presently took breakfast together, while Elsa,
with a borrowed needle and thread, was busied with some minor repairing
of garments roughly used the day before.  Other boarders and lodgers of
the house had already eaten and gone, to resume their swirl in the
maelstrom of the camp.

For a time the two thus left alone in the dining-room appeased their
appetites in silence.  Van watched the face of the girl for a time and
finally spoke.

"I'll let you know whatever I hear about your brother, if there is any
more to hear.  Meantime you'll have to remain here and wait."

She was silent for a moment, reflecting on, the situation.

"You took my suitcase away from Mr. Bostwick, you'll remember," she
said, "and left it where we got the horses."

"It will be here to-day," he answered.  "I arranged for that with Dave."

"Oh.  But of course you cannot tell when Mr. Bostwick may appear."

"His movements couldn't be arranged so conveniently, otherwise he
wouldn't appear at all."

She glanced at him, startled.

"Not come at all?  But I need him!  Besides, he's my----  I expect him
to go and find my brother.  And the trunk checks are all in his
pocket--wait!--no they're not, they're in my suitcase after all."

"You're in luck," he assured her blandly, "for Searle has doubtless
lost all his pockets."

"Lost his pockets?" she echoed.  "Perhaps you mean the convicts took
them--took his clothing--everything he had."

"Everything except his pleasant manner," Van agreed.  "They have plenty
of that of their own."

She was lost for a moment in reflection.

"Poor Searle!  Poor Mr. Bostwick!"

Van drank the last of his coffee.

"Was Searle the only man you knew in all New York?"

She colored.  "Certainly not.  Of course not.  Why do you ask such a
question?"

"I was trying to understand the situation, but I give it up."  He
looked in her eyes with mock gravity, and she colored.

She understood precisely what he meant--the situation between herself
and Bostwick, to whom, she feared, she had half confessed herself
engaged.  She started three times to make a reply, but halted each
answer for a better.

"You don't like Mr. Bostwick," she finally observed.

Van told her gravely: "I like him like the old woman kept tavern."

She could not entirely repress a smile.

"And how did she keep it--the tavern?"

"Like hell," said Van.  He rose to go, adding; "You like him about that
way yourself--since yesterday."

Her eyes had been sparkling, but now they snapped.

"Why--how can you speak so rudely?  You know that isn't true!  You know
I like--admire Mr. Bost----  You haven't any right to say a thing like
that--no matter what you may have done for me!"

She too had risen.  She faced him glowingly.

He suddenly took both her hands and held them in a firm, warm clasp
from which there could be no escape.

"Beth," he said audaciously, "you are never going to marry that man."

She was struggling vainly to be free.  Her face was crimson.

"Let me go!" she demanded.  "Mr. Van--you let me go!  I don't see how
you dare to say a thing like that.  I don't know why----"

"You can't marry Searle," he interrupted, "because you are going to
marry me."

He raised her hands to his lips and kissed them both.

"Be back by and by," he added, and off he went, through the kitchen,
leaving Beth by the table speechless, burning and confused, with a
hundred wild emotions in her heart.

He continued out at the rear of the place, where little Mrs. Dick was
valiantly tugging at two large buckets of water.  He relieved her of
the burden.

"Say, Priscilla," he drawled, "if a smoke-faced Easterner comes around
here while I'm gone, looking for--you know--Miss Kent, remember he
can't have a room in your house if he offers a million and walks on his
hands and prays in thirteen languages."

Little Mrs. Dick glanced up at him shrewdly.

"Have you got it as bad as that?  Snakes alive!  All right, I guess
I'll remember."

"Be good," said Van, and off he went to the assayer's shop for which he
had started before.

The assayer glanced up briefly.  He was busy at a bucking-board, where,
with energetic application of a very heavy weight, on the end of a
handle, he was grinding up a lot of dusty ore.

"Greeting, Van," said he.  "Come in."

Van shook his outstretched hand.

"I thought I'd like to see those results," he said, "--that rock I
fetched you last, remember?  You thought you could finish the batch
last week.  Gold rock from the 'See Saw' claim that I bought three
weeks ago."

"Yes, oh yes.  Now what did I do with----  Finished 'em up and put 'em
away somewhere," said the assayer, dusting his hands and moving towards
his desk.  "Such a lot of stuff's been coming in--here they are, I
reckon."  He drew a half dozen small printed forms from a cavity in the
desk, glanced them over briefly and handed the lot to Van.  "Nothing
doing.  Pretty good rock for building purposes."

"Nothing doing?" echoed Van incredulously, staring at the assay records
which showed in merciless bluntness that six different samples of
reputed ore had proved to be absolutely worthless.  "The samples you
assayed first showed from ten to one hundred and fifty dollars to the
ton, in gold."

"What's that got to do with this?" inquired the master of acids and
fire.  "You don't mean to say----"

"Do with it, man?  It all came out of the same identical prospect," Van
interrupted.  "These were later samples than the others, that's all."

The assayer glanced over his shoulder at the hope-destroying slips.

"The 'See Saw' claim," he said perfunctorily.  "You bought it, Van, who
from?"

"From Selwyn Briggs."

"Sorry," said the assayer briefly.  "H'm!  That Briggs!"

"You don't mean----  It couldn't have been salted on me!" Van declared.
"I took my own samples, broke down a new face purposely, sacked it all
myself--and sealed the sacks.  No one touched those sacks till you
broke the seals in this office.  He couldn't have salted me, Frank.
What possible chance----"

The assayer went to a shelf, took down a small canvas bag, glanced at a
mark that identified it as one in which samples of "See Saw" rock had
arrived for the former assay, and turned it inside out.

"Once in a while I've heard of a cute one squirting a sharp syringe
full of chloride of gold on worthless rock, through the meshes of the
canvas, even after the samples were sealed," he imparted quietly.
"This sack looks to me like some I've encountered before that were
pretty rich in gold.  I'll assay the cloth if you like."

Van took the sack in his hand, examined it silently, then glanced as
before at his papers.

"Salted--by that lump of a Briggs!"  His lip was curved in a mirthless
smile.  "I guess I've got it in the neck all right.  These last samples
tell the real story."  He slapped the papers across his hand, then tore
them up in tiny bits and threw them on the floor."

"Sorry, old man," said the assayer, as before.  "Hope you didn't pay
him much for the claim."

"Not much," said Van.  "All I had--and some of it borrowed money."

The assayer puckered up his mouth.

"Briggs has skipped--gone East."

"I know.  Well--all in a lifetime, I suppose.  Pay you, Frank, when I
can."

"That's all right," his friend assured him.  "Forget it if you like."

Van started off, but returned.

"Say, Frank," he said, "don't hawk this around.  It's bad enough for me
to laugh at myself.  I don't want the chorus joining in."

"I'm your clam," said Frank.  "So long, and better luck!"



CHAPTER X

THE LAUGHING WATER CLAIM

A man who lives by uncertainties has a singular habit of mind.  He is
ever lured forward by hopes and dreams that overlap each other as he
goes.  While the scheme in hand is proving hopeless, day by day, he
grasps at another, just ahead, and draws himself onward towards the
gilded goal, forgetful of the trickery of all those other schemes
behind, that were equally bright in their day.

Van had relinquished all hold on the golden dream once dangled before
him by the Monte Cristo mine, to lay strong hands on the promise
vouchsafed by the "See Saw" claim which he had purchased.  As he walked
away from the assayer's shop he felt his hands absolutely empty.  For
the very first time in at least four years he had no blinding glitter
before his vision to entice him to feverish endeavor.  He was a dreamer
with no dreams, a miner without a mine.

He felt chagrined, humiliated.  After all his time spent here in the
world's most prodigious laboratory of minerals, he had purchased a
salted mine!  A sharper man, that sad-faced, half-sick Selwyn Briggs,
had actually trimmed him like this!

Salted!  And he was broke.  Well, what was the next thing to do?  He
thought of the fine large bill of goods, engaged for himself and
partners to take to the "See Saw" claim.  It made him smile.  But he
would not rescind the order--for a while.  His partners, with his
worldly goods, the Chinese cook and all the household, save Cayuse,
would doubtless arrive by noon.  He and they had to eat; they had to
live.  Also they had to mine, for they knew nothing else by way of
occupation.  They must somehow get hold of some sort of claim, and go
on with their round of hopes and toil.  They had never been so utterly
bereft--so outcast by the goddess of fortune--since they had thrown
their lots together.

He dreaded the thought of meeting various acquaintances here in
camp--the friends to whom he had said he was going that day to the "See
Saw" property, far over the Mahogany range, near the Indian
reservation.  He determined to go.  Perhaps the shack and the
shaft-house on the claim, with the windlass and tools included by
Briggs in the bill of sale, might fetch a few odd dollars.

Slowly down the street he went to the hay-yard where his pony was
stabled.  He met a water man, halting on his rounds at the front of a
neat canvas dwelling.  The man had three large barrels on a wagon, each
full of muddy, brackish water.  A long piece of hose was thrust into
one, its other end dangled out behind.

From the tent emerged a woman with her buckets.  The water man placed
the hose-end to his mouth, applied a lusty suction, and the water came
gushing forth.  He filled both receptacles, collected the price, and
then drove on to the next.

Sardonically Van reflected that even the fine little stream of water on
his claim, in a land where water was so terribly scarce, was absolutely
worthless as an asset.  It was over a mountain ridge of such tremendous
height that it might as well have been in the forests of Maine.

Despite the utter hopelessness of his present situation, his spirits
were not depressed.  Gettysburg, he reflected, was a genius for bumping
into queer old prospectors--relics of the days of forty-nine, still
eagerly pursuing their _ignis fatuous_ of gold--and from some such
desert wanderer he would doubtless soon pick up a claim.  There was
nothing like putting Gettysburg upon the scent.

Van wrote a note to his partners.


"Dear Fellow Mourners:

"Have just discovered a joke.  I was salted on the 'See Saw' property.
Our pipe dream is defunct.  Have gone over to lay out remains.  If you
find any oldtimers who have just discovered some lost bonanza, take
them into camp.  Don't get drunk, get busy.  Be back a little after
noon."


This he left with the hay-yard man where his partners would stop when
they arrived.  Mounted on Suvy, his outlaw of the day before, he rode
from Goldite joyously.  After all, what was the odds?  He had been no
better off than now at least a hundred times.  At the worst he still
had his partners and his horse, a breakfast aboard, and a mountain
ahead to climb.

Indeed, at the light of friendship in his broncho's eyes, as well as at
the pony's neigh of welcome, back there at the yard, he had felt a
boundless pleasure in his veins.  He patted the chestnut's neck, in his
rough, brusque way of companionship, and the horse fairly quivered with
pleasure.

For nearly two hours the willing animal went zig-zagging up the rocky
slopes.  The day was warming; the sun was a naked disk of fire.  It was
hard climbing.  Van had chosen the shorter, steeper way across the
range.  From time to time, where the barren ascent was exceptionally
severe, he swung from the saddle and led the broncho on, to mount
further up as before.

Thus they came in time to a zone of change, over one of the ridges, a
region where rocks and ugliness gave way to a growth of brush and
stunted trees.  These were the outposts, ragged, dwarfed, and warped,
of a finer growth beyond.

Fifteen miles away, down between the hills, flowed a tortuous stream,
by courtesy called a river.  It sometimes rose in a turgid flood, but
more often it sank and delivered up its ghost to such an extent that a
man could have held it in his hat.  Nevertheless some greenery
flourished on its banks.

When Van at last could oversee the vast, unpeopled lands of the Piute
Indian reservation, near the boundary of which his salted claim had
been staked, he had only a mile or so to ride, and all the way down
hill.

He came to the property by eleven o'clock of the morning.  He looked
about reflectively.  The rough board cabin and the rougher shaft-house
were scarcely worth knocking down for lumber.  There, on the big,
barren dike, were several tunnels and prospects, in addition to the
shaft, all "workings" that Briggs had opened up in his labors on the
ledge.  They were mere yawning mockeries of mining, but at least had
served a charlatan's requirements.  A few tools lay about, abominably
neglected.

The location was rather attractive, on the whole.  The clear stream of
water had coaxed a few quaking aspens and alders into being, among the
stunted evergreens.  Grass lay greenly along the bank, a charming
relief to the eye.  The sandy soil was almost level in the narrow cove,
which was snugly surrounded by hills, except at the lower extremity,
where the brook tumbled down a wide ravine.

Van, on his horse, gazed over towards the Indian reservation idly.  How
vain, in all likelihood, were the wonderful tales of gold ledges lying
within its prohibited borders.  What a madness was brewing in the camps
all around as the day for the reservation opening rapidly approached!
How they would swarm across its hills and valleys--those gold-seeking
men!  What a scramble it would be, and all for--what?

There were tales in plenty of men who had secretly prospected here on
this forbidden land, and marked down wonderful treasures.  Van looked
at his salted possessions.  What a chance for an orgie of salting the
reservation claims would afford!

With his pony finally secured to a tree near at hand, the horseman
walked slowly about.  A gold pan lay rusting, half filled with rock and
dirt, by a bench before the cabin.  It was well worth cleaning and
taking away, together with some of the picks, drills, and hammers.

He carried it over to the brook.  There he knelt and washed it out,
only to find it far more rusted than it had at first appeared.  He
scooped it full of the nearest gravel and scoured it roughly with his
hands.  Three times he repeated this process, washing it out in the
creek.

Ready to rise with it, cleaned at last, he caught up a shallow film of
water, flirted it about with a rotary motion, to sluice out the last
bit of stubborn dross, then paused to stare in unbelief at a few bright
particles down at the edge, washed free of all the gravel.

Incredulous and not in the least excited, he drew a small glass from
has pocket and held it on the specks.  There could be no doubt of their
nature.  They were gold.

Interested, but doubting the importance of his find, Van pawed up half
a pan full of gravel and dipped the receptacle full of water.  Then
stirring the sand and stuff with his hand, he panned it carefully.

The result at the end was such a string of colors as he had never
washed in all his wide experience.  To make a superficial prospect of
the claim he proceeded to pan from a dozen different places in the
cove, and in every instance got an exceptional showing of coarse,
yellow gold, with which the gravel abounded.

He knelt motionless at last, beside the stream, singularly unperturbed,
despite the importance of his find.  Briggs had slipped up, absolutely,
on the biggest thing in many miles around, by salting and selling a
quartz claim here to a man with a modest sum of money.

The cove was a placer claim, rich as mud in gold, and with everything
needed at hand.

Then and there the name of the property was changed from the "See Saw"
to the "Laughing Water" claim.



CHAPTER XI

ALGY STIRS UP TROUBLE

Bostwick arrived in Goldite at three in the afternoon, dressed in
prison clothes.  He came on a freight wagon, the deliberate locomotion
of which had provided ample time for his wrath to accumulate and
simmer.  His car was forty miles away, empty of gasolene, stripped of
all useful accessories, and abandoned where the convicts had compelled
him to drive them in their flight.

A blacker face than his appeared, with anger and a stubble of beard
upon it, could not have been readily discovered.  His story had easily
outstripped him, and duly amused the camp, so that now, as he rode
along the busy street, in a stream of lesser vehicles, autos, and dusty
horsemen, arriving by two confluent roads, he was angered more and more
by the grins and ribald pleasantries bestowed by the throngs in the
road.

To complicate matters already sufficiently aggravating, Gettysburg,
Napoleon C. Blink, and Algy, the Chinese cook, from the Monte Cristo
mine, now swung into line from the northwest road, riding on horses and
burros.  They were leading three small pack animals, loaded with all
their earthly plunder.

The freight team halted and a crowd began to congregate.  Bostwick was
descending just as the pack-train was passing through the narrow way
left by the crowd.  His foot struck one of the loaded burros in the
eye.  The animal staggered over against the wall of men, trampling on
somebody's feet.  Somebody yelled and cursed vehemently, stepping on
somebody else.  A small-sized panic and melee ensued forthwith.  More
of the animals took alarm, and Algy was frightened half to death.  His
pony, a wall-eyed, half-witted brute, stampeded in the crowd.  Then
Algy was presently in trouble.

There had been no Chinese in Goldite camp, largely on account of race
prejudice engendered and fostered by the working men, who still
maintained the old Californian hatred against the industrious
Celestials.  In the mob, unfortunately near the center of confusion,
was a half-drunken miner, rancorous as poison.  He was somewhat roughly
jostled by the press escaping Algy's pony.

"Ye blank, blank chink--I'll fix ye fer that!" he bawled at the top of
his voice, and heaving his fellow white men right and left he laid
vicious hands on the helpless cook and, dragging him down, went at him
in savage brutality.

"Belay there, you son of a shellfish!" yelled Napoleon, dismounting and
madly attempting to push real men away.  "I'll smash in your
pilot-house!  I'll----  Leave me git in there to Algy!"

Gettysburg, too, was on the ground.  He, Bostwick, and a hundred men
were madly crowded in together, where two or three were pushing back
the throng and yelling to Algy to fight.

Algy was fighting.  He was also spouting most awful Chinese oaths,
sufficient to warp an ordinary spine and wither a common person's
limbs.  He kicked and scratched like a badger.  But the miner was an
engine of destruction.  He was aggravated to a mood of gory slaughter.
He broke the Chinaman's arm, almost at once, with some viciously
diabolical maneuver and leaped upon him in fury.

In upon this scene of yelling, cursing, and fighting Van rode
unannounced.  He saw the crowd increasing rapidly, as saloons, stores,
hay-yard, bank, and places of lodging poured out a curious army, mostly
men, with a few scattered women among them--all surging eagerly forward.

Algy, meantime, in a spasm of pain and activity, struggled to his feet
from the dust and attempted to make his escape.  Van no more than
beheld him that he leaped from his horse and broke his way into the
ring.

When he laid his hand on the miner's collar it appeared as if that
individual would be suddenly jerked apart.  Algy went down in collapse.

"Why don't you pick on a man of your color?"

Van demanded, and he flung the miner headlong to the ground.

A hundred lusty citizens shouted their applause.

Little Napoleon broke his way to the center.  Gettysburg was just
behind him.  Van was about to kneel on the ground and lift his
prostrate cook when someone bawled out a warning.

He wheeled instantly.  The angered miner, up, with a gun in hand, was
lurching in closer to shoot.  He got no chance, even to level the
weapon.  Van was upon him like a panther.  The gun went up and was
fired in the air, and then was hurled down under foot.

Two things happened then together.  The sheriff arrived to arrest the
drunken miner, and a woman pushed her way through the press.

"Van!" she cried.  "Van--oh, Van!"

He was busy assisting his partners to escort poor Algy away.  He noted
the woman as she parted the crowd.  He was barely in time to fend her
off from flinging herself in his arms.

"Oh, Van!" she repeated wildly.  "I thought you was goin' to git it
sure!"

"Don't bother me, Queenie," he answered, annoyed, and adding to
Gettysburg, "Take him to Charlie's," he turned at once to his broncho,
mounted actively, and began to round up the scattered animals brought
into camp by his partners.

He had barely ridden clear of the crowd when his glance was caught by a
figure off to the left.

It was Beth.  She was standing on a packing case, where the surging
disorder had sent her.  She had seen it all, the fight, his arrival,
and the woman who would have clasped him in her arms.

Her face was flushed.  She avoided his gaze and turned to descend to
the walk.  Then Bostwick, in his convict suit, stepped actively forward
to meet her.

Van saw the look of surprise in her face, at beholding the man in this
attire.  She recoiled, despite herself, then held forth her hand for
his aid.  Bostwick took it, assisted her down, and they hastily made
their escape.



CHAPTER XII

BOSTWICK LOSES GROUND

The one retreat for Beth was the house where she was lodging.  She went
there at once, briefly explaining to Bostwick on the way how it chanced
she had come the day before.  What had happened to himself she already
knew.

Bostwick was a thoroughly angered man.  He had seen the horseman in the
fight and had hoped to see him slain.  To find Beth safe and even
cheerful here annoyed him exceedingly.

"Have you lodged a complaint--done anything to have this fellow
arrested?" he demanded, alluding to Van.  "Have you reported what was
done to me?"

"Why, no," said Beth.  "What's the use?  He did it all in kindness,
after all."

"Kindness!"

"Of a sort--a rough sort, perhaps, but genuine--a kindness to me--and
Elsa," she answered, flushing rosily.  "He saved me from----" she
looked at the convict garb upon him, "--from a disagreeable experience,
I'm sure, and secured me the very best accommodations in the town."

They had almost come to her lodgings.  Bostwick halted in the road, his
gun-metal jaw protruding formidably.

"You haven't already begun to admire this ruffian--glorify this
outlaw?" he growled, "--after what he did to me?"

"Don't stop to discuss it here," she answered, beholding Mrs. Dick at
the front of the house.  "I haven't had time to do anything.  You must
manage to change your clothes."

"I'll have my reckoning with your friend," he assured her angrily.
"Have you engaged a suite for me?"

They had come to the door of the house.  Beth beheld the look of
amazement, suspicion, and repugnance on the face of Mrs. Dick, and her
face burned red once more.

"Oh, Mrs. Dick," she said, "this is Mr. Bostwick, of whom I spoke." She
had told of Bostwick's capture by the convicts.  "Do you think you
could find him a room?"

"A room?  I want a suite--two rooms at least," said Bostwick
aggressively.  "Is this a first-class place?"

"It ain't no regular heaven, and I ain't no regular Mrs. Saint Peter,"
answered Mrs. Dick with considerable heat, irritated by Bostwick's
personality and recognizing in him Van's "smoke-faced Easterner."  She
added crisply: "So you might as well vamoose the ranch, fer I couldn't
even put you in the shed."

"But I've got to have accommodations!" insisted Bostwick.  "I prefer
them where my fiancée--where Miss Kent is stopping.  I'm sure you can
manage it someway--let someone go.  The price is no object to me."

"I don't want you that bad," said Mrs. Dick frankly.  "I said no and
I'm too busy to say it again."

She bustled off with her ant-like celerity, followed by Bostwick's
scowls.

"You'll have to give up your apartments here," he said to Beth.  "I'll
find something better at once."

"Thank you, I'm very well satisfied," said Beth.  "You'll find this
town quite overcrowded."

"You mean you propose to stay here in spite of my wishes?"

"Please don't wish anything absurd," she answered.  "This is really no
place for fastidious choosing--and I am very comfortable."

A lanky youth, with a suitcase and three leather bags, came shuffling
around the corner and dropped down his load.

"Van told me to bring 'em here with his--something I don't remember,"
imparted the youth.  "That's all," and he grinned and departed.

Bostwick glowered, less pleased than before.

"That fellow, I presume.  He evidently knows where you are stopping."

Beth was beginning to feel annoyed and somewhat defiant.  She had never
dreamed this man could appear so repellant as now, with his stubble of
beard and this convict garb upon him.  She met his glance coldly.

"He found me the place.  I am considerably in his obligation."

Bostwick's face grew blacker.

"Obligation?  Why don't you admit at once you admire the fellow?--or
something more.  By God!  I've endured about as much----"

"Mr. Bostwick!" she interrupted.  She added more quietly: "You've been
very much aggravated.  I'm sorry.  Now please go somewhere and change
your clothing."

"Aggravated?" he echoed.  "You ought to know what he is, by instinct.
You must have seen him in a common street brawl!  You must have seen
that woman--that red-light night-hawk throwing herself in his arms.
And to think that you--with Glenmore in town----  Why isn't your
brother here with you?"

Beth was smarting.  The sense of mortification she had felt at the
sight of that woman in the street with Van, coupled with the sheer
audacity of his conduct towards herself that morning, had already
sufficiently shamed her.  She refused, however, to discuss such a
question with Bostwick.

"Glen isn't here," she answered coldly.  "I trust you will soon be
enabled to find him--then--we can go."

"Not here?" repeated Bostwick.  "Where is he, then?"

"Somewhere out in another camp--or mining place--or something.  Now
please go and dress.  We can talk it over later."

"This is abominable of Glen," said Bostwick.  "Is McCoppet in town?"

She looked her surprise.  "McCoppet?"

"You don't know him, of course," he hastened to say.  "I shall try to
find him at once."  He turned to go, beheld her luggage, and added: "Is
there anyone to take up your things?"

She could not bear to have him enter her apartment in this awful prison
costume.

"Oh, yes," she answered.  "You needn't be bothered with the bags."

"Very well.  I shall soon return."  He departed at once, his impatience
suddenly increased by the thought of seeking out McCoppet.

Beth watched him going.  A sickening sense of revulsion invaded all her
nature.  And when her thoughts, like lawless rebels, stole guiltily to
Van, she might almost have boxed her own tingling ears in sheer
vexation.

She entered the house, summoned Elsa from her room, and had the luggage
carried to their quarters.  Then she opened her case, removed some
dainty finery, and vaguely wondered if the horseman would like her in
old lavender.

Van, in the meantime, had been busy at the hay-yard known as Charlie's.
Not only had Algy's arm been broken, by the bully in the fight, but he
had likewise been seriously mauled and beaten.  His head had been cut,
he was hurt internally.  A doctor, immediately summoned by the
horseman, had set the fractured member.  Algy had then been put to bed
in a tent that was pitched in the yard where the horses, mules, cows,
pyramids of merchandise, and teamsters were thicker than flies on
molasses.

Gettysburg and Napoleon, quietly informed by Van of the latest turn of
their fortune, were wholly unexcited by the news.  The attack on Algy,
however, had acted potently upon them.  They started to get drunk and
achieved half a load before Van could herd them back to camp.

Napoleon was not only partially submerged when Van effected his
capture; he was also shaved.  Van looked him over critically.

"Nap," he said, "what does this mean?--you wasting money on your face?"

Napoleon drunk became a stutterer, who whistled between his discharges
of seltzer.

"Wheresh that little g-g-g-(whistle) girl?" he answered, "--lit-tle
D-d-d-d-(whistle) Dutch one that looksh like--looksh like--quoth the
r-r-r-r-(whistle) raven--NEVER MORE!"

Van divined that this description was intended to indicate Elsa.

"Gone back to China," said he.  "That shave of yours is wasted on the
desert air."

Gettysburg, whose intellect was top heavy, had the singular habit, at a
time like this, of removing his crockery eye and holding it firmly in
his fist, to guard it from possible destruction.  He stared uncertainly
at both his companions.

"China!" said he tragically.  "China?"

"Hold on, now, Gett," admonished Van, steering his tall companion as a
man might steer a ladder, "you don't break out in the woman line again
or there's going to be some concentrated anarchy in camp."

"No, Van, no--now honest, no woman," said Gettysburg in a confidential
murmur.  "I had my woman eye took out the last time I went down to
'Frisco."

"You're a l-l-l-(whistle) liar!" ejaculated Napoleon.

"What!" Gettysburg fairly shrieked.

"Metaphorical  speakin'--meta phor-f-f-f-f-f-(whistle) phorical
speakin'," Napoleon hastened to explain.
"Metaphor-f-f-f-(whistle)-phorical means you don't really
m-m-m-m-(whistle) mean what you say--means--quoth the
r-r-r-r-r-(whistle) raven--NEVER MORE!"

Van said: "If you two old idiots don't do the lion and the lamb act
pretty pronto I'll send you both to the poor house."

They had entered the hay-yard, among the mules and horses.  Gettysburg
promptly reached down, laid hold of Napoleon, and kissed him violently
upon the nose.

Napoleon wept.  "What did I s-s-s-s-(whistle) say?" he sobbed
lugubriously.  "Oh, death, where is thy s-s-s-s-(whistle) sting?"

Evening had come.  The two fell asleep in Algy's tent, locked in each
other's arms.



CHAPTER XIII

A COMBINATION OF FORCES

Bostwick effected a change of dress in the rear of the nearest store.
A rough blue shirt, stout kahki garments and yellow "hiking" boots
converted him into one of the common units of which the camp throng was
comprised.  He was then duly barbered, after which he made a strenuous
but futile endeavor to procure accommodations for the night.

There was no one with leisure to listen to his tirade on the shameful
inadequacy of the attributes of civilization in the camp, and after one
brief attempt to arouse civic indignation against Van for his acts of
deliberate lawlessness, he perceived the ease with which he might
commit an error and render himself ridiculous.  He dropped all hope of
publicly humiliating the horseman and deferred his private vengeance
for a time more opportune.

Wholly at a loss to cope with a situation wherein he found himself so
utterly neglected and unknown, despite the influential position he
occupied both in New York and Washington, he resolved to throw himself
entirely upon the mercies of McCoppet.

He knew his man only through their correspondence, induced by Beth's
brother, Glenmore Kent.  Inquiring at the bank, he was briefly directed
to the largest saloon of the place.  When he entered the bar he found
it swarming full of men, miners, promoters, teamsters, capitalists,
gamblers, lawyers, and--the Lord alone knew what.  The air was a reek
of smoke and fumes of liquor.  A blare of alleged music shocked the
atmosphere.  Men drunk and men sober, all were talking mines and gold,
the greatness of the camp, the richness of the latest finds, and the
marvel of their private properties.  Everyone had money, everyone had
chunks of ore to show to everyone else.

At the rear were six tables with layouts for games of chance.  Faro,
"klondike," roulette, stud-poker, almost anything possibly to be
desired was there.  All were in full blast.  Three deep the men were
gathered about the wheel and the "tiger."  Gold money in stacks stood
at every dealer's hand.  Bostwick had never seen so much metal currency
in all his life.

He asked for McCoppet at the bar.

"Opal?  Somewhere back--that's him there, talkin' to the guy with the
fur on his jaw," informed the barkeeper, making a gesture with his
thumb.  "What's your poison?"

"Nothing, thank you," answered Bostwick, who started for his man, but
halted for McCoppet to finish his business with his friend.

The man on whom Bostwick was gazing was a tall, slender, slightly
stooped individual of perhaps forty-five, with a wonderful opal in his
tie, from which he had derived his sobriquet.  He was clean-shaved, big
featured, and gifted with a pair of heavy-lidded eyes as lustreless as
old buttons.  He had never been seen without a cigar in his mouth, but
the weed was never lighted.

Bostwick noted the carefulness of the man's attire, but gained no clue
as to his calling.  To avoid stupid staring he turned to watch a game
of faro.  Its fascinations were rapidly engrossing his attentions and
luring him onward toward a reckless desire to tempt the goddess of
chance, when he presently beheld McCoppet turn away from his man and
saunter down the room.

A moment later Bostwick touched him on the shoulder.

"Beg pardon," he said, "Mr. McCoppet?"

McCoppet nodded.  "My name."

"I'd like to introduce myself--J. Searle Bostwick," said the visitor.
"I expected to arrive, as I wrote you----"

"Glad to meet you, Bostwick," interrupted the other, putting forth his
hand.  "Where are you putting up?"

"I haven't been able to find accommodations," answered Bostwick warmly.
"It's an outrage the way this town is conducted.  I thought perhaps----"

"I'll fix you all right," cut in McCoppet.  "Are you ready for a talk?
Nothing has waited for you to come."

"I came for an interview--in fact----"

"Private room back here," McCoppet announced, and he started to lead
the way, pausing for a moment near a faro table to cast a cold glance
at the dealer.

"Wonderfully interesting game," said Bostwick.  "It seems as if a man
might possibly beat it."

There might have been a shade of contempt in the glance McCoppet cast
upon him.  He merely said: "He can't."

Bostwick laughed.  "You seem very positive."

McCoppet was moving on again.

"I own the game."

He owned everything here, and had his designs on two more places like
it, down the street.  He almost owned the souls of many men, but gold
and power were the goals on which his eyes were riveted.

Bostwick glanced at him with newer interest as they passed down the
room, and so to a tight little office the walls of which were specially
deadened against the transmission of sound.

"Have anything to drink?" inquired the owner, before he took a chair,
"--whiskey, wine?"

"Thanks, no," said Bostwick, "not just yet."  He took the chair to
which McCoppet waved him.  "I must say I'm surprised," he admitted, "to
see the numbers of men, the signs of activity, and all the rest of it
in a camp so young.  And by the way, it seems young Kent is away."

"Yes," said the gambler, settling deeply into his chair and sleepily
observing his visitor.  "I sent him away last week."

Bostwick was eager.

"On something good for the--for our little group?"

"On a wild goose séance," answered McCoppet.  "He's in the way around
here."

"Oh," said Bostwick, who failed to understand.  "I thought----"

"Yes.  I culled your thought from your letters," interrupted his host
drawlingly.  "We might as well understand each other first as last.
Bostwick--are you out here to work this camp my way or the kid's?"

Bostwick was cautious.  "How does he wish to work it?"

"Like raising potatoes."

"And your plan is----"

"Look here, do I stack up like a Sunday-school superintendent?  I
thought you and I understood each other.  I don't run no game the other
man can maybe beat.  Didn't you come out here with that understanding?"

"Certainly, I----"

"Then never mind the kid.  What have you got in your kahki?"

"Our syndicate to buy the Hen Hawk group----" started Bostwick, but the
gambler cut in sharply.

"That's sold and cold.  You have to move here; things happen.  What did
you do about the reservation permit?"

Bostwick looked about the room furtively, and edged his chair a bit
closer.

"I secured permission from Government headquarters to explore all or
any portions of the reservation, and take _assistants_ with me," he
imparted in a lowered tone of voice.  "I had it mailed to me here by
registered post.  It should be at the post-office now."

"Right," said McCoppet with more of an accent of approval in his
utterance.  "Get it out to-day.  I've got your corps of assistants
hobbled here in camp.  They can get on the ground to-morrow morning."

Bostwick's eyes were gleaming.

"There's certainly gold on this reservation?"

"Now, how can anybody tell you that?" demanded McCoppet, who from his
place here in Goldite had engineered the plan whereby his and
Bostwick's expert prospectors could explore every inch of the
Government's forbidden land in advance of all competitors.  "We're
taking a flyer, that's all.  If there's anything there--we're on."

Bostwick reflected for a moment.  "There's nothing at present that our
syndicate could do?"

"There'll be plenty of chances to use ready money," McCoppet assured
him, rising.  "You're here on the ground.  Keep your shirt on and leave
the shuffling to me."

Bostwick, too, arose.  "How long will young Kent be away?"

"As long as I can keep him busy out South."

"What is he doing out South?"

"Locating a second Goldite," said the gambler.  "Keeps him on the
move."  He threw away his chewed cigar, placed a new one in his mouth,
and started for the door.  "Come on," he added, "I'll identify you over
at the postoffice and show you where you sleep."



CHAPTER XIV

MOVING A SHACK

Less than a week had passed since Bostwick's arrival in Goldite, but
excitement was rife in the air.  Despite the angered protests of half a
thousand mining men, the Easterner, with four of the shrewdest
prospectors in the State, had traversed the entire mineral region of
the reservation in the utmost security and assurance.  Five hundred men
had been forced to remain at the border, at the points of official
guns.  A few desperate adventurers had crept through the guard, but
nearly all were presently captured and ejected from the place, while
Bostwick--granted special privileges--was assuming this inside track.

The day for the opening of the lands was less than two weeks off--and
the news leaked out and spread like a wind that the "Laughing Water"
claim had suddenly promised amazing wealth as a placer where Van and
his partners were taking out the gold by the simplest, most primitive
of methods.

The rush for the region came like a stampede of cattle.  An army of men
went swarming over the ridges and overran the country like a plague of
ants.  They trooped across the border of the reservation, so close to
the "Laughing Water" claim, they staked out all the visible world,
above, below, and all about Van's property, they tore down each others'
monuments, including a number where Van had located new, protective
claims, and they builded a tent town over night, not a mile from his
first discovery.

At the claim in the cove the fortunate holders of a private treasury of
gold had lost no time.  In the absence of better lumber, for which they
had no money, Van and his partners had torn down the shaft-house, made
it into sluices, and turned in the water from the stream.  That was all
the plant required.  They had then commenced to shovel the gravel into
the trough-like boxes, and the gold had begun to lodge behind the
riffles.

The cove became a theatre of curiosity, envy, and covetous longings.
Men came there by motor, on horses, mules, and on foot to take one
delirious look and rush madly about to improve what chances still
remained.  The fame of it swept like prairie fire, far and wide.  The
new-made town began at once to spread and encroach upon all who were
careless of their holdings.  Lawlessness was rampant.

At the cabin on the "Laughing Water" claim Algy, the Chinese cook, was
still disabled.  Gettysburg was chief culinary artist.  Napoleon
hustled for grub, the only supplies of which were over at Goldite--and
expensive.  All were constantly exhausted with the labors of the day.

Despite their vigilance they awoke one morning to see a brand-new cabin
standing on the claim, at the top of a hill.  A man was on the rough
pine roof, rapidly laying weather paper.  Van beheld him, watched him
for a moment, then quietly walked over to the site.

"Say, friend," he called to the man on the roof, "you've broken into
Eden by mistake.  This property is mine and I haven't any building lots
to sell."

The visiting builder took out a huge revolver and laid it on a block.
He said nothing at all.  Van felt his impatience rising.

"I'm talking to you, Mr. Carpenter," he added.  "Come on, now, I don't
want any trouble with neighbors, but this cabin will have to be
removed."

"Go to hell!" said the builder.  He continued to pound in his nails.

"If I go," said Van calmly, "I'll bring a little back.  Are you going
to move or be moved?"

"Don't talk to me, I'm busy," answered the intruder.  "I'm an irritable
man, and everything I own is irritable, understand?"  And taking up his
gun he thumped with it briskly on the boards.

"If you're looking for trouble," Van replied, "you won't need a
double-barreled glass."

He turned away and the man continued operations.  When he came to the
shack Van selected a hammer and a couple of drills from among a lot of
tools in the corner.

To his partner's questions as to what the visitor intended he replied
that only time could tell.

"Here, Nap," he added, fetching forth the tools, "I want you to take
this junk and go up there where the neighbor is working.  Just sit down
quietly and drill three shallow holes and don't say a word to yonder
busy bee.  If he asks you what's doing, play possum--and don't make the
holes too deep."

Napoleon went off as directed.  His blows could presently be heard as
he drilled in a porphyry dike.

His advent puzzled the man intent on building.

"Say, you," said he, "what's on your programme?"

Napoleon drilled and said nothing.

The carpenter watched him in some uneasiness.

"Say, you ain't starting a shaft?"

No answer.

"Ain't this a placer?  Say, you, are you deef?"

Napoleon pounded on the steel.

"Go to hell!" said the builder, as he had before, "--a man that can't
answer civil questions!"

He resumed his labors, pausing now and then to stare at Napoleon, in a
steadily increasing dubiety of mind.

In something less than twenty minutes he had done very little roofing,
owing to a nervousness he found it hard to banish, while Napoleon had
all but completed his holes.  Then Van came leisurely strolling to the
place, comfortably loaded with dynamite, of which a man may carry much.

With utter indifference to the man on the roof he proceeded to charge
those shallow holes.  As a matter of fact he overcharged them.  He used
an exceptional amount of the harmless looking stuff, and laid a short
fuse to the cap.  When he turned to the builder, who had watched
proceedings with a sickening alarm at his vitals, that industrious
person had taken on a heavy, leaden hue.

"You see I went where you told me," said Van, "and I've brought some
back as I promised.  This shot has got to go before breakfast--and
breakfast is just about ready."

"For God's sake give a man a chance," implored the man who had
trespassed in the night.  "I'll move the shack to-morrow."

"You won't have to," Van informed him, "but you'd better move your meat
to-day."

He took out a match, scratched it with quiet deliberation and lighted
the end of the fuse.

"For God's sake--man!" cried the carpenter, and without even waiting to
climb from the roof he rolled to the edge in a panic, fell off on his
feet, and ran as if all the fiends of Hades were fairly at his heels.

Van and Napoleon also moved away with becoming alacrity.  Three minutes
later the charge went off.  It sounded like the crack of doom.  It
seemed to split the earth and very firmament.  A huge black toadstool
of smoke rose up abruptly.  Something like a blot of yellowish color
spattered all over the landscape.  It was the shack.

It had moved.  The smoke cloud drifted rapidly away.  On the hill was a
great jagged hole, lined with rock, but there was nothing more.  The
cabin was hung in lumber shreds on the stunted trees for hundreds of
feet in all directions.  With it went hammers, saws and a barrel of
nails whose usefulness was ended.

Gettysburg, aproned, and fresh from his labors at the stove, came
hastening out of the cabin to where his partners stood, in great
distress of mind.

"Holy toads, Van!" he said excitedly, "it must have been the shot!
I've dropped an egg--and what in the world shall I do?"

"Cackle, man, cackle," Van answered him gravely.  "That's a mighty rare
occurrence."

"And two-bits apiece!" almost wailed poor Gettysburg, diving back into
the cabin, "and only them four in the shack!"

That was also the day that Bostwick came out upon the scene.  He came
with his prospectors, all the party somewhat disillusionized as to all
that fabled gold upon the Indian reservation.

Some word of the wealth of the "Laughing Water" claim had come to
Searle early in the week.  He did not visit the cabin or the owners of
the cove.  For fifteen minutes, however, he sat upon his horse and
scanned the place in silence.  Then out of his newly-acquired knowledge
of the boundaries of the reservation the hounds of his mind jumped up a
half-mad plan.  His cold eyes glittered as he looked across to where
Van and his partners were toiling.  His lips were compressed in a smile.

He rode to Goldite hurriedly and sought out his friend McCoppet.  When
the two were presently closeted together where their privacy was
assured, a conspiracy, diabolically insidious, was about to have its
birth.



CHAPTER XV

HATCHING A PLOT

"You're back pretty pronto," drawled the gambler, by way of an opening
remark.  "Found something too big to keep hidden?"

"That reservation is a false alarm, as Billy and the others will tell
you," answered Bostwick, referring to McCoppet's chosen prospectors.
"The rush will prove a farce."

"You've decided sudden, ain't you?" asked McCoppet.  "There's a good
big deck there to stack."

"We've wasted time and money till to-day."  Bostwick rose from his
chair, put one foot upon it, and leaned towards the gambler as one
assuming a position of equality, if not of something more.  "Look here,
McCoppet, you asked me the day I arrived what sort of a game I'd come
to play.  I ask you now if you are prepared to play something
big--and--well, let us say, a trifle risky?"

"Don't insult my calling," answered the gambler.  "I call.  Lay your
cards on the table."

Bostwick sat down and leaned across the soiled green baize.

"You probably know as much as I do about the 'Laughing Water'
claim--its richness--its owners--and where it's located."

McCoppet nodded, narrowing his eyes.

"A good dog could smell their luck from here."

"But do you know where it lies--their claim?" insisted Bostwick
significantly.  "That's the point I'm making at present."

"It's just this side of the reservation, from what I hear," replied the
gambler, "but if there's nothing on the reservation even near the
'Laughing Water' ground----"

Bostwick interrupted impatiently: "What's the matter with _the
'Laughing Water' being on the reservation_?"

McCoppet was sharp but he failed to grasp his associate's meaning.

"But it ain't," he said, "and no one claims it is."

Bostwick lowered his voice and looked at the gambler peculiarly.

"No one claims it _yet_!"

McCoppet threw away his cigar and took out a new one.

"Well?  Come on.  I bite.  What's the answer?"

Bostwick leaned back in his chair.

