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Title: 'Me--Smith'
Author: Lockhart, Caroline, 1870-1962
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 "'Me--Smith'" ***

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[Illustration: "THAT LOOK IN YOUR EYES--THAT LOOK AS IF YOU HADN'T
NOTHIN' TO HIDE--IS IT TRUE?" Page 59]



"ME-SMITH"

BY

CAROLINE LOCKHART

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY

GAYLE HOSKINS

NEW YORK

GROSSET & DUNLAP

PUBLISHERS



Copyright 1911
By J. B. Lippincott Company

Published February 15, 1911
Second printing, February 25, 1911
Third printing, March 5, 1911
Fourth printing, March 20, 1911
Fifth Printing, June 5, 1911
Sixth Printing, July 1, 1911
Seventh Printing, August 17, 1911



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                            PAGE
     I.  "Me--Smith"                                 11
    II.  On the Alkali Hill                          18
   III.  The Empty Chair                             29
    IV.  A Swap in Saddle Blankets                   48
     V.  Smith Makes Medicine with the Schoolmarm    58
    VI.  The Great Secret                            79
   VII.  Cupid "Wings" a Deputy Sheriff              95
  VIII.  The Bug-hunter Elucidates                  110
    IX.  Speaking Of Grasshoppers----               123
     X.  Mother Love and Savage Passion Conflict    130
    XI.  The Best Horse                             142
   XII.  Smith Gets "Hunks"                         156
  XIII.  Susie's Indian Blood                       162
   XIV.  The Slayer of Mastodons                    169
    XV.  Where a Man Gets a Thirst                  190
   XVI.  Tinhorn Frank Smells Money                 205
  XVII.  Susie Humbles Herself to Smith             213
 XVIII.  A Bad "Hombre"                             228
   XIX.  When The Clouds Played Wolf                240
    XX.  The Love Medicine of the Sioux             248
   XXI.  The Murderer of White Antelope             272
  XXII.  A Mongolian Cupid                          293
 XXIII.  In Their Own Way                           303



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

                                                         PAGE

"That Look in Your Eyes--That Look as if You
Hadn't Nothin' to Hide--is it True?"             Frontispiece

"She's a Game Kid, All Right," Said Smith
to Himself at the Top of the Hill.                         22

It Meant Death--but it was Wet!--it was Water!            196

Smith Reached for the Trailing Rope and They
Were Gone!                                                284

They Quirted Their Horses at Breakneck Speed
In the Direction of the Bad Lands.                        308



"ME--SMITH"

I

"ME--SMITH"


A man on a tired gray horse reined in where a dim cattle-trail dropped
into a gulch, and looked behind him. Nothing was in sight. He half closed
his eyes and searched the horizon. No, there was nothing--just the same
old sand and sage-brush, hills, more sand and sage-brush, and then to the
west and north the spur of the Rockies, whose jagged peaks were white with
a fresh fall of snow. The wind was chill. He shivered, and looked to the
eastward. For the last few hours he had felt snow in the air, and now he
could see it in the dim, gray mist--still far off, but creeping toward
him.

For the thousandth time, he wondered where he was. He knew vaguely that he
was "over the line"--that Montana was behind him--but he was riding an
unfamiliar range, and the peaks and hills which are the guide-boards of
the West meant nothing to him. So far as he knew, he was the only human
being within a hundred miles. His lips drew back in a half-grin and
exposed a row of upper teeth unusually white and slightly protruding. He
was thinking of the meeting with the last person to whom he had spoken
within twenty-four hours. He closed one eye and looked up at the sun. Yes,
it was just about the same time yesterday that a dude from the English
ranch, a dude in knee breeches and shiny-topped riding boots, had galloped
confidently toward him. He had dismounted and pretended to be cinching his
saddle. When the dude was close enough Smith had thrown down on him with
his gun.

"Feller," he had said, "I guess I'll have to trade horses with you. And
fall off quick, for I'm in kind of a hurry."

The grin widened as he thought of the dude's surprised eyes and the dude's
face as he dropped out of the saddle without a word. Smith had stood his
victim with his hands above his head while he pulled the saddle from his
horse and threw it upon his own. The dude rode a saddle with a double
cinch, and the fact had awakened in the Westerner a kind of interest. He
had even felt a certain friendliness for the man he was robbing.

"Feller," he had asked, "do you come from the Mañana country?"

"From Chepstow, Monmouth County, Wales," the dude had replied, in a
shaking voice.

"Where did you get that double-rigged saddle, then?"

"Texas."

The answer had pleased Smith.

"You ain't losin' none on this deal," he had then volunteered. "This horse
that you just traded for is a looker when he is rested, and he can run
like hell. You can go your pile on him. Just burn out that lazy S brand
and run on your own. You can hold him easy, then. I like a feller that
rides a double-rigged saddle in a single-rigged country. S'long, and keep
your hands up till I'm out of range."

"Thank you," the dude had replied feebly.

When Smith had ridden for a half a mile he had turned to look behind him.
The dude was still standing with his hands high above his head.

"I wonder if he's there yet?" The man on horseback grinned.

He reached in the pocket of his mackinaw coat and took out a handful of
sugar.

"You can travel longer on it nor anything," he muttered.

He congratulated himself that he had filled his pocket from the
booze-clerk's sugar-bowl before the mix came. The act was characteristic
of him, as was the forethought which had sent him to the door to pick the
best saddle-horse at the hitching-post, before the lead began to fly.

The man suddenly realized that the mist in the east was denser, and
spreading. He jabbed the spurs into his horse and sent the jaded animal
sliding on its fetlocks down the steep and rocky trail that led into the
dry bed of a creek which in the spring flowed bank high. In the bottom he
pulled his horse to its haunches and leaned from his saddle to look at a
foot-print in a little patch of smooth sand no larger than his two hands.
The print had been made by a moccasined foot, and recently; otherwise the
wind would have wiped it out.

He threw his leg over the cantle of the saddle and stepped softly to the
ground. Dropping the reins, he looked up and down the gulch. Then he drew
his rifle from the scabbard and began to hunt for more tracks. As he
searched, his movements were no longer those of a white man. His
pantomime, stealthy, cautious, was the pantomime of the Indian. He crept
up the gulch to a point where it turned sharply. His stealth became the
stealth of the coyote. In spite of the leather soles and exaggerated high
heels of the boots he wore his movements were absolutely noiseless.

An Indian of middle age, in blue overalls, moccasins, a limp felt hat
coming far down over his braided hair, a gaily striped blanket drawn about
his shoulders, stood in an attitude of listening, carelessly holding a
cheap, single-barrelled shotgun. He had heard the horse sliding down the
trail and was waiting for it to appear on the bench above.

The stranger took in the details of the Indian's costume, but his eye
rested longest upon the gay blanket. He might need a blanket with that
snow in the air. It looked like a good blanket. It seemed to be thick and
was undoubtedly warm.

The Indian saw him the instant he rose from his hiding-place behind a huge
sage-brush. Startled, the red man instinctively half raised his gun. The
stranger gave the sign of attention, then, touching his breast and lifting
his hand slightly, told him in the sign language used by all tribes that
"his heart was right"--he was a friend.

The Indian hesitated and lowered his gun, but did not advance. The
stranger then asked him where he would find the nearest house, and whether
it was that of a white or a red man. In swift pantomime, the Indian told
him that the nearest house was the home of a "full-blood," a woman, a fat
woman, who lived five miles to the southeast, in a log cabin, on running
water.

Before he turned to go, the stranger again touched his breast and raised
his hand above his heart to reiterate his friendship. He took a half-dozen
steps, then whirled on his heel. As he did so, he brought his rifle on a
line with the Indian's back, which was toward him. Simultaneously with the
report, the Indian fell on his back on the side of the gulch. He drew up
his leg, and the stranger, thinking he had raised it for a gun-rest,
riddled him with bullets.

The white man's bright blue eyes gleamed; the pupils were like pin-points.
The grin which disclosed his protruding teeth was like the snarl of a dog
before it snaps. The expression of the man's face was that of animal
ferocity, pure and simple. He edged up cautiously, but there was no
further movement from the Indian. He had been dead when he fell. The white
man gave a short laugh when he realized that the raising of the leg had
been only a muscular contraction. To save the blanket from the blood which
was soiling it, he tore it from the limp, unresisting shoulders, and
rubbed it in the dirt to obliterate the stain. He cursed when he saw that
a bullet had torn in it two jagged, tell-tale holes.

He glanced at the Indian's moccasins, then, stooping, ripped one off. He
examined it with interest. It was a Cree moccasin. The Indian was far from
home. He examined the centre seam: yes, it was sewed with deer-sinew.

"The Crees can tan to beat the world," he muttered, "but I hates the shape
of the Cree moccasin. The Piegans make better." He tossed it from him
contemptuously and picked up the shotgun.

"No good." He threw it down and straightened the Indian's head with the
toe of his boot. "I despises to lie cramped up, myself."

Returning to his horse, he removed his saddle, and folded the Indian's
blanket inside of his own. Then he recinched his saddle, and turned his
horse's head to the southeast, where "the full-blood--the woman, the fat
woman--lived in a log cabin by running water."

He glanced over his shoulder as he spurred his horse to a gallop.

"I'm a killer, me--Smith," he said, and grinned.



II

ON THE ALKALI HILL


There was at least an hour and a half of daylight left when Smith struck a
wagon-road. He looked each way doubtfully. The woman's house was quite as
likely to be to the right as to the left; there was no way of telling.
While he hesitated, his horse lifted its ears. Smith also thought he heard
voices. Swinging his horse to the right, he rode to the edge of the bench
where the road made a steep and sudden drop.

At the bottom of the hill he saw a driver on the spring-seat of a round-up
wagon urging two lean-necked and narrow-chested horses up the hill. They
were smooth-shod, and, the weight of the wagon being out of all proportion
to their strength, they fell often in their futile struggles. At the side
of the road near the top of the hill the water oozed from an alkali
spring, which kept the road perpetually muddy. The horses were straining
every nerve and muscle, their eyes bulging and nostrils distended, and
still the driver, loudmouthed and vacuously profane, lashed them
mercilessly with the stinging thongs of his leather whip. Smith, from the
top of the hill, watched him with a sneer on his face.

"He drives like a Missourian," he muttered.

He could have helped the troubled driver, knowing perfectly well what to
do, but it would have entailed an effort which he did not care to make. It
was nothing to him whether the round-up wagon got up the hill that
night--or never.

Smith thought the driver was alone until he began to back the team to rush
the hill once more. Then he heard angry exclamations coming from the rear
of the wagon--exclamations which sounded not unlike the buzzing of an
enraged bumble-bee. He stretched his neck and saw that which suggested an
overgrown hoop-snake rolling down the hill. At the bottom a little
mud-coated man stood up. The part of his face that was visible above his
beard was pale with anger. His brown eyes gleamed behind mud-splashed
spectacles.

"Oscar Tubbs," he demanded, "why did you not tell me that you were about
to back the wagon?"

"I would have did it if I had knowed myself that the team were goin' to
back," replied Tubbs, in the conciliatory tone of one who addresses the
man who pays him his wages.

The man in spectacles groaned. "Three inexcusable errors in one sentence.
Oscar Tubbs, you are hopeless!"

"Yep," replied that person resignedly; "nobody never could learn me
nothin'. Onct I knowed----"

"Stop! We have no time for a reminiscence. Have you any reason to believe
that we can get up this hill to-night?"

"No chanst of it. These buzzard-heads has drawed every poun' they kin
pull. But I has some reason to believe that if you don't hist your hoofs
out'n that mud-hole, you'll bog down. You're up to your pant-leg now. Onct
I knowed----"

The little man threw out his hand in a restraining gesture, and Tubbs,
foiled again, closed his lips and watched his employer stand back on one
leg while he pulled the other out of the mud with a long, sucking sound.

"What for an outfit is that, anyhow?" mused Smith, watching the
proceedings with some interest. "He looks like one of them bug-hunters.
He's got a pair of shoulders on him like a drink of water, and his legs
look like the runnin'-gears of a katydid."

So intently were they all engaged in watching the man's struggles that no
one observed a girl on a galloping horse until she was almost upon them.
She sat her sturdy, spirited pony like a cowboy. She was about sixteen,
with a suggestion of boyishness in her appearance. Her brown hair, worn in
a single braid, was bleached to a lighter shade on top, as if she rode
always with bared head. Her eyes were gray, in curious contrast to a tawny
skin. She was slight to scrawniness, and, one might have thought,
insufficiently clad for the time of year.

"Bogged down, pardner?" she inquired in a friendly voice, as she rode up
behind and drew rein. "I've been in that soap-hole myself. Here, ketch to
my pommel, and I'll snake you out."

Smiling dubiously he gripped the pommel. The pony had sunk to its knees,
and as it leaped to free itself the little man's legs fairly snapped in
the air.

"I thank you, Miss," he said, removing his plaid travelling cap as he
dropped on solid ground. "That was really quite an adventure."

"This mud is like grease," said the girl.

"Onct I knowed some mud----" began the driver, but the little man,
ignoring him, said:

"We are in a dilemma, Miss. Our horses seem unable to pull our wagon up
the hill. Night is almost upon us, and our next camping spot is several
miles beyond."

"This is the worst grade in the country," replied the girl. "A team that
can haul a load up here can go anywhere. What's the matter with that
fellow up there? Why don't he help?"--pointing to Smith.

"He has made no offer of assistance."

"He must be some Scissor-Bill from Missouri. They all act like that when
they first come out."

"Onct some Missourians I knowed----"

"Oscar Tubbs, if you attempt to relate another reminiscence while in my
employ, I shall make a deduction from your wages. I warn you--I warn you
in the presence of this witness. My overwrought nerves can endure no more.
Between your inexpiable English and your inopportune reminiscences, I am a
nervous wreck!" The little man's voice ended on high C.

"All right, Doc, suit yourself," replied Tubbs, temporarily subdued.

"And in Heaven's name, I entreat, I implore, do not call me 'Doc'!"

"Sorry I spoke, Cap."

The little man threw up both hands in exasperation.

"Say, Mister," said the girl curtly to Tubbs, "if you'll take that hundred
and seventy pounds of yourn off the wagon and get some rocks and block the
wheels, I guess my cayuse can help some." As she spoke, she began
uncoiling the rawhide riata which was tied to her saddle.

"I appreciate the kindness of your intentions, Miss, but I cannot permit
you to put yourself in peril." The little man was watching her
preparations with troubled eyes.

"No peril at all. It's easy. Croppy can pull like the devil. Wait till you
see him lay down on the rope. That yap up there at the top of the hill
could have done this for you long ago. Here, Windy"--addressing
Tubbs--"tie this rope to the X, and make a knot that will hold."

[Illustration: "SHE'S A GAME KID, ALL RIGHT," SAID SMITH TO HIMSELF AT
THE TOP OF THE HILL.]

The girl's words and manner inspired confidence. Interest and relief were
in the face of the little man standing at the side of the road.

"Now, Windy, hand me the rope. I'll take three turns around my
saddle-horn, and when I say 'go' you see that your team get down in their
collars."

"She's a game kid, all right," said Smith to himself at the top of the
hill.

When the sorrel pony at the head of the team felt the rope grow taut on
the saddle-horn, it lay down to its work. The grit and muscle of a dozen
horses seemed concentrated in the little cayuse. It pulled until every
vein and cord in its body appeared to stand out beneath its skin. It lay
down on the rope until its chest almost touched the ground. There was a
look of determination that was almost human in its bright, excited eyes as
it strained and struggled on the slippery hillside with no word of urging
from the girl. She was standing in one stirrup, one hand on the cantle,
the other on the pommel, watching everything with keen eyes. She issued
orders to Tubbs like a general, telling him when to block the wheels, when
to urge the exhausted team to greater efforts, when to relax. Nothing
escaped her. She and the little sorrel knew their work. As the man at the
roadside watched the gallant little brute struggle, literally inch by
inch, up the terrible grade he felt himself choking with excitement and
making inarticulate sounds. At last the rear wheels of the wagon lurched
over the hill and stood on level ground, while the horses, with spreading
legs and heaving sides, gasped for breath.

"Awful tired, ain't you, Mister?" the girl asked dryly, of the stranger on
horseback, as she recoiled her rope with supple wrist and tied it again to
the saddle by the buckskin thongs.

"Plumb worn to a frazzle," Smith replied with cool impudence, as he looked
her over in much the same manner as he would have eyed a heifer on the
range. "I was whipped for working when I was a boy, and I've always
remembered."

"It must be quite a ride--from the brush back there in Missouri where you
was drug up."

"I ranges on the Sundown slope," he replied shortly.

"They have sheep-camps over there, then?"

Again the slurring insinuation pricked him.

"Oh, I can twist a rope and ride a horse fast enough to keep warm."

"So?"--the inflection was tantalizing. "Was that horse gentled for your
grandmother?"

He eyed her angrily, but checked the reply on his tongue.

"Say, girl, can you tell me where I can find that fat Injun woman's tepee
who lives around here?"

"You mean my mother?"

He looked at her with new interest.

"Does she live in a log cabin on a crick?"

"She did about an hour ago."

"Is your mother a widder?"

"Lookin' for widders?"

"I likes widders. It happens frequent that widders are sociable
inclined--especially if they are hard up," he added insolently.

"Oh, you're ridin' the grub-line?" Her insolence equalled his own.

"Not yet;" and he took from his pocket a thick roll of banknotes.

"Blood money? Some sheep-herder's month's pay, I guess."

"You're a good guesser."

"Not very--you're easy."

The girl's dislike for Smith was as unreasoning and violent as was her
liking for the excitable little man whom she had helped up the hill, and
whose wagon was now rumbling close at her horse's heels.

They all travelled together in silence until, after a mile and a half on
the flat, the road sloped gradually toward a creek shadowed by willows. On
the opposite side of the creek were a ranch-house, stables, and corrals,
the extent of which brought a glint of surprise to Smith's eyes.

"That's where the widder lives who might be sociable inclined if she was
hard up," said the girl, with a sneer which made Smith's fingers itch to
choke her. "Couldn't coax you to stop, could I?"

"I aims to stay," Smith replied coolly.

"Sure--it won't cost you nothin'."

The girl waited for the wagon, and, with a change of manner in marked
contrast to her impudent attitude toward Smith, invited the little man to
spend the night at the ranch.

"We should not be intruders?" he asked doubtfully.

"You won't feel lonesome," she answered with a laugh. "We keep a kind of
free hotel."

"Colonel, I cakalate we better lay over here," broke in Tubbs.

His employer winced at this new title, but nodded assent; so they all
forded the shallow stream and entered the dooryard together.

"Mother!" called the girl.

One of the heavy plank doors of the long log-house opened, and a short
woman, large-hipped, full-busted--in appearance a typical blanket
squaw--stood in the doorway. Her thick hair was braided Indian fashion,
her fingers adorned with many rings. The wide girdle about her waist was
studded with brass nail-heads, while gaily-beaded moccasins covered her
short, broad feet. Her eyes were soft and luminous, like an animal's when
it is content; but there was savage passion too in their dark depths.

"This is my mother," said the girl briefly. "I am Susie MacDonald."

"My name is Peter McArthur, madam."

The little man concealed his surprise as best he could, and bowed.

The girl, quick to note his puzzled expression, explained laconically:

"I'm a breed. My father was a white man. You're on the reservation when
you cross the crick."

Recovering himself, the stranger said politely:

"Ah, MacDonald--that good Scotch name is a very familiar one to me. I had
an uncle----"

"I go show dem where to turn de horses," interrupted the Indian woman, to
whom the conversation was uninteresting. So, without ceremony, she padded
away in her moccasins, drawing her blanket squaw-fashion across her face
as she waddled down the path.

At the mission the woman had obtained the rudiments of an education.
There, too, she had learned to cut and make a dress, after a crude,
laborious fashion, and had acquired the ways of the white people's
housekeeping. She was noted for the acumen which she displayed in
disposing of the crop from her extensive hay-ranch to the neighboring
white cattlemen; and MacDonald, the big, silent Scotch MacDonald who had
come down from the north country and married her before the reservation
priest, was given the credit for having instilled into her some of his own
shrewdness and thrift.

In the corral the Indian woman came upon Smith. He turned his head slowly
and looked at her. For a second, two, three seconds, or more, they looked
into each other's eyes. His gaze was confident, masterful, compelling;
hers was wondering, until finally she dropped her eyes in the submissive,
modest, half-shy way of Indian women.

Smith moistened his short upper lip with the tip of his tongue, while the
shadow of a smile lurked at the corner of his mouth. He turned to his
saddle, again, and without speaking, she watched him until he had gone
into the barn. His saddle lay on the ground, half covering his blankets.
Something in this heap caught the woman's eyes and held them. Swooping
forward, she caught a protruding corner between her thumb and finger and
pulled a gay, striped blanket from the rest. Lifting it to her nose, she
smelled it. Smith saw the act as he came out of the door, but there was
neither consternation nor fear in his face. Smith knew Indian women.



III

THE EMPTY CHAIR


Peter McArthur came into the big living-room of the ranch-house bearing
tenderly in his arms a long brown sack. He set it upon a chair, and, as he
patted it affectionately, he said to the Indian woman in explanation:

"These are some specimens which I have been fortunate enough to find in a
limestone formation in the country through which we have just passed. No
doubt you will be amused, madam, but the wealth of Croesus could not buy
from me the contents of this canvas sack."

"I broke a horse for that son-of-a-gun onct. He owes me a dollar and six
bits for the job yet," remarked Tubbs.

The fire of enthusiasm died in McArthur's eyes as they rested upon his
man.

"What for a prospect do you aim to open up in a limestone formation?"

Smith, tipped on the rear legs of his chair, with his head resting
comfortably against the unbleached muslin sheeting which lined the walls,
winked at Tubbs as he asked the question.

"'What for a prospect'?" repeated McArthur.

"Yes, 'prospect'--that's what I said. You say you've got your war-bag full
of spec'mens."

McArthur laughed heartily.

"Ah, my dear sir, I understand. You are referring to mines--to mineral
specimens. These are the specimens of which I am speaking."

Opening the sack, McArthur held up for inspection what looked to be a lump
of dried mud.

"This is a magnificent specimen of the crustacean period," he declared.

The Indian woman looked from the prized object to his animated face; then,
with puzzled eyes, she looked at Smith, who touched his forehead with his
finger, making a spiral, upward gesture which in the sign language says
"crazy."

The woman promptly gathered up the rag rug she was braiding and moved to a
bench in the farthermost corner of the room.

"I can get you a wagon-load of chunks like that."

"Oh, my dear sir----"

"Smith's my name."

"But, Mr. Smith----"

"I trusts no man that 'Misters' me," Smith scowled. "Every time I've ever
been beat in a deal, it's been by some feller that's called me 'Mister.'
Jest Smith suits me better."

"Certainly, if you prefer," amicably replied McArthur, although
unenlightened by the explanation.

He replaced his specimen and tied the sack, convinced that it would be
useless to explain to this person that fossils like this were not found
by the wagon-load; that perhaps in the entire world there was not one in
which the branchiocardiac grooves were so clearly defined, in which the
emostigite and the ambulatory legs were so perfectly preserved.

He seemed a singular person, this Smith. McArthur was not sure that he
fancied him.

"Say, Guv'ner, what business do you follow, anyhow?" Tubbs asked the
question in the tone of one who really wanted to get at the bottom of a
matter which had troubled him. "Air you a bug-hunter by trade, or what?
I've hauled you around fer more'n a month now, and ain't figgered it out
what you're after. We've dug up ant-hills and busted open most of the
rocks between here and the North Fork of Powder River, but I've never seen
you git anything yet that anybuddy'd want."

In the beginning of their tour, Tubbs's questions and caustic comment
would have given McArthur offense, but a longer acquaintance had taught
him that none was intended; that his words were merely those of a man
entirely without knowledge upon any subject save those which had come
under his direct observation. While Tubbs frequently exasperated him
beyond expression, he found at the same time a certain fascination in the
man's incredible ignorance. In many respects his mind was like that of a
child, and his horizon as narrow as McArthur's own, though his companion
did not suspect it. The little scientist saw life from the viewpoint of a
small college and a New England village; Tubbs knew only the sage-brush
plains.

McArthur now replied dryly, but without irritation:

"My real trade--'job,' if you prefer--is anthropology. Strictly speaking,
I might, I think, be called an anthropologist."

"Gawd, feller!" ejaculated Smith in mock dismay. "Don't tip your hand like
that. I'm a killer myself, but I plays a lone game. I opens up to no man
or woman livin'."

Tubbs looked slightly ashamed of his employer.

"Pardon me?"

"I say, never give nobody the cinch on you. Many a good man's tongue has
hung him."

McArthur studied Smith's unsmiling face in perplexity, not at all sure
that he was not in earnest.

They sat in silence after this, even Tubbs being too hungry to indulge in
reminiscence.

The odor of frying steak filled the room, and the warmth from the round
sheet-iron stove gave Smith, in particular, a delicious sense of comfort.
He felt as a cat on a comfortable cushion must feel after days and nights
of prowling for food and shelter. The other two men, occupied with their
own thoughts, closed their eyes; but not so Smith. Nothing, to the
smallest detail, escaped him. He appraised everything with as perfect an
appreciation of its value as an auctioneer.

Through the dining-room door which opened into the kitchen, he could see
the kitchen range--a big one--the largest made for private houses. Smith
liked that. He liked things on a big scale. Besides, it denoted
generosity, and he had come to regard a woman's kitchen as an index to her
character. He distinctly approved of the big meat-platter upon which the
Chinese cook was piling steak. He eyed the mongrel dog lying at the Indian
woman's feet, and noted that its sides were distended with food. He was
prejudiced against, suspicious of, a woman who kept lean dogs.

In the same impersonal way in which he eyed her belongings, he looked at
the woman who owned it all. She was far too stout to please his taste, but
he liked her square shoulders and the thickness of them; also her hair,
which was long for an Indian woman's. She was too short in the body. He
wondered if she rode. He had a peculiar aversion for women short in the
body who rode on horseback. This woman could love--all Indian women can do
that, as Smith well knew--love to the end, faithfully, like dogs.

In the general analysis of his surroundings, Smith looked at Tubbs, openly
sneering as he eyed him. He was like a sheep-dog that never had been
trained. And McArthur? Innocent as a yearling calf, and honest as some
sky-pilots.

"Glub's piled!" yelled the cook from the kitchen door. "Come an' git it."

Tubbs all but fell off his chair.

At the back door the cook hammered on a huge iron triangle with a poker,
in response to which sound a motley half-dozen men filed from a nearby
bunk-house at a gait very nearly resembling a trot.

The long dining-table was covered with a red table-cloth, and at each end
piles of bread and fried steak rose like monuments. At each place there
was a platter, and beside it a steel knife, a fork, and a tin spoon.

The bunk-house crowd wasted no time in ceremony. Poising their forks above
the meat-platter in a candid search for the most desirable piece, they
alternately stabbed chunks of steak and bread.

Their platters once loaded with a generous sample of all the food in
sight, they fell upon it with unconcealed relish. Eating, McArthur
observed, was a business; there was no time for the amenities of social
intercourse until the first pangs of hunger were appeased. The Chinese
cook, too, interested him as he watched him shuffling over the hewn plank
floor in his straw sandals. A very different type, this swaggering
Celestial, from the furtive-eyed Chinamen of the east. His tightly coiled
cue was as smooth and shining as a king-snake, his loose blouse was
immaculate, and the flippant voice in which he demanded in each person's
ear, "Coffee? Milk?" was like a challenge. Whatever the individual's
choice might be, he got it in a torrent in his stone-china cup.

There was no attempt at conversation, and only the clatter and rattle of
knives, forks, and dishes was heard until a laugh from an adjoining room
broke the silence--a laugh that was mirthless, shrill, and horrible.

McArthur sent a startled glance of inquiry about the table. The laugh was
repeated, and the sound was even more wild and maniacal. The little man
was shocked at the grin which he noted upon each face.

"She ought to take a feather and ile her voice," observed a guest known as
"Meeteetse Ed."

McArthur could not resist saying indignantly:

"The unfortunate are to be pitied, my dear sir."

"This is jest a mild spasm she's havin' now. You ought to hear her when
she's warmed up."

McArthur was about to administer a sharper rebuke when the door opened and
Susie came out.

"How's that for a screech?" she demanded triumphantly.

"You'd sure make a bunch of coyotes take fer home," Meeteetse Ed replied
flatteringly.

"You have come in my way not once or twice, but thrice; and now you die!
Ha! Ha!" Reaching for a spoon, Susie stabbed Meeteetse Ed on the second
china button of his flannel shirt.

"I'd rather die than have you laff in my ear like that," declared
Meeteetse.

"Next time I'm goin' to learn a comical piece."

"Any of 'em's comical enough," replied a husky voice from the far end of
the table. "I broke somethin' inside of me laffin' at that one about your
dyin' child."

"I don't care," Susie answered, unabashed by criticism. "Teacher says I've
got quite a strain of pathos in me."

"You ought to do somethin' for it," suggested a new voice. "Why don't you
bile up some Oregon grape-root? That'll take most anything out of your
blood."

"Or go to Warm Springs and get your head examined." This voice was
Smith's.

"Could they help _you_ any?" The girl's eyes narrowed and there was
nothing of the previous good-natured banter in her shrill tones.

Smith flushed under the shout of mocking laughter which followed. He tried
to join in it, but the glitter of his blue eyes betrayed his anger.

The incident sobered the table-full, and silence fell once more, until
McArthur, feeling that an effort toward conversation was a duty he owed
his hostess, cleared his throat and inquired pleasantly:

"Have any fragments ever been found in that red formation which I observed
to the left of us, which would indicate that this vicinity was once the
home of the mammoth dinosaur?"

Too late he realized that the question was ill-advised. As might be
expected, it was Tubbs who broke the awkward silence.

"Didn't look to me, as I rid along, that it ever were the home of
anybuddy. A homestid's no good if you can't git water on it."

McArthur hesitated, then explained: "The dinosaur was a prehistoric
reptile," adding modestly, "I once had the pleasure of helping to restore
an armored dinosaur."

"If ever I gits a rope on one of them things, I'll box him up and ship him
on to you," said Tubbs generously. Then he inquired as an afterthought:
"Would he snap or chaw me up a-tall?"

"What's a prehysteric reptile?" interrupted Susie.

"This particular reptile was a big snake, with feet, that lived here when
this country was a marsh," McArthur explained simply, for Susie's
benefit.

The guests exchanged incredulous glances, but it was Meeteetse Ed who
laughed explosively and said:

"Why, Mister, they ain't been a sixteenth of an inch of standin' water on
this hull reserve in twenty year."

"Better haul in your horns, feller, when you're talkin' to a real prairie
man." Smith's contemptuous tone nettled McArthur, but Susie retorted for
him.

"Feller," mocked Susie, "looks like you're mixed. You mean when he's
talkin' to a Yellow-back. No real prairie man packs a chip on his shoulder
all the time. That buttermilk you was raised on back there in Missoury has
soured you some."

Again an angry flush betrayed Smith's feeling.

"A Yellow-back," Susie explained with gusto in response to McArthur's
puzzled look, "is one of these ducks that reads books with
buckskin-colored covers, until he gets to thinkin' that he's a Bad Man
himself. This here country is all tunnelled over with the graves of
Yellow-backs what couldn't make their bluffs stick; fellers that just knew
enough to start rows and couldn't see 'em through."

"Generally," said Smith evenly, as he stared unblinkingly into Susie's
eyes, "when I starts rows, I sees 'em through."

"And any time," Susie answered, staring back at him, "that you start a row
on _this_ ranch, you've _got_ to see it through."

The grub-liners raised their eyes in surprise, for there was unmistakable
ill-feeling in her voice. It was unlike her, this antagonistic attitude
toward a stranger, for, as they all knew, her hospitality was unlimited,
and every passer-by whose horse fed at the big hayrack was regarded and
treated as a welcome friend.

There was rarely malice behind the sharp personalities which she flung at
random about the table. Knowing no social distinctions, Susie was no
respecter of persons. She chaffed and flouted the man who wintered a
thousand head of cattle with the same impartiality with which she gibed
his blushing cowpuncher. Her good-nature was a byword, as were her
generosity and boyish daring. Susie MacDonald was a local celebrity in her
way, and on the big hay-ranch her lightest word was law.

But the mere presence of this new-comer seemed to fill her with
resentment, making of her an irrepressible young shrew who gloated openly
in his angry confusion.

"Speakin' of Yellow-backs," said Meeteetse, with the candid intent of
being tactful, "reminds me of a song a pardner of mine wrote up about 'em
once. Comical? _T'--t'--t'--!_" He wagged his head as if he had no words
in which to describe its incomparable humor. "He had another song that was
a reg'lar tear-starter: 'Whar the Silver Colorady Wends Its Way.' Ever
hear it? It's about a feller that buried his wife by the silver Colorady,
and turned outlaw. This pardner of mine used to beller every time he sung
it. He cried like he was a Mormon, and he hadn't no more wife than a jack
rabbit."

"Some songs is touchin'," agreed Arkansaw Red.

"This was," declared Meeteetse. "How she faded day by day, till a pale,
white corp' she lay! If I hadn't got this cold on me----"

"I hate to see you sufferin', Meeteetse, but if it keeps you from
warblin'----"

He ignored Susie's implication, and went on serenely:

"Looks like it's settled on me for life, and it all comes of tryin' not to
be a hog."

"I hope it'll be a lesson to you," said Susie soberly.

"That there Bar C cowpuncher, Babe, comes over the other night, and, the
bunk-house bein' full, I offers him half my blankets. I never put in such
a night since I froze to death on South Pass. For fair, I'd ruther sleep
with a two-year-ole steer--couldn't kick no worse than that Babe. Why them
blankets was in the air more'n half the time, with him pullin' his way,
and me snatchin' of 'em back. Finally I gits a corner of a soogan in my
teeth, and that way I manages a little sleep. I vows I'd ruther be a hog
and git a night's rest than take in such a turrible bed-feller as him."

Apropos of the restless Babe, one James Padden observed: "They say he's
licked more'n half the Bar C outfit."

"Lick 'em!" exclaimed Meeteetse, with enthusiasm. "Why, he could eat 'em!
He jest tapped me an easy one and nigh busted my jaw. If he ever reely
hit you with that fist of his'n, it ud sink in up to the elbow. I ast him
once: 'Babe,' I says, 'how big are you anyhow?' 'Big?' he says surprised.
'I ain't big. I'm the runt of the family. Pa was thirty-two inches between
the eyes, and they fed him with a shovel.'"

Susie giggled at some thought, and then inquired:

"Did anybody ever see that horse he's huntin'? He says it's a two-year-old
filly that he thinks the world of. It's brown, with a star in its
forehead, and one hip is knocked down. He never hunts anywhere except on
that road past the school-house, and he stops at the pump each way--goin'
and comin'. I never saw anybody with such a thirst. He looks in the window
while he's drinkin', and swallows a gallon of water at a time, and don't
know it."

"Love is a turrible disease." Tubbs spoke with the emphasis of conviction.
"It's worse'n lump-jaw er blackleg. It's dum nigh as bad as glanders. It's
ketchin', too, and I holds that anybody that's got it bad ought to be
dipped and quarantined. I knowed a feller over in Judith Basin what
suffered agonies with it for two months, then shot hisself. There was
seven of 'em tyin' their horses to the same Schoolmarm's hitchin'-post."

"Take a long-geared Schoolmarm in a woolly Tam-o'-shanter, and she's a
reg'lar storm-centre," vouchsafed the husky voice of "Banjo" Johnson.

"They is! They is!" declared Meeteetse, with more feeling than the
occasion seemed to warrant.

The knob of a door adjoining the dining-room turned, and the grub-liners
straightened in their chairs. Susie's eyes danced with mischief as she
leaned toward Meeteetse and asked innocently:

"They is _what_?"

But with the opening of the door the voluble Meeteetse seemed to be
stricken dumb.

As a young woman came out, Smith stared, and instinctively McArthur half
rose from his chair. Believing his employer contemplated flight, Tubbs
laid a restraining hand upon his coat-tail, while inadvertently he turned
his knife in his mouth with painful results.

The young woman who seated herself in one of the two unoccupied chairs was
not of the far West. Her complexion alone testified to this fact, for the
fineness and whiteness of it were conspicuous in a country where the
winter's wind and burning suns of summer tan the skins of men and women
alike until they resemble leather in color and in texture. Had this young
woman possessed no other good feature, her markedly fine complexion alone
would have saved her from plainness. But her thick brown hair, glossy, and
growing prettily about her temples, was equally attractive to the men who
had been used to seeing only the straight, black hair of the Indian women,
and Susie's sun-bleached pigtail, which, as Meeteetse took frequent
occasion to remind her, looked like a hair-cinch. Her eyes, set rather too
far apart for beauty, were round, with pupils which dilated until they all
but covered the blue iris; the eyes of an emotional nature, an imaginative
mind. Her other features, though delicate, were not exceptional, but the
_tout ensemble_ was such that her looks would have been considered above
the average even in a country where pretty girls were plentiful. In her
present surroundings, and by contrast with the womenfolk about her, she
was regarded as the most beautiful of her sex. Her manner, reserved to the
point of stiffness, and paralyzing, as it did, the glibbest masculine
tongue among them, was also looked upon as the acme of perfection and all
that was desirable in young ladyhood; each individual humbly admitting
that while he never before had met a real lady, he knew one when he saw
her.

The young woman returned McArthur's bow with a friendly smile, his action
having at once placed him as being "different." Noting the fact, the
grub-liners resolved not to be outdone in future in a mere matter of
bows.

While nearly every arm was outstretched with an offer of food, Susie
leaned forward and whispered ostentatiously behind her hand to Smith:

"Don't you make any cracks. That's the Schoolmarm."

"I've been around the world some," Smith replied curtly.

"The south side of Billings ain't the world."

It was only a random shot, as she did not know Billings or any other town
save by hearsay, but it made a bull's-eye. Susie knew it by the startled
look which she surprised from him, and Smith could have throttled her as
she snickered.

"Mister McArthur and Mister Tubbs, I'll make you acquainted with Miss
Marshall."

With elaborate formality of tone and manner, Susie pointed at each
individual with her fork while mentioning them by name.

"Miss Marshall," McArthur murmured, again half rising.

"Much obliged to meet you," said Tubbs heartily as, bowing in imitation of
his employer, he caught the edge of his plate on the band of his trousers
and upset it.

Everybody stopped eating during this important ceremony, and now all
looked at Smith to see what form his acknowledgment of the coveted
introduction to the Schoolmarm would take.

Smith in turn looked expectantly at Susie, who met his eyes with a mocking
grin.

"Anything I can reach for you, Mister Smith?" she inquired. "Looks like
you're waitin' for something."

Smith's face and the red table-cloth were much the same shade as he
looked annihilation at the little half-breed imp.

Each time that Dora Marshall raised her eyes, they met those of Smith.
There was nothing of impertinence in his stare; it was more of awe--a kind
of fascinated wonder--and she found herself speculating as to who and what
he was. He was not a regular "grub-liner," she was sure of that, for he
was as different in his way as McArthur. He had a personality, not exactly
pleasant, but unique. Though he was not uncommonly tall, his shoulders
were thick and broad, giving the impression of great strength. His jaw was
square, but it evidenced brutality rather than determination. His nose, in
contrast to the intelligence denoted by his high, broad forehead, was
mediocre, inconsequential, the kind of a nose seldom seen on the person
who achieves. The two features were those of the man who conceives big
things, yet lacks the force to execute them.

His eyes were unpleasantly bloodshot, but whether from drink or the alkali
dust of the desert, it was impossible to determine; and when Susie prodded
him they had in them all the vicious meanness of an outlaw bronco. His
expression then held nothing but sullen vindictiveness, while every trait
of a surly nature was suggested by his voice and manner.

During the Schoolmarm's covert study of him, he laughed unexpectedly at
one of Meeteetse Ed's sallies. The effect was little short of marvellous;
it completely transformed him. An unlooked-for dimple deepened in one
cheek, his eyes sparkled, his entire countenance radiated for a moment a
kind of boyish good-nature which was indescribably winning. In the brief
space, whatever virtues he possessed were as vividly depicted upon his
face as were his unpleasant characteristics when he was displeased. So
marked, indeed, was his changed expression, that Susie burst out with her
usual candor as she eyed him:

"Mister, you ought to laugh all the time."

Contributing but little toward the conversation, and that little chiefly
in the nature of flings at Susie, Smith was yet the dominant figure at the
table. While he antagonized, he interested, and although his insolence was
no match for Susie's self-assured impudence, he still impressed his
individuality upon every person present.

He was studied by other eyes than Dora's and Susie's. Not one of the looks
which he had given the former had escaped the Indian woman. With the
Schoolmarm's coming, she had seen herself ignored, and her face had grown
as sullen as Smith's own, while the smouldering glow in her dark eyes
betrayed jealous resentment.

"Have a cookie?" urged Susie hospitably, thrusting a plate toward Tubbs.
"Ling makes these 'specially for White Antelope."

"No, thanks, I've et hearty," declared Tubbs, while McArthur shuddered.
"I've had thousands."

"Why, where is White Antelope?" Susie looked in surprise at the vacant
chair, and asked the question of her mother.

Involuntarily Smith's eyes and those of the Indian woman met. He read
correctly all that they contained, but he did not remove his own until her
eyelids slowly dropped, and with a peculiar doggedness she drawled:

"He go way for l'il visit; 'bout two, t'ree sleeps maybe."



IV

A SWAP IN SADDLE BLANKETS


"Madam," said McArthur, intercepting the Indian woman the next morning
while she was on her way from the spring with a heavy pail, "I cannot
permit you to carry water when I am here to do it for you."

