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Title: Claim Number One
Author: Ogden, George W. (George Washington), 1871-1966
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 "Claim Number One" ***

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



CLAIM NUMBER ONE

by

GEORGE W. OGDEN

Author of
The Duke of Chimney Butte
Trails End, Etc.

Frontispiece by J. Allen St. John



Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers New York

Made in the United States of America

Copyright

A. C. McClurg & Co.
1922

Published May, 1922

Copyrighted in Great Britain

Printed in the United States of America



CONTENTS
      I.    Comanche                            1
     II.    Guests for the Metropole            9
    III.    Unconventional Behavior            21
     IV.    The Flat-Game Man                  46
      V.    Skulkers                           63
     VI.    The Drawing                        79
    VII.    A Midnight Extra                  104
   VIII.    The Governor's Son                122
     IX.    Double Crookedness                140
      X.    Hun Shanklin's Coat               154
     XI.    Number One                        172
    XII.    The Other Man                     188
   XIII.    Sentiment and Nails               206
    XIV.    "Like a Wolf"                     219
     XV.    An Argument Ends                  233
    XVI.    A Promise                         255
   XVII.    A Plan                            273
  XVIII.    The Strange Tent                  288
    XIX.    Crook Meets Crook                 304
     XX.    A Sudden Cloud                    325
    XXI.    The Crisis                        343



CLAIM NUMBER ONE

CHAPTER I

COMANCHE


Coming to Comanche, you stopped, for Comanche was the end of the world.
Unless, of course, you were one of those who wished to push the
boundary-line of the world farther, to make homes in the wilderness
where there had been no homes, to plant green fields in the desert where
none had been before.

In that case you merely paused at Comanche, like the railroad, to wait
the turn of events.

Beyond Comanche was the river, and beyond the river, dim-lined in the
west, the mountains. Between the river and the mountains lay the
reservation from which the government had pushed the Indians, and which
it had cut into parcels to be drawn by lot.

And so Comanche was there on the white plain to serve the present, and
temporary, purpose of housing and feeding the thousands who had
collected there at the lure of chance with practical, impractical,
speculative, romantic, honest, and dishonest ideas and intentions.
Whether it should survive to become a colorless post-office and
shipping-station for wool, hides, and sheep remained for the future to
decide. As the town appeared under the burning sun of that August
afternoon one might have believed, within bounds, that its importance
was established for good and all.

It was laid out with the regular severity of the surveyor's art.
Behind the fresh, new railroad depot the tented streets swept away
pretentiously. In the old settlements--as much as two months before
that day some of them had been built--several business houses of wood
and corrugated sheet-iron reared above the canvas roofs of their
neighbors, displaying in their windows all the wares which might be
classified among the needs of those who had come to break the desert,
from anvils to zitherns; from beads, beds, and bridles to winches,
wagons, water bottles, and collapsible cups.

At the head of the main street stood a hydrant, which the railroad
company supplied with water, offering its refreshment to all comers--to
man, beast, and Indian, as well as to dusty tourists with red
handkerchiefs about their necks. Around it, where teams had been fed and
the overflow of water had run, little green forests of oats were
springing, testifying to the fecundity of the soil, lighting unbelieving
eyes with hope.

"Just look what a little water will do!" said the locaters and town-site
men, pointing with eloquent gesture. "All this land needs, gentlemen, is
a little water to make it a paradise!"

On the right hand of the hydrant there was a bank, presenting a front of
bricked stability, its boarded sides painted in imitation of that same
resisting material, for the comfort of its depositors perhaps, and the
benefit of its credit before the eyes of the passing world. Well out in
the desert, among the hummocks of earth heaped around anchoring sage
clumps, stood the Elkhorn Hotel. It was built of logs, with a design
toward the picturesque and an eye to the tourist class of adventurers
who were expected to throng to the opening. The logs had been cut along
the river--they were that gnarled cottonwood which grows, leaning always
toward the northeast, in that land of bitter extremes--the bark stripped
from them until they gleamed yellowly, and fitted together with studied
crudity. Upon the projecting end of the ridge-pole rode a spreading
elk-prong, weathered, white, old.

And there was the Hotel Metropole. There always is a Hotel Metropole and
a newspaper, no matter where you go. When you travel beyond them you
have penetrated the _Ultima Thule_ of modern times. The Hotel Metropole
was near the station. It was picturesque without straining for it.
Mainly it was a large, sandy lot with a rope around it; but part of it
was tents of various colors, sizes, and shapes, arranged around the
parent shelter of them all--a circus "top," weathered and stained from
the storms of many years. Their huddling attitude seemed to express a
lack of confidence in their own stability. They seemed a brood of dusty
chicks, pressing in for shelter of the mothering wing.

All was under the direction of a small man with a cream-colored
waistcoat and a most incendiary-looking nose. It seemed tempting the
laws of physics governing dry materials and live coals to bring that
nose into the shelter of a desert-bleached tent. But it was there, and
it flared its welcome with impartial ardor upon all arrivals.

The scheme of the Hotel Metropole was this: If you wanted a cot in a
tent where each bed was partitioned from the other by a drop-curtain of
calico print, you could enjoy that luxury at the rate of two dollars a
night in advance, no baggage accepted as security, no matter what its
heft or outward appearance of value. If you didn't want to go that high,
or maybe were not so particular about the privacy of your sleeping
arrangements, you might have a cot anywhere in the circus-tentful of
cots, spread out like pews. There the charge was one dollar. That rate
chancing to be too steep for you, you might go into the open and rest in
one of the outdoor canvas pockets, which bellied down under your weight
like a hammock. There the schedule was fifty cents.

No matter what part of the house you might occupy on retiring, you were
warned by the wall-eyed young man who piloted you to the cot with your
number pinned on it that the hotel was not responsible for the personal
belongings of the guests. You were also cautioned to watch out for
thieves. The display of firearms while disrobing seemed to be encouraged
by the management for its moral effect, and to be a part of the ceremony
of retiring. It seemed to be the belief in the Hotel Metropole that when
a man stored a pistol beneath his pillow, or wedged it in between his
ribs and the side of the bunk, he had secured the safety of the night.

At the distant end of the main street, standing squarely across its
center, stood the little house which sheltered the branch of the United
States land-office, the headquarters being at Meander, a town a day's
journey beyond the railroad's end. A tight little board house it was,
like a toy, flying the emblem of the brave and the free as gallantly as
a schoolhouse or a forest-ranger station. Around it the crowd looked
black and dense from the railroad station. It gave an impression of
great activity and earnest business attention, while the flag was
reassuring to a man when he stepped off the train sort of dubiously and
saw it waving there at the end of the world.

Indeed, Comanche might be the end of the world--didn't the maps show
that it _was_ the end of the world, didn't the railroad stop there, and
doesn't the world always come to an abrupt end, all white and uncharted
beyond, at the last station on every railroad map you ever saw? It might
be the end of the world, indeed, but there was the flag! Commerce could
flourish there as well as in Washington, D. C., or New York, N. Y., or
Kansas City, U. S. A.; even trusts might swell and distend there under
its benign protectorate as in the centers of civilization and patriotism
pointed above.

So there was assurance and comfort to the timid in the flag at Comanche,
as there has been in the flag in other places at other times. For the
flag is a great institution when a man is far away from home and
expecting to bump into trouble at the next step.

Opposite the bank on the main street of Comanche were the tents of the
gods of chance. They were a hungry-mouthed looking lot that presided
within them, taken at their best, for the picking had been growing
slimmer and slimmer in Wyoming year by year. They had gathered there
from the Chugwater to the Big Horn Basin in the expectation of getting
their skins filled out once more.

One could find in those tents all the known games of cowboy literature,
and a good many which needed explanation to the travelers from afar.
There was only one way to understand them thoroughly, and that was by
playing them, and there seemed to be a pretty good percentage of curious
persons in the throng that sweated in Comanche that day.

That was all of Comanche--tents, hydrant, hotels, bank, business houses,
and tents again--unless one considered the small tent-restaurants and
lodging-places, of which there were hundreds; or the saloons, of which
there were scores. But when they were counted in, that was all.

Everybody in Comanche who owned a tent was on the make, and the making
was good. Many of the home-seekers and adventure-expectant young men and
women had been on the ground two weeks. They had been paying out good
money for dusty stage-rides over the promising lands which had been
allotted to the Indians already by the government. The stage people
didn't tell them anything about that, which was just as well. It looked
like land where stuff might be grown with irrigation, inspiration,
intensity of application, and undying hope. And the locaters and
town-site boomers led their customers around to the hydrant and pointed
to the sprouting oats.

"Spill a little water on this land and it's got Egypt skinned," they
said.

So the mild adventurers stayed on for the drawing of claims, their
ideals and notions taking on fresh color, their canned tomatoes (see the
proper literature for the uses of canned tomatoes in desert countries
frequented by cowboys) safely packed away in their trunks against a day
of emergency.

Every one of them expected to draw Claim Number One, and every one of
them was under the spell of dreams. For the long summer days of Wyoming
were as white as diamonds, and the soft blue mountains stood along the
distant west beyond the bright river as if to fend the land from
hardships and inclemencies, and nurture in its breast the hopes of men.

Every train brought several hundred more to add to the throng already in
Comanche--most of them from beyond the Mississippi, many of them
schemers, most of them dreamers ready to sacrifice all the endearments
of civilization for the romance of pioneering in the West, beyond the
limits of the world as defined by the map of the railroad-line over
which they had come.



CHAPTER II

GUESTS FOR THE METROPOLE


To Comanche there came that August afternoon, when it was wearing down
to long shadows, a mixed company, drawn from the far places and the
middle distances east of Wyoming. This company had assembled in the
course of the day's acquaintance on the last long, dusty run into the
land of expectations.

At dawn these people had left their comfortable sleeping-cars at
Chadron, in the Nebraska desert, to change to the train of archaic
coaches which transported the land-seekers across the last stretch of
their journey. Before that morning the company had been pursuing its way
as individual parts--all, that is, with the exception of the miller's
wife, from near Boston; the sister of the miller's wife, who was a widow
and the mother of June; and June, who was pasty and off-color, due to
much fudge and polishing in a young ladies' school.

These three traveled together, as three of such close relationship
naturally should travel. The widow was taking June to Wyoming to see if
she could put some marketable color in her cheeks, and the miller's wife
was going along for a belated realization, at least partially, of
youthful yearnings.

Since seventeen the miller's wife had longed to see the sun set behind a
mountain with snow upon it, and to see a cowboy with dust on his
shoulders, like the cowboys of the western drama, come riding out of the
glow, a speck at first, and on, and on, until he arrived where she
waited and flung himself from his panting horse, neckerchief awry, spurs
tinkling, and swept off his broad hat in salute. Beyond that point she
had not dared to go since marrying the miller, who had dust enough on
_his_ shoulders--unromantic dust, unromantic shoulders, goodness knows!
But that was her picture, all framed in the gold of her heart. She
wanted to see the mountain with the sun behind it, and the cowboy, and
all, and then she could sigh, and go back to the miller and near Boston
to await the prosaic end.