"Suppose an accredited surveyor were to run out the reservation
line--the line next the 'Laughing Water' claim--and make an error of an
inch at the farthest end.  Suppose that inch, projected several miles,
became about a thousand feet--wouldn't the 'Laughing Water' claim be
discovered to be a part of the Indian reservation?"

McCoppet eyed him narrowly, in silence, for a moment.  He had suddenly
conceived a new estimate of the man who had come from New York.

Bostwick again leaned forward, continuing:

"No one will be aware of the facts but ourselves--therefore no one will
think of attempting to relocate the 'Laughing Water' ground, lawfully,
at six o'clock on the morning of the rush.  But we will be on hand,
with the law at our backs, and quietly take possession of the property,
on which--as it is reservation ground--the present occupants are
trespassing."

McCoppet heard nothing of what his friend was saying.  All the
possibilities outlined had flashed through his mind at Bostwick's first
intimation of the plan.  He was busy now with affairs far ahead in the
scheme.

"Culver, the Government agent and surveyor is a dark one," he mused
aloud, half to himself.  "If only Lawrence, his deputy, was in his
shoes----  Your frame-up sounds pretty tight, Bostwick, but Culver may
block us with his damnable squareness."

"Every man has his price," said Bostwick, "--big and little.  Culver,
you say, represents the Government?  Where is he now?"

McCoppet replied with a question: "Bostwick, how much have you got?"

Bostwick flushed.  "Money?  Oh, I can raise my share, I hope."

"You hope?" repeated the gambler.  "Ain't your syndicate back of any
game you open, with the money to see it started right?"

Bostwick was a trifle uneasy.  The "syndicate" of which he had spoken
was entirely comprised of Beth and her money, which he hoped presently
to call his own.  He had worked his harmless little fiction of big
financial men behind him in the certainty of avoiding detection.

"Of course, I can call on the money," he said, "but I may need a day or
so to get it.  How much shall we require?"

McCoppet chewed his cigar reflectively.

"Culver will sure come high--if we get him at all--but--it ought to be
worth fifty thousand to you and me to shift that reservation line a
thousand feet--if reports on the claim are correct."

It was a large sum.  Bostwick scratched the corner of his mouth.

"That would be twenty-five thousand apiece."

"No," corrected McCoppet, "twenty thousand for me and thirty for you,
for equal shares.  I've got to do the work underground."

"Perhaps I could handle what's his name, Culver, myself," objected
Bostwick.  "The fact that I'm a stranger here----"

"And what will you do if he refuses?" interrupted the gambler.  "Will
you still have an ace in your kahki?"

Bostwick stared.

"If he should refuse, and tell the owners----"

"Right.  Can you handle it then?"

Bostwick answered: "Can you?"

"It's my business to get back what I've lost--and a little bit more.
You leave it to me.  Keep away from Culver, and bring me thirty
thousand in the morning."

Bostwick was breathing hard.  He maintained a show of calm.

"The morning's a little bit soon for me to turn around.  I'll bring it
when I can."

McCoppet arose.  The interview was ended.  He added:

"Have a drink?"

"I'll wait," said Bostwick, "till we can drink a toast to the 'Laughing
Water' claim."

McCoppet opened the door, waved Bostwick into the crowded gaming room,
and was about to follow when his roving gaze abruptly lighted on a
figure in the place--a swarthy, half-breed Piute Indian, standing in
front of the wheel and roulette layout.

Quickly stepping back inside the smaller apartment, the gambler pulled
down his hat.  His face was the color of ashes.

"So long.  See you later," he murmured, and he closed the door without
a sound.

Bostwick, wholly at a loss to understand his sudden dismissal, lingered
for a moment only in the place, then made his way out to the street,
and went to the postoffice, where he found a letter from Glenmore Kent.
Intent upon securing the needed funds from Beth with the smallest
possible delay, he dropped the letter, unread, in his pocket and headed
for the house where Beth was living.  He walked, however, no more than
half a block before he altered his mind.  Pausing for a moment on the
sidewalk, he turned on his heel and went briskly to his own apartments,
where he performed an unusual feat.

First he read the letter from Kent.  It was dated from the newest camp
in the desert and was filled with glittering generalities concerning
riches about to be discovered.  It urged him, in case he had arrived in
Goldite, to hasten southward forthwith--"and bring a bunch of money."
Glenmore's letters always appealed for money--a fact which Bostwick had
remembered.

The man sat down at his table and wrote a letter to himself.  With
young Kent's epistle for his model, he made an amazingly clever forgery
of the enthusiastic writer's chirography, and at the bottom signed the
young man's name.

This spurious document teemed with figures and assertions concerning a
wonderful gold mine which Glenmore had virtually purchased.  He needed
sixty thousand dollars at once, however, to complete his remarkable
bargain.  Only two days of his option remained and therefore delay
would be fatal.  He expected this letter to find his friend at Goldite
and he felt assured he would not be denied this opportunity of a
lifetime to make a certain fortune.  He would, of course, appeal to
Beth--with certainty of her help from the wealth bequeathed her by her
uncle--but naturally she was too far away,

Glenmore was unaware of the fact that his sister had come to the West.
Bostwick overlooked no details of importance.  Armed with this
plausible missive, he went at once to Mrs. Dick's and found that Beth
was at home.



CHAPTER XVI

INVOLVING BETH

Goldite to the Eastern girl, who had found herself practically
abandoned for nearly a week, had proved to be a mixture of discomforts,
excitements, and disturbing elements.  Fascinated by the maelstrom of
the mining-camp life, and unwilling to retreat from the scene until she
should see her roving brother, and gratify at least a curiosity
concerning Van, she nevertheless felt afraid to be there, not only on
account of the roughness and uncertainty of the existence, but also
because, despite herself, she had attracted undesirable attention.
Moreover, the house was full of "gentlemen" lodgers, with three of whom
Elsa was conducting most violent flirtations.

There were few respectable women in the town.  It was still too early
for their advent.  Beth had been annoyed past all endurance.  There was
no possibility of even mild social diversions; there was no one to
visit.  While the street could be described as perfectly safe, it was
nevertheless an uncomfortable place in which to walk.  Bostwick's car
had been recovered and brought into camp, but skilled as she was at the
steering wheel, she had hardly desired or dared to take it out.

Crime was frequent in the streets and houses.  Disturbing reports of
marauding expeditions on the part of the convicts, still at large, came
with insistent frequency.  Altogether the week had been a trial to her
nerves.  It had also been a vexation.  No man had a right, she told
herself, to do and say the things that Van had said and done, only to
go off, without so much as a little good-by and give no further sign.
She told herself she had a right to at least some sort of opportunity
to tender her honest congratulations.  She had heard of his claim--the
"Laughing Water"--and perhaps she wished to know how it chanced to have
this particular name.  If certain disturbing reflections anent that
woman who had run to him wildly, out in the street, came mistily
clouding the estimate she tried to place upon his character, she
confessed he certainly had the right to make an explanation.  In a
purely feminine manner she argued that she had the right to some such
explanation--if only because of certain liberties he had taken with her
hands--on which memories still warmly burned.

Wholly undecided as to what she would do if she could, and impatient
with Bostwick for his sheer neglect in searching out her brother, she
was thoroughly glad to see him to-day when he came so unannounced to
the house.

"Well if you don't look like a mountaineer!" she said, as she met him
in the dining-room, which was likewise the parlor of the place.  "Where
in the world have you been, all this time?  You haven't come back
without Glen?"

He had gone away ostensibly to find her brother.

"Well, the fact is he wasn't where I went, after all," he said.  "I
hastened home, after all that trip, undertaken for nothing, and found a
letter from him here.  I've come at once to have an important talk."

"A letter?" she cried.  "Let me see it--let me read it, please.
He's--where?  He's well?  He's successful?"

"Sit down," answered Bostwick, taking a chair and placing his hat on
the table.  "There's a good deal to say.  But first, how have you been
here, all alone?"

"Oh--very well--I suppose," she answered, restraining the natural
resentment she felt at his patent neglect.  "It isn't exactly the place
I'd choose to remain in, alone all the time."

"Poor little girl, I've been thinking of that," he told her, reaching
across the table to take her hands.  "It's worried me, Beth, worried me
greatly--your unprotected position, and all that."

"Oh, you needn't worry."  She withdrew her hands.  Someway it seemed a
sacrilege for him to touch them--it was not to be borne--she hardly
knew why, or since when.  "I want to know about Glen," she added.
"Never mind me."

"But I do mind," he assured her.  His hand was trembling.  "Beth, I--I
can't talk much--I mean romantic talk, and all that, but--well--I've
about concluded we ought to be married at once--for your sake--your
protection--and my peace of mind.  I have thought about it ever since I
left you here alone."

The brightness expressive of the gayety of her nature departed from her
eyes.  She looked fixedly at the man's dark face, with its gray,
deep-set, penetrative eyes, its bluish jaw, and knitted brows.  It
frightened her, someway, as it never had before.  He had magnetized her
always--sometimes more than now, but his influence crept upon her
subtly even here.

"But I--I think I'd rather not--just yet," she faltered, crimsoning and
dropping her gaze to the table.  "You promised not to--to urge me
again--at least till I've spoken to Glen."

"But I could not have known--forseen these conditions," he told her,
leaning further towards her across the table.  "Why shouldn't we be
married now--at once?  A six months' engagement is certainly long
enough.  Your position here is--well--almost dubious.  You must see
that.  It isn't right of me--decent--not to make you my wife
immediately.  I wish to do so--I wish it very much."

She arose, as if to wrench herself free from the spell he was casting
upon her.

"I'm all right--I'm quite all right," she said.  "I'd rather not--just
now.  There's no one here who cares a penny who or what I am.  If my
position here is misunderstood--it can do no harm.  I'd rather you
wouldn't say anything further about it--just at present."

Her agitation did not escape him.  If he thought of the horseman who
had carried her off while sending himself to the convicts, his plan for
vengeance only deepened.

"You must have some reason for refusing."  He too arose.

"No--no particular reason," she answered, artlessly walking around the
table, apparently to pick up a button from the floor, but actually to
avoid his contact.  "I just don't wish to--to be married
now--here--that's all.  I ask you to keep your promise--not to ask it
while we remain."

He had feared to lose her a score of times before.  He feared it now
more potently than ever.  And there was much that he must ask.  The
risk of giving her a fright was not to be incurred.

"Very well," he said resignedly, "but--it's very hard to wait."

"Won't you sit down?" she asked him, an impulse of gratitude upon her.
"Now do be good and sensible, and tell me all about Glen."

She returned to the table and resumed her seat.

Bostwick sat opposite and drew his forged letter from his pocket.  He
had placed it in Glenmore's envelope after tearing the young man's
letter into scraps.

"This letter," said he, "was sent from way down in the desert--from
Starlight, another new camp.  It looks to me as if the boy has struck
something very important.  I'll read you what he says--or you can read
it for yourself."

"No, no--read it.  I'd rather listen."

He read it haltingly, as one who puzzles over unfamiliar writing.  Its
effect sank in the deeper for the method.  Beth was open-eyed with
wonder, admiration, and delight over all that Glen had done and was
about to accomplish.  She rose to the bait with sisterly eagerness.

"Why, he _must_ have the chance--he's _got_ to have the chance!" she
cried excitedly.  "What do you think of it yourself?"

Bostwick fanned the blaze with conservatism.

"It's quite a sum of money and Glen might overestimate the value of the
mine.  I've inquired around and learn that the property is considered
tremendously promising.  If we--if he actually secures that claim it
will doubtless mean a for----  I don't like to lose my sense of
judgment, but I do want to help the boy along.  Frankly, however, I
don't see how I can let him have so much.  I couldn't possibly send him
but thirty thousand dollars at the most."

Beth's eyes were blazing with excitement.  She had never dreamed that
Searle could be so generous--so splendid.  An impulse of gratitude and
admiration surged throughout her being.

"You'd _do_ it?" she said.  "You'll do as much as that for Glen?"

"Why, how can I do less?" he answered.  "That claim will doubtless be
worth half a million, maybe more--if all I hear is reliable--and I get
it from disinterested parties.  The boy has done a good big thing.
I've got to help him out.  It seems too bad to offer him only half of
what he needs, but I'm not a very wealthy man.  I can't be utterly
Quixotic.  We've all got to help him all we can."

"Oh, thank you, Searle--thank you for saying 'we,'" she said in a voice
that slightly trembled.  "I'm glad of the chance--glad to show dear
Glen that a sister can help a little, too."

He stared at her with an excellent imitation of surprise in his gaze.

"You'll--help?" he said in astonishment, masterfully simulated.  "Not
with the other thirty thousand?"

"Why not?" she cried.  "Why not, when Glen has the chance of his life?
You don't really think I'd hesitate?"

"But," said he, leading her onward, "he needs the money now--at once.
You'd have to get it here by wire, and all that sort of trouble."

"Then we'd better get things started," she said.  "You'll help me,
Searle, I'm sure."

"If you wish it," said Bostwick, "certainly."

"Dear Glen!" she said.  "Dear boy!  I'll write him a letter at once."

Bostwick started, alertly, as she ran in her girlish pleasure to a
stand where she had placed her materials for writing.

"Good," he commented drily, "I'll mail it with one of my own."

She dashed off a bright effusion with all her spontaneous enthusiasm.
Bostwick supplied her with the address, and presently took the letter
in his hand.  He had much to do at the bank, he informed her, by way of
preparing for the deal.  He promised to return when he could.

On his way down street be deliberately tore the letter to the smallest
of fragments and scattered them widely on the wind.



CHAPTER XVII

UNEXPECTED COMPLICATIONS

On the following morning news arrived in Goldite that temporarily
dimmed the excitement attendant upon stories of the "Laughing Water"
property and the coming stampede to the Indian reservation.

Matt Barger and three others of the convicts, still uncaptured, had
pillaged a freight team, of horses, provisions, and arms, murdered a
stage driver, robbed the express of a large consignment of gold, and
escaped as before to the mountains.

Two separate posses were in pursuit.  Rewards aggregating ten thousand
dollars were offered for Barger, dead or alive, with smaller sums for
each of his companions.  Their latest depredations had occurred
alarmingly close to the mining camp, from which travel was becoming
hazardous.

The gold theft was particularly disquieting to the Goldite mining
contingent.  Dangers beset their enterprises in many directions at the
very best.  To have this menace added, together with worry over every
man's personal safety in traveling about, was fairly intolerable.  The
inefficient posses were roundly berated, but no man volunteered to
issue forth and "get" Matt Barger--either alive or as a corpse.

The man who arrived with the news was one of Van's cronies, Dave, the
little station man whom Beth had met the morning of her coming.  He was
here in response to a summons from Van, who thought he saw an
opportunity to assist his friend to better things.  Everything Dave
owned he had fetched across the desert, including both the horses that
Beth and Elsa once had ridden.  The station itself he had sold.  He had
launched forth absolutely on Van's new promises, burning all his
bridges, as it were, behind him.

Van came down to meet him.  He had other concerns in Goldite, some with
Culver, the Government representative, and others a trifle more
personal, and intended to combine them all in one excursion.

No sooner had he appeared on the street, after duly stabling "Suvy" at
the hay-yard, than a hundred acquaintances, suddenly transformed into
intimate friends, by the change in his fortunes, pounced upon him in a
spirit of generosity, hilarity, and comaraderie that cloyed not only
his senses, but even his movements in the camp.

He was dragged and carried into four saloons like a helpless,
good-natured bear cub, strong enough to resist by inflicting injuries,
but somewhat amused by the game.  Intelligence of his advent went the
rounds.  The local editor and the girl he had addressed as "Queenie,"
on the day of the fight in the street, were rivals in another joyous
attack as he escaped at last to proceed about his own affairs.

The editor stood no chance whatsoever.  Van had nothing to say, and
said so.  Moreover, Queenie was a very persistent, as well as a very
pretty, young person, distressingly careless of deportment.  She clung
to Van like a bur.

"Gee, Van!" she cried with genuine tears in her eyes, "didn't I always
say you was the candy?  Didn't I always say I'd give you my head and
breathe through my feet--day or night?  Didn't I tell 'em all you was
the only one?  You're the only diamonds there is for me--and I didn't
never wait for you to strike it first."

"No, you didn't even wait for an invitation," answered Van with a
smile.  "Everybody's got to hike now.  I'm busy, trying to breathe."

She clung on.  Unfortunately, down in an Arizona town, Van had trounced
a ruffian once in Queenie's protection--simply because of her gender
and entirely without reference to her character or her future attitude
towards himself.  In her way she personified a sort of adoration and
gratitude, which could neither be slain nor escaped by anything that he
or anyone else could do.  Her devotion, however, had palled upon him
early, perhaps more because of its habit of increasing.  It had
recently become a pest.

"Busy?" she echoed.  "You said that before.  When ain't you going to be
busy?"

"When I'm dead," he answered, and wrenching loose he dived inside a
hardware store, to purchase a hunting knife for Gettysburg, then went
at once to a barber shop and shut out the torment of friends.

He escaped at the rear, when his face had been groomed, and made his
way unseen to Mrs. Dick's.

Beth was not at home.  She and Bostwick were together at the office of
the telegraph company, where Searle was assisting her, as she thought
to aid her brother, to such excellent purpose that her thirty thousand
dollars bid fair to repose in the bank at his call before the business
day should reach its end.

Mrs. Dick seemed to Van the one and only person in the camp unaffected
by the news of his luck.  She treated him precisely as she always had
and doubtless always should.  Therefore, he had no difficulty in
getting away to Culver at his office.

The official surveyor was a fat-cheeked, handsome man, with a silky
brown beard, an effeminate voice, and prodigious self-conceit.  He was
pacing up and down the inside office, at the rear of the rough board
building, when Van came in and found him.  The horseman's business was
one of maps and land-office data made essential to his needs by the new
recording of the "Laughing Water" property as a placer instead of a
quartz claim.  He had drawn a crude outline of his holdings and in
taking it forth from his pocket found the knife bought for Gettysburg
in the way.  He removed the weapon and placed it on the table near at
hand.

"There's so much of this desert unsurveyed," he said, "that no man can
tell whether he's just inside or just outside of Purgatory."

"So you come to me to find out?" Culver demanded somewhat shortly.  "Do
you tin-horn miners think that's all this office is for?"

"Well, in my instance, I had to come to some wiser spirit than myself
to get my bearings," answered Van drawlingly.  "You can see that."

"There are the maps."  Culver waved his hand towards a drawer in the
office table, and moved impatiently over to a window, the view from
which commanded a section of the street, including the bank.

Van was presently engrossed in a search for quarter sections, ranges,
and townships.

"Look here," said Culver, turning upon him aggressively, "what's this
racket I hear about you taking the inside track with that stunning new
petticoat in town?"

Van looked up without the least suspicion of the man's real meaning.

"If you are referring to that reckless young woman called Queenie----"

"Oh, Queenie--rats!" interrupted Culver irritably.  "You know who I
mean.  I guess you call her Beth."

Van's face took on a look of hardness as if it were chiseled in stone.
He had squared around as if at a blow.  For a moment he faced the
surveyor in silence.

"You are making some grave mistake," he said presently in ominous calm.
"Please don't make such an allusion as that again."

"So, the shot went home," Culver laughed unctuously, turning for a
moment from the window.  "I thought it would.  You know you couldn't
expect to keep anything like that all to yourself, Van Buren.  You're
not the only ladies' man on the beach.  And as for this clod of a
Bostwick----"  He had turned to look out as before, and grew suddenly
excited.  Beth was in view at the bank.  "By the gods!" he exclaimed
with a sudden change of tone, "she is the handsomest bit of
confectionery on earth.  If I don't win her----"

His utterance promptly ceased, together with his abominable activities
and primping in the window.  Van, who did not know that this creature
had been Beth's particular annoyance, had crossed the room without a
sound and laid his grip on Culver's collar.

"You cur!" he said quietly, and choking the man he flung him down
against the floor and wall as if he had been the merest puppet.

Someone had entered the outside door.  Neither Culver nor Van heard the
sound.  Culver rolled over, scrambled to his feet, and with his face
and neck engorged with rage, came rushing at the horseman like a fury.

"You blackguard!" he screamed, "I'll tear out your heart for that!
I'll kill you like----"

"Shut up!" Van commanded quietly, stopping the onrush of his angered
foe by putting his hand against the surveyor's face and sending him
reeling as before.  "Don't tell me what you'll do to me--or to anyone
else in this camp!  And if ever I hear of you opening your mouth again
as you did here a moment ago, I'll tie a knot so hard in your carcass
you'll have to be buried in a hat box!"

He glanced towards the doorway.  A stranger stood on the threshold.
Bowing, Van passed him and left the place, too angered to think either
of the maps or of his knife.

Culver, raging like a maniac, bowled headlong into the visitor, in his
effort to overtake the horseman, but found himself baffled and took out
his wrath in foul vituperation that presently drove the stranger from
the place.



CHAPTER XVIII

WHEREIN MATTERS THICKEN

The stranger who had witnessed the trouble at Culver's office had come
there at the instance of McCoppet.  It was, therefore, to McCoppet that
he carried the intelligence of what had taken place, so far as he had
seen.

The gambler was exceedingly pleased.  That Culver would now be ready,
as never before, to receive a proposition whereby the owners of the
"Laughing Water" claim could be deprived of their ground, he was well
convinced.

For reasons best known to himself and skillfully concealed from all
acquaintances, McCoppet had remained practically in hiding since the
moment in which he had beheld that half-breed Piute Indian in the
saloon.  He remained out of sight even now, dispatching a messenger to
Culver, in the afternoon, requesting his presence for a conference for
the total undoing of Van Buren.

Culver, who in ordinary circumstances might have refused this request
with haughty insolence, responded to the summons rather sooner than
McCoppet had expected.  He was still red with anger, and meditating
personal violence to Van at the earliest possible meeting.

McCoppet, with his smokeless cigar in his mouth, and his great opal
sentient with fire, received his visitor in the little private den to
which Bostwick had been taken.

"How are you, Culver?" he said off-handedly.

"I wanted to have a little talk.  I sent a man up to your shop a while
ago, and he told me you fired Van Buren out of the place on the run."

"That's nobody's business but mine," said Culver aggressively.  "If
that is all you care to talk about----"

"Don't roil up," interrupted the gambler.  "I don't even know what the
fight was about, and I don't care a tinker's whoop either.  I got you
here to give you a chance to put Van Buren out of commission and make a
lifetime winning."

Culver looked at him sharply.

"It must be something crooked."

"Nothing's crooked that works out straight," said McCoppet.  "What's
life anyhow but a sure-thing game?  It's stacked for us all to lose out
in the end.  What's the use of being finniky while we live--as long as
even the Almighty's dealing brace?"

Culver was impatient.  "Well?"

"I won't beat around the chapparal," said McCoppet.  "It ain't my way."
Nevertheless, with much finesse and art he contrived to put his
proposition in a manner to rob it of many of its ugly features.
However, he made the business plain.

"You see," he concluded, "the old reservation line might actually be
wrong--and all you'd have to do would be to put it right.  That's what
we want--we want the line put right."

Culver was more angered than before.  He understood the conspiracy
thoroughly.  No detail of its cleverness escaped him.

"If you thought you could trade on my personal unpleasantness with an
owner of the 'Laughing Water' claim," he said hotly, "you have made the
mistake of your life.  I wish you good-day."

He rose to go.  McCoppet rose and stopped him.

"Don't get feverish," said he.  "It don't pay.  I ain't requesting this
service from you for just your feelings against a man.  There's plenty
in this for us all."

"You mean bribe money, I suppose," said Culver no less aggressively
than before.  "Is that what you mean?"

"Don't call it hard names," begged the gambler.  "It's just a
retainer--say twenty thousand dollars."

Culver burned to the top of his ears.  He looked at McCoppet intently
with an expression the gambler could not interpret.

"Just to change that line a thousand feet," urged the man of gambling
propensities.  "I'll make it twenty-five."

Still Culver made no response.  With all his other hateful attributes
of character he was tempered steel on incorruptibility.  He was not
even momentarily tempted to avenge himself thus on Van Buren.

McCoppet thought he had him wavering.  He attempted to push him over
the brink.

"Say," said he persuasively, lowering his voice to a tone of the
confidential, "I can strain a little more out of one of my partners and
make it thirty thousand dollars."  He had no intention of employing a
cent of his own.  Bostwick was to pay all these expenses.  "Thirty
thousand dollars, cash," he repeated, "the minute you finish your
work--and make it look like a Government _correction_ of the line."

Culver broke forth on him with accumulated wrath.

"You damnable puppy!" he said in a futile effort to be adequate to the
situation.  "You sneak!  Of all the accursed
intrigues--insults--robberies that ever were hatched----  By God, sir,
if you offered me a million of money you shouldn't alter that
Government line by a hair!  If you speak to me again--I'll knock you
down!"

He flung the door wide open, went out like a rocket, and bowled a man
half over in his blind haste to be quit the place.

McCoppet was left there staring where he had gone--staring and afraid
of what the results would probably be to all the game.  He had no eyes
to behold a man who had suddenly discerned him from the crowds.  A
moment later he started violently as a huge form stood in the door.

"Trimmer!" he said, "I'm busy!"

"You're goin' to be busier in about a minute, if I don't see you right
now," said the man addressed as Trimmer, a raw, bull-like lumberman
from the mountains.  "Been waitin' to see you some time."

"Come in," said the gambler instantly regaining his composure.  "Come
in and shut the door.  How are you, anyway?"  He held out his hand to
shake.

Trimmer closed the door.  "Ain't ready to shake, jest yet," he said.
"I come here to see you on business."

"That's all right, Larry," answered McCoppet.  "That's all right.  Sit
down."

"I'm goin' to," announced his visitor.  He took a chair, pulled out a
giant cigar, and lighting it up smoked like a pile of burning leaves.
"You seem to be pretty well fixed," he added, taking a huge black
pistol from his pocket and laying it before him on the table.  "Looks
like money was easy."

"I ain't busted," admitted the gambler.  "Have a drink?"

"Not till we finish."  The lumberman settled in his chair.  "That was
the way you got me before--and you ain't goin' to come it again."

McCoppet waited for his visitor to open.  Trimmer was not in a hurry.
He eyed the man across the table calmly, his small, shifting optics
dully gleaming.

Presently he said; "Cayuse is here in camp."

Cayuse was the half-breed Piute Indian whose company McCoppet had
avoided.  Partially educated, wholly reverted to his Indian ways and
tribal brethren, Cayuse was a singular mixture of the savage, plus
civilized outlooks and ethical standards that made him a dangerous
man--not only a law unto himself, as many Indians are, but also a
strange interpreter of the law, both civilized and aboriginal.

McCoppet had surmised what was coming.

"Yes--I noticed he was here."

"Know what he come fer?" asked the lumberman.  "Onto his game?"

"You came here to tell me.  Deal the cards."

Trimmer puffed great lungfuls of the reek from his weed and took his
revolver in hand.

"Opal," said he, enjoying his moment of vantage, "you done me up for a
clean one thousand bucks, a year ago--while I was drunk--and I've been
laying to git you ever since."

McCoppet was unmoved.

"Well, here I am."

"You bet! here you are--and here you're goin' to hang out till we fix
things _right_!"  The lumberman banged his gun barrel on the table hard
enough to make a dent.  "That's why Cayuse is here, too.  Mrs. Cayuse
is dead."

The gambler nodded coldly, and Trimmer went on.

"She kicked the bucket havin' a kid which wasn't Cayuse's--too darn
white fer even him--and Cayuse is on the war trail fer that father."

McCoppet threw away his chewed cigar and replaced it with a fresh one.
He nodded as before.

"Cayuse is on that I know who the father was," resumed the visitor.  "I
told him to come here to Goldite and I'd give up the name."

He began to consume his cigar once more by inches and watched the
effect of his words.  There was no visible effect.  McCoppet had never
been calmer in his life--outwardly.  Inwardly he had never felt Dearer
to death, and his own kind of fright was upon him.

"Well," he said, "your aces look good to me.  What do you want--how
much?"

"I ought to hand you over to Cayuse--good riddance to the whole
country," answered Trimmer, with rare perspicacity of judgment.  "You
bet you're goin' to pay."

"If you want your thousand back, why don't you say so?" inquired the
gambler quietly.  "I'll make it fifteen hundred.  That's pretty good
interest, I reckon."

"Your reckoner's run down," Trimmer assured him.  "I want ten thousand
dollars to steer Cayuse away."

McCoppet slowly shook his head.  "You ain't a hog, Larry, you're a
Rockyfeller.  Five thousand, cash on the nail, if you show me you can
steer Cayuse so far off the trail he'll never get on it again."

Five thousand dollars was a great deal of money to Trimmer.  Ten
thousand was far in excess of his real expectations.  But he saw that
his power was large.  He was brutally frank.

"Nope, can't do it, Opal, not even fer a friend," and he grinned.
"I've got you in the door and I'm goin' to jamb you hard.  Five
thousand ain't enough."

Things had been going against the gambler for nearly an hour.  He had
been acutely alarmed by the presence of Cayuse in the camp.  His mind,
like a ferret in a trap, was seeking wildly for a loophole of
advantage.  Light came in upon him suddenly, with a thought of Culver,
by whom, subconsciously, he was worried.

"How do you mean to handle the half-breed?" he inquired by way of
preparing his ground.  "You've promised to cough up a name."

Trimmer scratched his head with the end of his pistol.

"I guess I could tell him I was off--don't know the father after all."

"Sounds like a kid's excuse," commented McCoppet.  "Like as not he'd
take it out of you."

The likelihood was so strong that Trimmer visibly paled.

"I've got to give him somebody's name," he agreed with alacrity.  "Has
anyone died around here recent?"

"Yes," answered McCoppet with ready mendacity.

"Culver, who used to do surveying."

"Who?" asked Trimmer.  "Don't know him."

McCoppet leaned across the table.

"Yes you do.  He stopped you once from stealing--from picking up a lot
of timber land.  Remember?"

Trimmer was interested.  His vindictive attributes were aroused.

"Was that the cuss?  I never seen him.  Do you think Cayuse would know
who he was?--and believe it--the yarn?"

"Cayuse was once his chain-man."  McCoppet was tremendously excited,
though apparently as cold as ice, as he swiftly thought out the
niceties of his own and fate's arrangements.  "Cayuse's wife once
worked for Mrs. Culver, cooking and washing."

"Say, anybody'd swaller that," reflected the lumberman aloud.  "But
five thousand dollars ain't enough."

"I'll make it seven thousand five hundred--that's an even split,"
agreed the gambler.  He thought he foresaw a means whereby he could
save this amount from the funds that Bostwick would furnish.  He rose
from his seat.  "A thousand down, right now--the balance when Cayuse is
gone, leaving me safe forever.  You to give him the name right now."

Trimmer stood up, quenched the light on the stub of his cigar, and
chewed up the butt with evident enjoyment.

"All right," he answered.  "Shake."

Ten minutes later he had found Cayuse, delivered up the name agreed
upon, and was busy spending his money acquiring a load of fiery drink.



CHAPTER XIX

VAN AND BETH AND BOSTWICK

Van was far too occupied to retain for long the anger that Culver had
aroused in all his being.  Moreover, he had come to camp in a mood of
joyousness, youth, and bounding emotions such as nothing could
submerge.  The incident with Culver was closed.  As for land-office
data, it was far from being indispensable, and Gettysburg's knife was
forgotten.

He had fetched down a nugget from the "Laughing Water" claim, a bright
lump of virgin gold, rudely fashioned by nature like a heart.  This he
took at once to a jeweler's shop, where more fine diamonds were being
sold than in all the rest of the State, and while it was being soldered
to a pin he returned to the hay-yard for Dave.  His business was to
purchase the mare on which, one beautiful morning when the wild peach
was in bloom, Beth Kent had ridden by his side.  Dave would have given
him the animal out of hand.  Van compelled him to receive a market
price.  Even ponies here were valuable, and Dave had been poor all his
life.

"Say, Van," he drawled, when at length the transaction was complete,
"this camp has set me to thinkin'.  It's full of these rich galoots,
all havin' an easy time.  If ever I git a wad of dough I'm comin' here
and buy five dollars worth of good sardines and eat 'em, every one.
Never have had enough sardines in all my life."

"I'd buy them for you now and sit you down," said Van, "only why start
a graveyard with a friend?"

Some woman who had come and gone from Goldite had disposed of a
beautiful side saddle, exposed in the hay-yard to the weather.  Van
paid fifty dollars and became its owner.  The outfit for Beth was soon
complete.  He ordered the best of feed and attention for her
roan--bills to be rendered to himself--and hastening off to the
jeweler's, found his pin ready and reposing in a small blue box.
Avoiding a number of admiring friends, he slipped around a corner, and
once more appeared at Mrs. Dick's.

Beth was in the dining-room, alone.  Her papers were spread upon the
table.  She was flushed with the day's excitements,

Van had entered unannounced.  His active tread upon the carpet of the
hall had made no sound.  When he halted in the doorway, transfixed by
the beauty of the face he saw reflected in the sideboard mirror
opposite, Beth was unconscious of his presence.

She was busily gathering up her documents.  Her pretty hands were
moving lightly on the table.  Her eyes were downcast, focused where she
worked.  Only the wondrous addition of their matchless brown, thought
Van, was necessary to complete a picture of the most exquisite
loveliness he had ever beheld.

He had come there prepared to be sedate--at least not over-bold again,
or too presumptuous.  Already, however, a riot of love was in his
veins.  He loved as he fought--with all his strength, with a tidal
impetuosity that could scarcely understand resistance or imagine
defeat.  To restrain himself from a quick descent upon her position and
a boyish sweeping of her up in his powerful arms was taxing the utmost
of his self-control.  Then Beth glanced up at the mirror.

The light of her eyes seemed to liquify his heart.  He felt that mad,
joyous organ spread abruptly, throughout his entire being.

She rose up suddenly and turned to greet him.

"Why--Mr. Van!" she stammered, flushing rosily.  "I _heard_ you were in
town."

He came towards her quietly enough, the jeweler's box in his hand.

"I called before," he answered in his off-hand way.  "You must have
been out with poor old Searle."

"Oh," she said, "poor old Searle?  Why poor?"

"I told you why before," he said boldly, in spite of himself.  He was
standing before her by the table, looking fairly into her eyes, with
that dancing boyishness amazingly bright in his own.  "You remember,
too--you can't forget."

The flush in her cheeks increased.  Her glance was lowered.

"You didn't give me time to--rebuke you for that," she answered,
attempting to assume a tone of severity.  "You had no right--it wasn't
nice or like you in the least."

"Yes it was, nice, and like me," he corrected.  "I've brought you a
nugget from the claim."  He opened the box and shook out the pin on the
table.

She had started to make a reply concerning his actions when leaving on
that former occasion.  The words were pushed aside.

"Oh, my!" she said in a little exclamation, instead.  "A
nugget!--gold!--not from the--not from your claim?"

His hand slightly trembled.

"From the 'Laughing Water' claim.  Named for the girl I'm going to
marry."

She gasped, almost audibly.  The things he said were so wholly
unexpected--so almost naked in their bluntness.

"The girl--some girl you--Isn't it beautiful?" she faltered helplessly.
"Of course I don't know--how any girl could have such a singular name."

"Yes you do," he corrected in his shockingly candid way.  "You know
when Dave gave her the name."

"Do I?" she asked weakly, trying to smile, and feeling some wonderful,
welcome sort of fear of the passion with which he fairly glowed.  "You
are--very positive."

He moved a trifle closer, touching the pin, with a finger, as she held
it in her hand.  His voice slightly shook as he asked:

"Do you like it?"

"The pin?  Of course.  A genuine nugget!  You were very kind, I'm sure."

"I thought when you and I ride over to the claim, some day, you ought
to have a horse of your own," he announced in his manner of finality.
"So your horse and outfit are over at Charlie's, at your order."

She looked up at him swiftly.  "My horse--over at Charlie's?"

"Yes, Charlie's--the hay-yard.  I thought you liked a side-saddle best
and I found a good one in the hay."

"But--I haven't any horse," she protested, failing for a moment to
grasp his meaning.  "How could I have a horse in Goldite?"

"You couldn't help having him--that's all--any more than you can help
having me."

The light in his eyes was far too magnetic for her own brown glance to
escape.  She hardly knew what she was saying, or what she was thinking.
She was simply aflame with happiness in his presence--and she feared he
must read it in her glance.  That the horse was his gift she
comprehended all at once--but--what had he said--what was it he had
said, that she must answer?  Her heart and her mind had coalesced.
There was love in both and little of reason in either.  She knew he was
holding her eyes to his with the sheer force of overwhelming love.

She tried to escape.

"You--mean-----"

He broke all control like a whirlwind.

"I mean I can't hold it any longer!  I love you!--I love you to death!"

He took her in his arms suddenly, passionately, crushing her almost
fiercely against his heart.  He kissed her on the lips--once--twice--a
dozen times in half a minute--feeling the warm, moist softness in the
contact and holding her pliant figure yet more closely.

She, too, was mad with it all, for a second.  Then she began to battle
with his might.

"Van!--Mr. Van!" she said, pushing his face away with a hand he might
have devoured.  "Let me go!  Let me go!  How dare----  You shan't!  You
shan't!  Let me go!"

Her nature, in revolt for a moment against her better judgment, refused
to do the bidding of her muscles.  Then she gathered strength out of
the whirlwind itself and pushed him away like a tigress.

"You shan't!" she repeated.  "You ought to be ashamed!  How dare you
treat me----"

He had turned abruptly, looking towards the door.  Her utterance was
halted by his movement of listening.  She had barely time to take up
her papers, and make an effort at regaining her composure.  Bostwick
was coming down the hall.  He presently appeared at the door.  For a
moment there was silence.

Van was the first to speak.

"How are you, Searle?" he said cheerily.  "Got over your grouch?"

Bostwick looked him over with ill-concealed loathing.

"You thought you were clever, I suppose," he said in a growl-like tone
that certainly fitted his face.  "What are you doing here, I'd like to
know?"

"Tottering angels!" said Van, "didn't that experience do you any good
after all?  No wonder the convicts wouldn't have you!"

Beth was afraid for what Bostwick might have heard.  She could not
censure Van for what he had done; she saw he would make no
explanations.  At best she could only attempt to put some appearance of
the commonplace upon the horseman's visit.

"Mr. Van Buren came--to see Mrs. Dick," she faltered, steadying her
voice as best she might.  "They're--very old friends."

"What's that?" demanded Bostwick, coming into the room and pointing at
the bright nugget pin, lying exposed upon the table.  "Some present, I
suppose, for Mrs. Dick?"  He started to take it in his hand.

Van interposed.  "It's neither for Mrs. Dick nor for you.  It's a
present I've made to Miss Kent."

Bostwick elevated his brows.

"Indeed?"

Beth fluttered in with a word of defense.

"It's just a little souvenir--that's all--a souvenir of--of my escape
from those terrible men."

"And Searle's return," added Van, who felt the very devil in his veins
at sight of Bostwick helpless and enraged.

Searle opened his lips as if to fling out something of his wrath.  He
held it back and turned to Beth.

"It will soon be night.  We have much to do.  I suppose I may see you,
privately--even here?"

Beth was helpless.  And in the circumstances she wished for Van to go.

"Certainly," she answered, raising her eyes for a second to the
horseman's, "--that is--if----"

"Certainly," Van answered cordially.  "Good-by."  He advanced and held
out his hand.

She gave him her own because there was nothing else to do--and the
tingling of his being made it burn.  She did not dare to meet his gaze.

"So long, Searle," he added smilingly.  "Better turn that grouch out to
pasture."

Then he went.



CHAPTER XX

QUEENIE

The shadows of evening met Van, as he stepped from the outside door and
started up the street.  Then a figure emerged from the shadows and met
him by the corner.

It was Queenie.  Her eyes were red from weeping.  A smile that someway
affected Van most poignantly, he knew not why, came for a moment to her
lips.

"You didn't expect to see me here," she said.  "I had to come to see if
it was so."

"What is it, Queenie?  What do you mean?  What do you want?" he
answered.  "What's the trouble?"

"Nothing," she said.  "I don't want nothing I can git--I
guess--unless--Oh, _is_ it her, Van?  Is it sure all over with me?"

"Look here," he said, not unkindly, "you've always been mistaken,
Queenie.  I told you at the time--that time in Arizona--I'd have done
what I did for an Indian squaw--for any woman in the world.  Why
couldn't you let it go at that?"

"You know why I couldn't," she answered with a certain intensity of
utterance that gave him a species of chill.  "After what you done--like
the only real friend I ever had--I belonged to you--and couldn't even
take myself away."

"But I didn't want anyone to belong to me, Queenie.  You know that.  I
could barely support my clothes."

Her eyes burned with a strange luminosity.  Her utterance was eager.

"But you want somebody to belong to you now?  Ain't that what's the
matter with you now?"

He did not answer directly.

"I didn't think it was in you, Queenie, to follow me around and play
the spy.  I've liked you pretty well--but--I couldn't like this."

She stared at him helplessly, as an animal might have looked.

"I couldn't help it," she murmured, repressing some terrible emotion of
despair.  "I won't never trouble you no more."

She turned around and went away, walking uncertainly, as if from
physical weakness and the blindness of pain.

Van felt himself inordinately wrung--felt it a cruelty not to run and
overtake her--give her some measure of comfort.  There was nothing he
could do that would not be misunderstood.  Moreover, he had no adequate
idea of what was in her mind--or in her homeless heart.  He had known
her always as a butterfly; he could not take her tragically now.

"Poor girl," he said as he watched her vanishing from sight, "if only
she had ever had a show!"

He looked back at Mrs. Dick's.  Bostwick had ousted him after all,
before he could extenuate his madness, before he could ascertain
whether Beth were angry or not--before he could bid her good-by.

Now that the cool of evening was upon him, along with the chill of
sober reflection, he feared for what he had done.  He was as mad, as
crude as Queenie.  Yet his fear of Beth's opinion was a sign that he
loved her as a woman should be loved, sacredly, and with a certain awe,
although he made no such analysis, and took no credit to himself for
the half regrets that persistently haunted his reflections.

It would be a moonlight night, he pondered.  He had counted on riding
by the lunar glow to the "Laughing Water" claim.  Would Beth, by any
possibility, attempt to see him--come out, perhaps, in the
moonlight--for a word before he should go?

He could not entertain a thought of departing without again beholding
her.  He wanted to know what she would say, and when he might see her
again.  After all, what was the hurry to depart?  He might as well wait
a little longer.

He went to the hay-yard.  Dave had disappeared.  Half an hour of search
failed to bring him to light.  On the point of entering a restaurant to
allay his sense of emptiness, Van was suddenly accosted by a wild-eyed
man, bare-headed and sweating, who ran at him, calling as he came.

"Hey!" he cried.  "Van Buren!  Come on!  Come on!  She's dyin' and all
she wants is you!"

"What's wrong with you, man?" inquired the horseman, halted by the
fellow's words.  "What are you talking about?"

"Queenie!" gasped the fellow, panting for his breath.  "Took poison--O,
Lord!  Come on!  Come on!  She don't want nothing but you!"

Van turned exceedingly pale.

"Poison?  What you want is the doctor!"