In spite of her surprised protest, he gently took the bucket from her
hand.

"Look at that dude," said Smith contemptuously, viewing the incident
through the living-room window. "Queerin' hisself right along. No more
_sabe_ than a cotton-tail rabbit. That's the worse thing he could do.
Feller"--turning to Tubbs--"if you want to make a winnin' with a woman,
you never want to fetch and carry for her."

"I knows it," acquiesced Tubbs. "Onct I was a reg'lar doormat fer one, and
I only got stomped on fer it."

"I can wrangle Injuns to a fare-ye-well," Smith continued. "Over on the
Blackfoot I was the most notorious Injun wrangler that ever jumped up;
and, feller, on the square, I never run an errant for one in my life."

"It's wrong," agreed Tubbs.

"There's that dude tryin' to make a stand-in, and spilin' his own game
all the time by talkin'. You can't say he talks, neither; he just opens
his mouth and lets it say what it damn pleases. Is them real words he gets
off, or does he make 'em up as he goes along?"

"Search me."

"I'll tip you off, feller: if ever you want to make a strong play at an
Injun woman, you don't want to shoot off your mouth none. Keep still and
move around just so, and pretty soon she'll throw you the sign. Did you
ever notice a dog trottin' down the street, passin' everybody up till all
to once it takes a sniff, turns around, and follers some feller off?
That's an Injun woman."

"I never had no luck with squaws, and the likes o' that," Tubbs confessed.
"They're turrible hands to git off together and poke fun at you."

As McArthur and the Indian woman came in from the kitchen, he was saying
earnestly to her:

"I feel sure that here, madam, I should entirely recover my health.
Besides, this locality seems to me such a fertile field for research that
if you could possibly accommodate my man and me with board, you may not be
conferring a favor only upon me, but indirectly, perhaps, upon the world
of science. I have with me my own bath-tub and pneumatic mattress."

Tubbs, seeing the Indian woman's puzzled expression, explained:

"He means we'll sleep ourselves if you will eat us."

The woman nodded.

"Oh, you can stay. I no care."

Smith frowned; but McArthur, much pleased by her assent, told Tubbs to
saddle a horse at once, that he might lose no time in beginning his
investigations.

"If it were my good fortune to unearth a cranium of the Homo primogenus, I
should be the happiest man in the world," declared McArthur, clasping his
fingers in ecstasy at the thought of such unparalleled bliss.

"What did I tell you?" said Smith, accompanying Tubbs to the corral. "He's
tryin' to win himself a home."

"Looks that way," Tubbs agreed. "These here bug-hunters is deep."

The saddle blanket which Tubbs pulled from their wagon and threw upon the
ground, with McArthur's saddle, caught Smith's eye instantly, because of
the similarity in color and markings to that which he had folded so
carefully inside his own. This was newer, it had no disfiguring holes, or
black stain in the corner.

"What's the use of takin' chances?" he asked himself as he looked it
over.

While Tubbs was catching the horse in the corral, Smith deftly exchanged
blankets, and Tubbs, to whom most saddle blankets looked alike, did not
detect the difference.

Upon returning to the house, Smith found the Indian woman wiping breakfast
dishes for the cook. She came into the living-room when he beckoned to
her, with the towel in her hand. Taking it from her, he wadded it up and
threw it back into the kitchen.

"Don't you know any better not to spoil a cook like that, woman?" he
asked, smiling down upon her. "You never want to touch a dish for a cook.
Row with 'em, work 'em over, keep 'em down--but don't humor 'em. You can't
treat a cook like a real man. Ev'ry reg'lar cook has a screw loose or he
wouldn't be a cook. Cookin' ain't no man's job. I never had no use for
reg'lar cooks--me, Smith.

"All you women need ribbing up once in awhile," he added, as, laying his
hand lightly on her arm, he let it slide its length until it touched her
fingers. He gave them a gentle pressure and resumed his seat against the
wall.

The woman's eyes glowed as she looked at him. His authoritative attitude
appealed to her whose ancestors had dressed game, tanned hides, and
dragged wood for their masters for countless generations. The growing
passion in her eyes did not escape Smith.

In the long silence which followed he looked at her steadily; finally he
said:

"Well, I guess I'll saddle up. You look 'just so' to me, woman--but I got
to go."

She laid down the rags of her mat and "threw him the sign" for which he
had waited. It said:

"My heart is high; it is good toward you. Talk to me--talk straight."

He shook his head sadly.

"No, no, Singing Bird; I am headed for the Mexican border--many, many
sleeps from here."

She arose and walked to his side.

He felt a sudden and violent dislike for her flabby, swaying hips, her
heavy step, as she moved toward him. He knew that the game was won, and
won so easily it was a school-boy's play.

"Why you go?" she demanded, and the disappointment in her eyes was so
intense as to resemble fear. "What you do dere?"

He looked at her through half-closed eyes.

"Did you ever hear of wet horses?"

She shook her head.

"I deals in wet horses--me, Smith."

The woman stared at him uncomprehendingly.

"Down there on the border," he explained, "you buy the horses on the
Mexico side. You buy 'em when the Mexican boss is asleep in his 'dobe, so
there's no kick about the price. You swim 'em across the Rio Grande and
sell 'em to the Americano waitin' on the other side."

"You buy de wet horse?"

"No, by Gawd,--I wet 'em!"

"Why you steal?"

He looked at her contemptuously.

"Why does anybody steal? I need the dinero--me, Smith."

"You want money?"

He laughed.

"I always want money. I never had enough but once in my life, and then I
had too much. Gold is hell to pack," he added reminiscently.

"I have de fine hay-ranch, white man, de best on de reservation. Two, four
t'ousand dollars I have when de hay is sold. De ranch is big"--her arms
swept the horizon to show its extent. "You stay here and make de bargain
with de cattlemen, and I give you so much"--she measured a third of her
hand with her forefinger. "If dat is not enough, I give you so much"--she
measured the half of her hand with her forefinger. "If dat not enough, I
give you all." She swept the palm of one hand with the other.

Smith dropped his eyelids, that she might not see the triumph shining
beneath them.

"I must think, Prairie Flower."

"No, white man, you no think. You stay!"

Smith, who had arisen, slipped his arm about her ample waist. She pulled
aside his Mackinaw coat and laid her head upon his breast.

"The white man's heart is strong," she said softly.

"It beats for you, Little Fawn;" and he ran out his tongue in derision.

All the morning she sat on the floor at his feet, braiding the rags for
her mat, content to hear him speak occasionally, and to look often into
his face with dog-like devotion. It was there Susie saw her when she
returned from school earlier in the afternoon than usual, and was beckoned
into the kitchen by Ling.

"He's makin' a mash," said Ling laconically, as he jerked his thumb toward
the open door of the living-room.

All the girlish vivacity seemed to go out of Susie's face in her first
swift glance. It hardened in mingled shame and anger.

"Mother," she said sharply, "you promised me that you wouldn't sit on the
floor like an Injun."

"We're gettin' sociable," said Smith mockingly.

The woman glanced at Smith, and hesitated, but finally got up and seated
herself on the bench.

"Why don't you try bein' 'sociable' with the Schoolmarm?" Susie sneered.

"Maybe I will."

"And _maybe_ you won't get passed up like a white chip!"

"Oh, I dunno. I've made some winnings."

"I can tell that by your eyes. You got 'em bloodshot, I reckon, hangin'
over the fire in squaw camps. White men can't stand smoke like Injuns."

This needle-tongued girl jabbed the truth into him in a way which
maddened him, but he said conciliatingly:

"We don't want to quarrel, kid."

"You mean _you_ don't." Susie slammed the door behind her.

The child's taunt reawakened his interest in the Schoolmarm. He thought of
her riding home alone, and grew restless. Besides, the dulness began to
bore him.

"I'll saddle up, Prairie Flower, and look over the ranch. When I come back
I'll let you know if it's worth my while to stay."

Tubbs was sitting on the wagon-tongue, mending harness, when Smith went
out,

"Aimin' to quit the flat?" inquired Tubbs.

"Feller, didn't that habit of askin' questions ever git you in trouble?"

"Well I guess _so_," Tubbs replied candidly. "See that scar under my
eye?"

"I'd invite you along to tell me about it," said Smith sardonically,
"only, the fact is, feller, I'm goin' down the road to make medicine with
the Schoolmarm."

Tubbs's eyes widened.

"Gosh!" he ejaculated enviously. "I wisht I had your gall."

Before Smith swung into the saddle he pulled out a heavy silver watch
attached to a hair watch-chain.

"Just the right time," he nodded.

"Huh?"

"I say, if it was only two o'clock, or three, I wouldn't go."

"You wouldn't? I'll tell you about me: I'd go if it was twelve o'clock at
night and twenty below zero to ride home with that lady."

"Feller," said Smith, in a paternal tone, "you never want to make a break
at a woman before four o'clock in the afternoon. You might just as well go
and lay down under a bush in the shade from a little after daylight until
about this time. You wouldn't hunt deer or elk in the middle of the day,
would you? No, nor women--all same kind of huntin'. They'll turn you down
sure; white or red--no difference."

"Is that so?" said Tubbs, in the awed voice of one who sits at the feet of
a master.

"When the moon's out and the lamps are lit, they'll empty their sack and
tell you the story of their lives. I don't want to toot my horn none, but
I've wrangled around some. I've hunted big game and humans. Their habits,
feller, is much the same."

While Smith was galloping down the road toward the school-house, Susie was
returning from a survey of the surrounding country, which was to be had
from a knoll near the house.

"Mother," she said abruptly, "I feel queer here." She laid both hands on
her flat, childish breast and hunched her shoulders. "I feel like
something is goin' to happen."

"What happen, you think?" her mother asked listlessly.

"It's something about White Antelope, I know."

The woman looked up quickly.

"He go visit Bear Chief, maybe." There was an odd note in her voice.

"He wouldn't go away and stay like this without telling you or me. He
never did before. He knows I would worry; besides, he didn't take a horse,
and he never would walk ten miles when there are horses to ride. His gun
isn't here, so he must have gone hunting, but he wouldn't stay all night
hunting rabbits; and he couldn't be lost, when he knows the country as
well as you or me."

"He go to visit," the Indian woman insisted doggedly.

"If he isn't home to-morrow, I'm goin' to hunt him, but I know something's
wrong."



V

SMITH MAKES MEDICINE WITH THE SCHOOLMARM


Once out of sight of the house, Smith let his horse take its own gait,
while he viewed the surrounding country with the thoughtful consideration
of a prospective purchaser. As he gazed, its possibilities grew upon him.
If water was to be found somewhere in the Bad Lands the location of the
ranch was ideal for--certain purposes.

The Bar C cattle-range bounded the reservation on the west; the MacDonald
ranch, as it was still called, after the astute Scotch squawman who had
built it, was close to the reservation line; and beyond the sheltering Bad
Lands to the northeast was a ranch where lived certain friendly persons
with whom he had had most satisfactory business relations in the past.

A plan began to take definite shape in his active brain, but the head of a
sleepy white pony appearing above the next rise temporarily changed the
course of his thoughts, and with his recognition of its rider life took on
an added zest.

Dora Marshall, engrossed in thought, did not see Smith until he pulled his
hat-brim in salutation and said:

"You're a thinker, I take it."

"I find my work here absorbing," she replied, coloring under his steady
look.

He turned his horse and swung it into the road beside her.

"I was just millin' around and thought I'd ride down the road and meet
you." Further than this brief explanation, he did not seem to feel it
incumbent upon him to make conversation. Apparently entirely at his ease
in the silence which followed, he turned his head often and stared at her
with a frank interest which he made no effort to conceal. Finally he
shifted his weight to one stirrup and, turning in his saddle so that he
faced her, he asked bluntly:

"That look in your eyes--that look as if you hadn't nothin' to hide--is it
true? Is it natural, as you might say, or do you just put it on?"

Her astonished expression led him to explain.

"It's like lookin' down deep into water that's so clear you can see the
sand shinin' in the bottom; one of these places where there's no mud or
black spots; nothin' you can't see or understand. _Sabe_ what I mean?"

Since she did not answer, he continued:

"I've met up with women before now that had that same look, but only at
first. It didn't last; they could put it on and take it off like they did
their hats."

"I don't know that I am quite sure what you mean," the girl replied,
embarrassed by the personal nature of his questions and comments; "but if
you mean to imply that I affect this or that expression, for a purpose,
you misjudge me."

"I was just askin'," said Smith.

"I think I am always honest of purpose," the girl went on slowly, "and
when one is that, I think it shows in one's eyes. To be sure, I often fall
short of my intentions. I mean to do right, and almost as frequently do
wrong."

"You do?" He eyed her with quick intentness.

"Yes, don't you? Don't all of us?"

"I does what I aims to do," he replied ambiguously.

So she--this girl with eyes like two deep springs--did wrong--frequently.
He pondered the admission for a long time. Smith's exact ideas of right
and wrong would have been difficult to define; the dividing line, if there
were any, was so vague that it had never served as the slightest
restraint. "To do what you aim to do, and make a clean get-away"--that was
the successful life.

He had seen things, it is true; there had been incidents and situations
which had repelled him, but why, he had never asked himself. There was one
situation in particular to which his mind frequently reverted, as it did
now. He had known worse women than the one who had figured in it, but for
some reason this single scene was impressed upon his mind with a vividness
which seemed never to grow less.

He saw a woman seated at an old-fashioned organ in a country parlor. There
was a rag-carpet on the floor--he remembered how springy it was with the
freshly laid straw underneath it. Her husband held a lamp that she might
see the notes, while his other hand was upon her shoulder, his adoring
eyes upon her silly face. He, Smith, was rocking in the blue plush chair
for which the fool with the calloused hands had done extra work that he
might give it to the woman upon her birthday. Each time that she screeched
the refrain, "Love, I will love you always," she lifted her chin to sing
it to the man beaming down upon her, while upstairs her trunk was packed
to desert him.

Smith always remembered with satisfaction that he had left her in Red
Lodge with only the price of a telegram to her husband, in her shabby
purse.

"I like your style, girl." His eyes swept Dora Marshall's figure as he
spoke.

There was a difference in his tone, a familiarity in his glance, which
sent the color flying to the Schoolmarm's cheeks.

"I think we could hit it off--you and me--if we got sociable."

He leaned toward her and laid his gloved hand upon hers as it rested on
the saddle-horn.

The pupils of her eyes dilated until they all but covered the iris as she
turned them, blazing, upon Smith.

"Just what do you mean by that?"

There was no mistaking the genuineness nor the nature of the emotion which
made her voice vibrate. But Smith considered. Was she deeper--"slicker,"
as he phrased it to himself--than he had thought, or had he really
misunderstood her? Surprising as was the feeling, he hoped some way, that
it was the latter. He looked at her again before he answered gently:

"I didn't mean to make you hot none, Miss. I'm ignorant in handlin' words.
I only meant to say that I hoped you and me would be good friends."

His explanation cleared her face instantly.

"I am sorry if I misunderstood you; but one or two unpleasant experiences
in this country have made me quick--too quick, perhaps--to take offense."

"There's lots just lookin' for game like you. No better nor brutes," said
Smith virtuously, entirely sincere in his sudden indignation against these
licentious characters.

Yes, the Schoolmarm had rebuffed him, as Susie had prophesied, but the
effect of it upon him was such as neither he nor she had reckoned. As they
rode along a swift, overpowering infatuation for Dora Marshall grew upon
him. He felt something like a flame rising within him, burning him,
bewildering him with its intensity. She seemed all at once to possess
every attribute of the angels, from mere prettiness her face took on a
radiant beauty which dazzled him, and when she spoke her lightest word
held him breathless. As the mountain towers above the foothills, so, of a
sudden, she towered above all other women. He had known sensations--all,
he had believed, that it was possible to experience; but this one,
strange, overwhelming, dazed him with its violence.

Love frequently comes like this to people in the wilds, to those who have
few interests and much time to think. The emotional side of their natures
has been held in check until a trifle is sometimes sufficient to loose a
torrent which nothing can then divert or check.

She asked him to loop her latigo, which was trailing, and his hand shook
as he fumbled with the leather strap.

"Gawd!" he swore in bewilderment as he returned to his own horse, wiping
his forehead with the back of his gauntlet, "what feelin' is this workin'
on me? Am I gettin' locoed, me--Smith?"

"I'm glad I've found a friend like you," said the Schoolmarm impulsively.
"One needs friends in a country like this."

"A friend!" It sounded like a jest to Smith. "A friend!" he repeated with
an odd laugh. Then he raised his hand, as one takes an oath, and whatever
of whiteness was left in Smith's soul illumined his face as he added:
"Yes, to a killin' finish."

If Smith had met Dora among many, the result might have been the same in
the end, but here, in the isolation, she seemed from the first the centre
of everything, the alpha and omega of the universe, and his passion for
her was as great as though it were the growth of many months instead of
less than twenty-four hours. The depth, the breadth, of it could not
quickly be determined, nor the lengths to which it would take him. It was
something new to be reckoned with. To what extent it would control him,
neither Smith nor any one else could have told. He knew only that it now
seemed the most real, the most sincere, the best thing which had ever come
into his life.

Dora Marshall knew nothing of men like Smith, or of natures like those of
the men of the mountains and ranges, who paid her homage. Her knowledge of
life and people was drawn from the limited experiences of a small, Middle
West town, together with a year at a Middle West co-ed college, and as a
result of the latter the Schoolmarm cherished a fine belief in her worldly
wisdom, whereas, in a measure, her lack of it was one of her charms.
Susie, in her way, was wiser.

The Schoolmarm's attitude toward her daily life was the natural outcome of
a romantic nature and an imaginative mind. She saw herself as the heroine
of an absorbing story, the living of which story she enjoyed to the
utmost, while every incident and every person contributed to its interest.
Quite unconsciously, with unintentional egotism, the Schoolmarm had a way
of standing off and viewing herself, as it were, through the rosy glow of
romance. Yet she was not a complex character--this Schoolmarm. She had no
soaring ambitions, though her ideals for herself and for others were of
the best. To do her duty, to help those about her, to win and retain the
liking of her half-savage little pupils, were her chief desires.

She had her share of the vanity of her sex, and of its natural liking for
admiration and attention, yet in the freedom of her unique environment she
never overstepped the bounds of the proprieties as she knew them, or
violated in the slightest degree the conventionalities to which she had
been accustomed in her rather narrow home life. It was this reserve which
inspired awe in the men with whom she came in contact, used as they were
to the greater camaraderie of Western women.

In her unsophistication, her provincial innocence, Dora Marshall was
exactly the sort to misunderstand and to be misunderstood, a combination
sometimes quite as dangerous in its results, and as provocative of
trouble, as the intrigues of a designing woman.

"I reckon you think I'm kind of a mounted bum, a grub-liner, or something
like that," said Smith after a time.

"To be frank, I _have_ wondered who you are."

"Have you? Have you, honest?" asked Smith delightedly.

"Well--you're different, you know. I can't explain just how, but you are
not like the others who come and go at the ranch."

"No," Smith replied with some irony; "I'm not like that there Tubbs." He
added laconically, "I'm no angel, me--Smith."

The Schoolmarm laughed. Smith's denial was so obviously superfluous.

"There was a time when I'd do 'most any old thing," he went on, unmindful
of her amusement. "It was only a few years ago that there was no law north
of Cheyenne, and a feller got what he wanted with his gun. I got my share.
I come from a country where they sleep between sheets, but I got a lickin'
that wasn't comin' to me, and I quit the flat when I was thirteen. I've
been out amongst 'em since."

The desire to reform somebody, which lies dormant in every woman's bosom,
began to stir in the Schoolmarm's.

"But you--you wouldn't 'do any old thing' now, would you?"

Smith hesitated, and a variety of expressions succeeded one another upon
his face. It was an awkward moment, for, under the uplifting influence of
the feeling which possessed him, he had an odd desire to tell this girl
only the truth.

"I wouldn't do some of the things I used to do," he replied evasively.

The Schoolmarm beamed encouragement.

"I'm glad of that."

"I used to kill Injuns for fifty dollars a head, but I wouldn't do it
now," he said virtuously, adding: "I'd get my neck stretched."

"You've killed people--Indians--for money!" The Schoolmarm looked at him,
wide-eyed with horror.

"They was clutterin' up the range," Smith explained patiently, "and the
cattlemen needed it for their stock. I'd 'a' killed 'em for nothin', but
when 'twas offered, I might as well get the bounty."

The Schoolmarm scarcely knew what to say; his explanation seemed so
entirely satisfactory to himself.

"I'm glad those dreadful days have gone."

"They're gone all right," Smith answered sourly. "They make dum near as
much fuss over an Injun as a white man now, and what with jumpin' up
deputies at every turn in the road, 'tain't safe. Why, I heard a judge say
a while back that killin' an Injun was pure murder."

"I appreciate your confidence--your telling me of your life," said the
Schoolmarm, in lieu of something better.

She found him a difficult person with whom to converse. They seemed to
have no common meeting-ground, yet, while he constantly startled and
shocked, he also fascinated her. In one of those illuminating flashes to
which the Schoolmarm was subject, she saw herself as Smith's guiding-star,
leading him to the triumphant finish of the career which she believed his
unique but strong personality made possible.

It was Smith's turn to look at her. Did she think he had told her of his
life? The unexpected dimple deepened in Smith's cheek, and as he laughed
the Schoolmarm, again noting the effect of it, could not in her heart
believe that he was as black as he had painted himself.

"I wisht our trails had crossed sooner, but, anyhow, I'm on the square
with you, girl. And if ever you ketch me 'talkin' crooked,' as the Injuns
say, I'll give you my whole outfit--horse, saddle, blankets, guns, even my
dog-gone shirt. Excuse me."

The Schoolmarm glowed. Her woman's influence for good was having its
effect! This was a step in the right direction--a long step. He would be
"on the square" with her--she liked the way he phrased it. Already her
mind was busy with air-castles for Smith, which would have made that
person stare, had he known of them. An inkling of their nature may be had
from her question:

"Would you like to study, to learn from books, if you had the
opportunity?"

"I learned my letters spellin' out the brands on cattle," he said frankly,
"and that, with bein' able to write my name on the business end of a
check, and common, everyday words, has always been enough to see me
through."

"But when one has naturally a good mind, like yours, don't you think it is
almost wicked not to use it?"

"I got a mind all right," Smith replied complacently. "I'm kind of a
head-worker in my way, but steady thinkin' makes me sicker nor a pup. I
got a headache for two days spellin' out a description of myself that the
sheriff of Choteau County spread around the country on handbills. It was
plumb insultin', as I figgered it out, callin' attention to my eyes and
ears and busted thumb. I sent word to him that I felt hos-tile over it.
Sheriffs'll go too far if you don't tell 'em where to get off at once in
awhile."

The Schoolmarm ignored the handbill episode and went on:

"Besides, a lack of education is such a handicap in business."

"The worst handicap I has to complain of," said Smith grimly, "is the
habit people has got into of sending money-orders through the mail,
instead of the cash. It keeps money out of circulation, besides bein'
discouragin' and puttin' many a hard-workin' hold-up on the bum."

"But," she persisted, the real meaning of Smith's observations entirely
escaping her, "even the rudiments of an education would be such a help to
you, opening up many avenues that now are closed to you. What I want to
say is this: that if you intend to stop for a time at the ranch, I will be
glad to teach you. Susie and I have an extra session in the evening, and I
will be delighted to have you join us."

It had not dawned upon Smith that she had questioned him with this end in
view. He looked at her fixedly, then, from the depths of his experience,
he said:

"Girl, you must like me some."

Dora flushed hotly.

"I am interested," she replied.

"That'll do for now;" and Smith wondered if the lump in his throat was
going to choke him. "Will I join that night-school of yours? _Will_ I?
Watch me! Say," he burst out with a kind of boyish impulsiveness, "if ever
you see me doin' anything I oughtn't, like settin' down when I ought to
stand up, or standin' up when I ought to set down, will you just rope me
and take a turn around a snubbin'-post and jerk me off my feet?"

"We'll get along famously if you really want to improve yourself!"
exclaimed the Schoolmarm, her eyes shining with enthusiasm. "If you really
and truly want to learn."

"Really and truly I do," Smith echoed, feeling at the moment that he
would have done dressmaking or taken in washing, had she bid him.

Once more the world looked big, alluring, and as full of untried
possibilities as when he had "quit the flat" at thirteen.

"Have you noticed me doin' anything that isn't manners?" he asked in
humble anxiety. "Don't be afraid of hurtin' my feelin's," he urged, "for I
ain't none."

"If you honestly want me to tell you things, I will; but it seems so--so
queer upon such a very short acquaintance."

"Shucks! What's the use of wastin' time pretendin' to get acquainted, when
you're acquainted as soon as you look at each other? What's the use of
sashayin' around the bush when you meet up with somebody you like? You
just cut loose on me, girl."

"It's only a little thing, in a way, and not in itself important perhaps;
yet it would be, too, if circumstances should take you into the world. It
might make a bad impression upon strangers."

Smith looked slightly alarmed. He wondered if she suspected anything about
White Antelope. At the moment, he could think of nothing else he had done
within the last twenty-four hours, which might prejudice strangers.

"I noticed at the table," the Schoolmarm went on in some embarrassment,
"that you held your fork as though you were afraid it would get away from
you. Like this"--she illustrated with her fist.

"Like a ranch-hand holdin' onto a pitch-fork," Smith suggested, relieved.

"Something," she laughed. "It should be like this. Anyway," she declared
encouragingly, "you don't eat with your knife."

Smith beamed.

"Did you notice that?"

"Naturally, in a land of sword-swallowers, I would;" the Schoolmarm made a
wry face.

"Once I run with a high-stepper from Bowlin' Green, Kentucky, and she told
me better nor that," he explained. "She said nothin' give a feller away
like his habit of handlin' tools at the table. She was a lady all right,
but she got the dope habit and threw the lamp at me. The way I quit her
didn't trouble _me_. None of 'em ever had any holt on me when it come to a
show-down; but you, girl, _you_----"

"Look!"

Her sharp exclamation interrupted him, and, following her gesture, he saw
a flying horseman in the distance, riding as for his life, while behind
him two other riders quirted their horses in hot pursuit.

"Is it a race--for fun?"

"I don't think it," Smith replied dryly, noting the direction from which
they came. "It looks like business."

He knew that the two behind were Indians. He could tell by the way they
used their quirts and sat their horses. Neither was there any mistaking
the bug-hunter on his ewe-necked sorrel, which, displaying unexpected
bursts of speed, was keeping in the lead and heading straight for the
ranch-house. With one hand McArthur was clinging to the saddle-horn, and
with the other was clinging quite as tightly to what at a distance
appeared to be a carbine.

"He's pulled his gun--why don't he use it?" Smith quickened his horse's
gait.

He knew that the Indians had learned White Antelope's fate. That was a
lucky swap Smith had made that morning. He congratulated himself that he
had not "taken chances." He wondered how effective McArthur's denial would
prove in the face of the evidence furnished by the saddle-blanket.
Personally, Smith regarded the bug-hunter's chances as slim.

"They'll get him in the corral," he observed.

"Oh, it's Mr. McArthur!" Dora cried in distress.

Smith looked at her in quick jealousy.

"Well, what of it?" In her excitement, the gruffness of his tone passed
unobserved.

"Come," she urged. "The Indians are angry, and he may need us."

Hatless, breathless, pale, McArthur rolled out of his saddle and thrust a
long, bleached bone into Tubbs's hand.

"Keep it!" he gasped. "Protect it! It may be--I don't say it is, but it
_may_ be--a portion of the paroccipital bone of an Ichthyopterygian!" Then
he turned and faced his pursuers.

Infuriated, they rode straight at him, but he did not flinch, and the
horses swerved of their own accord.

Susie had run from the house, and her mother had followed, expectancy upon
her stolid face, for, like Smith, she had guessed the situation.

The Indians circled, and, returning, pointed accusing fingers at
McArthur.

"He kill White Antelope!"

By this time, the grub-liners had reached the corral, among them four
Indians, all friends of the dead man. Their faces darkened.

"White Antelope is dead in a gulch!" cried his accusers. "He is shot to
pieces--here, there, everywhere!"

A murmur of angry amazement arose. White Antelope, the kindly, peaceable
Cree, who had not an enemy on the reservation!

"This is dreadful!" declared McArthur. "Believe me"--he turned to them
all--"I had but found the corpse myself when these men rode up. The Indian
was cold; he certainly had been dead for hours. Besides," he demanded,
"what possible motive could I have?"

"Them as likes lettin' blood don't need a motive." The sneering voice was
Smith's.

"But you, sir, met us on the hill. You know the direction from which we
came."

"It's easy enough to circle."

"But why should I go back?" cried McArthur.

"They say there's that that draws folks back for another look."

Smith's insinuations, the stand he took, had its effect upon the Indians,
who, hot for revenge, needed only this to confirm their suspicions. One of
the Indians on horseback began to uncoil his rawhide saddle-rope. All save
McArthur understood the significance of the action. They meant to tie him
hand and foot and take him to the Agency, with blows and insults plentiful
en route.

They edged closer to him, every savage instinct uppermost, their faces
dark and menacing. McArthur, his eyes sweeping the circle, felt that he
had not one friend, not one, in the motley, threatening crowd fast closing
in upon him; for Tubbs, hearing himself indirectly included in the
accusation, had discreetly, and with perceptible haste, withdrawn.

The Indian swung from his saddle, rope in hand, and advanced upon McArthur
with unmistakable purpose; but he did not reach the little scientist, for
Susie darted from the circle, her flashing gray eyes looking more
curiously at variance than ever with her tawny skin.

"No, no, Running Rabbit!" She pushed him gently backward with her
finger-tips upon his chest.

There was a murmur of protest from the crowd, and it seemed to sting her
like a spur. Susie was not accustomed to disapproval. She turned to where
the murmurs came loudest--from the white grub-liners, who were eager for
excitement.

"Who are you," she cried, "that you should be so quick to accuse this
stranger? You, Arkansaw Red, that skipped from Kansas for killin' a
nigger! You, Jim Padden, that shot a sheep-herder in cold blood! You,
Banjo Johnson, that's hidin' out this minute! Don't you all be so darned
anxious to hang another man, when there's a rope waitin' somewhere for
your own necks!

"And lemme tell you"--she took a step toward them. "The man that lifts a
finger to take this bug-hunter to the Agency can take his blankets along
at the same time, for there'll never be a bunk or a seat at the table for
him on this ranch as long as he lives. Where's your proof against this
bug-hunter? You can't drag a man off without something against him--just
because you want to _hang_ somebody!"

Some sound from Smith attracted her attention; she wheeled upon him, and,
with her thin arm outstretched as she pointed at him in scorn, she cried
shrilly:

"Why, I'd sooner think _you_ did it, than him!"

There was not so much as the flicker of an eyelid from Smith.

"I know you'd _sooner_ think I did it than him," he said, playing upon the
word. "You'd like to see _me_ get my neck stretched."

His bravado, his very insolence, was his protection.

"And maybe I'll have the chanst!" she retorted furiously.

Turning from him to the Indians, her voice dropped, the harsh language
taking on the soft accent of the squaws as she spoke to them in their own
tongue. Like many half-breeds, Susie seldom admitted that she either
understood or could speak the Indian language. She had an amusing fashion
of referring even to her relatives as "those Injuns"; but now, with hands
outstretched, she pleaded:

"We are all Indians together in this--friends of White Antelope! Our
hearts are down; they are heavy--so. You all know that he came from the
great Cree country with my father, and he has told us many times stories
of the big north woods, where they hunted and trapped. You know how he
watched me when I was little, and sat with his hand upon my head when I
had the big fever. He was like no one else to me except my father. He was
wise and good.

"I could kill with my own hand the man who killed White Antelope. I want
his blood as much as you. I'd like to see a stake driven through his
black heart on White Antelope's grave. But let us not be too quick because
the hate is hot in us. My heart tells me that the white man talks
straight. Let us wait--wait until we find the right one, and when we do we
will punish in our own way. You hear? _In our own way!_"

Smith understood something of her plea, and for the second time he paid
her courage tribute.

"She's a game kid all right," he said to himself, and a half-formed plan
for utilizing her gameness began to take definite shape.

That she had won, he knew before Running Rabbit recoiled his rope. After a
moment's talk among themselves, the Indians went to hitch the horses to
the wagon, to bring White Antelope's body home.

Smith was well aware that he had only to point to the saddle blanket, the
barest edge of which showed beneath the leather skirts of McArthur's
saddle, to make Susie's impassioned defense in vain. Why he did not, he
was not himself sure. Perhaps it was because he liked the feeling of
power, of knowing that he held the life of the despised bug-hunter in the
hollow of his hand; or perhaps it was because it would serve his purpose
better to make the accusation later. One thing was certain, however, and
that was that he had not held his tongue through any consideration for
McArthur.



VI

THE GREAT SECRET


It was the day they buried White Antelope that Smith approached Yellow
Bird, a Piegan, who was among the Indians paying visits of indefinite
length to the MacDonald ranch. "Eddie" Yellow Bird, he was called at the
Blackfoot mission where he had learned to read and write--though he would
never have been suspected of these accomplishments, since to all
appearances he was a "blanket Indian."

Smith spoke the Piegan tongue almost as fluently as his own, so he and
Yellow Bird quickly became _compadres_, relating to each other stories of
their prowess, of horses they had run off, of cattle they had stolen, and
hinting, Indian fashion, with significant intonations and pauses, at
crimes of greater magnitude.

"How is your heart to-day, friend? Is it strong?"

"Weak," replied Yellow Bird jestingly, touching his breast with a
fluttering hand.

"It would be stronger if you had red meat in your stomach," Smith
suggested significantly.

"The bacon is not for Indians," agreed Yellow Bird.

"But the woman would have no cattle left if she killed only her own
beef."

"Many people stop here--strangers and friends," Yellow Bird admitted.

"There is plenty on the range." Smith looked toward the Bar C ranch.

"He is a dog on the trail, that white man, when his cattle are stolen,"
Yellow Bird replied doubtfully.

"I've killed dogs--me, Smith--when they got in my way. Yellow Bird, are
you a woman, that you are afraid?"

"Wolf Robe, who stole only a calf, sits like this"--Yellow Bird looked at
Smith sullenly through his spread fingers.

"You have talked with the forked tongue, Yellow Bird. You are not a Piegan
buck of the great Blackfoot nation; you are a woman. Your fathers killed
men; _you_ are afraid to kill cattle." Smith turned from him
contemptuously.

"My heart is as strong as yours. I am ready."

It was dusk when Smith returned and held out a blood-stained flour sack to
the squaw.

"Liver. A two-year ole."

The squaw's eyes sparkled. Ah, this was as it should be! Her man provided
for her; he brought her meat to eat. He was clever and brave, for it was
other men's meat he brought her to eat. MacDonald had killed only his own
cattle, and secretly it had shamed her, for she mistook his honesty for
lack of courage. To steal was legitimate; it was brave; something to be
told among friends at night, and laughed over. Susie, she had observed
with regret, was honest, like her father. She patted the back of Smith's
hand, and looked at him with dog-like, adoring eyes as they stood in the
log meat-house, where fresh quarters hung.

"I'd do more nor this for you, Prairie Flower;" and, laying his hand upon
her shoulder, he pressed it with his finger-tips.

"Say, but that's great liver!" Tubbs reached half the length of the table
and helped himself a third time. "That'd make a man fight his grandmother.
Who butchered it?"

"Me," Smith answered.

"It tastes like slow elk," said Susie.

"Maybe you oughtn't to eat it till you're showed the hide," Smith
suggested.

"Maybe I oughtn't," Susie retorted. "I didn't see any fresh hide a-hangin'
on the fence. We _always_ hangs _our_ hides."

"I _never_ hangs _my_ hides. I cuts 'em up in strips and braids 'em into
throw-ropes. It's safer."

The grub-liners laughed at the inference which Smith so coolly implied.

The finding of White Antelope's body, and its subsequent burial, had
delayed the opening of Dora's night-school, so Smith, for reasons of his
own, had spent much of his time in the bunk-house, covertly studying the
grub-liners, who passed the hours exchanging harrowing experiences of
their varied careers.

A strong friendship had sprung up between Susie and McArthur. While Susie
liked and greatly admired the Schoolmarm, she never yet had opened her
heart to her. Beyond their actual school-work, they seemed to have little
in common; and it was a real disappointment and regret to the Schoolmarm
that, for some reason which she could not reach, she had never been able
to break through the curious reserve of the little half-breed, who,
superficially, seemed so transparently frank. Each time that she made the
attempt, she found herself repulsed--gently, even tactfully, but
repulsed.

Dora Marshall did not suspect that these rebuffs were due to an error of
her own. In the beginning, when Susie had questioned her naïvely of the
outside world, she had permitted amusement to show in her face and manner.
She never fully recognized the fact that while Susie to all appearances,
intents, and purposes was Anglo-Saxon, an equal quantity of Indian blood
flowed in her veins, and that this blood, with its accompanying traits and
characteristics, must be reckoned with.

As a matter of fact, Susie was suspicious, unforgiving, with all the
Indians' sensitiveness to and fear of ridicule. She meant never again to
entertain the Schoolmarm by her ignorant questions, although she yearned
with all a young girl's yearning for some one in whom to confide--some one
with whom she could discuss the future which she often questioned and
secretly dreaded.

With real adroitness Susie had tested McArthur, searching his face for the
glimmer of amusement which would have destroyed irredeemably any chance of
real comradeship between them. But invariably McArthur had answered her
questions gravely; and when her tears had fallen fast and hot at White
Antelope's grave, she had known, with an intuition both savage and
childish, that his sympathy was sincere. She had felt, too, the
genuineness of his interest when, later, she had repeated to him many of
the stories White Antelope had told her of the days when he and her father
had trapped and hunted together in the big woods to the north.

So to-night, when the living-room was deserted by all save her mother, at
work on her rugs in the corner, Susie confided to him her Great Secret,
and McArthur, some way, felt strangely flattered by the confidence. He had
no desire to laugh; indeed, there were times when the tears were
perilously close to the surface. He had been a shy, lonely student, and
quite as lonely as a man, yet through the promptings of a heart
sympathetic and kind and with the fine instinct of gentle birth, he
understood the bizarre little half-breed in a way which surprised himself.

There was a settee on one side of the room, made of elk-horns and
interwoven buckskin thongs, and it was there, in the whisper which makes a
secret doubly alluring, that Susie told him of her plans; but first she
brought from some hiding-place outside a long pasteboard box, carefully
wrapped and tied.

McArthur, puffing on the briar-wood pipe which he was seldom without,
waited with interest, but without showing curiosity, for he felt that, in
a way, this was a critical moment in their friendship.

"If you didn't see me here on the reservation, would you know I was
Injun?" Susie demanded, facing him.

McArthur regarded her critically.

"You have certain characteristics--your rather high cheek-bones, for
instance--and your skin has a peculiar tint."

"I got an awful complexion on me," Susie agreed, "but I'm goin' to fix
that."

"Then, your movements and gestures----"

"That's from talkin' signs, maybe. I can talk signs so fast that the
full-bloods themselves have to ask me to slow up. But, now, if you saw me
with my hair frizzled--all curled up, like, and pegged down on top of my
head--and a red silk dress on me with a long skirt, and shiny shoes coming
to a point, and a white hat with birds and flowers staked out on it, and
maybe kid gloves on my hands--would you know right off it was me? Would
you say, 'Why, there's that Susie MacDonald--that breed young un from the
reservation'?"

"No," declared McArthur firmly; "I certainly never should say, 'Why,
there's that Susie MacDonald--that breed young un from the reservation.'
As a matter of fact," he went on gravely, "I should probably say, 'What a
pity that a young lady so intelligent and high-spirited should frizz her
hair'!"

"Would you?" insisted Susie delightedly.

"Undoubtedly," McArthur replied, with satisfying emphasis.

"And how long do you think it would take me to stop slingin' the buckskin
and learn to talk like you?--to say big words without bitin' my tongue and
gettin' red in the face?"

"Do I use large words frequently?" McArthur asked in real surprise.

"Whoppers!" said Susie.

"I do it unconsciously." McArthur's tone was apologetic.

"Sure, I know it."

"I shrink from appearing pedantic," said McArthur, half to himself.

"So do I," Susie declared mischievously. "I don't know what it is, but I
shrink from it. Do you think I could learn big words?"

"Of course." McArthur wondered where all these questions led.

"Did you ever notice that I'm kind of polite sometimes?"

"Frequently."

"That I say 'If you please' and 'Thank you,' and did you notice the other
morning when I asked Old Man Rulison how his ribs was getting along that
Arkansaw Red kicked in, and said I was sorry the accident happened?"

McArthur nodded.

"Well, I didn't mean it." She giggled. "That was just my manners that I
was practisin' on him. He was onery, and only got what was comin' to him;
but if you're goin' to be polite, seems like you dassn't tell the truth.
But Miss Marshall says that 'Thank you,' 'If you please,' and 'Good
morning, how's your ribs?' are kind of pass-words out in the world that
help you along."

"Yes, Susie; that's true."

"So I'm tryin' to catch onto all I can, because"--her eyes dilated, and
she lowered her voice--"I'm goin' out in the world pretty soon."

"To school?"

She shook her head.

"I'm goin' to hunt up Dad's relations; and when I find 'em, I don't want
'em to be ashamed of me, and of him for marryin' into the Injuns."

"They need never be ashamed of you, Susie."

"Honest? Honest, don't you think so?" She looked at him wistfully. "I'd
try awful hard not to make breaks," she went on, "and make 'em feel like
cachin' me in the cellar when they saw company comin'. It's just plumb
awful to be lonesome here, like I am sometimes; to be homesick for
something or somebody--for other kind of folks besides Injuns and
grub-liners, and Schoolmarms that look at you as if you was a new, queer
kind of bug, and laugh at you with their eyes.