For all of her thirty-eight years Mrs. Dorothy Mann was shy in
proportion as her miller husband, the widely known J. Milton Mann was
bold. That he was a hard-mailed knight in the lists of business, and
that he was universally known, Mrs. Mann was ready to contend and uphold
in any company. She carried with her in the black bag which always hung
upon her arm certain poems bearing her husband's confession of
authorship, which had been printed in the _Millers' Journal_, all of
them calling public attention to the noble office of his ancient trade.
Of course the miller was not of the party, so we really have nothing
more to do with him than we have with the rest of the throng that
arrived on the train with these singled-out adventurers. But his
influence traveled far, like a shadow reaching out after the heart of
his spare, pert, large-eyed wife. She was not yet so far away from him
that she dared move even her eyes as her heart longed.

In the manner of the miller's wife, there was a restraint upon the most
commonplace and necessary intercourse with strangers which seemed almost
childish. She even turned in questioning indecision toward June's mother
before taking a seat offered her by a strange man, feeling at the same
time of the black bag upon her arm, where the poems reposed, as if to
beg indulgence from their author for any liberties which she might
assume.

June's mother, Mrs. Malvina Reed, widow of that great statesman, the
Hon. Alonzo Confucius Reed, who will be remembered as the author of the
notable bill to prohibit barbers breathing on the backs of their
customers' necks, was duenna of the party. She was a dumpy, small woman,
gray, with lines in her steamed face, in which all attempts at
rejuvenation had failed.

Mrs. Reed was a severe lady when it came to respecting the conventions
of polite life, and June was her heart's deep worry. She believed that
young woman to be in the first stage of a dangerous and mysterious
malady, which belief and which malady were alike nothing in the world
but fudge. When she turned her eyes upon June's overfed face a moisture
came into them; a sigh disturbed her breast.

By one of those strange chances, such as seem to us when we meet them
nothing short of preconceived arrangement, enough seats had been left
unoccupied in the rear coach, all in one place, to accommodate a second
party, which came straggling through with hand-baggage hooked upon all
its dependent accessories. It proved very pleasant for all involved.
There the June party scraped acquaintance with the others, after the
first restraint had been dissolved in a discussion of the virtues of
canned tomatoes applied to the tongue of one famishing in the desert.

First among the others was the bright-haired young woman from Canton,
Ohio, whose gray eyes seemed older than herself, lighting as if with new
hope every time they turned to acknowledge a good wish for her luck in
the new land. It seemed at such moments as if she quickened with the
belief that she was coming upon the track of something which she had
lost, and was in a way of getting trace of it again.

She sat up straight-backed as a saint in a cathedral window, but she
unbent toward June. June was not long in finding out that she, also, was
a product of grand old Molly Bawn, that mighty institution of learning
so justly famed throughout the world for its fudge; that her name was
Agnes Horton, and that she was going to register for a piece of land.

Some five years before June had matriculated, Agnes Horton had stepped
out, finished, from the halls of Molly Bawn.

"She's old," confided June to her mother's ear. "She must be at least
twenty-five!"

Old or young, she was handsomer than any other woman on the train, and
seemingly unaware of it as she leaned her elbow upon the dusty
window-sill and gazed out in pensive introspection upon the bleak land
where glaciers had trampled and volcanoes raged, each of them leaving
its waste of worn stone and blackened ledge.

And there was the school-teacher from Iowa; a long, thin string of a
man, who combed his hair straight back from his narrow, dished forehead
and said "idear." He was thinking seriously of sheep.

And there was the commissary sergeant from Fort Sheridan, which is
within the shadow of Chicago, German-faced, towering, broad. He blushed
as if scandalized every time a woman spoke to him, and he took Limburger
cheese and onions from his cloth telescope grip for his noonday lunch.

And there was the well-mannered manufacturer of tools, who came from
Buffalo, and his bald brother with him, who followed the law. There was
the insurance man from Kansas, who grinned when he wasn't talking and
talked when he didn't grin; and the doctor from Missouri, a large-framed
man with a worn face and anxious look, traveling westward in hope; and
the lumberman from Minnesota, who wore a round hat and looked meek, like
a secretary of a Y. M. C. A., and spat tobacco-juice out of the window.

All of these men, save the school-teacher and manufacturer, were more or
less failures, one way or another. Take the sergeant--Sergeant Schaefer,
and Jake was the name in front of that--for example. He had failed in
his examination for advancement to a commission, and blamed the
aristocracy of the army for it. He was disgusted with military life; and
to him a claim, especially Claim Number One, in the Indian Reservation
of Wyoming, looked like a haven of independence and peace.

There was the bald lawyer, too; a young man old from his honest cares, a
failure in the law because he could not square his conscience with its
practices. He was ready to quit it for an alfalfa-plot and a little
bunch of fat cattle--especially if he drew Number One.

Horace Bentley sighed when he looked back upon his struggles with the
world and the law. The law had been a saddle that galled his back
through many a heavy year. And his brother William, in need of a holiday
from his busy factory, had taken a month to himself to see "the boy," as
he called Horace, established in a new calling in the high-minded,
open-faced West.

As for the insurance solicitor and lumberman, it must be owned that they
were gamblers on the drawing. They meant to register and hang around for
the lottery. Then if they should draw Number One, or even anything up to
a hundred, they would sell out for what there was to be gained.

With Dr. Warren Slavens it was quite different from the case of these
purely adventurous speculators. Dr. Slavens had been late in getting a
start. It was not a difficulty peculiar to him alone that the start
always seemed a considerable distance ahead of him. Up to that time he
had been engaged with merely the preliminaries, and they had hobbled him
and cumbered him, and heaped up continually such a mass of matter to be
smoothed out of the way of his going, that he never had struck a canter
on the highway of life.

Of all the disheartened, blue, and beaten men on that dusty train that
dusty day, Dr. Warren Slavens, late of Missouri, was without question
the deepest down in the quagmire of failure. He hated himself for the
fizzle that he had made of it, and he hated the world that would not
open the gates and give him one straight dash for the goal among men of
his size.

He went frequently to the platform of the car and took a long pull at a
big, black pipe which he carried in a formidable leather case, like a
surgical instrument, in his inner pocket. After each pull at it he
returned with a redder face and a cloudier brow, ready to snap and snarl
like an under dog that believes every foot in the world is raised to
come down on his own ribs.

But there was nobody on that train who cared an empty sardine-can for
the doctor's failures or feelings. Nobody wanted to jab him in the ribs;
nobody wanted to hear his complaint. He was wise enough to know it, in a
way. So he kept to himself, pulling his shoulders up in soldierly
fashion when he passed Agnes Horton's place, or when he felt that she
was looking at him from her station directly behind his seat.

At any rate, up to the neck as he was in the bog of failure, the doctor
was going to Wyoming with a good many practical advantages ahead of
thousands of his fellows. Before turning doctor he had been a farmer's
boy; and he told himself that, failing in his solid determination to get
up to the starting-line in his profession, he believed he could do
pretty well at his older trade. But if he drew Claim Number One he meant
to sell it for ten thousand dollars--that being the current valuation
placed on first choice--and go back home to establish himself in dignity
and build up a practice.

The school-teacher hadn't much to say, but his cast was serious. He
expected to draw Number One, not to sell, but to improve, to put sheep
on, and alfalfa, and build a long barn with his name on the roof so that
it could be read from the railroad as the trains went by.

June's mother, being a widow, was eligible for the drawing. She also
meant to register. If she drew Number One--and she hadn't yet made up
her mind about the certainty of that--she intended to sell her
relinquishment and take June to Vienna for examination by an eminent
physician.

When anybody asked Agnes Horton what she intended to do with her
winnings out of the land lottery, she only smiled with that little
jumping of hope in her eyes. It was a marvel to the whole party what a
well set-up girl like her, with her refinement and looks and clothes,
wanted to fool her time away in Wyoming for, when the world was full of
men who would wear their hands raw to smooth a way for her feet to pass
in pleasanter places. But all of them could see that in her heart the
hope of Number One was as big as a can of tomatoes--in cowboy
literature--to the eyes of a man dying of thirst in Death Valley.

Only the toolmaker, William Bentley--and he was gray at the curling hair
which turned up at his broad temples--smiled as if he held it to be a
pleasant fantasy, too nebulous and far-away to be realized upon, when
any asked him of his intentions concerning Number One. He put off his
questioners with a pleasantry when they pressed him, but there was such
a tenderness in his eyes as he looked at his pale, bald brother, old in
honest ways before his time, that it was the same as spoken words.

So it will be seen that a great deal depended on Claim Number One, not
alone among the pleasant little company of ours, but in the calculations
of every man and woman out of the forty-seven thousand who would
register, ultimately, for the chance and the hope of drawing it.

At Casper a runner for the Hotel Metropole had boarded the train. He was
a voluble young man with a thousand reasons why travelers to the end of
the world and the railroad should patronize the Hotel Metropole and no
other. He sat on the arms of passengers' seats and made his argument,
having along with him a great quantity of yellow cards, each card
bearing a number, each good for an apartment or a cot in the open. By
payment of the rate, a person could secure his bed ahead of any need for
it which, said the young man, was the precaution of a wise ginny who was
on to his job. The train conductor vouched for the genuineness of the
young man's credentials, and conditions of things at Comanche as he
pictured them.

It was due to Sergeant Jake Schaefer that the company organized to mess
together. The hotel representative fell in with the idea with great
warmth. There was a large tent on the corner, just off Main Street,
which the company could rent, said he. A partition would be put in it
for the privacy of the ladies, and the hotel would supply the guests
with a stove and utensils. June's mother liked the notion. It relieved
her of a great worry, for with a stove of her own she could still
contrive those dainties so necessary to the continued existence of the
delicate child.

So the bargain was struck, the sergeant was placed in charge of the
conduct and supply of the camp, and everybody breathed easier. They had
anticipated difficulty over the matter of lodging and food in Comanche,
for wild tales of extortion and crowding, and undesirable conditions
generally, had been traveling through the train all day.

Comanche was quiet when the train arrived, for that was the part of the
day when the lull between the afternoon's activities and the night's
frantic reaping fell. Everyone who had arrived the day previous
accounted himself an old-timer, and all such, together with all the
arrivals of all the days since the registration began, came down to see
the tenderfeet swallow their first impressions of the coming Eden.

The Hotel Metropole was the only public house in Comanche that
maintained a conveyance to meet travelers at the station, and that was
for the transportation of their baggage only. For a man will follow his
belongings and stick to them in one place as well as another, and the
proprietor of the Metropole was philosopher enough to know that. So his
men with the wagon grabbed all the baggage they could wrench from, lift
from under, or pry out of the grasp of travelers when they stepped off
the train.