"He's there--long ago!" answered the informant excitedly, and swabbing
perspiration from his face.  "She won't touch his dope.  It's all over,
I guess--only she wants to see you."

"Show me the way, then--show me the way.  Where is she?"  Van shook the
man's shoulder roughly.  "Don't stand here trembling.  Take me to the
place."

The man was in a wretched plight, from fear and the physical suffering
induced by what he had seen.  He reeled drunkenly as he started down
the street, then off between some rows of canvas structures, heading
for a district hung with red.

At the edge of this place, at an isolated cabin, comprising two small,
rough rooms, the man seemed threatened with collapse.

"May be too late," he whispered hoarsely, as he listened and heard no
sounds from the house.  "I'm goin' to stay outside--and wait."

The door was ajar.  Without waiting for anything further, Van pushed it
open and entered.

"There he is--I knew it!" cried Queenie from the room at the rear.  It
was a cry that smote Van like a stab.

Then he came to the room where she was lying.

"I knew you'd come--I knew it, Van!" said the girl in a sudden outburst
of sobbing, and she tried to rise upon her pillow.  Agony, which she
had fought down wildly, seized her in a spasm.  She doubled on the bed.

Van glanced about quickly.  The doctor--a young, inexperienced man--was
there, sweating, a look of abject helplessness upon his face.  The room
was a poor tawdry place, with gaudy decorations and a litter of
Queenie's finery.  In her effort to conquer the pains that possessed
her body, the girl had distorted her face almost past recognition.

Van came to the bedside directly, placed his hand on her shoulder, and
gave her one of his characteristic little shakings.

"Queenie, what have you done?" he said.  "What's going on?"

She tried to smile.  It was a terrible effort.

"It's nobody's fault--but what was the use, Van?--what was there in it
for me?"

"She won't take anything--the antidote--anything!  There isn't a
stomach pump in town!" the doctor broke in desperately.  "She's got to!
It's getting too late!  We'll have to force it down!  Maybe she'd take
it for you."  He thrust a goblet into Van's nervous hand.  It contained
a misty drink.

"For God's sake take this, Queenie," Van implored.  "Take it quick!"

She shrank away, attempting with amazing force of will to mask her pain.

"I'd take the stuff--for your sake--when I--wouldn't for God," she
faltered, sitting up, despite her bodily anguish.  "You don't ask me
to--do it for you."

"I do, Queenie--take it for me!" he answered, wrung again as he had
been at her smiles, an hour before, but now with heart-piercing
poignancy.  "Take it for me, if you won't for anyone else."

She received the glass--and deliberately threw it on the floor.  The
doctor cried out sharply.  Queenie shook her head, all the time
fighting down her agony, which was fast making inroads to her life.
She fell back on her pillow.

"You didn't--ask me--Van 'cause you love me.  Nobody--wants me to live.
That's all right.  Do you s'pose you could kiss me good-by?"

The look on her face was peculiarly childish, as she drove out the
lines of anguish in a superhuman effort made for him.  And the yearning
there brought back again that thought he had voiced before, that
night--why couldn't the child have had a chance?

The doctor was feverishly mixing another potent drink.

Van bent down and kissed her, indulgently.

"Force her to take it!" cried the doctor desperately.  "Force her to
take it!"

"Queenie," Van said, "you've got to take this stuff."

Her hand had found his and clutched it with galvanic strength.

"Don't--make me," she begged, closing her eyes in a species of ecstacy
that no man may understand.  "I'd rather--not--Van--please.  Only about
a minute now.  Ain't it funny--that love--can burn you--up?"  Her grip
had tightened on his hand.

The doctor ran to the window, which he found already opened.  He ran
back in a species of frenzy.

"Make her take it, make her take it!  God!" he said.  "Not to do
anything--not to do a thing!"

Queenie smiled at Van again--terribly.  Her fingers felt like iron
rods, pressing into his flesh.  As if to complete her renunciation she
dropped his hand abruptly.  She mastered some violent convulsion that
left the merest flicker of her life.

"Good-by, Van--good luck," she whispered faintly.

"Queenie!" he said.  "Queenie!"

Perhaps she heard.  After an ordeal that seemed interminable her face
was calm and still, a faint smile frozen on her marble features.

Van waited there a long time.  Someway it seemed as if this thing could
be undone.  The place was terribly still.  The doctor sat there as if
in response to a duty.  He was dumb.

When Van went out, the man on the doorstep staggered in.

The moon was up.  It shone obliquely down into all that rock-lined
basin, surrounded by the stern, forbidding hills--the ancient,
burned-out furnace of gold that man was reheating with his passions.
Afar in all directions the lighted tents presented a ghostly unreality,
their canvas walls illumined by the candles glowing within.  A jargon
of dance-hall music floated on the air.  Outside it all was the desert
silence--the silence of a world long dead.

Van would gladly have mounted his horse and ridden away--far off, no
matter where.  Goldite, bizarre and tragic--a microcosm of the world
that man has fashioned--was a blot of discordant life, he felt, upon an
otherwise peaceful world.  As a matter of fact it had only begun its
evening's story.

He stood in the road, alone, for several minutes, before he felt he
could begin to resume the round of his own existence.  When he came at
length to the main street's blaze of light, a deeply packed throng
could be seen in all the thoroughfare, compactly blocked in front of a
large saloon.

Culver, the Government representative in the land-office needs, had
been found in his office murdered.  He had been stabbed.  Van's knife,
bought for Gettysburg, had been employed--and found there, red with its
guilt.

All this Van was presently to discover.  He was walking towards the
surging mob when a miner he had frequently seen came running up and
halted in the light of a window.  Then the man began to yell.

"Here he is!" he cried.  "Van Buren!"

The mob appeared to break at the cry.  Fifty men charged down the
street in a species of madness and Van was instantly surrounded.



CHAPTER XXI

IN THE SHADOW OF THE ROPE

Mob madness is beyond explanation.  Cattle stampeding are no more
senseless than men in such a state.  Goldite, however, was not only
habitually keyed to the highest of tension, but it had recently been
excited to the breaking point by several contributing factors.  Lawless
thefts of one another's claims, ore stealing, high pressure over the
coming rush to the Indian reservation, and a certain apprehension
engendered by the deeds of those liberated convicts--all these elements
had aroused an over-revulsion of feeling towards criminality and a
desire to apply some manner of law.  And the primal laws are the laws
that spring into being at such a time as this--the laws that cry out
for an eye for an eye and a swiftness of legal execution.

Into the vortex of Goldite's sudden revulsion Van was swept like a
straw.  There was no real chance for a hearing.  His friends of the
morning had lost all sense of loyalty.  They were almost as crazed as
those whom his recent success had irritated.  The story of his row with
Culver had spread throughout the confines of the camp.  No link in the
chain of circumstantial evidence seemed wanting to convict him.  A
bawling sea of human beings surrounded him with violence and menace.

To escape the over-wrought citizens, the sheriff, assuming charge of
Van, dragged him on top of a stack of lumber, piled three feet high
before a building.  The cry for a rope and a lynching began with a
promptness that few would have expected.  In normal times it could
scarcely have been broached.

Snatching new-made deputies, hit-or-miss from the mob, and summarily
demanding their services, the sheriff exerted his utmost powers to stem
the tide that was rising.  Something akin to a trial began then and
there.  A big red-faced drummer from Chicago, a man that Van had never
seen, became his voluntary advocate, standing between him and the mob.

He had power, that man, both of limb and presence.  His voice, also,
was mighty.  He shoved men about like rubber puppets and shouted his
demands for law and order.

Van, having flung off half a dozen citizens, who in the excitement had
felt some fanatical necessity for clutching him, faced the human wolves
about him in a spirit of angry resentment.  The big man from Chicago
mowed his way to the pile of lumber and clambered up by the sheriff.
The pile raised its occupants only well above the surging pack of faces.

"Stop your howling!  Stop your noise!" roared the drummer from his
elevation.  "Don't you want to give this man a chance?"

[Illustration: "Don't you want to give this man a chance?"]

He was heard throughout the street.

"He's got to prove his innocence or hang!" cried someone shrilly.  "A
murder foul as that!"

Another one bawled: "Where was he then?  Make him tell where he was at
six o'clock!"

Culver's watch had been shattered and stopped at precisely six o'clock,
presumably by his fall against a table in his office, when he suddenly
went down, at the hands of his assassin.  This fact was in possession
of the crowd.

A general shout for Van to explain where he was at the vital moment
arose from all the crowd.  The drummer turned to Van.

"There you are," he said.  "There's your chance.  If you wasn't around
the surveyor's shack, you ought to be able to prove it."

Van could have proved his alibi at once, by sending around to Queenie's
residence.  He was nettled into a stubbornness of mind and righteous
anger by all this senseless accusation.  He did not realize his
danger--the blackness of the case against him.  That a lynching was
possible he could scarcely have been made to believe.  Nevertheless, as
the Queenie matter was one of no secrecy and the facts must soon be
known, he was turning to the drummer to make his reply when his eye was
caught by a face, far out in the mass of human forms.

It was Beth that he saw, her cheek intensely white in the light
streaming forth from a store.  Bostwick was there at her side.  Beth
had been caught in the press of the throng as they came from the
telegraph office.

He realized that at best his story concerning Queenie would be
sufficiently black.  With Beth in this theater of accusation the story
of Queenie must wait.

"It's nobody's business where I was," he said.  "This whole affair is
absurd!"

Half a dozen of the men who were nearest heard his reply.  One of them
roared it out lustily.  The mob was enraged.  The cries for a violent
termination to the scene increased in volume.  Men were shouting,
swearing, and surging back and forth tumultuously, wrought to a frenzy
of primal virtue.

One near Beth called repeatedly for a lynching.  He had cut a long new
piece of rope from a coil at a store of supplies and was trying to drag
it through the crowd.

The girl had heard and seen it all.  She realized its full
significance.  She had never in her life felt so horribly oppressed
with a sense of terrible things impending.  Impetuously she accosted a
man who stood at her side.

"Oh, tell them he was with me!" she said.

The man looked her over, and raising himself on his tip toes, shook his
hat wildly at the mob.

"Say," he shouted at the top of his might, "here's a girl he was with
at six o'clock."

It seemed as if only the men near at hand either heard or paid
attention.  On the farther side, away from Beth, the shouts for mob law
were increasing.  She turned to Bostwick hotly.

"Can't you do anything?  Tell them he was there with us--down at Mrs.
Dick's at six o'clock!"

"He wasn't!" said Searle.  "He left there at five forty-five."

The man who had shouted listened to them both.

"Five forty-five?" he repeated.  "That makes a difference!"

The drummer had caught the shout from out at the edge.

"Who's that?" he called.  "Who's got that alibi?"

"All wrong!--No good!" yelled the man who stood by Beth.

The girl had failed to realize how her statement would sound--in such a
place as Goldite.  Van had turned sick when it reached him.  He was
emphatically denying the story.  The gist of it went through the mass
of maddened beings, only to be so soon impugned by the man who had
started it from Beth.  The fury, at what was deemed an attempted
deception, burst out with accumulated force.

The sheriff had drawn a revolver and was shouting to the mob to keep
away.

"This man has got to go to jail!" he yelled.  "You've got to act
accordin' to the law!"

He ordered his deputies to clear the crowd and make ready for retreat.
Three of them endeavored to obey.  Their efforts served to aggravate
the mob.

Confusion and chaos of judgment seemed rising like a tide.  In the very
air was a feeling that suddenly something would go, something too far
strained to hold, and some terrible deed occur before these people
could ask themselves how it had been accomplished.

The fellow with the rope was being boosted forward by half a dozen
intoxicated fools.  Had the rope been a burning fuse it could scarcely
have ignited more dangerous material than did its strands of manilla,
in those who could lay their hands upon it.

The drummer was shouting himself raw in the throat--in vain.

Van was courting disaster by the very defiance of his attitude.  It
seemed as if nothing could save him, when two separate things occurred.

The doctor who had been with Van at Queenie's death arrived in the
press, got wind of the crisis, and vehemently protested the truth.
Simultaneously, the lumberman, Trimmer, drunk, and enjoying what he
deemed a joke, hoarsely confided to some sober men the fact that Cayuse
had done the murder.

Even then, when two centers of opposition to the madness of the mob had
been created, the menace could not at once be halted.

The man with the rope had approached so near the lumber-pile that the
sheriff could all but reach him.  A furious battle ensued, and waged
around the planks, between the deputies and lynchers.  It lasted till
fifty active men of the camp, aroused to a sense of reaction by the
facts that were now becoming known, hurled the struggling fighters
apart and dragged them off, all the while spreading the news they had
heard concerning the half-breed Indian.

No less excited when at last they knew that Van was innocent, the great
crowd still occupied the street, hailing Trimmer to the lumber-pile and
demanding to know how he came by the facts, and where Cayuse had gone.

Trimmer was frightened into soberness--at least into soberness
sufficient to protect himself and McCoppet.  He said he had seen the
Indian coming from Culver's office, with blood upon his hands.  The
Indian had gone straight westward from the town, to elude pursuit in
the mountains.

The fact that Van had been at Queenie's side at her death became town
property at once.  It came in all promptness to Beth.

With a feeling of sickness pervading all her being, she was glad to
have Bostwick take her home.

It was late when at last the street was clear, and Van could finally
make his escape from danger and returning friends.  Dave by then had
found himself; that is, he made his way, thus tardily, to the
horseman's side--and the two went at length to their dinner.

At half-past eight, with the moon well up, Dave and Van were ready for
departure.  Their horses were saddled.  One extra animal was packed
with needed provisions for the crew on the "Laughing Water" claim.  Van
had ordered all he could for Queenie's final journey--the camp's best
possible funeral, which he could not remain to attend.  There was
nothing to do but to mount and ride away, but--Beth was down at Mrs.
Dick's.

Resistance was useless.  Bidding Dave wait with the horses at the yard.
Van made his way around through the shadows of the houses, and coming
out upon a rocky hill, a little removed from the boarding place, was
startled to see Beth abruptly rise before him.

The house had oppressed her--and the moon had called.  Bostwick, in
alarm concerning possible disaster to the plans he had made with
McCoppet, now that Culver was dead, had gone to seek the gambler out
and ascertain the status of affairs.



CHAPTER XXII

TWO MEETINGS AFTER DARK

For a moment neither Beth nor Van could speak.  The girl, like a
startled moon-sprite, wide-eyed and grave, had taken on a mood of
beauty such as the man had never seen.  She seemed to him strangely
fragile, a trifle pale, but wholly exquisite, enchanting.

No signs were on her face, but she had wept--hot, angry tears, within
the hour.  And here was the cause of them all!  She had wished he would
come--and feared he would come, as conflicting emotions possessed her.
Now that he stood here, with moonlight on half of his face, her
thoughts were all unmarshaled.

Van presently spoke.

"I'm a kid, after all.  I couldn't go away without--this."

"I wish you had!  I wish you had!" she answered, at his smile.  "I wish
I had never seen you in the world!"

His heart was sore for jesting, but he would not change his way.

"If not in the world, where _would_ you have wished to see me, then?"

"I never wished to see you at all!" she replied.  "Your joke has gone
too far.  You have utterly mistaken my sense of gratitude."

"Guess not," he said.  "I haven't looked for gratitude--nor wanted it,
either."

"You had no right!" she continued.  "You have said things--done
things--you have taken shameful advantage--you have treated me like--I
suppose like--that other--that other----  You dared!"

Van's face took on an expression of hardness, to mask the hurt of his
heart.

"Who says so?" he demanded quietly.  "You know better."

"It's true!" she answered hotly.  "You had no right!  It was mere brute
strength!  You cannot deny what you have been--to that miserable
woman!"  Tears of anger sped from her eyes, and she dashed them hotly
away.

Van stepped a little closer.

"Beth," he said, suddenly taking her hand, "none of this is true, and
you know it.  You're angry with that woman, not with me."

She snatched her hand away.

"You shan't!" she said.  "Don't you dare to touch me again.  I hate
you--hate you for what you have done!  You've been a brute probably to
her as well as to me!"

"To you?  When?" he demanded

"All the time!  To-day!--Now!--when you say I'm angry at a--woman who
is dead!--a woman who died for you!"

It hit him.

"Poor Queenie," he said, "poor child."

"Yes--poor Queenie!"  Her eyes blazed in the moonlight.  "To think that
you dared to treat me like----"

"Beth!" he interrupted, "I won't permit it.  I told you to-day I loved
you.  That makes things right.  You love me, and that makes them
sacred.  I'd do all I've done over again--_all_ of it--Queenie and the
rest!  I'm not ashamed, nor sorry for anything I've done.  I love
you--I say--I love you.  That's what I've never done before--and never
said I did--and that's what makes things right!"

Beth was confused by what he said--confused in her judgment, her
emotions.  Weakly she clung to her argument.

"You haven't any right--it isn't true when you say I love you.  I
don't!  I won't!  You can't deny that woman died of a broken heart for
you!"

"I don't deny anything about her," he said.  "I tried to be her friend.
God knows she needed friends.  She was only a child, a pretty child.
I'm sorry.  I've always been sorry.  She knew I was only a friend."

She felt he was honest.  She knew he was wrung--suffering, but not in
his conscience.  Yet what was she to think?  She had heard it all--all
of Queenie's story.

"You kissed her," she said, and red flamed up in her cheeks.

"It was all she asked," he answered simply.  "She was dying."

"And you're paying for her funeral."

"I said I was her friend."

"Oh, the shamelessness of it!" she exclaimed as before, "--the way it
looks!  And to think of what you dared to do to me!"

"Yes, I kissed you without your asking," he confessed.  "I expect to
kiss you a hundred thousand times.  I expect to make you my wife--for a
love like ours is rare.  Whatever else you think you want to say,
Beth--now--don't say it--unless it's just good-night."

With a sudden move forward he took her two shoulders in his powerful
hands and gave her a rough little shake.  Then his palms went swiftly
to her face, he kissed her on the lips, and let her go.

"You!--Oh!" she cried, and turning she ran down the slope of the hill
as hard as she could travel.

He watched her going in the moonlight.  Even her shadow was beautiful,
he thought, but all his joy was grave.

She disappeared within the house, without once turning to see what he
had done.  He could not know that from one of the darkened windows she
presently peered forth and watched him depart from the hill.  He was
not so assured as he had tried to make her think, and soberness dwelt
within his breast.

Half an hour later he and old Dave were riding up the mountain in the
moonlight.  The night from the eminence was glorious, now that the town
was left behind.  Goldite lay far below in the old dead theatre of past
activities, dotting the barren immensity with its softened lights like
the little thing it was.  How remote it seemed already, with its vices,
woes, and joys, its comedy and tragedy, its fevers, strifes, and toil,
disturbing nothing of the vast serenity of the planet, ever rolling on
its way.  How coldly the moon seemed looking on the scene.  And yet it
had cast a shadow of a girl to set a man aflame.

Meantime Bostwick had been delayed in securing McCoppet's attention.
The town was still excited over all that had happened; the saloons were
full of men.  Culver had been an important person, needful to many of
the miners and promoters of mining.  His loss was an aggravation,
especially as his deputy, Lawrence, was away.

The more completely to allay suspicions that might by any possibility
creep around the circle to himself, McCoppet had been the camp's most
active figure in organizing a posse, with the sheriff, to go out and
capture Cayuse.  His reasons for desiring the half-breed's end were
naturally strong, nevertheless his active partisanship of law and
justice excited no undesirable talk.  He was simply an influential
citizen engaged in a laudable work.

It was late when at length he and Bostwick could snatch a few minutes
to themselves.  The gambler's first question then was something of a
puzzle to Bostwick.

"Well, have you got that thirty thousand?"

"Got it?  Yes, I've got it," Bostwick answered nervously, "but what is
the good of it now?"

It was McCoppet's turn to be puzzled.

"Anything gone wrong with Van Buren, or his claim?"

"Good heavens!  Isn't it sufficient to have things all gone wrong with
Culver?  What could be worse than that?"

The gambler flung his cigar away and hung a fresh one on his lip.

"Say, don't you worry on Culver.  Don't his deputy take his place?"

"His deputy?"

"Sure, his deputy--Lawrence--a man we can get hands down."

Bostwick stared at him hopefully.

"You don't mean to say this accident--this crime--is fortunate, after
all?"

"It's a godsend."  McCoppet would have dared any blasphemy.

Bostwick's relief was inordinate.

"Then what is the next thing to do?"

"Wait for Lawrence," said the gambler.  Then he suddenly arose.  "No,
we can't afford the time.  He might be a week in coming.  You'll have
to go get him, to-morrow."

"Where is he, then?"

"Way out South, on a survey.  You'd better take that car of yours, with
a couple of men I'll send along, and fetch him back mighty pronto.  We
can't let a deal like this look raw.  The sooner he runs that
reservation line the better things will appear."

Bostwick, too, had risen.

"Will your men know where to find him?"

"If he's still on the map," said the gambler.  "You leave that to me.
Better go see about your car to-night.  I'll hustle your men and your
outfit.  See you again if anything turns up important.  Meantime, is
your money in the bank?"

"It's in the bank."

"Right," said McCoppet.  "Good-night."



CHAPTER XXIII

BETH'S DESPERATION

The following day in Goldite was one of occurrences, all more or less
intimately connected with the affairs of Van and Beth.

Bostwick succeeded in making an early start to the southward in his
car.  McCoppet had provided not only a couple of men as guides to the
field where Lawrence was working, but also a tent, provisions, and
blankets, should occasion arise for their use.

Beth was informed by her fiancé that word had arrived from her brother,
to whom Searle said he meant to go.  The business of buying Glenmore's
mine, he said, required unexpected dispatch.  Perhaps both he and Glen
might return by the end of the week.

By that morning's train the body of Culver was shipped away--and the
camp began to forget him.  The sheriff was after Cayuse.

Early in the afternoon the body of the girl who had never been known in
Goldite by any name save that of Queenie, was buried on a hillside,
already called into requisition as a final resting place for such as
succumbed in the mining-camp, too far from friends, or too far lost, to
be carried to the world outside the mountains.  Half a dozen women
attended the somewhat meager rites.  There was one mourner only--the
man who had run to summon Van, and who later had waited by the door.

At four o'clock the Goldite _News_ appeared upon the streets.  It
contained much original matter--or so at least it claimed.  The account
of the murder of Culver, the death of Queenie, and the threatened
lynching of Van Buren made a highly sensational story.  It was given
the prominent place, for the editor was proud to have made it so full
in a time that he deemed rather short.  On a second page was a tale
less tragic.

It was, according to one of its many sub-headings, "A Humorous Outcrop
concerning two Maids and a Man."  It related, with many gay sallies of
"wit," how Van had piloted Mr. J. Searle Bostwick into the hands of the
convicts, recently escaped, packed off his charges, Miss Beth Kent and
her maid, and brought them to Goldite by way of the Monte Cristo mine,
in time to behold the discomfited entrance of the said J. Searle
Bostwick in prisoner's attire.  Mr. Bostwick was described as having
been "on his ear" towards Van Buren ever since.

In the main the account was fairly accurate.  Gettysburg, Napoleon, and
old Dave had over-talked, during certain liquifying processes.  The
matter was out beyond repair.

Mrs. Dick was prompt in pouncing on the story, hence Beth was soon
presented with a copy.  In the natural annoyance she felt when it was
read, there was one consolation, at least: Searle was away, to be gone
perhaps two or three days.  He might not see the article, which would
soon be forgotten in the camp.

To culminate the day's events, that evening Elsa ran away.  She went
with a "gentleman" lodger, taking the slight precaution to be married
by the Justice of the Peace.

Beth discovered her loss too late to interfere.  She felt herself
alone, indeed, with Bostwick away, her brother off in the desert, and
Van--she refused to think of Van.  Fortunately, Mrs. Dick was more than
merely a friend.  She was a staunch little warrior, protecting the
champion, to anger whom was unhealthy.  Despite the landlady's attitude
of friendliness, however, Beth felt wretchedly alone.  It was a
terrible place.  She was cooped up all day within the lodging house,
since the street full of men was more than she cared to encounter; and
with life all about her, and wonderful days spreading one after another
across the wide-open land, her liberties were fairly in a cage.

From time to time she thought of the horse, awaiting her order at the
hay-yard.  She tried to convince herself she would never accept or ride
the animal.  She was certain she resented everything Van had done.  She
felt the warmest indignation at herself for breaking into bits of song,
for glowing to the tips of her ears, for letting her heart leap wildly
in her breast whenever she thought of the horseman.

Two days went by and she chafed under continued restraints.  No word
had come from Bostwick, none from Glen--and not a sign from the
"Laughing Water" claim.  From the latter she said to herself she wished
no sign.  But Searle had no right to leave her thus and neglect her in
every respect.

The morning of the third long day Mrs. Dick brought her two thin
letters.  One had been mailed in Goldite, by a messenger down from the
"Laughing Water" claim.  It came from Van.  He had written the briefest
of notes:

"Just to send my love.  I want you to wear my nugget."

Folded into the paper was a spray of the wild peach bloom.

Beth tried to think her blushes were those of indignation, which
likewise caused the beat of her heart to rise.  But her hand fluttered
prettily up to her breast, where the nugget was pinned inside her
waist.  Also his letter must have been hard to understand--she read it
seventeen times.

Then she presently turned to the other.  It was addressed in
typewritten characters, but the writing inside she knew--her brother
Glen's.


"Dear Old Sis: Say, what in the dickens are you doing out here in the
mines, by all that's holey?--and what's all this story in the Goldite
_News_ about one Bronson Van Buren doing the benevolent brigand stunt
with you and your maid, and shunting Searle off with the Cons?  Why
couldn't you let a grubber know you were hiking out here to the desert?
Why all this elaborate surprise--this newspaper wireless to your fond
and lonesome?

"What's the matter with your writing hand?  Is this Van-brigand holding
them both?  What's the matter with Searle?  I wrote him two or three
aeons ago, when he might have been of assistance.  Now I'm doing my
eight hours a day in an effort to sink down to China.  I'm on the
blink, in a way, but not for long, for this is the land where
opportunity walks night and day to thump on your door--and I'll grab
her by the draperies yet.

"But _me_!--working as a common miner!--though I've got a few days off
to go and look at a claim with a friend of mine, so you needn't answer
till you hear again.

"If Searle is dead, why don't he say so?  I only touched him for a few
odd dollars--I only needed a grub-stake--fifty would have done the
trick--and he doesn't come through.  And nobody writes.  I guess it's
me for the Prodigal, but when I do get next to the fatted calf I'll get
inside and eat my way out by way of his hoofs and horns.  Why couldn't
you and Searle and the maid come down and have a look at me--working?
_It's worth it_.  Come on.  Maybe it's easier than writing.  Yours for
the rights of labor,      GLEN."


Astonished by the contents of this communication, Beth read it again,
in no little bewilderment, to make sure she had made no mistake.  No
letter from herself?  No word from Searle?  No answer to Glen's request
for money?  And he had only asked for a "few odd dollars?"  There must
be something wrong.  He had sent the most urgent requirement for sixty
thousand dollars.  And she herself had written, at once.  Searle had
assured her he had sent him word by special messenger.  Starlight was
less than a long day's ride away.  Glen had already had time to see
that account in the paper and write.

She had no suspicions of Bostwick.  She had seen Glen's letter and read
it for herself.  And Searle had responded immediately with an offer to
lend her brother thirty thousand dollars.  There must be some mistake.
Glen might be keeping his news and plans from herself, as men so often
will.  Searle might even have overlooked the importance of keeping Glen
fully posted, intending to go so soon to Starlight.  Her own letter
might have miscarried.

She tried to fashion explanations--but they would not entirely fit.
Searle had been gone three days.  He had gone before the Goldite _News_
was issued.  The paper had arrived at Glen's while the man in his car
had failed.

For a moment she sickened with the reflection that Searle might once
more have fallen captive to the convicts, still at large--and with all
the money!  Then she presently assured herself that news so sinister as
this would have been very prompt to return.

It was all too much to understand--unless Glen were ill--or out of his
reason.  His two letters, the one to Searle and this one to herself,
were so utterly conflicting.  It was not to be solved from such a
distance.  Moreover, Glen wrote that he was off on a trip, and asked
her to wait before replying.  It was irritating, all this waiting,
alone here in Goldite, but there seemed to be nothing else to do.

The long morning passed, and she fretted.  In the afternoon the Goldite
_News_ broke its record.  It printed an extra--a single sheet, in
glaring type, announcing the capture of the convicts.  By a bold and
daring coup, it said, the entire herd of criminals, all half starved
and weakened by privations, had been rounded up and transported back to
prison.  Unfortunately, the report was slightly inaccurate.  Matt
Barger, the leader in the prison delivery, and the most desperate man
in the lot, had escaped the posse's vigilance.  Of this important
factor in the welcome story of the posse's work Goldite was ignorant,
and doomed to be in ignorance a week.

The news to Beth was a source of great relief.  But her troubles in
other directions were fated to increase.  That evening three men called
formally--formally, that is to say, in so far as dressing in their best
was concerned and putting on their "company manners."  But Beth and
courtship were their objects, a fact that developed, somewhat crudely
with the smallest possible delay.

One of these persons, Billy Stitts by name, was fairly unobjectionable
as a human being, since he was a quaint, slow-witted, bird-like little
creature, fully sixty years of age and clearly harmless.  The others
were as frankly in pursuit of a mate as any two mountain animals.

Beth was frightened, when the purport of their visit flashed upon her.
She felt a certain sense of helplessness.  Mrs. Dick was too busy to be
constantly present; Elsa was gone; the ways of such a place were new
and wholly alarming.  She felt when she made her escape from the three
that her safety was by no means assured.  Her room was her only
retreat.  Except for Mrs. Dick, there was not another woman in the
house.  She was wholly surrounded by men--a rough, womanless lot whose
excitements, passions, and emotions were subjected to changes
constantly, as well as to heats, by the life all around them in the
mines.

That night was her first of real terror.  Every noise in the building,
and some in the streets, made her start awake like a hunted doe, with
imaginings of the most awful description.  She scarcely slept at all.

The following day old Billy Stitts called again, very shortly after
breakfast.  He proved such an amiable, womanly old chap that he was
almost a comfort to the girl.  She sent him to the postoffice, for a
possible letter from Glen.  He went with all the pleasure and alacrity
of a faithful dog, apologizing most exuberantly on his return for the
fact that no letter had come.

She remained in the house all day.  The afternoon brought the two rough
suitors of the night before, and two more equally crude.  Mrs. Dick, to
Beth's intense uneasiness, regarded the matter as one to be expected,
and quite in accord with reason and proper regulations.  A good-looking
girl in camp, with her men-folks all giving her the go-by--and what
could you expect?  Moreover, as some of these would-be courtiers were
husky and in line for fortune's smile, with chances as good as any
other man's, she might do worse than let them come, and hear what they
had to say.  It was no girl's need to be neglected as Searle and Van
were patently neglecting Beth.

This was the stage in which Beth at length began to meditate on Spartan
remedies.  The situation was not to be endured.  No word had come from
Searle.  The world might have swallowed him up.  She was sick of
him--sick of his ways of neglect.  And as for Van----

There was no one to whom she could turn--unless it were Glen.  If only
she could flee to her brother!  She thought about it earnestly.  She
tried to plan the way.

Her horse was at the hay-yard.  Starlight was only one day off in the
desert.  The convicts were no longer about.  If only she could ride
there--even alone!  An early start--a little urging of the pony--she
could fancy the journey accomplished with the utmost ease; then
scornful defiance, both of Bostwick and of Van.

But a woman--riding in this lawless land alone!  She was utterly
disheartened, disillusionized at the thought.  It would be no less than
madness.  And yet, it seemed as if she must presently go.  Searle's
silence, coupled to conditions here, was absolutely intolerable.

With plans decidedly hazy--nothing but a wild, bright dream really
clear--she questioned Billy Stitts concerning the roads.  He was
familiar with every route in miles, whether roadway, trail, or "course
by compass," as he termed trackless cruising in the desert.  He gave
her directions with the utmost minutae of detail as to every highway to
Starlight.  He drew her a plan.  She was sure that she could almost
ride to Starlight in the dark.  What branches of the road to shun,
which trails to choose, possibly, for gaining time, what places to
water a famishing horse--all these and more she learned with feverish
interest.

"Now a man would do this," and "a man would do that," said Billy time
after time, till a new, fantastic notion came bounding full-fledged
into Beth's anxious brain and almost made her laugh with delight.  She
could _dress as a man_ and ride as a man and be absolutely safe on the
journey!  She knew a dozen unusual arts for dying the skin and
concealing the hair and making the hands look rough.  Make-up in
private theatricals, at professional hands, she had learned with
exceptional thoroughness.

She would need a suit of kahki, miners' books, a soft, big hat, and
flannel shirt.  They were all to be had at the store.  She could order
her horse to be saddled for a man.  She could readily dress and escape
unseen from the house.  In a word, she could do the trick!

The plan possessed her utterly.  It sent her blood bounding through her
veins.  Her face was flushed with excitement.  She loved adventure--and
this would be something to do!

Nevertheless, despite all her plans, she had no real intention of
attempting a scheme so mad.  Subconsciously she confessed to herself it
was just the merest idle fancy, not a thing to be actually ventured, or
even entertained.

That night, when she was more beset, more worried than before, however,
desperation was increasing upon her.  The plan she had made no longer
seemed the mere caprice of one in pursuit of pleasure--it appeared to
be the only possible respite from conditions no longer to be borne.

When the morning came, after a night of mental torture and bodily fear,
her patience had been strained to the point of breaking, and resolve
was steeling her courage.

The word that should have come from Searle was still delinquent.  But
old Billy Stitts brought her a letter from Glen.


"Dear Sis: I can only write a line or two.  Had a thump on the head,
but it didn't knock off my block.  Don't worry.  All right in a few
days, sure.  Guess you couldn't come, or you'd be here, in response to
my last.  But Searle might show up, anyhow.  You can write me now.
Hope you're well and happy.  Is the brigand still on the job?  Can't
really write.  With love,      GLEN."


Her heart stood still as she; read her brother's lines, in a scrawled
hand indicative of weakness.  She resolved in that instant to go.

"Mr. Stitts," she raid in remarkable calm, for all that she felt, "my
brother needs some clothing--everything complete, boots, shirts, and
all.  He's just about my size.  I wish you'd go and buy them."

"Lord, I know the best and the cheapest in camp!" said Billy eagerly.
"I'll have 'em here before you can write him your letter--but the stage
don't go back till Friday."

She had given no thought to the tri-weekly stage.  She dismissed it
now, with a wave of gratitude towards Van for the horse--gratitude, or
something, surging warmly in her veins.  She almost wished he could
ride at her side, but checked that lawlessness sternly.  She would ride
to Glen alone!



CHAPTER XXIV

A BLIZZARD OF DUST

At daylight Beth was dressed as a man and surveying herself in the
mirror.  She had passed a sleepless night.  She was fevered, excited,
and nervous.

Her work had been admirably done.  She looked no more rawly new or
youthful than scores of young tenderfeet, daily in the streets of the
camp.  The stain on her face had furnished an astonishing disguise,
supported as it was by male attire.  Her hair was all up in the crown
of her hat, which was set on the back of her head.  It was fastened,
moreover, with pins concealed beneath the leather band.  Altogether the
disguise was most successful.  Beth had disappeared: a handsome young
man had been conjured in her place.

Her mare, which Billy had ordered, came promptly to the door.  She
heard her arrive--and her heart stroked more madly than before.
Trembling in every limb, and treading as softly as a thief, she made
her way downstairs.

On the dining-room table was the package of lunch that Mrs. Dick had
agreed to prepare.  Beth had told her she meant to take an early
morning ride and might not be back in time for breakfast.  With this
bundle in hand she went out at the door, her courage all but failing at
thought of the man with the horse at the threshold.  She shrank from
being seen in such an outfit.

It was too late now to retreat, however, she told herself bravely, and
out she went.

"Say, git a move, young feller," said the hostler with her pony.  "I
ain't got time to play horse-post here all day."

"Thank you for being so prompt," said Beth, in a voice that was faint,
despite her efforts to be masculine, and she gave him a coin.

"I'll tie that there bundle on behind," he volunteered, less gruffly,
and Beth was glad of his assistance.

A moment later she took a gasp of breath and mounted to the seat.
Collapse of all the project had seemed imminent, but an actual feeling
of relief and security ensued when she was settled in the saddle.

"So long," said the hostler, and Beth responded manfully, "So long."

She rode out slowly, towards the one main road.  A feeling of the
morning's chill assailed her, making her shiver.  The noise of her
pony's hoof-beats seemed alarmingly resonant.

But nothing happened.  The streets were deserted, save for a few
half-drunken wanderers, headed for the nearest saloon.  On the far-off
peaks of the mountains the rosy light of sunrise faintly appeared.  In
the calm of the great barren spaces, even Goldite was beautiful at last.

A sense of exhilaration pervaded Beth's youthful being.  She was glad
of what she had done.  It was joyous, it was splendid, this absolute
freedom in all this stern old world!

The road wound crookedly up a hill, as it left the streets of the town
behind.  The scattered tents extended for a mile in this direction, the
squares of silent canvas, like so many dice, cast on the slopes by a
careless fate that had cast man with them in the struggle.

Beth and her pony finally topped the hill, to be met by a sea of
mountains out beyond.  Up and down these mighty billows of the earth
the highway meandered, leading onward and southward through the desert.

The mare was urged to a gallop, down an easy slope, then once more she
walked as before.  All the mountains in the west were rosy now, till
presently the sun was up, a golden coin, struck hot from the very mints
of God, giving one more day with its glory.

Its very first rays seemed a comfort, suggesting a welcome warmth.
Beth could have called out songs of gladness well nigh uncontainable.
She had all the big world to herself.  Even the strangely twisted
clouds in the sky seemed made for her delight.  They were rare in this
wonderful dome of blue and therefore things of beauty.

For an hour or more her way was plain, and to ride was a god-like
privilege.  Her ease of mind was thoroughly established.  What had been
the necessity for all those qualms of fear?  The matter was simple,
after all.

It was ten o'clock before she ate her breakfast.  She had come to the
so-called river, the only one in perhaps a hundred miles.  It was quite
a respectable stream at this particular season, but spread very thinly
and widely at the ford.

By noon she was half way of her distance.  The sun was hot; summer
baking of the desert had begun.  Her mare was sweating profusely.  She
had urged her to the top of her strength.  Nevertheless she was still
in excellent condition.  To the westward the sky was overcast in a
manner such as Beth had never seen, with a dark, copperous storm-head
that massed itself prodigiously above the range.

Already she had come to three branchings of the road and chosen her way
in confidence, according to Billy Stiff's directions.  When she came to
a fourth, where none had been indicated, she was sure, either in
Billy's instructions, or upon his drawing, she confessed herself
somewhat uncertain.  She halted and felt for the map.

It was not to be found.  She had left it behind at Mrs. Dick's.  Dimly
she fancied she remembered that Billy had said on the fourth branch,
keep to the right.  There could be no doubt that this branch was the
fourth, howsoever out of place it appeared.  She rode to the right,
and, having passed a little valley, found herself enfolded in a rolling
barrier of hills where it seemed as if the sun and rocks were of almost
equal heat.

At mid-afternoon Beth abruptly halted her pony and stared at the world
of desert mountains in confusion not unmixed with alarm.  She was out
at the center of a vast level place, almost entirely devoid of
vegetation--and the road had all but disappeared.  It branched once
more, and neither fork was at all well defined, despite the fact that
travel to Starlight was supposed to be reasonably heavy.  She had made
some mistake.  She suddenly remembered something that Billy had said
concerning a table mountain she should have passed no later than
half-past one.  It had not been seen along her way.  She was tired.
Weariness and the heat had broken down a little of the bright, joyous
spirit of the morning.  A heart-sinking came upon her.  She must turn
and ride back to--she knew not which of the branches of the road, any
one of which might have been wrongly selected.

Her mare could not be hurried now; she must last to get her to
Starlight.  To add to other trifles of the moment, the bank of cloud,
so long hung motionless above the western summits, moved out across the
path of the sun and blotted out its glory with a density that would
have seemed impossible.

Scarcely had Beth fairly turned her back to the west when a wind storm
swooped upon the desert.  It came as a good stiff breeze, at first,
flecking up but little of the dust.  Then a sudden, ominous change
occurred.  All the blue of the sky was overwhelmed, under a sudden
expansion of the copperous clouds.  An eclipse-like darkness enveloped
the world, till the farthest mountains disappeared and the near-by
ranges seemed to magnify themselves as they blended with the sky.

With a sound as of an on-rushing cataclysm the actual storm, cyclonic
in all but the rotary motion, came beating down upon the startled earth
like a falling wall of air.

In less than two minutes the world, the atmosphere, everything had
ceased to be.  It was a universe of dust and sand, hurtling--God knew
whither.

In the suddenness of the storm's descent upon her, Beth became
speechless with dismay.  Her mare dropped her head and slowly continued
to walk.  Road, hills, desert--all had disappeared.  To go onward was
madness; to remain seemed certain death.  Despair and horror together
gripped Beth by the heart.  There was nothing in the world she could do
but to close her eyes and double low above the saddle, her hat bent
down to shield her face.

At the end of a few minutes only the frightfulness of the thing could
no longer be endured.  Beth had been all but torn from her seat by the
sheer weight and impact of the wind.  All the world was roaring
prodigiously.  The sand and dust, driving with unimaginable velocity,
smoked past in blinding fury.

The mare had ceased to move.  Beth was aware of her inertia, dimly.
She remembered at last to dismount and stand in the animal's shelter.
At length on the raging and roaring of the air-sea, crashing onward in
its tidal might, came a fearful additional sound.  It was rushing
onward towards the girl with a speed incredible--a sound of shrieking,
or whistling, that changed to a swishing as if of pinions, Titanic in
size, where some monstrous winged god was blown against, his will in a
headlong course through the tumult.

Then the something went by--the whole roof of a house--from twenty
miles away.  It scraped in the earth, not ten feet off from where the
pony stood--and she bolted and ran for her life.

Down went Beth, knocked over by the mare.  With a hideous crash the
flying roof was hurled against a nearby pinnacle of rock.  The wooden
wings split upon the immovable obstruction, and on they went as before.

The pony had disappeared, in panic that nothing could have allayed.
The storm-pall swallowed her instantly,  Beth could not have seen her
had she halted a rod away.  Her eyes had been opened for half a moment
only before she was flung to the earth.  She was rolling now, and for
the moment was utterly powerless to rise or to halt her locomotion.

When she presently grasped at a little gray shrub, came to a halt, and
tried to stand erect, she was buffeted bodily along by the wind with no
strength in her limbs to resist.

She was blown to the big rock pinnacle on which the roof had been
divided.  An eddy twisted her rudely around to the shelter, and she
flung herself down upon the earth.



CHAPTER XXV

A TIMELY DELIVERANCE

How long she lay there Beth could never have known.  It seemed a time
interminable, with the horror of the storm in all the universe.  It was
certainly more than an hour before the end began to come.  Then clouds
and the blizzard of sand and dust, together with all the mighty
roaring, appeared to be hurled across the firmament by the final gust
of fury and swept from the visible world into outer space.