"Dad's got kin, I know; for lots of times when I would go with him to hunt
horses, he would say, 'I'll take you back to see them some time, Susie,
girl.' But he never said where 'back' was, so I've got to find out myself.
Wouldn't it be awful, though"--and her chin quivered--"if after I'd been
on the trail for days and days, and my ponies were foot-sore, they wasn't
glad to see me when I rode up to the house, but hinted around that
horse-feed was short and grub was scarce, and they couldn't well winter
me?"

"They wouldn't do that," said McArthur reassuringly. "Nobody named
MacDonald would do that."

Susie began to untie the pasteboard box which contained her treasures.

"Nearly ever since Dad died, I've been getting ready to go. I don't mean
that I would leave Mother for keeps--of course not; but after I've found
'em, maybe I can coax 'em to come and live with us. I used to ask White
Antelope every question I could think of, but all he knew was that after
they'd sold their furs to the Hudson Bay Company, they sometimes went to a
lodge in Canada called Selkirk, where almost everybody there was named
MacDonald or MacDougal or Mackenzie or Mac something. Lots of his friends
there married Sioux and went to the Walla Walla valley, and maybe I'll
have to go there to find somebody who knew him; but first I'll go to
Selkirk.

"I'll take a good pack-outfit, and Running Rabbit to find trails and
wrangle horses. See--I've got my trail all marked out on the map."

She unfolded a worn leaf from a school geography.

"It looks as if it was only a sleep or two away, but White Antelope said
it was the big ride--maybe a hundred sleeps. And lookee"--she unfolded
fashion plates of several periods. "I've even picked out the clothes I'll
buy to put on when I get nearly to the ranch where they live. I can make
camp, you know, and change my clothes, and then go walkin' down the road
carryin' this here parasol and wearin' this here white hat and holdin' up
this here long skirt like Teacher on Sunday.

"Won't they be surprised when they open the door and see me standin' on
the door-step? I'll say, 'How do you do? I'm Susie MacDonald, your
relation what's come to visit you.' I think this would be better than
showin' up with Running Rabbit and the pack-outfit, until I'd kind of
broke the news to 'em. I'd keep Running Rabbit cached in the brush till I
sent for him.

"You see, I've thought about it so much that it seems like it was as good
as done; but maybe when I start I won't find it so easy. I might have to
ride clear to this Minnesota country, or beyond the big waters to the New
York or Connecticut country, mightn't I?"

"You might," McArthur replied soberly.

"But I'd take a lot of jerked elk, and everybody says grub's easy to get
if you have money, I'd start with about nine ponies in my string, so it
looks like I ought to get through?"

She waited anxiously for McArthur to express his opinion.

He wondered how he could disillusionize her, shatter the dream which he
could see had become a part of her life. Should he explain to her that
when she had crossed the mountains and left behind her the deserts which
constituted the only world she knew, and by which, with its people, she
judged the country she meant to penetrate, she would find herself a
bewildered little savage in a callous, complex civilization where she had
no place--wondered at, gibed at, defeated of her purpose?

"Are you sure you have no other clues--no old letters, no photographs?"

She was about to answer when a tapping like the pecking of a snowbird on
a window-sill was heard on the door.

Susie opened it.

In ludicrous contrast to the timid rap, a huge figure that all but filled
it was framed in the doorway.

It was "Babe" from the Bar C ranch; "Baby" Britt, curly-haired,
pink-cheeked, with one innocent blue eye dark from recent impact with a
fist, which gave its owner the appearance of a dissipated cherub.

"Evenin'," he said tremulously, his eyes roving as though in search of
some one.

"I lost a horse----" he began.

"Brown?" interrupted Susie, with suspicious interest. "With a star in the
forehead?"

"Yes."

"One white stockin'?"

"Uh-huh."

"Roached mane?"

"Ye-ah."

"Kind of a rat-tail?"

"Yep."

"Left hip knocked down?"

"Babe" nodded.

"Saddle-sore?"

"That's it. Where did you see him?"

"I didn't see him."

"Aw-w-w," rumbled "Babe" in disgust.

"Teacher!"

Dora Marshall's door opened in response to Susie's lusty call.

"Have you seen a brown horse with a star in its forehead, roached
mane----"

"Aw, g'wan, Susie!" In confusion, "Babe" began to remove his spurs,
thereby serving notice upon the Schoolmarm that he had "come to set a
spell."

So the Schoolmarm brought her needlework, and while she explained to Mr.
Britt the exact shadings which she intended to give to each leaf and
flower, that person sat with his entranced eyes upon her white hands, with
their slender, tapering fingers--the smallest, the most beautiful hands,
he firmly believed, in the whole world.

It was not easy to carry on a spirited conversation with Mr. Britt. At
best, his range of topics was limited, and in his present frame of mind he
was about as vivacious as a deaf mute. He was quite content to sit with
the high heels of his cowboy boots--from which a faint odor of the stable
emanated--hung over the rung of his chair, and to watch the Schoolmarm's
hand plying the needle on that almost sacred sofa-pillow.

"Your work must be very interesting, Mr. Britt," suggested Dora.

"I dunno as 'tis," replied Mr. Britt.

"It's so--so picturesque."

Mr. Britt considered.

"I shouldn't say it was."

"But you like it?"

"Not by a high-kick!"

If there was one thing upon which Mr. Britt prided himself more than
another, it was upon knowing how to temper his language to his company.

"Why do you stick to it, then?"

"Don't know how to do anything else."

"You don't get much time to read, do you?"

"Oh, yes; _P'lice Gazette_ comes reg'lar."

"But you have no church or social privileges?"

"What's that?"

"I say, you have no entertainment, no time or opportunity for amusement,
have you?"

"Oh, my, yes," Mr. Britt declared heartily. "We has a game of stud poker
nearly every Sunday mornin', and races in the afternoon."

"Ain't he sparklin'?" whispered Susie across the room to Dora, who
pretended not to hear.

"You are fond of horses?" inquired the Schoolmarm, desperately.

"Oh, I has nothin' agin 'em." He qualified his statement by adding:
"Leastways, unless they come from the Buffalo Basin country. Then I shore
hates 'em." At last Mr. Britt was upon a subject upon which he could talk
fluently and for an indefinite length of time. "You take that there
Buffalo Basin stock," he went on earnestly, "and they're nothin' but
inbred cayuse outlaws. They're treach'rous. Oneriest horses that ever
wore hair. Can't gentle 'em--simply can't be done. They've piled me up
more times than any horses that run. Sunfishers--the hull of 'em; rare up
and fall over backwards. 'Tain't pleasant ridin' a horse like that. Wheel
on you quicker'n a weasel; shy clean acrost the road at nothin';
kick--stand up and strike at you in the corral. It's irritatin'. Hard
keepers, too. Maybe you've noticed that blue roan I'm ridin'. Well, sir,
the way I've throwed feed into that horse is a scandal, and the more he
eats the worse he looks. Besides, it spoils them Buffalo Basin
buzzard-heads to eat. Give 'em three square meals, and you can't hardly
ride 'em. They ain't stayers, neither; no bottom, seems-like. Forty miles,
and that horse of mine is played out. What for a horse is that? Is that a
horse? Not by a high-kick! Gimme a buckskin with a black line down his
back, and zebra stripes on his legs--high back, square chest--say, then
you got a _horse!_"

It was apparent enough that Mr. Britt had not commenced to exhaust the
subject of the Buffalo Basin stock. As a matter of fact, he had barely
started; but the sound of horses coming up the path, and a whoop outside,
caused a suspension of his conversation.

Something heavy was thrown against the door, and when Susie opened it a
roll of roped canvas rolled inside, while the lamplight fell upon the
grinning faces of two Bar C cowpunchers.

"What's that?" The Schoolmarm looked wonderingly at the bundle.

"Aw-w-w!" Mr. Britt replied, in angry confusion. "It's my bed. I'll put a
crimp in them two for this." He shouldered his blankets sheepishly and
went out.



VII

CUPID "WINGS" A DEPUTY SHERIFF


Riding home next morning with his bed on a borrowed pack-horse, morose,
his mind occupied with divers plans for punishing the cowpunchers who had
spoiled his evening and made him ridiculous before the Schoolmarm, "Babe"
came upon something in a gulch which caused him to rein his horse sharply
and swing from the saddle.

With an ejaculation of surprise, he pulled a fresh hide from under a pile
of rock, it having been partially uncovered by coyotes. The brand had been
cut out, and with the sight of this significant find, the two cowpunchers,
their obnoxious joke, even the Schoolmarm, were forgotten; for there was a
new thief on the range, and a new thief meant excitement and adventure.

Colonel Tolman's deep-set eyes glittered when he heard the news. As
Running Rabbit had said, on the trail of a cattle-thief he was as
relentless as a bloodhound. He could not eat or sleep in peace until the
man who had robbed him was behind the bars. The Colonel was an old-time
Texas cattleman, and his herds had ranged from the Mexican border to the
Alberta line. He had made and lost fortunes. Disease, droughts, and
blizzards had cleaned him out at various times, and always he had taken
his medicine without a whimper; but the loss of so much as a yearling calf
by theft threw him into a rage that was like hysteria.

His hand shook as he sat down at his desk and wrote a note to the
Stockmen's Association, asking for the services of their best detective.
It meant four days of hard riding to deliver the note, but the Colonel put
it into "Babe's" hand as if he were asking him to drop it in the mail-box
around the corner.

"Go, and git back," were his laconic instructions, and he turned to pace
the floor.

When "Babe" returned some eight days later, with the deputy sheriff, he
found the Colonel striding to and fro, his wrath having in no wise abated.
The cowboy wondered if his employer had been walking the floor all that
time.

"My name is Ralston," said the tall young deputy, as he stood before the
old cattleman.

"Ralston?" The Colonel rose on his toes a trifle to peer into his face.

"Not Dick Ralston's boy?"

The six-foot deputy smiled.

"The same, sir."

The Colonel's hand shot out in greeting.

"Anybody of that name is pretty near like kin to me. Many's the time your
dad and I have eaten out of the same frying-pan."

"So I've heard him say."

"Does he know you're down here on this job?"

The young man shook his head soberly.

"No."

The Colonel looked at him keenly.

"Had a falling out?"

"No; scarcely that; but we couldn't agree exactly upon some things, so I
struck out for myself when I came home from college."

"No future for you in this sleuthing business," commented the old man
tersely. "Why didn't you go into cattle with your dad?"

"That's where we disagreed, sir. I wanted to buy sheep, and he goes
straight into the air at the very word."

The Colonel laughed.

"I can believe that."

"Over there the range is going fast, and it's fight and scrap and quarrel
all the time to keep the sheep off what little there is left; and then you
ship and bottom drops out of the market as soon as your cattle are loaded.
There's nothing in it; and while I don't like sheep any better than the
Governor, there's no use in hanging on and going broke in cattle because
of a prejudice."

"Dick's stubborn,"--the Colonel nodded knowingly--"and I don't believe
he'll ever give in."

"No; I don't think he will, and I'm sorry for his sake, because he's
getting too old to worry."

"Worry? Cattle's nothing but worry!--which reminds me of what you are here
for."

"Have you any suspicions?"

"No. I don't believe I can help you any. The Injuns been good as pie since
we sent Wolf Robe over the road. Don't hardly think it's Injuns. Don't
know what to think. Might be some of these Mormon outfits going north.
Might be some of these nesters off in the hills. Might be anybody!"

"Is he an old hand?"

"Looks like it. Cuts the brand out and buries the hide." The Colonel began
pacing the floor. "Cattle-thieves are people that's got to be nipped in
the bud _muy pronto_. There ought to be a lynching on every cattle-range
once in seven years. It's the only way to hold 'em level. Down there on
the Rio Grande we rode away and left fourteen of 'em swinging over the
bluff. It's got to be done in all cattle countries, and since they've
started in here--well, a hanging is overdue by two years." The Colonel
ejected his words with the decisive click of a riot-gun.

So Dick Ralston, Jr., rode the range for the purpose of getting the lay of
the country, and, on one pretext or another, visited the squalid homes of
the nesters, but nowhere found anybody or anything in the least
suspicious. He learned of the murder of White Antelope, and of the
"queer-actin'" bug-hunter and his pal, who had been accused of it. It was
rather generally believed that McArthur was a desperado of a new and
original kind. While it was conceded that he seemed to have no way of
disposing of the meat, and certainly could not kill a cow and eat it
himself, it was nevertheless declared that he was "worth watching."

While the hangers-on at the MacDonald ranch were all known to have
records, no particular suspicion had attached to them in this instance,
because the squaw was known to kill her own beef, and no shadow of doubt
had ever fallen upon the good name of the ranch.

The trapping of cattle-thieves is not the work of a day or a week, but
sometimes of months; and when evidence of another stolen beef was found
upon the range, Ralston realized that his efforts lay in that vicinity for
some time to come. He decided to ride over to the MacDonald ranch that
evening and have a look at the bad _hombre_ who masqueraded as a
bug-hunter--bug-hunter, it should be explained, being a Western term for
any stranger engaged in scientific pursuits.

While Ralston was riding over the lonely road in the moonlight, Dora was
arranging the dining-room table for her night-school, which had been in
session several evenings. Smith was studying grammar, of which branch of
learning Dora had decided he stood most in need, while Susie groaned over
compound fractions.

Tubbs, with his chair tilted against the wall, looked on with a tolerant
smile. In the kitchen, paring a huge pan of potatoes for breakfast, Ling
listened with such an intensity of interest to what was being said that
his ears seemed fairly to quiver. From her bench in the living-room, the
Indian woman braided rags and darted jealous glances at teacher and pupil.
Smith, his hair looking like a bunch of tumble-weed in a high wind, hung
over a book with a look of genuine misery upon his face.

"I didn't have any notion there was so much in the world I didn't know,"
he burst out. "I thought when I'd learnt that if you sprinkle your
saddle-blanket you can hold the biggest steer that runs, without your
saddle slippin', I'd learnt about all they was worth knowin'."

"It's tedious," Dora admitted.

"Tedious?" echoed Smith in loud pathos. "It's hell! Say, I can tie a fancy
knot in a bridle-rein that can't be beat by any puncher in the country,
but _darn_ me if I can see the difference between a adjective and one of
these here adverbs! Once I thought I knowed something--me, Smith--but say,
I don't know enough to make a mark in the road!"

Closing his eyes and gritting his teeth, he repeated:

"'I have had, you have had, he has had.'"

"If you would have had about six drinks, I think you could git that,"
observed Tubbs judicially, watching Smith's mental suffering with keen
interest.

"Don't be discouraged," said Dora cheerfully, seating herself beside him.
"Let's take a little review. Do you remember what I told you about this?"

She pointed to the letter _a_ marked with the long sound.

Smith ran both hands through his hair, while a wild, panic-stricken look
came upon his face.

"Dog-gone me! I know it's a _a_, but I plumb forget how you called it."

Tubbs unhooked his toes from the chair-legs and walked around to look over
Smith's shoulder.

"Smith, you got a great forgitter," he said sarcastically. "Why don't you
use your head a little? That there is a Bar A. You ought to have knowed
that. The Bar A stock run all over the Judith Basin."

"Don't you remember I told you that whenever you saw that mark over a
letter you should give it the long sound?" explained Dora patiently.

"Like the _a_ in 'aig,'" elucidated Tubbs.

"Like the _a_ in 'snake,'" corrected the Schoolmarm.

"Or 'wake,' or 'skate,' or 'break,'" said Smith hopefully.

"Fine!" declared the Schoolmarm.

"I knowed that much myself," said Tubbs enviously.

"If you'll pardon me, Mr. Tubbs," said Dora, in some irritation, "there
is no such word as 'knowed.'"

"Why don't you talk grammatical, Tubbs?" Smith demanded, with alacrity.

"I talks what I knows," said Tubbs, going back to his chair.

"Have you forgotten all I told you about adjectives?"

"Adjectives is words describin' things. They's two kinds, comparative and
superlative," Smith replied promptly. He added. "Adjectives kind of stuck
in my craw."

"Can you give me examples?" Dora felt encouraged.

"You got a horrible pretty hand," Smith replied, without hesitation.
"'Horrible pretty' is a adjective describin' your hand."

Dora burst out laughing, and Tubbs, without knowing why, joined in
heartily.

"Tubbs," continued Smith, glaring at that person, "has got the horriblest
mug I ever seen, and if he opens it and laffs like that at me again, I
aims to break his head. 'Horriblest' is a superlative adjective describin'
Tubbs's mug."

To Smith's chagrin and Tubbs's delight, Dora explained that "horrible" was
a word which could not be used in conjunction with "pretty," and that its
superlative was not "horriblest."

Smith buried his head in his hands despondently.

"If I was where I could, I'd get drunk!"

"It's nothing to feel so badly about," said Dora comfortingly. "Let's go
back to prepositions. Can you define a preposition?"

Smith screwed up his face and groped for words, but before he found them
Tubbs broke in:

"A preposition is what a feller has to sell that nobody wants," he
explained glibly. "They's copper prepositions, silver-lead prepositions,
and onct I had a oil preposition up in the Swift Current country."

Smith reached inside his coat and pulled out the carved, ivory-handled
six-shooter which he wore in a holster under his arm. He laid it on the
table beside his grammar, and looked at Tubbs.

"Feller," he said, "I hates to make a gun-play before the Schoolmarm, but
if you jump into this here game again, I aims to try a chunk of lead on
you."

"If book-learnin' ud ever make me as peevish as it does you," declared
Tubbs, rising hastily, "I hopes I never knows nothin'."

Tubbs slammed the door behind him as he went to seek more amiable company
in the bunk-house.

Save for the Indian woman, Smith and Dora were now practically alone; for
Ling had gone to bed, and Susie was oblivious to everything except
fractions. Smith continued to struggle with prepositions, adjectives, and
adverbs, but he found it difficult to concentrate his thoughts on them
with Dora so close beside him. He knew that his slightest glance, every
expression which crossed his face, was observed by the Indian woman; and
although he did his utmost not to betray his feelings, he saw the sullen,
jealous resentment rising within her.

She read aright the light in his eyes; besides, her intuitions were
greater than his powers of concealment. When she could no longer endure
the sight of Smith and the Schoolmarm sitting side by side, she laid down
her work and slipped out into the star-lit night, closing the door softly
behind her.

Smith's judgment told him that he should end the lesson and go after her,
but the spell of love was upon him, overwhelming him, holding him fast in
delicious thraldom. He had not the strength of will just then to break
it.

Dora had been reading "Hiawatha" aloud each evening to Susie, Tubbs, and
Smith, so when she finally closed the grammar, she asked if he would like
to hear more of the Indian story, as he called it, to which he nodded
assent.

Dora read well, with intelligence and sympathy; her trained voice was
flexible. Then, too, she loved this greatest of American legends. It
appealed to her audience as perhaps no other poem would have done. It was
real to them, it was "life," their life in a little different environment
and told in a musical rhythm which held them breathless, enchanted.

Dora had reached the story of "The Famine." She knew the refrain by heart,
and the wail of old Nokomis was in her voice as she repeated from memory:

                  "Wahonowin! Wahonowin!
                  Would that I had perished for you!
                  Would that I were dead as you are!
                  Wahonowin! Wahonowin!

                  "Then they buried Minnehaha;
                  In the snow a grave they made her,
                  In the forest deep and darksome,
                  Underneath the moaning hemlocks;
                  Clothed her in her richest garments,
                  Wrapped her in her robes of ermine,
                  Covered her with snow, like ermine;
                  So they buried Minnehaha."

The pathos of the lines never failed to touch Dora anew. Her voice broke,
and, pausing to recover herself, she glanced at Smith. There were tears in
his eyes. The brutal chin was quivering like that of a tender-hearted
child.

"The man that wrote that was a _chief_," he said huskily. "It hurts me
here--in my neck." He rubbed the contracted muscles of his throat. "I'd
feel like that, girl, if you should die."

He repeated softly, and choked:

                  "All my heart is buried with you,
                  All my thoughts go onward with you!"

The impression which the poem made upon Smith was deep. It was a constant
surprise to him also. The thoughts it expressed, the sensations it
described, he had believed were entirely original with himself. He had not
conceived it possible that any one else could feel toward a woman as he
felt toward Dora. Therefore, when the poet put many of his heart-throbs
into words, they startled him, as though, somehow, his own heart were
photographed and held up to view.

Susie had finished her lesson, and, cramped from sitting, was walking
about the living-room to rest herself, while this conversation was taking
place. Her glance fell upon a gaudy vase on a shelf, and some thought came
to her which made her laugh mischievously. She emptied the contents of the
vase into the palm of her hand and, closing the other over it, tiptoed
into the dining-room and stood behind Smith.

Dora and he, engrossed in conversation, paid no attention to her. She put
her cupped palms close to Smith's ear and, shaking them vigorously,
shouted:

"Snakes!"

The result was such as Susie had not anticipated.

With a shriek which was womanish in its shrillness, Smith sprang to his
feet, all but upsetting the lamp in his violence. Unmixed horror was
written upon his face.

The girl herself shrank back at what she had done; then, holding out
several rattles for inspection, she said:

"Looks like you don't care for snakes."

"You--you little----"

Only Susie guessed the unspeakable epithet he meant to use. Her eyes
warned him, and, too, he remembered Dora in time. He said instead, with a
slight laugh of confusion:

"Snakes scares me, and rat-traps goin' off."

The color had not yet returned to his face when a knock came upon the
door.

In response to Susie's call, a tall stranger stepped inside--a stranger
wide of shoulder, and with a kind of grim strength in his young face.

From the unnatural brightness of the eyes of Susie and of Smith, and their
still tense attitudes, Ralston sensed the fact that something had
happened. He returned Smith's unpleasant look with a gaze as steady as his
own. Then his eyes fell upon Dora and lingered there.

She had sprung to her feet and was still standing. Her cheeks were
flushed, her eyes luminous, and the soft lamplight burnishing her brown
hair made the moment one of her best. Smith saw the frank admiration in
the stranger's look.

"May I stop here to-night?" He addressed Dora.

He had the characteristic Western gravity of manner and expression, the
distinguishing definiteness of purpose. Though the quality of his voice,
its modulation, bespoke the man of poise and education, the accent was
unmistakably of the West.

"There's a bunk-house." It was Smith who answered.

His unuttered epithet still rankled; Susie turned upon him with insulting
emphasis:

"And you'd better get out to it!"

"Are you the boss here?" The stranger put the question to Smith with cool
politeness.

"What I say _goes!_"

Smith looked marvellously ugly.

Susie leaned toward him, and her childish face was distorted with anger as
she shrieked:

"_Not yet, Mister Smith!_"

Involuntarily, Dora and the stranger exchanged glances in the awkward
silence which followed. Then, more to relieve her embarrassment than for
any other reason, Ralston said quietly, "Very well, I will do as
this--gentleman suggests," and withdrew.

"Good-night," said Dora, gathering up her books; but neither Smith nor
Susie answered.

With both hands deep in his trousers' pockets, Smith was smiling at Susie,
with a smile which was little short of devilish; and the girl, throwing a
last look of defiance at him, also left the room, violently slamming
behind her the door of the bed-chamber occupied by her mother and
herself.

For a full minute Smith stood as they had left him--motionless, his
eyelids drooping. Rousing himself, he went to the window and looked into
the moonlight-flooded world outside. Huddled in a blanket, a squat figure
sat on a fallen cottonwood tree.

Smith eyed it, then asked himself contemptuously:

"Ain't that pure Injun?"

Taking his hat, he too stepped into the moonlight.

The woman did not look up at his approach, so he stooped until his cheek
touched hers.

"What's the matter, Prairie Flower?"

"My heart is under my feet." Her voice was harsh.

In the tone one uses to a sulky child, he said:

"Come into the house."

"You no like me, white man. You like de white woman."

Smith reached under the blanket and took her hand.

"Why don't you marry de white woman?"

He pressed her hand tightly against his heart.

"Come into the house, Prairie Flower."

Her face relaxed like that of a child when it smiles through its tears.
And Smith, in the hour when the first real love of his life was at its
zenith, when his heart was so full of it that it seemed well nigh
bursting, walked back to the house with the squaw clinging tightly to his
fingers.



VIII

THE BUG-HUNTER ELUCIDATES


The same instinct which made Ralston recognize Susie as his friend told
him that Smith was his enemy; though, verily, that person who would have
construed as evidences of esteem and budding friendship Smith's black
looks when Ralston presumed to talk with Dora, even upon the most ordinary
topics, would have been dull of comprehension indeed.

While no reason for remaining appeared to be necessary at the MacDonald
ranch, Ralston hinted at hunting stray horses; and casually expressed a
hope that he might be able to pick up a bunch of good ponies at a
reasonable figure--which explanation was entirely satisfactory to all save
Smith. The latter frequently voiced the opinion that Ralston lingered
solely for the purpose of courting the Schoolmarm, an opinion which the
grub-liners agreed was logical, since they too, along with the majority of
unmarried males for fifty miles around, cherished a similar ambition.

Dora had long since ceased to consider as extraordinary the extended
visits which strangers paid to the ranch; therefore, she saw nothing
unusual in the fact that Ralston stayed on.

If furtive-eyed and restless passers-by arrived after dark, slept in the
hay near their unsaddled horses, and departed at dawn, assuredly no person
at the MacDonald ranch was rude enough to ask reasons for their haste. Its
hospitality was as boundless, as free, as the range itself; and if upon
leaving any guest had happened to express gratitude for food and shelter,
it is doubtful if any incident could more have surprised Susie and her
mother, unless, mayhap, it might have been an offer of payment for the
same.

Ralston told himself that, since he could remain without comment, the
ranch was much better situated for his purpose than Colonel Tolman's home;
but the really convincing point in its favor, though one which he refused
to recognize as influencing him in the least, was that he was nearer Dora
by something like eight miles than he would have been at the Bar C. Then,
too, though there was nothing tangible to justify his suspicions, Ralston
believed that his work lay close at hand.

Like Colonel Tolman, he had come to think that it was not the Indians who
were killing; and the nesters, though a spiritless, shiftless lot, had
always been honest enough. But the bunk-house on the MacDonald ranch was
often filled with the material of which horse and cattle thieves are made,
and Ralston hoped that he might get a clue from some word inadvertently
dropped there.

He often thought that he never had seen a more heterogeneous gathering
than that which assembled at times around the table. And with Longfellow
in the dining-room, ethnological dissertations in one end of the
bunk-house, and personal reminiscences and experiences in gun-fights and
affairs of the heart in the other end, there was afforded a sufficient
variety of mental diversion to suit nearly any taste.

McArthur in the rôle of desperado seemed preposterous to Ralston; yet he
remembered that Ben Reed, a graduate of a theological seminary, who could
talk tears into the eyes of an Apache, was the slickest stock thief west
of the Mississippi. He was well aware that a pair of mild eyes and gentle,
ingenuous manners are many a rogue's most valuable asset, and though the
bug-hunter talked frankly of his pilgrimages into the hills, there was
always a chance that his pursuit was a pose, his zeal counterfeit.

One evening which was typical of others, Ralston sat on the edge of his
bunk, rolling an occasional cigarette and listening with huge enjoyment to
the conversation of a group around the sheet-iron stove, of which McArthur
was the central figure.

McArthur, riding his hobby enthusiastically, quite forgot the character of
his listeners, and laid his theories regarding the interchange of
mammalian life between America and Asia during the early Pleistocene
period, before Meeteetse Ed, Old Man Rulison, Tubbs, and others, in the
same language in which he would have argued moot questions with
colleagues engaged in similar research. The language of learning was as
natural to McArthur as the vernacular of the West was to Tubbs, and in
moments of excitement he lapsed into it as a foreigner does into his
native tongue under stress of feeling.

"I maintain," asserted McArthur, with a gesture of emphasis, "that the
Paleolithic man of Europe followed the mastodon to North America and here
remained."

Meeteetse Ed, whose cheeks were flushed, laid his hot hand upon his
forehead and declared plaintively as he blinked at McArthur:

"Pardner, I'm gittin' a headache from tryin' to see what you're talkin'
about."

"Air you sayin' anything a-tall," demanded Old Man Rulison, suspiciously,
"or air you joshin'?"

"Them's words all right," said Tubbs. "Onct I worked under a section boss
over on the Great Northern what talked words like them. He believed we
sprung up from tuds and lizards--and the likes o' that. Yes, he did--on
the square."

"There are many believers in the theory of evolution," observed McArthur.

"That's it--that's the word. That's what he was." Then, in the tone of one
who hands out a clincher, Tubbs demanded: "Look here, Doc, if that's so
why ain't all these ponds and cricks around here a-hatchin' out children?"

"Guess that'll hold him for a minute," Meeteetse Ed whispered to his
neighbor.

But instead of being covered with confusion by this seemingly unanswerable
argument, McArthur gazed at Tubbs in genuine pity.

"Let me consider how I can make it quite clear to you. Perhaps," he said
thoughtfully, "I cannot do better than to give you Herbert Spencer's
definition. Spencer defines evolution, as nearly as I can remember his
exact words, as an integration of matter and concomita, dissipation of
motion; during which the matter passes from an indefinite heterogeneity to
a definite, incoherent heterogeneity, and during which the retained motion
undergoes a parallel transformation. Materialistic, agnostic, and theistic
evolution----"

Meeteetse Ed fell off his chair in a mock faint and crashed to the floor.

Susie, who had entered, saw McArthur's embarrassment, and refused to join
in the shout of laughter, though her eyes danced.

"Don't mind him," she said comfortingly, as she eyed Meeteetse, sprawled
on his back with his eyes closed. "He's afraid he'll learn something. He
used to be a sheep-herder, and I don't reckon he's got more'n two hundred
and fifty words in his whole vocabulary. Why, I'll bet he never _heard_ a
word of more'n three syllables before. Get up, Meeteetse. Go out in the
fresh air and build yourself a couple of them sheep-herder's monuments.
It'll make you feel better."

The prostrate humorist revived. Susie's jeers had the effect of a bucket
of ice-water, for he had not been aware that this blot upon his
escutcheon--the disgraceful epoch in his life when he had earned honest
money herding sheep--was known.

"My enthusiasm runs away with me when I get upon this subject," said
McArthur, in blushing apology to the group. "I am sorry that I have bored
you."

"No bore a-tall," declared Old Man Rulison magnanimously. "You cut loose
whenever you feel like it: we kin stand it as long as you kin."

After McArthur had gone to his pneumatic mattress in the patent tent
pitched near the bunk-house, Ralston said to Susie:

"You and the bug-hunter are great friends, aren't you?"

"You bet! We're pardners. Anybody that gets funny with him has got me to
fight."

"Oh, it's like that, is it?" Ralston laughed.

"We've got secrets--the bug-hunter and me."

"You're rather young for secrets, Susie."

"Nobody's too young for secrets," she declared. "Haven't you any?"

"Sure," Ralston nodded.

"I like you," Susie whispered impulsively. "Let's swap secrets."

He looked at her and wished he dared. He would have liked to tell her of
his mission, to ask her help; for he realized that, if she chose, no one
could help him more. Like Smith, he recognized that quality in her they
each called "gameness," and even more than Smith he appreciated the
commingling of Scotch shrewdness and Indian craft. He believed Susie to be
honest; but he had believed many things in the past which time had not
demonstrated to be facts. No, the chance was too great to take; for should
she prove untrustworthy or indiscreet, his mission would be a failure. So
he answered jestingly:

"My secrets are not for little girls to know."

Susie gave him a quick glance.

"Oh, you don't look as though you had that kind," and turned away.

Ralston felt somehow that he had lost an opportunity. He could not rid
himself of the feeling the entire evening; and he made up his mind to
cultivate Susie's friendship. But it was too late; he had made a mistake
not unlike Dora's. Susie had felt herself rebuffed, and, like the
Schoolmarm, Ralston had laughed at her with his eyes. It was a great
thing--a really sacred thing to Susie--this secret that she had offered
him. The telling of it to McArthur had been so delightful an experience
that she yearned to repeat it, but now she meant never to tell any one
else. Any way, McArthur was her "pardner," and it was enough that he
should know. So it came about that afterwards, when Ralston sought her
company and endeavored to learn something of the workings of her mind, he
found the same barrier of childish reserve which had balked Dora, and no
amount of tact or patience seemed able to break it down.

The young deputy sheriff's interest in Dora increased in leaps and bounds.
He experienced an odd but delightful agitation when he saw the sleepy
white pony plodding down the hill, and the sensation became one easily
defined each time that he observed Smith's horse ambling in the road
beside hers. The feeling which inspired Tubbs's disgruntled comment,
"Smith rides herd on the Schoolmarm like a cow outfit in a bad wolf
country," found an echo in Ralston's own breast. Truly, Smith guarded the
Schoolmarm with the vigilance of a sheep-dog.

He saw a possible rival in every new-comer, but most of all he feared
Ralston; for Smith was not too blinded by prejudice to appreciate the fact
that Ralston was handsome in a strong, man's way, younger than himself,
and possessed of the advantages of education which enabled him to talk
with Dora upon subjects that left him, Smith, dumb. Such times were
wormwood and gall to Smith; yet in his heart he never doubted but that he
would have Dora and her love in the end. Smith's faith in himself and his
ability to get what he really desired was sublime. The chasm between
himself and Dora--the difference of birth and education--meant nothing to
him. It is doubtful if he recognized it. He would have considered himself
a king's equal; indeed, it would have gone hard with royalty, had royalty
by any chance ordered Smith to saddle his horse. He judged by the
standards of the plains: namely, gameness, skill, resourcefulness; to him,
there _were_ no other standards. After all, Dora Marshall was only a
woman--the superior of other women, to be sure, but a woman; and if he
wanted her--why not?

He would have been amazed, enraged through wounded vanity, if it had been
possible for him to see himself from Dora's point of view: a subject for
reformation; a test for many trite theories; an erring human to be
reclaimed by a woman's benign influence. Naturally, these thoughts had not
suggested themselves to Smith.

Ralston looked forward eagerly to the evening meal, since it was almost
the only time at which he could exchange a word with Dora. Breakfast was a
hurried affair, while both she and Susie were absent from the midday
dinner. The shy, fluttering glances which he occasionally surprised from
her, the look of mutual appreciation which sometimes passed between them
at a quaint bit of philosophy or naïve remark, started his pulses dancing
and set the whole world singing a wordless song of joy.

Somehow, eating seemed a vulgar function in the Schoolmarm's presence,
and he wished with all his heart that the abominable grammar lessons which
filled her evenings might some time end; in which case he would be able to
converse with her when not engaged in rushing bread and meat to and fro.

His most carefully laid plans to obtain a few minutes alone with her were
invariably thwarted by Smith. And from the heights to which he had been
transported by some more than passing friendly glance at the table, he was
dragged each evening to the depths by the sight of Dora and Smith with
their heads together over that accursed grammar.

He commenced to feel a distaste for his bunk-house associates, and took
to wandering out of doors, pausing most frequently in his meanderings
just outside the circle of light thrown through the window by the
dining-room lamp. Dora's guilelessness in believing that Smith's interest
in his lessons was due to a desire for knowledge did not make the
tableau less tantalizing to Ralston, but it would have been against every
tenet in his code to suggest to Dora that Smith was not the misguided
diamond-in-the-rough which she believed him.

Smith, on the contrary, had no such scruples. He lost no opportunity to
sneer at Ralston. When he discovered Dora wearing one of the first flowers
of spring, which Ralston had brought her, Smith said darkly:

"That fresh guy is a dead ringer for a feller that quit his wife and five
kids in Livingston and run off with a biscuit-shooter."

Dora laughed aloud. The clean-cut and youthful Ralston deserting a wife
and five children for a "biscuit-shooter" was not a convincing picture.
That she did not receive his insinuation seriously but added fuel to the
unreasoning jealousy beginning to flame in Smith's breast.

Yet Smith treated Ralston with a consideration which was surprising in
view of the wanton insults he frequently inflicted upon those whom he
disliked. Susie guessed the reason for his superficial courtesy, and
Ralston, perhaps, suspected it also. In his heart, Smith was afraid. First
and always, he was a judge of men--rather, of certain qualities in men. He
knew that should he give intentional offense to Ralston, he would be
obliged either to retract or to back up his insult with a gun. Ralston
would be the last man to accept an affront with meekness.

Smith did not wish affairs to reach this crisis. He did not want to force
an issue until he had demonstrated to his own satisfaction that he was the
better man of the two with words or fists or weapons. But once he found
the flaw in Ralston's armor, he would speedily become the aggressor. Such
were Smith's tactics. He was reckless with caution; daring when it was
safe.

The rôle he was playing gave him no concern. Though the Indian woman's
spells of sullenness irritated him, he conciliated her with endearing
words, caresses, and the promise of a speedy marriage. He appeased her
jealousy of Dora by telling her that he studied the foolish book-words
only that he might the better work for her interests; that he was fitting
himself to cope with the shrewd cattlemen with whom there were constant
dealings, and that when they were married, the Schoolmarm should live
elsewhere. Like others of her sex, regardless of race or color, the Indian
woman believed because she wanted to believe.

Just where his actions were leading him, Smith did not stop to consider.
He had no fear of results. With an overweening confidence arising from
past successes, he believed that matters would adjust themselves as they
always had. Smith wanted a home, and the MacDonald cattle, horses, and
hay; but more than any of them he wanted Dora Marshall. How he was going
to obtain them all was not then clear to him, but that when the time came
he could make a way, he never for a moment doubted.

Smith's confidence in himself was supreme. If he could have expressed his
belief in words, he might have said that he could control Destiny, shape
events and his own life as he liked. He had been shot at, pursued by
posses, all but lynched upon an occasion, and always he had escaped in
some unlooked-for manner little short of miraculous. As a result, he had
come to cherish a superstitious belief that he bore a charmed life, that
no real harm could come to him. So he courted each woman according to her
nature as he read it, and waited blindly for success.



IX

SPEAKING OF GRASSHOPPERS----


It was Saturday, and, there being no school, both Susie and Dora were at
home. Ralston was considering in which direction he should ride that day
when Susie came to him and after saying to Smith with elaborate
politeness, "Excuse me, Mr. Smith, for whispering, but I have something
very private and confidential to say to Mr. Ralston," she shielded her
mouth with her hand and said:

"Teacher and I are going fishing. We are going up on the side-hill now to
catch grasshoppers for bait, and I thought maybe you'd like to help, and
to fish with us this afternoon." She tittered in his ear.

Susie's action conveyed two things to Ralston's mind: first, that he had
not been so clever as he had supposed in dissembling his feelings; and
second, that Susie, recognizing them, was disposed to render him friendly
aid.

Smith noted Ralston's brightening eye with suspicion, jumping to the very
natural conclusion that only some pleasing information concerning the
Schoolmarm would account for it. When, a few minutes later, he saw the
three starting away together, each with a tin or pasteboard box, he
realized that his surmise was correct.

Glowering, Smith walked restlessly about the house, ignoring the Indian
woman's inquiring, wistful eyes, cursing to himself as he wandered through
the corrals and stables, hating with a personal hatred everything which
belonged to Ralston: his gentle-eyed brown mare; his expensive Navajo
saddle-blanket; his single-rigged saddle; his bridle with the wide cheek
pieces and the hand-forged bit. It would have been a satisfaction to
destroy them all. He hated particularly the little brown mare which
Ralston brushed with such care each morning. Smith's mood was black
indeed.

But Ralston, as he walked between Dora and Susie to the side-hill where
the first grasshoppers of spring were always found, felt at peace with all
the world--even Smith--and it was in his heart to hug the elfish
half-breed child as she skipped beside him. Dora's frequent, bubbling
laughter made him thrill; he longed to shout aloud like a schoolboy given
an unexpected holiday.

Each time that his eyes sought Dora's, shadowed by the wide brim of her
hat, her eyelids drooped, slowly, reluctantly, as though they fell against
her will, while the color came and went under her clear skin in a fashion
which filled him with delighted wonder.

It may be said that there are few things in life so absorbing as catching
grasshoppers. While Ralston previously had recognized this fact, he never
had supposed that it contained any element of pleasure akin to the
delights of Paradise. To chase grasshoppers by oneself is one thing; to
pursue them in the company of a fascinating schoolmarm is another; and
when one has in his mind the thought that ultimately he and the schoolmarm
may chance to fall upon the same grasshopper, the chase becomes a sport
for the gods to envy.

Anent grasshoppers. While the first grasshopper of early spring has not
the devilish agility of his August descendant, he is sufficiently alert to
make his capture no mean feat. It must be borne in mind that the
grasshopper is not a fool, and that he appears to see best from the rear.
Though he remains motionless while the enemy is slipping stealthily upon
him, it by no means follows that he is not aware of said enemy's approach.
The grasshopper has a more highly developed sense of humor than any other
known insect. It is an established fact that after a person has fallen
upon his face and clawed at the earth where the grasshopper was but is
not, the grasshopper will be seen distinctly to laugh from his coign of
vantage beyond reach.

Furthermore, it is quite impossible to fathom the mind of the grasshopper,
his intentions or habits; particularly those of the small, gray-pink
variety. He is as erratic in his flight as a clay pigeon, though it is
tolerably safe to assume that he will not jump backward. He may not jump
at all, but, with a deceptive movement, merely sidle under a sage-leaf.
Where questions concerning his personal safety are concerned, he shows
rare judgment, appearing to recognize exactly the psychological moment in
which to fly, jump, or sit still.