The June party saw their possessions loaded into the wagon, under the
loud supervision of Sergeant Schaefer, who had been in that country
before and could be neither intimidated, out-sounded, nor bluffed. Then,
following their traveling agent-guide, they pushed through the crowds to
their quarters.

Fortunate, indeed, they considered themselves when they saw how matters
stood in Comanche. There seemed to be two men for every cot in the
place. Of women there were few, and June's mother shuddered when she
thought of what they would have been obliged to face if they hadn't been
so lucky as to get a tent to themselves.

"I never would have got off that train!" she declared. "No, I never
would have brought my daughter into any such unprotected place as
this!"

Mrs. Reed looked around her severely, for life was starting to lift its
head again in Comanche after the oppression of the afternoon's heat.

Mrs. Mann smiled. She was beginning to take a comprehensive account of
the distance between Wyoming and the town near Boston where the miller
toiled in the gloom of his mill.

"I think it's perfectly lovely and romantic!" said she.

Mrs. Reed received the outburst with disfavor.

"Remember your husband, Dorothy Ann!" warned she.

Dorothy Ann sighed, gently caressing the black bag which dangled upon
her slender arm.

"I do, Malvina," said she.



CHAPTER III

UNCONVENTIONAL BEHAVIOR


Their situation was somewhat beyond the seat of noisy business and
raucous-throated pleasure. Mrs. Reed, while living in an unending state
of shivers on account of the imagined perils which stalked the footsteps
of June, was a bit assured by their surroundings.

In front of them was a vacant plot, in which inoffensive horses took
their siesta in the sun, awaiting someone to come along and hire them
for rides of inspection over the lands which were soon to be apportioned
by lot. A trifle farther along stood a little church, its unglazed
windows black and hollow, like gouged-out eyes. Mrs. Reed drew a vast
amount of comfort from the church, and their proximity to it, knowing
nothing of its history nor its present uses. Its presence there was
proof to her that all Comanche was not a waste of iniquity.

Almost directly in front of their tent the road branched--one prong
running to Meander, the county Seat, sixty miles away; the other to the
Big Horn Valley. The scarred stagecoaches which had come down from the
seventies were still in use on both routes, the two on the Meander line
being reenforced by democrat wagons when there was an overflow of
business, as frequently happened in those prosperous times.

Every morning the company assembled before the tent under the canvas
spread to protect the cookstove, to watch Mrs. Reed and Sergeant
Schaefer get breakfast, and to offer suggestions about the fire, and
admire June at her toast-making--the one branch of domestic art, aside
from fudge, which she had mastered. About that time the stage would
pass, setting out on its dusty run to Meander, and everybody on it and
in it would wave, everybody in the genial company before the tent would
wave back, and all of the adventurers on both sides would feel quite
primitive, in spite of the snuffling of the locomotive at the railway
station, pushing around freight-cars.

The locomotive seemed to tell them that they should not be deceived,
that all of this crude setting was a sham and a pretense, and that they
had not yet outrun the conveniences of modern life.

Dr. Slavens appeared to be getting the upper hand of his melancholy, and
to be drawing the comfort from his black pipe that it was designed to
give. Next to the sergeant he was the handiest man in the camp, showing
by his readiness to turn a full hand at anything, from paring potatoes
to making a fire, that he had shifted for himself before that day. The
ladies all admired him, as they always admire a man who has a little
cloud of the mysterious about him. Mrs. Reed wondered, audibly, in the
presence of June and Miss Horton, if he had deserted his wife.

The others were full of the excitement of their novel situation, and
drunk on the blue skies which strained the sunlight of its mists and
motes, pouring it down like a baptismal blessing. Even William Bentley,
the toolmaker, romped and raced in the ankle-deep dust like a boy.

Sunrise always found the floating population of Comanche setting
breakfastward in a clamoring tide. After that, when the land-office
opened at nine o'clock, the stream turned toward it, the crowd grew
around it, fringing off into the great, empty flat in which it stood--a
stretch of naked land so white and gleaming under the sun that it made
the eyes ache. There the land-seekers and thrill-hunters kicked up the
dust, and got their thousands of clerkly necks burned red, and their
thousands of indoor noses peeled, while they discussed the chances of
disposing of the high numbers for enough to pay them for the expense of
the trip.

After noonday the throngs sought the hydrant and the shade of the
saloons, and, where finances would permit, the solace of bottled beer.
And all day over Comanche the heel-ground dust rose as from the
trampling of ten thousand hoofs, and through its tent-set streets the
numbers of a strong army passed and repassed, gazing upon its gaudy
lures. They had come there to gamble in a big, free lottery, where the
only stake was the time spent and the money expended in coming, in which
the grand prize was Claim Number One.

"It looks to me," said Horace Bentley, the bald lawyer, "like a great
many people are going to be bitterly disappointed in this game. More
than forty thousand have registered already, and there are three days
more before the books close. The government circulars describing the
land say there are eight thousand homesteads, all told--six hundred of
them suitable for agriculture once they are brought under irrigation,
the rest grazing and mineral land. It seems to me that, as far as our
expectations go in that direction, we might as well pack up and go
home."

Four days in camp had made old-timers out of the company gathered under
the awning before their tent, waiting for the meal which Mrs. Reed and
her assistants were even then spreading on the trestle-built table.
There had been a shower that afternoon, one of those gusty, blustery,
desert demonstrations which had wrenched the tents and torn hundreds of
them from their slack anchoring in the loose soil.

After the storm, with its splash of big drops and charge of blinding
dust, a cool serenity had fallen over the land. The milk had been washed
out of the distances, and in the far southwest snowy peaks gleamed
solemnly in the setting sun, the barrier on the uttermost edge of the
desert leagues which so many thousand men and women were hungry to
share.

"Yes, it's a desperate gamble for all of us," Dr. Slavens admitted. "I
don't see any more show of anybody in this party drawing a low number
than I see hope for a man who stands up to one of the swindles in the
gambling-tents over there."

"Still," argued Milo Strong, the Iowa teacher, "we've got just the same
chance as anybody out of the forty thousand. I don't suppose there's any
question that the drawing will be fair?"

"It will be under the personal management of the United States Land
Commissioner at Meander," said Horace Bentley.

"How do they work it?" asked June, perking up her head in quick interest
from her task of hammering together the seams of a leaky new tin cup.
She had it over a projecting end of one of the trestles, and was going
about it like a mechanic.

"Where did you learn that trick?" inquired the toolmaker, a look in his
eyes which was pretty close kin to amazement.

"Huh!" said June, hammering away. "What do you suppose a college
education's good for, anyway? But how do they manage the drawing?" she
pressed.

"Did they teach you the game of policy at Molly Bawn?" the lawyer
asked.

"The idea!" sniffed Mrs. Reed.

Miss Horton smiled into her handkerchief, and June shook her head in
vigorous denial.

"I don't even know what it is," said she. "Is it some kind of
insurance?"

"It beats insurance for the man that runs the game," said Strong,
reminiscently.

"All of the names of those who register will be taken to Meander when
the registration closes," explained Horace. "There are half a dozen
clerks in the little office here transcribing the names on to small
cards, with the addresses and all necessary information for notifying a
winner. On the day of the drawing the forty thousand-odd names will be
put into a big hollow drum, fitted with a crank. They'll whirl it, and
then a blindfolded child will put his hand into the drum and draw out
Number One. Another child will then draw Number Two, and so on until
eight thousand names have come out of the wheel. As there are only eight
thousand parcels of land, that will end the lottery. What do you think
of your chance by now, Miss Horton?"

"Why, it looks fair enough, the way they do it," she answered,
questioning Dr. Slavens with her eyes.

He shook his head.

"You can't tell," he responded. "I've seen enough crookedness in this
tent-town in the past four days to set my suspicions against everything
and every official in it."

"Well, the drawing's to be held at Meander, you know," reminded William
Bentley, the toolmaker, "and Meander advertises itself as a moral
center. It seems that it was against this town from the very start--it
wanted the whole show to itself. Here's a circular that I got at Meander
headquarters today. It's got a great knock against Comanche in it."

"Yes, I saw it," said the doctor. "It sounds like one crook knocking
another. But it can't be any worse than this place, anyhow. I think I'll
take a ride over there in a day or so and size it up."

"Well, I surrender all pretensions to Claim Number One," laughed Mrs.
Reed, a straining of color in her cheeks.

June had not demanded fudge once in four days. That alone was enough to
raise the colors of courage in her mother's face, even if there hadn't
been a change in the young lady for the better in other directions. Four
days of Wyoming summer sun and wind had made as much difference in June
as four days of September blaze make in a peach on the tip of an exposed
bough. She was browning and reddening beautifully, and her hair was
taking on a trick of wildness, blowing friskily about her eyes.

It was plain that June had in her all the making of a hummer. That's
what Horace Bentley, the lawyer, owned to himself as he told her
mother in confidence that a month of that high country, with its
fresh-from-creation air, would be better for the girl's natural
endowments than all the beauty-parlors of Boston or the specialists
of Vienna. Horace felt of his early bald spot, half believing that
some stubby hairs were starting there already.

There was still a glow of twilight in the sky when lights appeared in
the windowless windows of the church, and the whine of tuning fiddles
came out of its open door. Mrs. Reed stiffened as she located the sound,
and an expression of outraged sanctity appeared in her face. She turned
to Dr. Slavens.

"Are they going to--to--_dance_ in that building?" she demanded.

"I'm afraid they are," said he. "It's used for dancing, they tell me."

"But it's a church--it's consecrated!" she gasped.

"I reckon it's worn off by this time," he comforted. "It was a church a
long, long time ago--for Comanche. The saloon man across from it told me
its history. He considered locating in it, he said, but they wanted too
much rent.

"When Comanche was only a railroad camp--a good while before the rails
were laid this far--a traveling preacher struck the town and warmed them
up with an old-style revival. They chipped in the money to build the
church in the fervor of the passing glow, and the preacher had it put
up--just as you see it, belfry and all.

"They even bought a bell for it, and it used to ding for the sheepmen
and railroaders, as long as their religion lasted. When it ran out, the
preacher moved on to fresh fields, and a rancher bought the bell to call
his hands to dinner. The respectable element of Comanche--that is, the
storekeepers, their wives, daughters and sons, and the clerks, and
others--hold a dance there now twice a week. That is their only
relaxation."

"It's a shame!" declared Mrs. Reed.

"Oh, I don't know," said the doctor easily.

"I'm _so_ disappointed in it!" said she.

"Because it represents itself as a church when it's something else?"
inquired the doctor softly. "Well, I shouldn't be, if I were you. It has
really nothing to be ashamed of, for the respectable are mightily in the
minority in Comanche, I can tell you, madam--that is, among the regular
inhabitants."