Only a brisk half-gale remained in the wake of the huger disturbance.
The sky and atmosphere cleared together.  The sun shone forth as
before--but low to the mountain horizon.  When even the clean wind too
had gone, trailing behind its lawless brother, the desert calm became
as absolute as Beth had beheld it in the morning.

She crept from her shelter and looked about the plain.  Her eyes were
red and smarting.  She was dusted through and through.  In all the
broad, gray expanse there was not a sign of anything alive.  Her mare
had vanished.  Beth was lost in the desert, and night was fast
descending.

Deliverance from the storm, or perhaps the storm's very rage, had
brought her a species of calm.  The fear she had was a dull, persistent
dread--an all-pervading horror of her situation, too large to be acute.
Nevertheless, she determined to seek for the road with all possible
haste and make her way on foot, as far as possible, towards the
Starlight highway and its possible traffic.

She was stiff from her ride and her cramped position on the earth.  She
started off somewhat helplessly, where she felt the road must be.

She found no road.  Her direction may have been wrong.  Possibly the
storm of wind had swept away the wagon tracks, for they had all been
faint.  It had been but half a road at best for several miles.  Her
heart sank utterly.  She became confused as to which way she had
traveled.  Towards a pass in the hills whence she felt she must have
come she hastened with a new accession of alarm.

She was presently convinced that she had chosen entirely wrong.  A
realizing sense that she was hopelessly mixed assailed her crushingly.
To turn in any direction might be a grave mistake.  But to stand here
and wait--do nothing--with the sun going down--this was
preposterous--suicidal!  She must go on--somewhere!  She must find the
road!  She must keep on moving--till the end!  Till the end!  How
terrible that thought appeared, in such a situation!

She almost ran, straight onward towards the hills.  Out of breath very
soon, she walked with all possible haste and eagerness, all the time
looking for the road she had left, which the storm might have wiped
from the desert.  She was certain now that the mountains towards which
she was fleeing were away from the Goldite direction.

Once more she changed her course.  She realized then that such efforts
as these must soon defeat themselves.  At least she must stick to one
direction--go on in a line as straight as possible, till she came to
something!  Yet if she chose her direction wrong and went miles away
from anything----

She had to go on.  She had to take the chance.  She plodded
southwestward doggedly, for perhaps a mile, then halted at something
like a distant sound, and peered towards the shadows of the sunset.

There was nothing to be seen.  A hope which had risen for a moment in
her breast, at thought of possible deliverance, sank down in collapse,
and left her more faint than before.  The sun was at the very rim of
the world.  Its edge began to melt its way downward into all the solid
bulk of mountains.  It would soon be gone.  Darkness would ensue.  The
moon would be very late, if indeed it came at all.  Wild animals would
issue from their dens of hiding, to prowl in search of food.  Perhaps
the sound she heard had been made by an early night-brute of the
desert, already roving for his prey!

Once more she went on, desperately, almost blindly.  To keep on going,
that was the one essential!  She had proceeded no more than a few rods,
however, when she heard that sound again--this time more like a shout.

Her heart pounded heavily and rapidly.  She shaded her eyes with her
hand, against the last, slanted sun-rays, and fancied she discerned
something, far off there westward, in the purples flung eastward by the
mountains.  Then the last bit of all that molten disk of gold
disappeared in the summits, and with its going she beheld a horseman,
riding at a gallop towards herself.

The relief she felt was almost overwhelming--till thoughts of such an
encounter came to modify her joy.  She was only an unprotected
girl--yet--she had no appearance of a woman!  This must be her
safeguard, should this man now approaching prove some rough, lawless
being of the mines.

She stood perfectly still and waited.  A man would have hurried forward
to meet this deliverance, so unexpectedly vouchsafed.  But she was too
excited, too uncertain--too much of a girl.  Then presently, when the
horseman was still a hundred yards away, her heart abruptly turned over
in her bosom.

The man on the horse was Van.  She knew him--knew that impudent pose,
that careless grace and oneness with his broncho!  She did not know he
was chasing that flying roof which had frightened her horse from her
side; that he had bought an old cabin, far from his claim, to move it
to the "Laughing Water" ground--only to see it wrenched from his hold
by the mighty gale and flung across the world.  She knew nothing of
this, but she suddenly knew how glad was her whole tingling being, how
bounding was the blood in her veins!  And she also knew, abruptly, that
now if ever she must play the man.  She had all but forgotten she was
angry with Van.  That, and a hundred reasons more, made it absolutely
imperative now that he should not know her for herself!

She made a somewhat wild attempt at a toilet of her hair--in case the
wind had ripped the tell-tale strands from beneath her hat.  Then with
utter faintness in her being, and weakness in her knees, she prepared
to give him reception.

He had slowed his horse to a walk.  He rode up deliberately,
scrutinizing in obvious puzzlement the figure before him in the sand.

"Hullo," he said, while still a rod away, "what in blazes are you doing
here, man--are you lost?"

Beth nodded.  "I'm afraid I am."  Her utterance was decidedly girlish,
and quavering.

"Lost your voice somewhere, too, I reckon," said Van.  "Where are you
going?  Where are you from?"

"Starlight," answered Beth, at a loss for a better reply, and making an
effort to deepen her tones as she talked.  "I lost my horse in the
storm."

Van looked around the valley.

"Did, hey?  Didn't happen to see a stray roof, anywhere, did you?  I
lost one."

"I--haven't seen anything," faltered Both, whose only wish was to have
him say something about her escape from this terrible place.  "But
something frightened my pony."

"I was curious to see how far that roof would hike, that's all," he
told her by way of explanation of his presence here on his horse, and
he turned to look at her again.  "Didn't you know this so-called
cut-off to Starlight would take you more time than the road?"

"No, I--I didn't know it," said Beth, afraid he must presently
penetrate her masquerade if he looked like that upon her.  "What do you
advise me to do?"

He ignored her question, demanding:

"Say, is your name Kent?--Glenmore Kent?"

Beth felt her heart begin new gymnastics.  This was her cue.

"Why, yes.  But--how did you know--know me?"

"I've met your sister, in Goldite.  You can't get to Starlight
to-night."

She had passed muster!  A herd of wild emotions were upon her.  But
first here was her predicament--and what he said was not at all
reassuring.  Certain alarms that his coming had banished returned in a
vague array.

She showed her dread in her eyes.  "Perhaps I could get to Goldite."

"How?"  He was half unconsciously patting Suvy, the horse, whose
ecstasy thereat was not to be concealed.

Beth knew not how.  She wished Van would cease that study of her face.
Perhaps she could think more clearly.

"Why--I suppose I could walk--if I knew the way," she said.  "Is it
very far?  I admit I'm bewildered.  I was lost."

"It would be a long ride," he told her.  "A lost man is hopeless.  I
couldn't even show you the way so you could keep it--especially at
night."

New fears came surging upon her in all their force and numbers.

"But--what shall I do?"

Van reflected.

"My claim is the nearest camp from here, since the wind took down that
shack.  And that was abandoned anyway.  Can you hike some twenty-odd
miles?"

Twenty-odd miles!--on foot!  For a second she was almost tempted to
disclose herself, and beg him, for something a trifle more sympathetic
than what he seemed to be offering another fellow man.  But that could
not be done.  And night was descending rapidly.  The twilight was
brief--and on the wane.

"Why--perhaps so," she answered, attempting to smile.  "I'll try."

Something in her smile went straight to his heart--he wondered why.  To
feel as he did towards this unknown man, even the brother of the girl
he madly loved--this was certainly absurd.  It was not to be explained;
it was simply upon him, that was enough.  He dismounted.

"Here, get on my horse and ride.  I want to walk and stretch my legs."

Beth all but gasped.  She!--ride on Suvy!--the horse she had seen so
nearly kill this man!--a horse that might perhaps permit no other
living thing upon his back!  Yet she knew not how to refuse--and to
walk very far would be impossible.

"I'm--afraid I'm a very poor horseman," she admitted guardedly.  "If
your pony should happen----"

Van had thought that Suvy might resent a stranger's liberties.  He
turned to the broncho peculiarly.

"How about it, boy?" he asked the horse gravely.  "I want you to stand
for it, savvy?"  He looked at the animal inquiringly.  How he knew that
Suvy consented was only for him to comprehend.  He squared about to
Beth, who was watching with wonder, and something far softer, in her
heart.  "Get on," he said.  "He was raised as a cradle for babies."

Beth was pale, but she had to be a man.  She stepped to the broncho's
side and mounted to the saddle.  Suvy trembled in every sinew of his
being.

Van gave him a pat on the neck again, turned his back and started
straight northward.  The pony followed at his heels like a dog with a
master he loves.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE NIGHT IN THE DESERT

At ten o'clock that night the moon had not yet risen.  Its glow was on
the eastern sky, however, and at length it appeared, a broken orb with
its waning side lopped from its bulk.

Beth was still in the saddle.  She was utterly exhausted; she could
scarcely remain in her seat.  For more than an hour Van had plodded
onward without even turning to speak.  They had talked intermittently,
and he had told her his name.  Far off in the dimness of the desert
level--the floor of a second mighty valley--a lone coyote began his
dismal howling.  Beth, on the horse, felt a chill go down her spine.
Van seemed not to hear.  The howl was repeated from time to time
intermittently, like the wail of a ghost, forever lost to hope.

When the moon at last shone fairly on the broncho and the girl, Van
cast a glance at her face.  He was startled.  The young rider looked so
much like Beth--and looked so utterly tired!

Van halted, and so did the pony.  The man looked up at his companion.

"You're in no fit condition to go on," he said.  "What's the use of our
trying to make it?  To camp right here is as good as going on all
night, which don't suit my legs worth a cent."

Beth was wearied almost to collapse.  But--to camp out here--all
night!--they two!  Aside from the terrors that had crept to her soul at
sound of the distant coyote, this present aspect of the situation was
appalling.  Indeed, she began to see that whether they went on or
remained, she must spend the night in this man's company.

She was almost too tired to care how such a thing would appear.  He
thought her a man--it had been inescapable--there was nothing she could
do to prevent the course of events.  And come what might she must
presently slip from that saddle, in her weakness, faintness, and
hunger, if the penalty were all but life itself.

"I'm--sure I can walk--and let you ride," she said.  "I'd like to go
on, but I know I can't sit here any longer."

She tried to dismount by herself--as any man must do.  In her stiffness
she practically fell from the saddle, sinking on her side upon the
ground.  Only for a second was she prostrate thus at his feet, but her
coat fell back from her kahki vest--and a gleam of the moonlight fell
upon a bright little object, pinned above her heart.

Van beheld it--and knew what it was--his nugget, washed from the
"Laughing Water" claim!

The truth seemed to pour upon him like the waters of an all-engulfing
wave--the overwhelming, wonderful truth that was also almost terrible,
in what it might mean to them both.

There was one thing only the man could do--ignore this fact that he had
discovered and treat her like a man.  This he knew instantly.  He
turned with a man's indifference to one of his sex and vaulted to
Suvy's back.

"Come on," he said, "if you're anxious to get under cover."

He could trust himself to say no more.  He rode ahead.

Beth did her best to follow, and make no complaint.  The broncho,
however, was a rapid walker.  This she had not realized while Van was
striding on in the lead.  She fell behind repeatedly, and Van was
obliged to halt his horse and wait.  She began to be lame.  It had been
a torture to ride; it was agony to walk.

Van now became strangely urgent.  He had never loved her more.  His
love had taken on a sacredness, out here in the night, with Beth so
weary and helpless.  More than anything he had ever desired in his life
he wished to keep her sacred--spared from such a complication as their
night out here alone might engender.

Yet he saw the first little limp when she began to falter.  He was
watching backward constantly, his whole nature eager to protect
her--save her from hurt, from this merciless toil across the desert.
He longed to take her in his arms and carry her thus, securely.  He was
torn between the wish to hasten her along, for her own greater ease of
mind, and the impulse to halt this hardship.  He knew not what to do.

They had gone much less than a mile when he brought up his pony at her
side.

"Here, Kent," he said, "you walk like a bride-groom going up the aisle.
You'll have to get up here and ride."  He dismounted actively.

Beth could have dropped in her tracks for weariness.  She was tired to
the marrow of her bones.

"I can't," she answered.  "Perhaps--we'd better camp."  A hot flush
rushed upward to her very scalp, fortunately, however, unseen.

Van regarded her sternly.

"I've changed my mind.  I haven't time to camp out here to-night.
You'll have to ride."

It seemed to Beth that, had it been to save her life, she could
scarcely have climbed to that saddle.  To remain on the horse would,
she knew, be far beyond her strength.  She continued on her feet only
by the utmost exertion of her will.  Someway since Van had found her in
this dreadful place she had lost strength rapidly--perhaps for the
leaning on him.  With Van's ultimatum now to confront, she could summon
no nerve or resolution.

Her face paled.  "You'd better go on, if you have to be at your claim,"
she said, aware that she could offer no argument, no alternative plan
to his wish for an onward march.  "I'm--not used to riding--much.  I
can't ride any more tonight."

He knew she told the truth, knew how gladly she would have continued
riding, knew what a plight of collapse she must be approaching to
submit to a thought of remaining here till morning.  He could not go
and leave her here.  The thought of it aroused him to something like
anger.  He realized the necessity of assuming a rougher demeanor.

"Damn it, Kent," he said, "you're no less lost than you were before.
You know I can't go off and leave you.  And I want to get ahead."

She only knew she could not ride, come what might.

"You didn't say so, a little while ago," she ventured, half
imploringly.  "I'm sorry I'm so nearly dead.  If you must go on----"

That cut him to the heart.  How could he be a brute?

"I ought to go!" he broke in unguardedly.  "I mean I've got to
think--I've got work to do in the morning.  Don't you suppose you could
try?"

The moonlight was full on his face.  All the laughter she knew so well
had disappeared from his eyes.  In its place she saw such a look of
yearning and worry--such a tenderness of love as no woman ever yet saw
and failed to comprehend.  She divined in that second that he knew who
she was--she felt it, through all her sense of intuition and the fiber
of her soul.  She understood his insistence on the march, the saving
march, straight onward without a halt.  She loved him for it.  She had
loved him with wild intensity, confessed at last to herself, ever since
the moment he had appeared in the desert to save her.

If a certain reckless abandon to this love rocked her splendid
self-control, it was only because she was so utterly exhausted.  Her
judgment was sound, unshaken.  Nevertheless, despite judgment and
all--to go on was out of the question.  God had flung them out here
together, she thought, for better or for worse.  That Van would be the
fine chivalrous gentleman she had felt him to be at the very first
moment of their accidental acquaintance, she felt absolutely assured.
She accepted a certain inevitable fatality in the situation---perhaps
the more readily now that she knew he knew, for she seemed so much more
secure.

His question remained unanswered while she thought of a thousand
things.  Could she try to go on?

She shook her head.  "What's the use of my riding--perhaps another
mile?  You might go on and send a man to guide me in the morning."

What an effort it cost her to make such a harsh suggestion not even Van
could know.  A terrible fear possessed her that he might really act
upon her word.  To have him stay was bad enough, but to have him go
would be terrible.

"Hell!" he said, keeping up his acting.  "You talk like a woman.
Haven't I wasted time enough already without sending someone out here
to-morrow morning?  What makes you think you're worth it?"  He turned
his back upon her, hung the stirrup of the saddle on the horn, and
began to loosen the cinch.

Like the woman that she was, she enjoyed his roughness, his impudence,
and candor.  It meant so much, in such a time as this.  After a moment
she asked him:

"What do you mean to do?"

He hauled off the saddle and dropped it to the ground.

"Make up the berths," he answered.  "Here's your bedding."  He tossed
the blanket down at her feet.  It was warm and moist from Suvy's body.
He then uncoiled his long lasso, secured an end around the pony's neck,
and bade him walk away and roll.

The broncho obeyed willingly, as if he understood.  Van took up the
saddle, carried it off a bit, and dropped it as before.

Beth still remained there, with the blanket at her feet.

Van addressed her.  "Got any matches?"

"No," she said.  "I'm afraid----"

"Neither have I," he interrupted.  "No fire in the dressing-room.
Good-night.  No need to set the alarm clock.  I'll wake you bright and
early."  Once more he took up his saddle and started off in the
ankle-high brush of the plain.

Beth watched him with many misgivings at her heart.

"Where--where are you going?" she called.

"To bed," he called in response.  "Want room to kick around, if I get
restless."

She understood--but it was hard to bear, to be left so alone as this,
in such a place.  He went needlessly far, she was sure.

Grateful to him, but alarmed, made weaker again by having thus to make
her couch so far from any protection, she continued to stand there,
watching him depart.  He stooped at last, and his pony halted near him,
like a faithful being who must needs keep him always in sight.  Even
the pony would have been some company for Beth, but when Van stretched
himself down upon the earth, with the saddle for a pillow, she felt
horribly alone.

There was nothing to do but to make the best of what the fates allowed.
She curled herself down on the chilly sand with the blanket tucked
fairly well around her.  But she did not sleep.  She was far too tired
and alarmed.

Half an hour later three coyotes began a fearsome serenade.  Beth sat
up abruptly, as terrified as if she had been but a child.  She endured
it for nearly five minutes, hearing it come closer all the while.  Then
she could bear it no more.  She rose to her feet, caught up her
blanket, and almost ran towards the pony.  More softly then she
approached the place where Van lay full length upon the ground.  She
beheld him in the moonlight, apparently sound asleep.

As closely as she dared she crept, and once more made her bed upon the
sand.  There, in a child-like sense of security, with her fearless
protector near, she listened in a hazy way to the prowling beasts, now
cruising away to the south, and so profoundly slept.

Van had heard her come.  Into his heart snuggled such a warmth and holy
joy as few men are given to feel.  He, too, went to sleep, thinking of
his nugget on her breast.



CHAPTER XXVII

TALL STORIES

Daylight had barely broadened into morning when Van was astir from his
bed.  The air was chill and wonderfully clean.  Above the eastern run
of hills the sun was ready to appear.

Beth still lay deep in slumber.  She had curled up like a child in her
meager covering.  Van watched her from his distance.  A little shiver
passed through her form, from time to time.  Her hat was still in
place, but how girlish, how sweet, how helpless was her face--the
little he could see!  How he wished he might permit her to sleep it out
as nature demanded.  For her own sake, not for his, he must hasten her
onward to Goldite, by way of the "Laughing Water" claim.

He walked off eastward where a natural furrow made a deep depression in
the valley.  His pony followed, the lasso dragging in the sand.  Once
over at the furrow edge, the man took out his pistol and fired it off
in the air.

Beth was duly aroused.  Van saw her leap to her feet, then he
disappeared in the hollow, with his broncho at his heels.

The girl was, if possible, stiffer than before.  But she was much
refreshed.  For a moment she feared Van was deserting, till she noted
his saddle, near at hand.  Then he presently emerged upon the level of
the plain and returned to the site of their camp.

"First call for breakfast in the dining-car," he said.  "We can make it
by half-past eight."

"If only we could have a cup of good hot coffee first, before we
start," said Beth, and she smiled at the vainness of the thought.

"We won't get good coffee at the claim," Van assured her dryly.  "But
near-coffee would lure me out of this."

He was rapidly adjusting the blanket and saddle on his horse.

"You'll have to ride or we can't make speed," he added.  "As a walker
you're sure the limited."

She appreciated thoroughly the delicacy with which he meant to continue
the fiction of her sex.  But he certainly was frank.

"Thank you," she answered amusedly.  "I'd do better, perhaps, if I
weren't so over-burdened with flattery."

"You'll have to do better, anyhow," he observed, concluding
preparations with Suvy.  "There you are.  Get on.  Father Time with
hobbles on could beat us getting a move."

He started off, leaving her to mount by herself.  She managed the
matter somewhat stiffly, suppressing a groan at the effort, and then
for an hour she was gently pummeled into limberness as the pony
followed Van.

They came at the end of that time to one of the upper reaches of that
same river she had forded the previous day.  To all appearances the
wide shallow bed was a counterpart of the one over which her horse had
waded.  But the trail turned sharply down the stream, and followed
along its bank.

They had halted for the pony to drink.  Van also refreshed himself and
Beth dismounted to lie flat down and quench her long, trying thirst.

"Right across there, high up in the hills, is the 'Laughing Water'
claim," said Van, pointing north-eastward towards the mountains.  "Only
three miles away, if we could fly, but six as we have to go around."

"And why do we have to go around?" Beth inquired.  "Aren't we going to
cross the river here?"

"Looks like a river, I admit," he said, eying the placid stream.
"That's a graveyard there--quicksand all the way across."

Beth's heart felt a shock at the thought of what could occur to a
traveler here, unacquainted with the treacherous waters.

"Good gracious!" she said.  She added generously: "Couldn't I walk a
little now, and--share the horse?"

"When you walk it gets on Suvy's nerves to try to keep step," he
answered.  "Fall in."

They went two miles down the river, then, across on a rock-and-gravel
bottom, at a ford directly opposite a jagged rift in the mountains.
This chasm, which was short and steep, they traversed perspiringly.
The sun was getting warm.  Beyond them then the way was all a rough,
hard climb, over ridges, down through canyons, around huge dykes of
rock and past innumerable foldings of the range.  How Van knew the way
was more than Beth could understand.  She was already growing wearied
anew, since the night had afforded her very little rest, and she had
not eaten for nearly a day.

Van knew she was in no condition for the ride.  He was watching her
constantly, rejoicing in her spirit, but aching for her aches.  He set
a faster pace for the broncho to follow, to end the climb as soon as
possible.

At length, below a rounded ridge, where stunted evergreens made a
welcome bit of greenery, he came to a halt.

"We're almost there," he said.  "You'll have to remain at the claim
till somewhere near noon, then I'll show you the way down to Goldite."

"Till noon?"  She looked at him steadily, a light of worry in her eyes
as she thought of arriving so late at Mrs. Dick's, with what
consequences--the Lord alone knew.

"I can't get away much earlier," he said, and to this, by way of acting
his part, he added: "Do you want to wear me out?"

She knew what he meant.  He would wait till noon to give her time to
rest.  She would need all the rest he could make possible.  And then he
would only "show her the way to Goldite."  He would not ride with her
to town.  She might yet escape the compromising plight into which she
had been thrust.  His thoughtfulness, it seemed, could have no end.

"Very well," she murmured.  "I'm sorry to have made you all this
trouble."  She was not--someways; she was lawlessly, inordinately glad.

The "trouble" for Van had been the most precious experience in all his
life.

"It has been one wild spasm of delight," he said in his dryest manner
of sarcasm.  "But between us, Kent, I'm glad it's no continuous
performance."

He went over the ridge, she following.  A moment later they were
looking down upon the "Laughing Water" claim from that self-same
eminence from which Searle Bostwick had seen it when he rode one day
from the Indian reservation.

"This," said Van, "is home."

"Oh," said the girl, and tears sprang into her eyes.

And a very home, indeed, it presently seemed, when they came to the
shack, where Gettysburg, Napoleon, old Dave, and even Algy, the Chinese
cook, came forth to give them cordial welcome.

Beth was introduced to all as Glenmore Kent--and passed inspection.

"Brother of Miss Beth Kent," said Van, "who honored us once with a
visit to the Monte Cristo fiasco.  He's been lost on the desert and
he's too done up to talk, so I want him to be fed and entertained.  And
of the two requirements, the feed's more important than the vaudeville
show, unless your stunts can put a man to sleep."

Algy and Gettysburg got the impromptu breakfast together.  The placer
sluices outside were neglected.  Nobody wished to shovel sand for gold
when marvelous tales might be exchanged concerning the wind storm that
had raged across the hills the day before.

Indeed, as Van and Beth sat together at the board, regaling themselves
like the two famished beings they were, their three entertainers
proceeded to liberate some of the tallest stories concerning storms
that mortal ever heard.

Napoleon and Gettysburg became the hottest of rivals in an effort to
deliver something good.  Gettysburg furnished a tale of a breeze in the
unpeopled wilds of Nebraska where two men's farms, fully twenty miles
apart, had undergone an astounding experience whereby a complete
exchange of their houses, barns, and sheds had been effected by a
cyclone, without the slightest important damage to the structures.

When this was concluded, Napoleon looked pained.  "I think you lie,
Gett--metaphorical speakin'!" he hastened to add.  "But shiver my
bowsprit if I didn't see a ship, once, ten days overdue, jest snatched
up and blowed into port two days ahead of time, and never touched
nothing all the way, I remember the year 'cause that was the winter ma
had twins and pa had guinea pigs."

"Wal," drawled Dave, who had all this time maintained a dignified
silence, "I've saw some wind, in my time, but only one that was really
a leetle mite too obstreperous.  Yep, that was a pretty good blow--the
only wind I ever seen which blew an iron loggin' chain off the fence,
link by link."

Napoleon paid Dave a compliment.  He said:

"You old son of a gun!"

Van thought the storms had raged sufficiently.

"Is work unpopular, or did the wind blow the water from the creek?"

"I like to work," admitted Gettysburg, "but it's fun to watch you
epicures eatin'."

Beth felt embarrassed.

"Epicures?" echoed Napoleon.  "You don't know what an epicure is?
That's a vulgar remark when you don't know no meaning of a word."

"Epicure?  Me not know what an epicure is?" replied old Gettysburg
aggressively.  "You bet I do.  An epicure's a feller which chaws his
fodder before he swallers it."

Napoleon subsided.  Then he arose and sauntered out to work, Dave and
Gettysburg following.  Van hastily drank his cup of coffee, which, as
he had predicted, was not particularly good, and started for the
others.  He halted in the door.

"Make yourself comfortable, if you can here, Kent," he said.  "You had
an exhausting experience yesterday.  Perhaps you had better lie down."

Beth merely said: "Thank you."  But her smile was more radiant than
sunshine.



CHAPTER XXVIII

WORK AND SONG

Having presently finished her breakfast, Beth joined the group outside,
curious to behold the workings of a placer mine in actual operation.

There was not much to see, but it was picturesque.  In their lack of
funds the partners had constructed the simplest known device for
collecting the gold from the sand.  They had built a line of sluices,
or troughs of considerable length, propped on stilts, or supports about
knee high, along the old bed of the canyon.  The sluices were mere
square flumes, set with a fairly rapid grade.

Across the bottom of all this flume, at every yard or less of its
length, small wooden cleats had been nailed, to form the "riffles."
Into the hoses the water from the creek was turned, at the top.  The
men then shoveled the sand in the running stream and away it went,
sluicing along the water-chute, its particles rattling down the wooden
stairway noisily.  The gold was expected to settled behind the riffles,
owing to its weight.

All the flume-way dripped from leakages.  The sun beat down upon the
place unshaded.  Water escaped into all the pits the men were digging
as they worked, so that they slopped around in mud above their ankles.
Dave wore rubber boots and was apparently protected.  As a matter of
fact the boots promptly filled with water.  Napoleon and Gettysburg
made no effort to remain dry shod, but puddled all day with soused
footgear.

Van rode off to the "reservation town," a mile below the hill, to
bargain for a tent reported there for sale.  Sleeping quarters here on
the claim were far too crowded.  Until lumber for a cabin could be
purchased they must make what shifts they might.

It had taken but the briefest time for the miners to go at their work.
Beth stood near, watching the process with the keenest interest.  It
seemed to her a back-breaking, strenuous labor.  These sturdy old
fellows, grown gray and stooped with toil--grown also expectant of
hardship, ill-luck, and privations--were pathetic figures, despite
their ways of cheer.

That Van had attached them to himself in a largeness of heart by no
means warranted by their worth was a conviction at which anyone must
promptly arrive.  They were lovable old scamps, faithful, honest, and
loyal to the man they loved--but that was all that could be stated.
Perhaps it was enough.  As partners with whom to share both life and
fortune they might have seemed impossible to many discerning men.

Beth sat down on a rock, near Gettysburg.  Someway she, too, liked the
three old chaps of whom work had made three trademarks.  Old Gettysburg
began to sing.  The words of his song, halted by grunts as he shoveled,
were, to say the least, unexpected:


  The frog he swore he'd have a ride,
        (Shovel)
    With a rinktum bolly kimo;
  Sword and pistols by his side,
        (Shovel)
    With a rinktum bolly kimo.
  For lunch he packed a beetle bug,
        (Shovel)
    With a rinktum bolly kimo;
  Tucked inside his tummy snug,
        (Shovel)
    With a rinktum bolly kimo.

  Kimo, karo, pito, garo,
    Kimo, bolly mitty kimo.
        (Shovel)
  Shing-shang hammyriddle, allibony, ringtang,
    Folderolli bolly mitty kimo.
        (Three shovelings and some meditation)

  The frog he rode a slimy eel,
        (Shovel)
    With a rinktum bolly kimo.
  The sun made his complexion peel,
        (Shovel)
    With a rinktum bolly kimo.
  The frog's legs went to join a fry,
        (Shovel)
    With a rinktum bolly kimo.
  The eel became a juicy pie,
        (Shovel)
    With a rinktum bolly kimo.

        (Chorus)


Napoleon looked up at the end of the song and spat upon his hands.

"Gett," he said placidly, "I think that's a lie--metaphorical speakin'.
Ain't mad, are you?"

Gettysburg made no response.  He merely shoveled.

One of the sluices, weakened by a leak that had undermined its pinning,
fell from place, at the farther end of the line.  Old Dave went down to
repair it.  Napoleon took advantage of his absence to come to Beth,
with an air of imparting something confidential.

"Splice my main brace," said he, with his head on one side, quaintly,
"wasn't that a blasphermous yarn old Dave was givin' us about the wind
blowing that log chain away a link at a time?  Old son of a gun!"

Beth was inquisitive.

"Why do you call him a son of a gun?"

Napoleon scratched his head.

"Well, you see, Dave's mother held up his father with a Colt forty-five
and makes him marry her.  Then along comes Dave.  I reckon that makes
him a sure enough son of a gun."

Beth said: "Oh."  She turned a little red.

"Yep, good old cuss, Dave is, though.  No good for a seafearing man,
however.  He could never learn to swear--he ain't got no ear for music."

He returned to his shovel.  He and Gettysburg worked in silence for
fifteen minutes.  Old Dave returned and joined them.  Gettysburg tuned
up for another of his songs, the burden of which was the tale of a
hen-pecked man.

Once more at its end Napoleon looked up and spat on his hands.

"There ain't nothing that can keep some women down 'cept a
gravestone--and I've seen some gravestones which was tilted."

Despite the interest and amusement she felt in it all, Beth was
becoming sleepy as she sat there in the sun.  She shook off the spell
and arose, approaching closer to the bank and flume where Gettysburg
was toiling.  He labored on, silently, for several minutes, then
paused, straightened up by degrees, as if the folds in his back were
stubborn, and looked at their visitor steadily, his glass eye
particularly fixed.  One of his hands pulled down his jaw, and then it
closed up with a thump.

"Guess this kind of a racket is sort of new to you, Mr. Kent," he
ventured.  "Ever seen gold washin' before?"

"No," Beth confessed, "and I don't see where the gold is to come from
now."

Gettysburg chuckled.  "Holy toads!  Miners do a heap of work and never
see it neither.  Me and Van and Napoleon has went through purg and
back, many's the time, and was lucky to git out with our skeletons,
sayin' nuthin' about the gold."

"Oh."  She could think of nothing else to say.

"In fact Van was all that got me out onct--Napoleon, too.  We wasn't
worth it, prob'ly.  That's the joke on Van.  Since then us three cusses
has starved, and froze, and clean roasted, chasin' gold."

"Oh."

"We was lost in the snow, one winter, with nuthin' to eat but a plug of
tobacker, a can of vasolene, and a porous plaster.  We lived on that
menu fer a week--that and snow-soup.  But Van got us out all
right--packed Napoleon about five miles on his back.  Nap was so thin
there wasn't enough of him to die."  His one good eye became dreamily
focused on the past.  He smiled.  "But someways the desert is worse
than the snow.  We got ketched three times without no water.  Never did
know, Nap or me, how Van got our two old dried-up carcasses out the
last time, down to Death Valley.  He's a funny cuss, old Van."

Once more Beth merely answered: "Oh."

"You bet!" resumed Gettysburg.  "He never quits.  It ain't in him.  He
works his hands off and his soul out of its socket, every time."  He
laughed heartily.  "Lord! we have done an awful lot of fool work fer
nuthin'!  We've tackled tunnels and shafts, and several games like
this, and pretty near died a dozen different styles--all uneasy kinds
of dyin'--and we've lived when it was a darn sight uneasier than
croakin', and kept on tryin' out new diggin's, and kept on bein' busted
all the time.  'Nuff to make a lemon laugh, the fun we've had.  But
now, by Jupe! we've struck it at last--and it ain't a-goin' to git
away!"

"Oh, I'm glad--I'm glad!" said Beth, winking back a bit of suspicious
moisture that came unbidden in her eyes as she looked on this
weather-beaten, hardship-beaten old figure, still sturdily ready for
the fates.  "I'm sure you all deserve it!  I'm sure of that!"

"Wal, that's a question fer God Almighty," Gettysburg replied.  "But
there's the gold, the good yellow gold!  And I'm awful glad fer Van!"

Into the water he dipped his crooked old fingers, and scratching down
behind a riffle he fetched up a small amount of gold, doubly bright
with the water and the sunlight upon it.

"Gold--and we git it easy," he added, repeating: "I'm awful glad fer
Van.  You ought to see him shovel!"  He dropped the gold back into the
water carelessly.  "It ain't a-goin' to do us old jack-legged cusses
much good, at our age, but I would like to go to San Francisco this
summer once, and shoot the chutes!"



CHAPTER XXIX

SUSPICIOUS ANSWERS

Beth and Van rode away from the claim just after lunch; she on a
borrowed horse.  The girl had not slept, but she had rested well and
was far more fit for the journey back to town than either she or Van
had expected.

He went with her part way only--far enough to put her safely on a trail
from which she could not wander.  They talked but little as they
rode--perhaps because they had so much to say that could not be
approached.  Never for a moment did Van relax his vigilance upon
himself, or treat her otherwise than as a man for whom he had conceived
a natural liking.

When they came to the place of parting he pulled up his broncho and
faced about in the trail.

"Well, Kent," he said, "so long.  You'll have no trouble now."  He held
forth his hand.

Beth gave him hers--and all her heart.  Nevertheless, his clasp was as
brief as he would give to one of his sex.

"So long," she answered.  "Good luck.  I am under many obligations."

"They won't make you very round shouldered," he said.  "See you again."

That was their parting.  He rode back at once--and Beth continued on
her way.  She turned three times in her saddle to watch him as he went,
but she did not catch him glancing back.

About sundown she rode into Goldite, went at once to Mrs. Dick's, and
tied her horse to a post.  Mrs. Dick she met in the hall.

"Snakes alive!" exclaimed that lively little person.  "If you ain't
back as natural as life!"  The garb had not deceived her for a moment.
"Where in the world have you been, in such a rig?"

Beth's answer was ready.

"I went to see my brother, and had to spend the night on the desert."

Mrs. Dick stared at her in wonder.  "Talk to me about the Eastern women
being mollycuddles!  You don't mean his cabin was blown down by the
storm?"

Beth was ill-prepared for this, but she met it.

"I wish you could have seen that roof go by!"

"Are you hungry?" the hostess demanded.  "You look all wore out."

"I am," Beth admitted.  "Has Mr. Bostwick been here in my absence?"

"He ain't been here in anything--nope."

Beth's relief was inexpressible.  She was safe, with everything behind
her!  No one knew, or would ever need to know, the secret in possession
of herself and Van.

"If anyone comes that you can send, will you kindly have my horse taken
over to the stable?" she said.  "I must go upstairs and rest."

"Here's Billy Stitts a-comin' now," replied the housewife, moving
towards the door.  "He's been worried to death about you bein' gone!"

Beth ran at once for the stairs, and later, from the window, saw the
faithful old Billy leading her pony away.  She closed her door,
darkened the light, and soon clambered wearily into bed, where she
dropped off to sleep like a child, lost to the world through the dinner
hour and till something like three in the morning.  She awaked then for
a moment, long enough to think of Van, then sighed in absolute comfort
and turned to sleep again.

It was nine o'clock in the morning when at last she appeared on the
scene.

"Land snakes!" said Mrs. Dick, who had heard her coming down.  "Ain't
you the sleeper!  Well, I've kept your breakfast, but I couldn't keep
last night's supper.  Your friend, Mr. Bostwick, was here about eight,
but I told him he'd have to wait if it took you a week to come to."

"You didn't tell him I'd been away, I hope," said Beth, suddenly
alarmed at the thought of Searle's presence in the town.  "I'd rather
no one knew but you."

"Lord!  I wouldn't tell him if a rat was dead in his pocket!" Mrs. Dick
expostulated.  "I can't abide the man, and you might as well know it,
even if it does hurt your feelings."

Beth sat down to her breakfast.  "You're as good as you can be."

"Well, the breakfast ain't--'taint fresh," said Mrs. Dick.  "But I'll
see you git a decent lunch."

She bustled off into the kitchen.  Beth had barely finished eating when
Bostwick again appeared.

The man was tanned from his trip in the desert.  He seemed alert,
excited, keen over prospects rapidly coming to a head.

"Well, well, Beth," he said as he came inside the dining-room, "I'm
back, you see, but I've certainly had a time of it!  The car broke
down, and Glen had left Starlight when at last I arrived, and I hunted
for him all through the mountains and only found him four days ago, and
we've been going ever since.  I couldn't write, but I did feel cut up,
I assure you, about leaving you here alone for so long a time."

He advanced as if to kiss her, but Beth avoided his caress.  She was
calm and possessed.  She meant to ascertain just how far the man was
trying to deceive her.

"Won't you sit down, and tell me all about it," she said.  "You saw
Glen four days ago?"  She resumed her place in her chair.

"Three or four days ago--I'm mixed in my dates," he said, as he also
took a seat.  "He's looking fine, and sent his love, of course."

That the man was lying, in every particular, she began to feel
convinced.

"You left him well?  He was feeling strong and well?"

"Never better," he assured her.  "You can see what this wonderful
sunlight does, even to me."

"Yes, I see.  And you left Starlight yesterday?"

"Yesterday afternoon.  I had trouble running back.  Otherwise we'd have
been here in the evening."

She glanced at him quickly.  "We?  Glen didn't come along?  He isn't
here?"

"Oh, no, no, certainly not," he hastened to say.  "I brought in a man
who--who is interested in the purchase we have made."

That served to arouse her sense of wonderment at what he had really
been doing with her money.  He was attempting to deceive her concerning
Glen, and perhaps his entire story was a fabrication.

"Oh," she said.  "Then you have purchased the mine--you and Glen?"

"Well--a few minor details remain to be concluded," he said
off-handedly.  "We are not yet in actual possession of the property.
There will be no further hitches, however--and the claim is certainly
rich."

For the life of her she could not tell what lay at the bottom of the
business.  The strange conflicts and discrepancies between Glen's very
own letters made the riddle utterly obscure.  She felt that Searle was
fashioning falsehoods in every direction.  That he had not visited Glen
at all was her fixed conviction.  A sudden distrust, almost a loathing
for this heavy-browed man, was settling down upon her, inescapably.
Someway, somehow she must know about Glen for herself.  Her own
attempted trip to Starlight had discouraged all thought of further
adventure, and no reliance whatsoever could be placed on Searle's
reports.  Perhaps the reputed mining property was likewise a myth--or
if such a property existed, Glen might never have heard of it at all.
But Glen's letter--she was always forgetting that letter--the one he
had written to Searle.

She said: "Where is this mine that Glen has found?"

He colored slightly.  "We have all agreed not to talk too much about it
yet.  It's not very far from here--I can tell you that.  Precautions
are necessary where a hundred men follow every prospector about, night
and day, if he happens to have found a bit of valuable ore.  A thousand
men would be after this property if they knew the way to secure it."

Perhaps, after all, Glen, had purposely concealed this matter from
herself.  Bostwick sounded plausible.  Her mind reverted to her
brother's illness, for Glen to her was of far more importance than all
the mines in Nevada.

"I am glad to hear that Glen is _well_," she said, determined on
another tack.  "He hasn't answered my letter."

Once more Bostwick colored, beneath his tan and the gun-metal tint of
his jaw.

"I suppose he's been too busy," he answered.  "Have you written again?"

"Not yet," she answered honestly.  "I wasn't sure of his whereabouts.
You are sure he's in Starlight now?"

"Yes--but you needn't write," he hastened to say.  "He said he might
come, perhaps to-morrow."  He rose from his chair.  "I've got to hurry
off, little girl.  These negotiations cannot wait.  I'll run in when I
can--this afternoon at the latest.  I'm glad to see you looking so
well."  He approached her with lover-like intent.  "My heart has been
empty and forlorn, away from you, Beth.  Surely you have a little--a
little something for me, pet?  You know how starved----"

"Oh--Mrs. Dick is coming!" she interrupted desperately.  "You must have
a great deal to do."

Mrs. Dick was making a large and lively noise in the kitchen.

Bostwick listened for a second, his deep-set eyes keenly fixed on the
girl, like very orbs of suspicion and jealousy.  He lowered his voice.

"Has that ruffian, Van Buren, been here recently?"

She raised her brows in well-feigned astonishment,

"I haven't heard of any ruffian being in town."

Bostwick studied her face for a moment in silence.

"I'll be around this afternoon," he repeated.  "Good-by."

He departed hurriedly, glancing at his watch as he went.

Not a block from the house he met old Billy Stitts, who, though quite
unknown to the New York man, knew Bostwick in a way of his own.

"Morning, Uncle.--Howdy?" he said, blocking Bostwick's path.  "Back, I
see.  Welcome home.  I guess you don't know me as well as I know you.
My name is Stitts--Billy Stitts--and I'm gittin' on fine with your
niece.  I'm the one which runs her errands and gits the inside track."

Bostwick, staring at Billy ominously, and about to sweep him aside as a
bit of old rubbish, too familiar and impudent for tolerance, paused
abruptly in his impulse, at a hint which Billy had supplied.

"Oh," he said.  "How are you?  So you are the friend who runs Miss
Kent's errands?  You must be the one she asked me to befriend."

"Did she?" said old Billy, inordinately pleased.  "What did I tell you
about the inside track?"

"I'm glad if you have been of use," Bostwick told him insidiously.
"You didn't say what your services have been.  Just a few little
errands, I suppose?"

"Never you mind," said Billy, with a profoundly impressive wink.
"That's between her and me.  That ain't even fer you, Uncle Bostwick,"
and he winked again.

"Of course, of course," agreed Bostwick, half consumed with rage at the
old fellow's abominable manners and familiarity.  "I'll keep you in
mind and add some reward of my own on the next occasion."

He bowed and hastened on his way, boiling with curiosity to know what
it was that Beth had been doing to require this old tattler's services.
He meant to ascertain.  His suspicions went at once to Van, at thought
of whom he closed down his jaw like a vise.

Filled with a turmoil of thoughts that seethed in his brain, like a
brew in a witch's cauldron--some of them dark and some golden bright,
and some of them red with lust for many things--he proceeded down
street to McCoppet's place, to find himself locked out of the private
den, where the gambler was closeted with Lawrence.