No sluggard, be it known, can hope to catch grasshoppers with any degree
of success. It requires an individual nimble of mind and body, whose
nerves are keyed to a tension, who is dominated by a mood which refuses to
recognize the perils of snakes, cactus, and prairie-dog holes; forgetful
of self and dignity, inured to ridicule. Such a one is justified in making
the attempt.

The large, brownish-black, grandfatherly-looking grasshopper is the most
easily captured, though not so satisfactory for bait as the pea-green or
the gray-pink. It was to the first variety that Dora and Ralston devoted
themselves, while Susie followed the smaller and more sprightly around the
hill till she was out of sight.

Ralston became aware that no matter in which direction the grasshopper he
had marked for his own took him, singularly enough he always ended in
pursuit of Dora's. As a matter of fact, her grasshopper looked so much
more desirable than his, that he could not well do otherwise than abandon
the pursuit of his own for hers.

Her low "Oh, thank you so much!" was so heartfelt and sincere when he
pushed the insect through the slit in her pasteboard box that he truly
believed he would have run one all the way to the Middle Fork of Powder
River only to hear her say it again. And then her womanly aversion to
inflicting pain, her appealing femininity when she brought a bulky-bodied,
tobacco-chewing grasshopper for him to pinch its head into insensibility!
He liked this best of all, for, of necessity, their fingers touched in the
exchange, and he wondered a little at his strength of will in refraining
from catching her hand in his and refusing to let go.

Finally a grasshopper of abnormal size went up with a whir. Big he was, in
comparison with his kind, as the monster steer in the side-show, the
Cardiff giant, or Jumbo the mammoth.

"Oh!" cried Dora; "we must have him!" and they ran side by side in wild,
determined pursuit.

The insect sailed far and fast, but they could not lose sight of him, for
he was like an aeroplane in flight, and when in an ill-advised moment he
lit to gather himself, they fell upon him tooth and nail--to use a phrase.
Dora's hand closed over the grasshopper, and Ralston's closed over Dora's,
holding it tight in one confused moment of delicious, tongue-tied
silence.

Her shoulder touched his, her hair brushed his cheek. He wished that they
might go on holding down that grasshopper until the end of time. She was
panting with the exertion, her nose was moist like a baby's when it
sleeps, and he noticed in a swift, sidelong glance that the pupils of her
eyes all but covered the iris.

"He--he's wiggling!" she said tremulously.

"Is he?" Ralston asked fatuously, at a loss for words, but making no move
to lift his hand.

"And there's a cactus in my finger."

"Let me see it." Immediately his face was full of deep concern.

He held her fingers, turning the small pink palm upward.

"We must get it out," he declared firmly. "They poison some people."

He wondered if it was imagination, or did her hand tremble a little in
his? His relief was not unmixed with disappointment when the cactus spine
came out easily.

"They hurt--those needles." He continued to regard the tiny puncture with
unabated interest.

"Tra! la! la!" sang Susie from the brow of the hill. "Old Smith is
comin'."

Ralston dropped Dora's hand, and they both reddened, each wondering how
long Susie had been doing picket duty.

"Out for your failin' health, Mister Smith?" inquired Susie, with
solicitude.

"I'm huntin' horses, and hopin' to pick up a bunch of ponies cheap," he
replied with ugly significance as he rode by.

And while the soft light faded from Ralston's eyes, the color leaped to
his face; unconsciously his fists clenched as he looked after Smith's
vanishing back. It was the latter's first overt act of hostility; Ralston
knew, and perhaps Smith intended it so, that the clash between them must
now come soon.



X

MOTHER LOVE AND SAVAGE PASSION CONFLICT


It was Sunday, a day later, when Susie came into the living-room and
noticed her mother sewing muskrat around the top of a moccasin. It was a
man's moccasin. The woman had made no men's moccasins since her husband's
death. The sight chilled the girl.

"Mother," she asked abruptly, "what do you let that hold-up hang around
here for?"

"Who you mean?" the woman asked quickly.

"That Smith!" Susie spat out the word like something offensive.

The Indian woman avoided the girl's eyes.

"I like him," she answered.

"Mother!"

"Maybe he stay all time." Her tone was stubborn, as though she expected
and was prepared to resist an attack.

"You don't--you _can't_--mean it!". Susie's thin face flushed scarlet with
shame.

"Sa-ah," the woman nodded, "I mean it;" and Susie, staring at her in a
kind of terror, saw that she did.

"Oh, Mother! Mother!" she cried passionately, dropping on the floor at the
woman's feet and clasping her arms convulsively about the Indian woman's
knees. "Don't--don't say that! We've always been a little different from
the rest. We've always held our heads up. People like us and respect
us--both Injuns and white. We've never been talked about--you and me--and
now you are going to spoil it all!"

"I get tied up to him right," defended the woman sullenly.

"Oh, Mother!" wailed the child.

"We need good white man to run de ranch."

"But _Smith_--do you think _he's_ good? Good! Is a rattlesnake good? Can't
you see what he is, Mother?--you who are smarter than me in seeing through
people? He's mean--onery to the marrow--and some day sure--_sure_--he'll
turn, and strike his fangs into you."

"He no onery," the woman replied, in something like anger.

"It's his nature," Susie went on, without heeding her. "He can't help it.
All his thoughts and talk and schemes are about something crooked. Can't
you tell by the things he lets drop that he ought to be in the 'pen'? He's
treacherous, ungrateful, a born thief. I saw him take Tubbs's halter, and
there was the regular thief look in his eyes when he cut his own name on
it. I saw him kick a dog, and he kicked it like a brute. He kicked it in
the ribs with his toe. Men--decent men--kick a dog with the side of their
foot. I saw his horse fall with him, and he held it down and beat it on
the neck with a chain, where it wouldn't show. He'd hold up a bank or rob
a woman; he'd kill a man or a prairie-dog, and think no more of the one
than the other.

"I tell you, Mother, as sure as I sit here on the floor at your feet,
begging you, he's going to bring us trouble; he's going to deal us misery!
I feel it! I _know_ it!"

"You no like de white man."

"That's right; I don't like the white man. He wants a good place to stay;
he wants your horses and cattle and hay; and--he wants the Schoolmarm.
He's making a fool of you, Mother."

"He no make fool of me," she answered complacently. "He make fool of de
white woman, maybe."

"Look out of the window and see for yourself."

They arose together, and the girl pointed to Smith and Dora, seated side
by side on the cottonwood log.

"Did he ever look at you like that, Mother?"

"He make fool of de white woman," she reiterated stubbornly, but her face
clouded.

"He makes a fool of himself, but not of her," declared Susie. "He's crazy
about her--locoed. Everybody sees it except her. Believe me, Mother,
listen to Susie just this once."

"He like me. I stick to him;" but she went back to her bench. The
unfamiliar softness of Smith's face hurt her.

The tears filled Susie's eyes and ran down her cheeks. Her mother's
passion for this hateful stranger was stronger than her mother-love, that
silent, undemonstrative love in which Susie had believed as she believed
that the sun would rise each morning over there in the Bad Lands, to warm
her when she was cold. She buried her face in her mother's lap and sobbed
aloud.

The woman had not seen Susie cry since she was a tiny child, save when her
father and White Antelope died, and the numbed maternal instinct stirred
in her breast. She laid her dark, ringed fingers upon Susie's hair and
stroked it gently.

"Don't cry," she said slowly. "If he make fool of me, if he lie when he
say he tie up to me right, if he like de white woman better den me, I kill
him. I kill him, Susie." She pointed to a bunch of roots and short dried
stalks which hung from the rafters in one corner of the room. "See--that
is the love-charm of the Sioux. It was gifted to me by Little Coyote's
woman--a Mandan. It bring de love, and too much--it kill. If he make fool
of me, if he not like me better den de white woman, I give him de
love-charm of de Sioux. I fix him! _I fix him right!_"

Out on the cottonwood log Smith and the Schoolmarm had been speaking of
many things; for the man could talk fluently in his peculiar vernacular,
upon any subject which interested him or with which he was familiar.

The best of his nature, whatever of good there was in him, was uppermost
when with Dora. He really believed at such times that he was what she
thought him, and he condemned the shortcomings of others like one speaking
from the lofty pinnacle of unimpeachable virtue.

In her presence, new ambitions, new desires, awakened, and sentiments
which he never had suspected he possessed revealed themselves. He was
happy in being near her; content when he felt the touch of her loose cape
on his arm.

It never before had occurred to Smith that the world through which he had
gone his tumultuous way was a beautiful place, or that there was joy in
the simple fact of being strongly alive. When the sage-brush commenced to
turn green and the many brilliant flowers of the desert bloomed, when the
air was stimulating like wine and fragrant with the scents of spring, it
had meant little to Smith beyond the facts that horse-feed would soon be
plentiful and that he could lay aside his Mackinaw coat. The mountains
suggested nothing but that they held big game and were awkward places to
get through on horseback, while the deserts brought no thoughts save of
thirst and loneliness and choking alkali dust. Upon a time a stranger had
mentioned the scenery, and Smith had replied ironically that there was
plenty of it and for him to help himself!

But this spring was different--so different that he asked himself
wonderingly if other springs had been like it; and to-day, as he sat in
the sunshine and looked about him, he saw for the first time grandeur in
the saw-toothed, snow-covered peaks outlined against the dazzling blue of
the western sky. For the first time he saw the awing vastness of the
desert, and the soft pastel shades which made their desolation beautiful.
He breathed deep of the odorous air and stared about him like a blind man
who suddenly sees.

During a silence, Smith looked at Dora with his curiously intent gaze; his
characteristic stare which held nothing of impertinence--only interest,
intense, absorbing interest--and as he looked a thought came to him, a
thought so unexpected, so startling, that he blinked as if some one had
struck him in the face. It sent a bright red rushing over him, coloring
his neck, his ears, his white, broad forehead.

He thought of her as the mother of children--his children--bearing his
name, miniatures of himself and of her. He never had thought of this
before. He never had met a woman who inspired in him any such desire. He
followed the thought further. What if he should have a permanent home--a
ranch that belonged to him exclusively--"Smith's Ranch"--where there were
white curtains at the windows, and little ones who came tumbling through
the door to greet him when he rode into the yard? A place where people
came to visit, people who reckoned him a person of consequence because he
stood for something. He must have seen a place like it somewhere, the
picture was so vivid in his mind.

The thought of living like others never before had entered into the scheme
of his calculations. Since the time when he had "quit the flat" back in
the country where they slept between sheets, the world had been lined up
against him in its own defense. Life had been a constant game of hare and
hounds, with the pack frequently close at his heels. He had been ever on
the move, both for reasons of safety and as a matter of taste. His point
of view was the abnormal one of the professional law-breaker: the world
was his legitimate prey; the business of his life was to do as he pleased
and keep his liberty; to outwit sheriffs and make a clean get-away. To be
known among his kind as "game" and "slick," was the only distinction he
craved. His chiefest ambition had been to live up to his title of "Bad
Man." In this he had found glory which satisfied him.

"Well," Dora asked at last, smiling up at him, "what is it?"

Smith hesitated; then he burst out:

"Girl, do I stack up different to you nor anybody else? Have you any
feelin' for me at all?"

"Why, I think I've shown my interest in trying to teach you," she replied,
a little abashed by his vehemence.

"What do you want to teach me for?" he demanded.

"Because," Dora declared, "you have possibilities."

"Why don't you teach Meeteetse Ed and Tubbs?"

Dora laughed aloud.

"Candidly, I think it would be a waste of time. They could never hope to
be much more than we see them here. And they are content as they are."

"So was I, girl, until our trails crossed. I could ride without grub all
day, and sing. I could sleep on a saddle-blanket like a tired pup, with
only a rock for a wind-break and my saddle for a pillow. Now I can't sleep
in a bed. It's horrible--this mixed up feelin'--half the time wantin' to
holler and laugh and the other half wantin' to cry."

"I don't see why you should feel like that," said Dora gravely. "You are
getting along. It's slow, but you're learning."

"Oh, yes, I'm learnin'," Smith answered grimly--"fast."

He saw her wondering look and went on fiercely.

"Girl, don't you see what I mean? Don't you _sabe_? My feelin' for you is
more nor friendship. I can't tell you how I feel. It's nothin' I ever had
before, but I've heard of it a-plenty. It's love--that's what it is! I've
seen it, too, a-plenty.

"There's two things in the world a feller'll go through hell for--just
two: love and gold. I don't mean money, but gold--the pure stuff. They'll
waller through snow-drifts, they'll swim rivers with the ice runnin',
they'll crawl through canyons and over trails on their hands and knees,
they'll starve and they'll freeze, they'll work till the blood runs from
their blistered hands, they'll kill their horses and their pardners, for
gold! And they'll do it for love. Yes, I've seen it a-plenty, me--Smith.

"Things I've done, I've done, and they don't worry me none," he went on,
"but lately I've thought of Dutch Joe. I worked him over for singin' a
love-song, and I wisht I hadn't. He'd held up a stage, and was cached in
my camp till things simmered down. It was lonesome, and I'd want to talk;
but he'd sit back in the dark, away from the camp-fire, and sing to
himself about 'ridin' to Annie.' How the miles wasn't long or the trail
rough if only he was 'ridin' to Annie.' Sittin' back there in the brush,
he sounded like a sick coyote a-hollerin'. It hadn't no tune, and I
thought it was the damnedest fool song I ever heard. After he'd sung it
more'n five hundred times, I hit him on the head with a six-shooter, and
we mixed. He quit singin', but he held that gretch against me as long as
he lived.

"I thought it was because he was Dutch, but it wasn't. 'Twas love. Why,
girl, I'd ride as long as my horse could stand up under me, and then I'd
hoof it, just to hear you say, 'Smith, do you think it will rain?'"

"Oh, I never thought of this!" cried Dora, as Smith paused.

Her face was full of distress, and her hands lay tightly clenched in her
lap.

"Do you mean I haven't any show--no show at all?" The color fading from
Smith's face left it a peculiar yellow.

"It never occurred to me that you would misunderstand, or think anything
but that I wanted to help you. I thought that you wanted to learn so that
you would have a better chance in life."

"Did you--honest? Are you as innocent as that, girl?" he asked in savage
scepticism. "Did you believe that I'd set and study them damned verbs just
so I'd have a better chanct in life?"

"You said so."

"Oh, yes, maybe I _said_ so."

"Surely, _surely_, you don't think I would intentionally mislead you?"

"When a woman wants a man to dress or act or talk different, she generally
cares some."

"And I do 'care some'!" Dora cried impulsively. "I believe that you are
not making the best of yourself, of your life; that you are better than
your surroundings; and because I do believe in you, I want to help you.
Don't you understand?"

Her explanation was not convincing to Smith.

"Is it because I don't talk grammar, and you think you'd have to live in a
log-house and hang out your own wash?"

Dora considered.

"Even if I cared for you, those things would have weight," she answered
truthfully. "I am content out here now, and like it because it is novel
and I know it is temporary; but if I were asked to live here always, as
you suggest, in a log-house and hang out my own wash, I should have to
care a great deal."

"It's because I haven't a stake, then," he said bitterly.

"No, not because you haven't a stake. I merely say that extreme poverty
would be an objection."

"But if I should get the _dinero_--me, Smith--plenty of it? Tell me," he
demanded fiercely--"it's the time to talk now--is there any one else? It's
me for the devil straight if you throw me! You'd better take this gun
here, plant it on my heart, and pull the trigger. Because if I live--I'm
talkin' straight--what I have done will be just a kid's play to what I'll
do, if I ever cut loose for fair. Don't throw me, girl! Give me a show--if
there ain't any one else! If there is, I'm quittin' the flat to-day."

Dora was silent, panic-stricken with the responsibility which he seemed
to have thrust upon her, almost terrified by the thought that he was
leaving his future in her hands--a malleable object, to be shaped
according to her will for good or evil.

A certain self-contained, spectacled youth, whose weekly letters arrived
with regularity, rose before her mental vision, and as quickly vanished,
leaving in his stead a man of a different type, a man at once unyielding
and gentle, both shy and bold; a man who seemed to typify in himself the
faults and virtues of the raw but vigorous West. Though she hesitated, she
replied:

"No, there is no one."

And Ralston, fording the stream, lifted his eyes midway and saw Smith
raise Dora's hand to his lips.



XI

THE BEST HORSE


There was a subtle change in Ralston, which Dora was quick to feel. He was
deferential, as always, and as eager to please; but he no longer sought
her company, and she missed the quick exchange of sympathetic glances at
the table. It seemed to her, also, that the grimness in his face was
accentuated of late. She found herself crying one night, and called it
homesickness, yet the small items of news contained in the latest letter
from the spectacled youth had irritated her, and she had realized that she
no longer regarded church fairs, choir practice, and oyster suppers as
"events."

She wondered how she had offended Ralston, if at all; or was it that he
thought her bold, a brazen creature, because she had let him keep her hand
so long upon the memorable occasion of the grasshopper hunt? She blushed
in the darkness at the thought, and the tears slipped down her cheeks
again as she decided that this must be so, since there could be no other
explanation. Before she finally slept, she had fully made up her mind that
she would show him by added reserve and dignity of manner that she was not
the forward hoyden he undoubtedly believed her. And as a result of this
midnight decision, the Schoolmarm's "Good-morning, Mr. Ralston," chilled
that person like a draught from cold storage.

Susie noticed the absence of their former cordiality toward each other;
and the obvious lack of warmth filled Smith with keen satisfaction. He had
no notion of its cause; it was sufficient that it was so.

As their conversation daily became more forced, the estrangement more
marked, Ralston's wretchedness increased in proportion. He brooded
miserably over the scene he had witnessed; troubled, aside from his own
interest in Dora, that she should be misled by a man of Smith's moral
calibre. While he had delighted in her unworldly, childlike belief in
people and things, in this instance he deeply regretted it.

Ralston understood perfectly the part which Smith desired to play in her
eyes. He had heard through Dora the stories Smith had told her of wild
adventures in which he figured to advantage, of reckless deeds which he
hinted would be impossible since falling under her influence. He posed as
a brand snatched from the burning, and conveyed the impression that his
salvation was a duty which had fallen in her path for her to perform. That
she applied herself to the task of elevating Smith with such combined
patience and ardor, was the grievance of which Ralston had most to
complain.

In his darker moments he told himself that she must have a liking for the
man far stronger than he had believed, to have permitted the liberty which
he had witnessed, one which, coming from Smith, seemed little short of
sacrilege. His unhappiness was not lessened by the instances he recalled
where women had married beneath them through this mistaken sense of duty,
pity, or less commendable emotions.

Upon one thing he was determined, and that was never again to force his
attentions upon her, to take advantage of her helplessness as he had when
he had held her hand so tightly and, as he now believed, against her
wishes. Although she did not show it, she must have thought him a bumpkin,
an oaf, an underbred cur. He groaned as he ransacked his vocabulary for
fitting words.

If only something would arise to reveal Smith's character to her in its
true light! But this was too much to hope. In his depression, it seemed to
Ralston that the sun would never shine for him again, that failure was
written on him like an I. D. brand, that sorrow everlasting would eat and
sleep with him. In this mood, after a brief exchange of breakfast
civilities, far worse than none, he walked slowly to the corral to saddle,
cursing Smith for the braggart he knew he was and for the scoundrel he
believed him to be.

Smith, it seemed, was riding that morning also, for when Ralston led his
brown mare saddled and bridled from the stable, Smith was tightening the
cinch on his long-legged gray--the horse he had taken from the Englishman.
The Schoolmarm, in her riding clothes, ran down the trail, calling
impartially:

"Will one of you please get my horse for me? He broke loose last night and
is over there in the pasture."

For reply, both Ralston and Smith swung into their saddles.

"I aims to get that horse. There's no call for you to go, feller."

Above all else, it was odious to Ralston to be addressed by Smith
"feller."

"If you happen to get to him first," he answered curtly. "And I'd like to
suggest that my name is Ralston."

By way of answer, Smith dug the spurs cruelly into the thin-skinned
blooded gray. Ralston loosened the reins on his brown mare, and it was a
run from the jump.

Each realized that the inevitable clash had come, that no pretense of
friendliness would longer be possible between them, that from now on they
would be avowed enemies. As for Ralston, he was glad that the crisis had
arrived; glad of anything which would divert him for ever so short a time
from his own bitter thoughts; glad of the test which he could meet in the
open, like a man.

The corral gate was open, and this led into a lane something like
three-quarters of a mile in length, at the end of which was another gate,
opening into the pasture where the runaway pony had crawled through the
loose wire fence.

The brown mare had responded to Ralston's signal like the loyal, honest
little brute she was. The gravel flew behind them, and the rat-a-tat-tat
of the horses' hoofs on the hard road was like the roll of a drum. They
were running neck and neck, but Ralston had little fear of the result,
unless the gray had phenomenal speed.

Ralston knew that whoever reached the gate first must open it. If he could
get far enough in the lead, he could afford to do so; if not, he meant to
"pull" his horse and leave it to Smith. The real race would be from the
gate to the pony.

The gray horse could run--his build showed that, and his stride bore out
his appearance. Yet Ralston felt no uneasiness, for the mare had still
several links of speed to let out--"and then some," as he phrased it. The
pace was furious even to the gate; they ran neck and neck, like a team,
and the face of each rider was set in lines of determination. Ralston
quickly saw that in the short stretch he would be unable to get
sufficiently in the lead to open the gate in safety. So he pulled his
horse a little, wondering if Smith would do the same. But he did not.
Instead, he spurred viciously, and, to Ralston's amazement, he went at the
gate hard. Lifting the gray horse's head, he went over and on without a
break!

It was a chance, but Smith had taken it! He never had tried the horse, but
it was from the English ranch, where he knew they were bred and trained to
jump. His mocking laugh floated back to Ralston while he tore at the
fastenings of the gate and hurled it from him.

Ralston measured the gap between them and his heart sank. It looked
hopeless. The only thing in his favor was that it was a long run, and the
gray might not have the wind or the endurance. The little mare stood
still, her nose out, her soft eyes shining. As he lifted the reins, he
patted her neck and cried, breathing hard:

"Molly, old girl, if you win, it's oats and a rest all your life!"

He could have sworn the mare shared his humiliation.

The saddle-leathers creaked beneath him at the leap she gave. She lay down
to her work like a hound, running low, her neck outstretched, her tail
lying out on the breeze. Game, graceful, reaching out with her slim legs
and tiny hoofs, she ate up the distance between herself and the gray in a
way that made even Ralston gasp. And still she gained--and gained! Her
muscles seemed like steel springs, and the unfaltering courage in her
brave heart made Ralston choke with pride and tenderness and gratitude.
Even if she lost, the race she was making was something to remember
always. But she was gaining inch by inch. The sage-brush and cactus swam
under her feet. When Ralston thought she had done her best, given all
that was in her, she did a little more.

Smith knew, too, that she was gaining, though he would not turn his head
to look. When her nose was at his horse's rump, he had it in his heart to
turn and shoot her as she ran. She crept up and up, and both Smith and
Ralston knew that the straining, pounding gray had done its best. The work
was too rough for its feet. There was too much thoroughbred in it for
lava-rock and sage-brush hummocks. Blind rage consumed Smith as he felt
the increasing effort of each stride and knew that it was going "dead"
under him. He used his spurs with savage brutality, but the brown mare's
breath was coming hot on his leg. The gray horse stumbled; its breath came
and went in sobs. Now they were neck and neck again. Then it was over, the
little brown mare swept by, and Ralston's rope, cutting the air, dropped
about the neck of the insignificant, white "digger" that had caused it
all.

"I guess you're ridin' the best horse to-day," said Smith, as he dropped
from the saddle to retie his latigo.

He gave the words a peculiar emphasis and inflection which made the other
man look at him.

"Molly and I have a prejudice against taking dust," Ralston answered
quietly.

"It happens frequent that a feller has to get over his prejudices out in
this country."

"That depends a little upon the fellow;" and he turned Molly's head toward
the ranch, with the pony in tow.

Smith said nothing more, but rode off across the hills with all the evil
in his nature showing in his lowering countenance.

Dora's eyes were brilliant as they always were under excitement; and when
Ralston dismounted she stroked Molly's nose, saying in a voice which was
more natural than it had been for days when addressing him, "It was
splendid! _She_ is splendid!" and he glowed, feeling that perhaps he was
included a little in her praise.

"You want to watch out now," said Susie soberly. "Smith'll never rest till
he's 'hunks.'"

Ralston thought the Schoolmarm hesitated, as if she were waiting for him
to join them, or were going to ask him to do so; but she did not, and,
although it was some satisfaction to feel that he had drawn first blood,
he felt his despondency returning as soon as Dora and Susie had ridden
away.

He walked aimlessly about, waiting for Molly to cool a bit before he let
her drink preparatory to starting on his tiresome ride over the range.
Both he and the Colonel believed that the thieves would soon grow bolder,
and his strongest hope lay in coming upon them at work. He had noted that
there were no fresh hides among those which hung on the fence, and he
sauntered down to have another look at the old ones. With his foot he
turned over something which lay close against a fence-post, half concealed
in a sage-brush. Stooping, he unrolled it and shook it out; then he
whistled softly. It was a fresh hide with the brand cut out!

Ralston nodded his head in mingled satisfaction and regret. So the thief
was working from the MacDonald ranch! Did the Indian woman know, he
wondered. Was it possible that Susie was in ignorance? With all his heart,
he hoped she was. He walked leisurely to the house and leaned against the
jamb of the kitchen door.

"Have the makings, Ling?" He passed his tobacco-sack and paper to the
cook.

"Sure!" said Ling jauntily. "I like 'em cigilette."

And as they smoked fraternally together, they talked of food and its
preparation--subjects from which Ling's thoughts seldom wandered far. When
the advantages of soda and sour milk over baking powder were thoroughly
exhausted as a topic, Ralston asked casually:

"Who killed your last beef, Ling? It's hard to beat."

"Yellow Bird," he replied. "Him good butcher."

"Yes," Ralston agreed; "I should say that Yellow Bird was an uncommonly
good butcher."

So, after all, it was the Indians who were killing. Ralston sauntered on
to the bunk-house to think it over.

"Tubbs," McArthur was saying, as he eyed that person with an interest
which he seldom bestowed upon his hireling, "you really have a most
remarkable skull."

Tubbs, visibly flattered, smirked.

"It's claimed that it's double by people what have tried to work me over.
Onct I crawled in a winder and et up a batch of 'son-of-a-gun-in-a-sack'
that the feller who lived there had jest made. He come in upon me suddent,
and the way he hammered me over the head with the stove-lifter didn't
trouble _him_, but," declared Tubbs proudly, "he never even knocked me to
my knees."

"It is of the type of dolichocephalic," mused McArthur.

"A barber told me that same thing the last time I had a hair-cut,"
observed Tubbs blandly. "'Tubbs,' says he, 'you ought to have a massaj
every week, and lay the b'ar-ile on a-plenty.'"

"It is remarkably suggestive of the skulls found in the ancient paraderos
of Patagonia. Very similar in contour--very similar."

"There's no Irish in me," Tubbs declared with a touch of resentment. "I'm
pure mungrel--English and Dutch."

"It is an extremely curious skull--most peculiar." He felt of Tubbs's head
with growing interest. "This bump behind the ear, if the system of
phrenology has any value, would indicate unusual pugnacity."

"That's where a mule kicked me and put his laig out of joint," said Tubbs
humorously.

"Ah, that renders the skull pathological; but, even so, it is an
interesting skull to an anthropologist--a really valuable skull, it would
be to me, illustrating as it does certain features in dispute, for which I
have stubbornly contended in controversies with the Preparator of
Anthropology at the École des Haute Études in Paris."

"Why don't you sell it to him, Tubbs?" suggested Ralston, who had listened
in unfeigned amusement.

Tubbs, startled, clasped both hands over the top of his head and backed
off.

"Why, I need it myself."

"Certainly--we understand that; but supposing you were to die--supposing
something happened to you, as is liable to happen out here--you wouldn't
care what became of your skull, once you were good and dead. If it were
sold, you'd be just that much in, besides making an invaluable
contribution to science," Ralston urged persuasively.

"It not infrequently happens that paupers, and prisoners sentenced to
suffer capital punishment, dispose of their bodies for anatomical
purposes, for which they are paid in advance. As a matter of fact,
Tubbs," declared McArthur earnestly, "my superficial examination of your
head has so impressed me that upon the chance of some day adding it to my
collection I am willing to offer you a reasonable sum for it."

"It's on bi-products that the money is made," declared Ralston soberly,
"and I advise you not to let this chance pass. You can raise money on the
rest of your anatomy any time; but selling your head separately like
this--don't miss it, Tubbs!"

"Don't I git the money till you git my head?" Tubbs demanded
suspiciously.

"I could make a first payment to you, and the remainder could be paid to
your heirs."

"My heirs! Say, all that I'll ever git for my head wouldn't be a smell
amongst my heirs. A round-up of my heirs would take in the hull of North
Dakoty. Not aimin' to brag, I got mavericks runnin' on that range what
must be twelve-year-old."

McArthur looked the disgust he felt at Tubbs's ribald humor.

"Your jests are exceedingly distasteful to me, Tubbs."

"That ain't no jest. Onct I----"

"Let's get down to business," interrupted Ralston. "What do you consider
your skull worth?"

"It's wuth considerable to me. I don't know as I'm so turrible anxious to
sell. I can eat with it, and it gits me around." Tubbs's tone took on the
assumed indifference of an astute horse trader. "I've always held my head
high, as you might say, and it looks to me like it ought to bring a
hunderd dollars in the open market. No, I couldn't think of lettin' it go
for less than a hundred--cash."

McArthur considered.

"If you will agree to my conditions, I will give you my check for one
hundred dollars," he said at last.

"That sounds reasonable," Tubbs assented.

"I should want you to carry constantly upon your person my name, address,
and written instructions as to the care of and disposal of your skull, in
the event of your demise. I shall also insist that you do not voluntarily
place your head where your skull may be injured; because, as you can
readily see, if it were badly crushed, it would be worthless for my
purpose, or that of the scientific body to whom I intend to bequeath my
interest in it, should I die before yourself."

"I wasn't aimin' to lay it in a vise," remarked Tubbs.

While McArthur was drawing up the agreement between them, Tubbs's face
brightened with a unique thought.

"Say," he suggested, "why don't you leave word in them instructions for me
to be mounted? I know a taxidermist over there near the Yellowstone Park
what can put up a b'ar or a timber wolf so natural you wouldn't know 'twas
dead. Wouldn't it be kinda nice to see me settin' around the house with my
teeth showin' and an ear of corn in my mouth? I'll tell you what I'll do:
I'll sell you my hull hide for a hundred more. It might cost two dollars
to have me tanned, and with a nice felt linin' you could have a good rug
out of me for a very little money."

McArthur replied ironically:

"I never have regarded you as an ornament, Tubbs."

Tubbs looked at the check McArthur handed him, with satisfaction.

"That's what I call clear velvet!" he declared, and went off chuckling to
show it to his friends.

"When you think of it, this is a very singular transaction," observed
McArthur, wiping his fountain-pen carefully.

"Yes," and Ralston, no longer able to contain himself, shouted with
laughter; "it is."



XII

SMITH GETS "HUNKS"


Smith's ugly mood was still upon him when he picked up his grammar that
evening. Jealous, humiliated by the loss of the morning's race, full
of revengeful thoughts and evil feelings, he wanted to hurt
somebody--something--even Dora. He had a vague, sullen notion that she
was to blame because Ralston was in love with her. She could have
discouraged him in the beginning, he told himself; she could have
stopped it.

Unaccustomed as Smith was to self-restraint, he quickly showed his frame
of mind to Dora. He had no _savoir faire_ with which to conceal his mood;
besides, he entertained a feeling of proprietorship over her which
justified his resentment to himself. Was she not to be his? Would he not
eventually control her, her actions, choose her friends?

Dora found him a dense and disagreeable pupil, and one who seemingly had
forgotten everything he had learned during previous lessons. His replies
at times were so curt as to be uncivil, and a feeling of indignation
gradually rose within her. She was at a loss to understand his mood,
unless it was due to the result of the morning's race; yet she could
scarcely believe that his disappointment, perhaps chagrin, could account
for his rudeness to her.

When the useless lesson was finished, she closed the book and asked:

"You are not yourself to-night. What is wrong?"

With an expression upon his face which both startled and shocked her he
snarled:

"I'm sick of seein' that lady-killer hangin' around here!"

"You mean----?"

"Ralston!"

Dora had never looked at Smith as she looked at him now.

"I beg to be excused from your criticisms of Mr. Ralston."

Smith had not dreamed that the gentle, girlish voice could take on such a
quality. It cut him, stung him, until he felt hot and cold by turns.

"Oh, I didn't know he was such a friend," he sneered.

"Yes"--her eyes did not quail before the look that flamed in his--"he is
_just_ such a friend!"

They had risen; and Smith, looking at her as she stood erect, her head
high in defiance, could have choked her in his jealous rage.

He stumbled rather than walked toward the door.

"Good-night," he said in a strained, throaty voice.

"Good-night."

She stared at the door as it closed behind him. She had something of the
feeling of one who, making a pet of a tiger, feels its claws for the first
time, sees the first indication of its ferocious nature. This new phase of
Smith's character, while it angered, also filled her with uneasiness.

It was later than usual when Smith came in to say a word to the Indian
woman, after Dora and Susie had retired. He did not bring with him the
fumes of tobacco, the smoke of which rose in clouds in the bunk-house,
making it all but impossible to see the length of the building; he
brought, rather, an odor of freshness, a feeling of coolness, as though he
had been long in the night air.

The Indian woman sniffed imperceptibly.

"Where you been?"

His look was evil as he answered:

"Me? I've been payin' my debts, me--Smith."

He took her impassive hand in both of his and pressed it against his
heart.

"Prairie Flower," he said, "I want you to tell Ralston to go. _I hate
him_."

The woman looked at him, but did not answer.

"Will you?"

"Yes, I tell him."

"When?"

She raised her narrowing eyes to his.

"_When you tell de white woman to go_."

                   *       *       *       *       *

Ralston had felt that the old Colonel was growing impatient with his
seeming inactivity, so he decided, the next morning, to ride to the Bar C
and tell him that he believed he had a clue. It would not be necessary to
keep Running Rabbit under close surveillance until the beef in the
meat-house was getting low. Then the deputy sheriff meant not to let him
out of his sight.

Smith had not spoken to the man whom he had come to regard as his rival
since he had ridden away from him the morning before. He had ignored
Ralston's conversation at the table and avoided him in the bunk-house.
Now, engaged in trimming his horse's fetlocks, Smith did not look up as
the other man passed, but his eyes followed him with a triumphant gleam as
he went into the stable to saddle Molly.

Ralston backed the mare to turn her in the stall, and she all but fell
down. He felt a little surprise at her clumsiness, but did not grasp its
meaning until he led her to the door, where she stepped painfully over the
low door-sill and all but fell again. He led her a step or two further,
and she went almost to her knees. The mare was lame in every leg--she
could barely stand; yet there was not a mark on her--not ever so slight a
bruise! Her slender legs were as free from swellings as when they had
carried her past Smith's gray; her feet looked to be in perfect condition;
yet, save for the fact that she could stand up, she was as crippled as if
the bones of every leg were shattered.

It is doubtful if any but steel-colored eyes can take on the look which
Ralston's contained as they met Smith's. His skin was gray as he
straightened himself and drew a hand which shook noticeably the length of
his cheek and across his mouth.

In great anger, anger which precedes some quick and desperate act, almost
every person has some gesture peculiar to himself, and this was
Ralston's.

A less guilty man than Smith might have flinched at that moment. The
half-grin on his face faded, and he waited for a torrent of accusations
and oaths. But Ralston, in a voice so low that it barely reached him, a
voice so ominous, so fraught with meaning, that the dullest could not have
misunderstood, said:

"I'll borrow your horse, Smith."

Smith, like one hypnotized, heard himself saying:

"Sure! Take him."

Ralston knew as well as though he had witnessed the act that Smith had
hammered the frogs of Molly's feet until they were bruised and sore as
boils. Her lameness would not be permanent--she would recover in a week or
two; but the abuse of, the cruelty to, the little mare he loved filled
Ralston with a hatred for Smith as relentless and deep as Smith's own.

"A man who could do a thing like that," said Ralston through his set
teeth, "is no common cur! He's wolf--all wolf! He isn't staying here for
love, alone. There's something else. And I swear before the God that made
me, I'll find out what it is, and land him, before I quit!"



XIII

SUSIE'S INDIAN BLOOD


Coming leisurely up the path from the corrals, Smith saw Susie sitting on
the cottonwood log, wrapped in her mother's blanket. She was huddled in a
squaw's attitude. He eyed her; he never had seen her like that before.
But, knowing Indians better, possibly, than he knew his own race, Smith
understood. He recognized the mood. Her Indian blood was uppermost. It
rose in most half-breeds upon occasion. Sometimes under the influence of
liquor it cropped out, sometimes anger brought it to the surface. He had
seen it often--this heavy, smouldering sullenness.

Smith stood with his hands in his pockets, looking at her. He felt more at
ease with her than ever before.

"What are you sullin' about, Susie?"

She did not answer. Her pertness, her Anglo-Saxon vivacity, were gone; her
face was wooden, expressionless; her restless eyes slow-moving and dull;
her cheek-bones, always noticeably high, looked higher, and her skin was
murky and dark.

"You look like a squaw with that sull on," he ventured again, and there
was satisfaction in his face.

It was something to know that, after all, Susie was "Injun"--"pure
Injun." The scheme which had lain dormant in his brain now took active
shape. He had wanted Susie's help, but each time that he had tried to
conciliate her, his overtures had ended in a fresh rupture. Now her
stinging tongue was dumb, and there was no aggressiveness in her manner.

Smith, laying his hand heavily upon her shoulder, sat down beside her, and
a flash, a transitory gleam, shone for an instant in her dull eyes; but
she did not move or change expression.

He said in a low voice:

"What you need is stirrin' up, Susie."

He watched her narrowly, and continued:

"You ought to get into a game that has some ginger in it. This here life
is too tame for a girl like you."

Without looking at him she asked:

"What kind of a game?" Her voice was lifeless, guttural.

"It's agin my principles to empty my sack to a woman; but you're
diff'rent--you're game--you are, Susie." His voice dropped to a whisper,
and the weight of his hand made her shoulder sag. "Let's you and me rustle
a bunch of horses."

Susie did not betray surprise at the startling proposition by so much as
the twitching of an eyelid.

"What for?"

Smith replied:

"Just for the hell of it!"

She grunted, but neither in assent nor dissent; so Smith went on in an
eager, persuasive whisper:

"There's Injun enough in you, girl, to make horse-stealin' all the same as
breathin'. You jump in with me on this deal and see how easy you lose that
sull. Don't you ever have a feelin' take holt of you that you want to do
something onery--steal something, mix with somebody? I do. I've had that
notorious feelin' workin' on me strong for days now, and I've got to get
rid of it. If you'll come in on this, we'll have the excitement and make a
stake, too. Talk up, girl--show your sand! Be game!"

"What horses do you aim to steal?"

"Reservation horses. Say, the way I can burn their brands and fan 'em over
the line won't trouble _me_. I'll come back with a wad--me, Smith--and
I'll whack up even. What do you say?"

"What for a hand do I take in it?"

A smile of triumph lifted the corners of Smith's mouth.

"You gather 'em up and run 'em into a coulee, that's all. I'll do the
rest."

"What do you want _me_ to do it for?"

"Nobody'd think anything of it if they saw you runnin' horses, because
you're always doin' it; but they'd notice me."

"Where's the coulee?"

"I've picked it. I located my plant long ago. I've found the best spot in
the State to make a plant."

"Where are you goin' to sell?"

Smith eyed her inscrutable face suspiciously.

"You're askin' lots of questions, girl. I tips my hand too far to no
petticoat. You trusts me or you don't. Will you come in?"

"All right," said Susie after a silence; "I'll come in--'just for the hell
of it.'"

"Shake!"

She looked at his extended hand and wrapped her own in her blanket.

"There's no call to shake."

"Is your heart mixed, Susie?" he demanded. "Ain't it right toward me?"

"It'll be right enough when the time comes," she answered.

The reply did not satisfy Smith, but he told himself that, once she was
committed, he could manage her, for, after all, Susie was little more than
a child. Smith felt uncommonly pleased with himself for his bold stroke.

The new intimacy between Smith and Susie, the sudden cessation of
hostilities, caused surprise on the ranch, but the Indian woman was the
only one to whom it gave pleasure. She viewed the altered relations with
satisfaction, since it removed the only obstacle, as she believed, to a
speedy marriage with Smith.

"Didn't I tell you he smart white man?" she asked complacently of Susie.

"Oh, yes, he's awful smart," Susie answered with sarcasm.

Ralston, more than any one else, was puzzled by their apparent friendship.
He had believed that Susie's antipathy for Smith was as deep as his own,
and he wondered what could have happened to bring about such a sudden and
complete revulsion of feeling. He was disappointed in her. He felt that
she had weakly gone over to the enemy; and it shook his confidence in her
sturdy honesty more than anything she could have done. He believed that no
person who understood Smith, as Susie undoubtedly did, could make a friend
and confidant of him and be "right." But sometimes he caught Susie's eyes
fixed upon him in a kind of wistful, inquiring scrutiny, which left the
impression that something was troubling her, something that she longed to
confide in some one upon whom she could rely; but his past experience had
taught him the futility of attempting to force her confidence, of trying
to learn more than she volunteered.

Smith and Susie rode the surrounding country and selected horses from the
various bands. Three or four bore Bear Chief's brand, there were a pinto
and a black buckskin in Running Rabbit's herd, and a sorrel or two that
belonged to Yellow Bird. A couple of bays here were singled out, a brown
and black there, until they had the pick of the range.