"Let's go over and look on," suggested William Bentley. "It may make
some of you gloomy people forget your future troubles for a while."

The party soon found that looking on exposed them to the contagion of
sociability. They were such wholesome-looking people at the gathering,
and their efforts to make the visitors who stood outside the door feel
at home and comfortable were so genuine, that reserve dissolved most
unaccountably.

It was not long before June's mother, her prejudices against such
frivolous and worldly use of a church blown away, was pigeoning around
with William Bentley. Likewise Mrs. Mann, the miller out of sight and
out of mind, stepped lightly with Horace, the lawyer, the sober black
bag doubled up and stored in the pocket of his coat, its handles
dangling like bridle-reins.

June alone was left unpaired, in company with the doctor and Miss
Horton, who asserted that they did not dance. Her heels were itching to
be clicking off that jolly two-step which the Italian fiddlers and
harpist played with such enticing swing. The school-teacher and the
sergeant were not with them, having gone out on some expedition of their
own among the allurements of Comanche.

But June hadn't long to bear the itch of impatience, for ladies were not
plentiful at the dance. Before anybody had time to be astonished by his
boldness, a young man was bowing before June, presenting his crooked
elbow, inviting her to the dance with all the polish that could possibly
lie on any one man. On account of an unusually enthusiastic clatter of
heels at that moment, Dr. Slavens and Miss Horton, a few paces distant,
could not hear what he said, but they caught their breaths a little
sharply when June took the proffered arm.

"Surest thing you know," they heard her eager little voice say as she
passed them with a happy, triumphant look behind.

Dr. Slavens looked at Miss Horton; Miss Horton looked at the doctor.
Both laughed.

"Well, I like that!" she exclaimed.

"Yes," he agreed, but apparently from quite a different angle, "so do I.
It's natural and unaffected; it's coming down to first principles. Well,
I don't see that there's anything left for you and me to do but use up
some of this moonlight in a walk. I'd like to see the river in this
light. Come?"

"Oh, that would be unconventional!" she protested.

But it was not a strong protest; more of a question perhaps, which left
it all to him.

"This is an unconventional country," he said. "Look at it, as white as
snow under this summer moon."

"It's lovely by night," she agreed; "but this Comanche is like a sore
spot on a clean skin. It's a blight and a disfigurement, and these
noises they make after dark sound like some savage revel."

"We'll put them behind us for two hours or so," he decided with finality
which allowed no further argument.

As they set off toward the river he did not offer her the support of his
arm, for she strode beside him with her hands swinging free, long step
to his long step, not a creature of whims and shams, he knew, quite able
to bear her own weight on a rougher road than that.

"Still it _is_ unconventional," she reflected, looking away over the
flat land.

"That's the beauty of it," said he. "Let's be just natural."

They passed beyond the straggling limits of Comanche, where the town
blended out into the plain in the tattered tents and road-battered
wagons of the most earnest of all the home-seekers, those who had staked
everything on the hope of drawing a piece of land which would serve at
last as a refuge against the world's buffeting.

Under their feet was the low-clinging sheep-sage and the running herbs
of yellow and gray which seemed so juiceless and dry to the eye, but
which were the provender of thousands of sheep and cattle that never
knew the shelter of fold or stable, nor the taste of man-grown grain or
fodder, from the day of their birth to the day of their marketing.
Winter and summer alike, under the parching sun, under the strangling
drifts, that clinging, gray vegetation was the animals' sole nutriment.

Behind the couple the noises of Comanche died to murmurs. Ahead of them
rose the dark line of cottonwoods which stood upon the river-shore.

"I want to take another look at the Buckhorn Cañon," said the doctor,
stalking on in his sturdy, farm-bred gait.

"It makes a fearful roar," she remarked as they approached the place
where the swift river, compressed into the flumelike passage which it
had whetted out of the granite, tossed its white mane in the moonlight
before plunging into the dark door of the cañon.

"I've been hearing yarns and traditions about that cañon ever since I
came here," he told her. "They say it's a thousand feet deep in
places."

"June and I came over here this morning," said Agnes, "along with
Sergeant Schaefer. He said he didn't believe that June could hike that
far. I sat here on the rocks a long time watching it. I never saw so
much mystery and terror in water before."

She drew a little nearer to him as she spoke, and he put his hand on her
shoulder in an unconscious movement of restraint as she leaned over
among the black boulders and peered into the hissing current.

"Do you suppose anybody ever went in there?" she asked.

"They say the Indians know some way of getting through," he replied,
"but no white man ever went into the cañon and came out alive. The last
one to try it was a representative of a Denver paper who came out here
at the beginning of the registration. He went in there with his camera
on his back after a story."

"Poor fellow! Did he get through--at all?"

"They haven't reported him on the other side yet. His paper offers a
reward for the solution of the mystery of his disappearance, which is no
mystery at all. He didn't have the right kind of footgear, and he
slipped. That's all there is to it."

He felt her shudder under his hand, which remained unaccountably on her
warm shoulder after the need of restraint had passed.

"It's a forbidding place by day," said she, "and worse at night. Just
think of the despair of that poor man when he felt himself falling down
there in the dark!"

"Moccasins are the things for a job like that," he declared. "I've
studied it all out; I believe I could go through there without a
scratch."

"What in the world would anybody want to do it for? What is there to be
gained by it, to the good of anybody?" she wondered.

"Well, there's the reward of five hundred dollars offered by the
newspaper in Denver," he answered.

"It's a pitiful stake against such odds!" she scorned.

"And all the old settlers say there's gold in there--rich pockets of it,
washed out of the ledges in the sides of the walls and held by the rocks
in the river-bed and along the margins. A nugget is picked up now and
then on the other side, so there seems to be ground for the belief that
fortune waits for the man who makes a careful exploration."

"He couldn't carry enough of it out to make it worth while," she
objected.

"But he could go back," Dr. Slavens reminded her. "It would be easy the
second time. Or he might put in effect the scheme a sheep-herder had
once."

"What was that?" she asked, turning her face up to him from her place on
the low stone where she sat, the moonlight glinting in her eyes.

He laughed a little.

"Not that it was much of a joke the way it turned out," he explained.
"He went in there to hunt for the gold, leaving two of his companions to
labor along the brink of the cañon above and listen for his signal shout
in case he came across any gold worth while. Then they were to let a
rope down to him and he'd send up the treasure. It was a great scheme,
but they never got a chance to try it. If he ever gave any signal they
never heard it, for down there a man's voice strained to its shrillest
would be no more than a whisper against a tornado. You can believe that,
can't you, from the way it roars and tears around out here?"

"All the gold that remains unmined wouldn't tempt me a hundred feet down
that black throat," she shuddered. "But what became of the adventurer
with the scheme?"

"He came through in time--they caught him at the outlet over there in
the mountains. The one pocket that remained in his shredded clothing was
full of gold nuggets, they say. So he must have found it, even if he
couldn't make them hear."

"What a dismal end for any man!"

"A man could beat it, though," said he, leaning forward in thoughtful
attitude. "He'd need a strong light, and moccasins, so he could cling to
the rocks. I believe it could be done, and I've thought a good deal
about exploring it myself for a day or two past. If I don't draw a low
number I think I'll tackle it."

"Don't you attempt it!" she cried, clutching his arm and turning her
white face to him affrightedly. "Don't you ever dare try it!"

He laughed uneasily, his eyes on the black gash into which the foaming
river darted.

"Oh, I don't know; I've heard of men doing riskier things than that for
money," he returned.

Agnes Horton's excitement and concern seemed to pass with his words. She
propped her chin in her palms and sat pensively, looking at the broken
waters which reared around the barrier of scattered stones in its
channel.

"Yes, men sometimes take big risks for money--even the risk of honor and
the everlasting happiness of others," said she.

It was like the wind blowing aside a tent-flap as he passed, giving him
a glimpse of its intimate interior. That little lifting of her reserve
was a glance into the sanctuary of her heart. The melancholy of her eyes
was born out of somebody's escapade with money; he was ready to risk his
last guess on that.

"Besides, there may be nothing to that story of nuggets. That may be
just one of these western yarns," she added.

"Well, in any case, there's the five hundred the Denver paper offers,
besides what I could make by syndicating the account of my adventure
among the Sunday papers. I used to do quite a lot of that when I was in
college."

"But you don't need money badly enough to go into that place after it.
Nobody ever needed it that badly," she declared.

"Don't I?" he answered, a little biting of bitter sarcasm in his tone.
"Well, you don't know, my lady, how easy that money looks to me compared
to my ordinary channels of getting it."

"It can't be so very hard in your profession," she doubted, as if a bit
offended by his attitude of martyrdom before an unappreciative world. "I
don't believe you have half as hard a time of it as some who have too
much money."

"The hardship of having too much money is one which I never experienced,
so I can't say as to that," he said, moved to smiles by the humor of it.
"But to understand what I mean by hardship you must know how I've
struggled in the ruts and narrow traditions of my profession, and
fought, hoped, and starved. Why, I tell you that black hole over there
looks like an open door with a light inside of it compared to some of
the things I've gone through in the seven years that I've been trying to
get a start. Money? I'll tell you how that is, Miss Horton; I've thought
along that one theme so confounded long that it's worn a groove in my
brain.

"Here you see me tonight, a piece of driftwood at thirty-five, and all
for the want of money enough to buy an automobile and take the
darned-fool world by storm on its vain side! You can't scratch it with a
diamond on its reasoning side--I've scratched away on it until my nails
are gone.

"I've failed, I tell you, I've botched it all up! And just for want of
money enough to buy an automobile! Brains never took a doctor
anywhere--nothing but money and bluff!"

"I wonder," she speculated, "what will become of you out here in this
raw place, where the need of a doctor seems to be the farthest thing in
the world, and you with your nerve all gone?"

It would have reassured her if she could have seen the fine flush which
this charge raised in his face. But she didn't even look toward him, and
couldn't have noted the change if she had, for the moonlight was not
that bright, even in Wyoming.

"But I haven't lost my nerve!" he denied warmly.

"Oh, yes, you have," she contradicted, "or you wouldn't admit that
you're a failure, and you wouldn't talk about money that way. Money
doesn't cut much ice as long as you've got nerve."

"That's all right from your view," said he pettishly. "But you've had
easy going of it, out of college into a nice home, with a lot of those
pink-faced chaps to ride you around in their automobiles, and opera and
plays and horse-shows and all that stuff."

"Perhaps," she admitted, a soft sadness in her voice. "But wait until
you've seen somebody drunk with the passion of too much money and crazy
with the hunger for more; wait until you've seen a man's soul grow black
from hugging it to his heart, and his conscience atrophy and his manhood
wither. And then when it rises up and crushes him, and all that are his
with it----"

He looked at her curiously, waiting for her to round it out with a
personal citation. But she said no more.