CHAPTER XXX

BETH'S ONE EXPEDIENT

Bostwick had told Beth partial truths.  His journey had been hard.  His
car had been twice disabled on the desert; Lawrence had been difficult
to find; delays had confronted him at every turn, and not until
midnight of the day before this had he come with his quarry to
Goldite--barely in time to save the situation, with the reservation
opening less than forty-eight hours away.

He had not seen Glen, nor approached the town of Starlight closer than
fifteen miles.  He had not yet expended Beth's money, which only that
morning had been practically placed at McCoppet's disposal.  But having
finally landed the Government surveyor in camp, he had achieved the
first desirable end in the game they were playing, and matters were
moving at last with a speed to suit the most exacting.

During the interim between Searle's departure and return affairs had
been a trifle complicated in another direction--affairs that lay
between the gambler and his friend, the lumberman, big Trimmer.

Trimmer had been paid one thousand dollars only of the sum agreed upon
when he gave the name of Culver to the half-breed Indian, Cayuse.  He
had since spent his money, demanded the balance due, and threatened
McCoppet with exposure, only to be met with a counter threat of prison
for life as the half-breed's accomplice in the crime.  McCoppet meant
to pay a portion of the creature's price, but intended to get it from
Bostwick.  Indeed, to-day he had the money, but was far too much
engrossed with Lawrence to give the lumberman a thought.

Trimmer, waxing greedy through the ease with which he had blackmailed
McCoppet, had developed a cunning of his own.  Convinced that the
gambler was accustomed to incubating plans in his private office, the
lumberman made shift to excavate a hole beneath the floor of that
particular den of privacy, and, after having spent half a night in
vain, in this place of concealment, was at last being duly rewarded as
he listened to McCoppet and Lawrence.

With his ear to a knot-hole he gathered in everything essential to a
knowledge of the plot.  He became aware that Lawrence "fell" for twenty
thousand dollars; he overheard the details of the "survey" about to be
made; but to save his very life he could not have fathomed the means
that were about to be employed to "jump" the mining property belonging
to Van Buren and his partners.

Equipped with this latest means of squeezing McCoppet, the creature
emerged from his hole in time to meet the gambler at the bar, during a
moment of Bostwick's temporary absence.

"Opal," he said significantly, "I need to see you fer a minute.  It
won't be no healthier to refuse me now than it was the first time I
come."

The gambler looked at him coldly.  "I haven't got time to talk now,
Larry, but some of your money is at your order any time you want it, in
gold, or poker chips, or gin."

Trimmer was placated.  "All right," he said, and cunningly resolved,
upon the spot, to keep his latest secret on the ice.

Lawrence had already disappeared to hasten arrangements for getting out
upon his work.

Bostwick had waited half an hour in the utmost impatience.  With a
hundred things to increase his restlessness of mind and body, he had
finally gone to the postoffice and there discovered a letter from
Glenmore Kent.

It was short, and now no longer fresh.  It had been composed just after
the young man's accident, and after relating how he had received a not
inconsiderable injury, requested Searle to come to Starlight at once,
if possible, and not to divulge any needless facts to Beth.

"I'm broke, and this knock puts me down and out," the letter concluded.
"Come down, like a good old chap, and cheer me up."

Bostwick destroyed the letter promptly, lest it fall by some accident
into other hands than his own.  Not without a slight feeling of guilt,
the man shut out all thought, for the present, of deserting Goldite and
the plot.  That Beth would learn nothing from himself as to Glen's
condition was a certainty.  He was glad of this wisdom in the boy--this
show of courage whereby he had wished his sister spared.

But the more he thought upon Beth's attitude towards himself, and the
mystifying confessions old Billy Stitts had made, concerning the
errands he was running for the girl, the more Bostwick fretted and
warmed with exasperation, suspicion, and jealousy.  He returned to
McCoppet's.  The door to the den was still barred.  Impatiently he
started again for Mrs. Dick's.  He was not in the least certain as to
what he meant to do or say, but felt obliged to do something.

Meantime, Beth had written to her brother.  Bostwick's evasions and
lies had aroused more than merely a vague alarm in her breast.  She had
begun to feel, perhaps partially by intuition, that something was
altogether wrong.  Searle's anxiety to assure her she need not write to
Glen--that he was coming to Goldite--had provided the one required
element to excite a new trend in her thought.  She knew that Glen would
not come soon to town.  She knew she must get him word.  She had
thought of one way only to insure herself and Glen against deceit--ask
Van to go in person with her letter, and bring her Glen's reply.

Had she felt the affair to be in the slightest degree unimportant she
might have hesitated to think of making this request, but the more she
dwelt upon it the more essential it seemed to become.  Her brothers
very life might be dependent upon this promptness of action.  A very
large sum of money was certainly involved in some sort of business of
which, she felt, both she and Glen were in ignorance.  Bostwick had
certainly not seen Glen at all.  His deceptions might mean
anything!--the gravest of dangers to them all!

It had taken her the briefest time only to resolve upon her course--and
then old Billy came upon the scene, as if in answer to a question she
had asked--how to get her request and the letter to Glen across the
hills to Van, at the "Laughing Water" claim?

Three letters she wrote, and tore to scraps, before one was finally
composed to express all she felt, in the way that she wished it
expressed.  Old Billy went off to wait and returned there duly,
enormously pleased by his commission.  He knew the way to the "Laughing
Water" claim and could ride the borrowed pony.

As pleased as a dog with a parcel of meat, entrusted to his keeping by
a confident master, he finally started for the hay-yard, with two
dainty letters in his keeping.  One was to Van, with Beth's request;
the other was, of course, to her brother.

Bostwick met the proud old beau at the corner of the street.

"Say, Uncle, what did I tell you," said Billy at once.  "This time it's
the biggest errand yet."

Bostwick had wondered if he might not catch Mr. Stitts in some such
service as he boasted now, and his wit was worthy of his nature.

"Yes," he said readily, "Miss Kent was saying she thought perhaps she
could get you to carry a note to Mr. Van Buren."  It was a hazardous
coup but he dared it with the utmost show of pleasure in his smile.
For a second, however, as he watched the old man's face, he feared he
had overshot the mark.

Old Billy was pleased and disappointed together.  However, his wish to
prove his importance greatly outweighed his chagrin that Beth should
have taken even "Uncle" Bostwick into her confidence.

"That ain't all she give me," he announced, as foolishly as a child.
"I've got her letter to her brother, over to Starlight, too, and
nothin' couldn't stop me from takin' it up to the 'Laughing Water'
claim.  You bet I'll see Van Buren gits it right into his hand from me!"

If Bostwick had contemplated making an attempt to bribe the old beau
into permitting him a glance at the letters, he abandoned the thought
with sagacious alacrity.  He must think of something safer.  A letter
to Van Buren and one to Glen was more than he had counted on
discovering.  It made him decidedly uneasy.

"I'm sure you'll deliver everything safely," he said, masking his
annoyance with a smile.  "Before you go, perhaps, you'd take something
to drink."

The suggestion in his mind was crude, but at least it was something.

"Huh!" said old Billy, "Me!--drink and git a jag when she's expectin'
me to hike right out of camp?  Guess you don't know me, Uncle, not
worth a mice!  Didn't I say nuthin' couldn't stop me?  And I'm goin'
right now."

He clapped his bony old hand over his pocket, where the two precious
letters reposed, and winking prodigiously at Bostwick, departed
forthwith from the scene.

Bostwick could have run him down, beaten him to the ground and snatched
the letters from him, but he did not dare.  Instead, he merely
continued to grin while Billy remained in sight.  Then instead of going
on to Beth's, he circled a building and returned down street towards
McCoppet's.



CHAPTER XXXI

MCCOPPET BUSIES HIS MIND

Unfortunately for Bostwick he knew no ruffians in the camp--none of the
Trimmers who would, perhaps, accept a sum of money to waylay a man,
bash him over the head, and filch required letters from his pocket.  He
was not precisely willing, moreover, to broach such an undertaking to
the gambler.  This, after all, was his private affair, to be shared
with no one he knew.

The man had arrived at the truth concerning the letters with
commendable skill in deduction.  He had himself destroyed Beth's
earlier letter to her brother, for reasons of policy.  He had found her
conduct cold, if not suspicious, this morning.  How far she had been
excited to distrust himself or the mails he could not estimate.  He was
certain, however, she had sent a request to Van Buren to carry a letter
to Glen.

Her reasons for taking precautions so extraordinary were undoubtedly
significant.  He was galled; his anger against Van Buren was consuming.
But first and foremost he must block the harm Beth's letter to her
brother might accomplish.  For two days more young Kent and Beth must
remain in ignorance of what was being done through the use of her
money--of the fact that no mine of Glen's discovery was the object of
the scheme he was working, and that none of his own alleged money was
being employed in the game.

He made up his mind to go to Starlight himself--to be on hand when Van
Buren should arrive.  With Glenmore ill, or injured, in his bed, the
case might offer simple handling,  Further neglect of Glenmore might,
indeed, be fatal, at a juncture so delicate.  From every possible
viewpoint the thing to do was to intercept Van Buren.

He found McCoppet just returned from launching Lawrence forth upon his
work.  Three of the gambler's chosen men had accompanied the
Government's surveyor.  They had taken Bostwick's car.  Instructions
had been simple enough.  Push over the reservation line to cover the
"Laughing Water" claim, by night of the following day.

Searle was taken to the private den.  McCoppet imparted his information
with the utmost brevity.

"Nothing for us to do but to wait till six o'clock, day after to-morrow
morning," he concluded, "then play our cards--and play 'em quick."

"You've taken my car?" said Bostwick, whose personal plans were thrown
into utter confusion, for the moment.  "I wanted that car for my own
use.  I've got to go to Starlight to-morrow."

"Sit down," said McCoppet, throwing away his unsmoked cigar and taking
another from his pocket.  "What's going on at Starlight?"

Bostwick had no intention of divulging his personal affairs, but there
was something in this that trenched upon "company" concerns.

"Van Buren's going over there, to see young Kent," he admitted.  "I've
got to see him first."

McCoppet looked up at him sharply.

"Young Kent ain't next to anything?" he demanded.

"Not yet."

"Look here," said the gambler, whose wits were inordinately keen, "is
anything leaking, Bostwick?  What about the girl--the young chump's
sister?  You're not putting her wise to the layout?"

"Certainly not!" said Bostwick.  "She knows nothing.  But it wouldn't
be safe for this mix-up to occur.  At any rate, I propose to be there
when Van Buren arrives."

McCoppet arose, plunged his hands in his pockets, and paced up and down
reflectively.

"Someways I'm glad Van Buren's going," he said.  "I've been trying to
figure how I could play the game to have him away when we come to take
the trick.  He's hostile in a fight.  I guess it's all right.  Don't
need you here.  You can copper any possible harm down there at
Starlight, and meantime I'll see if there's any known way of delaying
Van Buren's return."

"But how am I going to get down there and back?" said Bostwick, intent
upon the need for haste.  "I can't get around without a car."

"Don't get tropical," said McCoppet calmly.  "I can get you a car in
fifteen minutes.  It ain't as good as yours, but we needed the one that
was surest to keep on its legs.  If you ain't got anything more on your
mind, I want to chase around for a lumberman--a friend of mine--before
he gits any drunker."

Bostwick arose.

"Arrange for that car to take me to-night, after dinner.  I think
that's all."

He repaired to his room to attend to a dozen small affairs, then went
once more to Beth's.  She was not in the least surprised to hear him
say he meant to return to Starlight and to Glen that night, on business
of importance to them all, but she did not believe him in the least.
He remained in the hope of entrapping her into some sort of
self-betrayal as to what she had recently done, but without avail.

The hour that he spent at Mrs. Dick's was dull for them both--dull and
distasteful to the girl, growing so rapidly to hate and distrust him,
dull and aggravating to Bostwick, with jealousy increasing upon him.
His one consolation lay in the fact that in less than two days Van
Buren would be no better off than a pauper at best with scarcely a
shelter for his head.

One of the interesting and vital chapters in the whole affair was
meanwhile in McCoppet's hands and receiving his attention.  Trimmer had
been captured, far more sober than the gambler could have hoped.  The
two were in the den once more, the lumberman smoking an excellent cigar
as if it had been a stick of candy.

McCoppet came to his subject promptly.

"Look here, Larry," he said, "you know Van Buren when you see him."

Trimmer glanced up sharply, ready in an instant to resent what he felt
to partake of the nature of a personal affront.

"Don't git funny, Opal.  If ever I fight Van Buren when I'm sober I'll
eat him alive.  I was drunk when he licked me, and you know it!"

McCoppet leaned back in his chair and half closed his eyes.

"I didn't know but what you'd like to sober up and lick him."

Trimmer stared, shifted uneasily in his seat, and demanded:

"Where?  Where is he at?"

"He's going to Starlight to-morrow--from up by the reservation--from
his claim.  If he don't git back for a couple of days--I could make it
worth your while; and you could cash in for that time he licked you
when you wasn't in condition."

Again Trimmer fidgeted.  "I guess he licked me fair enough.  I admit
he's all right in a scrap.  I ain't holdin' nuthin' agin him.
Goldite's good enough fer me."

McCoppet knew the creature was afraid to meet his man--that Trimmer's
attack on Van Buren, once before, had been planned with much
deliberation, had amounted to an ambush, in point of fact, resulting in
disaster to the bully.

"I counted on you to help me, Larry," he said, drumming on the table
with his fingers.  "You're the only man of your kind with brains in all
the camp."

Trimmer had smoked his cigar to within an inch of his mouth.  He
extinguished the fire and chewed up the stump voraciously.

"Say!" he suddenly ejaculated, leaping to his feet and coming around
the table, "I can fix him all right," and he lowered his voice to a
whisper.  "Barger would give up a leg to git a show at Van Buren!"

"Barger?" echoed McCoppet.  "Matt?  But they got him!  Got 'em all."

"Got  nuthin',"  the  lumberman  ejaculated.  "What's the good of all
these lyin' papers when I seen Matt myself, readin' the piece about him
goin' back to the pen?"

McCoppet rose, went to the window, and returned again.

"Larry, you're all right," he said.  "Where's Barger now?"

Trimmer winked.  "That's his business, and mine."

"All right--that's all right," agreed the gambler.  "Wouldn't he take
it as a favor if you passed him some money and the word about Van
Buren's hike to Starlight?"

Trimmer got out a new cigar, lit up, and began to smoke as before.

"I was goin' to pass him some of mine," he confessed.  "Yours will suit
me just as good."

"Five hundred ought to help him some," said the gambler.  "Come out to
the bar."


At dark the lumberman left the camp on foot, heading for the mountains.
Bostwick departed in the borrowed car at eight.  The whole town was
ablaze with light, and tumultuous with sound.  Glare and disturbance
together, however, only faintly symbolized the excitement and fever in
the camp.  A thousand men were making final preparations for the rush
so soon to come--the mad stampede upon the reservation ground, barely
more than a day removed.

Miners with outfits, gamblers with their paraphernalia, saloon men with
case on case of liquors, assayers, lawyers, teamsters, cooks--even a
half dozen women--comprised the heterogeneous army making ready for the
charge.  The streets were filled with horses, men, and mules.  The
saloons were jammed to suffocation.  Musical discord filled the air.
Only the land, the silent old hills, the ancient, burned-out furnace of
gold, was absolutely calm.  Overhead a few clouds blurred the sky.
Beyond them the eternal march of the stars proceeded in the majesty of
space, with billions of years in which to fulfil the cosmic cycle of
existence.



CHAPTER XXXII

THE HARDSHIPS OF THE TRAIL

In the night, far out to the northward, a storm descended like a
cataclysm.  Torrential rains were poured upon the hills from a
cloudburst exceptionally savage.  Only the scattered outposts, as it
were, of the storm were blown as far as Goldite.  A sprinkle of rain
that dried at once was the most those mountains received.

Van made an early start from the "Laughing Water" claim, to deliver
Beth's letter in Starlight.  Her note to himself he read once more as
his pony jogged down the descent.


"Dear Mr. Van: I wonder if I dare to ask a favor--from one who has done
so much already?  My brother, in Starlight, is ill.  He has hurt
himself, I do not know how badly.  A letter I sent has never been
received, and I am worried.  The effort I made to see him--well--at
least, I'm glad I made the effort.  But meantime, what of poor Glen?
Some little fear I have may be groundless.  I shall therefore keep it
to myself--but I have it, perhaps because I am a woman.  I must know
the truth about my brother--how he is--what has been happening.  It is
far more important than I dare confess.  I have written him a letter
and sent it to you in the hope you may not find it impossible to carry
it to Glen in person.  If I am asking too much, please do not hesitate
to say so.  I am sure you will be friendly enough for that--to say 'no'
if need be to another friend--_your_ friend,  BETH KENT."


She did not regret that desert experience--that was almost enough for
him to know!  He had lived in a glow since that wonderful night--and
this letter provided another.  He rode like a proud young crusader of
old, with his head in a region of sunshine and gold, his vision
transfixed by a face.  Her love had become his holy grail--and for that
he would ride to death itself.

His way he shortened, or thought to shorten, by dropping down from the
reservation heights to the new-made town a mile below.  He came upon
the place abruptly, after dipping once into a canyon, and looked with
amazement on the place.  In the past twelve hours it had doubled in
size and increased twenty-fold in its fever.  The face of the desert
was literally alive with men and animals.  Half of Goldite and
practically all of a dozen lesser camps were there.  Confusion,
discomfort, and distraction seemed hopelessly enthroned.  The "rush"
was written in men's faces, in their actions, in their baggage, words,
and rising temperature.

A dozen stalwart stampeders pounced upon Van like wolves.  They wanted
to know what he thought of the reservation, where to go, whether or not
there was any more ground like that of the "Laughing Water" claim, what
he had heard from his Indian friends, and what he would take for his
placer.  The crowd about him rapidly increased.  Men in a time of
excitement such as this flock as madly as sheep whenever one may lead.
Anything is news--any man is of interest who has in his pocket a piece
of rock, or has in his eye a wink.  No man is willing to be left
outside.  He must know all there is to be known.

It was utterly useless for Van to protest his ignorance of the
reservation ground.  He owned a deposit of placer gold.  Success had
crowned his efforts.  It was something to get in touch with success,
rub shoulders with a man who had the gold.

His friends were there in the red-faced mob.  They said they were his
friends, and they doubtless knew.  Some were, indeed, old acquaintances
whom Van would gladly have assisted towards a needed change of fortune.
He was powerless, not only to aid these men, but also to escape.
Despite his utmost endeavors they held him there an hour, and to make
up the time, he chose the hottest, roughest trail through the range,
when at last he was clear of the town.

The climb he made on his pony to slice a few miles from his route was
over a mountain and through a gulch that was known as The Devil's
Slide.  It was gravel that moved underfoot with never-failing
treachery, gravel made hot by the rays of the sun, and flinging up a
scorching heat while it crawled and blistered underfoot.  On midsummer
days men had perished here, driven mad by the dancing of the air and
the dread of the movement where they trod.  The last two miles of this
desolate slope Van walked and led his broncho.

He entered "Solid Canyon" finally, and mounting once more let Suvy pick
the way between great boulders, where gray rattlesnakes abounded in
exceptional numbers.  These were the hardships of the ride, all there
were that Van felt worth the counting.  He had reckoned without that
far-off storm, which had raged in the darkness of the night.

He came to the river, the ford between the banks where he and Beth had
found a shallow stream.  For a moment he stared at it speechlessly.  A
great, swiftly-moving flood was there, tawny, roiled with the mud torn
down and dissolved in the water's violence, and foaming still from a
plunge it had taken above.

It was ten to twenty feet deep.  This Van realized as he sat there on
his sweating horse, measuring up the banks.  The depth had encroached
upon the slope whereon he was wont to ascend the further side.  There
was one place only where he felt assured a landing might be achieved.

"Well, Suvy," he said to the animal presently, "it looks more like a
swim than a waltz quadrille, and neither of us built web-footed."

Without further ado he placed Beth's letter in his hat, then rode his
pony down the bank and into the angry-looking water.  Suvy halted a
moment uncertainly, then, like his master, determined to proceed.

Five feet out he was swimming, headed instinctively up the stream and
buried deep under the surface.  Van still remained in the saddle.  He
was more than waist under, loosely clinging to his seat and giving the
pony the reins.

Suvy was powerful, he swam doggedly, but the current was tremendous in
its sheer liquid mass and momentum.  Van slipped off and swam by the
broncho's side.  Together the two breasted the surge of the tide, and
now made more rapid progress.  It required tremendous effort to forge
ahead and not be swept headlong to a choppy stretch of rapids, just
below.

"Up stream, boy, up stream," said Van, as if to a comrade, for he had
noted the one likely place to land, and Suvy was drifting too far
downward.

They came in close to the bank, as Van had feared, below the one fair
landing.  Despite his utmost efforts, to which the pony willingly
responded, they could not regain what had been lost.  The broncho made
a fine but futile attempt to gain a footing and scramble up the almost
perpendicular wall of rock and earth by which he was confronted.  Time
after time he circled completely in the surge, to no avail.  He may
have become either confused or discouraged,  Whichever it was, he
turned about, during a moment when Van released the reins, and swam
sturdily back whence he come.

Van, in the utmost patience, turned and followed.  Suvy awaited his
advent on the shore.

"Try to keep a little further up, boy, if you can," said the man, and
he mounted and rode as before against the current.

The broncho was eager to obey directions, eager to do the bidding of
the man he strangely loved.  All of the first hard struggle was
repeated--and the current caught them as before.  Again, as formerly,
Van slipped off and swam by his pony's side.  He could not hold his
shoulder against the animal, and guide him thus up the stream, but was
trailed out lengthwise and flung about in utter helplessness, forming a
drag against which the pony's most desperate efforts could not prevail.

They came to the bank precisely as they had before, and once again,
perhaps more persistently, Suvy made wild, eager efforts to scramble
out where escape was impossible.  Again and again he circled, pawed the
bank, and turned his eyes appealingly to Van, as if for help or
suggestions.

At last he acknowledged defeat, or lost comprehension of the struggle.
He swam as on the former trial to the bank on the homeward side.

There was nothing for Van but to follow as before.  When he came out,
dripping and panting, by the animal, whose sides were fairly heaving as
he labored for breath, he was still all cheer and encouragement.

"Suvy," said he, "a failure is a chap who couldn't make a fire in hell.
We've got to cross this river if we have to burn it up."

He took the broncho's velvety nose in his hands and gave him a rough
little shake.  Then he patted him smartly on the neck.

"For a pocket-size river," he said as he looked at the flood, "this is
certainly the infant prodigy.  Well, let's try it again."

Had the plunge been straight to sudden death that broncho would have
risked it unswervingly at the urging of his master.  Suvy was somewhat
exhausted by the trials already made, in vain.  But into the turgid
down-sweep he headed with a newly conjured vigor.

Van now waited merely for the pony to get started on his way, when he
lifted away from the saddle, with the water's aid, and clung snugly up
to the stirrup.  He swam with one hand only.  To keep himself afloat
and offer no resistance to the broncho was the most that he could do,
and the best.

The struggle was tremendous.  Suvy had headed more obliquely than
before against the current, and having encountered a greater
resistance, with his strength somewhat sapped, was toiling like an
engine.

Inch by inch, foot by foot, he forged his way against the liquid wall
that split upon him.  Van felt a great final quiver of muscular energy
shake the living dynamic by his side, as Suvy poured all his fine young
might into one supreme effort at the end.  Then he came to the landing,
got all his feet upon the slope, and up they heaved in triumph!



CHAPTER XXXIII

THE CLOUDS OF TROUBLE GATHER

By the route beyond the river that Van was obliged to choose, the
distance from his claim to Starlight was more than forty miles.  His
pony had no shoes, and having never been ridden far, was a trifle soft
for a trip involving difficulties such as this mountain work abundantly
afforded.  When they came to Phonolite Pass, the last of the cut-offs
on the trail, Van rode no more than a hundred yards into its shadows
before he feared he must turn.

Phonolite is broken shale, a thin, sharp rock that gives forth a
pleasant, metallic sound when struck, like shattered crockery.  For a
mile this deposit lay along the trail across the width of the pass.
For the bare-footed pony there was cruelty in every step.  The barrier
of rock was far more formidable than the river in its flood.

Van was not to be halted in his object.  He had a letter to deliver; he
meant to take it through, though doom itself should yawn across his
path.  The hour was late; the sun was rapidly sinking.  Van pulled up
his broncho and debated.

Absolute silence reigned in the world of mountains.  But if the place
seemed desolate, it likewise seemed secure.  Nevertheless, death lurked
in the trail ahead.  Barger was there.  He was lying in the rocks,
concealed where the chasm was narrow.  He had ridden four hours--on the
mare Beth had lost--to arrive ahead of Van Buren.  The muzzle of a long
black revolver that he held in hand rested upon a shattered boulder.
His narrow eyes lay level with a rift in the group of rocks that hid
him completely from view.  Van was in sight, and the convict's breath
came quickly as he waited.

Van dismounted from his pony's back and picked up one of his hoofs.

"Worn down pretty flat," he told the animal.  "Perhaps if I walk we can
make it."  He started on foot up the tinkling way, watching the broncho
with solicitude.

Suvy followed obediently, but the pointed rocks played havoc with his
feet.  He lurched, in attempting to right his foot on one that turned,
and the long lassoo, secured to the saddle, flopped out, fell back, and
made him jump.  Van halted as before.  The convict was barely fifty
yards away.  His pistol was leveled, but he waited for a deadlier aim,
a shorter shot.

"Nope!  We'll have to climb the hill," Van decided reluctantly.
"You're a friend of mine, Suvy, and even if you weren't, you'd have to
last to get back."  He turned his back on death, unwittingly, to spare
the horse he loved.

Delayed no less than an hour by this enforced retreat, he patiently led
the broncho back to the opening of the pass, and, still on foot, led
the steep way up over the mountain.

Barger rose up and cursed himself for not having risked a shot.  He
dared not attempt a dash upon his man; he could not know where Van
might again be intercepted; he was helpless, baffled, enraged.  Half
starved, keenly alive only in his instinct to accomplish his revenge,
the creature was more like a hunted, retaliating animal than like a
man.  He had sworn to even the score with Van Buren; he was not to be
deflected from his course.  But to get his man here was no longer
possible.  The horse Beth had lost, now in the convict's possession,
was all but famished for water, not to mention food.  There was nothing
to choose but retreat towards the river, to the northward, where the
mountains might yet afford an ambush as Van was returning home.

Far away in the mountains, at the "Laughing Water" claim, while the sun
was setting on a scene of labors, all but concluded for the day, the
group of surveyors, with Lawrence in charge, appeared along the
southern ridge.

Gettysburg, Napoleon, and Dave were still in the water by the sluices.
They were grimed, soiled with perspiration, wearied by the long, hard
day of toil.  Shovel in hand old Gettysburg discovered the men with an
instrument who trekked along the outside edge of the claim.  Chain-man,
rod-man, and Lawrence with his shining theodolite, set on its three
slender legs, they were silhouetted sharply against the evening sky.
Their movements and their presence here were beyond the partners'
comprehension.  It was Gettysburg who climbed up the slope, and
anchored himself in their path.

"What you doin'?" he said to the rod-man presently, when that tired
individual approached and continued on his way.

"What does it look like--playing checkers?" said the man.  "Can't the
Government do nuthin'--run no county line ner nuthin' without everybody
sittin' up to notice?"

No less than fifty men they had met that day had questioned what the
Government was doing.  The "county line" suggestion had been the only
hint vouchsafed--and that had sufficed to allay the keenest suspicion.

"That all?" said Gettysburg, and, watching as he went, he slowly
returned to his partners.  His explanation was ample.  The surveyors
proceeded on.

Meantime, in absolute ignorance of all that was happening on his
property, Van continued towards Starlight unmolested.  An hour after
sundown he rode to the camp, inquired his way to the rough-board shack,
where Kent was lying ill, and was met at the door by a stranger, whom
Glen had employed as cook and "general nurse."

Bostwick was there.  He remained unseen.  His instructions were
imperative--and the "nurse" had no choice but to obey.

"Of course, Kent's here," he admitted, in response to Van's first
question.  "He can't see no one, neither--no matter who it is."

"I've brought a letter from his sister," Van explained.  "He's got to
have it, and have it now.  If he wishes to send any answer back, I'm
here to take it."

The "nurse" looked him over.

"The orders from the doctor is no visitors!" he said.  "And that goes.
If you want to leave the letter, why you kin."

Van produced the letter.

"If the man's as ill as that, I have no desire to butt in for an
interview," he said.  "Oblige me by ascertaining at your earliest
convenience whether or not I may be of service to Mr. Kent in returning
his reply."

The man looked bewildered.  He received the letter, somewhat dubiously,
and disappeared.  Van waited.  The reception was not precisely what he
might have expected, but, for the matter of that, neither had the trip
been altogether what he might have chosen.

It was fully twenty minutes before the nurse reappeared.

"He was just woke up enough to say thank you and wants to know if
you'll oblige him with the favor of takin' his hand-write back to his
sister in the mornin'?"

Van looked him over steadily.  After all, the man within might be
utterly sick and weak.  His request was natural.  And the service was
for Beth.

"Certainly," he said.  "I'll be here at seven in the morning."

Starlight was nearly deserted.  Gratified to discover sufficient food
and bedding for himself and his pony, Van made no complaint.

At six in the morning he was rousing up the blacksmith, fortunately not
yet gone to join the reservation rush.  Suvy was shod, and at seven
o'clock he and Van were again at Glenmore's cabin.

His man was in waiting.  In his hand he held an envelope, unsealed.

"Mr. Kent's asleep, but here's his hand-write to his sister," he said.
"He wants you to read it out before you hike."

Van received the envelope, glanced at the man inquiringly, and removed
a single sheet of paper.  It was not a note from Glen; it appeared to
be the final page of Beth's own letter to her brother.  Van knew the
strong, large chirography.  His eye ran swiftly over all the lines.


"--so I felt I ought to know about things, and let you know of what is
going on.  There is more that I cannot tell you.  I wrote you much in
my former letter--much, I mean, about the man who will carry this
letter, so unsuspiciously--the man I shall yet repay if it lies within
my power.  For the things he has done--and for what he is--for what he
represents--this is the man I hate more than anything or anyone else in
the world.  You would understand me if you knew it all--all!  Let him
carry some word from you to  Your loving sister,  BETH."


Van had read and comprehended the full significance of the lines before
he realized some error had been made--that this piece of Beth's letter
had been placed by mistake in the envelope for him to take, instead of
the letter Glen had written.

He did not know and could not know that Bostwick, within, by the sick
man's side, had kept Glen stupid and hazy with drugs, that the one word
"hate" had been "love" on the sheet he held in his hand till altered by
the man from New York, or that something far different from an utterly
despicable treachery towards himself had been planned in Beth's warm,
happy heart.

The thing, in its enormity, struck him a blow that made him reel, for a
moment, till he could grasp at his self-control.  He had made no sign,
and he made none now as he folded the sheet in its creases.

"I'm afraid you made some mistake," he said.  "This is not the note
from Mr. Kent.  Perhaps you will bring me the other."

"What?" said the man, unaware of the fact that Bostwick had purposely
arranged this scheme for putting the altered sheet in Van Buren's hands.

"What's that?"  He glanced at the sheet in genuine surprise.
"Keerect," he said.  "I'll go and git you the letter."

Van mounted his horse.  His face had taken on a chiseled appearance, as
if it had been cut in stone.  He had ridden here through desert heat
and flood, for this--to fetch such a letter as this, to a man he had
never seen nor cared to see, and whose answer he had promised to return.

He made no effort to understand it--why she should send him when the
regular mail would have answered every purpose.  The vague, dark hints
contained in her letter--hints at things going on--things she could not
tell--held little to arouse his interest.  A stabbed man would have
taken more interest in the name of the maker of the weapon, stamped on
the dagger's blade, than did Van in the detail of affairs between
Glenmore Kent and his sister.  Beth had done this thing, and he had
fondly believed her love was welded to his own.  She had meant it,
then, when she cried in her passion that she hated him for what he had
done.  Her anger that night upon the hill by Mrs. Dick's had not been
jealousy of Queenie, but rage against himself.  She was doubtless in
love with Bostwick after all--and would share this joke with her lover.

He shrugged his shoulders.  Luck had never been his friend.  By what
right had he recently begun to expect her smile?  And why had he
continued, for years, to believe in man or in Fate?  All the madness of
joy he had felt for days, concerning Beth and the "Laughing Water"
claim, departed as if through a sieve.  He cared for nothing, the
claim, the world, or his life.  As for Beth--what was the use of
wishing to understand?

The "nurse" came out at the door again, this time with a note which
Bostwick had written, with a few suggestions from Glen, in an unsealed
cover as before.

"I told young Kent you didn't take no time to read the other," he said,
holding up the epistle.  "If you want to read this----"

"Thank you," Van interrupted, taking the letter and thrusting it at
once in his pocket.  "Thank Mr. Kent for his courtesies, in my behalf."
He turned and rode away.



CHAPTER XXXIV

THE TAKING OF THE CLAIM

Before six o'clock that morning, while Van was arousing the blacksmith,
the reservation madness broke its bounds.  Twenty-five hundred
gold-blinded men made the rush for coveted grounds.

The night had been one long revel of drinking, gambling, and
excitement.  No one had slept in the reservation town--for no one had
dared.  Bawling, singing, and shouting, the jollier element had shamed
the coyotes from the land.  Half a thousand camp fires had flared all
night upon the plain.  The desert had developed an oasis of flowing
liquors, glaring lights, and turmoil of life, lust, and laughter.  Good
nature and bitter antagonism, often hand in hand, had watched the night
hours pale.

By daylight the "dead line" of the reservation boundary--the old,
accepted line that all had acknowledged--resembled a thin, dark battle
formation, ready for the charge.  It was a heterogeneous array, where
every unit, instead of being one of an army mobilized against a common
foe, was the enemy of all the others, lined up beside him.  There were
men on foot, men on horses, mules, and burros, men in wagons,
buckboards, and buggies, and men in automobiles.

At half-past five the pressure of greed became too great to bear.  A
few unruly stragglers, far down the line, no longer to be held in
check, bent portions of the long formation inward as they started out
across the land.  The human stampede began almost upon the instant.
Keepers on their horses, riding up and down, were swept away like chips
before a flood.  Scattering wildly over hill and plain, through
gulches, swales, and canyons, the mad troop entered on the unknown
field, racing as if for their lives.

Gettysburg, Napoleon, and Dave had watched for an hour the human hedge
below the "Laughing Water" claim.  They, too, had been up since
daylight, intent upon seeing the fun.  They had eaten their breakfast
at half-past four.  At a quarter of six they returned, to their shack
and began at their daily work.

The cold mountain stream, diverted to the sluices, went purling down
over the riffles.  The drip from countless negligible leaks commenced
in its monotony.  Into the puddles of mud and water the three old
miners sloshed, with shovels and picks in hand.  They were tired before
their work began.  Gettysburg, at sixty-five, had been tired for
twenty-five years.  Nevertheless, he began his day with song, his
cheery,


    Rinktum bolly kimo.


They were only fairly limbered up when four active men appeared
abruptly on the property, at the corners of the claim, and began the
work of putting up white location posts, after knocking others down.
They were agents employed by McCoppet, in behalf of Bostwick and
himself.

Napoleon was the first to note their presence.  He was calling
attention to the nearest man when a fifth man appeared by the cabin.
He, too, had a new location post, or stake, to be planted at the center
of the claim.  He was not only armed as to weapons, but protruding from
his pocket was a wad of "legal" documents, more to be feared than his
gun.

He came straight towards Gettysburg, walking briskly.

"Morning," he said.  "I've come to notify you men to get off of this
here claim.  This ground belongs to me and my partners, by right of
prior location--made right now."

He thrust his stake a little into the yielding sand and had posted a
notice, made out in due form, before the wet old workers by the sluice
could conclude that the man had lost his wits.

"What you givin' us, anyway?" said Gettysburg, remaining ankle-deep in
the mud.  "Don't you know this here is the 'Laughin' Water' claim,
which was located proper----"

"This claim on the reservation," interrupted McCoppet's agent.  "The
line was run out yesterday, according to Government instructions, and
the line takes in this ground."  He continued at his work.

Napoleon got stirred up then and there.

"You're a liar!" he cried out recklessly, "--metaphorical speakin'.
Belay there, my hearty.  You and your dog-gone pirate craft----"

McCoppet himself, on horseback, came riding down the slope.

"That's enough from you!" interrupted the gambler's agent.  "You and
your crowd is liable for trespass, or Government prosecution, getting
on the reservation land ahead of date.  This ground belongs to me and
my company, understand, with everything on it--and all the gold you've
took out!  And all you take away is your personal effects--and you take
'em and git, right now!"

"Now hold on," said Gettysburg, dazed by what he heard.  "I seen that
Government surveyor cuss.  He said he was only running out a county
line."

McCoppet took the case in hand, as he halted by the boxes.

"Now, boys, don't waste your time in argument," he said.  "You've made
a mistake, that's all.  Take my advice and hike to the reservation now,
before the gang stakes everything in sight.  You can't go up against
the law, and you've done too much illegal work already."

"Illegal?" cried Napoleon.  "You're a liar, Opal.  Ain't mad, are you?
I've drunk at your saloon, and you know this claim belongs to Van and
us!"

"Don't I say you've made a mistake?" repeated the gambler.  "I don't
hold any feelings about it.  Nobody was on for a sure thing about the
reservation line till Lawrence run it out.  We had suspicions, from a
study of the maps, but it took the Government surveyor to make the
matter certain.  It's a cinch you're on the reservation land.  You can
copper all your rights, and play to win the bet this claim belongs to
me--and everything else that's any good.  Now don't stop to talk.  Go
to Lawrence for Government facts--and git a-going pronto."

Gettysburg was pulling down his sleeves.  Old age had suddenly claimed
him for its own.  The song had dried from his heart, and the light of
his wonderful youth and hope departed from his eye.  Dave was too
stunned to think.  All three felt the weight of conviction sink them in
the chilling mire.  The survey of the day before made doubt impossible.

Gettysburg looked at the boxes, the pits they had dug, the water
running over the riffles, behind which lay the gold.

"I wish Van was to home," he said.  "He'd know."

Their helplessness without the absent Van was complete.  In the game of
life they were just old boys who would never become mature.

"Van Buren couldn't do no good," McCoppet assured them.  "This ain't a
matter of wrangling or fighting; it's a matter of law.  If the law
ain't with us you'll get the property back.  Van Buren would tell you
the same.  He didn't know the ground was reservation.  We give him the
benefit of that.  But all the gold you've got on the place you'll have
to leave with me.  You never had no rights on the Government preserves,
and I'm here ahead of all the bunch in staking it out at six o'clock,
the legal opening hour."

Napoleon started to speak again, but glanced at Gettysburg instead.  A
bluff was useless, especially with Gettysburg looking so utterly
defeated.  From his tall, old partner, Napoleon looked at Dave.

"Can't we tack somewhere?" he said.  "Couldn't we hold the wheel and
wait fer Van?"

Gettysburg repeated: "I wish Van was to home."

"Come on, come on," McCoppet urged, beginning to lose his patience.
"If you think you've got any rights, go to Lawrence and see.  You're
trespassing here.  I don't want to tell you harsh to pack your duds and
hunt another game, but you can't stay here no longer."

Gettysburg hesitated, then slowly came out of the water.  He looked at
the sluices hazily.

"Just gittin' her to pay," he said.  "The only easy minin' I ever done."

Napoleon, suddenly dispirited--utterly dispirited--had nothing more to
say.  Slowly and in broken order the three old cronies wended towards
the cabin.  Less than an hour later, with all their meager treasure in
worldly goods roped to the last of Dave's horses, they quitted the
claim, taking Algy, the Chinese cook, along.  They were homeless
wanderers with no place in all the world to turn.  Without Van they
were utterly lost.  They expected him to come that day to the cove.
Therefore, on a desert spot, not far from the new reservation line,
taking possession of a bit of hill so poor that no one had staked it,
they made their camp in the sand and rocks, to await Van's pleasure in
returning.



CHAPTER XXXV

THE MEETINGS OF TWO STRONG MEN

Matt Barger, riding in the night, intent upon nothing save the chance
to deal out his vengeance to Van Buren, had camped beside the river, at
the turn where Van and Beth had skirted the bank to the regular fording
below.  The convict's horse, which Beth had lost, was tethered where
the water-way had encouraged a meager growth of grass.  Barger himself
had eaten a snake and returned to a narrow defile in the range, where
his ambush could be made.

To insure himself against all misadventure he rolled a mass of boulders
down the hill, to block the trail.  His barrier was crude but
efficient.  Neither man nor horse could have scaled it readily, and the
slopes on either side were not only well-nigh perpendicular, they were
also built of crumbling stone that broke beneath the smallest weight.
He labored doggedly, persistently, despite his half-starved condition,
and when he had finished he looked to his gun, proceeded down the trail
some fifty yards or more, climbed the slope, and there in the rocks,
where the walls gave way to a sandy acclivity, concealed himself to
wait.

The sun at noon found Van a mark for punishment.  The day was the
hottest of the season.  The earth and rocks irradiated heat that danced
in the air before him.  All the world was vibrant, the atmosphere a
shimmer, as if in very mockery of the thoughts that similarly rose and
gyrated in his brain.  His horse was suffering for water.  The river
was still an hour away, so steep was the climb through the range.

The trail he would gladly have avoided, had such a course been
practical.  He had ridden here with Beth, and therefore the mockery was
all the more intense.  His inward heat and the outward heat combined to
make him savage.  There was nothing, however, on which to vent his
feelings.  Suvy he loved.  Perhaps, he reflected, the horse was his one
faithful friend.  Certainly the broncho toiled most willingly across
the zone of lifelessness to bear him on his way.

Up through the narrowing walls of sand and adamant they slowly
ascended.  Barger saw them once, far down the trail, then lost them
again as they rounded a spur of the shimmering hillside, coming nearer
where he lay.  He was up the slope a considerable distance--farther
than he meant to risk a shot.  His breath came hard as he presently
beheld Van Buren fairly entering the trap.

Van's head had fallen forward on his breast.  He looked at nothing.
His face was set and hard.  Barger raised his pistol, sighted down the
barrel--and repressed the impulse to fire as the horseman came onward,
unsuspiciously.

No sooner was Van around the turn, where in less than a minute he would
find his progress blocked, than Barger arose and ran with all his might
down the slope.

He let out a yell of exultation as he came to the trail.  Van turned in
his saddle instantly, beholding the man in the pass.  He knew that
sinister form.

His pony had bounded forward, frightened by the cry.  Down went Van's
hand to his own revolver, and the gun came up cocked for action.

One glance he cast up the trail ahead--and saw through Barger's trick.
The _cul de sac_ was perfect, and the convict had halted to fire.

It made a singular picture on Van Buren's retina--that gaunt, savage
being, hairy, wild of eye, instinct with hatred and malice, posing
awkwardly, and the sun-lit barrel of polished steel, just before its
yawning muzzle belched lead and a cloud and a roaring detonation.