"We don't want to get more nor you can cut out alone and handle," warned
Smith. "We don't want no slip-up on the start."

"I don't aim to make no slip-up."

"We've got lookers, we have," declared Smith. "And them chunky ones go off
quickest at a forced sale. I know a horse when I meet up with it,
me--Smith."

"But where you goin' to cache 'em?" insisted Susie.

"Girl, I ain't been ridin' this range for my health. I'll show you a blind
canyon where a regiment of soldiers couldn't find a hundred head of horses
in a year; and over there in the Bad Lands there's a spring breakin' out
where a man dyin' of thirst would never think of lookin' for it. We're all
right. You're a head-worker, and so am I." Smith chuckled. "We'll set some
of these Injuns afoot, and make a clean-get-away."

Smith was more than satisfied with the zest with which Susie now entered
into the plot, and the shrewdness which she showed in planning details
that he himself had overlooked.

"You work along with me, kid, and I'll make a dead-game one out of you!"
he declared with enthusiasm. "When we make a stake, we'll go to Billings
and rip up the sod!"

"I'll like that," said Susie dryly.

"When the right time comes, I'll know it," Smith went on. "When I wakes up
some mornin' with a feelin' that it's the day to get action on, I always
follows that feelin'--if it takes holt of me anyways strong. I has to do
certain things on certain days. I hates a chilly day worse nor anything. I
wants to hole up, and I feels mean enough to bite myself. But when the sun
shines, it thaws me; it draws the frost out of my heart, like. I hates to
let anybody's blood when the sun shines. I likes to lie out on a rock like
a lizard, and I feels kind. I'm cur'ous that way, about sun, me--Smith."



XIV

THE SLAYER OF MASTODONS


Dora and Susie had planned to botanize one fine Saturday morning, and
Susie, dressed for a tramp in the hills, was playing with a pup in the
dooryard, waiting for Dora, when she saw Smith coming toward her with the
short, quick step which, she had learned, with him denoted mental
activity.

"This is the day for it," he said decisively. "I had that notorious
feelin' take holt of me when I got awake. How's your heart, girl?"

It had given a thump at Smith's approach, and Susie's tawny skin had paled
under its tan, but by way of reply she gave the suggestive Indian sign of
strength.

"Good!" he nodded. "You'll need a strong heart for the ridin' you've got
to do to-day; but I'm not a worryin' that you can't do it, kid, for I've
watched you close."

"Guess I could ride a flyin' squirrel if I had to," Susie replied shortly,
"but Teacher wanted me to go with her to get flowers. She doesn't like to
go alone."

"There's no call for her to go alone. I'll go with her. It's no use for me
to get to the plant before afternoon. I'll go on this flower-pickin'
spree, and be at the mouth of the canyon in time to hold the first bunch
of horses you bring in. They're pretty much scattered, you know. What for
an outfit you goin' to wear? You don't want no flappin' skirts to
advertise you."

Susie answered curtly:

"I got some sense."

"You're a sassy side-kicker," he observed good-humoredly.

She pouted.

"I don't care, I wanted to pick flowers."

Smith said mockingly, "So do I, angel child. I jest worships flowers!"

"From pickin' flowers to stealin' horses is some of a jump."

"I holds a record for long jumps." As a final warning Smith said: "Now,
don't make no mistake in cuttin' out, for we've picked the top horses of
the range. And remember, once you get 'em strung out, haze 'em along--for
there'll be hell a-poppin' on the reservation when they're missed."

Susie had disappeared when the Schoolmarm came out with her basket and
knife, prepared to start, and Smith gave some plausible excuse for her
change of plan.

"She told me to go in her place," said Smith eagerly, "and I know a gulch
where there's a barrel of them Mormon lilies, and rock-roses, and a
reg'lar carpet of these here durn little blue flowers that look so nice
and smell like a Chinese laundry. I can dig like a badger, too."

Dora laughed, and, looking at him, noticed, as she often had before, the
wonderful vividness with which his varying moods were reflected in his
face, completely altering his expression.

He looked boyish, brimming with the buoyant spirits of youth. His skin had
unwonted clearness, his eyes were bright, his face was animated; he seemed
to radiate exuberant good-humor. Even his voice was different and his
laugh was less hard. As he walked away with the Schoolmarm's basket
swinging on his arm, he was for the time what he should have been always.
He had long since made ample apology to Dora for his offense and there had
been no further outbreak from him of which to complain.

The day's work was cut out for Ralston also, when he saw Yellow Bird and
another Indian ride away, each leading a pack-horse, and learned from Ling
that they had gone to butcher. They started off over the reservation, in
the direction in which the MacDonald cattle ranged; with the intention,
Ralston supposed, of circling and coming out on the Bar C range. He
thought that by keeping well to the draws and gulches he could remain
fairly well hidden and yet keep them in sight.

He heard voices, and turned a hill just in time to see Smith take a flower
gently from Dora's hand and, with some significant word, lay it with care
between the leaves of a pocket note-book.

Though it looked more to Ralston, all that Smith had said was, "It might
bring me luck." And Dora had smiled at his superstition.

Ralston would have turned back had it not been too late: his horse's feet
among the rocks had caused them to look up. As he passed Dora replied to
some commonplace, with heightened color, and Smith stared in silent
triumph.

Ralston cursed himself and the mischance which had taken him to that
spot.

"She'll think I was spying upon her, like some ignorant, jealous fool!" he
told himself savagely. "Why, why, is it that I must always blunder upon
such scenes, to make me miserable for days! Can it be--can it possibly
be," he asked himself--"that she cares for the man; that she encourages
him; that she has a foolish, Quixotic notion that she can raise him to her
own level?"

Was there really good in the man which he, Ralston, was unable to see? Was
he too much in love with Dora himself to be just to Smith, he wondered.

"No, no!" he reiterated vehemently. "No man who would abuse a horse is fit
for a good woman to marry. I'm right about him--I know I am. But can I
prove it in time to save her?--not for myself, for I guess I've no show;
but from him?"

With a heartache which seemed to have become chronic of late, Ralston
followed the Indians' lead up hill and down, through sand coulees and
between cut-banks, at a leisurely pace. They seemed in no hurry, nor did
they make any apparent effort to conceal themselves. They rode through
several herds of cattle, and passed on, drifting gradually toward the
creek bottom close to the reservation line, where both Bar C and I. D.
cattle came to drink.

Ralston wondered if they would attempt to stand him off; but his heart was
too heavy for the possibility of a coming fight to quicken his pulse to
any great extent. He believed that he would be rather glad than otherwise
if they should make a stand. The thought that the tedious waiting game
which he had played so long might be ended did not elate him. The ambition
seemed to have gone out of him. He had little heart in his work, and small
interest in the glory resulting from success.

He thought only of Dora as he lay full length on the ground, plucking
disconsolately at spears of bunch-grass within reach, while he waited for
the sound of a shot in the creek bottom, or the reappearance of the
Indians.

He had not long to wait before a shot, a bellow, and another shot told him
that the time for action had come. He pulled his rifle from its scabbard,
and laid it in front of him on his saddle. It was curious, he thought, as
he rode closer, that one Indian was not on guard. Still, it was probable
that they had grown careless through past successes. He was within a
hundred yards of the butchers before they saw him.

"Hello!" Yellow Bird's voice was friendly.

"Hello!" Ralston answered.

"Fat cow. Fine beef," vouchsafed the Indian.

"Fine beef," agreed Ralston. "Can I help you?"

The MacDonald brand stood out boldly on the cow's flank!

Ralston watched them until they had loaded their meat upon the pack-horses
and started homeward. One thing was certain: if Running Rabbit had
butchered the Bar C cattle, he had done so under a white man's
supervision. In this instance, with an Indian's usual economy in the
matter of meat, he had left little but the horns and hoofs. The Bar C
cattle had been butchered with the white man's indifference to waste.

Any one of the bunk-house crowd, except McArthur, Ralston believed to be
quite capable of stealing cattle for beef purposes. But if they had been
stealing systematically, as it would appear, why had they killed MacDonald
cattle to-day? Ralston still regarded the affair of the fresh hide as too
suspicious a circumstance to be overlooked, and he meant to learn which of
the white grub-liners had been absent. He reasoned that the Indians had a
wholesome fear of Colonel Tolman, and that it was unlikely they would
venture upon his range for such a purpose without a white man's moral
support.

Smith had been missing frequently of late and for so long as two days at
a time, but this could not be regarded as peculiar, since the habits of
all the grub-liners were more or less erratic. They disappeared and
reappeared, with no explanation of their absence.

In his present frame of mind, Ralston had no desire to return immediately
to the ranch. He wanted to be alone; to harden his heart against Dora; to
prepare his mind for more shocks such as he had had of late. It was not an
easy task he had set himself.

After a time he dismounted, and, throwing down his bridle-reins, dropped
to the ground to rest, while his horse nibbled contentedly at the sparse
bunch-grass. As he lay in the sunshine, his hands clasped behind his head,
the stillness acted like a sedative, and something of the tranquillity
about him crept into his soul.

Upon one thing he was determined, and that was, come what might, to be a
_man_--a gentleman. If in his conceit and eagerness he had misunderstood
the softness of Dora's eyes, her shy tremulousness, as he now believed he
had, he could take his medicine like a man, and go when the time came,
without whimpering, without protest or reproach. He wanted to go away
feeling that he had her respect, at least; go knowing that there was not a
single word or action of his upon which she could look back with contempt.
Yes, he wanted greatly her respect. She inspired in him this desire.

Ralston felt very humble, very conscious of his own shortcomings, as he
lay there while the afternoon waned; but, humble as he was, resigned as he
believed himself to be, he could not think of Smith with anything but
resentment and contempt. It hurt his pride, his self-respect, to regard
Smith in the light of a rival--a successful rival.

"By Gad!" he cried aloud, and with a heat which belied his
self-abnegation. "If he were only a _decent_ white man! But to be let down
and out by the only woman I ever gave a whoop for in all my life, for a
fellow like that! Say, it's tough!"

Ralston's newly acquired serenity, the depth of which he had reason to
doubt, was further disturbed by a distant clatter of hoofs. He sat up and
watched the oncoming of the angriest-looking Indian that ever quirted a
cayuse over a reservation. It was Bear Chief, whom he knew slightly.
Seeing Ralston's saddled horse, the Indian pulled up a little, which was
as well, since the white man was immediately in his path.

As the Indian came back, Ralston, who had rolled over to let him pass,
remarked dryly:

"The country is getting so crowded, it's hardly safe for a man to sit
around like this. What's the excitement, Bear Chief?"

"Horse-thief steal Indian horses!" he cried, pointing toward the Bad
Lands.

Ralston was instantly alert.

"Him ridin' my race-pony--fastest pony on de reservation. Got big bunch.
Runnin' 'em off!"

Fast moving specks that rose and fell among the hills of the Bad Lands
bore out the Indian's words.

"Did you see him?"

Ralston was slipping the bit back in his horse's mouth and tightening the
cinch.

"Yas, I see him. Long way off, but I see him."

"Did you know him?"

"Yas, I know him."

"Who was it?" Ralston was in the saddle now.

"Little white man--what you call him 'bug-hunter'--at de MacDonald
ranch."

"McArthur!" Their horses were gathering speed as they turned them toward
the Bad Lands.

"Yas. Little; hair on face--so; wear what you call dem sawed-off pants."

From the description, Ralston recognized McArthur's English
riding-breeches, which had added zest to life for the bunk-house crowd
when he had appeared in them. The deputy-sheriff was bewildered. It seemed
incredible, yet there, still in sight, was the flying band of horses, and
Bear Chief's positiveness seemed to leave no room for doubt.

"Oh, him one heap good thief," panted Bear Chief, in unwilling admiration,
as their horses ran side by side. "He work fast. No 'fraid. Cut 'em
out--head 'em off--turn 'em--ride through big brush--jump de gulch--yell
and swing de quirt, and do him all 'lone! Dat no easy work--cut out horses
all 'lone. Him heap good horse-thief!"

What did it mean, anyhow? Ralston asked himself the question again and
again. Was it possible that he had been deceived in McArthur? That, after
all, he was a criminal of an extraordinary type? He found no answer to his
questions, but both he and Bear Chief soon realized that they were
exhausting their horses in a useless pursuit. It was growing dark; the
thief had too much start, and, with the experience of an old hand, he
drove the horses over rocks, where they left no blabbing tracks behind.
Once well into the Bad Lands, he was as effectually lost as if the earth
had opened and swallowed him.

So they turned their tired horses back, reaching the ranch long after
sundown. Ralston was still unconvinced that it was not a case of mistaken
identity, and, hoping against hope, he asked some one loafing about while
he and Bear Chief unsaddled if McArthur had returned.

"He's been off prowlin' all day, and ain't in yet," was the answer; and
Bear Chief grunted at this confirmation of his accusation.

The Indian woman was waiting in the doorway when they came up the path.

"You see Susie?" There was uneasiness in her voice.

It was an unheard-of thing for Susie not to return from her rides and
visits before dark.

"Not since morning," Ralston replied. "Has any one gone to look for her?
Is Smith here?"

"Smith no come home for supper."

"There seems to have been a general exodus to-day," Ralston observed. "Are
you feeling worried about Susie?"

"I no like. Yas, I feel worry for Susie."

It was the first evidence of maternal interest that Ralston ever had seen
the stoical woman show.

"If Ling will give me a bite to eat, I'll saddle another horse and ride
down below. She may be spending the night with some of her friends."

"She no do that without tell me," declared the woman positively. "Susie no
do that."

She brought the food from the kitchen herself, and padded uneasily from
window to window while they ate.

What was in the wind, Ralston asked himself, that Susie, McArthur, and
Smith should disappear in this fashion on the same day? It was a singular
coincidence. Like her mother, Ralston had no notion that Susie was
stopping the night at any ranch or lodge below. He, too, shared the Indian
woman's misgivings.

He had finished and was reaching for his hat when footsteps were heard on
the hard-beaten dooryard. They were slow, lagging, unfamiliar to the
listeners, who looked at each other inquiringly. Then the Indian woman
threw open the door, and Susie, like the ghost of herself, staggered from
the darkness outside into the light.

No ordinary fatigue could make her look as she looked now. Every step
showed complete and utter exhaustion. Her dishevelled hair was hanging in
strands over her face, her eyes were dark-circled, she was streaked with
dust and grime, and her thin shoulders drooped wearily.

"Where you been, Susie?" her mother asked sharply.

"Teacher said," she made a pitiful attempt to laugh, to speak
lightly--"Teacher said ridin' horseback would keep you from gettin' fat.
I--I've been reducin' my hips."

"Don't you do dis no more!"

"Don't worry--I shan't!" And as if her mother's reproach was the last
straw, Susie covered her face with the crook of her elbow and cried
hysterically.

Ralston was convinced that the day had held something out of the ordinary
for Susie. He knew that it would take an extraordinary ride so completely
to exhaust a girl who was all but born in the saddle. But it was evident
from her reply that she did not mean to tell where she had been or what
she had been doing.

Although Ralston soon retired, he was awake long after his numerous
room-mates were snoring in their bunks. There was much to be done on the
morrow, yet he could not sleep. He was not able to rid himself of the
thought that there was something peculiar in the absence of Smith just at
this time, nor could he entirely abandon the belief that McArthur would
yet come straggling in, with an explanation of the whole affair. He could
not think of any that would be satisfactory, but an underlying faith in
the little scientist's honesty persisted.

Toward morning he slept, and day was breaking when a step on the door-sill
of the bunk-house awakened him. He raised himself slightly on his elbow
and stared at McArthur, looming large in the gray dawn, with a skull
carried carefully in both hands.

"Ah, I'm glad to find you awake!" He tiptoed across the floor.

His clothing was wrinkled with the damp, night air, and his face looked
haggard in the cold light, but the fire of enthusiasm burned undimmed
behind his spectacles.

"Congratulate me!"

"I do--what for?"

"My dear sir, if I can prove to the satisfaction of scientific sceptics
that this cranium is not pathological, I shall have bounded in a single
day--night--bounded from comparative obscurity to the pinnacle of fame!
Undoubtedly--beyond question--a race of giants existed in North
America----"

"Pardon me," Ralston interrupted his husky eloquence; "but where have you
been all night?"

"Ah, where have I _not_ been? Walking--walking under the stars! Under the
stimulus of success, I have covered miles with no feeling of fatigue. Have
you ever experienced, my dear sir, the sensation which comes from the
realization of a life-dream?"

"Not yet," Ralston replied prosaically. "Where was your horse?"

"Ah, yes, my horse. Where _is_ my horse? I asked myself that question each
time that I stopped to remove one of the poisonous spines of the cactus
from my feet. Whether my horse lost me or I lost my horse, I am unable to
say. I left him grazing in a gulch, and was not again able to locate the
gulch. I wandered all night--or until Fate guided me into a barbed wire
fence, where, as you will observe, I tore my trousers. I followed the
fence, and here I am--I and my companion"--McArthur patted the skull
lovingly--"this giant--the slayer of mastodons--whose history lies
concealed in 'the dark backward and abysm of time'!"

As he looked into Ralston's non-committal eyes with his own burning orbs,
he realized that great joy, like great sorrow, is something which cannot
well be shared.

"Forgive me," he said with hurt dignity; "I have again forgotten that you
have no interest in such things."

"You are mistaken. I wanted to hear."

After McArthur had retired to his pneumatic mattress, Ralston lay
wide-eyed, more mystified than before. Had Bear Chief's eyes deceived him,
or was McArthur the cleverest of rogues?

Breakfast was done when Ralston said:

"Will you be good enough to step into the bunk-house, Mr. McArthur?"

Something in his voice chilled the sensitive man. Ralston, whom he greatly
admired, always had been most friendly. He followed him now in wonder.

"You are sure this is the man, Bear Chief?"

The Indian had stepped forward at their entrance.

"Yas, I know him," he reiterated.

McArthur looked from one to the other.

"Bear Chief accuses you of stealing his horses, Mr. McArthur," explained
Ralston bluntly.

"What!"

"You slick little horse-thief, but I see you good. Where you cache my
race-pony?" The Indian's demand was a threat.

For reply, McArthur walked over and sat down on the edge of a bunk, as if
his legs of a sudden were too weak to support him.

"Bear Chief swears he saw you, McArthur." Ralston's tone was not
unfriendly now, for something within him pleaded the bug-hunter's cause
with irritating persistence.

"Me a horse-thief? Running off race-ponies?" McArthur found himself able
to exclaim at last: "But I had no horse of my own!"

"Have you any credentials--anything at all by which we can identify you?"

"Not with me; but certainly I can furnish them. The name of McArthur is
not unknown in Connecticut," he answered with a tinge of pride.

"Where are your riding-breeches? Bear Chief says you were wearing them
yesterday. Can you produce them now?"

McArthur, with hauteur, walked to the nails where his wardrobe hung and
fumbled among the clothing.

They were gone!

His jaw dropped, and a slight pallor overspread his face.

Susie, who had been listening from the doorway, flung a flour-sack at his
feet.

"Search my trunk, pardner," she said with her old-time impish grin.

McArthur mechanically did as she bade him, and his riding-breeches dropped
from the sack.

"I hope you'll 'scuse me for makin' so free with your clothes, like," she
said, "but I just naturally had to have them yesterday."

A light broke in upon Ralston.

"You!"

"Yep, I did it, me--Susie." Her tone and manner were a ludicrous imitation
of Smith's. She added: "I saw you all pikin' in here, so I tagged."

"But why"--Ralston stared at her in incredulity--"why should _you_ steal
horses?"

"It's this way," Susie explained, in a loud, confidential whisper: "I've
been playin' a little game of my own. When the right time came, I meant to
let Mr. Ralston in on it, but when Bear Chief saw me, I knew I'd have to
tell, to keep my pardner here from gettin' the blame."

"But the beard,"--Ralston still looked sceptical.

"Shucks! That's easy. I saw Bear Chief before he saw me, and I just took
the black silk hankerchief from my neck and tied it hold-up fashion around
the lower part of my face. Bear Chief was excited when he saw his running
horse travelling out of the country at the gait we was goin' then."

"I don't see yet, Susie?"

She turned upon Ralston in good-natured contempt.

"Goodness, but you're slow! Don't you understand? Smith's my pal; we're
workin' together. He cooked this up--him takin' the safe and easy end of
it himself. He sprung it on me that day I had a sull on. Don't you see his
game? He thinks if he can get me mixed up in something crooked, he can
manage me. He's noticed, maybe, that I'm not halter-broke. So I pretended
to fall right in with his plans, once I had promised, meanin' all the time
to turn state's evidence, or whatever you call it, and send him over the
road. I wanted to show Mother and everybody else what kind of a man he
is. I don't want no step-papa named Smith."

The three men stared in amazement at the intrepid little creature with her
canny Scotch eyes.

"And do you mean to say," Ralston asked, "that you've held your tongue and
played your part so well that Smith has no suspicions?"

"Hatin' makes you smart," she answered, "and I hate Smith so hard I can't
sleep nights. No, I don't think he is suspicious; because I'm to pack grub
to him this morning, and if he was afraid of me, he'd never let me know
where he was camped. He's holdin' the horses over there in a blind canyon,
and when I go over I'm to help him blotch the brands."

"We want to get the drop on him when he's using the branding-iron."

"And you want to see that he shoves up his hands and keeps them there,"
suggested Susie further, "for he'll take big chances rather than have the
Schoolmarm see him ridin' to the Agency with his wrists tied to the
saddle-horn."

"I know." Ralston knew even better than Susie that Smith would fight like
a rat in a corner to avoid this possibility.

"My!" and Susie gave an explosive sigh, "but it's an awful relief not to
have that secret to pack around any longer, and to feel that I've got
somebody to back me up."

A lump rose in Ralston's throat, and, taking her brown little paws in both
of his, he said:

"To the limit, Susie--to the end of the road."

"And my pardner's in on it, too, if he wants to be," she declared loyally,
slipping her arm through McArthur's.

"To be sure," Ralston seconded cordially. "It will be an adventure for
your diary." He added, laying his hand upon McArthur's shoulder: "I'm more
than sorry about the mistake this morning, old man. Will you forgive Bear
Chief and me?"

In all McArthur's studious, lonely life, no person ever had put his hand
upon his shoulder and called him "old man." The quick tears filled his
eyes, and a glow, tingling in its warmth, rushed over him. The simple,
manly act made him Ralston's slave for life, but he answered in his quiet
voice:

"The mistake was natural, my dear sir."

"Smith will be gettin' restless," Susie suggested, "for his breakfast must
have been pretty slim. We'd better be startin'.

"Now, I'll take straight across the hills in a bee-line, and the rest of
you keep me in sight, but follow the draws. When I drop into the canyon,
you cache yourselves until I come up and swing my hat. I'll do my best to
separate Smith from his gun, but if I can't, I'll throw you the sign to
jump him."

"I shall arm myself with a pistol, and, if the occasion demands, I shall
not hesitate to use it," said McArthur, closing his lips with great
firmness.

Bear Chief was given a rifle, and then there was a scurrying about for
cartridges. When they were saddled, each rode in a different direction, to
meet again when out of sight of the ranch. With varied emotions, they soon
were following Susie's lead, and it was no easy task to keep the flying
figure in sight.

McArthur, panting, perspiring, choking his saddle-horn to death, wondered
if any person of his acquaintance ever had participated in such a reckless
ride. The instructor in Dead Languages, it is true, frequently had
thrilled his colleagues with his recital of a night spent in a sapling,
owing to the proximity of a she-bear, and McArthur always had mildly
envied him the adventure, but now, he felt, if he lived to tell the tale,
he had no further cause for envy.

Bear Chief's eyes were gleaming with the fires of other days, while the
faded overalls and flannel shirt of civilization seemed to take on a look
of savagery.

Only Ralston's eyes were sombre. He had no thought of weakening, but he
had no feeling of elation; though, for the sake of his own self-respect,
he was glad to know that his suspicions of Smith were not inspired by
jealousy or malice. Now that the opportunity for which he had hoped and
waited had come, his strongest feeling was one of sorrow for Dora. With
the tenderness of real love, he shrank from hurting her, from mortifying
her by the exposé of Smith.

In no other way were the natures of the two men more strongly contrasted
than in this. When Smith flamed with jealousy he wanted to hurt Dora and
Ralston alike, and when he had the advantage he shoved the hot iron home.
Ralston could be just, generous even, and, though he believed she had
unreservedly given her preference to Smith, he still yearned to shield
her, to spare her pain and humiliation.

Susie finally disappeared, and when she did not come in sight again they
knew she had reached the rendezvous. Dismounting, they tied their horses
in a deep draw, and crawled to the top, where they could watch for her
signal.

"She'll give him plenty of time," said Ralston.

He had barely finished speaking when they saw Susie at the top of the
canyon wall waving her hat.

"Something's gone wrong," said Ralston quickly.

With rifles ready for action, the three of them ran toward Susie.

Ralston and Bear Chief reached her together. Without a word she pointed
into the empty canyon, where a dying camp-fire told the story. Smith had
been gone for hours.



XV

WHERE A MAN GETS A THIRST


While the four stood staring blankly at the trampled earth and the thin
thread of smoke rising from a smouldering stick on a bed of ashes, Smith,
miles away, was watching the skyline in the direction from which he had
come, and gulping coffee from a tin can. He had slept--the print of his
body was still in the sand--but his sleep had been broken and brief. He
had ridden fast and all night long, but he was not yet far enough away to
feel secure. There was always a danger, too, that the horses would break
for their home range, although he kept the mare who led the band on the
picket rope when they were not travelling. His own horse, always saddled,
was picketed close.

"I'll never make a turn like this alone again," he muttered
discontentedly. "It's too much like work to suit me, and I ain't in shape
to make a hard ride. I've got soft layin' around the ranch." He stretched
his stiff muscles and made a wry face. Then he smiled. "I'd like to see
that brat's face when she comes with my grub this mornin'." He looked off
again to the skyline.

"I ketched her eyein' me once or twice in a way that didn't look good to
me; and I had that notorious strong feelin' take holt of me that she
wasn't on the square. I'd better be sure nor sorry;--that's no josh. I
takes no chances, me--Smith; I tips my hand to no petticoat."

He noted with relief that the wind was rising. He was glad, for it would
obliterate every print and make tracking impossible. He had kept to the
rocks, as the unshod and now foot-sore horses bore evidence, but, even so,
there was always a chance of tell-tale prints.

"I can take it easy after I get to water," he told himself. "This water
business is ser'ous"--he looked uneasily at the stretch of desolation
ahead of him--"but unless the Injuns lied, they's _some_.

"I hope the boys are to home," he went on, "for if they are it won't take
us long to work these brands over. When they take 'em off my hands and I
gets my wad, I'll soak it away, me--Smith. I'll hand it in at the bank,
and I'll say to the dude at the winder, 'Feller,' I'll say, 'me and a
little Schoolmarm are goin' to housekeepin' after while, so just hang on
to that till I calls.'" Smith grinned appreciatively at the picture.

"His eyes will stick out till you could snare 'em with a log-chain, for I
ain't known as a marryin' man." His face sobered. "I've got to get to work
and get a wad--she shot that into me straight; and she's right. I couldn't
ask no woman like her to hang out her own wash in front of a two-roomed
shack. I got to get the _dinero_, and between man and man, Smith, like you
and me, I'm nowise particular how I gets it, so long as she don't know.
I'll take any old chance, me--Smith. And dead men's eyes hasn't got the
habit of follerin' me around in the dark, like some I've knowed. She'd
think I was a horrible feller if--but shucks! What's done's done."

He lifted his arms and stretched them toward the skyline, and his voice
vibrated:

"I love you, girl! I love you, and I couldn't hurt you no more nor a
baby!"

Before he coiled the picket-ropes and started the horses moving, he got
down on his knees and took a mouthful of water from a lukewarm pool. He
spat it upon the ground in disgust.

"That's worse nor pizen," he declared with a grimace. "You bet I've got to
strike water to-day somehow. The horses won't hardly touch this, and
they're all ga'nted up for the want of it. There ought to be water over
there in some of them gulches, seems-like"--he looked anxiously at the
expanse stretching interminably to the northeast--"and I'll have to haze
'em along until we hit it."

His tired horse seemed to sag beneath his weight as he landed heavily in
the saddle; and the band of foot-sore horses, the hair of their necks and
legs stiff with sweat and dust, bore little resemblance to the spirited
animals that Susie had driven from the reservation. It was now no effort
to keep up with them, and Smith herded them in front of him like a flock
of sheep. He wondered what another day, perhaps two days more, of
constant travel would do, if fifty miles or so had used them up. There was
not now the fear of capture to urge him forward, but the need of reaching
water was an equally great incentive to haste.

Smith travelled until late in the afternoon without an audible complaint
at the intense discomforts of the day. He found no water, and he ate only
a handful of sugar as he rode. He journeyed constantly toward the
northeast, in which direction, he thought, must be the ranch which was his
destination. At each intervening gulch a hope arose that it might contain
water, but always he was disappointed. Between the alkali dust and the
heat of the midday sun, which was unusually hot for the time of year, his
lips were cracked and his throat dry.

"Ain't this hell!" he finally muttered fretfully. "And no more jump in
this horse nor a cow. I can do without grub, but water! Oh, Lord! I could
lap up a gallon."

The slight motion of his lips started them bleeding. He wiped the blood
away on the back of his hand and continued:

"This is a reg'lar stretch of Bad Lands. If them blamed Injuns hadn't
lied, I could have packed water easy enough. They don't seem to be no end
to it, and I must have come forty mile. You're in for it, Smith. It's
goin' to be worse before it's better. If I could only lay in a crick--roll
in it--douse my face in it--soak my clothes in it! God! I'm dry!"

He spurred his horse, but there was no response from it. It was dead on
its feet, between the hard travel of the previous day and night and
another day without water. He cursed the horses ahead as they lagged and
necessitated extra steps.

He rode for awhile longer, until he realized that at the snail's pace they
were moving he was making little headway. A rest would pay better in the
long run, although there was some two hours of daylight left.

The dull-eyed horses stood with drooping heads, too thirsty and too tired
to hunt for the straggling spears of grass and salt sage which grew
sparsely in the alkali soil.

After Smith had unsaddled, he opened the grain-sack which contained his
provisions. Spreading them out, he stood and eyed them with contempt.

"And I calls myself a prairie man," he said aloud, in self-disgust.
"Swine-buzzom--when I'm perishin' of thirst! If only I'd put in a couple
of air-tights. Pears is better nor anything; they ain't so blamed sweet,
they're kind of cool, and they has juice you can drink. And tomaters--if
only I had tomaters! This here dude-food, this strawberry jam, is goin' to
make me thirstier than ever. No water to mix the flour with, nothing to
cook in but salt grease. Smith, you're up against it, you are."

He built a little sage-brush fire, over which he cooked his bacon, and
with it he ate a dry biscuit, but his thirst was so great that it
overshadowed his hunger. Chewing grains of coffee stimulated him somewhat,
but the bacon and glucose jam increased his thirst tenfold, if such a
thing were possible. His thoughts of Dora, and his dreams of the future,
which had helped him through the afternoon, were no longer potent. He
could now think only of his thirst--of his overpowering desire for water.
It filled his whole mental horizon. Water! Water! Water! Was there
anything in the world to be compared with it!

His face was deep-lined with distress as he sat by the camp-fire, trying
in vain to moisten his lips with his dry tongue. One picture after another
arose before him: streams of crystal water which he had forded; icy
mountain springs at which he had knelt and drank; deep wells from which he
had thrown whole bucketfuls away after he had quenched what he then called
thirst. Thirst! He never had known thirst. What he had called thirst was
laughable in comparison with this awful longing, this madness, this desire
beside which all else paled.

In any other than an alkali country, the lack of water for the same length
of time would have meant little more than discomfort, but the parching,
drying effect of the deadly white dust entailed untold suffering upon the
traveller caught unprepared as was Smith.

He rolled and smoked innumerable cigarettes, rising at intervals to pace
restlessly to and fro. His lips and tongue were so parched that both taste
and feeling seemed deadened. Had he not seen the smoke, it is doubtful if
he could have been sure he was smoking.

He wandered away from the fire after a time, walking aimlessly, having no
objective point. He desired only to be moving. Something like a half-mile
from his camp he came into a shallow cut which appeared to have been made
during bygone rainy seasons, but which now bore no evidence of having
carried water for many years. He followed it mechanically, stumbling
awkwardly in his high-heeled cowboy boots over the rocks which had washed
into its bed from the alkali-coated sides. Suddenly he cried aloud, with a
shrill, penetrating cry that was peculiar to him when surprised or
startled. He had inadvertently kicked up a rock which showed moisture
beneath it!

He began to run, with his mouth open, his bloodshot eyes wide and staring.
There was a bare chance that it might come from one of those desert
springs which appear and disappear at irregular intervals in the sand. As
he ran, he saw hoof-tracks in what had once been mud, and his heart beat
higher with hope. He had a thought in his half-crazed brain that the water
might disappear before he could reach it, and he ran like one frenzied
with fear. The world was swimming around him, his heart was pounding in
his breast, yet still he stumbled on at top speed.

[Illustration: IT MEANT DEATH--BUT IT WAS WET!--IT WAS WATER!]

The cut grew deeper, and indications of moisture increased. He saw a
growth of large sage-brush, then a clump or two of rank, saw-edged grass.
These things meant water! He turned a bend and there, beneath a high bank,
was a pool crusted to the edge with alkali!

Smith knew that it was strongly alkali; that it meant certain
illness--enough of it, death. But it was wet!--it was water!--and he must
drink. He fell, rather than knelt, in it. When taste came back he realized
that it was flat and lukewarm, but he continued to gulp it down. At any
other time it would have nauseated him, but now he drank to his capacity.
When he could drink no more, he sat up--realizing what he had done. He had
swallowed liquid poison--nothing less. The result was inevitable. He was
going to be ill--excruciatingly, terribly ill, alone in the Bad Lands!
This was as certain as was the fact that night had come.

"I was so dry," he whimpered, "I couldn't help it! I was so dry!" He
scrambled to his feet.

"I gotta get back to camp. This water's goin' to raise thunder when it
begins to get in its work. I gotta get back to my blankets and lay down."

Before he reached the heap of ashes which he called camp, the first
symptoms of his coming agony began to show themselves. He felt slightly
nauseated; then a quick, griping pain which was a forerunner of others
which were to make him sweat blood.

Many of these springs and stagnant pools carry arsenic in large
quantities, and of such was the water of which Smith had drunk. In his
exhaustion, the poison and accompanying impurities took hold of him with a
fierceness which it might not have done had he been in perfect physical
condition; but his stomach, already disordered from irregular and improper
food, absorbed the poison with avidity, and the result was an agony
indescribable.

As he writhed on his saddle-blankets under the stars, he groaned and
cursed that unknown God above him. His face and hands were covered with a
cold sweat; his forehead and finger-tips were icy. The night air was
chill, but he was burning with an inward fever, and his thirst now was
akin to madness. With all his strength of will, he fought against his
desire to return to the pool.

Smith did not expect to die. He felt that if he could keep his senses and
not crawl back to drink again, he would pull through somehow. The living
hell he now endured would pass.

He wallowed and threshed about like a suffering animal, beating the earth
with his clenched fists, during the paroxysms of cutting, wrenching pain.
His suffering was supreme. All else in the world shrank into
insignificance beside it. No thoughts of Dora fortified him; no mother's
face came to comfort him; nor that of any human being he had ever known.
He was just Smith--self-centred--alone; just Smith, fighting and suffering
and struggling for his life. His anguish found expression in the single
sentence:

"I'm sick! I'm sick! Oh, God! I'm sick!" He repeated it in every key with
every inflection, and his moans lost themselves in the silence of the
desert.

Yet underneath it all, when his agony was at its height, he still believed
in himself. In a kind of subconscious arrogance, he believed that he was
stronger than Fate, more powerful than Death. He would not die; he would
live because he wanted to live. Death was not for him--Smith. For others,
but not for him.

At last the paroxysms became less frequent and lost their violence. When
they ceased altogether, he lay limp and half-conscious. He was content to
remain motionless until the flies and insects of the sand roused him to
the fact that another day had come.

He was incredibly weak, and it took all his remaining strength to throw
his forty-pound cow-saddle upon his horse's back. His knees shook under
him, and he had to rest before he could lift his foot to the stirrup and
pull himself into the seat.

Before he rode away he turned and looked at the hollow in the sand where
his blankets had been.

"That was a close squeak, Smith," was all he said.

He had no desire for breakfast; in fact, he could not have eaten, for his
tongue was swollen, and his throat felt too dry to swallow. His skin was
the color of his saddle-leather, and his inflamed eye-balls had the
redness of live coals. Smith was far from handsome that morning.

His own recent sufferings had in nowise made him more merciful: he spurred
his stiff and lifeless horse without pity, but he spurred uselessly. It
stumbled under him as he drove the spiritless band toward the hopeless
waste ahead of him.

"Unless I'm turned around, we ought to get out of this to-day," he
thought. The effort of speaking aloud was too great to be made. "Unless
I'm lost, or fall off my horse, we ought to make it sure."

Distance had meant nothing to him during the first evening and night of
his ride. He had fixed his eye upon the furthermost object within his
range of vision and ridden for it--buoyant, confident, as his horse's
flying feet ate up the intervening miles. Now he shrank from looking
ahead. He dreaded to lift his eyes to the interminable desolation
stretching before him. The minutes seemed hours long; time was protracted
as though he had been eating hasheesh. He felt as if he had ridden for a
week, before his horse's shadow told him that noon had come. The jar of
his horse hurt him, and it all seemed unreal at times, like a torturing
nightmare from which he must soon awake. He rode long distances with
closed eyes as the day wore on. The world, red and wavering, swung around
him, and he gripped his saddle-horn hard. The only real thing, the agony
of which was too great to be mistaken for anything else, was his thirst.
This was superlatively intense. There were moments when he had a desire to
slide easily from his horse into the sand and lie still--just to be rid
for a time of that jar that hurt him so. He viewed the distance to the
ground contemplatively. It was not great. He would merely crumple up like
a drunken person and go to sleep.

But these moments soon passed: the instinct of self-preservation was quick
to assert itself. Each time, he took a fresh grip on the slack reins and
kept his horse plodding onward, ever onward, through the heavy sand and
blistering alkali dust, and always to the northeast, where somewhere there
was relief which somehow he must reach.

Mile after mile crept under his horse's lagging feet. The midday sun beat
down upon him, drying the very blood in his veins, scorching him,
shrivelling him, and yet there seemed no end to the waterless gulches, to
the sand, the cactuses, the stunted sage-brush. His horse was stumbling
oftener, but he felt no pity--only irritation that it had not more
stamina. A sort of numbness, the lethargy of great weakness, was creeping
over him; his heart was sagging with a dull despair. He believed that he
must be lost, yet he was past cursing or complaining aloud. Only an
occasional gasp or a fretful, inarticulate sound came when his horse
stumbled badly.

He thought he saw a barbed wire fence. A barbed wire fence meant
civilization! He swung his horse and rode toward it. The dark spots he had
thought were posts were only sage-brush. The smarting of his eye-balls and
eyelids aroused him to an astonishing fact: he was crying in his weakness,
crying of disappointment like a child! But he was astonished most that he
had tears to shed--that they had not dried up like his blood.

Tears! He remembered his last tears, and they kept on sliding down his
cheek now as he recalled the occasion. His father had given him a colt
back there where they slept between sheets. He had broken it himself, and
taught it tricks. It whinnied to him when he passed the stable. The other
boys envied him his colt, and he meant to show it at the fair. He came
home one day and the colt was gone. His father handed him a silver dollar.
He had thrown the money at his father and struck him in the face, and
while the tears streamed from his eyes he had cursed his father with the
oaths with which his father had so frequently cursed him; and he had kept
on cursing until he was beaten into unconsciousness. There had been no
love between them, ever, but he had not expected that. Since then there
had been no time or inclination for tears, for it was then he had "quit
the flat." The rage of his boyhood came back to Smith as he thought of it
now. He swore, though it hurt him to speak.

His eyes were still smarting when he raised them to see a horseman on a
distant ridge. The sight roused him like a stimulant. Was he friend or
foe? He reined his horse, and, drawing his rifle from its scabbard,
waited; for the stranger had seen him and was riding toward him down the
ridge.

"If he ain't my kind, I'll have to stop him," Smith muttered.

The strength of excitement came to him, and once more he sat erect in the
saddle, fingering the trigger as the horseman came steadily on.

"He rides like a Texican," Smith thought. There was something familiar in
the stranger's outlines, the way he threw his weight in one stirrup, but
Smith was taking no chances. He put out a hand in warning, and the other
man stopped.

The swarthy face of the stranger wore a comprehending grin. No honest man
drove horses across the Bad Lands. He threw the Indian sign of friendship
to Smith, and they each advanced.

"How far to water, Clayt?"

"Well, dog-gone me! Smith!"

"How far to water?" Smith yelled the words in hoarse ferocity.

The stranger glanced at the barebacked horses, and then at the shimmering
heat waves of the desert.

"Just around the ridge," he answered. "My God, man, didn't you pack
water?"

But Smith was already out of hearing.



XVI

TINHORN FRANK SMELLS MONEY


Smith did not care for money in itself; that is, he did not care for it
enough to work for it, or to hoard it when he had it. Yet perhaps even
more than most persons he loved the feel of it in his fingers, the
sensation of having it in his pocket. Smith was vain, in his way, and
money satisfied his vanity. It gave him prestige, power, the attention he
craved. He could call any flashy talker's bluff when his pockets were full
of money. It imparted self-assurance. He could the better indulge his
propensity for resenting slights, either real or fancied. Money would buy
him out of trouble. Yes, Smith liked the feel of money. He took a roll of
banknotes from the belt pocket of his leather chaps and counted them for
the third time.