"That's why you're here, hoping like the rest of us to draw Number
One?"

"Any number up to six hundred will do for me," she laughed, sitting
erect once more and seeming to shake her bitter mood off as she spoke.

"And what will you do with it? Sell out as soon as the law allows?"

"I'll live on it," dreamily, as if giving words to an old vision which
she had warmed in her heart. "I'll stay there and work through the hope
of summer and the bleakness of winter, and make a home. I'll smooth the
wild land and plant trees and green meadows, and roses by the door, and
we'll stay there and it will be--_home_!"

"Yes," he nodded, understanding the feeling better than she knew. "You
and mother; you want it just that way."

"How did you know it was mother?" she asked, turning to him with a
quick, appreciative little start.

"You're the kind of a woman who has a mother," he answered. "Mothers
leave their stamp on women like you."

"Thank you," said she.

"I've often wanted to run away from it that way, too," he owned, "for
failure made a coward of me more than once in those hard years. There's
a prospect of independence and peace in the picture you make with those
few swift strokes. But I don't see any--you haven't put any--any--_man_
in it. Isn't there one somewhere?"

"No," simply and frankly; "there isn't any man anywhere. He doesn't
belong in the picture, so why should I draw him in?"

Dr. Slavens sighed.

"Yes; I've wanted to run away from it more than once."

"That's because you've lost your nerve," she charged. "You shouldn't
want to run away from it--a big, broad man like you--and you must not
run away. You must stay and fight--and fight--and _fight_! Why, you talk
as if you were seventy instead of a youth of thirty-five!"

"Don't rub it in so hard on that failure and nerve business," he begged,
ashamed of his hasty confession.

"Well, _you_ mustn't talk of running away then. There are no ghosts
after you, are there?"

The moonlight was sifting through the loose strands of her gleaming hair
as she sat there bareheaded at his side, and the strength of his life
reached out to her, and the deep yearning of his lonely soul. He knew
that he wanted that woman out of all the world full of women whom he had
seen and known--and passed. He knew that he wanted her with such strong
need that from that day none other could come across the mirror of his
heart and dim her image out of it.

Simply money would not win a woman like her; no slope-headed son of a ham
factory could come along and carry her off without any recommendation but
his cash. She had lived through that kind of lure, and she was there on
his own level because she wanted to work out her clean life in her own
clean way. The thought warmed him. Here was a girl, he reflected, with a
piece of steel in her backbone; a girl that would take the world's
lashings like a white elm in a storm, to spring resiliently back to
stately poise after the turmoil had passed. Trouble would not break
her; sorrow would only make her fineness finer. There was a girl to stand
up beside a man!

He had not thought of it before--perhaps he had been too melancholy and
bitter over his failure to take by storm the community where he had
tried to make his start--but he believed that he realized that moment
what he had needed all along. If, amid the contempt and indifference of
the successful, he'd had some incentive besides his own ambition to
struggle for all this time, some splendid, strong-handed woman to stand
up in his gloom like the Goddess of Liberty offering an ultimate reward
to the poor devils who have won their way to her feet across the bitter
seas from hopeless lands, he might have stuck to it back there and won
in the end.

"That's what I've needed," said he aloud, rising abruptly.

She looked up at him quickly.

"I've needed somebody's sympathy, somebody's sarcasm, somebody's soft
hand--which could be correctional on occasion--and somebody's
heart-interest all along," he declared, standing before her dramatically
and flinging out his hands in the strong feeling of his declaration.
"I've been lonely; I've been morose. I've needed a woman like you!"

Without sign of perturbation or offense, Agnes rose and laid her hand
gently upon his arm.

"I think, Dr. Slavens," she suggested, "we'd better be going back to
camp."

They walked the mile back to camp with few words between them. The
blatant noises of Comanche grew as they drew nearer.

The dance was still in progress; the others had not returned to camp.

"Do you care to sit out here and wait for them?" he asked as they
stopped before the tent.

"I think I'll go to bed," she answered. "I'm tired."

"I'll stand sentry," he offered.

She thanked him, and started to go in. At the door she paused, went back
to him, and placed her hand in her soothing, placid way upon his arm
again.

"You'll fight out the good fight here," said she, "for this is a country
that's got breathing-room in it."

She looked up into his face a bit wistfully, he thought, as if there
were more in her heart than she had spoken. "You'll win here--I know
you'll win."

He reached out to put his arm about her, drawn by the same warm
attraction that had pulled the words from him at the riverside. The
action was that of a man reaching out to lean his weary weight upon some
familiar object, and there was something of old habit in it, as if he
had been doing it always.

But she did not stay. He folded only moonlight, in which there is little
substance for a strong man, even in Wyoming. Dr. Slavens sighed as the
tent-flap dropped behind her.

"Yes; that's what I've needed all the time," said he.

He sat outside with his pipe, which never had seemed so sweet. But, for
all of its solace, he was disturbed by the thought that perhaps he had
made a blunder which had placed him in a false light with Miss
Horton--only he thought of her as Agnes, just as if he had the right.
For there were only occasions on which Dr. Slavens admitted himself to
be a fizzle in the big fireworks of the world. That was a charge which
he sometimes laid to himself in mortification of spirit, or as a
flagellant to spur him along the hard road. He had not meant to let it
slip him aloud over there by the river, because he didn't believe it at
all--at least not in that high-hoping hour.

So he sat there in the moonlight before the tent, the noises of the town
swelling louder and louder as the night grew older, his big frame
doubled into the stingy lap of a canvas chair, his knees almost as high
as his chin. But it was comfortable, and his tobacco was as pleasant to
his senses as the distillation of youthful dreams.

He had not attained the automobile stage of prosperity and arrogance,
certainly. But that was somewhere ahead; he should come to it in time.
Out of the smoke of his pipe that dreamy night he could see it. Perhaps
he might be a little gray at the temples when he came to it, and a
little lined at the mouth, but there would be more need of it then than
now, because his legs would tire more easily.

But Agnes had taken that foolishly blurted statement for truth. So
it was his job henceforward to prove to Agnes that he was not bankrupt
in courage. And he meant to do it he vowed, even if he had to get a
tent and hang out his shingle in Comanche. That would take nerve
unquestionably, for there were five doctors in the place already, none
of them making enough to buy stamps to write back home for money.

Already, he said, he was out of the rut of his despondency; already the
rust was knocked off his back, and the eagerness to crowd up to the
starting-line was on him as fresh again as on the day when he had walked
away from all competitors in the examination for a license before the
state board.

At midnight the others came back from the dance and broke the trend of
his smoke-born dreams. Midnight was the hour when respectable Comanche
put out its lights and went to bed. Not to sleep in every case, perhaps,
for the din was at crescendo pitch by then; but, at any event, to
deprive the iniquitous of the moral support of looking on their
debaucheries and sins.

Dr. Slavens was in no mood for his sagging canvas cot, for his new
enthusiasm was bounding through him as if he had been given an
intravenous injection of nitroglycerin. There was Wyoming before him,
all white and virginal and fresh, a big place for a big deed. Certainly,
said Dr. Slavens. Just as if made to order for his needs.

So he would look around a bit before turning in, with his high-stepping
humor over him, and that spot on his arm, where her hand had lain, still
aglow with her mysterious fire.



CHAPTER IV

THE FLAT-GAME MAN


The noises of the tented town swelled in picturesque chorus as Dr.
Slavens walked toward them, rising and trailing off into the night until
they wore themselves out in the echoless plain.

He heard the far-away roll and rumble of voices coming from the
gambling-tents; the high-tenor invitation of the barkers outside
questionable shows; the bawl of street-gamblers, who had all manner of
devices, from ring-pitching to shell-games on folding tables, which they
could pick up in a twinkling and run away with when their dupes began to
threaten and rough them up; the clear soprano of the singer, who wore
long skirts and sang chaste songs, in the vaudeville tent down by the
station.

And above all, mingled with all--always, everywhere--the brattle of
cornet and trombone, the whang of piano, the wail of violin, the tinkle
of the noble harp, an aristocrat in base company, weeping its own
downfall.

All of the flaring scene appeared to the doctor to be extremely
artificial. It was a stage set for the allurement of the unsophisticated,
who saw in this strained and overdone imitation of the old West the
romance of their expectations. If they hadn't found it there thousands of
them would have been disappointed, perhaps disillusioned with a
healthful jolt. All the reality about it was its viciousness, and that
was unquestionable.

It looked as if gambling crooks from everywhere had collected at
Comanche, and as if the most openly and notoriously crooked of them all
was the bony, dry-faced man with a white spot over the sight of his left
eye, who conducted a dice-game in the front part of the chief
amusement-place of the town. This was a combination variety theater and
saloon, where free "living pictures" were posed for the entertainment of
those who drank beer at the tables at twenty-five cents a glass.

Of the living pictures there were three, all of them in green garments,
which hung loosely upon flaccid thighs. Sometimes they posed alone, as
representations of more or less clothed statuary; sometimes they
grouped, with feet thrust out, heads thrown back, arms lifted in stiff
postures, as gladiators, martyrs, and spring songs. Always, whether
living or dead, they were most sad and tattered, famished and lean
pictures, and their efforts were received with small applause. They were
too thin to be very wicked; so it appeared, at least.

Dr. Slavens stopped in the wide-spreading door of this place to watch
the shifting life within. Near him sat a young Comanche Indian, his hair
done up in two braids, which he wore over his shoulders in front. He had
an eagle feather in his hat and a new red handkerchief around his neck,
and he looked as wistful as a young Indian ever did outside a poem or a
picture-film. He was the unwelcome guest, whom no one might treat, to
whom no one might sell.

That was one of the first things strangers in Comanche learned: one must
not give an Indian a drink of liquor, no matter how thirsty he looked.
And, although there was not a saloon-keeper in the place who would have
considered a moment before stooping to rob a dead man, there was not one
who would have sold an Indian a bottle of beer. Such is the fear, if not
respect, that brave old Uncle Sam is able to inspire.

But brave old Sam had left the bars down between his wards and the
gamblers' tables. It is so everywhere. The Indian may not drink, but he
may play "army game" and all the others where crooked dice, crooked
cards, and crooked men are to be found. Perhaps, thought the doctor, the
young man with the eagle feather--which did not make him at all
invisible, whatever his own faith in its virtues might have been--had
played his money on the one-eyed man's game, and was hanging around to
see whether retributive justice, in the form of some more fortunate
player, would, in the end, clean the old rascal out.