The bullet went wide, and Barger fired again, quickly, but more
steadily.  That one landed.  It got Van just along the arm, burning in
a long, shallow wound that barely brought the blood.

Van's gun was down, despite Suvy's panic of cavortings.  He pulled the
trigger.  The hammer leaped two ways, up and back--but the gun made no
report, no buck, no cloud to answer Barger's.  The cartridges,
subjected to all that water of the day before, were worthless.

The third of Barger's shots was fired from a closer range, as the eager
creature closed in upon his enemy.  It let the daylight enter Van's
hat, near the top.

Van had snapped every shell in his weapon, with amazing rapidity--to no
avail.  The cylinder had flung around like a wheel, but the sounds were
those of a toy.

Barger was steadied in his tracks for better marksmanship.  He had
heard that succession of metallic snaps; he knew he had Van Buren at
his mercy.  Three of his shots remained unfired, and a second, unused
pistol in his belt, with more ammunition.  The fellow even smiled as he
was aiming.

There was one thing to do--and Van did it.  He leaped his broncho clean
against the wall, then spurred him straight for Barger.  The shot that
split the air again was splattered on the rocks.  Before the convict
could make ready to avoid the charge, Suvy was almost upon him.  He
partially fell and partially leaped a little from the broncho's path,
but was struck as the pony bounded by.

He yelled, for his leg was trampled and hurt by the pressure of Suvy's
shoe, nevertheless he scrambled to his feet at once, and fired wildly
at his man.

He emptied his gun, drew the other, and ran, too eager for his deed of
revenge to halt and take a steady aim.  A bullet punctured the
broncho's ear, and the blood flew back upon Van.

They were past the walls in the briefest time, and Van attacked the
slope.  Barger came after, yelling in rage.  He tripped, and his hurt
leg dropped him down.

Already wearied, and famished for drink, Suvy nevertheless rose to the
needs of the moment with a strength incredible.  He scaled that sandy,
treacherous slope like an engine built for the purpose.  It was love,
pure love for the master on his back, that steeled the mighty sinews in
his body.

Two shots and two bullets from below proclaimed renewed activities
where Barger was once more on his feet.  But the man had lost too much
ground to recover his advantage.  He knew that Van Buren, with a horse
like that, could win the high ridge and escape.

He raged; he cursed himself and his God, for this second failure of his
deed.  Then once again he abruptly thought of a chance whereby to
redeem his galling failures.  His man on the horse would be more than
an hour in reaching the river by the slopes.  A man on foot could beat
him there, and beat him across to the farther side, from which to
attack with surer aim--from the cover of the willows by the ford.  The
flood had subsided.  This Barger knew.  The water was hardly knee high
on a man, and better than all, Van Buren would scarcely dream of such a
plan as within the range of possibilities.

Laboriously, in a fever of impatience, Barger made shift, after
strenuous work, to climb his barrier of rock.  Then up to the summit of
the trail he sped, and down on the farther side.

Meantime Van, disgusted with himself for riding away from a fight,
could only revile his useless gun and excuse himself a trifle because
of his defenselessness.  The skirmish had served to arouse him,
however, and for that he was thankful to the convict who had waited in
the pass.

Then he wondered how it came at all that Matt should have thus been
lying there in wait.  The fellow must have been informed, to prepare so
elaborate a trap.  It hardly seemed as if a plot against his life could
explain this trip that Beth had desired him to take.  He could scarcely
credit a thing so utterly despicable, so murderous, to her, yet for
what earthly reasons had she sent him on the trip with a letter the
stage could have carried?

The thing was preposterous!  No woman on earth could have sanctioned an
alliance with Barger.  But--what of Bostwick--the man who had spent a
portion of his time with the liberated convicts?  A revenge like this
would appeal to him, would seem to him singularly appropriate.  Beth
could have lent her assistance to the plan without guilty knowledge of
an outcome such as this, and Bostwick--Beth knew that Barger was Van's
enemy.  He had told her so himself.  Facts were facts.  Her letter to
Glen revealed her state of mind--and here was this attack, a planned
attack, proving conclusively that Barger had been prepared beforehand
with knowledge of the trip.

From having been depressed before, Van was made thoroughly angry.  The
whole thing was infamous, dastardly--and Beth could not be acquitted.
Strangely enough, against the convict, Barger, the horseman felt no
wrath.  Barger had a grievance, howsoever mistaken, that was adequate.
He was following his bent consistently.  He had made his threat in the
open; he must plan out his work according to his wits.  He was simply a
hunted beast, who turned upon his hunters.

It was Bostwick on whom Van concentrated a rising heat--and he promised
the man would find things warm in camp, and the fight only well under
way.

Even when the summit was achieved, the broncho slacked off nothing of
his pace.  Sweat glistened wetly upon him.  His bleeding ear was going
backward and forward tremulously, as he listened for any word from Van,
and for anything suspicious before them.  Van noted a certain
wistfulness in the pony's demeanor.

"Take it easy, boy," he urged in a voice of affection that the broncho
understood.  "Take it easy."  He dismounted to lead the animal down the
slope, since a steep descent is far more trying on a ridden horse than
climbing up the grade.  He halted to pat the pony on the neck, and give
his nose a rough caress, then on they went, the shadow they cast the
only shade upon the burning hill.

It was fully an hour after leaving the pass, where Barger had piled in
the rock, before the horseman and his broncho dropped again in the
trail that led onward to the river.  Van was again in the saddle.
Alert for possible surprises, but assured that his man could find no
adequate cover hereabouts, he emerged from behind the last of the turns
all eagerness to give his horse a drink.

A yell broke suddenly, terribly, on the desert stillness.  It came from
Barger, out in the river, on the bar--strangely anchored where he stood.

Van saw him instantly, saw a human fantastic, struggling, writhing,
twisting with maniacal might, the while the horrible quicksand held him
by the legs, and swallowed him, inch by inch.

"Fer Christ's sake--help!" the creature shrilled in his plight.  He had
flung away revolvers, cartridges, even his coat, reducing his weight
when the stuff only gripped him by the ankles.  He was half to his
thighs.  He was sinking to his waist, and with all of his furious
efforts, the frightful sand was shuddering, as if in animal
ecstacy--some abominable ecstacy of hunger, voracious from long denial,
as it sucked him further down.

"Fer Christ's sake, Van Buren--fer Christ's sake, man!  I'm a human
being," shrieked the victim of the sand.  "_I'm a human being_, man!"

Van had not hesitated by so much as a moment as to what he meant to do.
He was off his horse in a leap.  He paused for a second to looked about
for any accidental means of assistance the place might afford.  It
afforded none.  The man in the quicksand continued to yell, to struggle
hopelessly, to sink in that shivering pool of life-engulfing stuff.

Then the horseman thought of his rope, the raw-hide lasso, always
secured upon his saddle.  He snatched at the knots to tear it loose.

"Don't move--don't struggle!" he shouted at the man, and down toward
the edge he came running, the rope-noose running out as he sped.

He dared not step beyond the bank, and so involve himself.  Barger was
well out from the edge.  The throw at best was long and difficult.

"Hold up your hands, above your head!" he called.  "Don't thrash
around!"

The convict obeyed.  His haggard, bearded face was turned to Van like a
mask of horror.  The eyes were blazing fearfully.  The fellow's
attitude, as he held his hands above his head, and continued to sink,
was a terrible pose of supplication--an awful eloquence of prayer.

Van threw--and the cast fell short.

Barger groaned.  He had ceased to yell.  He remained mutely holding up
his hands, while the cold abyss crept upward to his waist--the wet lips
swallowing, swallowing in silence.

Van jerked in the rope with one impatient gesture.  He coiled it
swiftly, but with nicety.  Then round and round he swung the gaping
loop--and threw with all his strength.

For a second the loop hung snake-like in the air, above the convict's
head.  Then it fell about him, splashed the curdled sand, and was
pulled up taut, embracing Barger's waist.

"Hoist it up under your arms!" called Van.  "Try to move your legs when
I pull!"

He wasted no time in attempting to haul the convict out himself.  He
led his pony quickly to the edge, took two half hitches of the rope
about the pommel of the saddle, then shouted once more to his man.

"Ready, Barger.  Try to kick your feet."  To the horse he said: "Now,
Suvy, a strong, steady pull."  And taking the pony's bit in hand he
urged him slowly forward,

It was wonderful, the comprehension in the broncho's mind.  But the
pull was an awful thing.  The rope came taut--and began to be strained,
and Suvy was sweating as he labored.  Out on the end of it, bitten by
the loop, that slipped ever tighter about him, the human figure was
bent over sharply, between the two contending forces.

He let out one yell, for the pain about his chest--then made no further
sound.  The rawhide rope was like a fiddle-string.  It seemed absurd
that an anchor so small, so limber, in the sand, could hold so hard
against the horse.  Van urged a greater strain.  He knew that the rope
would hold.  He did not know how much the man could bear before
something awful might occur.  There was nothing else to do.

It seemed a time interminable.  No one made a sound.  The queer,
distorted figure out in the stream could have uttered no sound to save
his life.  The silence was beginning to be hideous.

Then an inch of the rope came landward, as the broncho strained upon
it.  The anchor had started from its hold.

"Now! now!" said Van, and with quick, skillful urging he caught at the
slight advantage.

Like an old, half-buried pile, reluctant to budge from its bed in sand
and ooze, the human form was slowly dragged from the place.  No corpse,
rudely snatched from its grave, could have been more helplessly
inert--more stretched out of all living semblance to a man.

[Illustration: No corpse snatched from its grave could have been more
helplessly inert.]

Across the firmer sand, and through a lagoon of water, Barger was
hurriedly drawn.  The pony was halted when the man was at the bank, and
back to the convict Van went running, to loosen the bite of the noose.

Barger lay prostrate on the earth, his eyes dully blinking in the sun.
His feet were bare.  They had slipped from his boots, which were buried
beyond in the sand.  His face had taken on a hue of death.  From hair
to his ankles he was shockingly emaciated--a gaunt, wasted figure,
motionless as clay.

Van fetched a pint of water in his hat.  He sprinkled it roughly in the
convict's face, and, propping up his head, helped him to take a drink.

Barger could not lift a hand, or utter a word.  Van recoiled the rope,
secured it on the saddle, then sat down to await the man's recovery.
It was slow.  Barger's speech was the first returning function.  It was
faint, and weak, and blasphemous.

"It's hell," he said, "when God Almighty turns agin a man.  Ain't the
sheriff's enough--_without a thing like that_?"  His thumb made a
gesture towards the river, which he cursed abominably--cursing it for a
trap, a seeming benefit, here in the desert, ready to eat a man alive.

Van made no reply.  He rather felt the man was justified--at least in
some opinions.  Towards Barger he felt no anger, but rather a pity
instead.

After a time the convict moved sufficiently to prop himself up against
the bank.  He looked at Van dully.  This was the man who had "sent him
up"--and saved him from the sand.  There was much that lay between
them, much that must always lie.  He had no issues to dodge.  There was
nothing cowardly in Barger, despite his ways.

"I nearly got you, up yonder," he said, and he jerked his thumb towards
the mountains, to indicate the pass where he and Van had met an hour
before.

Van nodded.  "You sure did.  Who told you to look for me here?"

Barger closed his eyes.  "Nothing doing."  He could not have been
forced to tell.

Van smiled.  "That's all right."  There was no resentment in the tone.

Barger looked at him curiously.

"What for did you pull me out?"

"Don't know," Van confessed.  "Perhaps I hated to have the quicksand
cheat the pen."

"Must have had some good reason," agreed the prostrate man.  He was
silent for a moment, and then he added: "I s'pose I'm your meat."

As before, Van nodded: "I reckon you are."

Barger spat.  It was his first vigorous indication of returning
strength.

"Someways," he said, "I'd rather you'd shoot me here, right now, than
send me back to the pen.  But I couldn't stand fer that!"  He made his
characteristic gesture towards the river.  As Van made no comment the
fellow concluded: "I s'pose you need the reward."

Van was aware there was ten thousand dollars as a price on the
convict's head, a fact which he someway resented.  To-day, more than at
any time within his life, he felt out of sympathy with law--with man's
law, made against man.

He began to pull off his boots.

"No," he said, "I don't want any State's reward, much less express
company money.  Maybe if it wasn't for those rewards I'd take you into
camp."  He inverted his boots and shook out a few grains of sand.

Barger glanced at him suspiciously.

"What are you goin' to do with me, then, now you've got me to rights?"

"Nothing," said Van, "nothing this afternoon."  He stood up.  "You and
I break even, Barger, understand?  Don't take me wrong.  I'm not
turning you loose entirely.  You belong to me.  Whenever I call for the
joker, Matt, I want you to come."

He would never call, and he knew it.  He merely left the matter thus to
establish a species of ownership that Barger must acknowledge.  There
is law of the State, and law of God, and law of man to man.  The latter
it was that concerned Van Buren now, and upon it he was acting.

Laboriously, weakly, Barger arose to his feet.  He looked at Van
peculiarly, with a strange light dully firing in his eyes.

"I agree to that," he answered slowly.  "I agree to that."

He put out his hand to shake--to bind his agreement.  It was almost
like offering his oath.

Van took it, and gave it his usual grip.

"So long, Barger," he said.  "I reckon you need these boots."

He waved his hand loosely at the boots that lay upon the ground, went
at once to his horse, and mounted to his seat.

"The regular ford of this river's down below," he added to the
speechless convict, standing there gaunt and wondering upon the marge.
"So long."

Barger said nothing.  Van rode away on the trail by the stream, and was
presently gone, around the bend.



CHAPTER XXXVI

VAN RUNS AMUCK

Instead of turning northward in the mountain range and riding on to the
"Laughing Water" claim, Van continued straight ahead to Goldite.  The
letter to Beth was heavy in his pocket.  Until he should rid himself of
its burden he knew he should have no peace--no freedom to act for
himself.

He had been delayed.  The sun was setting when at last he rode his
broncho to the hay-yard in the camp, and saw that he was fed with
proper care.  Then he got some boots and walked to Mrs. Dick's.

Beth, from her window, looking towards the sun, discovered him coming
to the place.  She had never in her life felt so wildly joyous at
beholding any being of the earth.  She had watched for hours, counting
his steps across the desert's desolation one by one, tracing his course
from Starlight "home" by all the signs along the trail which she and he
had traveled together.

She ran downstairs like a child.  She had momentarily forgotten even
Glen.  Nothing counted but this sight of Van--his presence here with
herself.  When she suddenly burst from the door into all the golden
glory of the sunset, herself as glorious with color, warmth, and youth
as the great day-orb in the west, Van felt his heart give one
tumultuous heave in his breast, despite the resentment he harbored.

There had never been a moment when her smile had been so radiant, when
the brown of her eyes had been so softly lighted and glowing, when her
cheeks had so mirrored her beauty.

How superb she was, he said to himself--how splendid was her acting!
He could almost forgive himself for having played the fool.  His
helplessness, his defenselessness had been warranted.  But--her smile
could befuddle him no more.  He took off his hat, with a certain cold
elegance of grace.  His face still wore that chiseled appearance of
stone-like hardness.

"Oh!" she cried, in her irrepressible happiness of heart.  "You're
home!  You're safe!  I'm glad!"

It was nothing, her cry that he was safe.  She had worried only for the
desert's customary perils, but this he could not know.  He thought she
referred to a possible meeting with Barger.  He was almost swept from
his balance by her look, for a bright bit of moisture had sprung in her
eyes and her smile took on a tenderness that all but conquered him anew.

"I delivered your letter in Starlight," he said.  "I return your
brother's reply."

He had taken the letter from his pocket.  He held it forth.

She took it.  If memories of Glen started rushingly upon her, they were
halted by something she felt in the air, something in the cold, set
speech of the man she loved as never she had thought to love a creature
of the earth.  She made no reply, but stood looking peculiarly upon
him, a question written plainly in her glance.

"If there is nothing more," he added, "permit me to wish you good-day."
He swept off his hat as he had before, turned promptly on his heel, and
departed the scene forthwith.

She tried to cry out, to ask him what it meant, but the thing had come
like a blow.  It had not been what he had said, so much as the manner
of its saying--not so much what she had heard as what her heart had
felt.  A deluge of ice water, suddenly thrown upon her, could scarcely
have chilled or shocked her more than the coldness that had bristled
from his being.

Wholly at a loss to understand, she leaned in sudden weakness against
the frame of the door, and watched him disappearing.  Her smile was
gone.  In its place a dumb, white look of pain and bewilderment had
frozen on her face.  Had not that something, akin to anger, which her
nature had felt to be emanating from him remained so potently to
oppress her, she could almost have thought the thing a joke--some
freakish mood of playfulness after all the other moods he had shown.
But no such thought was possible.  The glitter in his eyes had been
unmistakable.  Then, what could it mean?

She almost cried, as she stood there and saw him vanish.  She had
counted so much upon this moment.  She had prayed for his coming safely
back from the desert.  She had so utterly unbound the fetters from her
love.  Confession of it all had been ready in her heart, her eyes, and
on her lips.  Reaction smote her a dulling blow.  Her whole impulsive
nature crept back upon itself, abashed--like something discarded, flung
at her feet ingloriously.

"Oh--Van!" she finally cried, in a weak, hurt utterance, and back along
the darkening hall she went, her hand with Glen's crushed letter
pressed hard upon her breast.

Van, for his part, far more torn than he could have believed possible,
proceeded down the street in such a daze as a drunken man might
experience, emerging from liquor's false delights to life's cold,
merciless facts.  The camp was more emptied than he had ever known it
since first it was discovered.  Only a handful of the reservation
stragglers had returned.  The darkness would pour them in by hundreds.

Half way down the thoroughfare Van paused to remember what it was his
body wanted.  It was food.  He started again, and was passing the bank
when someone called from within.

"Hello, there--Van!" came the cry.  "Hello!  Come in!"

Van obeyed mechanically.  The cashier, Rickart, it was who had shouted
the summons--a little, gray-eyed, thin-faced man, with a very long
moustache.

"How are you, Rick?" said the horseman familiarly.  "What's going on?"

"Haven't _you_ heard?--_you_?" interrogated Rickart.  "I thought it was
funny you were loafing along so leisurely.  Didn't you know to-day was
the day for the rush?"

"I did," said Van.  "What about it?"

"Not much," his friend replied, "except your claim has been jumped by
McCoppet and one J. Searle Bostwick, who got on to the fact that the
reservation line included all your ground."

Van looked his incredulity.

"What's the joke?" he said.  "I bite.  What's the answer?"

"Joke?" the cashier echoed.  "Joke?  They had the line surveyed
through, yesterday, and Lawrence confirmed their tip.  Your claim, I
tell you, was on reservation ground, and McCoppet had his crowd on deck
at six o'clock this morning.  They staked it out, according to law, as
the first men on the job after the Government threw it open--and there
they are."

Van leaned against the counter carelessly, and looked at his friend
unmoved.

"Who told you the story?" he inquired.  "Who brought it into camp?"

"Why a dozen men--all mad to think they never got on," said Rickart,
not without heat.  "It's an outrage, Van!  You might have fought them
off if you'd been on deck, and made the location yourself!  Where have
you been?"

Van smiled.  The neatness of the whole arrangement began to be
presented to his mind.

"Oh, I was out of the way all right," he said.  "My friends took care
of that."

"I thought there was something in the wind, all along," imparted the
little cashier.  "Bostwick and McCoppet have been thicker than thieves
for a week.  But the money they needed wasn't Bostwick's.  I wired to
New York to get his standing--and he's got about as much as a pin.  But
the girl stood in, you bet!  She's got enough--and dug up thirty
thousand bucks to handle the crowd's expenses."

Van straightened up slowly.

"The girl?"

"Miss Kent--engaged to Bostwick--you ought to know," replied the man
behind the counter.  "She's put up the dough and I guess she's in the
game, for she turned it all over like a man."

Van laughed, suddenly, almost terribly.

"Oh, hell, Rick, come out and git a drink!" he said.  "Here," as he
noted a bottle in the desk, "give me some of that!"

Rickart gave him the bottle and a glass.  He poured a stiff amber
draught and raised it on high, a wild, fevered look in his eyes.

"Here's to the gods of law and order!" he said.  "Here's to faith,
hope, and charity.  Here's to friendship, honor, and loyalty.  Here's
to the gallant little minority that love their neighbors as themselves.
Give me perfidy or give me death!  Hurray for treason, strategy, and
spoils!"

He drank the liquid fire at one reckless gulp, and laughing again, in
ghastly humor, lurched suddenly out at the open door and across to the
nearest saloon.

Rickart, in sudden apprehension for the "boy" he genuinely loved,
called out to him shrilly, but in vain.  Then he scurried to the
telephone, rang up the office of the sheriff, and presently had a
deputy on the wire.

"Say, friend," he called, "if Bostwick or McCoppet should return to
camp to-night, warn them to keep off the street.  Van Buren's in, and I
don't want the boy to mix himself in trouble."

"All right," came the answer, "I'm on."

In less than an hour the town was "on."  Men returning by the scores
and dozens, nineteen out of every twenty exhausted, angered with
disappointment, and clamorous for refreshments, filled the streets,
saloons, and eating houses, all of them talking of the "Laughing Water"
claim, and all of them ready to sympathize with Van--especially at his
expense.

His night was a mixture of wildness, outflamings of satire on the
virtues, witty defiance of the fates, and recklessness of everything
save reference to women.  Not a word escaped his lips whereby his
keenest, most delighted listener could have probed to the heart of his
mood.  To the loss of his claim was attributed all his pyrotechnics,
and no one, unless it was Rickart, was aware of the old proverbial
"woman in the case," who had planted the sting that stung.

Rickart, like a worried animal, following the footsteps of his master,
sought vainly all night to head Van off and quiet him down in bed.  At
two in the morning, at McCoppet's gambling hall, where Van perhaps
expected to encounter the jumpers of his claim, the little cashier
succeeded at last in commanding Van's attention.  Van had a glass of
stuff in his hand--stuff too strong to be scathed by all the pure food
enactments in the world.

"Look here, boy," said Rickart, clutching the horseman's wrist in his
hand, "do you know that Gettysburg, and Nap, and Dave are camping on
the desert, waiting for you to come home?"

Van looked at him steadily.  He was far from being dizzied in his
brain.  Since the blow received at the hands of Beth had not sufficed
to make him utterly witless, then nothing drinkable could overcome his
reason.

"_Home_?" he said.  "Waiting for me to come _home_."

Suddenly wrenching his hand from Rickart's grip he hurled the glass of
liquor with all his might against the mirror of the bar.  The crash
rose high above the din of human voices.  A radiating star was abruptly
created in the firmament of glass, and Van was starting for the door.

The barkeeper scarcely turned his head.  He was serving half a dozen
men, and he said: "Gents, what's your poison?"

A crowd of half-intoxicated revelers started for Van and attempted to
haul him back.  He flung them off like a lot of pestiferous puppies,
and cleared the door.

He went straight to the hay-yard, saddled his horse, and headed up over
the mountains.  He had eaten no dinner; he wanted none.  The fresh,
clean air began its work of restoration.

It was daylight when he reached the camp his partners had made on the
desert.  Napoleon and Gettysburg were drunk.  Discouraged by his long
delay, homeless, and utterly disheartened, they had readily succumbed
to the conveniently bottled sympathy of friends.

No sooner had the horseman alighted at the camp than Napoleon flung
himself upon him.  He was weeping.

"What did I sh-sh-sh-sh-(whistle) shay?" he interrogated brokenly,
"home from a foreign--quoth the r-r-r-r-r-(whistle) raven--NEVER MORE!"

Gettysburg waxed apologetic, as he held his glass eye in his hand.

"Didn't mean to git in thish condition, Van--didn't go to do it," he
imparted confidentially.  "Serpent that lurks in the glash."

Van resumed his paternal rôle with a meed of ready forgiveness.

"Let him who hath an untainted breath cast the first bottle," he said.
Even old Dave, thought sober, was disqualified, and Algy was asleep.



CHAPTER XXXVII

THE PRIMITIVE LAW

Bostwick and McCoppet had made ample provision against attack at the
claim.  Their miners, who set to work at once to enlarge the facilities
for extracting the gold from the ground, were gun-fighters first and
toilers afterward.  The place was guarded night and day, visitors being
ordered off with a strictness exceptionally rigid.

Van and his partners were down and out.  They had saved almost nothing
of the gold extracted from the sand, since the bulk of their treasure
had fallen, by "right of law" into the hands of the jumpers.

Bostwick avoided Van as he would a plague.  There was never a day or
night that fear did not possess him, when he thought of a possible
encounter; yet Van had planned no deed of violence and could not have
told what the results would be should he and Bostwick meet.

In his customary way of vigor, the horseman had begun a semi-legal
inquiry the first day succeeding the rush.  He interviewed Lawrence,
the Government representative, since Culver's removal from the scene.
Lawrence was prepared for the visit.  He expressed his regrets at the
flight Van's fortunes had taken.  Bostwick had come, he said, with
authority from Washington, ordering the new survey.  No expectation had
been entertained, he was sure, that the old, "somewhat imaginary" and
"decidedly vague" reservation line would be disturbed, or that any
notable properties would be involved.  Naturally, after the line was
run, establishing the inclusion of the "Laughing Water" claim, and much
other ground, in the reservation tract, Mr. Bostwick had been justified
in summary action.  It was the law of human kind to reach for all
coveted things.

Van listened in patience to the exposition of the case.  He studied the
maps and data as he might have studied the laws of Confucius written in
their native tongue.  The thing looked convincing.  It was not at all
incredible or unique.  It bore Government sanction, if not its
trademark.  And granting that the reservation tract did actually extend
so far as to lap across the "Laughing Water" claim, the right of an
entrant to locate the ground and oust all previous trespassers after
the legal opening was undeniable.

Much of the natural fighting spirit, welded by nature into Van's being,
had been sickened into inactivity by the blow succeeding blow received
at the hands of Beth Kent.  The case against her was complete.

Her letter to her brother was sufficient in itself.  The need for its
delivery in person to her brother he thought undoubtedly a ruse to get
himself out of the way.  If she had not planned with the others to warn
the convict, Barger, of his trip, she had certainly loaned her money to
Bostwick for his needs--and her letter contained the threat, "I will
repay!"

At the end of three days of dulling disgust and helplessness, Van and
his "family" were camping in a tent above the town of Goldite, on a
hill.  They were all but penniless: they had no occupation, no hope.
They were down once more at the ladder's bottom rung, depleted in
spirit, less young than formerly, and with no idea of which way to turn.

Van meant to fight, if the slightest excuse could be discovered.  His
partners would back him, with their lives.  But he and they, as they
looked their prospects fairly in the face, found themselves utterly
disarmed.  Except for the credit, extended by friends of Van,
starvation might have lurked about their tent.  All delayed seeking for
outside work while the prospect of putting up a fight to regain their
property held forth a dim glimmer of hope.

The last of Van's money went to meet a debt--such a debt as he would
not disregard.  The account was rendered by a cutter of stone, who had
carved upon a marble post the single legend:

    QUEENIE.

This post was planted where a small earth mound was raised upon the
hill--and word of the tribute went the rounds of the camp, where
everyone else had forgotten.

The town's excitement concerning the rush had subsided with greater
alacrity as reports came back, in rapid procession--no gold on the
reservation.  The normal excitements of the mining field resumed where
the men had left them off.  News that Matt Barger was not only still at
large, but preying on wayside travelers, aroused new demands for the
sheriff's demonstrations of his fitness to survive.  The fact was
recalled that Cayuse, the half-breed murderer of Culver, was as yet
unreported from the hills.

The sheriff, who had ridden day and night, in quest of either of the
"wanted" men, came back to Goldite from a week's excursion, packed full
of hardships, vigilance, and work, to renew his force and make another
attempt.  He offered a job to Van.

"There's ten thousand dollars in Barger," he said.  "And I guess you
could use the money.  There's nothing but glory in gittin' Cayuse, but
I'll give you your pick of the pair."

That some half-formed notion of procuring a secret survey of the
reservation line, in his own behalf, had occupied Van's thoughts
somewhat insistently, was quite to be expected.  That the work would
prove expensive was a matter of course.  Money was the one particular
thing of which he stood in need.  Nevertheless, at the sheriff's
suggestion he calmly shook his head.

"Thanks, old man.  Blood-money wouldn't circulate worth a whoop in my
system.  But I think I could land Cayuse."  He held no grudge against
Culver now.  Perhaps he regretted the fuss he had made on the day of
Culver's death.  "I'll take ten dollars a day," he added, "and see what
I can do about the Indian."

"I knew it!  I knew you'd do more than all the gang--myself in the
count," the sheriff exclaimed in profound relief.  "I'm beat!  I own
it!  I ain't seen a trace of that black-headed devil since I started.
If you'll fetch him in----"

"Don't promise more than ten dollars a day," Van interrupted.  "If you
do you can get him yourself.  I haven't said I'll fetch him in.  I
merely said perhaps I could get him."

"All right," said the sheriff, bewildered.  "All right.  I don't care
what happens, if you git him."

Glad, perhaps, to escape the town--to flee from the air that Beth was
breathing, Van rode off that afternoon.

He did not seek the Indian murderer, nor for traces of his place of
concealment.  He went due west, to the nearest Indian camp, on the now
diminished reservation.  He called upon a wise and grave Piute, as old
as some of the hills.

"Captain Sides," he said, when the due formalities of greeting had been
gratified, "I want you to get Cayuse.  He stabbed a white man, Culver,
Government man--and you Piutes know all about it.  Indians know where
an Indian hides.  This man has broken the law.  He's got to pay.  I
want your men to get him."

Old Captain Sides was standing before his house.  He was tall and
dignified.

"Yesh--he's broke the law," he agreed.  "Mebbe my boys, they's get him."

[Illustration: "Yesh--he's broke the law."]

That was all, but a strange thing happened.  On the following night
four grim Piutes brought Cayuse from his mountain retreat.  They were
all his kinsmen, uncles, brothers, and cousins.  He was taken to a
council in the brush, a family council with Captain Sides as Chieftain,
Magistrate, and father of the tribe.  And a solemn procedure followed.
Cayuse was formally charged with infraction of the law and asked for
his defense.  He had no defense--nothing but justification.  He
admitted the killing, and told of why it had been done.  He had taken
an eye for an eye.

"I have broken the white man's law," he said.  "The white man first
broke mine.  I'm ready to pay.  The Indian stands no show to get away.
I broke the law, and I am glad.  They want my life.  That's all right.
That's the law.  But I don't want the white man to hang me.  That ain't
good Indian way.  My people can satisfy this law.  They can shoot me
like a man.  No white is going to hang Cayuse, and that's all I've got
to say."

To an Anglo Saxon mind this attitude is not to be readily comprehended.
To the Indian members of Cayuse's clan it addressed itself as wisdom,
logic, and right.  The council agreed to his demands.  The case,
historical, but perhaps not unique, has never been widely known.

As solemnly as doom itself, the council proceeded with its task.  Some
manner of balloting was adopted, and immediate members of the Cayuse
totem drew lots as to which must perform the lawful deed.  It fell to a
brother of the prisoner--a half-brother only, to be accurate, since the
doomed man's father had been white.

Together Cayuse and this kinsman departed from the camp, walking forth
through the darkness in the brush.  They chatted in all pleasantness,
upon the way.  Cayuse could have broken and run.  He never for a moment
so much as entertained the thought.

They came to a place appropriate, and, still in all friendliness,
backed by a sense of justice and of doom, the guiltless brother shot
the half-breed dead--and the chapter, with the Indians, was concluded.

Van was gone three days from Goldite camp.  He returned and reported
all that had been done.  He had seen the executed man.  An even thirty
dollars he accepted for his time, and with it bought food for his
partners.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

BETH MAKES DEMANDS

Beth Kent, while the camp was writing its feverish annals, had
undergone emotions in the whole varied order of the gamut.  She had
felt herself utterly deserted and utterly unhappy.  She had hoped
against hope that Van would come, that something might explain away his
behavior, that she herself might have an opportunity of ascertaining
what had occurred.

One clew only was vouchsafed her puzzling mind: Searle had actually
gone to Glen at last, had been there at the hour of Van's arrival, and
had written Glen's letter to herself.  Some encounter between the men
had doubtless transpired, she thought, and Van had been poisoned
against her.  What else could it mean, his coldness, his abrupt
departure, after all that had been, and his stubborn silence since?

The letter from Glen had been wholly unsatisfactory.  Bostwick had
written it, he said, at Glen's dictation.  It echoed the phrases that
Searle himself had employed so persistently, many of them grossly
mendacious, as Beth was sufficiently aware.  Her effort had been
futile, after all.  She was not at all certain as to Glen's condition;
she was wholly in the dark in all directions.

On the day succeeding the reservation rush she received the news at
Mrs. Dick's, not only that Van had lost his claim, and that McCoppet
and Searle were its latest owners, but also that Van had run amuck that
night after leaving herself.

Some vague, half-terrifying intuition that Searle was engaged in a
lawless, retaliatory enterprise crept athwart her mind and rendered her
intensely uneasy.  Her own considerable sum of money might even be
involved in--she could not fathom what.  Something that lay behind it
all must doubtless explain Van's extraordinary change.  It was
maddening; she felt there must be _something_ she could do--there
_must_ be something!  She was not content to wait in utter helplessness
for anything more to happen--anything more that served to wreck human
happiness, if not very life itself!

She felt, moreover, she had a right to know what it was affecting Van.
He had come unbidden into her life.  He had swept her away with his
riotous love.  He had taught her new, almost frightening joys of
existence.  He had drawn upon her very soul--kissing into being a
nature demanding love for love.  He had taken her all for himself,
despite her real resistance.  She could not cease to love so quickly as
he.  She had rights, acquired in surrender--at least the right to know
what evil thing had wrought its way upon him.

But fret as she might, and burn as she might, with impatience,
love-created anger and resentment of some infamy, doubtless practiced
on them both, there was nothing in the world she could do.

She wrote again to Glen and had the letter posted in the mail.  She
asked for information.  Was he better?  Could he come to Goldite soon?
Had he met Mr. Van?  Had he understood that confession in her letter?
Had he really purchased a mine, with Searle, or had he, by some strange
mischance, concerned himself with the others in taking the "Laughing
Water" claim?

She explained that she was wholly in the dark, that worry was her only
companion.  She begged him to come, if traveling were possible, and
told of her effort to see him.

That Bostwick had opened and read her letter to Glen, suppressing that
final page, together with sundry questions and references to himself,
she could never have dreamed.  It is ignorance always that baffles, as
we grope our way in the world.  And Beth had not yet entirely lost all
trust in Bostwick himself.

Searle, in the meantime, having gone straight to the "Laughing Water"
claim from Glenmore Kent, had remained three days away from Goldite and
had taken no time to write.  When he came at last the girl's suspicions
were thoroughly aroused.  That the man was a dangerous trickster, a
liar, and perhaps a scoundrel she was rapidly becoming convinced.

He arrived at the house in the late afternoon while Mrs. Dick and Beth
were engaged together in the dining-room, sewing at a quilt.  The
meeting was therefore a quiet one and Beth escaped any lover-like
demonstrations he might otherwise have made.

Mrs. Dick, in her frank dislike of Bostwick, finally carried her work
upstairs.

"Well, well, sweetheart!" Bostwick exclaimed.  "You must have heard the
news, of course.  I expect your congratulations!"

He rose and approached her eagerly.  She was standing.  She moved a
chair and placed herself behind it.

"I suppose you mean the claim you've--taken," she said.  "You're elated
over that?"

"Good Lord! aren't you?" he answered.  "It's the biggest thing I've
ever done!  It's worth a million, maybe more--that 'Laughing Water'
claim!  And to think that Van Buren, the romantic fool, putting marble
slabs on the graves of the _demi-monde_, and riding about like a big
tin toreador, should have bought a property on reservation ground, and
lost it, gold and all!"

His relish in the triumph was fairly unctuous.  His jaw seemed to
oscillate in oil as he mouthed his contempt of the horseman.

Beth flamed with resentment.  Her love for Van increased despite her
judgment, despite her wish, as she heard him thus assailed.  She knew
he had placed a stone on Queenie's grave.  She admired the fearless
friendliness of the action--the token whereby he had linked the
unfortunate girl in death to the human family from which she had
severed herself in life.

Not to be goaded to indiscretion now she sat down as before with her
work.

"And the money--yours and mine--did it go to assist in this unexpected
enterprise, and not to buy a claim with Glen?"

"Certainly.  No--no--not all of it--certainly not," he stammered,
caught for a moment off his guard.  "Some of my funds I used, of
course, in necessary ways.  Don't you worry about your thirty thousand.
You'll get it back a hundredfold, from your interest in the claim."

She glanced up suddenly, startled by what he had said.

"_My_ interest in the claim?"

"Certainly, your interest.  You didn't suppose I'd freeze you out, my
little woman--my little wife--to be?  You are one of the company, of
course.  You'll be a director later on--and we'll clean up a fortune in
a year!"

She was exceedingly pale.  What wonder Van had a grievance!  He had
doubtless heard it all before he came that night to deliver Glen's
letter from Starlight.  He might even have thought she had sent him to
Glen to got him away from his claim.

A thousand thoughts, that seemed to scorch like fire, went rocketing
through her brain.  The thing was too much to be understood at once--it
went too deep--it involved such possibilities.  She must try to hold
herself in check--try to be clever with this man.

"Oh," she said, dropping her eyes to her work, "and Glen is in it too?"

Bostwick was nervous.  He sat down.

"Well, yes--to some extent--a little slice of mine," he faltered.
"Naturally he has less than I've given to you."

"But--didn't he discover the opportunity--the chance?"

"Certainly not!" he declared vehemently.  "It's all my
doing--everything!  Wholly my idea from the start!"  The impulse to
boast, to vaunt his cleverness, was not to be resisted.  "I told Van
Buren the game had only begun!  He thought himself so clever!"

She clung to her point.

"But--of course you told me Glen had found the chance, requiring sixty
thousand dollars."

"That was a different proposition--nothing to do with this.  I've
dropped that game entirely.  This is big enough for us all!"

She looked the picture of unsophisticated innocence, sewing at a gaudy
square of cloth.

"Did this affair also require the expenditure of sixty thousand
dollars?"

"No, of course not.  Didn't I say so before?"

"How much did it need--if I may ask?"

Bostwick colored.  He could not escape.  He dared not even hint at the
sum he had employed.

"Oh, just the bare expenses of the survey--nothing much."

"Then," she said, "if you don't mind returning my thirty thousand
dollars, I think I'll relinquish my share."

He rose hurriedly.

"But I--but you--it won't be possible--just yet," he stammered.  "This
is perfectly absurd!  I want you in--want you to retain your interest.
There are certain development expenses--and--they can't be handled
without considerable money."

"Why not use your own?  I much prefer to withdraw."  She said it
calmly, and looked him in the eye.

He avoided her glance, and paced up and down the room.

"It can't be done!" he said.  "I've pledged my support--our support--to
get the claim on its feet."

She grew calmer and colder.

"Wasn't the claim already on its feet.  I heard it was paying
well--that quite a lot of gold was seized when--when you and the others
took the place."

His impatience and uneasiness increased.

"Oh, it was being worked--in a pickyune, primitive fashion.  We're
going at it right!"

The color came and went in her face.  She felt that the man had
employed her money, and could not repay it if he would.  She pushed the
point.

"Of course, you'll remember I gave you the money to assist my brother
Glen.  It was not to help secure or develop this other property.  I
much prefer not to invest my money this way.  I shall have to request
its return."

Bostwick was white.

"Look here, Beth, is this some maudlin sentiment over that brigand, Van
Buren?  Is that what you mean?"

She rose once more and confronted him angrily.  It was not a mere girl,
but a strong and resolute woman he was facing.

"Mr. Bostwick," she said, "you haven't yet acquired the right to demand
such a thing as that of me.  For reasons of my own, maudlin or
otherwise, I refuse to have my funds employed in the manner you say you
mean to use them.  I insist upon the immediate return to me of thirty
thousand dollars."

If rage at Van Buren consumed his blood, Bostwick's fear was a greater
emotion.  Before him he could plainly discern the abject failure of his
plans--the plan to marry this beautiful girl, the plan to go on with
McCoppet and snatch a fortune from the earth.  It was not a time for
defiance.  He must fence.  He must yield as far as possible--till the
claim should make him independent.  Of the tirade on his tongue against
Van Buren he dared not utter a word.  His own affairs of love would
serve no better.

He summoned a smile to his ghastly lips and attempted to assume a calm
demeanor.

"Very well," he said.  "If that is the way you feel about your money, I
will pay you back at once."

"If you please," she said.  "To-day."

"But--the bank isn't open after three," he said in a species of panic.
"You can't be utterly unreasonable."

"It was open much later when we were wiring New York some time ago,"
she reminded him coldly.  "I think you'll find it open to-night till
nine."

"Well--perhaps I can arrange it, then," he said in desperation.  "I'll
get down there now and see what I can do."

He took his hat and, glad to escape a further inquisition, made
remarkable haste from the house.

Trembling with excitement, quivering on the verge of half-discovered
things, flashes of intuition, fragments of deduction, Beth waited an
hour for developments.

Searle did not return.  She had felt he would not.  She was certain her
money was gone.

At dusk a messenger boy arrived with the briefest note, in Bostwick's
familiar hand.

"Sudden, urgent call to the claim.  No time for business.  Back as soon
as possible.  With love and faith, yours,        SEARLE."

How she loathed his miserable lie!



CHAPTER XXXIX

ALGY'S COOKING AND BETH'S DESPAIR

Van and the new supply of provender arrived together at the tent where
the partners made their temporary home.  It was nearly dusk, the mellow
end of a balmy day.  Gettysburg, Napoleon, and Dave were all inside the
canvas, filling the small hollow cube of air with a mighty reek from
their pipes, and playing seven-up on a greasy box.  The Chinese cook
was away, much to Van's surprise.

"Gett," he said, throwing off his belt and revolver, "if Nap was to
deal the cards on your tombstone, on the day of Gabriel's trump, I'll
bet you'd break the crust and take a hand.  What have you done with
Algy?"

"He's went to git a job," said Gettysburg.  "He called us all a lot of
babies.  I doggone near kicked him in the lung."

Outside, where a wagon had halted with Van's new purchases, the driver
hauled out two respectable boxes and dropped them on the earth.

"What's that?" demanded Napoleon, leaping to his feet.  "If it's
pirates come to board us again----"

"Don't scare it away," Van interrupted warningly.  "It's grub."

With one accord the three old cronies started for the door of the tent.
Van followed, prepared to get a dinner under way, since his system was
woefully empty.

To the utter astonishment of all, a visitor was bustling up the hill.
It was Mrs. Dick.

"Where's Van?" she panted, while still a rod away.  "Here, Van!" she
exclaimed, the moment she clapped her eyes upon him, "you're just the
one I want to see, and I'm an awful busy woman, but I've got to make a
deal with you and the sooner it's over the better.  So as long as
Charlie Sing is cookin' our victuals already I just run up to fight it
out, and we might as well begin the program tonight, so all you boys
come down to dinner in just about half an hour."

The men were all at sea, even Napoleon, who had once sailed a
near-briny river.