"I'll buy a few drinks, flash this wad on them pinheads in town, and then
I'll soak it away." He returned the roll to his pocket with an expression
of satisfaction upon his face.

He had done well with the horses. The "boys" had paid him a third more
than he had expected; they had done so, he knew, as an incentive to
further transactions. And Smith had outlined a plan to them which had made
their eyes sparkle.

"It's risky, but if you can do it----" they had said.

"Sure, I can do it, and I'll start as soon as it's safe after I get back
to the ranch. I gotta get to work and make a stake--_me_," he had
declared.

They had looked at him quizzically.

"The fact is, I'm tired of livin' under my hat. I aims to settle down."

"And reform?" They had laughed uproariously.

"Not to notice."

Smith sincerely believed that nothing stood between him and Dora but his
lack of money. Once she saw it, the actual money, when he could go to her
and throw it in her lap, a hatful, and say, "Come on, girl"--well, women
were like that, he told himself.

Ahead of Smith, on the dusty flat, was the little cow-town, looking, in
the distance, like a scattered herd of dingy sheep. He was glad his ride
was ended for the day. He was thirsty, hot, and a bit tired.

Tinhorn Frank, resting the small of his back against a monument of elk and
buffalo horns in front of his log saloon, was the first to spy Smith
ambling leisurely into town.

"There's Smithy!" he exclaimed to the man who loafed beside him, "and he's
got a roll!"

His fellow lounger looked at him curiously.

"Tinhorn, I b'lieve you kin _smell_ money; and I swear they's kind of a
scum comes over your eyes when you see it. How do you know he's carryin' a
roll?"

Tinhorn Frank laughed.

"I know Smithy as well as if I had made him. I kin tell by the way he
rides. I always could. When he's broke he's slouchy-like. He don't take no
pride in coilin' his rope, and he jams his hat over his eyes--tough. Look
at him now--settin' square in the saddle, his rope coiled like a top
Californy cowboy on a Fourth of July. That's how I know. Hello, Smithy!
Fall off and arrigate."

"Hullo!" Smith answered deliberately.

"How's she comin'?"

"Slow." He swung his leg over the cantle of the saddle.

"What'll you have?" Tinhorn slapped Smith's back so hard that the dust
rose.

"Get me out somethin' stimulating, somethin' fur-reachin', somethin' that
you can tell where it stops. I want a drink that feels like a yard of
barb-wire goin' down." Smith was tying his horse.

"Here's somethin' special," said Tinhorn, when Smith went inside. "I keeps
it for my friends."

Smith swallowed nearly a tumblerful.

"When I drinks, I drinks, and I likes somethin' I can notice." He wiped
the tears out of his eyes with the back of his hand.

"I guarantee you kin notice that in about five minutes. It's a never
failing remedy for man and beast--not meaning to claim that its horse
liniment at all. Put it back, Smithy; your money ain't good here!"

Tinhorn Frank's dark eyes gleamed with an avaricious light at sight of the
roll of yellow banknotes which Smith flung carelessly upon the bar, but he
had earned his living by his wits too long to betray eagerness. He masked
the adamantine hardness of his grasping nature beneath an air of generous
and bluff good-fellowship.

He was a dark man, with a skin of oily sallowness; thickset, with
something of the slow ungainliness of a toad. His head was set low between
stooped shoulders, and his crafty eyes had in them a look of scheming,
scheming always for his own interests. Smith knew his record as well as he
knew his own: a dance-hall hanger-on in his youth, despised of men; a
blackmailer; the keeper of a notorious road-house; a petty grafter in a
small political office in the little cow-town. Smith understood perfectly
the source of his present interest, yet it flattered him almost as much as
if it had been sincere, it pleased him as if he had been the object of a
gentleman's attentions. When he had money, Smith demanded satellites,
sycophants who would laugh boisterously at his jokes, praise him in broad
compliments, and follow him like a paid retinue from saloon to saloon.
This was enjoying life! And upon this weakness, the least clever, the
most insignificant and unimportant person could play if he understood
Smith.

The word had gone down the line that Smith was in town with money. They
rallied around him with loud protestations of joy at the sight of him.
Smith held the centre of the stage, he was the conspicuous figure, the
magnet which drew them all. He gloried in it, revelled in his popularity;
and the "special brand" was beginning to sizzle in his veins.

"I'm feelin' lucky to-day, me--Smith!" he cried exultantly. "I has a
notorious idea that I can buck the wheel and win!"

He had not meant to gamble--he had told himself that he would not; but his
admiring friends urged him on, his blood was running fast and hot, his
heart beat high with confidence and hope. Big prospects loomed ahead of
him; success looked easy. He flung his money recklessly upon the red and
black, and with throbbing pulses watched the wheel go round.

Again and again he won. It seemed as if he could not lose.

"I told you!" he cried. "I'm feelin' lucky!"

When he finally stopped, his winnings were the envy of many eyes.

"Set 'em up, Tinhorn! Everybody drink! Bring in the horses!"

Bedlam reigned. It was "Smithy this" and "Smithy that," and it was all as
the breath of life to Smith.

"Tinhorn"--he leaned heavily on the bar--"when I feels lucky like this, I
makes it a rule to crowd my luck. Are you game for stud?"

The film which the lounger had mentioned seemed to cover Tinhorn's eyes.

"I'm locoed to set agin such luck as yours, but I like to be sociable, and
you don't come often."

"I likes a swift game," said Smith, as he pulled a chair from the pine
table. "Draw is good enough for kids and dudes, but stud's the only play
for men."

"Now you've talked!" declared the admiring throng.

"Keep 'em movin', Tinhorn! Deal 'em out fast."

"Smithy, you're a cyclone!"

A hundred of Smith's money went for chips.

"Dough is jest like mud to some fellers," said a voice enviously.

"I likes a game where you make or break on a hand. I've lost thousands
while you could spit, me--Smith!"

"It's like a chinook in winter just to see you in town agin, Smithy."

The "hole" card was not promising--it was only a six-spot; but, backing
his luck, Smith bet high on it. Tinhorn came back at him strong. He wanted
Smith's money, and he wanted it quick.

Smith's next card was a jack, and he bet three times its value. When
Tinhorn dealt him another jack he bought more chips and backed his pair,
for Tinhorn, as yet, had none in sight. The next turn showed up a queen
for Tinhorn and a three-spot for Smith. And they bet and raised, and
raised again. On the last turn Smith drew another three and Tinhorn
another queen. With two pairs in sight, Smith had him beaten. When Smith
bet, Tinhorn raised him. Was Tinhorn bluffing or did he have another queen
in the "hole"? Smith believed he was bluffing, but there was an equal
chance that he was not. While he hesitated, the other watched him like a
hungry mountain lion.

"Are you gettin' cold feet, Smithy?" There was the suspicion of a sneer in
the satellite's voice. "Did you say you liked to make or break on a
hand?"

"I thought you liked a swift game," gibed Tinhorn.

The taunt settled it.

"I can play as swift as most--and then, some." He shoved a pile of chips
into the centre of the table with both hands. "Come again!"

Tinhorn did come again; and again, and again, and again. He bet with the
confidence of knowledge--with a confidence that put the fear in Smith's
heart. But he could not, and he would not, quit now. His jaw was set as he
pulled off banknote after banknote in the tense silence which had fallen.

When the last of them fluttered to the table he asked:

"What you got?"

For answer, Tinhorn turned over a third queen. Encircling the pile of
money and chips with his arm, he swept them toward him.

Smith rose and kicked the chair out of his way.

"That's the end of my rope," he said, with a hard laugh. "I'm done."

"Have a drink," urged Tinhorn.

"Not to-day," he answered shortly.

The crowd parted to let him pass. Untying his horse, he sprang into the
saddle, and not much more than an hour from the time he had arrived he
rode down the main street, past the bank where he was to leave his roll,
flat broke.

At the end of the street he turned in his saddle and looked behind him.
His satellites stood in the bar-room door, loungers loafed on the
curbstone, a woman or two drifted into the General Merchandise Store. The
Postmaster was eying him idly through his fly-specked window, and a group
of boys, who had been drawing pictures with their bare toes in the deep
white dust of the street, scowled after him because his horse's feet had
spoiled their work. His advent had left no more impression than the tiny
whirlwind in its erratic and momentary flurry. The money for which he had
sweat blood was gone. Mechanically he jambed his hands into his empty
pockets.

"Hell!" he said bitterly. "Hell!"



XVII

SUSIE HUMBLES HERSELF TO SMITH


Smith's return to the ranch was awaited with keen interest by several
persons, though for different reasons.

Bear Chief wanted to learn the whereabouts of his race-horse, and seemed
to find small comfort in Ralston's assurance that the proper authorities
had been notified and that every effort would be made to locate the stolen
ponies.

Dora was troubled that Smith's educational progress should have come to
such an abrupt stop; and she felt not a little hurt that he should
disappear for such a length of time without having told her of his going,
and disappointed in him, also, that he would permit anything to interfere
with the improvement of his mind.

Susie's impatience for his return increased daily. Her chagrin over being
outwitted by Smith was almost comical. She considered it a reflection upon
her own intelligence, and tears of mortification came to her eyes each
time she discussed it with Ralston. He urged her to be patient, and tried
to comfort her by saying:

"We have only to wait, Susie."

"Yes, I thought that before, and look what happened."

"The situation is different now."

"But maybe he'll reform and we'll never get another crack at him," she
said dolefully.

Ralston shook his head.

"Don't let that disturb you. Take certain natures under given
circumstances, and you can come pretty near foretelling results. Smith
will do the same thing again, only on a bigger scale; that is, unless he
learns that he has been found out. He won't be afraid of you, because he
will think that you are as deep in the mire as he is; but if he thought I
suspected him, or the Indians, it would make him cautious."

"You don't think he's charmed, or got such a stout medicine that nobody
can catch him?"

Ralston could not refrain from smiling at the Indian superstition which
cropped out at times in Susie.

"Not for a moment," he answered positively. "He appears to have been
fortunate--lucky--but in a case like this, I don't believe there's any
luck can win, in the long run, against vigilance, patience, and
determination; and the greatest of these is patience." Ralston, waxing
philosophical went on: "It's a great thing to be able to wait,
Susie--coolly, smilingly, to wait--providing, as the phrase goes, you
hustle while you wait. One victory for your enemy doesn't mean defeat for
yourself. It's usually the last trick that counts, and sometimes games are
long in the playing. Wait for your enemy's head, and when it comes up,
_whack it_! Neither you nor I, Susie, have been reared to believe that
when we are swatted on one cheek we should turn the other."

"No;" Susie shook her head gravely. "That ain't sense."

The person who took Smith's absence most deeply to heart was the Indian
woman. She missed him, and, besides, she was tormented with jealous
suspicions. She knew nothing of his life beyond what she had seen at the
ranch. There might be another woman. She suffered from the ever-present
fear that he might not come back; that he would go as scores of
grub-liners had gone, without a word at parting.

In the house she was restless, and her moccasined feet padded often from
her bench in the corner to the window overlooking the road down which he
might come. She sat for hours at a time upon an elevation which commanded
a view of the surrounding country. Heavy-featured, moody-eyed, she was the
personification of dog-like fidelity and patience. Naturally, it was she
who first saw Smith jogging leisurely down the road on his jaded horse.

The long roof of the MacDonald ranch, which was visible through the cool
willows, looked good to Smith. It looked peaceful, and quiet, and
inviting; yet Smith knew that the whole Indian police force might be there
to greet him. He had been gone many days, and much might have happened in
the interim. It was characteristic of Smith that he did not slacken his
horse's pace--he could squirm out somehow.

It gave him no concern that he had not a dollar to divide with Susie, as
he had promised, and his chagrin over the loss of the money had vanished
as he rode. His temperament was sanguine, and soon he was telling himself
that so long as there were cattle and horses on the range there was always
a stake for him. Following up this cheerful vein of thought, he soon felt
as comfortable as if the money were already in his pocket.

Smith threw up his hand in friendly greeting as the Indian woman came down
the path to meet him.

There was no response, and he scowled.

"The old woman's got her sull on," he muttered, but his voice was pleasant
enough when he asked: "Ain't you glad to see me, Prairie Flower?"

The woman's face did not relax.

"Where you been?" she demanded.

He stopped unsaddling and looked at her.

"I never had no boss, me--Smith," he answered with significance.

"You got a woman!" she burst out fiercely.

Smith's brow cleared.

"Sure I got a woman."

"You lie to me!"

"I call her Prairie Flower--my woman." He reached and took her clenched
hand.

The tense muscles gradually relaxed, and the darkness lifted from her face
like a cloud that has obscured the sun. She smiled and her eyelids dropped
shyly.

"Why you go and no tell me?" she asked plaintively.

"It was a business trip, Prairie Flower, and I like to talk to you of
love, not business," he replied evasively.

She looked puzzled.

"I not know you have business."

"Oh, yes; I do a rushin' business--by spells."

She persisted, unsatisfied:

"But what kind of business?"

Smith laughed outright.

"Well," he answered humorously, "I travels a good deal--in the dark of the
moon."

"Smith!"

She was keener than he had thought, for she drew her right hand slyly
under her left arm in the expressive Indian sign signifying theft. He did
not answer, so she said in a tone of mingled fear and reproach:

"You steal Indian horses!"

"Well?"

She grasped his coat-sleeve.

"Don't do dat no more! De Indians' hearts are stirred. Dey mad. Dis time
maybe dey not ketch you, but some time, yes! You get more brave and you
steal from white man. You steal two, t'ree cow, maybe all right, but when
you steal de white man's horses de rope is on your neck. I know--I have
seen. Some time de thief he swing in de wind, and de magpie pick at him,
and de coyote jump at him. Yes, I have seen it like dat."

Smith shivered.

"Don't talk about them things," he said impatiently. "I've been near
lynchin' twice, and I hates the looks of a slip-noose yet; but I gotta
have money."

As he stood above her, looking down upon her anxious face, a thought came
to him, a plan so simple that he was amazed that it had not occurred to
him before. Undoubtedly she had money in the bank, this infatuated,
love-sick-woman--the Scotchman would have taught her how to save and care
for it; but if she had not, she had resources which amounted to the same:
the best of security upon which she could borrow money. He was sure that
her cattle and horses were free of mortgages, and there was the coming
crop of hay. She had promised him the proceeds from that, if he would
stay, but the sale of it was still months away.

"If I had a stake, Prairie Flower," he said mournfully, "I'd cut out this
crooked work and quit takin' chances. But a feller like me has got pride:
he can't go around without two bits in his pocket, and feel like a man. If
I had the price, I'd buy me a good bunch of cattle, get a permit, and
range 'em on the reserve."

"When we get tied right," said the woman eagerly, "I give you de stake
_quick_."

Smith shook his head.

"Do you think I'm goin' to have the whole country sayin' I just married
you for what you got? I've got some feelin's, me--Smith, and before I
marry a rich woman, I want to have a little somethin' of my own."

She looked pleased, for Susie's words had rankled.

"How big bunch cattle you like buy? How much money you want?"

He shook his head dejectedly.

"More money nor I can raise, Prairie Flower. Five--ten thousand
dollars--maybe more." He watched the effect of his words narrowly. She did
not seem startled by the size of the sums he mentioned. He added: "There's
nothin' in monkeyin' with just a few."

"I got de money, and I gift it to you. My heart is right to you, white
man!" she said passionately.

"Do you mean it, Prairie Flower?"

"Yas, but don't tell Susie."

He watched her going up the path, her hips wobbling, her step heavy, and
he hated her. Her love irritated him; her devotion was ridiculous. He saw
in her only a means to an end, and he was without scruples or pity.

"She ain't no more to me nor a dumb brute," he said contemptuously.

Smith felt that he was able to foretell with considerable accuracy the
nature of his interview with Susie upon their meeting, and her opening
words did not fall short of his expectations.

"You're all right, you are!" she said in her high voice. "I'd stick to a
pal like you through thick and thin, I would! What did you pull out like
that for anyhow?"

Smith chuckled.

"Well, sir, Susie, it fair broke my heart to start off without seein' your
pretty face and hearin' your sweet voice again, but the fact is, I got so
lonesome awaitin' for you that I just naturally had to be travellin'. I
ups and hits the breeze, and I has no pencil or paper to leave a note
behind. It wasn't perlite, Susie, I admits," he said mockingly.

"Dig up that money you're goin' to divide." Susie looked like a young
wildcat that has been poked with a stick.

Smith drew an exaggerated sigh and shook his head lugubriously.

"Child, I'm the only son of Trouble. I gets in a game and I loses every
one of our honest, hard-earned dollars. The tears has been pilin' out of
my eyes and down my cheeks for forty miles, thinkin' how I'd have to break
the news to you."

"Smith, you're just a common, _common_ thief!" All the scorn of which she
was capable was in her voice. "To steal from your own pal!"

"Thief?" Smith put his fingers in his ears. "Don't use that word, Susie.
It sounds horrid, comin' from a child you love as if she was your own
step-daughter."

The muscles of Susie's throat contracted so it hurt her; her face drew up
in an unbecoming grimace; she cried with a child's abandon, indifferent to
the fact that her tears made her ludicrously ugly.

"Smith," she sobbed, "don't you ever feel sorry for anybody? Couldn't you
ever pity anybody? Couldn't you pity me?"

Smith made no reply, so she went on brokenly;

"Can't you remember that you was a kid once, too, and didn't know how, and
couldn't, fight grown up people that was mean to you?--and how you felt? I
know you don't _have_ to do anything for me--you don't _have_ to--but
won't you? Won't you do somethin' good when you've got a chance--just this
once, Smith? Won't you go away from here? You don't care anything at all
for Mother, Smith, and she's all I've got!" She stretched her hands toward
him appealing, while the hot tears wet her cheeks. She was the picture of
childish humiliation and misery.

Smith looked at her and listened without derision or triumph. He looked at
her in simple curiosity, as he would have looked at a suffering animal
biting itself in pain. The unexpected outbreak interested him.

Through a blur of tears, Susie read something of this in his face, and her
hands dropped limply to her sides. Her appeal was useless.

It was not that Smith did not understand her feelings. He did--perfectly.
He knew how deep a child's hurt is. He had been hurt himself, and the scar
was still there. It was only that he did not care. He had lived through
his hurt, and so would she. It was to his interest to stay, and first and
always he considered Smith.

"You needn't say anything," Susie said slowly, and there was no more
supplication in her voice. "I thought I knew you before, Smith, but I know
you better now. When a white man is onery, he's meaner than an Injun, and
that's the kind of a white man you are. I'll never forget this. I'll never
forget that I've crawled to you, and you listened like a stone."

Smith answered in a voice that was not unkind--as he would have warned her
of a sink-hole or a bad crossing:

"You can't buck me, Susie, and you'd better not try. You're game, but
you're just a kid."

"Kids grow up sometimes;" and she turned away.

McArthur, strolling, while he enjoyed his pipe, came upon Susie lying face
downward, her head pillowed on her arm, on a sand dune not far from the
house. He thought she was asleep until she sat up and looked at him. Then
he saw her swollen eyes.

"Why, Susie, are you ill?"

"Yes, I'm sick here." She laid her hand upon her heart.

He sat down beside her and stroked the streaked brown hair timidly.

"I'm sorry," he said gently.

She felt the sympathy in his touch, and was quick to respond to it.

"Oh, pardner," she said, "I just feel awful!"

"I'm sorry, Susie," he said again.

"Did _your_ mother ever go back on you, pardner?"

McArthur shook his head gravely.

"No, Susie."

"It's terrible. I can't tell you hardly how it is; but it's like everybody
that you ever cared for in the world had died. It's like standin' over a
quicksand and feelin' yourself goin' down. It's like the dreams when you
wake up screamin' and you have to tell yourself over and over it isn't
so--except that I have to tell myself over and over it _is_ so."

"Susie, I think you're wrong."

She shook her head sadly.

"I wish I was wrong, but I'm not."

"She worries when you are late getting home, or are not well."

"Yes, she's like that," she nodded. "Mother would fight for me like a bear
with cubs if anybody would hurt me so she could see it, but the worst
hurt--the kind that doesn't show--I guess she don't understand. Before now
I could tell anybody that come on the ranch and wasn't nice to me to
'git,' and mother would back me up. Even yet I could tell you or Tubbs or
Mr. Ralston to leave, and they'd have to go. But Smith?--no! He's come
back to stay. And she'll let him stay, if she knows it will drive me away
from home. Mother's Injun, and she can only read a little and write a
little that my Dad taught her, and she wears blankets and moccasins, but I
never was 'shamed of Mother before. If she marries Smith, what can I do?
Where can I go? I could take my pack outfit and start out to hunt Dad's
folks, but if Mother marries Smith, she'll need me after a while. Yet how
can I stay? I feel sometimes like they was two of me--one was good and one
was bad; and if Mother lets Smith turn me out, maybe all the bad in me
would come to the top. But there's one thing I couldn't forget. Dad used
to say to me lots of times when we were alone--oh, often he said it:
'Susie, girl, never forget you're a MacDonald!'"

McArthur turned quickly and looked at her.

"Did your father say that?"

Susie nodded.

"Just like that?"

"Yes; he always straightened himself and said it just like that."

McArthur was studying her face with a peculiar intentness, as if he were
seeing her for the first time.

"What was his first name, Susie?"

"Donald."

"Donald MacDonald?"

"Yes; there was lots of MacDonalds up there in the north country."

"Have you a picture, Susie?"

A rifle-shot broke the stillness of the droning afternoon. Susie was on
her feet the instant. There was another--then a fusillade!

"It's the Indians after Smith!" she cried. "They promised me they
wouldn't! Come--stand up here where you can see."

McArthur took a place beside her on a knoll and watched the scene with
horrified eyes. The Indians were grouped, with Bear Chief in advance.

"They're shootin' into the stable! They've got him cornered," Susie
explained excitedly. "No--look! He's comin' out! He's goin' to make a run
for it! He's headed for the house. He can run like a scared wolf!"

"Do they mean to kill him?" McArthur asked in a shocked voice.

"Sure they mean to kill him. Do you think that's target practice? But look
where the dust flies up--they're striking all around him--behind
him--beside him--everywhere but in him! They're so anxious that they're
shootin' wild. Runnin' Rabbit ought to get him--he's a good shot! He
_did_! No, he stumbled. He's charmed--that Smith. He's got a strong
medicine."

"He's not too brave to run," said McArthur, but added: "I ran, myself,
when they were after me."

"He'd better run," Susie replied. "But he's after his gun; he means to
fight."

"He'll make it!" McArthur cried.

Susie's voice suddenly rang out in an ascending, staccato-like shriek.

"Oh! Oh! Oh! Mother, go back!" but the cracking rifles drowned Susie's
shrill cry of entreaty.

The Indian woman, with her hands high above her head, the palms open as if
to stop the singing bullets, rushed from the house and stopped only when
she had passed Smith and stood between him and danger. She stood erect,
unflinching, and while the Indians' fire wavered Smith gained the
doorway.

Gasping for breath, his short upper lip drawn back from his protruding
teeth in the snarl of a ferocious animal, he snatched a rifle from the
deer-horn gun-rack above the door.

The Indian woman was directly in line between him and his enemies.

"Get out of the way!" he yelled, but she did not hear him.

"The fool!" he snarled. "The fool! I'll have to crease her."

He lifted his rifle and deliberately shot her in the fleshy part of her
arm near the shoulder. She whirled with the shock of it, and dropped.



XVIII

A BAD HOMBRE


The Indians ceased firing when the woman fell, and when Susie reached her
mother Smith was helping her to her feet, and it was Smith who led her
into the house and ripped her sleeve.

It was only a painful flesh-wound, but if the bullet had gone a few inches
higher it would have shattered her shoulder. It was a shot which told
Smith that he had lost none of his accuracy of aim.

He always carried a small roll of bandages in his hip-pocket, and with
these he dressed the woman's arm with surprising skill.

"When you needs a bandage, you generally needs it bad," he explained.

He wondered if she knew that it was his shot which had struck her. If she
did know, she said nothing, though her eyes, bright with pain, followed
his every movement.

"Looks like somebody's squeaked," Smith said meaningly to Susie.

"Nobody's squeaked," she lied glibly. "They're mad, and they're
suspicious, but they didn't see you."

"If they'd go after me like that on suspicion," said Smith dryly, "looks
like they'd be plumb hos-tile if they was sure. Is this here war goin' to
keep up, or has they had satisfaction?"

Through Susie, a kind of armistice was arranged between Smith and the
Indians. It took much argument to induce them to defer their vengeance and
let the law take its course.

"You'll only get in trouble," she urged, "and Mr. Ralston will see that
Smith gets all that's comin' to him when he has enough proof. He's stole
more than horses from me," she said bitterly, "and if I can wait and trust
the white man to handle him as he thinks best, you can, too."

So the Indians reluctantly withdrew, but both Smith and Susie knew that
their smouldering resentment was ready to break out again upon the
slightest provocation.

Susie's assurance that the attack of the Indians was due only to suspicion
did not convince Smith. He noticed that, with the exception of Yellow
Bird, there was not a single Indian stopping at the ranch, and Yellow Bird
not only refused to be drawn into friendly conversation, but distinctly
avoided him.

Smith knew that he was now upon dangerous ground, yet, with his
unfaltering faith in himself and his luck, he continued to walk with a
firm tread. If he could make one good turn and get the Indian woman's
stake, he told himself, then he and Dora could look for a more healthful
clime.

The Schoolmarm never had appeared more trim, more self-respecting, more
desirable, than when in her clean, white shirt-waist and well-cut skirt
she stepped forward to greet him with a friendly, outstretched hand. His
heart beat wildly as he took it.

"I was afraid you had gone 'for keeps,'" she said.

"Were you _afraid_?" he asked eagerly.

"Not exactly afraid, to be more explicit, but I should have been sorry."
She smiled up into his face with her frank, ingenuous smile.

"Why?"

"You were getting along so well with your lessons. Besides, I should have
thought it unfriendly of you to go without saying good-by."

"Unfriendly?" Smith laughed shortly. "Me unfriendly! Why, girl, you're
like a mountain to me. When I'm tired and hot and all give out, I raises
my eyes and sees you there above me--quiet and cool and comfortable,
like--and I takes a fresh grip."

"I'm glad I help you," Dora replied gently. "I want to."

"I'm in the way of makin' a stake now," Smith went on, "and when I gets
it"--he hesitated--"well, when I gets it I aims to let you know."

When Dora went into the house, to her own room, Smith stepped into the
living-room, where the Indian woman sat by the window.

"You like dat white woman better den me?" she burst out as he entered.

"Prairie Flower," he replied wearily, "if I had a dollar for every time
I've answered that question, I wouldn't be lookin' for no stake to buy
cattle with."

"De white woman couldn't give you no stake."

He made no reply to her taunt. He was thinking. The words of a cowpuncher
came back to him as he sat and regarded with unseeing eyes the Indian
woman. The cowpuncher had said: "When a feller rides the range month in
and month out, and don't see nobody but other punchers and Injuns, some
Mary Moonbeam or Sally Star-eyes begins to look kind of good to him when
he rides into camp and she smiles as if she was glad he had come. He gits
used to seein' her sittin' on an antelope hide, beadin' moccasins, and the
country where they wear pointed-toed shoes and sit in chairs gits farther
and farther away. And after awhile he tells himself that he don't mind
smoke and the smell of buckskin, and a tepee is a better home nor none,
and that he thinks as much of this here Mary Moonbeam or Sally Star-eyes
as he could think of any woman, and he wonders when the priest could come.
And while he's studyin' it over, some white girl cuts across his trail,
and, with the sight of her, Mary Moonbeam or Sally Star-eyes looks like a
dirty two-spot in a clean deck." The cowpuncher's words came back to
Smith as though they had been said only yesterday.

"Why don't you say what you think?" the woman asked, uneasy under his long
stare.

"No," said Smith, rousing himself; "the Schoolmarm couldn't give me no
stake; and money talks."

"When you want your money?"

"Quick."

"How much you want?"

"How much you got?" he asked bluntly. He was sure of her, and he was in no
mood to finesse.

"Eight--nine thousand."

"If I'm goin' to do anything with cattle this year, I want to get at it."

"I give you de little paper MacDonald call check. I know how to write
check," she said with pride.

Smith shook his head. A check was evidence.

"It's better for you to go to the bank and get the cash yourself.
Meeteetse can hitch up and take you. It won't bother your arm none, for
you ain't bad hurt. Nine thousand is quite a wad to get without givin'
notice, and I doubt if you gets it, but draw all you can. Take a
flour-sack along and put the stuff in it; then when you gets home, pass it
over to me first chance. Don't let 'em load you down with silver--I hates
to pack silver on horseback."

To all of which instructions the woman agreed.

That she might avoid Susie's questions, she did not start the next morning
until Susie was well on her way to school. Then, dressed in her gaudiest
skirt, her widest brass-studded belt, her best and hottest blanket, she
was ready for the long drive.

Smith put a fresh bandage on her arm, and praised the scrawling signature
on the check which she had filled out after laborious and oft-repeated
efforts. He made sure that she had the flour-sack, and that the check was
pinned securely inside her capacious pocket, before he helped her in the
wagon. He had been all attention that morning, and her eyes were liquid
with gratitude and devotion as she and Meeteetse drove away. She turned
before they were out of sight, and her face brightened when she saw Smith
still looking after them. She thought comfortably of the fast approaching
day when she would be envied by the women who had married only "bloods" or
"breeds."

Smith, as it happened, was remarking contemptuously to Tubbs, as he nodded
after the disappearing wagon:

"Don't that look like a reg'lar Injun outfit? One old white horse and a
spotted buzzard-head; harness wired up with Mormon beeswax; a lopsided
spring seat; one side-board gone and no paint on the wagon."

"You'd think Meeteetse'd think more of hisself than to go ridin' around
with a blanket-squaw."

"He _said_ he was out of tobacer, but he probably aims to get drunk."

"More'n likely," Tubbs agreed. "Meeteetse's gittin' to be a reg'lar
squawman anyhow, hangin' around Injuns so much and runnin' with 'em. He
believes in signs and dreams, and he ain't washed his neck for six
weeks."

"Associatin' too much with Injuns will spile a good man. Tubbs," Smith
went on solemnly, "you ain't the feller you was when you come."

"I knows it," Tubbs agreed plaintively. "I hain't half the gumption I
had."

"It hurts me to see a bright mind like yours goin' to seed, and there's
nothin'll do harm to a feller quicker nor associatin' with them as ain't
his equal. Tubbs, like you was my own brother, I says that bug-hunter
ain't no man for you to run with."

"He ain't vicious and the likes o' that," said Tubbs, in mild defense of
his employer.

"What's 'vicious' anyhow?" demanded Smith. "Who's goin' to say what's
vicious and what ain't? I says it's vicious to lie like he does about them
idjot skulls and ham-bones he digs out and brings home, makin' out that
they might be pieces of fellers what could use one of them cotton-woods
for a walkin' stick and et animals the size of that meat-house at a
meal."

"He never said jest that."

"He might as well. What I'm aimin' at is that it's demoralizin' to get
interested in things like that and spend your life diggin' up the dead.
It's too tame for a feller of any spirit."

"It's nowise dang'rous," Tubbs admitted.

"If I thought you was my kind, Tubbs, I'd give you a chance. I'd let you
in on a deal that'd be the makin' of you."

"All I needs is a chanct," Tubbs declared eagerly.

"I believe you," Smith replied, with flattering emphasis.

A disturbing thought made Tubbs inquire anxiously:

"This here chanct your speakin' of--it ain't work, is it?--real right-down
work?"

"Not degradin' work, like pitchin' hay or plowin'."

"I hates low-down work, where you gits out and sweats."

"I see where you're right. There's no call for a man of your sand and
_sabe_ to do day's work. Let them as hasn't neither and is afraid to take
chances pitch hay and do plowin' for wages."

Tubbs looked a little startled.

"What kind of chances?"

Smith looked at Tubbs before he lowered his voice and asked:

"Wasn't you ever on the rustle none?"

Tubbs reflected.

"Onct back east, in I-ó-wa, I rustled me a set of underwear off'n a
clothes-line."

Smith eyed Tubbs in genuine disgust. He had all the contempt for a
petty-larceny thief that the skilled safe-breaker has for the common
purse-snatcher. The line between pilfering and legitimate stealing was
very clear in his mind. He said merely,

"Tubbs, I believe you're a bad _hombre_."

"They _is_ worse, I s'pose," said Tubbs modestly, "but I've been pretty
rank in my time."

"Can you ride? Can you rope? Can you cut out a steer and burn a brand?
Would you get buck-ague in a pinch and quit me if it came to a show-down?
Are you a stayer?"

"Try me," said Tubbs, swelling.

"Shake," said Smith. "I wisht we'd got acquainted sooner."

"And mebby I kin tell you somethin' about brands," Tubbs went on
boastfully.

"More'n likely."

"I kin take a wet blanket and a piece of copper wire and put an addition
to an old brand so it'll last till you kin git the stock off'n your hands.
I've never done it, but I've see it done."

"I've heard tell of somethin' like that," Smith replied dryly.

"Er you kin draw out a brand so you never would know nothin' was there.
You take a chunk of green cottonwood, and saw it off square; then you bile
it and bile it, and when it's hot through, you slaps it on the brand, and
when you lifts it up after while the brand is drawed out."

"Did you dream that, Tubbs?"

"I b'leeve it'll work," declared Tubbs stoutly.

"Maybe it would work in I-ó-wa," said Smith, "but I doubts if it would
work here. Any way," he added conciliatingly, "we'll give it a try."

"And this chanct--it's tolable safe?"

"Same as if you was home in bed. When I says 'ready,' will you come?"

"Watch my smoke," answered Tubbs.

Smith's eyes followed Tubbs's hulking figure as he shambled off, and his
face was full of derision.

"Say"--he addressed the world in general--"you show me a man from I-ó-wa
or Nebrasky and I'll show you a son-of-a-gun."

Tubbs was putty in the hands of Smith, who could play upon his vanity and
ignorance to any degree--though he believed that beyond a certain point
Tubbs was an arrant coward. But Smith had a theory regarding the
management of cowards. He believed that on the same principle that one
uses a whip on a scared horse--to make it more afraid of that which is
behind than of that which is ahead--he could by threats and intimidations
force Tubbs to do his bidding if the occasion arose. Tubbs's mental
calibre was 22-short; but Smith needed help, and Tubbs seemed the most
pliable material at hand. That Tubbs had pledged himself to something the
nature of which he knew only vaguely, was in itself sufficient to receive
Smith's contempt. He had learned from observation that little dependence
can be placed upon those who accept responsibilities too readily and
lightly, but he was confident that he could utilize Tubbs as long as he
should need him, and after that--Smith shrugged his shoulders--what was an
I-ó-wan more or less?

Altogether, he felt well satisfied with what he had accomplished in the
short while since his return.

When Susie came home from school, Smith was looking through the
corral-fence at a few ponies which Ralston had bought and driven in, to
give color to his story.

"See anything there you'd like?" she inquired, with significant emphasis.

"I'd buy the bunch if I was goin' to set me some bear-traps." Smith could
see nothing to praise in anything which belonged to Ralston.

Susie missed her mother immediately upon going into the house, and in
their sleeping-room she saw every sign of a hurried departure.

"Where's mother gone?" she asked Ling.

"Town."

"To town? To see a doctor about her arm?"

"Beads."

"Beads?"

"Blue beads, gleen beads. She no have enough beads for finish moccasin."

"When's she comin' home?"

"She come 'night."

Forty miles over a rough road, with her bandaged arm, for beads! It did
not sound reasonable to Susie, but since Smith was accounted for, and her
mother would return that night, there seemed no cause for worry. Susie
could not remember ever before having come home without finding her mother
somewhere in the house, and now, as she fidgeted about, she realized how
much she would miss her if that which she most feared should transpire to
separate them.

She walked to the door, and while she stood idly kicking her heel against
the door-sill she saw Ralston, who was passing, stoop and pick up a scrap
of paper which had been caught between two small stones. She observed that
he examined it with interest, but while he stood with his lips pursed in a
half-whistle a puff of wind flirted it from his fingers. He pursued it as
though it had value, and Susie, who was not above curiosity, joined in the
chase.

It lodged in one of the giant sage-brushes which grew some little distance
away on the outer edge of the dooryard, and into this brush Ralston
reached and carefully drew it forth. He looked at it again, lest his eyes
had deceived him, then he passed it to Susie, who stared blankly from the
scrap of paper to him.



XIX

WHEN THE CLOUDS PLAYED WOLF


The Indian woman was restless; she had been so from the time they had lost
sight of the town, but her restlessness had increased as the daylight
faded and night fell.

"You're goin' to bust this seat in if you don't quit jammin' around,"
Meeteetse Ed warned her peevishly.

Meeteetse was irritable, a state due largely to the waning exhilaration of
a short and unsatisfactory spree.

The woman clucked at the horses, and, to the great annoyance of her
driver, reached for the reins and slapped them on the back.

"They're about played out," he growled. "Forty miles is a awful trip for
these buzzard-heads to make in a day. We orter have put up some'eres
overnight."

"I could have stayed with Little Coyote's woman."

"We orter have done it, too. Look at them cayuses stumblin' along! Say, we
won't git in before 'leven or twelve at this gait, and I'm so hungry I
don't know where I'm goin' to sleep to-night."

"Little Coyote's woman gifted me some sa'vis berries."

"Aw, sa'vis berries! I can't go sa'vis berries," growled Meeteetse.
"They're too sweet. The only way they're fit to eat is to dry 'em and
pound 'em up with jerked elk--then they ain't bad eatin'. I've et 'most
ev'ry thing in my day. I've et wolf, and dog, and old mountain billy-goat,
and bull-snakes, and grasshoppers, so you kin see I ain't finnicky, but I
can't stummick sa'vis berries." He asked querulously: "What's ailin' of
you?"

The Indian woman, who had been studying the black clouds as they drifted
across the sky to dim the starlight, said in a half-whisper:

"The clouds no look good to me. They look like enemies playin' wolf. I
feel as if somethin' goin' happen."

The bare suggestion of the supernatural was sufficient to alarm Meeteetse.
He asked in a startled voice:

"How do you feel?"

"I feel sad. My heart drags down to de ground, and it seem like de dark
hide somethin'."

Meeteetse elongated his neck and peered fearfully into the darkness.

"What do you think it hides?" he asked in a husky whisper.

She shook her head.

"I don't know, but I have de bad feelin'."

"I forgot to sleep with my feet crossed last night," said Meeteetse, "and
I dreamed horrible dreams all night long. Maybe they was warnin's. I can't
think of anything much that could happen to us though," he went on, having
forgotten some of his ill-nature in his alarm for his personal safety.
"These here horses ain't goin' to run away--I wisht they would, fer 't
would git us quite a piece on our road. We ain't no enemies worth
mentionin', and we ain't worth stealin', so I don't hardly think your
feelin' means any wrong for us. More'n likely it's jest somebody dead."

This thought, slightly consoling to Meeteetse, did not seem to comfort the
Indian woman, who continued to squirm on the rickety seat and to strain
her eyes into the darkness.

"If anybody ud come along and want to mix with me--say, do you see that
fist? If ever I hit anybody with that fist, they'll have to have it dug
out of 'em. I don't row often, but when I does--oh, lordy! lordy! I jest
raves and caves. I was home on a visit onct, and my old-maid aunt gits a
notion of pickin' on me. Say, I ups and runs her all over the house with
an axe! I'm more er less a dang'rous character when I'm on the peck. Is
that feelin' workin off of you any?" he inquired anxiously.

"It comes stronger," she answered, and her grip tightened on the
flour-sack she held under her blanket.

"I wisht I knowed what it was. I'm gittin' all strung up myself." His
popping eyes ached from trying to see into the darkness around them. "If
we kin git past them gulches onct! That ud be a dum bad place to roll off
the side. We'd go kerplunk into the crick-bottom. Gosh! what was that?" He
stopped the weary horses with a terrific jerk.

It was only a little night prowler which had scurried under the horses'
feet and rustled into the brush.

"You see how on aidge I am! I'll tell you," he went on garrulously--the
sound of his own voice was always pleasant to Meeteetse: "I take more
stock in signs and feelin's than most people, for I've seen 'em work out.
Down there in Hermosy there was a feller made a stake out'n a silver
prospect, and he takes it into his head to go back to Nebrasky and hunt up
his wife, that he'd run off and left some time prev'ous. As the date gits
clost for him to leave, he got glummer and glummer. He'd skerce crack a
smile. The night before the stage was comin' to git him, he was settin' in
a 'dobe with a dirt roof, rared back on the hind legs of his chair, with
his hands in his pockets.

"'Boys,' he says, 'I'll never git back to Genevieve. I feels it; I knows
it; I'll bet you any amount I'm goin' to cash in between here and
Nebrasky. I've seen myself in my coffin four times hand-runnin', when I
was wide awake.'

"Everybody had their mouths open to let out a holler and laff when jest
then one of the biggest terrantuler that I ever see dropped down out'n the
dirt and straw and lands on his bald head. It hangs on and bites 'fore
anybody kin bresh it off, and, 'fore Gawd, he ups and dies while the
medicine shark is comin' from the next town!"

His companion did not find Meeteetse's reminiscence specially interesting,
possibly because she had heard it before, so at its conclusion she made no
comment, but continued to watch with anxious eyes the clouds and the road
ahead.

"Now if that ud been me," Meeteetse started to say, in nowise disconcerted
by the unresponsiveness of his listener--"if that ud----"

"Throw up your hands!" The curt command came out of the night with the
startling distinctness of a gun-shot. The horses were thrown back on their
haunches by a figure at their head.