The one-eyed man was assisted by a large gang of cappers, a gang which
appeared to be in the employ of the gamblers' trust of Comanche. The
doctor had seen them night after night first at one game, then at
another, betting with freedom and carelessness which were the envy of
the suckers packed forty deep around them. At the one-eyed man's game
just then they were coming and going in a variety which gave a color of
genuine patronage. That was an admirable arrangement, doubtless due to
the one-eyed man's sagacity, which the doctor had noted the night
before. For the game had its fascination for him, not because the fire
of it was in his veins, but because it was such an out-and-out skin game
that it was marvelous how fools enough could be found, even in a
gathering like that, to keep it going.

The living pictures had just passed off the stage, and it was the
one-eyed man's inning. He rattled his dice in the box, throwing his
quick glance over the crowd, which seemed reluctant to quit the
beer-tables for his board. Art was the subject which the gambler took up
as he poured out his dice and left them lying on the board. He seemed so
absorbed in art for the moment that he did not see a few small bets
which were laid down. He leaned over confidentially and talked into the
eyes of the crowd.

"Art, gentlemen, is a fine thing for the human race," said he. "You have
just saw an elegant exhibition of art, and who is there in this crowd
that don't feel a better man for what he saw?"

He looked around, as if inviting a challenge. None came. He resumed:

"Art in all its branches is a elegant fine thing, gentlemen. It raises a
man up, and it elevates him, and it makes him feel like a millionaire.
If I only had a dime, as the man said, I'd spend it for a box of
cigareets just to git the chromo-card. That's what I think of art,
gentlemen, and that's how crazy I am over it.

"Now, if anybody here wants to bet me I ain't got two eyes, I ain't a
goin' to take him up, for I know I ain't, gentlemen, and I've knowed it
for thirty years. But if anybody wants to bet me I can't throw
twenty-seven----"

This was the one-eyed man's game. He stood inside the curve of a
crescent-shaped table, which struck him almost under the arms, his back
to the wall of the tent. Players could surround him, almost; still,
nobody could get behind him. In that direction there always was a way
out. He stood there offering odds of five to one to anybody who wanted
to bet him that he couldn't himself, with his own hand and his own dice,
throw twenty-seven. Any other number coming out of the box, the one-eyed
man lost.

Examine the dice, gents; examine the box. If any gent had any doubts at
all about the dice being straight, all he had to do was to examine them.
There they lay, gents, honestly and openly on the table before the
one-eyed man, his bony hand hovering over them caressingly.

Gents examined them freely. Nearly every player who put money
down--secure in that egotistical valuation of one's own shrewdness which
is the sure-thing-man's bank and goldmine and mint--rolled the dice,
weighed them, eyed them sharply. Then they bet against the one-eyed
man--and lost.

That is, they lost if he wanted them to lose. There were victims who
looked promising for a fat sacrifice who had to be tolled and primed and
led on gently up to the block. At the right time the one-eyed man
trimmed them, and he trimmed them down to the short bones.

His little boost for art finished--for the living pictures were art in
which he had a proprietary interest, and he could afford to talk for it
once in a while--the one-eyed man cast his glance over his table and saw
the small bets. By some singular fortune all of the bettors won. They
pocketed their winnings with grins as they pushed out among the
gathering crowd.

Men began to pack thickly around the gambler's crescent table, craning
over shoulders to see what was going on. He was making a great Wild-West
show of money, with a large revolver lying beside it at his elbow.
Seeing that the young man who had carried June Reed off to the dance so
intrepidly had made his way forward and was betting on the game, Dr.
Slavens pushed up to the table and stood near.

The young fellow did not bear himself with the air of a capper, but
rather with that of one who had licked a little poison and was drunk on
the taste. He had won two small bets, and he was out for more.

There were no chips, no counters except cash. Of that the young man
appeared to have plenty. He held a cheerful little wad of it in his
hand, so that no time might be lost in taking advantage of the great
opportunity to beat a man at his own game.

The display of so much money on both sides held the crowd in silent
charm. The young man was the only player, although the one-eyed man
urged others to come on and share the fortunes of his sweating patron,
whose face was afire with the excitement of easy money, and whose reason
had evaporated under the heat.

"At every roll of the dice my young friend adds to his pile," said the
gambler. "He's got a head, gents, and he knows how to use it. Look at
'im, gents, gittin' richer at every roll of the dice! You might as well
have a share in all this here money and wealth, and you would be sharin'
it if you had the nerve of my young friend."

The one-eyed man turned the dice out and lost again. There was a little
movement of the crowd, a little audible intaking of breath, a little
crowding forward, like that of cattle massed in a pen.

The suckers never did seem to get it through their heads, thought the
doctor as he beheld their dumb excitement with growing contempt, that
the one-eyed man switched the dice on them just as often as he
pleased between the table and the box, by a trick which was his one
accomplishment and sole capital. Without that deftness of hand the
one-eyed man might have remained a bartender, and a very sloppy and
indifferent one at that; but with it he was the king-pin of the
gamblers' trust in Comanche, and his graft was the best in the town.

"There it goes, gents!" he said, shaking his long, hound-shaped head
with doleful expression of face. "The tide of luck's turned ag'in' me.
You can see that as plain as water in a pan, but they ain't one of you
got the nerve to step up and help my young friend trim me.

"You fellers know what you make me think of? Well, you make me think of
a lot of little boys with ten cents to spend on Fourth of July. You
stand around with your fingers in your mouth, afraid you'll see
somethin' you like better if you let loose of your little old dime, and
you hang on to it till the fun's all over and the ice-cream's all gone.

"But my young friend here--Now, now!" he remonstrated as the highly
excited young man took up his winnings, added them to the money which he
held in reserve in his left hand, and placed the whole amount upon the
table. "Now you're a comin' it purty strong! Go easy, young feller, and
give a old man with only one eye and a game leg a chance. But you won't
do it; I can see that in the cast of your eye; you're bound to clean me
out at one smack; that's what you're bound to do."

The one-eyed man shook the dicebox very carefully, as if mixing some
rare prescription. Then he stopped shaking and held his hand over the
mouth of the box, as if he expected the cubes might jump up and join in
his ruination while his head was turned.

"Now, look-a here!" said he, addressing them generally. "I've traveled
this wide world over ever since I was a tender child, as the man said,
and I never seen a chance like this to skin a feller slide by without
more'n one lone man havin' sense enough and nerve enough to git in on
it.

"Do I see any more of your money, gents, before I roll the dice? Do I
see any more of your money of the ream and dominion of Uncle Sam, with
the eagle a spreadin' his legs, with his toes full of arrers, and his
mouth wide open a hollerin' de-fiance and destruction ag'in' his
innimies on land and sea, wheresomever they may be, as the feller said?

"Do I see any more of your money, gents? Do I git sight of any more?
Lowest bet's one dollar, gents, and you might as well git in on the
finish and let the old man go up with a whoop. I'm game, gents; I go the
limit. Do I see any more of your money? Do I see any more?"

He did. He saw considerably more than he had seen at one time since he
opened the game in Comanche. He seemed greatly affected by the sight,
shaking his head with solemnity and casting his eye around with
reproach.

"That's right! That's right!" said he. "Sock it to a old feller when
you've got him down! That's the way of this cold world. Well, all I ask
of you, gents"--he paused in his request to shake the box again, holding
it poised for the throw--"is this: When you clean me I ask you to stake
me, between you, to twenty-seven dollars. Twenty-seven's my lucky
number; I was borned on the 27th day of Jannewarry, and I always bet on
twenty-seven."

He poured the dice upon the table, reaching for his pile of bills and
gold as if to cash in on the winnings as he set the box down, even while
the dice were rolling and settling. But at that point the one-eyed man
stayed his hand, bending over the dice as if he could not believe his
eye.

"Well, bust me!" said he, sighing as if honestly disappointed in the
throw. "M' luck's turned! Dang me, fellers, if I didn't win!"

Without enthusiasm, still shaking his head sadly, he drew the winnings
over the table, sorting the bills, shuffling them into neat heaps,
adding them to his enticing pile, which lay heaped upon a green cloth at
his hand.

"I don't know why I stick to this game, gents," said he, "for it's all
ag'in' me. I don't win once in nine hundred times. This here's more
money than I've took in at any one time since I come to Comanche, and
it's more'n I ever expect to take in ag'in if I stay here forty-nine
years.

"But it's in m' blood to bet on twenty-seven. I can't help it, boys.
It'll be the ruination of me ag'in, like it's ruined me many a time
before; but I got to roll 'em! I got to roll 'em! And if anybody wants
to git in, let him put his money down!"

The young man seemed a little dazed by the quick change of the gambler's
luck, but his reason had no voice to speak against the clamor of his
desires. He produced more money, bills of large denomination, and
counted out a thousand dollars, defiantly flourishing every bill. He
whacked the pile down on the table with a foolishly arrogant thump of
his fist.

"I'm with you to the finish," he said, his boyish face bright with the
destructive fire of chance. "Roll 'em out!"

Other players crowded forward, believing perhaps that the queer freak of
fortune which had turned the gambler's luck would not hold. In a few
minutes there was more money on the table than the one-eyed man had
stood before in many a day.

Sorry for the foolish young man, and moved by the sacrifice which he saw
in preparation, Dr. Slavens pressed against the table, trying to flash
the youth a warning with his eyes. But the physician could not get a
look into the young man's flushed face; his eyes were on the stake.

The one-eyed man was gabbing again, running out a continual stream of
cheap and pointless talk, and offering the dice as usual for inspection.
Some looked at the cubes, among the number the young man, who weighed
them in his palm and rolled them on the table several times. Doubtless
they were as straight as dice ever were made. This test satisfied the
rest. The one-eyed man swept the cubes into his hand and, still talking,
held that long, bony member hovering over the mouth of the box.

At that moment Dr. Slavens, lurching as if shoved violently from behind,
set his shoulder against the table and pushed it, hard and suddenly,
against the one-eyed man's chest, all but throwing him backward against
the wall of the tent. The gambler's elbows flew up in his struggle to
keep to his feet, and the hand that hovered over the dicebox dropped the
dice upon the board.

Instantly a shout went up; instantly half a hundred hands clawed at the
table to retrieve their stakes. For the one-eyed man had dropped not
five dice, but ten.

He waited for no further developments. The tent-wall parted behind him
as he dived through into the outer darkness, taking with him his former
winnings and his "bank," which had been cunningly arranged on the green
cloth for no other purpose; his revolver and his dice, leaving nothing
but the box behind.

The young man gathered up his stake with nervous hands and turned his
flushed face to the doctor, smiling foolishly.

"Thank you, old man," he said. "Oh, yes! I know you now," he added,
offering his hand with great warmth. "You were with her people at the
dance."

"Of course," smiled the doctor. "How much did you lose?"

"Say, I ought to have a nurse!" said the young man abjectly. "If you
hadn't heaved that table into the old devil's ribs just then he'd 'a'
skinned me right! Oh, about six hundred, I guess; but in ten minutes
more he'd 'a' cleaned me out. Walker's my name," he confided; "Joe
Walker. I'm from Cheyenne."