"Sit down," said Van, "and give the grounds a chance to settle.  We can
almost see daylight through what you said, but who, for instance, is
Charlie Sing?"

"As if you didn't know!" Mrs. Dick responded warmly.  "If you think I'm
goin' to call that Chinaman Algy, or anything white, you're way off
your ca-base!  Algy! for a Chinaman!  Not but what he's a good enough
cook, and I like him as a friend of yours--and him almost makin' me cry
with his tryin' to nurse you four old helpless galoots, but I draw the
line at fancy names, and don't you forget it!"

The "four old galoots" looked at one another in bewilderment.  Van led
Mrs. Dick gently but firmly to a box of provisions and pushed her down
upon it.

"Now take a breath," he said, "and listen.  Do we understand you to say
that Algy has gone to your boarding-house and taken a job as cook?"

"He has," said Mrs. Dick, "but I've named him Charlie."

"That'll turn his stomick," ventured Gettysburg gravely.  "He was proud
of 'Algy.'"

"He certainly must be desperate," added Van.  "I don't quite savvy how
it happened."

"Oh, you don't?" said little Mrs. Dick.  "Well, I _do_.  He come down
there and says to me, says he, 'We're broke, Van and us,' he says, 'and
I'll go to work and cook for you if you'll board all the family,' or
words to that effect, says he, 'and give Van twenty dollars a month,
salary,' he says, and I says I'll do it, quicker than scat.  And that's
all there is to say, and if Charlie wasn't a Chinaman I'd kiss him in
the bargain!"  With a quick, impatient gesture she made a daub at her
eye and flecked away a jewel.

Van hauled at his collar, which was loose enough around his neck.

"Say, boys," he said, "think of Algy, being kissed in the bargain.  I
always thought he got his face at a bargain counter."

"That's all right, Bronson Van Buren!" answered Mrs. Dick indignantly,
"but I never come that near to kissin' you!"

Van suddenly swooped down upon her, picked her up bodily, and kissed
her on the cheek.  Then he placed her again on the box.

"Why didn't you say what you wanted, earlier?" he said.  "Now, don't
talk back.  I want you to harken intently.  I'm perfectly willing that
Algy should waste his sweetness on the desert air of your
boarding-house, if it pleases you and him.  I'm willing these old
ring-tailed galoots should continue to eat his fascinating poisons, and
I certainly hope he'll draw his monthly wage, but I'm going to be too
busy to board in any one place, and Algy's salary would make a load I
must certainly decline to carry."

Mrs. Dick looked at the horseman in utter disappointment.

"You won't come?  Maybe you mean my house ain't good enough?"

Napoleon was somewhat excited by prospects of again beholding Elsa, of
whose absence he was wholly unaware.

"We won't go, neither!" he declared.  "Doggone you, Van, you know we
won't go without the skipper, and you're shovin' us right out of
heaven!"

Gettysburg added: "I don't want to say nuthin', but my stomach will
sure be the seat of anarchy if it has to git cheated out of goin' down
to Mrs. Dick's."

Van was about to reply to them all.  He had paused to frame his answer
artfully, eager as he was to foster the comfort of his three old
partners, but wholly unwilling to accept from either Mrs. Dick or
Algernon the slightest hint of aid.

"I admit that a man's reach should be above the other fellow's grasp,
and all that," he started, "but here's the point----"

He was interrupted suddenly.  A man, running breathlessly up the slope
and waving his hat in frantic gestures, began to shout as he came.

"Mrs. Dick!  Mrs. Dick!" he cried at the top of his voice.  "Help!
help!  You've got to come!"

Mrs. Dick leaped quickly to her feet to face the oncoming man.  It was
old Billy Stitts.  He had come from Beth.

"Come on!  Come on!" he cried as he neared the group, towards which he
ceased to run, the better to catch his breath and yell.  "There's hell
a-poppin' in the boarding-house!  You've got to come!"

He surged up the last remaining ascent at a lively stride.

"What's the matter?  What in the world are you drivin' at?" demanded
Mrs. Dick.  "Hold your tongue long enough to tell me what's the matter."

"It's the _chink_!" exploded Billy pantingly.  "They tried to run him
off the place!  He's locked the kitchen and gone to throwin' out hot
water and Chinese language like a fire-engine on a drunk.  And now
they're all a-packin' up to quit the house, and you won't have a
doggone boarder left, fer they won't eat Chinese chuck!"

"What?" said Van drawlingly, "refuse to eat Algy's confections?--a
crowd like that?  By all the culinary gods of Worcestershire and
mustard, they'll eat out of Algy's hand."

He dived inside the tent, caught up his gun, and was strapping it on
before Mrs. Dick could catch her breath to utter a word of her wrath.

"Well," said Gettysburg dubiously, "I hate trouble on an empty stomach,
but----"

"You stay in camp till you hear the dinner bell," Van interrupted.
"This game is mine and Mrs. Dick's.  You'll get there in time for
dessert."

He did not wait for Mrs. Dick.  He started at a pace that none could
follow.  Mrs. Dick began to run at his heels, calling instructions as
she went.

"Be careful of the crock'ry, Van!  The stove's bran'-new!  I'd hate to
have you break the chairs!  And don't forgit Miss Kent!"

Old Billy Stitts had remained with the others at the camp.

"Ain't she the female woman?" he said.  "Ain't she just about it?"

No one answered.  The three old cronies were watching Van as he went.

Van, for his part, heard nothing of what Mrs. Dick was saying, except
the name "Miss Kent."  He had not forgotten for a moment that Beth was
at the seat of war, or that he would perhaps be wiser by far never to
behold her again.  He was speeding there despite all he felt at what
she had done, for she might be involved in trouble at the house,
and--at least she was a woman.

He arrived in the midst of a newly concerted plan on the part of
lodgers and strangers combined to smoke Algy out of the kitchen.  They
had broken windows, overturned the furniture, and worked up a lively
humor.  Algy had exhausted his supply of hot water, but not his supply
of language.  It seemed as if the stream of Oriental invective being
poured through the walls of the building might have withered almost
anything extant.  But Goldite whisky had failed on his besiegers
earlier and their vitals were proof against attack.

Van arrived among them abruptly.

"What's all this pillow-fight about?" he demanded in a voice that all
could hear.  "Which one of you fellows is it that's forgotten he's a
man?  Who's looking for trouble with my Chinese cook and Mrs. Dick?"

He boded no good to any man sufficiently hardy to argue the matter to a
finish.  The attackers lost heart as they faced about and found him
there ready for action.  From a half-open window above the scene Beth
was watching all that was done.

A spokesman for the lodgers found his voice.

"Well, we ain't a-goin' to stay in no doggone house with a chink shoved
in fer a cook."

Van nodded: "Have you ever tried Algy's cooking?"

"No, we ain't!  And we ain't a-goin' to, neither!"

The others murmured their assent.

"You're a fine discriminating cluster of bifurcated, viviparous
idiots," said Van in visibly disturbing scorn.  "You fellows would have
to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck and kicked into Eden, I reckon,
even if the snake was killed and flung over the fence, and the fruit
offered up on silver platters.  The man who hasn't eaten one of Algy's
dinners isn't fit to live.  The man who refuses to eat one better begin
right now on his prayers."  He took out his gun and waved it loosely
about, adding: "Which one of you remembers 'Now I lay me down to
sleep'?"

There was no response.  The ten or twelve disturbers of the peace were
stirring uneasily in their tracks.

Van gave them a chance.

"All who prefer to recite, 'Now I sit me up to eat,' please raise their
hands.  Raise 'em up, raise 'em up!" he commanded with the gun.  "Put
up both hands, while you're at it."

Up went all the hands.  Mrs. Dick arrived, and stood looking on and
panting in excitement.

"Thanks for this unanimous vote," Van resumed.  "I want to inform you
boarders in particular that if ever I hear of one of you missing a meal
of Algy's cooking, or playing hookey from this lodging-house, as long
as Mrs. Dick desires your inglorious company, I'll hand you forthwith
over to the pound-keeper with instructions not to waste his chloroform,
but to drown the whole litter in a bag."

"Oh, well!" said the spokesman, "I'd just as soon eat the chink's
cookin', if it's good."

"Me, too," said a follower, meek as a lamb.  A number echoed "Me, too."
One added: "We was just having a little bit of fun."

"Well," said Van judicially, "Algy's entitled to his share."  He raised
his voice: "Hey there, Algy--come out here and play with the boys."

Mrs. Dick had caught sufficient breath to explode.

"Fun!" she said.  "My windows broken!  My house all upset.  Snakes
alive, if ever I heard----"

Algy appeared and interrupted.

"What's mallah you, Van?" he said.  "I got no time fool lound now.
Been play too much.  All time play, that velly superstich!  Nobody got
time to work."

"That's all right," Van assured him.  "The boys here wish to apologize
for wasting your valuable time.  In fact, they insist.  Now then, boys,
down on your knees, every Jack in the crowd."

That gun of his had a horribly loose way of waving about to cover all
the men.  They slumped to, rather than knelt on, their knees.

"Suminagot!" said Algy.  "All time too muchee monkey fooling!  My
dinner not git leady, Van, you savvy that?  What's mallah you?"

Van ignored the cook, in addressing the men.

"It's your earnest desire to apologize, boys, I believe," he said.
"All in favor will please say Aye."

The men said Aye in growlings, rumblings, and pipings.

Van addressed his cook.  "Do you want them to kiss your hand?"

"_Ah_!  Unema! hong oy!" said Algy blasphemously.  "You makee me velly
sick!  Just wash my hands for finish my dinner.  Too much
monkey-doodle!" and off he went to his work, followed at once by Mrs.
Dick.

"Algy's too modest," Van assured the crowd.  "And none of you chaps are
fit to apologize to Mrs. Dick, so you'd better go wash up for dinner.
But don't let me hear so much as a peep about Algy from one of this
bunch, or Eden will turn into Hades."  As the men arose to their feet
sheepishly, and began to slink away he added to the spokesman, "You
there with the face for pie, go up to my camp and call the boys to
feed."

The men disappeared.  Van, left alone, was turning away when his glance
was attracted to the window, up above, where Beth was looking down.
His face turned red to the topmost rim of his ears.

The girl was pale, but resolute.

"May I see you a moment, please?" she said, "before the men come in?"

"Certainly."  Van went to the front and waited at the foot of the
stairs.

When Beth came down he was standing in the doorway, looking off at the
shadowy hills.  He heard her steps upon the stairs and turned, removing
his hat.

For a moment Beth faced him silently, her color coming and going in
rapid alternations.  She had never seemed more beautiful than now, in
her mood of worry and courage.

"Thank you for waiting," she said to him faintly, her heart beating
wildly in her bosom, "I felt as if I had the right--felt it only
right--won't you please tell me what I have done?"

It was not an easy matter for Van to hold his own, to check an impulse
utterly incontinent, utterly weak, that urged him fairly to the edge of
surrender.  But his nature was one of intensity, and inasmuch as he had
loved intensely, he distrusted now with equal force.

"What you have done?" he repeated.  "I'm sure I can't tell you of
anything that you do not know yourself.  What do you wish me to say?"

"I don't know!  I don't know," she told him honestly.  "I thought if I
asked you--asked you like this--you'd tell me what is the matter."

"There's nothing the matter."

"But there is!" she said.  "Why not be frank?  I know that you're in
trouble.  Perhaps you blame----"

"I told you once that taking trouble and having trouble supply all the
fun I have," he interrupted.  "The man without trouble became extinct
before he was born."

"Oh, please don't jest," she begged him earnestly.  "You and I were
friends--I'm sure we were friends--but now----"

"Now, if we are not, do you think the fault is mine?"

He, too, was white, for the struggle was great in his soul.

"It isn't mine!" she said.  "I want to say that!  I had to say that.  I
stopped you--just to say that."  She blushed to say so much, but she
met his stern gaze fearlessly with courage in her eyes.

He could not understand her in the least, unless she still had more to
do, and thought to hold his friendship, perhaps for Searle's
protection.  He forced himself to probe in that direction.

"And you'd wish to go on being friends?"

It was a hard question--hard to ask and hard to answer.  She colored
anew, but she did not flinch.  Her love was too vast, too strong and
elemental to shrink at a crucial moment.

"I valued your friendship--very much," she confessed steadily.  "Why
shouldn't I wish it to continue?"

It was aggravating to have her seem so honest, so splendid, so womanly
and fine, when he thought of that line in her letter.  He could not
spare himself or her in the agitation of his nature.

"Your way and mine are different," he said.  "My arts in deceit were
neglected, I'm afraid."

Her eyes blazed more widely than before.  Her color went like sunset
tints from the sky, leaving her face an ashen hue of chill.

"Deceit?" she repeated.  "You mean that I--I have deceived you?  What
do you mean?"

He could bear no more of her apparent innocence.  It was breaking his
resolution down.

"Oh, we may as well be candid!" he exclaimed.  "What's the use of
beating round the bush?  I saw your letter--read your letter--by
mistake."

"My letter?"

"Your letter to your brother.  Through some mistake I was given the
final page--a fragment merely--instead of your brother's reply to be
brought to you.  I was asked to read it--which I did.  Is that enough?"

"My letter to----  The last----"  At a sudden memory of that letter's
last page, with her heart's confession upon it, she burned a blinding
crimson.  "You read----" she stammered, "--and now----"  She could not
look him in the face.  She leaned against the stair in sudden weakness.

"After that," he said, "does my conduct occasion surprise?"

What he meant, in the light of the letter as she had written it to
Glen, as she thought he must have read it, was beyond her
comprehension.  She had fondly believed he loved her.  He had told her
so in actions, words, and kisses.  What terrible secret, deep hidden in
his breast, could possibly lie behind this thing was more than mind
could fathom.  Or did he scorn and loathe her now for having succumbed
to his love?  He had read her confession that she loved him more than
anything else in all the world.  He knew the last faint word in her
heart--and flung her away like this!

She cast one frightened, inquiring look at his face.  It was set and
hard as stone.  The light in his eyes was cold, an accusing glitter.
She felt herself utterly abashed, utterly shamed.  Her heart had lain
naked before him, throbbing with its secret.  His foot was upon it.
There was nothing to cover its nakedness--nothing to cover her
confusion.

For a moment she stood there, attempting to shrink within herself.  Her
attitude of pain and shame appeared to him as guilt.  He felt the whole
thing poignantly--felt sorry to send his shaft so truly home, sorry to
see the effect of the blow.  But, what was the use?  His was the way of
plain, straightforward dealing.  Better one swift wound, even unto
death, than a lingering torture for years.

He opened his lips as if to speak.  But there was nothing more to say.
He turned towards the door.

Beth could not suppress one little cry.

"Oh!"  It was half a moan, half a shuddering gasp.

With her last rally of strength she faced the stairway, and weakly
stumbled up the steps.

A spasm of agony seized Van by the cords of his heart.  He went blindly
away, with a vision in his eyes of Beth groping weakly up the stairs--a
doe with a mortal hurt.



CHAPTER XL

GLEN AND REVELATIONS

How she spent that night Beth never could have told.  Her mind had
refused to work.  Only her heart was sensible of life and emotions, for
there lay her wound, burning fiercely all the long hours through.  That
Van had made excuses to his partners and disappeared on "business" was
a matter of which she received no account.

In the morning the unexpected happened.  Her brother Glen arrived in
Goldite, having driven from Starlight with a friend.  He appeared at
Mrs. Dick's while Beth was still in her room, indisposed.  She had
eaten no dinner.  She took no breakfast.  But with Glenmore's advent
she was suddenly awakened to a new excitement, almost a new sort of
hope.

Young Kent was a smooth-faced, boyish chap, slightly stooped,
exceedingly neat, black-haired, and of medium height.  He was like Beth
only in a "family" manner.  His nose was a trifle large for his face,
but something in his modest, good-natured way, coupled to his earnest
delivery of slang in all his conversation, lent him a certain charm
that no one long resisted.

He was standing in his characteristic pose, with one hand buried in his
pocket, as he laughingly explained himself to Mrs. Dick, when Beth came
running down the stairs.

"Glen!" she cried, as she ran along the hall, and casting herself most
fervently upon him, with her arms about his neck, she had a good,
sky-clearing cry, furious and brief, and looked like a rain-wet rose
when she pushed him away and scrutinized him quickly through her tears.

"I say, Sis, why this misplaced fountain on the job?" he said.  "Do I
look as bad as that?"

"Oh, Glen," she said, "you've been ill!  You were hurt!  I've worried
so.  You're well?  You've entirely recovered?  Oh, I'm so glad to see
you.  Glen!  There's so much I've got to say!"

"Land snakes!" said Mrs. Dick.  "If I don't hurry----" and off she went.

"You're the phonograph for mine," said Glen.  "What's the matter with
your eyes?  Searle hasn't got you going on the lachrymals already?"

"No, I--I'm all right," she said excitedly.  "I didn't sleep well,
that's all.  Do sit down.  I've so many things to say, so much to ask,
I don't know where to begin.  It was such a surprise, your coming like
this!  And you're looking so well.  You got my letter, of course?"

Glen sat down, and Beth sat near, her hand upon his arm.  They had been
more like companions than mere half-brother and sister, all their
lives.  The bond of affection between them was exceptionally developed.

"I came up on account of your letter," he said.  "Either my perceptive
faculties are on the blink or there's something decaying in Denmark.
It's you for the Goddess of Liberty enlightening the unenlightened
savage.  I'm from Missouri and I want you to start the ticker on the
hum."

"You know what Searle has done?" she said.  "How much do you know of
what has happened?"

"Nothing.  I've been retired on half knowledge for a month," said Glen.
"I haven't been treated right.  I'm here to register a roar.  Nobody
tells me you're in the State till I read that account in the paper.  I
dope it out to Searle that I am bumping the bumps, and there is nothing
doing.  He shows up at last and hands me a species of coma and leaves
me with twenty-five dollars!  That's what I get.  What I've been doing
is a longer story.  I apologize for not having seen your friend who
brought the letter, but it's up to you to apologize for a bum epistle
to the Prodigal."

"Wait a minute, Glen--wait a minute, please; don't go so fast," she
said, gripping tighter to his arm.  "I must get this all as straight
and plain as possible.  You don't mean to say that Searle really
drugged you, or something like that--what for?"

"I want to know," said Glen.  "What's the answer?  Perhaps he preferred
I should not behold your Sir Cowboy Gallahad."

"There is something going on," she said, "something dark and horrible.
How did you happen to show Mr. Van Buren--let him see the last page of
my letter?"

"I didn't let him see anything," said Glen.  "I was dopy, I tell you.
I didn't even see the letter myself.  Searle sat on the bed and read it
aloud--and lit his cigar with part of it later."

"My letter?" she said, rising abruptly, and immediately sitting down
again.  "You never saw----  Searle got it--read it!  Oh, the
shamelessness!  Then--it must have been Searle who made the
mistake--let Mr. Van Buren see it--see what I wrote--see----  What did
he read you--read about Van--Mr. Van Buren--almost the last thing in
the letter?"

Glen was surprised at her agitation.  He glanced at her blankly.

"Nothing," he said.  "He read me nothing--as I remember--about your
friend.  Was it something in particular?"

She arose again abruptly and wrung her hands in a gesture of baffled
impatience.

"Oh, I don't know what it all means!" she said.  "To think of Searle
being there, and intercepting my letter!--daring to read it!--burning
it up!--reading you only a portion!  Of course, he didn't read you my
suspicions concerning himself?"

"Not on your half-tone," Glen assured her.  "What's all this business,
anyway?  Put me wise, Sis, I'm groping like a blind snail in the
mulligatawny."

Beth sat down as before and leaned her chin in her palm in an attitude
of concentration.

"Don't you know what Searle has done--taking the 'Laughing Water'
claim?--Mr. Van Buren's claim?"

"I don't know anything!" he told her convincingly.  "I'm a howling
wilderness of ignorance.  I want to know."

"Let's start at the very beginning," she said.  "Just as soon as Searle
brought your letter--the first one, I mean--in which you asked for
sixty thousand dollars to buy a mine----"

"Whoap!  Jamb on the emergency!" Glen interrupted.  "I never wrote such
a letter in my life!"

She looked at him blankly.

"But--Glen--I saw your letter.  I read it myself--at this very table."

Glen knitted his brows and became more serious.

"A letter from me?--touching Searle for sixty thou?  Somebody's nutty."

"But Glen--what I saw with my own eyes----"

"Can't help it.  Nothing doing!" he interrupted as before.  "If Searle
showed you any such letter as that he wrote it him--hold on, I wrote
him for a grub-stake, fifty dollars at the most, but I haven't even
seen a mine that any man would buy, that the other man would sell, and
Searle sure got my first before I was bug-house from that wollop on the
block."  He put his hand to the sore spot on his head and rubbed it
soothingly.

Beth was pale.  She failed to observe his gesture, so absorbed were all
her faculties in the maze of facts in which she was somewhat helplessly
struggling.

"Could Searle have written such a letter as that?" she said.  "What
for?"

"For money--if he wrote it," said Glen.  "Did he touch you for a loan?"

Beth's eyes were widely blazing.  Her lips were white and stiff.

"Why, Glen, I advanced thirty thousand dollars--I thought to help you
buy a mine.  Searle was to put in a like amount--but recently----"

"Searle!  Thirty thousand bucks!" said Glen.  "He hasn't got thirty
thousand cents!  The man who drove me up last night knows the bank
cashier, Mr. Rickart, like a brother--and Rickart told him Searle is a
four-flusher--hasn't a bean--and looks like a mighty good imitation of
a crook.  Searle!  You put up thirty--stung, Beth, stung, good and
plenty!"

Beth's hand was on her cheek, pressing it to whiteness.

"Oh, I've been afraid that something was wrong--that something
terrible----  Why, Glen, that would be _forgery_--obtaining money under
false pretences!  He may have done anything--_anything_ to get the
'Laughing Water' claim!  He may have done something--said
something--written something to make Van--Mr. Van Buren think that
I----  Oh, Glen, I don't know what to do!"

Her brother looked at her keenly.

"You're in trouble, Sis," he hazarded.  "Is 'Van' the candy boy with
you?"

She blushed suddenly.  The contrast from her paleness was striking.

"He's the one who is in trouble," she answered.  "And he may think that
I--he does think something.  He has lost his mine--a very valuable
property.  Searle and some Mr. McCoppet have taken it away from Mr. Van
Buren and all those poor old men--after all their work, their
waiting--everything!  You've got to help me to see what we can do!"

"McCoppet's a gambler--a short-card, tumble weed," said Glen.  "You've
got to put me next.  Tell me the whole novelette, beginning at chapter
one."

"As fast as I can," she answered, and she did.  She related everything,
even the manner in which she and Searle had first become engaged--a
business at which she marveled now--and of how and when she had
encountered Van, the results of the meeting, the subsequent events, and
the heart-breaking outcome of the trip that Van had made to carry her
letter to Starlight.

In her letter, her love had been confessed.  She glossed that item over
now as a spot too sensitive for exposure.  She merely admitted that
between herself and Van had existed a friendship such as comes but once
in many a woman's life--a friendship recently destroyed, she feared, by
some horrible machinations of Bostwick.

"You can see," she concluded, "that Mr. Van Buren must think me guilty
of almost anything.  He doubtless knows my money, that I thought was
helping you, went to meet the expense of taking away his property.  He
probably thinks I sent him to you to get him out of the way, while
Searle and the others were driving his partners off the claim.

"My money is gone.  I asked for its return and I'm sure Searle cannot
repay me.  I'm told he couldn't have used so much as thirty thousand
dollars in anything legitimate, so far, on the 'Laughing Water' claim.
If he'd forge a letter from you, and lie like this and deceive me so,
what wouldn't he do to rob these men of their mine?"

"I scent decay," said Glenmore gravely.  "Have you got any plans in
your attic?"

"Why, I don't know what to do, of course!" she admitted.  "But I've got
to do something.  I've got to show Mr. Van Buren I'm not a willful
party to these horrible things.  I don't believe I'll ever get my money
back.  I don't want a share of a stolen mine.  I'd be glad to let the
money go, and more--all I've got in the world--if only I could prove to
Van that I haven't deceived him, haven't taken part in anything
wrong--if only I could make these cheats give the 'Laughing Water'
back!"

"Van _is_ the candy.  I'll have to meet him, sure," said Glen with
conviction, looking on her face.  "I wish you were wise to more of this
game--the way they worked it--how they doped it out.  I'll look around
and find out how the trick was done, and then we'll go to it together.
Guess I'll look for Van right off the bat."

She glanced at him with startled eyes.

"No, Glen--please don't.  I'd rather you wouldn't--just yet.  You don't
understand.  I can't let him think I'm--making overtures.  He must
think I have a _little_ pride.  If his mine has been stolen I want to
give it back--before he ever sees me again.  If you knew how much--oh,
how very much, I wish to do that----"

"I'm on," he interrupted.  "It will do me good to put a crimp in
Searle."



CHAPTER XLI

SUVY PROVES HIS LOVE

If a single ray of far-off hope had lingered in Van's meditations
concerning Beth, and the various occurrences involving himself and his
mining property, it vanished when he told her of the letter he had seen
and beheld her apparent look of guilt.

One thing the interview had done: it had cleared his decks for action.
He had lain half stunned, as it were, till now, while Bostwick held the
"Laughing Water" claim and worked it for its gold.  A look that was
grim and a heat that would brook no resistance had come together upon
him.

That claim was his, by right of purchase, by right of discovery as to
its worth!  He had earned it by hardships, privations, suffering!  He
meant to have it back!  If the law could avail him, well and good!  If
not, he'd make a law!

McCoppet he knew for a thief--a "law-abiding" criminal of the subtlest
type.  Bostwick, he was certain, was a crook.  Behind these two lay
possibilities of crime in all its forms.  That suddenly ordered survey
of the line was decidedly suspicious.  Bostwick and his fiancée had
come prepared for some such coup--and money was a worker of miracles
such as no man might obstruct.

Van became so loaded full of fight that had anyone scratched a match
upon him he might have exploded on the spot.  He thought of the
simplest thing to do--hire a private survey of the reservation line,
either to confirm or disprove the work that Lawrence had done, and then
map out his course.  The line, however, was long, surveyors were fairly
swamped with work, not a foot could be traveled without some ready cash.

He went to Rickart of the bank.  Rickart listened to his plan of
campaign and shook his head.

"Don't waste your money, Van," he said.  "The Government wouldn't
accept the word of any man you could hire.  Lawrence would have to be
discredited.  Nobody doubts his ability or his squareness.  The
reservation boundary was wholly a matter of guess.  You'll find it
includes that ground--and the law will be against you.  I'd gladly lend
you the money if I could, but the bank people wouldn't stand behind me.
And every bean I've got of my own I've put in the Siwash lease."

Van was in no mood for begging.

"All right, Rick," he said.  "But I'll have that line overhauled if I
have to hold up a private surveyor and put him over the course at the
front of a gun."  He went out upon the street, more hot than before.

In two days time he was offered twenty dollars--a sum he smilingly
refused.  He was down and out, in debt all over the camp.  He could not
even negotiate a loan.  From some of his "friends" he would not have
accepted money to preserve his soul.

Meantime, spurred to the enterprise by little Mrs. Dick, old
Gettysburg, Napoleon, and Dave accepted work underground and began to
count on their savings for the fight.

At the "Laughing Water" claim, during this period, tremendous elation
existed.  Not only had three lines of sluices been installed, with
three shifts of men to shovel night and day, but a streak of gravel of
sensational worth had been encountered in the cove.  The clean-up at
sunset every day was netting no less than a thousand dollars in gold
for each twenty-four hours at work.

This news, when it "leaked," begot another rush, and men by the
hundreds swarmed again upon the hills, in all that neighborhood,
panning the gravel for their lives.  Wild-catting started with an
impetus that shook the State itself.  And Van could only grit his teeth
and continue, apparently, to smile.

All this and more came duly to the ears of Glenmore Kent and Beth.  The
girl was in despair as the days went by and nothing had been
accomplished.  The meager fact that Lawrence had run and corrected the
reservation line, at Searle's behest, was all that Glen had learned.

But of all the men in Goldite he was doubtless best equipped with
knowledge concerning Bostwick's Eastern standing.  He knew that Searle
had never had the slightest Government authority to order the survey
made--and therein lay the crux of all the matter.  It was all he had to
go upon, but he felt it was almost enough.

The wires to New York were tapped again, and Beth was presently a local
bank depositor with a credit of twenty thousand dollars.  In a quiet,
effective manner, Glen then went to work to secure a surveyor on his
own account, or rather at Beth's suggestion.

With the fact of young Kent's advent in the town Van was early made
acquainted.  When Beth procured the transfer of her money from New York
to Goldite, Rickart promptly reported the news.  It appeared to Van a
confirmation of all his previous suspicions.  He could not fight a
woman, and Bostwick and McCoppet remained upon the claim.  Searle wrote
nearly every day to Beth, excusing his absence, relating his success,
and declaring the increase of his love.

On a Wednesday morning Glenmore's man arrived by stage from Starlight,
instruments and all.  His name was Pratt.  He was a tall, slow-moving,
blue-eyed man, nearly sixty years of age, but able still to carry a
thirty-pound transit over the steepest mountain ever built.  Glen met
him by appointment at the transportation office and escorted him at
once to Mrs. Dick's.

Already informed as to what would be required, the surveyor was
provided with all the data possible concerning the reservation limits.

Beth was tremendously excited.  "I'm glad you've come," she told him
candidly.  "Can you start the work to-day?"

"You will want to keep this quiet," he said.  "I need two men we can
trust, and then I'm ready to start."

"Two?" said Glen.  "That's awkward.  I thought perhaps you could get
along with little me."

Beth, in her tumult of emotions, was changing color with bewildering
rapidity.

"Why--I expected to go along, of course," she said.  "I've got a
suit--I've done it before--I mean, I expect to dress as you are, Glen,
and help to run the line."

Pratt grinned good-naturedly.  "Keeps it all in the family.  That's one
advantage."

"All right," said Glen.  "Hike upstairs and don your splendors."

He had hired a car and stocked it with provisions, tents, and bedding.
He hastened off and returned with the chauffeur to the door.

Beth, in the costume she had worn on the day when Van found her lost in
the desert, made a shy, frightened youth, when at length she appeared,
but her courage was superb.

At ten o'clock they left the town, and rolled far out to the westward
on their course.

Van learned of their departure.  He was certain that Beth had gone to
the "Laughing Water" claim, perhaps to be married to Bostwick.  Three
times he went to the hay-yard that day, intent upon saddling his
broncho, riding to the claim himself, and fighting out his rights by
the methods of primitive man.

On the third of his visits he met a stranger who offered to purchase
Suvy on the spot at a price of two hundred dollars.

"Don't offer me a million or I might be tempted," Van told him gravely.
"I'll sell you my soul for a hundred."

The would-be purchaser was dry.

"I want a soul I can ride."

Van looked him over critically.

"Think you could ride my cayuse?"

"This broach?" said the man.  "Surest thing you know."

"I need the money," Van admitted.  "I'll bet you the pony against your
two hundred you can't."

"You're on."

Van called to his friend, the man who ran the yard.

"Come over here, Charlie, and hold the stakes.  Here's a man who wants
to ride my horse."

Charlie came, heard the plan of the wager, accepted the money, and
watched Van throw on the saddle.

"I didn't know you wanted to sell," he said.  "You know I want that
animal."

"If he goes he sells himself," said Van.  "If he doesn't, you're next,
same terms."

"Let me have that pair of spurs," said the stranger, denoting a pair
that hung upon a nail.  "I guess they'll fit."

He adjusted the spurs as one accustomed to their use.  Van merely
glanced around.  Nevertheless, he felt a sinking of the heart.  Five
hundred dollars, much as he needed money, would not have purchased his
horse.  And inasmuch as luck had been against him, he suddenly feared
he might be on the point of losing Suvy now for a price he would have
scorned.

"Boy," he said in a murmur to the broncho, "if I thought you'd let any
bleached-out anthropoid like that remain on deck, I wouldn't want you
anyway--savvy that?"

Suvy's ears were playing back and forth in excessive nervousness and
questioning.  He had turned his head to look at Van with evident joy at
the thought of bearing him away to the hills--they two afar off
together.  Then came a disappointment.

"There you are," said Van, and swinging the bridle reins towards the
waiting man, he walked to a feed-trough and leaned against it
carelessly.

"Thanks," said the stranger.  He threw away a cigarette, caught up the
reins, adjusted them over Suvy's neck, rocked the saddle to test its
firmness, and mounted with a certain dexterity that lessened Van's
confidence again.  After all, Suvy was thoroughly broken.  He had
quietly submitted to be ridden by Beth.  His war-like spirit might be
gone--and all would be lost.

Indeed, it appeared that Suvy was indifferent--that a cow would have
shown a manner no less docile or resigned.  He did look at Van with a
certain expression of surprise and hurt, or so, at least, the horseman
hoped.  Then the man on his back shook up the reins, gave a prick with
the spurs, and Suvy moved perhaps a yard.

The rider pricked again, impatiently.  Instantly Suvy's old-time
fulminate was jarred into violent response.  He went up in the air
prodigiously, a rigid, distorted thing of hardened muscles and
engine-like activities.  He came down like a new device for breaking
rocks--and the bucking he had always loved was on, in a fury of
resentment.

"Good boy!" said Van, who stood up stiffly, craning and bending to
watch the broncho's fight.

But the man in the saddle was a rider.  He sat in the loose security of
men who knew the game.  He gave himself over to becoming part of the
broncho's very self.  He accepted Suvy's momentum, spine-disturbing
jolts, and sudden gyrations with the calmness and art of a master.

All this Van beheld, as the pony bucked with warming enthusiasm, and
again his heart descended to the depths.  It was not the bucking he had
hoped to see.  It was not the best that lay in Suvy's thongs.  The
beating he himself had given the animal, on the day when their
friendship was cemented, had doubtless reduced the pony's confidence of
winning such a struggle, while increasing his awe of man.  Some miners
passing saw the dust as the conflict waged in the yard.  They hastened
in to witness the show.  Then from everywhere in town they appeared to
pour upon the scene.  The word went around that the thing was a
bet--and more came running to the scene.

Meantime, Suvy was rocketing madly all over the place.  Chasing a
couple of cows that roamed at large, charging at a monster pile of
household furnishings, barely avoiding the feed-trough, set in the
center of the place, scattering men in all directions, and raising a
dust like a concentrated storm, the broncho waxed more and more hot in
the blood, more desperately wild to fling his rider headlong through
the air.  But still that rider clung.

Van had lost all sense save that of worry, love for his horse, and
desire to see him win this vital struggle.  A wild passion for Suvy's
response to himself--for a proving love in the broncho's
being--possessed his nature.  He leaned far forward, awkwardly,
following Suvy about.

"I'm ashamed of you, Suvy!" he began to cry.  "Suvy!  Suvy, where's
your pride?  Why don't you do him, boy?  Why don't you show them?
Where's your pride?  My boy! my boy!--don't you love me any more?
You're a baby, Suvy!  You're a baby!"  He paused for a moment,
following still and watching narrowly.  "Suvy!  Suvy!  You're gone if
you let him ride you, lad!  If you love me, boy, don't break my heart
with shame!"

Suvy and a hundred men heard his wild, impassioned appeal.  The men
responded as if in some pain of the heart they could not escape, thus
to see Van Buren so completely wrapped up in his horse.  Then some all
but groaned to behold the bucking cease.

It seemed as if Suvy had quit.  The man in the saddle eased.

"Boy!" yelled Van, in a shrill, startling cry that made the pony
shiver.  He had seen some sign that no one but himself could
understand.  "Boy! not that! not that!"

Already Suvy had started to rise, to drop himself backwards on his
rider.

He heard and obeyed.  He went up no more than to half his height, then
seemed to be struck by a cyclone.  Had all the frightful dynamic of an
earthquake abruptly focused in his being, the fearful convulsion of his
muscles could scarcely have been greater.  It was all so sudden, so
swift and terrible, that no man beheld how it was done.  It was simply
a mad delirium of violence, begun and ended while one tumultuous
shudder shook the crowd.

Everyone saw something loose and twisting detached from the pony's
back.  Everyone witnessed a blur upon the air and knew it was the man.
He was flung with catapultic force against a frightened cow.  He struck
with arms and legs extended.  He clung like a bur to the bovine's side,
for a moment before he dropped--and everyone roared unfeelingly, in
relief of the tension on the nerves.

The next they knew Van was there with his horse, shaking the animal's
muzzle.

"My boy!" he said.  "My boy!  My luck has changed!"

Apparently it had.  The man who had thought he could ride the horse
limped weakly to a blanket-roll, and sat himself down to gather up the
pieces of his breath and consciousness.  He wanted no more.  He felt it
was cheap at the price he had paid to escape with a hint of his life.

Van waited for nothing, not even the money that Charlie of the hay-yard
was holding.  He mounted to the saddle that had been the seat of hell,
and in joy unspeakable Suvy walked away, in response to the pressure of
his knees.



CHAPTER XLII

THE FURNACE OF GOLD

All the following day, which was Thursday, two small companies were out
in the hills.  One was Beth's, where she, Glen, and Pratt toiled slowly
over miles and miles of baking mountains and desert slopes and rocks,
tracing out the reservation boundary with a long slender ribbon of
steel.

The other group, equally, if less openly, active, comprised the sheriff
and three of his men.  They were trailing out the boundary of one man's
endurance, against fatigue, starvation, and the hatred of his kind.

Barger had been at his work once more, slaying and robbing for his
needs.  He had killed a Piute trailer, put upon his tracks; he had
robbed a stage, three private travelers, and a freight-team loaded with
provisions.  He had lived on canned tomatoes and ginger snaps for a
week--and the empty tins sufficiently blazed his orbit.

He was known to be mounted, armed, and once more reduced to extremities
in the way of procuring food.  A trap had been laid, a highway baited
with an apparently defenseless wagon, with two mere desert prospectors
and their outfit for a load--and this he was expected to attack.

The morning waned and the afternoon was speeding.  Old Pratt, with Beth
and Glen, was eager to finish by sunset.  The farther he walked the
more the surveyor apparently warmed to his work.  Beth became footsore
by noon.  But she made no complaint.  She plodded doggedly ahead, the
ribbon-like "chain" creeping like a serpent, on and on before her.

At the forward end Glen was dragging the thing persistently over hills
and dales, and bearing the rod for Pratt with his transit to sight.

The surveyor himself was at times as much as a mile or more behind,
dumbly waving Glen to right or left, as he peered through his glass and
set the course by the compass and angles of his transit.  Anon he
signaled the two to wait, and Beth sat down to watch him come, "set
up," and wave them onward as before.

She was thus alone, at the end of the chain, for hours at a stretch.
So often as Pratt came up from the rear and established a station for
his instrument, she asked how the line was working out, and what were
the prospects for the end.

"Can't tell till we get much closer to the claim," said Pratt, with
never varying patience.  "We'll know before we die."

In the heat that poured from sky and rocks it might have been possible
to doubt the surveyor's prediction.  But Beth went on.  Her exhaustion
increased.  The glare of the cloudless sky and greenless earth seemed
to burn all the moisture from her eyes.  The terrible silence, the
dread austerity of mountains so rock-ribbed and desolate, oppressed her
with a sense of awe.

She was toiling as many a man has toiled, through the ancient,
burned-out furnace of gold, so intensely physical all about her; and
also she was toiling no less painfully through the furnace of gold that
love must ever create so long as the dross must be burned from human
ore that the bullion of honor, loyalty, and faith may shine in its
purity and worth.

She began to feel, in a slight degree, the tortures that Van, old
Gettysburg, Napoleon, and Dave had undergone for many weary years.  It
was not their weakness for the gold of earth that had drawn them
relentlessly on in lands like these; it was more their fate, a species
of doom, to which, like the helpless puppets that we are, we must all
at last respond.

She felt a new weight in the cruelty whereby the owners of the
"Laughing Water" claim had been suddenly bereft of all they possessed
after all their patient years of serving here in this arid waste of
minerals.  The older men in Van's partnership she pitied.

For Van she felt a sense of championing love.  His cause was her cause,
come what might--at least until she could no longer keep alive her
hope.  Her passion to set herself to rights in his mind was great, but
secondary, after all, to the love in her heart, which would not, could
not die, and which, by dint of its intensity, bore her onward to fight
for his rights.

Alone so much in the burning land all day, she had long, long hours in
which to think of Van, long hours in which to contemplate the silence
and the vast dispassion of this mountain world.  Her own inward burning
offset the heat of air and earth; a sense of the aridness her heart
would know without Van's love once more returned, was counter to the
aridness of all these barren rocks.  The fervor of her love it was that
bore her onward, weary, sore, and drooping.

What would happen at the end of day, if Pratt should confirm the
Lawrence survey, bestowing the claim on Bostwick and McCoppet, she did
not dare to think.  Her excitement increased with every chain length
moving her onward towards the cove.  She did not know the hills or
ravines, the canyons descended or acclivities so toilsomely climbed,
and, therefore, had not a guide in the world to raise or depress her
hope.  There was nothing to do but sustain the weary march and await
the survey's end.

All day in Goldite, meanwhile, Van had been working towards an end.  He
had two hundred dollars, the merest drop in the bucket, as he knew,
with which to fight the Bostwick combination.  He was thoroughly aware
that even when the line could be run, establishing some error or fraud
on the part of surveyor Lawrence, the fight would barely be opened.

McCoppet and Bostwick, with thousands of dollars at command, could
delay him, block his progress, force him into court, and perhaps even
beat him in the end.  The enginery of dollars was crushing in its
might.  Nevertheless, if a survey showed that the line had been falsely
moved, he felt he could somewhat rely upon himself to make the seat of
war too warm for comfort.

There was no surveyor nearer than two hundred miles, with Pratt, as Van
expressed it, "camping with the foe."  He had shaken his partners
untimely from their beds that morning--(the trio were mining nights, on
the four-to-midnight shift)--and busied them all with the work of the
day, by way of making preparations.

He spent nearly twenty silver dollars on the wire, telegraphing various
towns to secure a competent man.  He sent a friend to the Government
office, where Lawrence was up to his ears in work, and procured all the
data, including metes and bounds, of the reservation tract before its
fateful opening.

The day was consumed in the petty affairs attendant upon such a
campaign.  When his three old partners went away to their work at four
o'clock in the afternoon, a wire had come from far out north that a man
who was competent to run the line was starting for Goldite forthwith.

The moonless night, at ten o'clock, found Van alone at his tent.  From
the top of the hill whereon he had camped a panoramic view of all the
town swung far in both directions.  The glare of the lamps, the noise
of life--even the odor of man upon the air--impinged upon his senses
here, as he sat before the door and gazed far down upon it.  He thought
that man with his fire, smells, and din made chaos in a spot that was
otherwise sacred to nature.

He thought of the ceaseless persistence with which the human family
haunts all the corners of the earth, pursues life's mysteries, invades
its very God.  He thought of this desert as a place created barren,
lifeless, dead, and severe for some inscrutable purpose--perhaps even
fashioned by the Maker as His place to be alone.  But the haunter was
there with his garish town, his canvas-tented circus of a day, and God
had doubtless moved.