Meeteetse not only threw up his hands, but his feet. He threw them up so
high and so hard that he lost his equilibrium, and, as a result, the
ill-balanced seat went over, carrying with it Meeteetse and the Indian
woman.

The latter's mind acted quickly. She knew that her errand to the bank had
become known. Undoubtedly they had been followed from town. As soon as she
could disentangle herself from Meeteetse's convulsive embrace, she threw
the flour-sack from her with all her strength, hoping it would drop out of
sight in the sage-brush. It was caught in mid-air by a tall figure at the
wagon-side.

"Thank you, madam," said a hollow voice, "Good-night."

It was all done so quickly and neatly that Meeteetse and the Indian woman
were still in the bottom of the wagon when two dark figures clattered past
and vanishing hoof-beats told them the thieves were on their way to town.

"Well, sir!" Meeteetse found his feet, also his tongue, at last.

"Well, sir!" He adjusted the seat.

"Well, sir!" He picked up the reins and clucked to the horses.

"Well, sir! I know 'em. Them's the fellers that held up the Great
Northern!"

The Indian woman said not a word. Her heart was filled with despair. What
would Smith say? was her thought. What would he do? She felt intuitively
how great would be his disappointment. How could she tell him?

She drew the blanket tighter about her shoulders and across her face,
crouching on the seat like a culprit.

The ranch-house was dark when they drove into the yard, for which she was
thankful. She left Meeteetse to unharness, and, without striking a light
or speaking to Susie, crept between her blankets like a frightened child.

Smith, in his dreams, had heard the rumble of the wagon as it crossed the
ford, and he awoke the next morning with a sensation of pleasurable
anticipation. In his mind's eye, he saw the banknotes in a heap before
him. There were all kinds in the picture--greasy ones, crisp ones,
tattered bills pasted together with white strips of paper. He rather liked
these best, because the care with which they had been preserved conveyed
an idea of value. They had been treasured, coveted by others, counted
often.

Eager, animated, his eyes bright, his lips curving in a smile, Smith
hurried into his clothes and to the ranch-house, to seek the Indian woman.
He heard her heavy step as she crossed the floor of the living-room, and
he waited outside the door.

"Prairie Flower!" he whispered as she stood before him.

She avoided his eyes, and her fingers fumbled nervously with the buckle of
her wide belt.

"Could you get it?"

"Most of it."

"Where is it?" His eyes gleamed with the light of avarice.

She drew in her breath hard.

"It was stole."

His face went blood-red; the cords of his neck swelled as if he were
straining at a weight. She shrank from the snarling ferocity of his
mouth.

"You lie!" The voice was not human.

He clenched his huge fist and knocked her down.

She was on the ground when Susie came out.

"Mother!"

The woman blinked up at her.

"I slip. I gettin' too fat," she said, and struggled to her feet.

Elsewhere, with great minuteness of detail, Meeteetse was describing the
exciting incident of the night, and what would have happened if only he
could have laid hold of his gun.

"Maybe they wouldn't 'a' split the wind if I could have jest drawed my
automatic in time! As 'twas, I put up the best fight I could, with a woman
screamin' and hangin' to me for pertection. I rastled the big feller
around in the road there for some time, neither of us able to git a good
holt. He was glad enough to break away, I kin tell you. They's no manner
o' doubt in my mind but them was the Great Northern hold-ups."

"But what would they tackle _you_ for?" demanded Old Man Rulison.
"Everybody knows _you_ ain't got nothin', and you say all they took from
the old woman was a flour-sack full of dried sa'vis berries. It's some of
a come-down, looks to me, from robbing trains to stealin' stewin'-fruit."

"Well, there you are." Meeteetse shrugged his shoulders. "That's your
mystery. All I knows is, that I pulled ha'r every jump in the road to save
them berries."



XX

THE LOVE MEDICINE OF THE SIOUX


Still breathing hard, Smith hunted Tubbs.

"Tubbs, will you be ready for business, to-day?"

"The sooner, the quicker," Tubbs answered, with his vacuous wit.

"Do you know the gulch where they found that dead Injun?"

"Yep."

"Saddle up and meet me over there as quick as you can."

"Right." Tubbs winked knowingly, and immediately after breakfast started
to do as he was bid.

Smith's face was not good to look upon as he sat at the table. He took no
part in the conversation, and scarcely touched the food before him. His
disappointment was so deep that it actually sickened him, and his
unreasoning anger toward the woman was so great that he wanted to get out
of her sight and her presence. She was like a dog which after a whipping
tries to curry favor with its master. She was ready to go to him at the
first sign of relenting. She felt no resentment because of his injustice
and brutality. She felt nothing but that he was angry at her, that he
kept his eyes averted and repelled her timid advances. Her heart ached,
and she would have grovelled at his feet, had he permitted her. In her
desperation, she made up her mind to try on him the love-charm of the
Sioux women. It might soften his heart toward her. She would have
sacrificed anything and all to bring him back.

Smith was glad to get away into the hills for a time. He was filled with a
feverish impatience to bring about that which he so much desired. The
picture of the ranch-house with the white curtains at the windows became
more and more attractive to him as he dwelt upon it. He looked upon it as
a certainty, one which could not be too quickly realized to please him.
Then, too, the atmosphere of the MacDonald ranch had grown distasteful to
him. With that sudden revulsion of feeling which was characteristic, he
had grown tired of the place, he wanted a change, to be on the move again;
but, of more importance than these things, he sensed hostility in the air.
There was something significant in the absence of the Indians at the
ranch. There was an ominous quiet hanging over the place that chilled him.
He had a feeling that he was being followed, without being able to detect
so much as a shadow. He felt as if the world were full of eyes--glued upon
him. Sudden sounds startled him, and he had found himself peering into
dark stable corners and stooping to look where the shadows lay black in
the thick creek-brush.

He told himself that the trip through the Bad Lands had unnerved him, but
the explanation was not satisfying. Through it all, he had an underlying
feeling that something was wrong; yet he had no thought of altering his
plans. He wanted money, and he wanted Dora. The combination was sufficient
to nerve him to take chances.

Tubbs was waiting in the gulch. Smith looked at the spot where White
Antelope's body had lain, and reflected that it was curious how long the
black stain of blood would stay on sand and gravel. He had been lucky to
get out of that scrape so easily, he told himself as he rode by.

"I guess you know what you're up against, feller," he said bluntly, as he
and Tubbs met.

"I inclines to the opinion that it's a little cattle deal," Tubbs replied
facetiously.

"You inclines right. Now, here's our play--listen. The Bar C outfit is
workin' up in the mountains, so they won't interfere with us none, and
about three or three and a half days' drive from here there's some fellers
what'll take 'em off our hands. We gets our wad and divvies."

"What for a hand do I take?"

"By rights, maybe, we ought to do our work at night, but I've rode over
the country, and it looks safe enough to drive 'em into the gulch to-day.
They isn't a human in sight, and if one shows up, I reckon you know what
to do."

"It sounds easy enough, if it works," said Tubbs dubiously.

"If it works? Feller, if you've got a yeller streak, you better quit right
here."

"I merely means," Tubbs hastened to explain, "that it sounds so easy that
it makes me sore we wasn't doin' it before."

The reply appeared to pacify Smith.

"I hates to fool with cattle," he admitted, "'specially these here Texas
brutes that spread out, leavin' tracks all over the flat, and they can't
make time just off green grass. Gimme horses--but horses ain't safe right
now, with the Injuns riled up. Now, you start out and gather up what you
can, and hold 'em here till I get back. I'll go to the ranch and get a
little grub together and get here as quick as it's safe."

Smith galloped back to the ranch, to learn that Dora had ridden to the
Agency to spend the day. He was keenly disappointed that he had missed the
opportunity of saying good-by. She had chided him before for not telling
her of his contemplated absence, and he had promised not to neglect to do
so again; for she was in the habit of arranging the table for her
night-school and waiting until he came. Then it occurred to Smith that he
might write. He was delighted with the idea, and undoubtedly Dora would be
equally delighted to receive a letter from him. It would show her that he
remembered his promise, and also give her a chance to note his progress.
Since Smith had learned that a capital letter is used to designate the
personal pronoun, and that a period is placed at such points as one's
breath gives out, he had begun to think himself something of a scholar.

His enthusiasm grew as he thought of it, and he decided that while he was
about it he would write a genuine love-letter.

Borrowing paper, an erratic pen, and ink pale from frequent watering, from
a shelf in the living-room, he repaired to the dining-room table and gave
himself up to the throes of composition.

Bearing in mind that the superlative of dear is dearest, he wrote:

  Dearest Girl.

  I have got to go away on bizness. I had ought to hav said good-by but
  I cant wate till you gets back so I thort I wold write. I love you. I
  hates everyboddy else when I think of you. I dont love no other woman
  but you. Nor never did. If ever I go away and dont come back dont
  forget what I say because I will be ded, I mean it. I will hav a stak
  perty quick then I will show you this aint no josh. You no the rest,
  good-by for this time.

                                                                Smith.
The perspiration stood out on his forehead, and he wiped it away with his
ink-stained fingers.

"Writin' is harder work nor shoein' a horse," he observed to Ling, and
added for the Indian woman's benefit, "I'm sendin' off to get me a pair of
them Angory saddle-pockets."

His explanation did not deceive the person for whom it was intended. With
the intuition of a jealous woman, she knew that he was writing a letter
which he would not have her see. She meant to know, if possible, to whom
he was writing, and what. Although she did not raise her eyes from her
work when he replaced the pen and ink, she did not let him out of her
sight. She believed that he had written to Dora, and she was sure of it
when, thinking himself unobserved, he crept to Dora's open window, outside
of the house, and dropped the letter into the top drawer of her bureau,
which stood close.

As soon as Smith was out of sight, she too crept stealthily to the open
window. A red spot burned on either swarthy cheek, and her aching heart
beat fast. She took the letter from the drawer, and, going toward the
creek, plunged into the willows, with the instinct of the wounded animal
seeking cover.

The woman could read a little--not much, but better than she could write.
She had been to the Mission when she was younger, and MacDonald had
labored patiently to teach her more. Now, concealed among the willows,
sitting cross-legged on the ground, she spelled out Smith's letter word by
word,

I love you. I hates everyboddy else when I think of you. I don't love no
other woman but you. Nor never did.

She read it slowly, carefully, each word sinking deep. Then she stroked
her hair with long, deliberate strokes, and read it again.

I don't love no other woman but you. Nor never did.

She laid the letter on the ground, and, folding her arms, rocked her body
to and fro, as though in physical agony. When she shut her lips they
trembled as they touched each other, but she made no sound. The wound in
her arm was beginning to heal. It itched, and she scratched it hard, for
the pain served as a kind of counter-irritant. A third time she read the
letter, stroking her hair incessantly with the long, deliberate strokes.
Then she folded it, and, reaching for a pointed stick, dug a hole in the
soft dirt. In the bottom of the hole she laid the letter and covered it
with earth, patting and smoothing it until it was level. Before she left
she sprinkled a few leaves over the spot.

She looked old and ugly when she went into the house, seeming, for the
first time, the woman of middle-age that she was. Quietly, purposefully,
she drew out a chair, and, standing upon it, took down from the rafters
the plant which Little Coyote's woman, the Mandan, had given her. It had
hung there a long time, and the leaves crumpled and dropped off at her
touch. She filled a basin with water and put the plant and root to soak,
while she searched for a sharp knife. Turning her back to the room and
facing the corner, like a child in mischief, she peeled the outer bark
from the root with the greatest care. The inner bark was blood-red, and
this too she peeled away carefully, very, very carefully saving the
smallest particles, and laid it upon a paper. When she had it all, she
burned the plant; but the red inner bark she put in a tin cup and covered
it with boiling water, to steep.

"Don't touch dat," she warned Ling.

The afternoon was waning when she went again to the willows, but the air
was still hot, for the rocks and sand held the heat until well after
nightfall. In the willows she cut a stick--a forked stick, which she
trimmed so that it left a crotch with a long handle. Hiding the stick
under her blanket, she stepped out of the willows, and seemed to be
wandering aimlessly until she was out of sight of the house and the
bunk-house. Then she walked rapidly, with a purpose. Her objective point
was a hill covered so thickly with rocks that scarcely a spear of grass
grew upon it. The climb left her short of breath, she wiped the
perspiration from her face with her blanket, but she did not falter.
Stepping softly, listening, she crept over the rocks with the utmost
caution, peering here and there as if in search of something which she did
not wish to alarm. A long, sibilant sound stopped her. She located it as
coming from under a rock only a few feet away, and a little gleam of
satisfaction in her sombre eyes showed that she had found that for which
she searched. The angry rattlesnake was coiled to strike, but she
approached without hesitancy. Calculating how far it could throw itself,
she stood a little beyond its range and for a moment stood watching the
glitter of its wicked little eyes, the lightning-like action of its
tongue. When she moved, its head followed her, but she dexterously pinned
it to the rock with her forked stick and placed the heel of her moccasin
upon its writhing body. Then, stooping, she severed its head from its body
with her knife.

She put the head in a square of cloth and continued her search. After a
time, she found another, and when she went down the hill there were three
heads in the blood-soaked square of cloth. She hid them in the willows,
and went into the house to stir the contents of the tin cup. She noted
with evident satisfaction that it had thickened somewhat. Little Coyote's
woman had told her it would do so. She found a bottle which had contained
lemon extract, and this she rinsed. She measured a teaspoonful of the
thick, reddish-brown liquid and poured it into the bottle, filling it
afterward with water. The cup she took with her into the willows. Laying
the heads of the snakes upon a flat stone, she cut them through the jaws,
and, extracting the poison sac, stirred the fluid into the tin cup. While
she stirred, she remembered that she had heard an owl hoot the night
before. It was an ill-omen, and it had sounded close. The hooting of an
owl meant harm to some one. She wondered now if an owl feather would not
make the medicine stronger. She set down her cup and looked carefully
under the trees, but could find no feathers. Ah, well, it was stout enough
medicine without it!

She had brought a long, keen-bladed hunting-knife into the willows, and
she dipped the point of it into the concoction--blowing upon it until it
dried, then repeating the process. When the point of the blade was well
discolored, she muttered:

"Dat's de strong medicine!"

Her eyes glittered like the eyes of the snakes among the rocks, and they
seemed smaller. Their roundness and the liquid softness of them was gone.
She looked "pure Injun," as Smith would have phrased it, with murder in
her heart. Deliberately, malevolently, she spat upon the earth beneath
which the letter lay, before she returned to the house.

She heard Susie's voice in the Schoolmarm's room, and quickly hid the
knife behind a mirror in the living-room, where she hid everything which
she wished to conceal, imagining, for some unknown reason, that no one but
herself would ever think of looking there. Susie often had thought
laughingly that it looked like a pack-rat's nest.

The woman poured the liquid which remained in the tin cup into another
bottle, frowning when she spilled a few precious drops upon her hand.
This bottle she also hid behind the mirror.

In Dora Marshall's room, Susie was examining the teacher's toilette
articles, which held an unfailing interest for her. She meant to have an
exact duplicate of the manicure set and of the hairbrush with the heavy
silver back. To Susie, these things, along with side-combs and petticoats
that rustled, were symbols of that elegance which she longed to attain.

As she stood by the bureau, fumbling with the various articles, she caught
sight of a box through the crack of the half-open drawer. She had seen
that battered box before. It was the grasshopper box--for there was the
slit in the top.

Susie was not widely experienced in matters of sentiment, but she had her
feminine intuitions, besides remarkably well-developed reasoning powers
for her years.

Why, she asked herself as she continued to stare through the crack, why
should Teacher be cherishing that old bait-box? Why should she have it
there among her handkerchiefs and smelly silk things, and the soft lace
things she wore at her throat? Why--unless she attached value to it?
Why--unless it was a romantic and sacred keepsake?

Susie rather prided herself on being in touch with all that went on, and
now she had an uneasy feeling that she might have missed something. She
remembered the day of their fishing trip well, and at the time had
thought she had scented a budding romance. Had they quarrelled, she
wondered?

She sat on the edge of the bed and swung her feet.

"My, but won't it seem lonesome here without Mr. Ralston?" Susie sighed
deeply.

"Is he going away?" Dora asked quickly.

"He'll be goin' pretty soon now, because he's found most of his strays and
bought all the ponies he wants."

"I suppose he will be glad to get back among his friends."

Susie thought Teacher looked a little pale.

"Maybe he'll go back and get married."

"Did he say so?"

Susie was _sure_ she was paler.

"No," she replied nonchalantly. "I just thought so, because anybody that's
as good-looking as he is, gets gobbled up quick. Don't you think he is
good-looking?"

"Oh, he does very well."

"Gee whiz, I wish he'd ask me to marry him!" said Susie unblushingly. "You
couldn't see me for dust, the way I'd travel. But there's no danger. Look
at them there skinny arms!"

"Susie! What grammar!"

"Those there skinny arms."

"Those."

"Those skinny arms; those hair; those eyes--soft and gentle like a couple
of augers, Meeteetse says." Susie shook her head in mock despondency.
"I've tried to be beautiful, too. Once I cut a piece out of a newspaper
that told how you could get rosy cheeks. It gave all the different things
to put in, so I sent off and got 'em. I mixed 'em like it said and rubbed
it on my face. There wasn't any mistake about my rosy cheeks, but you
ought to have seen the blisters on my cheek-bones--big as dollars!"

"I'm sure you will not be so thin when you are older," Dora said
consolingly, "and your hair would be a very pretty color if only you would
wear a hat and take a little care of it."

Susie shook her head and sighed again.

"Oh, it will be too late then, for he will be snapped up by some of those
stylish town girls. You see."

Dora put buttons in her shirt-waist sleeves in silence.

"I think he liked to stay here until you quarrelled with him."

"I quarrelled with him?"

"Oh, didn't you?" Susie was innocence itself. "You treat him so polite, I
thought you must have quarrelled--such a chilly polite," she explained.

"I don't think _he_ has observed it," Dora answered coldly.

"Oh, yes, he has." Susie waited discreetly.

"How do you know?"

"When you come to the table and say, Good-morning, and look at him without
seeing him, I know he'd a lot rather you cuffed him."

"What a dreadful word, Susie, and what an absurd idea!"

Susie noted that Teacher's eyes brightened.

"_You'll_ be goin' away, too, pretty soon, and I s'pose you'll be glad you
will never see him again. But," she added dolefully, "ain't it awful the
way people just meets and parts?"

Dora was a long time finding that for which she was searching among the
clothes hanging on a row of nails, and Susie, rolling her eyes in that
direction, was sure, very sure, that she saw Teacher dab at her lashes
with the frilly ruffle of a petticoat before she turned around.

"When did he say he was going?"

"He didn't say; but to-day or to-morrow, I should think."

"If he cared so much because I am cool to him, he certainly would have
asked me why I treated him so. But he didn't care enough to ask."

Teacher's voice sounded queer even to herself, and she seemed intensely
interested in buttoning her boots.

"Pooh! I know why. It's because he thinks you like that Smith."

"Smith!"

"Yes, Smith."

The jangle of Ling's triangle interrupted the fascinating conversation.

"How perfectly foolish!" gasped Dora.

"Not to Smith," Susie replied dryly, "nor to Mr. Ralston."

Susie looked at the unoccupied chairs at the table as she and Dora seated
themselves. Ralston's, Tubbs's, Smith's, and McArthur's chairs were
vacant.

"Looks like you're losin' your boarders fast, Ling," she remarked.

"Good thing," Ling answered candidly.

The Indian woman gulped her coffee, but refused the food which was passed
to her. A strange faintness, accompanied by nausea, was creeping upon her.
Her vision was blurred, and she saw Meeteetse Ed, at the opposite end of
the table, as through a fog. She pushed back her chair and went into the
living-room, swaying a little as she walked. A faint moan caught Susie's
ear, and she hastened to her mother.

The woman was lying on the floor by the bench where she sewed, her head
pillowed on her rag-rug.

"Mother! Why, what's the matter with your hand? It's swelled!"

"I heap sick, Susie!" she moaned. "My arm aches me."

"Look!" cried Susie, who had turned back her sleeve. "Her arm is black--a
purple black, and it's swellin' up!"

"Oh, I heap sick!"

"What did you do to your arm, Mother? Did you have the bandage off?"

"Yes, it come off, and I pin him up," said Ling, who was standing by.

A paroxysm of pain seized the woman, and she writhed.

"It looks exactly like a rattlesnake bite! I saw a fellow once that was
bit in the ankle, and it swelled up and turned a color like that,"
declared Susie in horror. "Mother, you haven't been foolin' with snakes,
or been bit?"

The woman shook her head.

"I no been bit," she groaned, and her eyes had in them the appealing look
of a sick spaniel.

Dora and Susie helped her to her room, and though they tried every simple
remedy of which they had ever heard, to reduce the rapidly swelling arm,
all seemed equally unavailing. The woman's convulsions hourly became more
violent and frequent, while her arm was frightful to behold--black, as it
was, from hand to shoulder with coagulated blood.

"If only we had an idea of the cause!" cried Dora, distracted.

"Mother, can't you imagine anything that would make your arm bad like
this? Try to think."

But though drops of perspiration stood on the woman's forehead, and her
grip tore the pillow, she obstinately shook her head.

"I be better pretty soon," was all she would say, and tried to smile at
Susie.

"If only some one would come!" Dora went to the open window often and
listened for Ralston's voice or McArthur's--the latter having gone for his
mail.

The strain of watching the woman's suffering told on both of the girls,
and the night by her bedside seemed centuries long. Toward morning the
paroxysms appeared to reach a climax and then to subside. They were of
shorter duration, and the intervals between were longer.

"She's better, I'm sure," Dora said hopefully, but Susie shook her head.

"I don't think so; she's worse. There's that look behind, back of her
eyes--that dead look--can't you see it? And it's in her face, too. I don't
know how to say what I mean, but it's there, and it makes me shiver like
cold." The girl looked in mingled awe and horror at the first human being
she ever had seen die.

Unable to endure the strain any longer, Dora went into the fresh air, and
Susie dropped on her knees by the bedside and took her mother's limp hand
in both of hers.

"Oh, Mother," she begged pitifully, "say something. Don't go away without
sayin' something to Susie!"

With an effort of will, the woman slowly opened her dull eyes and fixed
them upon the child's face.

"Yas," she breathed; "I _want_ to say something."

The words came slowly and thickly.

"I no--get well."

"Oh, Mother!"

Unheeding the wail, perhaps not hearing it, she went on, stopping often
between words:

"I steal--from you--my little girl. I bad woman, Susie. It is right I die.
I take de money--out of de bank dat MacDonald leave us--to give to Smith.
De hold-ups steal de money on--de road. I have de bad heart--Susie--to do
dat. I know now."

"You mustn't talk like that, Mother!" cried Susie, gripping her hand
convulsively. "You thought you'd get it again and put it back. You didn't
mean to steal from me. I know all about it. And I've got the money. Mr.
Ralston found a check you had thrown away--you'd signed your name on it in
the wrong place. When we saw the date, and what a lot of money it was, and
found you had gone to town, we guessed the rest. It was easy to see Smith
in that. So we held you up, and got it back. We knew there was no danger
to anybody, but, of course, we felt bad to worry and frighten you."

"I'm glad," said the woman simply. She had no strength or breath or time
to spare. "Dey's more. I tell you--I kill Smith--if he lie. He lie. He
bull-dog white man. I make de strong medicine to kill him--and I get de
poison in my arm when de bandage slip. Get de bottles and de knife behind
de lookin'-glass--I show you."

Susie quickly did as she was bid.

"De lemon bottle is de love-charm of de Sioux. One teaspoonful--no more,
Little Coyote's woman say. De other bottle is de bad medicine. Be careful.
Smith--make fool--of me--Susie." What else she would have said ended in a
gurgle. Her jaw dropped, and she died with her glazing eyes upon Susie's
face.

Susie pulled the gay Indian blanket gently over her mother's shoulders, as
if afraid she would be cold. Then she slipped a needle and some beads and
buckskin, to complete an unfinished moccasin, underneath the blanket. Her
mother was going on a long journey, and would want occupation. There were
no tears in Susie's eyes when she replaced the bottles and the skinning
knife with the discolored blade behind the mirror.

The wan little creature seemed to have no tears to shed. She was
unresponsive to Dora's broken words of sympathy, and the grub-liners'
awkward condolences--they seemed not to reach her heart at all. She heard
them without hearing, for her mind was chaos as she moved silently from
room to room, or huddled, a forlorn figure, on the bench where her mother
always had sat.

Breakfast was long since over and the forenoon well advanced when she
finally left the silent house and crept like the ghost of her spirited
self down the path to the stable and into the roomy stall where her stout
little cow-pony stood munching hay.

In her sorrow, the dumb animal was the one thing to which she turned. He
lifted his head when she went in, and threw his cropped ears forward,
while his eyes grew limpid as a horse's eyes will at the approach of some
one it knows well and looks to for food and affection.

They had almost grown up together, and the time Susie had spent on his
back, or with him in the corral or stall, formerly had been half her
waking hours. They had no fear of each other; only deep love and mutual
understanding.

"Oh, Croppy! Croppy!" her childish voice quavered. "Oh, Croppy, you're all
I've got left!" She slipped her arms around his thick neck and hid her
face in his mane.

He stopped eating and stood motionless while she clung to him, his ears
alert at the sound of the familiar voice.

"What _shall_ I do!" she wailed in an abandonment of grief.

In her inexperience, it seemed to Susie, that with her mother's death all
the world had come to an end for her. Undemonstrative as they were, and
meagre as had been any spoken words of affection, the bond of natural love
between them had seemed strong and unbreakable until Smith's coming. They
had been all in all to each other in their unemotional way; and now this
unexpected tragedy seemed to crush the child, because it was something
which never had entered her thoughts. It was a crisis with which she did
not know how to cope or to bear. The world could never be blacker for her
than it was when she clung sobbing to the little sorrel pony's thick neck
that morning. The future looked utterly cheerless and impossible to
endure. She had not learned that no tragedy is so blighting that there is
not a way out--a way which the sufferer makes himself, which comes to him,
or into which he is forced. Nothing stays as it is. But it appeared to
Susie that life could never be different, except to be worse.

She had talked much to McArthur of the outside world, and questioned him,
and a doubt had sprung up as to the feasibility of searching for her
kinsfolk, as she had planned. There were many, many trails and wire fences
to bewilder one, and people--hundreds of people--people who were not
always kind. His answers filled her with vague fears. To be only sixteen,
and alone, is cause enough for tears, and Susie shed them now.

McArthur, with a radiant face, was riding toward the ranch to which he had
become singularly attached. His saddle-pockets bulged with mail, and his
elbows flapped joyously as he urged his horse to greater speed. He looked
up eagerly at the house as he crossed the ford, and his kind eyes shone
with happiness when he rode into the stable-yard and swung out of the
saddle.

He heard a sound, the unmistakable sound of sobbing, as he was unsaddling.
Listening, he knew it came from somewhere in the stable, so he left his
horse and went inside.

It was Susie, as he had thought. She lifted her tear-stained face from the
pony's mane when he spoke, and he knew that she was glad to see him.

"Oh, pardner, I thought you'd _never_ come!"

"The mail was late, and I stayed with the Major to wait for it. What has
gone wrong?"

"Mother's dead," she said. "She was poisoned accidentally."

"Susie! And there was no one here?" The news seemed incredible.

"Only Teacher and me--no one that knew what to do. We sent Meeteetse for a
doctor, but he hasn't come yet. He probably got drunk and forgot what he
went for. It's been a terrible night, pardner, and a terrible day!"

McArthur looked at her with troubled eyes, and once more he stroked her
hair with his gentle, timid touch.

"Everything just looks awful to me, with Dad and mother both gone, and me
here alone on this big ranch, with only Ling and grub-liners. And to think
of it all the rest of my life like this--with nobody that I belong to, or
that belongs to me!"

Something was recalled to McArthur with a start by Susie's words. He had
forgotten!

"Come, Susie, come with me."

She followed him outside, where he unbuckled his saddle-pocket and took a
daguerreotype from a wooden box which had come in the mail. The gilt frame
was tarnished, the purple velvet lining faded, and when he handed the case
to Susie she had to hold it slanting in the light to see the picture.

"Dad!"

She looked at McArthur with eyes wide in wonder.

"Donald MacDonald, my aunt Harriet's brother, who went north to buy furs
for the Hudson Bay Company!" McArthur's eyes were smiling through the
moisture in them.

"We've got one just like it!" Susie cried, still half unable to believe
her eyes and ears.

"I was sure that day you mimicked your father when he said, 'Never forget
you are a MacDonald!' for I have heard my aunt say that a thousand times,
and in just that way. But I wanted to be surer before I said anything to
you, so I sent for this."

"Oh, pardner!" and with a sudden impulse which was neither Scotch nor
Indian, but entirely of herself, Susie threw her arms about his neck and
all but choked him in the only hug which Peter McArthur, A.M., Ph.D.,
could remember ever having had.



XXI

THE MURDERER OF WHITE ANTELOPE


It was nearly dusk, and Ralston was only a few hundred yards from the Bar
C gate, when he met Babe, highly perfumed and with his hair suspiciously
slick, coming out. Babe's look of disappointment upon seeing him was not
flattering, but Ralston ignored it in his own delight at the meeting.

"What was your rush? I was just goin' over to see you," was Babe's glum
greeting.

"And I'm here to see you," Ralston returned, "but I forgot to perfume
myself and tallow my hair."

"Aw-w-w," rumbled Babe, sheepishly. "What'd you want?"

"You know what I'm in the country for?"

Babe nodded.

"I've located my man, and he's going to drive off a big bunch to-night.
There's two of them in fact, and I'll need help. Are you game for it?"

"Oh, mamma!" Babe rolled his eyes in ecstasy.

"He has a horror of doing time," Ralston went on, "and if he has any show
at all, he's going to put up a hard fight. I'd like the satisfaction of
bringing them both in, single-handed, but it isn't fair to the Colonel to
take any chances of their getting away."

"Who is it?"

"Smith."

"That bastard with his teeth stickin' out?"

Ralston laughed assent.

"Pickin's!" cried Babe, with gusto. "I'd like to kill that feller every
mornin' before breakfast. Will I go? Will I? _Will_ I?" Babe's crescendo
ended in a joyous whoop of exultation. "Wait till I ride back and tell the
Colonel, and git my ca'tridge belt. I take it off of an evenin' these
tranquil times."

Ralston turned his horse and started back, so engrossed in thoughts of the
work ahead of him that it was not until Babe overtook him that he
remembered he had forgotten to ask Babe's business with him.

"Well, I guess the old Colonel was tickled when he heard you'd spotted the
rustlers," said Babe, as he reined in beside him. "He wanted to come
along--did for a fact, and him nearly seventy. He'd push the lid off his
coffin and climb out at his own funeral if somebody'd happen to mention
that thieves was brandin' his calves."

"You said you had started to the ranch to see me."

"Oh, yes--I forgot. Your father sent word to the Colonel that he was
sellin' off his cattle and goin' into sheep, and wanted the Colonel to
let you know."

"The poor old Governor! It'll about break his heart, I know; and I should
be there. At his time of life it's a pretty hard and galling thing to quit
cattle--to be forced out of the business into sheep. It's like bein' made
to change your politics or religion against your will."

"'Fore I'd wrangle woolers," declared Babe, "I'd hold up trains or rob
dudes or do 'most any old thing. Say, I've rid by sheep-wagons when I was
durn near starvin' ruther than eat with a sheep-herder or owe one a favor.
Where do you find a man like the Colonel in sheep?" demanded Babe. "You
don't find 'em. Nothin' but a lot of upstart sheep-herders, that's got
rich in five years and don't know how to act."

"Oh, you're prejudiced, Babe. Not all sheepmen are muckers any more than
all cattlemen are gentlemen."

"I'm not prejudiced a-_tall_!" declared Babe excitedly. "I'm perfectly
fair and square. Woolers is demoralizin'. Associate with woolers, and it
takes the spirit out of a feller quicker'n cookin.' In five years you
won't be half the man you are now if you go into sheep. I'll sure hate to
see it!" His voice was all but pathetic as he contemplated Ralston's
downfall.

"I think you will, though, Babe, if I get out of this with a whole hide."

"You'll be so well fixed you can git married then?" There was some
constraint in Babe's tone, which he meant to be casual.

Ralston's heart gave him a twinge of pain.

"I s'pose you've had every chance to git acquainted with the Schoolmarm,"
he observed, since Ralston did not reply.

"She doesn't like me, Babe."

"_What_!" yelled Babe, screwing up his face in a grimace of surprise and
unbelief.

"She would rather talk to Ling than to me--at least, she seems far more
friendly to any one else than to me."

"Say, she must be loony not to like you!"

Ralston could not help laughing outright at Babe's vigorous loyalty.

"It's not necessarily a sign of insanity to dislike me."

"She doesn't go that far, does she?" demanded Babe.

"Sometimes I think so."

"You don't care a-tall, do you?"

"Yes," Ralston replied quietly; "I care a great deal. It hurts me more
than I ever was hurt before; because, you see, Babe, I never loved a woman
before."

"Aw-w-w," replied Babe, in deepest sympathy.

Smith had congratulated himself often during the day upon the fact that he
could not have chosen a more propitious time for the execution of his
plans--at least, so far as the Bar C outfit was concerned. His uneasiness
passed as the protecting darkness fell without their having seen a single
person the entire day.

When the last glimmer of daylight had faded, Tubbs and Smith started on
the drive, heading the cattle direct for their destination. They were
fatter than Smith had supposed, so they could not travel as rapidly as he
had calculated, but he and Tubbs pushed them along as fast as they could
without overheating them.

The darkness, which gave Smith courage, made Tubbs nervous. He swore at
the cattle, he swore at his horse, he swore at the rocks over which his
horse stumbled; and he constantly strained his roving eyes to penetrate
the darkness for pursuers. Every gulch and gully held for him a fresh
terror.

"Gee! I wisht I was out of this onct!" burst from him when the howl of a
wolf set his nerves jangling.

"What'd you say?" Smith stopped in the middle of a song he was singing.

"I said I wisht I was down where the monkeys are throwin' nuts! I'm
chilly," declared Tubbs.

"Chilly? It's hot!"

Smith was light-hearted, sanguine. He told himself that perhaps it was as
well, after all, that the hold-ups had got off with the "old woman's"
money. She might have made trouble when she found that he meant to go or
had gone with Dora.

"You can't tell about women," Smith said to himself. "They're like ducks:
no two fly alike."

He felt secure, yet from force of habit his hand frequently sought his
cartridge-belt, his rifle in its scabbard, his six-shooter in the holster
under his arm. And while he serenely hummed the songs of the dance-halls
and round-up camps, two silent figures, so close that they heard the
clacking of the cattle's split hoofs, Tubbs's vacuous oaths, Smith's
contented voice, were following with the business-like persistency of the
law.

The four mounted men rode all night, speaking seldom, each thinking his
own thoughts, dreaming his own dreams. Not until the faintest light grayed
the east did the pursuers fall behind.

"We're not more'n a mile to water now"--Smith had made sure of his country
this time--"and we'll hold the cattle in the brush and take turns
watchin'."

"It's a go with me," answered Tubbs, yawning until his jaws cracked. "I'm
asleep now."

Ralston and Babe knew that Smith would camp for several hours in the
creek-bottom, so they dropped into a gulch and waited.

"They'll picket their horses first, then one of them will keep watch while
the other sleeps. Very likely Tubbs will be the first guard, and, unless
I'm mistaken, Tubbs will be dead to the world in fifteen minutes--though,
maybe, he's too scared to sleep." Ralston's surmise proved to be correct
in every particular.

After they had picketed their horses, Smith told Tubbs to keep watch for a
couple of hours, while he slept.

"Couldn't we jest switch that programme around?" inquired Tubbs
plaintively. "I can't hardly keep my eyes open."

"Do as I tell you," Smith returned sharply.

Tubbs eyed him with envy as he spread down his own and Tubbs's
saddle-blankets.

"I ain't what you'd call 'crazy with the heat.'" Tubbs shivered. "Couldn't
I crawl under one of them blankets with you?"

"You bet you can't. I'd jest as lief sleep with a bull-snake as a man,"
snorted Smith in disgust, and, pulling the blankets about his ears, was
lost in oblivion.

"I kin look back upon times when I've enj'yed myself more," muttered Tubbs
disconsolately, as he paced to and fro, or at intervals climbed wearily
out of the creek-bottom to look and listen.

Ralston and Babe had concealed themselves behind a cut-bank which in the
rainy season was a tributary of the creek. They were waiting for daylight,
and for the guard to grow sleepy and careless. With little more emotion
than hunters waiting in a blind for the birds to go over, the two men
examined their rifles and six-shooters. They talked in undertones,
laughing a little at some droll observation or reminiscence. Only by a
sparkle of deviltry in Babe's blue eyes, and an added gravity of
expression upon Ralston's face, at moments, would the closest observer
have known that anything unusual was about to take place. Yet each
realized to the fullest extent the possible dangers ahead of them. Smith,
they knew to be resourceful, he would be desperate, and Tubbs, ignorant
and weak of will as he was, might be frightened into a kind of frenzied
courage. The best laid plans did not always work out according to
schedule, and if by any chance they were discovered, and the thieves
reached their guns, the odds were equal. But it was not their way to talk
of danger to themselves. That there was danger was a fact, too obvious to
discuss, but that it was no hindrance to the carrying out of their plans
was also accepted as being too evident to waste words upon.

While the east grew pink, they talked of mutual acquaintances, of horses
they had owned, of guns and big game, of dinners they had eaten, of socks
and saddle blankets that had been stolen from them in cow outfits--the
important and trivial were of like interest to these old friends waiting
for what, as each well knew, might be their last sunrise.

Ralston finally crawled to the top of the cut-bank and looked cautiously
about.

"It's time," he said briefly.

"_Bueno_." Babe gave an extra twitch to the silk handkerchief knotted
about his neck, which, with him, signified a readiness for action.

He joined Ralston at the top of the cut-bank.

"Not a sign!" he whispered. "Looks like you and me owned the world,
Dick."

"We'll lead the horses a little closer, in case we need them quick. Then,
we'll keep that bunch of brush between us and them, till we get close
enough. You take Tubbs, and I'll cover Smith--I want that satisfaction,"
he added grimly.

It was a typical desert morning, redolent with sage, which the night's dew
brought out strongly. The pink light changing rapidly to crimson was
seeking out the draws and coulees where the purple shadows of night still
lay. The only sound was the cry of the mourning doves, answering each
other's plaintive calls. And across the panorama of yellow sand, green
sage-brush, burning cactus flowers, distant peaks of purple, all bathed
alike in the gorgeous crimson light of morning, two dark figures crept
with the stealthiness of Indians.

From behind the bush which had been their objective-point they could hear
and see the cattle moving in the brush below; then a horse on picket
snorted, and as they slid quietly down the bank they heard a sound which
made Babe snicker.

"Is that a cow chokin' to death," he whispered, "or one of them cherubs
merely sleepin'?"

In sight of the prone figures, they halted.

Smith, with his hat on, his head pillowed on his saddle, was rolled in an
old army blanket; while Tubbs, from a sitting position against a tree, had
fallen over on the ground with his knees drawn to his chin. His mouth,
from which frightful sounds of strangulation were issuing, was wide open,
and he showed a little of the whites of his eyes as he slumbered.

"Ain't he a dream?" breathed Babe in Ralston's ear. "How I'd like a
picture of that face to keep in the back of my watch!"

Smith's rifle was under the edge of his blanket, and his six-shooter in
its holster lay by his head; but Tubbs, with the carelessness of a green
hand and the over-confidence which had succeeded his nervousness, had
leaned his rifle against a tree and laid his six-shooter and
cartridge-belt in a crotch.

Ralston nodded to Babe, and simultaneously they raised their rifles and
viewed the prostrate forms along the barrels.

"Put up your hands, men!"

The quick command, sharp, stern, penetrated the senses of the men inert in
heavy sleep. Instantly Smith's hand was upon his gun. He had reached for
it instinctively even before he sat up.

"Drop it!" There was no mistaking the intention expressed in Ralston's
voice, and the gun fell from Smith's hand.

The red of Smith's skin changed to a curious yellow, not unlike the yellow
of the slicker rolled on the back of his saddle. Panic-stricken for the
moment, he grinned, almost foolishly; then his hands shot above his head.

A line of sunlight dropped into the creek-bottom, and a ray was caught by
the deputy's badge which shone on Ralston's breast. The glitter of it
seemed to fascinate Smith.

"You"--he drawled a vile name. "I orter have known!"

Still dazed with sleep, and not yet comprehending anything beyond the fact
that he had been advised to put up his hands, and that a stranger had
drawn an uncommonly fine bead on the head which he was in honor bound to
preserve from mutilation, Tubbs blinked at Babe and inquired peevishly:

"What's the matter with you?" He had forgotten that he was a thief.

"Shove up your hands!" yelled Babe.

With an expression of annoyance, Tubbs did as he was bid, but dropped them
again upon seeing Ralston.

"Oh, hello!" he called cheerfully.

"Put them hands back!" Babe waved his rifle-barrel significantly.

"What's the matter with you, feller?" inquired Tubbs crossly. Though he
now recollected the circumstances under which they were found, Ralston's
presence robbed the situation of any seriousness for him. It did not occur
to Tubbs that any one who knew him could possibly do him harm.

"Keep your hands up, Tubbs," said Ralston curtly, "and, Babe, take the
guns."

"What for a josh is this anyhow?"--in an aggrieved tone. "Ain't we all
friends?"