Dr. Slavens introduced himself.

"And I'm from Missouri," said he.

Joe Walker chuckled a little.

"Yes; the old man's from there, too," said he, with the warmth of one
relative claiming kinship with another from far-away parts; "from a
place called Saint Joe. Did you ever hear of it?"

"I've heard of it," the doctor admitted, smiling to himself over the
ingenuous unfolding of the victim whom he had snatched from the
sacrifice.

"They don't only have to show you fellers from Missouri," pursued
Walker; "but you show _them_! That's the old man's way, from the
boot-heels up."

They were walking away from the gambling-tent, taking the middle of the
road, as was the custom in Comanche after dark, sinking instep deep in
dust at every step.

"What are you doing with all that money in a place like this?" the
doctor questioned.

"Well, it's this way," explained Walker with boyish confidence. "The old
man's going to set me up in a sheep-ranch between here and Casper. We've
got a ranch bargained for with six miles of river-front, he sent me over
here with five thousand dollars to cinch the business before the feller
changed his mind."

"Why didn't you bring a draft?" the doctor wondered.

"Some of these sheepmen wouldn't take government bonds. Nothing but
plain cash goes with them."

"Oh, I didn't think you had any particular use for even that, the way
you're slinging it around!" said the doctor, with no attempt to hide the
feeling he held for any such recklessness.

"Looked that way," admitted Walker thoughtfully. "But I've got to meet
that sheepman here at the bank in the morning, where he can have
somebody that he's got confidence in feel of the money and tell him it's
genuine, and I'll have to put up some kind of a stall to cover the money
I lost. Guess I can get away with it, somehow. Cripes! I sweat needles
every time I think of what'd 'a' happened to me if you hadn't showed us
suckers that one-eyed feller's hand!"

"Well, the important thing now, it seems to me, is to hang on to what's
left till you meet that rancher."

"Don't you worry!" rejoined Walker warmly. "I'm going to sit on the edge
of that little old bunk all night with my six-shooter in one hand and
that money in the other! And any time in future that you see me bettin'
on any man's game, you send for the fool-killer, will you?"

"Yes, if I happen to be around," promised the doctor.

"I ought to know 'em; I was raised right here in Wyoming among 'em,"
said Walker. "I thought that feller was square, or maybe off a little,
because he talked so much. He was the first talkin' gambler I ever
met."

"Talk is his trick," Slavens enlightened him. "That was old Hun
Shanklin, the flat-game man. I've looked him up since I got here. He
plays suckers, and nothing _but_ suckers. No gambler ever bets on Hun
Shanklin's game. He talks to keep their eyes on his face while he
switches the dice."

Walker was gravely silent a little while, like a man who has just
arrived at the proper appreciation of some grave danger which he has
escaped.

"I've heard of Hun Shanklin a long time, but I never saw him before," he
said. "He's killed several men in his time. Do you suppose he knows you
shoved his table, or does he think somebody back of you pushed you
against it?"

"I don't suppose he needs anybody to tell him how it happened," replied
the doctor a little crabbedly.

"Of course I've got my own notion of it, old feller," prattled Walker;
"but they were purty thick around there just then, and shovin' a good
deal. I hope he thinks it happened that way. But I know nobody shoved
you, and I'm much obliged."

"Oh, forget it!" snapped Slavens, thinking of the six hundred dollars
which had flown out of the young fellow's hand so lightly. Once he could
have bought a very good used automobile for four hundred.

"But don't you suppose--" Walker lowered his voice to a whisper, looking
cautiously around in the dark as he spoke--"that you stand a chance to
hear from Hun Shanklin again?"

"Maybe," answered Slavens shortly. "Well, here's where I turn off. I'm
stopping at the Metropole down here."

"Say!"

Walker caught his arm appealingly.

"Between you and me I don't like the looks of that dump where I've got a
bed. You've been here longer than I have; do you know of any place where
a man with all this blamed money burnin' his hide might pull through
till morning with it if he happened to slip a cog and go to sleep?"

"There's a spare cot in our tent," said the doctor, "and you're welcome
to it if you feel that you can trust yourself in our company. We mess
together in a sort of communistic fashion."

Walker was profuse in his gratitude.

"I'll feel easy among decent people!" he declared. "I'm mostly decent
myself, and my family's one of the best in this state. Don't you size me
up by what you saw me do tonight, will you?"

"The best of us slip up once in a while," Slavens said.

Walker had some business of clearing his throat. And then:

"Are you--that is--is _she_, related to you?"

"Oh, no," laughed the doctor. "I'm sorry she isn't."

"She's a peach; don't you think so?"

"Undoubtedly," admitted the doctor. "Well, here we are--at home."

They stood outside a little while, their faces turned toward the town.
It was quieting down now. Here and there a voice was raised in drunken
song or drunken yelp; here and there a pistol-shot marked the location
of some silly fellow who believed that he was living and experiencing
all the recklessness of the untamed West. Now and then the dry, shrill
laughter of a woman sounded, without lightness, without mirth, as if it
came from the lips of one who long, long ago, in the fever of pain and
despair, had wept her heart empty of its tears. Now and again, also, a
wailing cornet lifted its lone voice, dying away dimly like a
disappearing light.

"The wolves are satisfied for one night; they've stopped howling," the
doctor said.



CHAPTER V

SKULKERS


There remained but one day until chance should settle the aspirations of
the dusty thousands who waited in Comanche; one day more would see Claim
Number One allotted for selection to some more or less worthy American
citizen.

The young man, Walker, had been received on a footing of fellowship into
the commune of the circus-tent. He said that he had concluded happily
the arrangements for the purchase of the sheep-ranch, and that he
intended to go and take possession of it in a few days. Meantime, he
appeared to be considerably shot up over June. In spite of Mrs. Reed's
frowns, he hung around her like a hornet after a soft pear.

There was considerable excitement in the camp of the communists that
morning, owing to preparations which were going forward for an excursion
over the land where somebody's Number One lay shrouded in green
greasewood and gray sage. For this important occasion Walker had engaged
the most notable stage-driver in that part of the country, whose turn it
was that day to lie over from the run between Comanche and Meander.

The party was to use his stage also, and carry lunch along, and make a
grand day of it along the river, trying for trout if conditions held
favorable. Smith was the name of the driver.

Smith was smiling like a baker as he drove up, for Smith could not
behold ladies without blushing and smiling. Smith had the reputation of
being a terror to holdup men. Also, the story was current in Comanche
that he had, in a bare-handed, single encounter with a bear, choked the
animal to death. There was some variance over the particulars as to the
breed of bear, its color, age, size, and weight. Some--and they were the
unromantic, such as habitually lived in Wyoming and kept saloons--held
that it was a black cub with a broken back; others that it was a
cinnamon bear with claws seven inches long; while the extremists would
be satisfied with nothing short of a grizzly which stood five feet four
at the shoulders and weighed eighteen hundred pounds!

But, no matter what romance had done for Smith, it could not overdo his
ancient, green vehicle, with the lettering,

                            BIG HORN VALLEY

along its side near the roof. It was a Concord stage, its body
swinging on creaking straps. It had many a wound of arrowhead in its
tough oak, and many a bullet-hole, all of which had been plugged with
putty and painted over long years ago for the assurance and comfort
of nervous passengers, to whom the evidence of conflict might have been
disturbing.

Now that there was no longer any reason for concealment, the owners had
allowed the paint to crumble and the putty to fall away, baring the
veteran's scars. These were so thick that it seemed a marvel that
anybody who took passage in it in those perilous days escaped. In a
sun-cracked and time-curled leather holster tacked to the seat at
Smith's right hand, a large revolver with a prodigious black handle hung
ready for the disciplining of bandits or bears, as they might come
across Smith's way.

Smith rounded up before the tent with a curve like a skater, bringing
his four horses to a stop in fine style. No matter how Smith's parts
might be exaggerated by rumor or humor in other ways, as a teamster he
stood without a peer between Cody and Green River. He leaped to the
ground with surprising agility and set himself about arranging the
interior of the coach for the accommodation of his passengers. He was
chewing on something which might have been bear-meat or buckskin, from
its apparent tenacious and unyielding nature.

Agnes Horton was to ride on the box with Smith, for she had a camera and
wanted to catch some views. Smith grew so red over handing her up that
Dr. Slavens began to fear lest he might take fire from internal heat and
leave them with only the ashes of a driver on their hands. But they all
got placed without any such melancholy tragedy, with a great many cries
of "Oh, Mr. Smith!" here, and "Oh, Mr. Smith!" there, and many
head-puttings-out on the part of the ladies inside, and gallantries from
Mr. Walker and Mr. Horace Bentley, the lawyer.

William Bentley, the toolmaker, with the basket of lunch upon his knees,
showered the blessing of his kindly smile upon them all, as if he held
them to be only children. Mrs. Mann, her black bag on her arm, squeaked
a little when the coach lurched on the start, knocking her head and
throwing her hat awry.

Smith, proud of his load, and perhaps a little vain on account of so
much unusual loveliness at his side, swung down the main street with its
early morning crowds. People waved at them the friendly signals of the
highroad of adventure, and June, in defiance of terrible eyebrows and
admonishing pokes, waved back at them, her wild hair running over her
cheeks. So they set out in the bright morning to view the promised
land.

They struck off down the Meander stage-road, which ran for the greater
part of its way through the lands awaiting the disposition of chance.
Mainly it followed the survey of the railroad, which was to be extended
to Meander, and along which men and teams were busy even then, throwing
up the roadbed.

To the north there was a rise of land, running up in benched gradations
to white and barren distant heights; behind them were brown hills. Far
away in the blue southwest--Smith said it was more than eighty
miles--there stood the mountains with their clean robes of snow, while
scattered here and there about the vast plain through which they drove,
were buttes of blue shale and red ledges, as symmetrical of side and
smooth of top as if they had been raised by the architects of
Tenochtitlán for sacrifice to their ugly gods.

"Old as Adam," said Smith, pointing to one gray monument whose summit
had been pared smooth by the slow knife of some old glacier. The sides
of the butte looked almost gay in the morning light in their soft tones
of blue and red.

"From appearances it might very well be," agreed Agnes.

She looked at Smith and smiled. There was the glory of untrammeled space
in her clear eyes, a yearning as of the desert-born on the far bounds of
home. Smith drove on, his back very straight.

"Older," said he with laconic finality after holding his peace for a
quarter of a mile.

Smith spoke as if he had known both Adam and the butte for a long time,
and so was an unquestionable authority. Agnes was not disposed to
dispute him, so they lurched on in silence along the dust-cushioned
road.

"That ain't the one the Indian girl jumped off of, though," said Smith,
meditatively.

"Isn't it?"

She turned to him quickly, ready for a story from the picturesque
strangler of bears. Smith was looking between the ears of the
off-leader. He volunteered no more.