How little the game amounted to, at the end of a man's short span!
What a senseless repetition it seemed--the same old comedies, the same
old tragedies, the same old bits of generosity, and greed, of weakness,
hope, and despair!  Except for a warm little heartful of love--ah
_love_!  He paused at that and laughed, unmirthfully.  That was the
thing that made of it a Hades, or converted the desert into heaven!

"Dreamers! dreamers--all of us!" he said, and he went within to flatten
down his blankets for the night.

He had finally blown out his candle and stretched himself upon the
ground, to continue his turmoil of thinking, when abruptly his sharp
ear caught at a sound as of someone slipping on a stone that turned,
just out upon the slope.  He sat up alertly.

Half a minute passed.  Then something heavy lurched against the tent,
the flap was lifted, and a man appeared, stooped double as if in pain.

"Who's there?" demanded Van.  "Is that you, Gett?"  He caught up his
gun, but it and the hand that held it were invisible.

"It's me," said a voice--a croaking voice.  "Matt Barger."

He fell on the floor, breathing in some sort of anguish, and Van struck
a match, to light the candle.

The flame flared blindingly inside the canvas whiteness.  A great,
moving shadow of Van was projected behind him on the wall.  The light
gleamed brightly from his gun.  But it fell on an inert mass where
Barger had fallen to the earth.

He did not move, and Van, mechanically igniting the candle's wick,
while he eyed the man before him, beheld dry blood, and some that was
fresh, on the haggard face, on the tattered clothing, and even on one
loose hand.

"Barger!" he said.  "What in thunder, man----"

The outlaw rallied his failing strength and raised himself up on one
hand.  He could barely speak, but his lips attempted a smile.

"I thought I heard you--call fer the joker," he said, "and so--I come."

Van was up.  He saw that the man had been literally shot to pieces.
One of his arms was broken.  A portion of his scalp was gone.  He was
pierced in the body and leg.  He had met the posse, fought his fight,
escaped with wounds that must have stopped any animal on earth, and
then had dragged himself to Van, to repay his final debt.

"I haven't called--I haven't called for anything," said Van.  "You're
wounded, man, you're----"

Barger rose up weakly to his knees.

"Need the money, don't you--now?" he interrupted.  "You can--use the
reward, I guess."

"Good God, I don't want that kind of money!" Van exclaimed.  "Who got
you, Matt--who got you?"

"Sheriff," said the convict dispassionately.  "Good man, Christler--and
a pretty good shot--but I got away with his lead."

He slumped again, like a waxen thing on melting props, deprived of all
support.

Van plunged out to the water bench, with its bucket, near the door.  He
brought back a basin of water, knelt on the ground, and bathed the
convict's face.  He poured some liquor between the dead-white lips.  He
slashed and unbuttoned the clothing and tried to staunch the wounds.
He bound up the arm, put a bandage on the leg and body, continuing from
time to time to dash cold water in the pallid, bearded face.

Barger had fainted at last.  What hideous tortures the fellow had
endured to drag and drive himself across the mountain roughnesses to
win to this tent, Van could but weakly imagine.

The convict finally opened his eyes and blinked in the light of the
candle.

"What in hell--was the use of my comin' here," he faltered, "if you
don't take the money--the reward?"

"I don't want it!" said Van.  "I told you that before."

Barger spoke with difficulty.

"It's different now; they've--got you in a hole.  Van Buren, I'm your
meat!  I'm--nuthin' but meat, but you acted--as if I was a man!"

"We're all in a hole--it's life," said Van, continuing his attentions
to the wounds.  "I don't want a cent of blood-money, Matt, if I have to
starve on the desert.  Now lie where you are, and maybe go to sleep.
You won't be disturbed here till morning."

"By mornin'--all hell can't--disturb me," Barger told him painfully,
with something like a ghastly smile upon his lips.  "I'm goin'--there
to see."

He lapsed off again into coma.  Van feared the man was dead.  But
having lived a stubborn life, Barger relinquished his hold unwillingly,
despite his having ceased at last to care.

For nearly an hour Van worked above him, on the ground.  Then the man
not only aroused as before, but sat up, propped on his arm.

"God, I had to--wake!" he said.  "I was sure--forgettin' to tell you."

Van thought the fellow's mind was wandering.

"Lie down, Matt, lie down," he answered.  "Try to take it easy."

"Too late--fer me to take--anything easy," replied the outlaw, speaking
with a stronger voice than heretofore.  "Gimme a drink of whisky."

Van gave him the drink and he tossed it off at a draught.

"I said to myself I'd be--hanged if I'd tell you, that--day you cheated
the quicksand," Barger imparted jerkily, "but you've got--a--right to
know.  McCoppet and that--pal of his give Lawrence twenty
thousand--dollars, cash, to queer you on the--reservation line and run
you off your claim."

Van scrutinized the sunken face and glittering eyes with the closest
attention.

"What's that?" he said.  "Bought Lawrence to fake out the reservation
line?  Who told you, Matt?  Who told you that?"

The convict seemed to gain in strength.  He was making a terrible
effort to finish all he had to impart.

"Trimmer put me--on to all the game.  It was him that told me--you was
goin' through, when I--pretty near got you, in the pass."

Van's eyes took on a deep intensity.

"Trimmer?  Trimmer?"

"Larry Trimmer--Pine-tree Trimmer," explained the convict impatiently.
"McCoppet--wanted you detained, the day they--jumped your claim.
Lawrence--he run the line out crooked fer--twenty thousand bucks.
Culver was put away by Cayuse, mebbe because--he was square--Larry
wasn't sure----  I guess--that's all, but it ought to--help you some."

He dropped himself down and languidly closed his eyes.

"Good heavens, man," said Van, still staring, "are you sure of what
you're saying?"

There was no response for a time.  Then Barger murmured:

"Excuse me, Van Buren, fer--bein' so damn--long--dyin'."

"You're not dying, Matt--go to sleep," said.  Van.  "I'll be here
beside you, all night."

He sat down, got up and sat down again, stirred to the depths of his
being by the story the man had revealed.  Beth's money, then, had gone
for this, to bribe a Government agent!  A tumult of mad, revengeful
thoughts went roaring through his mind.  A grim look came upon his
face, and fire was flashing from his eyes.  He arose and sat down a
dozen times, all the while looking at the worn, broken figure that lay
on the earth at his feet.  What an ill-used, gaunt, and exhausted frame
it was, loose and abandoned by the strength that once had filled it
with vigor and might.  What a boyish look had come at last upon the
haggard, sunken face!

The night wind was chill.  He had forgotten for himself, but he thought
of it now for Barger.  He laid his blankets on the inert limbs and up
around the shoulders.

Perhaps another hour went by, with Van still sleepless by his charge.
The convict stirred.

"Van--Buren," he said in a hoarse, rattling whisper, "Van----"

Van was instantly alert.

"Hello."

Barger partially raised his hand.

"So long,"--and the hand dropped downward.

"Matt!" answered Van, quickly kneeling on the earth.  He caught up the
fingers, felt their faint attempt to close upon his own--and the man on
the ground was dead.



CHAPTER XLIII

PREPARING THE NET FOR A DRAW

Beth Kent, as the sun was going from the sky, fell down three times in
utter exhaustion.  She and the others had come to within a mile of the
"Laughing Water" claim.  Pratt was far away in the rear, on the last of
his stations.  Glen, in the lead, was forging ahead on a second supply
of strength.  Hidden from the sight of either of the others, Beth was
ready for collapse.

But onward crept that merciless ribbon of steel that Glen was dragging.
Three times the girl rose and stumbled onward, up the last acclivity.
Her legs were like lead.  She stubbed her toes on every rock.  She
could almost have cried with the aches of weariness.  It seemed as if
that terrible hill unfolded new and steeper slopes for every one she
climbed.

She went down repeatedly.  To have lain there, hungry, but indifferent
to anything but sleep, would have been the most heavenly thing she
could conceive.  She was literally falling up the hill, with all her
machinery slumping towards inertia, when finally Pratt, on his distant
hill, sent the signal for Glen to halt.

"All right, Beth--rest!" he called from the end of the chain, and she
sank at once in her tracks.

It was almost dusk when Pratt came toiling up the hill.  Glen had come
down to Beth's position.  He too was thoroughly tired.  How the line
had come out was more than he could care.  But Beth, with the last of
her flickering strength, arose to hasten Pratt.

"No use in the three of us being seen," he said, planting his transit
in the sand, but making no effort to adjust it to a level.  "That ridge
there overlooks the claim.  I'll climb up alone and take a bird's-eye
view."

"We're as near as that!" cried Beth in startled surprise.  "Then what
do you think?  Does the line include the claim?"

"I'll have to look around from the ridge," repeated Pratt with
aggravating caution.  "You can wait ten minutes here."

He started laboriously up the slope--and Beth stood tensely watching.
She thought she saw him top the ridge, but he disappeared from sight.

The darkness was gathering swiftly in all the desert world.  The girl's
excitement and impatience grew with a new flare up of energy.  To think
that Searle was so near at hand, with fate a-hover in the air, sent her
pulses bounding madly.

It seemed as if Pratt would never return from the hill.  She could
almost have dashed to the summit herself, to learn the outcome of their
labors.  Then at last, from a small ravine, not far away, he appeared
in his leisurely manner.

Beth ran along the slope to meet him.

"Well?" she cried.  "What did you find?"

He smiled.  "Unless I'm crazy, Lawrence is either a liar or a fool.
That claim is safe outside the line by nearly an eighth of a mile."

"Oh!" cried the girl.  She collapsed on the ground and sobbed in
exhaustion and joy.

She could go no further.  She had kept her strength and courage up for
this, and now, inside the goal, she cared not what might happen.

They camped upon the spot.  The man with the car, which had taken them
out, had been ordered to meet them down at Reservation town--the
mushroom camp which had sprung into being no more than a week before
the rush.  All the way down there Pratt continued alone.  He and the
chauffeur, long after dark, returned with provisions and blankets.
They had driven the car as far as possible, then climbed the ravine on
foot.

At nine o'clock Beth was asleep beneath the stars, dreaming of her
meeting with Van.

At daylight all were up, and in the chill of the rarified mountain air
were walking stiffly to the car.  The chauffeur, who had slept in his
machine, promised breakfast by eight at Mrs. Dick's.  He tore up the
road and he tore away their breath, but he came into Goldite half an
hour ahead of time, and claimed he had driven "pretty slow."

Meantime, the night in the mining-camp had brought no untoward
excitement.  Van, at his tent, with the covered figure lying on the
earth, had welcomed his partners at midnight with the news that a
"homeless and worn-out pilgrim of the desert" had come desiring rest.
He was sleeping hard; he was not to be disturbed.  In the morning he
was scheduled to depart.

Tired to utter unconcern, the three old worthies made their beds with
Van beside the man at peace.  And the whole five slept with a trust and
abandon to nature that balanced the living and the dead.

Van was out, had eaten his breakfast, and was waiting for the sheriff
when Beth and her party returned.  He beheld them, felt his heart lift
upward like a lever in his breast, at sight of Beth in her male attire,
and grimly shut his jaws.

Christler, the sheriff, arrived a little after eight, bringing in a
wounded deputy.  Barger had shot him in the thigh.  Van did not wait
for his man to eat, but urged him home to his bachelor shack and sat
him down to a drink of something strong, with a cracker to munch for a
meal.

Christler was tired.  He was somewhat stout; he had been in the saddle
almost constantly for weeks, and now, as a victim of chagrin and
disappointment, he was utterly dejected and done.

"Good Lord, Van, ain't a man to breathe--hain't he got no rights to
live, whatsoever?" he inquired.  "You'd chase me up, or somebody would,
if I was in my grave."

"You'd break out of your grave," Van told him, "if you knew what's
going on."

Christler looked dubious, draining at his glass.

"Well, I dunno.  It 'ud have to be something pretty rich."

"Bill," said Van, "you're going to stand in and work with me as you
haven't worked for a year.  It's going to be worth it.  Opal McCoppet,
and one Searle Bostwick, of New York, have stolen my claim by
corrupting Lawrence for twenty thousand dollars, running a false
reservation line, and maybe putting Culver out of the way because he
was square in his business."

Christler paused in the act of biting his cracker.

"What!"

"There's going to be something doing, Bill," Van added, leaning forward
on the table.  "I'm going to round up all this gang to-day if it kills
you to keep on the trail."

Christler still sat staring.

"By the Lord Harry!" he said.  "By the Lord--but, Van, I didn't come
home to rest.  I've got Barger going, somewhere, shot to a sieve.  But
he's some disappeared.  If that ain't just my luck!  I'm goin' to git
him though, you bet!  Lord!--my pride--my profession pride--not to
mention that little old reward!  I admit I want that money, Van.  I
reckon I've pretty near----"

"Yes, you've earned it," Van interrupted.  "I'm going to see that you
get it.  Bill, but first you get busy with me."

"You'll see that I get----"  Christler put the cracker in his mouth.
"Don't talk to a genuine friend like that.  I'm tired already."

"Are you?" said Van.  "Let's see.  Barger is here--in camp."

Up shot the sheriff as if from the force of a blast.

"What!" he shrilled.  "Barger!  Van, I'll----"

Van grinned.

"Don't forget you're tired, Bill.  Matt won't get away."

"Good Lord, boy--tell me where's he at!" cried Christler, dancing on
the floor as he strapped his guns upon him.  "Me a-thinkin' I had shot
him up and all this time----"

"You shot him enough, poor devil," Van interrupted quietly.  "He's dead
in my tent on the hill."

The sheriff paused with one hand held in the air.

"Dead!  Crawled all the way to Goldite!"  He started for the door.

"Hold on," said the horseman, blocking his path.  "I told you Matt
can't get away.  We're going out to get Lawrence first, and then
McCoppet and his friend."



CHAPTER XLIV

THE ENGINES OF CLIMAX

McCoppet was in town.  He had come to camp at midnight of the previous
day, duly followed by his friend Larry Trimmer.  The lumberman had
waxed impatient.  Fully two thousand dollars of the money he had
"earned" was still unpaid--and hard to get.  He had gone to the
"Laughing Water" claim, in vain, and a surly heat was rising in his
veins.

Bostwick was due, in his car, at nine o'clock, His visit to Goldite was
not entirely one of business.  He had grown alarmed at the lack of news
from Beth.  His letters had been ignored.  He not only feared for the
fate of his affairs of the heart, but perhaps even more for what she
might have done with respect to the money she had asked him to return,
a very small proportion of which he was now prepared to repay.

Meantime, Beth, her brother, and Pratt had gratified their most crying
needs on Algy's cooking, much to that worthy Celestial's delight.
There were two things Beth intended to perform: report the results of
her labors to Van, and attack Mr. Lawrence in his den.

Precisely what she meant to say or do to the Government representative
she did not or could not determine.  Some vague idea of making him
confess to an infamy practiced at Bostwick's instance was the most she
had in mind.  If half the success already achieved could be expected
here, she would have a report worth while to make when Van should be
presently encountered.

Impetuous, eager to hasten with her work, she insisted upon an
immediate advance.  Glenmore readily supported her position.  Pratt
developed shyness.  His forte was hiking over desert hills, lugging a
transit, running lines or levels; he felt out of place as a fighter, or
even an accuser.  Nevertheless, he went, for Beth insisted.

Already the streets were crowded full of life, as the three proceeded
down the thoroughfare.  A mining-camp is a restless thing; its peoples
live in the streets.  Freight teams, flowing currents of men, chains of
dusty mules, disordered cargoes on the sidewalks, and a couple of
automobiles were glaringly cut out from their shadows, as the sunlight
poured upon them.  Sunlight and motion, false-fronted buildings, tents,
and mountains, and fever--that is the camp on the desert.

With excitement increasing upon her at every step, Beth glanced at the
crowds in a rapid search for Van.  He was not to be seen.  In all the
throng, where old men and youths, pale and swarthy, lazy and alert were
circulating like the blood of Goldite's arteries, there was not a face
that she knew.

They came to the office where Lawrence presided just as a stranger was
departing, Lawrence was alone.  He occupied the inner apartment, as
Culver had done, but the door was standing open.

It was Beth who knocked and entered first as the man called out his
invitation.  She had never in her life appeared more beautiful.  Color
was flaming in her cheeks as on a rose.  Her eyes were exceptionally
bright and brown.  The exquisite coral of her lips was delicately
tremulous with all her short, quick breathing.

Lawrence arose, as she and the others appeared in the door, and removed
his hat.  He was a short, florid person, with a beard of fiery red.
His eyes were of the lightest gray; and they were shifting.

"Good-morning," he said, in undisguised astonishment, beholding Beth.
"You--pardon me--you----"

"Good-morning," Beth replied faintly.  "We called--are you Mr.
Lawrence?"

"At your service." Lawrence bowed.  "I rarely expect--in my line of
work--my business.  Miss--Miss----"

"Miss Kent," said Glenmore, interrupting.  "And my name is Kent.  I
suppose you're wise to Mr. Pratt."

Lawrence continued to bow.

"I'm very happy to--how are you, Pratt?  How are you?  Won't you have a
chair, Miss Kent?"

Pratt nodded and murmured a greeting.  He was decidedly uneasy.

Beth always moved by impulse.  It hastened her now to the issue.  She
sat down and faced their man.

"Mr. Lawrence," she said, "I believe you ran the reservation line, not
long ago, and gave Mr. Bostwick and a friend of his the 'Laughing
Water' claim."

Lawrence looked alive.

"I certainly ran the line," he said.  "Instructions came from--from
headquarters, to ascertain the precise limitations of the reservation.
The _results_ gave the 'Laughing Water' claim to its present owners, by
right of prior location, after the opening hour, as the claim was
included in the tract."  He had uttered this speech before.  It fell
very glibly from his tongue.

"Yes, we know all that--so far as it's true," said Beth with startling
candor, "but we know it isn't true at all, and you've got to confess
that you made some ridiculous blunder or else that you were bribed."

She had not intended to plump it out so bluntly, so baldly, but a
certain indignation in her breast had been rapidly increasing, and her
impulse was not to be stayed.

"Gee!" murmured Glen, "that's going some!"

Lawrence turned white, whether with anger or fright could not have been
determined.

"Miss Kent!" he said.  "You--you're making a very serious----"

"Oh, I know!" she interrupted.  "I expect you to deny it.  But a great
deal of money--my money--has been used, and Mr. Pratt has run the
line--with myself and my brother--yesterday--so we know that you've
either been fooled or you've cheated."

Lawrence had risen.  His face was scarlet.

"Upon my word!" he said.  "Pratt, you and your friend I can order from
the office!  The lady----"

"You can't order anything!--not a thing!" said Beth.  "Glen!  Mr.
Pratt!--you've got to stay and help!  I know the truth--and it's got to
be confessed!  Mr. Van Buren----"

"I can leave myself, since you insist upon remaining," interrupted
Lawrence, taking his hat and striding towards the door, in a panic to
get to McCoppet for much-needed aid.  "Such an utterly unheard of
affront as this----"

"Glen! run and find Mr. Van Buren!" Beth broke in excitedly.  "Don't
let him go, Mr. Pratt!"

Lawrence had reached his outer office and was almost at the door.  Beth
was hastening after, with Glen at her heels.  All were abruptly halted.

Van and the sheriff appeared in the door, before which idlers were
passing.  Beth was wild with joy.

"Van," she cried, "Oh, Mr. Van Buren, I'm sure this man has cheated you
out of your claim!  We ran the line ourselves--my brother, Mr. Pratt,
and I--yesterday--we finished yesterday!  We found the claim is not
inside the reservation!  My money was used--I'm sure for bribery!  But
they've got to give you back your claim, if it takes every penny I've
got!  I was sending Glen to let you know.  I asked Mr. Lawrence to
confess!  You won't let him go!  You mustn't let him go!  I am sure
there's something dreadful going on!"

It was a swift, impassioned speech, clear, ringing, honest in every
word.  It thrilled Van wondrously, despite the things that had
been--her letter, and subsequent events.  He all but lost track of the
business in hand, in the light of her sudden revelations.  He did not
answer readily, and Lawrence broke out in protestation.

"It's infamous!" he cried.  "If anyone here except a woman had
charged--had been guilty of all these outrageous lies----"

Half a dozen loiterers had halted at the door, attracted by the shrill
high tones of his voice.

"That's enough of that, Lawrence," Van interrupted quietly.  "Every
word of this is true.  You accepted twenty thousand dollars to falsify
that line.  Your chief was murdered to get him out of the way, because
it was _known_ you could be bribed.  I came here to get you, and I'll
get all the crowd, if it kills half the town in the fight."  With one
quick movement he seized his man by the collar.  "Here, Bill, hustle
him out," he said to Christler.  "We've got no time to waste."

Lawrence, the sheriff, and himself were projected out upon the sidewalk
by one of his quick maneuvers.  A crowd of men came running to the
place.  Above the rising murmur of their voices, raised in excitement,
came a shrill and strident cry.

"Van!  Van!" was the call from someone in the crowd.

It was lean old Gettysburg.  Dave and Napoleon were pantingly chasing
where he ran.

"Van!" yelled Gettysburg again.  "It's Barger!--Barger!--dead in the
tent--it's Barger--up there--dead!"

Barger!  The name acted as swiftly on the crowd as oil upon a flame.
It seemed as if the wave of news swept like a tide across the street,
down the thoroughfare, and into every shop.

Two automobiles were halted in the road, their engines purring as they
stood.  Their drivers dismounted to join the gathering throng.  One of
the men was Bostwick, down from the hills.  He had searched for Beth at
Mrs. Dick's, and then had followed here.

"Barger!  Barger's dead in camp and the 'Laughing Water' claim was
stolen--and Culver killed!"  One man bawled it to the crowd--and it
sped to Bostwick's ears.

One being only departed from the scene--Trimmer, the lumberman, swiftly
seeking McCoppet.

Van, in his heat, had told too much, accusing the prisoner in hand.  He
silenced Gettysburg abruptly and started to force aside the crowd.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen, move aside," he said.  "I've got--by Jupe!
there's Bostwick!"

It was Bostwick fleeing to his car that Van had discovered.  Searle had
seen enough in the briefest of glances.  He had heard too much.  He
realized that only in flight could the temper of the mob be avoided.
He had seen this mob in action once before--and the walls of his
stomach caved.

Like a youthful Hercules in strength and action, Van went plunging
through the crowd to get his man.  But he could not win.  Bostwick had
speeded up his motor in a panic for haste and his car leaped away like
a dragon on wings, the muffler cut-out roaring like a gattling.

Van might perhaps have shot and killed the escaping man who held the
wheel, but he wanted Searle alive.

A roar from the crowd replied to the car.  A score of men ran madly in
pursuit.  None of them knew the details of the case, but they knew that
Bostwick was wanted.

They drifted rearward from the hurtling car like fragments of paper in
its wake.  The few down street who danced for a moment before the
modern juggernaut, to stop it in its course, sprang nimbly away as it
rocketed past--and Searle was headed for the desert.

One wild, sweeping glance Van cast about, for a horse or something to
ride.  Suvy was stabled, unsaddled, up the street.  Bostwick and his
cloud of dust were dropping away in a swiftly narrowing perspective.
And there stood a powerful, dusty-red car--empty--its motor in motion!

There was no time to search for its owner.  There were half a dozen
different cars with which Van Buren was familiar.  He ran to it,
glanced at its levers, wheel, and clutch, recognized the one type he
had coveted, and hurled himself into the seat.

"Here!  You!" yelled the owner, fighting through the crowd, but three
big miners fell upon him and bore him to the earth.  They hoped to see
a race.

They saw it begin with a promptness incredible.

One--two changes of the snarling gears they heard before the deafening
cut-out belched its explosions.  Then down the street, in pursuit of
the first, the second machine was fired.

The buildings, to Van, were blended in grayish streaks, on either side,
as his gaze was fastened on the vanishing car ahead.  He shoved up his
spark, gave her all the gas, froze to the wheel like a man of
steel--and swooped like a ground-skimming comet out upon the world.

The road for a distance of fully five miles was comparatively level.
It was rutted by the wheels of heavy traffic, but with tires in the
dusty ruts a car ran unimpeded.

Both, for a time were in the road, flaying up a cloud of smoke like a
cyclone ripping out its path.

Searle had not only gained a half-mile lead, but his car was apparently
swifter.  He knew its every trick and ounce of power.  He drove
superbly.  He was reckless now, for he had not missed the knowledge
that behind him was a meteor burning up his trail.

Like a leaping beast--a road-devouring minotaur--the car with Van shot
roaringly through space.  He could not tell that Searle, ahead, was
slipping yet further in the lead.  He only knew that, come what might,
till the mechanism burst, or the earth should split, he would chase his
man across the desert.  The dust in the air from Bostwick's car drove
blindingly upon him.  Far, far away, a mere speck on the road, he
beheld a freight-team approaching--a team of twenty animals at least,
that he and Bostwick must encounter.

A sudden memory of road conditions decided him to move.  The ruts where
he was were bad enough--they were worse where the team must be passed.

He did not reduce his speed to take to the brush.  The car beneath him
flung clean off the ground as he swung to climb out of the grooves.  It
landed with all four wheels a-spin, but only struck on two.  A sudden
swerve, far out of the course, and the monster righted abruptly.
Another sharp turn, and away it went again, crushing the brush and
flinging up the sand in a track of its own that paralleled the road,
but rougher though free from the ruts.

The brush was small, six inches high, but the wheels bounced over it
madly.  The whole car hurtled and bounded in a riot of motion.  It
dived, it plunged nose upward, it roared like a fiend--but it shot with
cannon-ball velocity across the desert's floor.

Five minutes later Bostwick's car was almost fronting the team in the
road, with its score of dusty mules.  He dared not take the ruts at
speed, and groaned as he slowed to climb the bank.  He lost but little
time, however, since once on the side he was going ahead again like
mad; nevertheless, he cast a glance behind and saw that his gap had
narrowed.  Moreover, he would not attempt to return to the ruts as
before, as a second of the teams was coming a mile or so away.

Like two pitching porpoises, discharging fiery wrath and skimming the
gray of the desert sea, the two devices raced upon the brush.  And
nerve began to tell.  Van was absolutely reckless; Searle was not.  The
former would have crowded on another notch of speed, but Bostwick
feared, and shut off a trifle of his power.  Even then he was rocking,
quivering, careening onward like a star escaped from its course; and
the gains Van made were slow.

The man on the second team paused to see them pass.  In smoke and dust
and with war's own din they cleaved the startled air.  And the man who
saw the look that had set on Van's hard-chiseled face was aware that
unless his car should fail there was nothing on earth he could not
catch.

Bostwick had begun to weaken.  The pace over sage-brush, rocks, and
basins of sand was racking both the car and the nerves that held the
wheel.  How long such a flight could be continued he dared not guess.
Even steel has limitations.  To what he was fleeing he could scarcely
have told, since the telegraph would send its word throughout the
desert-land, and overhaul him finally.

A sickening apprehension assailed him, however, within the minute.  One
of his cylinders was missing.  His trained ear caught at the change of
the "tune," and he felt his speed decreasing.  He glanced back briefly,
where the dusty lump of steel, like a red-hot projectile, thundered in
his wake.

He beheld a sudden fan-like flare of dust in the cloud Van was making.
He even faintly heard the far report, and a grim joy sprang in his
being.

Van had blown out a tire.  Striking the high places, crowding on the
speed, holding to a straight-away course like a merciless fate, the
horseman heard an air cushion go, felt the lurch and lameness of the
car, and steadied it back upon its road.  He did not retreat by so much
as a hair the lever advancing his spark.  He did not budge the gas
control, but left it still wide open.  If all of his tires should blow
out together he would not halt his pace.  He would drive that car to
destruction, or to triumph in the race.

Searle's rejoicing endured but the briefest span.  His motor had begun
again to splutter, in mechanical death.  Then, with a sudden memory,
sweat broke out on Bostwick's face.  His gasolene was gone!  He had
thoroughly intended refilling his tank, having barely had a sufficient
supply to run him from the claim to camp; and this had been neglected.

His car bumped slowly for a score of yards, then died by the side of
the road.  He leaped out madly, to assure himself the tank was really
dry.  He cursed, he raved.  It seemed absurd for this big, hot creature
to be dead.  And meantime, like a whirlwind coming on, Van Buren was
crashing down upon him.

"By God!" he cried, "I'll fix you for this!" and a wild thought flashed
to his mind--a thought of taking Van Buren's car and fleeing as before.

He leaped in the tonneau and caught up a heavy revolver, stored beneath
the seat.  He glanced at the cylinder.  Four of the cartridges only
were unused.  He remained inside the "fort" of the car, with the weapon
cocked and lowered out of sight.

Charging down like a meteor, melting its very course, Van and the red
car came by leaps and plunges.  He was shutting off the power
gradually, but still rushing up with frightening speed, when Bostwick
raised his gun and fired.

The bullet went wide, and Van came on.  Bostwick steadied and fired
again.  There was no such thing as halting the demon in the car.  But
the target's size was rapidly increasing!  Nevertheless, the third shot
missed, like the others.  Would the madman never halt?

Bostwick dropped a knee to the floor, steadied the barrel on the
cushion, lined up the sights, and pulled the trigger.

With the roar of the weapon Van abruptly drooped.  The bullet had
pierced his shoulder.  And he still came on.  His face had suddenly
paled; his lips had hardened in a manner new to his face.  He halted
the car, aware that his foe had exhausted his ammunition, since no more
shots were fired.

His own big gun he drew deliberately.  To sustain himself, through the
shock of his wound, was draining the utmost of his nerve.  He was
hardly ten feet away from the man who stood there, a captive in his car.

"Well, Searle," he said, "you're a better shot than I thought--and a
better driver.  In fact you drive so almighty well I am going to let
you drive me back to camp."  He arose from his seat.  He was bleeding.
His left arm was all but useless.  "Come down," he added.  "Come down
and take my seat.  And don't make the slightest error in etiquette,
Searle, or I'll see if a forty-some-odd ball will bounce when it lands
on your skull."

Bostwick had expected to be shot on the spot.  No cornered rat could
have been more abjectly afraid.  His nerve had oozed away the more for
the grimness of the man who stood before him--a man with such a wound
as that who was still the master of his forces!

He was terribly white.  His teeth fairly chattered in his head.  He had
played a desperate part--and lost.  The race and this present
_denouement_ had shattered the man completely.  He came down to the
ground and stood there, silently staring at Van.

Despite his show of strength Van stepped with difficulty to the back of
his car and seated himself within.

"Up in the seat there, Searle," he repeated, "and drive back at
moderate speed."

Bostwick's surrender was complete.  He climbed to the driver's
position, still silently, and started the car in an automatic way that
knew no thought of resistance.  At the rear of his head Van held the
gun, and back towards Goldite they rolled.

Two miles out the sheriff, in a borrowed car, grimly seated at the
driver's side, came bearing down upon them.  The cars were halted long
enough for the sheriff to take his place with Searle, and then they
hastened on.

Christler had instantly seen that Van was wounded.  He as quickly
realized that to rush Van to town and medical attendance was the only
possible plan.

He merely said, "You're hurt."

Van tried to smile.  "Slightly punctured."  He was rapidly losing
strength.

Christler thought to divert him.  He shouted above the purring of the
car.

"Found Matt all right.  I'm goin' to take him back to the State
authorities in that convict suit that's hangin' 'round the store."

Van was instantly aroused.  "No you don't Bill!  No you don't!  I've
got use for those stripes myself.  You'll buy Matt the best suit of
clothes in town, and charge the bill to me."

If Bostwick heard, or understood, he did not make a sign.  He was
driving like a servant on the box, but he could not have stood on his
feet.

They were nearing the town.  A cavalcade of horsemen, drivers of
buggies, and men on foot came excitedly trooping down the road to meet
the short procession.

Despite his utmost efforts, Van was gone.  Weak from the loss of blood
and the shock, he could hold up his frame no longer.

"Bill," he said, as the sheriff turned around, "I guess I'm--all
in--for a little.  Cold storage _him_, till I get back on my feet."

He waved a loose gesture towards Bostwick, then sank unconscious on the
floor.



CHAPTER XLV

THE LAST CIGARS

Trimmer, the lumberman, not to be stayed, had broken in upon McCoppet
ruthlessly, with perceptions unerring concerning the troubles in the
air, when Lawrence was arrested.  The gambler consented to an interview
with instinctive regard for his safety.  That something significant was
laid on Trimmer's mind he felt with a subtle sense of divination.

The lumberman, smoking furiously, came to his point with utmost
directness.

"Opal," he said, "I'm goin' away, and I want ten thousand dollars.  I
want it now.  You owe me some you ain't paid up, and now I'm raisin'
the ante."

"You're raising bunions," McCoppet assured him softly, throwing away
his unsmoked cigar and putting a fresh one in his mouth.  "I'll pay you
what I agreed--when I get the ready cash."

"Think so, do you, Opal?" inquired the lumberman, eying his man in
growing restlessness.  "I think different, savvy?  I'm onto you and
your game with Lawrence--you payin' him twenty thousand bucks to fake
the reservation.  I want ten thousand right away, in the next ten
minutes, or you'd better pack your trunk."

McCoppet, startled by the accusation, watched the savage manner in
which the lumberman ate up the smoke of his weed.  He could think of
one way only in which a man of Trimmer's mentality could have come upon
certain private facts.

"So," he said presently, "you crawled in under this place, this floor,
and caught it through the cracks."

"Knot-hole," said Trimmer gesturing, "that one over there.  And I tell
you, Opal, I want that money now.  Do you hear?  I want it now!"  He
smashed his heavy fist upon the table, and off flew the ash of his
cigar.

"What will you do if I refuse?" the gambler asked him coldly.  "Wait!
Hold on!  Don't forget, my friend, that Culver's murder is up to you,
and I'll give you up in a minute."

The lumberman rose.  Every moment that passed increased the danger to
them both.

"Look a-here, Opal," he said in a threatening voice of anger, "I ain't
a-goin' to fool with you no longer.  Hear me shout?  Culver's up to you
as much as me.  You stole the 'Laughin' Water' claim.  There's hell
a-sizzlin' down the street right now--down to Lawrence's.  If you don't
cough up ten thousand bucks pretty pronto----"

"So, Larry--so, you've split on me already," the gambler interrupted,
rising and narrowing his gaze upon the bloated face.  "You've peddled
it maybe, and now you come to me----"

"I ain't peddled nuthin'!" Trimmer cut in angrily.  "I didn't tell no
one but Barger, and he ain't no friend of Van Buren's.  But Lawrence is
caught.  Pratt run out the line, and now it's me that stands between
you and trouble, and I want the money to stand."

McCoppet was far less calm than he appeared.  How much was already
really known to the town was a matter wholly of conjecture.  And
Trimmer's haste to cash in thus and probably vanish excited his gravest
suspicions.  He eyed his friend narrowly.

"Larry, we'll wait and see how much you've maybe leaked."

"No we won't wait fer nuthin'!--not fer nuthin', understand?" corrected
Trimmer aggressively.  "I ain't a-trustin' you, Opal, no more!  You
done me up at every turn, and now, by God! you're goin' to come to
terms!"  He pulled an ugly, rusty gun, and thumped with its muzzle on
the table.  "You'll never leave this room alive if I don't git the
money.  Ring fer it, Opal, ring the bell, and order it in with the
drinks!"

McCoppet would have temporized.  It was not so much the money now as
the state of affairs in the street.  How much was known?--and what was
being done?  These were the questions in his mind.

"Don't get excited, friend," he said.  "If things are out, and you and
I are caught with the aces in our sleeves, we may have to fight back to
back."  He was edging around to draw his pistol unobserved,

But Trimmer was alert.  "Stand still, there, Opal, I've got the drop,"
he said.  "I'm lookin' out fer number one, this morning, understand?
You ring the----"

A sudden, loud knock at the door broke in upon his speech, and both men
started in alarm.

"Opal!  Opal!" cried a muffled voice in accents of warning just outside
the door, "Christler's on your trail!  Come out!  Come out and--huh!
Too late!  You'll have to get out the window!"

The roar and excitement of the coming crowd, aroused to a wild
indignation, broke even to the den.  An army of citizens, leading the
way for Christler's deputies, was storming McCoppet's saloon.

He heard, and a little understood.  He knew too much to attempt to
explain, to accuse even Trimmer to a mob in heat.  Nothing but flight
was possible, and perhaps even that was a risk.

He started for the window.  Trimmer leaped before him.

"No you don't!" he said.  "I told you, Opal----"

"Take that!" the gambler cut in sharply.  His gun leaped out with flame
at its end; and the roar, fire, bullet, and all seemed to bury in the
lumberman's body.  A second shot and a third did the same--and Trimmer
went down like a log.

His gun had fallen from his hand.  With all his brute vitality he
crawled to take it up.  One of the bullets had pierced his heart, but
yet he would not die.

McCoppet had snatched up a chair and with it he beat out the window.
Then Trimmer's gun crashed tremendously--and Opal sank against the sill.

He faced his man.  A ghastly pallor spread upon his countenance.  He
went down slowly, like a man of melting snow, his cigar still hanging
on his lip.

He saw the lumberman shiver.  But the fellow crowded his cigar stump in
his mouth, with fire and all, and chewed it up as he was dying.

"Good shot," said McCoppet faintly.  His head went forward on his
breast and he crumpled on the floor.



CHAPTER XLVI

WASTED TIME

Van was conveyed to Mrs. Dick's.  The fever attacked him in his
helplessness and delirium claimed him for its own.  He glided from
unconsciousness into a wandering state of mind before the hour of noon.

His wound was an ugly, fiery affair, made worse by all that he did.
For having returned from his lethargy, he promptly began to fight anew
all his battles with horses, men, and love that had crossed his summer
orbit.

Gettysburg, Dave, and Napoleon begged for the brunt of the battle.
They got it.  For three long days Van lay upon his bed and flung them
all around the room.  He hurt them, bruised them, even called them
names, but ever like three faithful dogs, whom beatings will never
discourage--the beatings at least of a master much beloved--they
returned undaunted to the fray, with affection constantly increasing.

There were three other nurses--two women and Algy, the cook.  But Beth
was the one who slept the least, who glided most often to the sick
man's side, who wetted his lips and renewed the ice and gave him a
cooler pillow.  And she it was who suffered most when he called upon
her name.

"Beth!  Beth!" he would call in a wildness of joy, and then pass his
hand across his eyes, repeating: "--this is the man I hate more than
anyone else in the world!"

That she finally knew, that the tell-tale portion of her letter had
been found when Bostwick was searched--all this availed her nothing
now, as she pleaded with Van to understand.  He fought his fights, and
ran his race, and returned to that line so many times that she feared
it would kill him in the end.

At midnight on that final day of struggling he lay quite exhausted and
weak.  His mind was still adrift upon its sea of dreams, but he fought
his fights no more.  The fever was still in possession, but its method
had been changed.  It had pinned him down as a victim at last, for
resistance had given it strength.

At evening of the seventh day he had slept away the heat.  He was
wasted, his face had grown a tawny stubble of beard, but his strength
had pulled him through.

The sunlight glory, as the great orb dipped into purple hills afar,
streamed goldenly in through the window, on Beth, alone at his side.
It blazoned her beauty, lingering in her hair, laying its roseate tint
upon the pale moss-roses of her cheeks.  It richened the wondrous
luster of her eyes, and deepened their deep brown tenderness of love.
She was gold and brown and creamy white, with tremulous coral lips.
Yet on her face a greater beauty burned--the beauty of her
inner-self--the beauty of her womanhood, her nature, shining through.

This was the vision Van looked upon, when his eyes were open at last.
He opened them languidly, as one at peace and restored to control by
rest.  He looked at her long, and presently a faint smile dawned in his
eyes.

She could not speak, as she knelt at his side, to see him thus return.
She could only place her hand upon her cheek and give herself up to his
gaze--give all she was, and all her love, and a yearning too vast to be
expressed.

The smile from his eyes went creeping down his face as the dawn-glow
creeps down a mountain.  Perhaps in a dream he had come upon the truth,
or perhaps from the light of her soul.  For he said with a faint, wan
smile upon his lips:

"I don't believe it, Beth.  You meant to write 'love' in your letter."

The tears sprang out of her eyes.

"I did!  I did!  I did!" she sobbed in joy too great to be contained.
"I've always loved you, _always_!"

Despite his wound, his weakness--all--she thrust an arm beneath his
neck and pillowed her cheek on his breast.  He wanted no further
explanation, and she had no words to spend.

One of his arms was remarkably efficient.  It circled her promptly and
drew her up till he kissed her on the lips.  Then he presently said:

"How much time have we wasted?"

"Oh, _days_!" she said, warmly blushing.  "Ever since that night on the
desert."

He shook a smiling negative.

"Wrong.  We've wasted all our lives."

He kissed her again, then sank into slumber with the dusk.



CHAPTER XLVII

A TRIBUTE TO THE DESERT

Love is a healer without a rival in the world.  Van proved it--Van and
Beth, of course, together, with Gettysburg, Dave, and Napoleon to help,
and Algy to furnish the sauce.  All were present, including Glen and
Mrs. Dick, on the summer day of celebration when at last Van came down
to dinner.  At sight of the wan, wasted figure, Algy, in his
characteristic way, fought down his heathen emotions.

"What's mallah you, Van?" he demanded, his face oddly twitching as he
spoke.  "Makee evlybody _sick_!  That velly superstich!  Nobody's got
time cly for you come home--makee my dinner spoil!"

He bolted for the kitchen, swearing in loving Chinese.

But with that day passed, Van soon snatched back his own.  His strength
returned like a thing that was capable of gladness, lodging where it
belonged.  His spirit had never been dimmed.

Bostwick, who had been detained by the sheriff, faithfully waiting till
Van should "get back on his feet," was almost relieved when his day for
departure finally dawned.  He was dressed, at Van's express desire, in
the convict suit which he had worn on the day of his arrival.

Van was on hand when at last the stage, with Bostwick and Christler for
passengers, was ready to pull up the street.

"Searle," he said, "for a man of your stripe you are really to be
envied.  You're going to about the only place I know where it's even
remotely possible to be good and not be lonesome."

Searle went.  Lawrence, perhaps more fortunate, had managed to escape.
He had fled away to Mexico, taking the bulk of his plunder.

Gettysburg, Dave, and Napoleon returned once more to the placer and
sluices on the hill.  Glenmore Kent was of the party, as superintendent
of the mine.  He held a degree from a school of mines, and knew even
more than he had learned.  Moreover, he had saved the gold pilfered by
Bostwick and McCoppet.

Then one sunny morning Van and Beth were married by a Justice of the
Peace.  Algy and Mrs. Dick were the lawful witnesses of the rites.  The
only nuptial present was the gift of a gold mine in the mountains to
the bride.

"You see," said Van, "_you_ are my 'Laughing Water' claim--and just
about all I can handle."

They were alone.  She came to his arms and kissed him with all the
divinity and passion of her nature.  He presently took her face in his
hands and gave her a rough little shake.

"Where shall we go to spend our honeymoon?"

She blushed like a tint of sunset, softly, warmly, and hid her cheek
upon his shoulder.

"Out in the desert--underneath the sky."



THE END





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