"Shut up, you idjot!" snapped Smith irritably. His glance was full of
malevolence as Babe took his guns. The yellow of his skin was now the only
sign by which he betrayed his feelings. To all other appearances, he was
himself again--insolent, defiant.

When it thoroughly dawned upon Tubbs that they were cornered and under
arrest, he promptly went to pieces. He thrust his hands so high above his
head that they lifted him to tiptoe, and they shook as with palsy.

"Stack the guns and get our horses, Babe," said Ralston.

"Mine's hard for a stranger to ketch," said Smith surlily. "I'll get him,
for I don't aim to walk."

"All right; but don't make any break, Smith," Ralston warned.

"I'm not a fool," Smith answered gruffly.

Ralston's face relaxed as Smith sauntered toward his horse. He was glad
that they had been taken without bloodshed, and, now the prisoners' guns
had been removed, that possibility was passed.

Smith's horse was a newly broken bronco, and he was a wild beggar, as
Smith had said; but he talked to him reassuringly as the horse jumped to
the end of his picket-rope and stood snorting and trembling in fright, and
finally laid his hand upon his neck and back. The fingers of one hand were
entwined in the horse's mane, and suddenly, with a cat-like spring made
possible only by his desperation, Smith landed on the bronco's back. With
a yell of defiance which Ralston and Babe remembered for many a day, he
kicked the animal in the ribs, and, as it reared in fright, it pulled
loose from the picket-stake. Smith reached for the trailing rope, and they
were gone!

Ralston shot to cripple the horse, but almost with the flash they were
around the bend of the creek and out of sight. The breathless, speechless
seconds seemed minutes long before he heard Babe coming.

"Aw-w-w!" roared that person in consternation and chagrin, as he literally
dragged the horses behind him.

Ralston ran to meet him, and a glance of understanding passed between them
as he leaped into the saddle and swept around the bend like a whirlwind,
less than thirty seconds behind Smith.

Babe knew that he must secure Tubbs before he joined in the pursuit, and
he was pulling the rawhide riata from his saddle when Tubbs, inspired by
Smith's example and imbued with the hysterical courage which sometimes
comes to men of his type in desperate straits, made a dash for his rifle,
and reached it. He threw it to his shoulder, but, quick as he was, Babe
was quicker.

[Illustration: SMITH REACHED FOR THE TRAILING ROPE AND THEY WERE GONE!]

With the lightning-like gesture which had made his name a byword where
Babe himself was unknown, he pulled his six-shooter from its holster and
shot Tubbs through the head. He fell his length, like a bundle of
blankets, and, even as he dropped, Babe was in the saddle and away.

It was a desperate race that was on, between desperate men; for if Smith
was desperate, Ralston was not less so. Every fibre of his being was
concentrated in the determination to recapture the man who had twice
outwitted him. The deputy sheriff's reputation was at stake; his pride and
self-respect as well; and the blood-thirst was rising in him with each
jump of his horse. Every other emotion paled, every other interest faded,
beside the intensity of his desire to stop the man ahead of him.

Smith knew that he had only a chance in a thousand. He had seen Ralston
with a six-shooter explode a cartridge placed on a rock as far away as he
could see it, and he was riding the little brown mare whose swiftness
Smith had reason to remember.

But he had the start, his bronco was young, its wind of the best, and it
might have speed. The country was rough, Ralston's horse might fall with
him. So long as Smith was at liberty there was a fighting chance, and as
always, he took it.

The young horse, mad with fright, kept to the serpentine course of the
creek-bottom, and Ralston, on the little mare, sure-footed and swift as a
jack-rabbit, followed its lead.

The race was like a steeple-chase, with boulders and brush and fallen logs
to be hurdled, and gullies and washouts to complicate the course. And at
every outward curve the _pin-n-gg!_ of a bullet told Smith of his
pursuer's nearness. Lying flat on the barebacked horse, he hung well to
the side until he was again out of sight. The lead plowed up the dirt
ahead of him and behind him, and flattened itself against rocks; and at
each futile shot Smith looked over his shoulder and grinned in derision,
though his skin had still the curious yellowness of fear.

The race was lasting longer than Smith had dared hope. It began to look as
if it were to narrow to a test of endurance, for although Ralston's shots
missed by only a hair's breadth at times, still, they missed. If Smith
ever had prayed, he would have prayed then; but he had neither words nor
faith, so he only hoped and rode.

A flat came into sight ahead and a yell burst from Ralston--a yell that
was unexpected to himself. A wave of exultation which seemed to come from
without swept over him. He touched the mare with the spur, and she skimmed
the rocks as if his weight on her back were nothing. It was smoother, and
he was close enough now to use his best weapon. He thrust the empty rifle
into its scabbard, and shot at Smith's horse with his six-shooter. It
stumbled; then its knees doubled under it, and Smith turned in the air.
The game was up; Smith was afoot.

He picked up his hat and dusted his coat-sleeve while he waited, and his
face was yellow and evil.

"That was a dum good horse," was Babe's single comment as he rode up.

"Get back to camp!" said Ralston peremptorily, and Smith, in his
high-heeled, narrow-soled boots, stumbled ahead of them without a word.

He looked at Tubbs's body without surprise. Sullen and surly, he felt no
regret that Tubbs, braggart and fool though he was, was dead. Smith had no
conscience to remind him that he himself was responsible.

Babe shook out Smith's blue army blanket and rolled Tubbs in it. Smith had
bought it from a drunken soldier, and he had owned it a long time. It was
light and almost water-proof; he liked it, and he eyed Babe's action with
disfavor.

"I reckon this gent will have to spend the day in a tree," said Babe
prosaically.

"Couldn't you use no other blanket nor that?" demanded Smith.

It was the first time he had spoken.

"Don't take on so," Babe replied comfortingly. "They furnish blankets
where you're goin'."

He went on with his work of throwing a hitch around Tubbs with his
picket-rope.

Ralston divided the scanty rations which Smith and Tubbs, and he and Babe,
had brought with them. He made coffee, and handed a cup to Smith first.
The latter arose and changed his seat.

"I never could eat with a corp' settin' around," he said disagreeably.

Smith's fastidiousness made Babe's jaw drop, and a piece of biscuit which
had made his cheek bulge inadvertently rolled out, but was skillfully
intercepted before it reached the ground.

"I hope you'll excuse us, Mr. Smith," said Babe, bowing as well as he
could sitting cross-legged on the ground. "I hope you'll overlook our
forgittin' the napkins and toothpicks."

When they had finished, they slung Tubbs's body into a tree, beyond the
reach of coyotes. The cattle they left to drift back to their range.
Tubbs's horse was saddled for Smith, and, with Ralston holding the lead
rope and Babe in the rear, the procession started back to the ranch.

Smith had much time to think on the homeward ride. He based his hopes upon
the Indian woman. He knew that he could conciliate her with a look. She
was resourceful, she had unlimited influence with the Indians, and she had
proven that she was careless of her own life where he was concerned. She
was a powerful ally. The situation was not so bad as it had seemed. He had
been in tighter places, he told himself, and his spirits rose as he rode.
Without the plodding cattle, they retraced their steps in half the time it
had taken them to come, and it was not much after midday when they were
sighted from the MacDonald ranch.

The Indians that Smith had missed were at the ford to meet them: Bear
Chief, Yellow Bird, Running Rabbit, and others, who were strangers to him.
They followed as Ralston and Babe rode with their prisoner up the path to
put him under guard in the bunk-house.

Susie, McArthur, and Dora were at the door of the ranch-house, and Susie
stepped out and stopped them when they would have passed.

"You can't take him there; that place is for our _friends_. There's the
harness-house below. The dogs sleep there. There'll be room for one
more."

The insult stung Smith to the quick.

"What _you_ got to say about it? Where's your mother?"

With narrowed eyes she looked for a moment into his ugly visage, then she
laid her hand upon the rope and led his horse close to the open window of
the bedroom.

"There," and she pointed to the still figure on its improvised bier.
"There's my mother!"

Smith looked in silence, and once more showed by his yellowing skin the
fear within him. The avenue of escape upon which he had counted almost
with certainty, was closed to him. At that moment the harsh, high walls of
the penitentiary loomed close; the doors looked wide open to receive him;
but, after an instant's hesitation, he only shrugged his shoulders and
said:

"Hell! I sleeps good anywhere."

In deference to Susie's wishes, Ralston and Babe had swung their horses to
go back down the path when Smith turned in his saddle and looked at Dora.
She was regarding him sorrowfully, her eyes misty with disappointment in
him; and Smith misunderstood. A rush of feeling swept over him, and he
burst out impulsively:

"Don't go back on me! I done it for you, girl! I done it to make _our
stake_!"

Dora stood speechless, bewildered, confused under the astonished eyes upon
her. She was appalled by the light in which he had placed her; and while
the others followed to the harness-house below, she sank limply upon the
door-sill, her face in her hands.

Smith sat on a wagon-tongue, swinging his legs, while they cleaned out the
harness-house a bit for his occupancy.

"Throw down some straw and rustle up a blanket or two," said Babe; and
McArthur pulled his saddle-blankets apart to contribute the cleanest
toward Smith's bed.

Something in the alacrity the "bug-hunter" displayed angered Smith. He
always had despised the little man in a general way. He uncinched his
saddle on the wrong side; he clucked at his horse; he removed his hat when
he talked to women; he was a weak and innocent fool to Smith, who lost no
occasion to belittle him. Now, when the prisoner saw him moving about,
free to go and come as he pleased, while he, Smith, was tied like an
unruly pup, it, of a sudden, made his gorge rise; and, with one of his
swift, characteristic transitions of mood, Smith turned to the Indians who
guarded him.

"You never could find out who killed White Antelope--you smart-Alec
Injuns!" he sneered contemptuously. "And you've always wanted to know,
haven't you?" He eyed them one by one. "Why, you don't know straight up,
you women warriors! I've a notion to tell you who killed White
Antelope--just for fun--just because I want to laugh, me--Smith!"

The Indians drew closer.

"You think you're scouts," he went on tauntingly, "and you never saw White
Antelope's blanket right under your nose! Put it back, feller"--he nodded
at McArthur. "I don't aim to sleep on dead men's clothes!"

The Indians looked at the blanket, and at McArthur, whom they had grown to
like and trust. They recognized it now, and in the corner they saw the
stiff and dingy stain, the jagged tell-tale holes.

McArthur mechanically held it up to view. He had not the faintest
recollection where it had been purchased, or of whom obtained. Tubbs
always had attended to such things.

No one spoke in the grave silence, and Smith leered.

"I likes company," he said. "I'm sociable inclined. Put him in the
dog-house with me."

Susie had listened with the Indians; she had looked at the blanket, the
stain, the holes; she saw the blank consternation in McArthur's face, the
gathering storm in the Indians' eyes. She stepped out a little from the
rest.

"Mister _Smith_!" she said. "_Mister_ Smith"--with oily, sarcastic
emphasis--"how did you know that was White Antelope's blanket, when you
never _saw_ White Antelope?"



XXII

A MONGOLIAN CUPID


With his hands thrust deep in his trousers pockets, Ralston leaned against
the corner of the bunk-house, from which point of vantage he could catch a
glimpse of the Schoolmarm's white-curtained window. He now had no feeling
of elation over his success. Smith was a victorious captive. Ralston's
heart ached miserably, and he wished that the day was ended and the
morning come, that he might go, never to return.

He too had seen the mist in Dora's eyes; and, with Smith's words, the
air-castles which had persistently built themselves without volition on
his part, crumbled. There was nothing for him to do but to efface himself
as quickly and as completely as possible. The sight of him could only be
painful to Dora, and he wished to spare her all of that within his power.

He looked at the foothills, the red butte rising in their midst, the
tinted Bad Lands, the winding, willow-fringed creek. It was all beautiful
in its bizarre colorings; but the spirit of the picture, the warm, glowing
heart of it, had gone from it for him. The world looked a dull and
lifeless place. His love for Dora was greater than he had known, far
mightier than he had realized until the end, the positive end, had come.

"Oh, Dora!" he whispered in utter wretchedness. "Dear little Schoolmarm!"

In the room behind the white-curtained window the Schoolmarm walked the
floor with her cheeks aflame and as close to hysteria as ever she had been
in her life.

"What _will_ he think of me!" she asked herself over and over again,
clasping and unclasping her cold hands. "What _can_ he think but one
thing?"

The more overwrought she became, the worse the situation seemed.

"And how he looked at me! How they all looked at me! Oh, it was too
dreadful!"

She covered her burning face with her hands.

"There isn't the slightest doubt," she went on, "but that he thinks I knew
all about it. Perhaps"--she paused in front of the mirror and stared into
her own horrified eyes--"perhaps he thinks I belong to a gang of robbers!
Maybe he thinks I am Smith's tool, or that Smith is my tool, or something
like that! Oh, whatever made him say such a thing! 'Our stake--_our_
stake'--and--'I done it for you!'"

Another thought, still more terrifying occurred to her excited mind:

"What if he should have to arrest me as an accomplice!"

She sat down weakly on the edge of the bed.

"Oh," and she rocked to and fro in misery, "if only I never had tried to
improve Smith's mind!"

The tears slipped from under the Schoolmarm's lashes, and her chin
quivered.

Worn out by the all night's vigil at her mother's bedside, and the
exciting events of the morning, Susie finally succumbed to the strain and
slept the sleep of exhaustion. It was almost supper-time when she
awakened. Passing the Schoolmarm's door, she heard a sound at which she
stopped and frankly listened. Teacher was crying!

"Ling, this is an awful world. Everything seems to be upside down and
inside out!"

"Plenty tlouble," agreed Ling, stepping briskly about as he collected
ingredients for his biscuits.

"Don't seem to make much difference whether you love people or hate 'em;
it all ends the same way--in tears."

"Plitty bad thing--love." Ling solemnly measured baking-powder. "Make
people cly."

Susie surmised correctly that Ling's ears also had been close to a nearby
keyhole.

"There'd 'a' been fewer tears on this ranch if it hadn't been for Smith."

"Many devils--Smith."

Susie sat on the corner of his work-table, and there was silence while he
deftly mixed, rolled, and cut his dough.

"Mr. Ralston intends to go away in the morning," said Susie, as the
biscuits were slammed in the oven.

Ling wagged his head dolorously.

"And they'll never see each other again."

His head continued to wag.

"Ling," Susie whispered, "we've got to _do_ something." She stepped
lightly to the open door and closed it.

                   *       *       *       *       *

There were few at the supper-table that night, and there was none of the
noisy banter which usually prevailed. The grub-liners came in softly and
spoke in hushed tones, out of a kind of respect for two empty chairs which
had been the recognized seats of Tubbs and the Indian woman.

Ralston bowed gravely as Dora entered--pale, her eyes showing traces of
recent tears. Susie was absent, having no heart for food or company, and
preferring to sit beside her mother for the brief time which remained to
her. Even Meeteetse Ed shared in the general depression, and therefore it
was in no spirit of flippancy that he observed as he replaced his cup
violently in its saucer:

"Gosh A'mighty, Ling, you must have biled a gum-boot in this here tea!"

Dora, who had drank nearly half of hers, was unable to account for the
peculiar tang which destroyed its flavor, and Ralston eyed the contents of
his cup doubtfully after each swallow.

"Like as not the water's gittin' alkali," ventured Old Man Rulison.

"Alkali nothin'. That's gum-boot, or else a plug of Battle Ax fell in."

Ling bore Meeteetse's criticisms with surprising equanimity.

A moment later the lights blurred for Dora.

"I--I feel faint," she whispered, striving to rise.

Ralston, who had already noted her increasing pallor, hastened around the
table and helped her into the air. Ling's immobile face was a study as he
saw them leave the room together, but satisfaction was the most marked of
its many expressions. He watched them from the pantry window as they
walked to the cottonwood log which served as a garden-seat for all.

"I wonder if it was that queer tea?"

"It has been a hard day for you," Ralston replied gently.

Dora was silent, and they remained so for some minutes. Ralston spoke at
last and with an effort.

"I am sorry--sorrier than I can tell you--that it has been necessary for
me to hurt you. I should rather, far, far rather, hurt myself than you,
Miss Marshall--I wish I could make you know that. What I have done has
been because it was my duty. I am employed by men who trust me, and I was
in honor bound to follow the course I have; but if I had known what I know
now--if I had been sure--I might in some way have made it easier for you.
I am going away to-morrow, and perhaps it will do no harm to tell you that
I had hoped"--he stopped to steady his voice, and went on--"I had hoped
that our friendship might end differently.

"I shall be gone in the morning before you are awake, so I will say
good-night--and good-by." He arose and put out his hand. "Shall I send
Susie to you?"

The lump in Dora's throat hurt her.

"Wait a minute," she whispered in a strained voice. "I want to say
something, too, before you go. I don't want you to go away thinking that I
knew anything of Smith's plans; that I knew he was going to steal cattle;
that he was trying to make a 'stake' for us--for _me_. It is all a
misunderstanding."

Dora was looking straight ahead of her, and did not see the change which
came over Ralston's face.

"I never thought of Smith in any way except to help him," she went on. "He
seemed different from most that stopped here, and I thought if I could
just start him right, if only I could show him what he might do if he
tried, he might be better for my efforts. And, after all, my time and good
intentions were wasted. He deceived me in making me think that he too
wanted to make more of his life, and that he was trying. And then to make
such a speech before you all!"

"Don't think about it--or Smith," Ralston answered. "He has come to his
inevitable end. When there's bad blood, mistaken ideals, and wrong
standards of living, you can't do much--you can't do anything. There is
only one thing which controls men of his type, and that is fear--fear of
the law. His love for you is undoubtedly the best, the whitest, thing that
ever came into his life, but it couldn't keep him straight, and never
would. Don't worry. Your efforts haven't hurt him, or you. You are wiser,
and maybe he is better."

"It's awfully good of you to comfort me," said Dora gratefully.

"Good of me?" he laughed softly. "Little Schoolmarm"--he laid a hand upon
each shoulder and looked into her eyes--"I love you."

Her pupils dilated, and she breathed in wonder.

"You _love_ me?"

"I do." He brushed back a wisp of hair which had blown across her cheek,
and, stooping, kissed her deliberately upon the mouth.

Inside the house a radiant Mongolian rushed from the pantry window into
the room where Susie sat. He carried a nearly empty bottle which had once
contained lemon extract, and his almond eyes danced as he handed it to
her, whispering gleefully:

"All light! Good medicine!"

The big kerosene lamp screwed to the wall in the living-room had long
since been lighted, but Susie still sat on the floor, leaning her cheek
against the blanket which covered the Indian woman. The house was quiet
save for Ling in the kitchen--and lonely--but she had a fancy that her
mother would like to have her there beside her; so, although she was
cramped from sitting, and the house was close after a hot day, she refused
all offers to relieve her.

She was glad to see McArthur when he tapped on the door.

"I thought you'd like to read the letter that came with the picture," he
said, as he pulled up a chair beside her. "I want you to know how welcome
you will be."

He handed her the letter, with its neat, old-fashioned penmanship, its
primness a little tremulous from the excitement of the writer at the time
she had penned it. Susie read it carefully, and when she had finished she
looked up at him with softened, grateful eyes.

"Isn't she good!"

"The kindest of gentlewomen--your Aunt Harriet."

"My Aunt Harriet!" Susie said it to herself rapturously.

"She hasn't much in her life now--_she's_ lonely, too--and if you can be
spoiled, Susie, you soon will be well on the way--between Aunt Harriet and
me." He stroked her hair fondly.

"And I'm to go to school back there and live with her. I can't believe it
yet!" Susie declared. "So much has happened in the last twenty-four hours
that I don't know what to think about first. More things have happened in
this little time than in all my life put together."

"That's the way life seems to be," McArthur said musingly--"a few hours at
a tension, and long, dull stretches in between."

"Does she know--does Aunt Harriet know--how _green_ I am?"

McArthur laughed at her anxiety.

"I am sure," he replied reassuringly, "that she isn't expecting a young
lady of fashion."

"Oh, I've got clothes," said Susie. "Mother made me a dress that will be
just the thing to wear in that--what do you call it?--train. She made it
out of two shawls that she bought at the Agency."

McArthur looked startled at the frock of red, green, and black plaids
which Susie took from a nail behind the door.

"The colors seem a little--a little----"

"If that black was yellow, it _would_ look better," Susie admitted. "I've
got a new Stetson, too."

"It will take some little time to arrange your affairs out here, and in
the meantime I'll write Aunt Harriet to choose a wardrobe for you and send
it. It will give her the greatest pleasure."

"Can I take Croppy and Daisy May?"

"Daisy May?"

"The pet badger," she explained. "I named her after a Schoolmarm we
had--she looks so solemn and important. I can keep her on a chain, and she
needn't eat until we get there," Susie pleaded.

Trying not to smile at the mental picture of himself arriving in the staid
college town, with a tawny-skinned child in a red, green, and black frock,
a crop-eared cayuse, and a badger on a chain, McArthur ventured it as his
opinion that the climate would be detrimental to Daisy May's health.

"You undoubtedly will prefer to spend your summers here, and it will be
pleasant to have Croppy and Daisy May home to welcome you."

Susie's face sobered.

"Oh, yes, I must come back when school is over. I wouldn't feel it was
right to go away for always and leave Dad and Mother here. Besides, I
guess I'd _want_ to come back; because, after all, you know, I'm half
Injun."

"I wish you'd try and sleep, and let me sit here," urged McArthur kindly.

Susie shook her head.

"No; Ling will stay after awhile, and I'm not sleepy or tired now."

"Well, good-night, little sister." He patted her head, while all the
kindliness of his gentle nature shone from his eyes.



XXIII

IN THEIR OWN WAY


Through the chinks in the logs, where the daubing had dropped out, Smith
watched the lights in the ranch-house. He relieved the tedium of the hours
by trying to imagine what was going on inside, and in each picture Dora
was the central figure. Now, he told himself, she was wiping the dishes
for Ling, and teaching him English, as she often did; and when she had
finished she would bring her portfolio into the dining-room and write home
the exciting events of the day. He wondered what had "ailed" the Indian
woman, that she should die so suddenly; but it was immaterial, since she
_was_ dead. He knew that Susie would sit by her mother; probably in the
chair with the cushion of goose-feathers. It was his favorite chair,
though it went over backwards when he rocked too hard. Ralston--curse
him!--was sitting on one of the benches outside the bunk-house, telling
the grub-liners of Smith's capture, and the bug-hunter was making notes of
the story in his journal. But, alas! as is usual with the pictures one
conjures, nothing at all took place as Smith fancied.

When all the lights, save the one in the living-room, had gone out, there
was nothing to divert his thoughts. Babe, who was on guard outside,
refused to converse with him, and he finally lay down, only to toss
restlessly upon the blankets. The night seemed unusually still and the
stillness made him nervous; even the sound of Babe's back rubbing against
the door when he shifted his position was company. Smith's uneasiness was
unlike him, and he wondered at it, while unable to conquer it. It must
have been nearly midnight when, staring into the darkness with sleepless
eyes, he felt, rather than heard, something move outside. It came from the
rear, and Babe was at the door for only a moment before he had struck a
match on a log to light a cigarette. The sound was so slight that only a
trained ear like Smith's would have detected it.

It had sounded like the scraping of the leg of an overall against a
sage-brush, and yet it was so trifling, so indistinct, that a field mouse
might have made it. But somehow Smith knew, he was sure, that something
human had caused it; and as he listened for a recurrence of the sound, the
conviction grew upon him that there was movement and life outside. He was
convinced that something was going to happen.

His judgment told him that the prowlers were more likely to be enemies
than friends--he was in the enemies' country. But, on the other hand,
there was always the chance that unexpected help had arrived. Smith still
believed in his luck. The grub-liners might come to his rescue, or "the
boys," who had been waiting at the rendezvous, might have learned in some
unexpected way what had befallen him. Even if they were his enemies, they
would first be obliged to overpower Babe, and, he told himself, in the
"ruckus" he might somehow escape.

But even as he argued the question pro and con, unable to decide whether
or not to warn Babe, a stifled exclamation and the thud of a heavy body
against the door told him that it had been answered for him. Wide-eyed,
breathless, his nerves at a tension, his heart pounding in his breast, he
interpreted the sounds which followed as correctly as if he had been an
eye-witness to the scene.

He could hear Babe's heels strike the ground as he kicked and threshed,
and the inarticulate epithets told Smith that his guard was gagged. He
knew, too, that the attack was made by more than two men, for Babe was a
young Hercules in strength.

Were they friends or foes? Were they Bar C cowpunchers come to take the
law into their own hands, or were they his hoped-for rescuers? The
suspense sent the perspiration out in beads on Smith's forehead, and he
wiped his moist face with his shirt-sleeve. Then he heard the shoulders
against the door, the heavy breathing, the strain of muscles, and the
creaking timber. It crashed in, and for a second Smith's heart ceased to
beat. He sniffed--and he knew! He smelled buckskin and the smoke of
tepees. He spoke a word or two in their own tongue. They laughed softly,
without answering. From instinct, he backed into a corner, and they groped
for him in the darkness.

"The rat is hiding. Shall we get the cat?" The voice was Bear Chief's.

Running Rabbit spoke as he struck a match.

"Come out, white man. It is too hot in here for you."

Smith recovered himself, and said as he stepped forward:

"I am ready, friends."

They tied his hands and pushed him into the open air. Babe squirmed in
impotent rage as he passed. Dark shadows were gliding in and out of the
stable and corrals, and when they led him to a saddled horse they motioned
him to mount. He did so, and they tied his feet under the horse's belly,
his wrists to the saddle-horn. Seeing the thickness of the rope, he
jested:

"Friends, I am not an ox."

"If you were," Yellow Bird answered, "there would be fresh meat
to-morrow."

There were other Indians waiting on their horses, deep in the gloom of the
willows, and when the three whom Smith recognized were in the saddle they
led the way to the creek, and the others fell in behind. They followed the
stream for some distance, that they might leave no tracks, and there was
no sound but the splashing and floundering of the horses as they slipped
on the moss-covered rocks of the creek-bed.

Smith showed no fear or curiosity--he knew Indians too well to do either.
His stoicism was theirs under similar circumstances. Had they been of his
own race, his hope would have lain in throwing himself upon their mercy;
for twice the instinctive sympathy of the white man for the under dog, for
the individual who fights against overwhelming odds, had saved his life;
but no such tactics would avail him now.

His hope lay in playing upon their superstitions and weaknesses; in
winning their admiration, if possible; and in devising means by which to
gain time. He knew that as soon as his absence was discovered an effort
would be made to rescue him. He found some little comfort, too, in telling
himself that these reservation Indians, broken in spirit by the white
man's laws and restrictions, were not the Indians of the old days on the
Big Muddy and the Yellowstone. The fear of the white man's vengeance would
keep them from going too far. And so, as he rode, his hopes rose
gradually; his confidence, to a degree, returned; and he even began to
have a kind of curiosity as to what form their attempted revenge would
take.

The slowness of their progress down the creek-bed had given him
satisfaction, but once they left the water, there was no cause for
congratulation as they quirted their horses at a breakneck speed over
rocks and gullies in the direction of the Bad Lands. He could see that
they had some definite destination, for when the horses veered somewhat to
the south, Running Rabbit motioned them northward.

"He was there yesterday; Running Rabbit knows," said Bear Chief, in answer
to an Indian's question; and Smith, listening, wondered where "there"
might be, and what it was that Running Rabbit knew.

He asked himself if it could be that they were taking him to some desert
spring, where they meant to tie him to die of thirst in sight of water.
The alkali plain held many forms of torture, as he knew.

His captors did not taunt or insult him. They rode too hard, they were too
much in earnest, to take the time for byplay. It was evident to Smith that
they feared pursuit, and were anxious to reach their objective point
before the sun rose. He knew this from the manner in which they watched
the east.

Somehow, as the miles sped under their horses' feet, the ride became more
and more unreal to Smith. The moon, big, glorious, and late in rising,
silvered the desert with its white light until they looked to be riding
into an ocean. It made Smith think of the Big Water, by moonlight, over
there on the Sundown slope. Even the lean, dark figures riding beside him
seemed a part of a dream; and Dora, when he thought of her, was shadowy,
unreal. He had a strange feeling that he was galloping, galloping out of
her life.

[Illustration: THEY QUIRTED THEIR HORSES AT BREAKNECK SPEED IN THE
DIRECTION OF THE BAD LANDS.]

There were times when he felt as if he were floating. His sensations were
like the hallucinations of fever, and then he would find himself called
back to a realization of facts by the swish of leather thongs on a horse's
flank, or some smothered, half-uttered imprecation when a horse stumbled.
The air of the coming morning fanned his cheeks, its coolness stimulated
him, and something of the fairy-like beauty of the white world around him
impressed even Smith.

They had left the flatter country behind them, and were riding among hills
and limestone cliffs, Running Rabbit winding in and out with the certainty
of one on familiar ground. The way was rough, and they slackened their
pace, riding one behind the other, Indian file.

Running Rabbit reined in where the moonlight turned a limestone hill to
silver, and threw up his hand to halt.

He untied the rope which bound Smith's hands and feet.

"You can't coil a rope no more nor a gopher," said Smith, watching him.

"The white man does many things better than the Indian." Running Rabbit
went on coiling the rope.

He motioned Smith to follow, and led the way on foot.

"I dotes on these moonlight picnics," said Smith sardonically, as he
panted up the steep hills, his high-heeled boots clattering among the
rocks in contrast to the silent footsteps of the Indian's moccasined
feet.

Running Rabbit stopped where the limestone hill had cracked, leaving a
crevice wide at the top and shallowing at the bottom.

"This is a good place for a white man who coils a rope so well, to rest,"
he said, and seated himself near the edge of the crevice, motioning Smith
to be seated also.

"Or for white men who shoot old Indians in the back to think about what
they have done." Yellow Bird joined them.

"Or for smart thieves to tell where they left their stolen horses." Bear
Chief dropped cross-legged near them.

"Or for those whose forked tongue talks love to two women at once to use
it for himself." The voice was sneering.

"Smith, you're up against it!" the prisoner said to himself.

As the others came up the hill, they enlarged the half-circle which now
faced him. Recovering himself, he eyed them indifferently, one by one.

"I have enemies, friends," he said.

"White Antelope had no enemies," Yellow Bird replied.

"The Indian woman had no enemies," said Running Rabbit.

"It is our friends who steal our horses"--Bear Chief's voice was even and
unemotional.

Their behavior puzzled Smith. They seemed now to be in no hurry. Without
gibes or jeers, they sat as if waiting for something or somebody. What was
it? He asked himself the question over and over again. They listened with
interest to the stories of his prowess and adventures. He flattered them
collectively and individually, and they responded sometimes in praise as
fulsome as has own. All the knowledge, the tact, the wit, of which he was
possessed, he used to gain time. If only he could hold them until the sun
rose. But why had they brought him there? With all his adroitness and
subtlety, he could get no inkling of their intentions. The suspense got on
Smith's nerves, though he gave no outward sign. The first gray light of
morning came, and still they waited. The east flamed.

"It will be hot to-day," said Running Rabbit. "The sky is red."

Then the sun showed itself, glowing like a red-hot stove-lid shoved above
the horizon.

In silence they watched the coming day.

"This limestone draws the heat," said Smith, and he laid aside his coat.
"But it suits me. I hates to be chilly."

Bear Chief stood up, and they all arose.

"You are like us--you like the sun. It is warm; it is good. Look at it.
Look long time, white man!"

There was something ominous in his tone, and Smith moistened his short
upper lip with the tip of his tongue.

"Over there is the ranch where the white woman lives. Look--look long
time, white man!" He swung his gaunt arm to the west.

"You make the big talk, Injun," sneered Smith, but his mouth was dry.

"Up there is the sky where the clouds send messages, where the sun shines
to warm us and the moon to light us. There's antelope over there in the
foothills, and elk in the mountains, and sheep on the peaks. You like to
hunt, white man, same as us. Look long time on all--for you will never see
it again!"

The sun rose higher and hotter while the Indian talked. He had not
finished speaking when Smith said:

"God!"

A look of indescribable horror was on his face. His skin had yellowed, and
he stared into the crevice at his feet. Now he understood! He knew why
they waited on the limestone hill! An odor, scarcely perceptible as yet,
but which, faint as it was, sickened him, told him his fate. It was the
unmistakable odor of rattlesnakes!

The crevice below was a breeding-place, a rattlesnakes' den. Smith had
seen such places often, and the stench which came from them when the sun
was hot was like nothing else in the world. The recollection alone was
almost enough to nauseate him, and he always had ridden a wide circle at
the first whiff.

His aversion for snakes was like a pre-natal mark. He avoided cowpunchers
who wore rattlesnake bands on their hats or stretched the skin over the
edge of the cantle of their saddles. He always slept with a hair rope
around his blankets when he spent a night in the open. He would not sit in
a room where snake-rattles decorated the parlor mantel or the organ. A
curiosity as to how they had learned his peculiarity crept through the
paralyzing horror which numbed him, and as if in answer the scene in the
dining-room of the ranch rose before him. "I hates snakes and mouse-traps
goin' off," he had said. Yes, he remembered.

The Indians looked at his yellow skin and at his eyes in which the horror
stayed, and laughed. He did not struggle when they stood him, mute, upon
his feet and bound him, for Smith knew Indians. His lips and chin
trembled; his throat, dry and contracted, made a clicking sound when he
swallowed. His knees shook, and he had no power to control the twitching
muscles of his arms and legs.

"He dances," said Yellow Bird.

As the sun rose higher and streamed into the crevice, the overpowering
odor increased with the heat. The yellow of Smith's skin took on a
greenish tinge.

"Ugh!" An Indian laid his hand upon his stomach. "Me sick!"

A bit of limestone fell into the crevice and bounded from one shelf of
rock to the other. Upon each ledge a nest of rattlesnakes basked in the
sun, and a chorus of hisses followed the fall of the stone.

"They sing! Their voices are strong to-day," said Running Rabbit.

The Indians threw Smith upon the edge of the crevice, face downward, so
that he could look below. With his staring, bloodshot eyes he saw them
all--dozens of them--a hundred or more! Crawling on the shelves and in the
bottom, writhing, wriggling, hissing, coiled to strike! Every marking,
every shading, every size--Smith saw them all with his bulging, fascinated
eyes. The Indians stoned them until a forked tongue darted from every
mouth and every wicked eye flamed red.

The thick rope was tied under Smith's arms, and a noose thrown over a huge
rock. They shoved him over the edge--slowly--looking at him and each
other, laughing a little at the sound of reptile fury from below. It was
the end. Smith's eyes opened before they let him drop, and his lips drew
back from his white, slightly protruding teeth. They thought he meant to
beg at last, and, rejoicing, waited. He looked like a coyote, a coyote
when its ribs are crushed, its legs broken; when its eyes are blurred with
the death film, and its mouth drips blood. He gathered himself--he was all
but fainting--and threw back his head, looking at Bear Chief. He
snarled--there was no tenderness in his voice when he gave the message:

"Tell _her_, you damned Injuns--tell the Schoolmarm I died game,
me--Smith!"



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THE MASTER'S VIOLIN By MYRTLE REED

[Illustration]

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Founded on a fact well known among artists, but not often recognized or
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a double pleasure in store--for these two books show Myrtle Reed in her
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masterpieces of compelling interest.

Ask for a complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction.
Grosset & Dunlap, 526 West 26th St., New York



THE PRODIGAL JUDGE By VAUGHAN KESTER

This great novel--probably the most popular book in this country
to-day--is as human as a story from the pen of that great master of
"immortal laughter and immortal tears," Charles Dickens.

The Prodigal Judge is a shabby outcast, a tavern hanger-on, a genial
wayfarer who tarries longest where the inn is most hospitable, yet with
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peculiar to the American man. He has his own code of morals--very exalted
ones--but honors them in the breach rather than in the observance.

Clinging to the Judge closer than a brother, is Solomon Mahaffy--fallible
and failing like the rest of us, but with a sublime capacity for
friendship; and closer still, perhaps, clings little Hannibal, a boy about
whose parentage nothing is known until the end of the story. Hannibal is
charmed into tolerance of the Judge's picturesque vices, while Miss Betty,
lovely and capricious, is charmed into placing all her affairs, both
material and sentimental, in the hands of this delightful old vagabond.

The Judge will be a fixed star in the firmament of fictional characters as
surely as David Harum or Col. Sellers. He is a source of infinite delight,
while this story of Mr. Kester's is one of the finest examples of American
literary craftmanship.

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A Few Of Grosset & Dunlap's GREAT BOOKS AT LITTLE PRICES

WHEN A MAN MARRIES. By Mary Roberts Rinehart. Illustrated by Harrison
Fisher and Mayo Bunker.

A young artist, whose wife had recently divorced him, finds that a visit
is due from his Aunt Selina, an elderly lady having ideas about things
quite apart from the Bohemian set in which her nephew is a shining light.
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A farcical extravaganza, dramatized under the title of "Seven Days"

THE FASHIONABLE ADVENTURES OF JOSHUA CRAIG. By David Graham Phillips.
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A young westerner, uncouth and unconventional, appears in political and
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"DOC." GORDON. By Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman. Illustrated by Frank T.
Merrill.

Against the familiar background of American town life, the author portrays
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her altogether charming daughter are all involved in the plot. A novel of
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HOLY ORDERS. By Marie Corelli.

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KATRINE. By Elinor Macartney Lane. With frontispiece.

Katrine, the heroine of this story, is a lovely Irish girl, of lowly
birth, but gifted with a beautiful voice.

The narrative is based on the facts of an actual singer's career, and the
viewpoint throughout is a most exalted one.

THE FORTUNES OF FIFI. By Molly Elliot Seawell Illustrated by T. de
Thulstrup.

A story of life in France at the time of the first Napoleon. Fifi, a glad,
mad little actress of eighteen, is the star performer in a third rate
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SHE THAT HESITATES. By Harris Dickson. Illustrated by C. W. Relyea.

The scene of this dashing romance shifts from Dresden to St. Petersburg in
the reign of Peter the Great, and then to New Orleans.

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TITLES SELECTED FROM GROSSET & DUNLAP'S LIST

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.

A CERTAIN RICH MAN. By William Allen White.

A vivid, startling portrayal of one man's financial greed, its wide
spreading power, its action in Wall Street, and its effect on the three
women most intimately in his life. A splendid, entertaining American
novel.

IN OUR TOWN. By William Allen White. Illustrated by F. R. Gruger and W.
Glackens.

Made up of the observations of a keen newspaper editor, involving the town
millionaire, the smart set, the literary set, the bohemian set, and many
others. All humorously related and sure to hold the attention.

NATHAN BURKE. By Mary S. Watts.

The story of an ambitious, backwoods Ohio boy who rose to prominence.
Everyday humor of American rustic life permeates the book.

THE HIGH HAND. By Jacques Futrelle. Illustrated by Will Grefe.

A splendid story of the political game, with a son of the soil on the one
side, and a "kid glove" politician on the other. A pretty girl, interested
in both men, is the chief figure.

THE BACKWOODSMEN. By Charles G. D. Roberts. Illustrated.

Realistic stories of men and women living midst the savage beauty of the
wilderness. Human nature at its best and worst is well protrayed.

YELLOWSTONE NIGHTS. By Herbert Quick.

A jolly company of six artists, writers and other clever folks take a trip
through the National Park, and tell stories around camp fire at night.
Brilliantly clever and original.

THE PROFESSOR'S MYSTERY. By Wells Hastings and Brian Hooker. Illustrated
by Hanson Booth.

A young college professor, missing his steamer for Europe, has a romantic
meeting with a pretty girl, escorts her home, and is enveloped in a big
mystery.

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B. M. BOWER'S NOVELS THRILLING WESTERN ROMANCES

Large 12 mos. Handsomely bound in cloth. Illustrated

CHIP, OF THE FLYING U

A breezy wholesome tale, wherein the love affairs of Chip and Delia
Whitman are charmingly and humorously told. Chip's jealousy of Dr. Cecil
Grantham, who turns out to be a big, blue eyed young woman is very
amusing. A clever, realistic story of the American Cow-puncher.

THE HAPPY FAMILY

A lively and amusing story, dealing with the adventures of eighteen
jovial, big hearted Montana cowboys. Foremost amongst them, we find
Ananias Green, known as Andy, whose imaginative powers cause many lively
and exciting adventures.

HER PRAIRIE KNIGHT

A realistic story of the plains, describing a gay party of Easterners who
exchange a cottage at Newport for the rough homeliness of a Montana
ranch-house. The merry-hearted cowboys, the fascinating Beatrice, and the
effusive Sir Redmond, become living, breathing personalities.

THE RANGE DWELLERS

Here are everyday, genuine cowboys, just as they really exist. Spirited
action, a range feud between two families, and a Romeo and Juliet
courtship make this a bright, jolly, entertaining story, without a dull
page.

THE LURE OF DIM TRAILS

A vivid portrayal of the experience of an Eastern author, among the
cowboys of the West, in search of "local color" for a new novel. "Bud"
Thurston learns many a lesson while following "the lure of the dim trails"
but the hardest, and probably the most welcome, is that of love.

THE LONESOME TRAIL

"Weary" Davidson leaves the ranch for Portland, where conventional city
life palls on him. A little branch of sage brush, pungent with the
atmosphere of the prairie, and the recollection of a pair of large brown
eyes soon compel his return. A wholesome love story.

THE LONG SHADOW

A vigorous Western story, sparkling with the free, outdoor, life of a
mountain ranch. Its scenes shift rapidly and its actors play the game of
life fearlessly and like men. It is a fine love story from start to
finish.

Ask for a complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction.
Grosset & Dunlap, 526 West 26th St., New York





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