"Well, where is the one she jumped from?" she pressed.

"Nowhere," said Smith.

"Oh!" she said, a bit disappointed.

"Everywhere I've went," said he, "they've got some high place where the
Indian girl jumped off of. In Mezoury they've got one, and even in
Kansas. They've got one in Minnesota and Illinoy and Idaho, and bend my
eyebrows if I know all the places they ain't got 'em! But don't you
never let 'em take you in on no such yarns. Them yarns is for suckers."

Somehow Agnes felt grateful toward Smith, whose charitable purpose
doubtless was to prevent her being taken in. But she was sorry for the
fine tradition and hated to give it up.

"But _didn't_ one ever jump off a cliff or--anything?" she asked.

Smith struck out with a free-arm swing and cracked his whip so loudly
that three female heads were at once protruded from the windows below.

"What I want to know," said he argumentatively, "is, who seen 'em
jump?"

"I don't know," she admitted; "but I suppose they found their bodies."

"Don't you believe it!" depreciated Smith. "Indian maidens ain't the
jumpin' kind. I never seen one of 'em in my day that wouldn't throw down
the best feller she ever had for a red umbreller and a dime's worth of
stick candy."

"I'm sorry for the nice stories your knowledge of the Indian character
spoils," she laughed.

"The thing of it in this country is, miss, not to let 'em take you in,"
Smith continued. "That's what they're out for--to take in suckers. No
matter how wise you may be in some other place, right here in this spot
you may be a sucker. Do you git my words?"

"I think so," she responded, "and thank you. I'll try to keep my eyes
open."

"They's places in this country," Smith went on, for he liked to talk as
well as the next one, once he got under way, "where you could put your
pocketbook down at the fork of the road with your card on top of it and
go back there next week and find it O. K. But they's other places where
if you had your money inside of three safes they'd git at it somehow.
This is one of that kind of places."

They had been dropping down a slope scattered with gray lava chunks and
set with spiked soapweed, which let them to the river level. Ahead of
them, twisted cottonwoods and red willows marked the brink of the
stream.

"This is the first bench," said Smith, "and it's mainly good land.
Before the books was opened for registration the gover'ment give the
Indians choice of a homestead apiece, and they picked off all this land
down here. Oh, well, on up the river they's a little left, and if I draw
a low number I know where to put my hand on a piece."

"It looks nice and green here," said she, admiring the feathery
vegetation, which grew as tall as the stage along the roadway.

"Yes, but you want to watch out for greasewood," advised Smith, "when
you come to pick land in this country. It's a sign of alkali. Pick that
gray, dusty-lookin' stuff. That's sage, and where it grows big,
anything'll grow when you git the water on it."

"But how _do_ you get the water on this hilly land?" she asked.

The question had been troubling her ever since she had taken her first
look at the country, and nobody had come forward with a satisfactory
explanation.

"You got to go up the river till you strike your level," explained
Smith, "and then you tap it and take the water to your land."

"But if you're on the 'third bench' that I hear them talking about so
much--then what do you do up there, a thousand or two feet above the
river?"

"You go back where you come from if you're wise," said Smith.

When they reached the section which, according to Smith, had not all
been taken up by the Indians already, the party got out occasionally for
closer inspection of the land. The men gravely trickled the soil through
their fingers, while the women grabbed at the sweet-smelling herbs which
grew in abundance everywhere, and tore their sleeves reaching for the
clusters of bullberries, then turning red.

Dr. Slavens and William Bentley tried for fish, with a total catch
between them of one small trout, which was carried in triumph to the
place picked upon by Smith for the noonday camp. Smith would not trust
the coffee to any hand but his own, and he blackened up the pot
shamefully, Mrs. Reed declared.

But what did Smith care for the criticism of Mrs. Reed when he was
making coffee for Agnes? What did he care, indeed, for the judgment of
the whole world when he was laying out his best efforts to please the
finest woman who ever sat beside him on the box, and one for whom he was
ready to go any distance, and do any endeavors, to save her from being
made a sucker of and taken in and skinned?

It was pleasant there by the river; so pleasant that there was not one
of them but voted Wyoming the finest and most congenial spot in the
world, with the kindest skies, the softest summer winds, and the one
place of all places for a home.

"Yes," Smith remarked, tossing pebbles into the river from the place
where he sat cross-legged on the ground with his pipe, "it takes a hold
of you that way. It goes to twenty below in the winter, sometimes, and
the wind blows like the plug had popped out of the North Pole, and the
snow covers up the sheep on the range and smothers 'em, and you lose all
you got down to the last chaw of t'backer. But you stick, some way, and
you forgit you ever had a home back in Indiana, where strawberries
grow."

"Why, don't they grow here?" asked the miller's wife, holding a bunch of
red bullberries caressingly against her cheek.

"I ain't seen a natural strawberry in fourteen years," said Smith, more
proud than regretful, as if such a long abstinence were a virtue.

"Natural?" repeated Mrs. Reed. "Surely you don't mean that they
manufacture them here?"

"They send 'em here in cans," explained Smith, "pale, with sour water on
'em, no more like real, ma'am, than a cigarette's like a smoke."

The men with pipes chuckled their appreciation of the comparison. Horace
Bentley, with a fresh cigarette--which he had taken out of a silver
case--in his fingers, turned it, quizzically smiling as he struck a
match.

"It's an imitation," said he; "but it's good enough for me."

The sun was slanting near the rough hills beyond the river when they
started back to Comanche.

"You've seen the best of the reservation," explained Smith, "and they
ain't no earthly use in seein' the worst of it."

They were well along on the way, passing through a rough and outcast
stretch of country, where upheaved ledges stood on edge, and great
blocks of stone poised menacingly on the brows of shattered cliffs, when
Smith, who had been looking sharply ahead, pulled in suddenly and turned
to Agnes with apologetic questioning in his eyes. It seemed to her that
he had something on his mind which he was afraid to put into words.

"What is it, Mr. Smith?" she asked.

"I was just goin' to say, would you mind goin' inside and lettin' that
doctor man take your place for a while?"

Smith doubtless had his reason, she thought, although it hurt her pride
that he should withhold his confidence. But she yielded her place
without further questioning, with a great amount of blushing over the
stocking which a protruding screwhead was responsible for her showing to
Dr. Slavens as he assisted her to the ground.

The sudden stop, the excitement incident to changing places, threw the
women within the coach into a cackle.

"Is it robbers?" demanded Mrs. Reed, getting hold of June's hand and
clinging to it protectingly as she put her head out and peered up at
Smith, who was sitting there stolidly, his eyes on the winding trail
ahead, his foot on the brake.

"No, ma'am," answered Smith, not looking in her direction at all.

"What is it, then?" quavered Mrs. Mann from the other side of the
stage.

She could not see Smith, and the desolation of their surroundings set
her fancy at work stationing dusty cowboy bandits behind each riven,
lowering stone.

"Oh, I _hope_ it's robbers!" said June, bouncing up and down in her
seat. "That would be just fine!"

"Hush, hush!" commanded her mother, shaking her correctively. "Such a
wicked wish!"

Milo Strong, the teacher from Iowa, had grown very pale. He buttoned his
coat and kept one hand in the region of his belt. One second he peered
wildly out of the windows on his side, the next he strained to see if
devastation and ruin were approaching from the other.

"Smith doubtless had some very commonplace reason for making the
change," said William Bentley, making room for Agnes beside him. "I
expect Miss Horton talked too much."

With that the stage started and their fears subsided somewhat. On the
box Smith was looking sharply at the doctor. Then he asked:

"Can you drive better than you can shoot, or shoot better than you can
drive?"

"I guess it's about a stand-off," replied the doctor without a ripple of
excitement; "but I was brought up with four mules."

Without another word Smith stood on the footboard, and Dr. Slavens slid
along to his place. Smith handed the physician the lines and took the
big revolver from its pocket by the seat.

"Two fellers on horseback," said he, keeping his eyes sharply on the
boulder-hedged road, "has been dodgin' along the top of that ridge kind
of suspicious. No reason why any honest man would want to ride along up
there among the rocks when he could ride down here where it's smooth.
They may be straight or they may be crooked. I don't know. But you meet
all kinds along this road."

The doctor nodded. Smith said no more, but stood, one knee on the seat,
with his pistol held in readiness for instant action. When they reached
the top of the ridge nobody was in sight, but there were boulders
enough, and big enough, on every hand to conceal an army. Smith nodded;
the doctor pulled up.

The stage had no sooner stopped than Walker was out, his pistol in hand,
ready to show June and all her female relatives so dear that he was
there to stand between them and danger as long as their peril might
last.

Smith looked around carefully.

"Funny about them two fellers!" he muttered.

From the inside of the stage came June's voice, raised in admiration of
Mr. Walker's intrepidity, and her mother's voice, commanding her to be
silent, and not draw down upon them the fury of the bandits, who even
then might be taking aim at them from behind a rock.

Nobody appearing, between whom and June he might precipitate himself,
Walker mounted a rock for a look around. He had no more than reached the
top when the two horsemen who had caused the flurry rode from behind the
house-size boulder which had hidden them, turned their backs, crouching
in their saddles as if to hide their identity, and galloped off.

"Huh! Old Hun Shanklin's one of 'em," sniffed Smith, plainly disgusted
that the affair had turned out so poorly.

He put his weapon back in its place and took the lines.

"And that feller, he don't have to go around holdin' people up with a
gun in his hand," he added. "He's got a safer and surer game of it than
that."

"And that's no cross-eyed view of it, either," Dr. Slavens agreed.

Walker came over and stood beside the near wheel.

"One of them was Hun Shanklin!" said he, whispering up loudly for the
doctor's ear, a look of deep concern on his youthful face.

Slavens nodded with what show of unconcern he could assume. For, knowing
what he knew, he wondered what the gambler was there for, and why he
seemed so anxious to keep the matter of his identity to himself.

When they arrived at Comanche the sun was down. Mrs. Reed hurried June
indoors, all exclamations and shudders over what she believed to have
been a very narrow escape. Vowing that she never would go exploring
around in that wild land again, she whisked off without a word for
Smith.

The others shook hands with the driver, Agnes coming last. He took off
his hat when it came her turn.

"Keep your eyes skinned," he advised her, "and don't let 'em play you
for a sucker. Any time you need advice, or any help that I can give you,
if I'm not here I'm on the road between here and Meander. You can git me
over there by telephone."

"Thank you, Mr. Smith," said she warmly and genuinely, wondering why he
should take such an unaccountable interest in her.

The others had gone about their business, thinking strongly of supper,
leaving Smith and her alone beside the old green stage.

"But don't ask for Smith if you call me up," said he, "for that's only
my first name, and they's a horse-wrangler over there with that for his
last. They might think you wanted him."

"Oh, I didn't know!" she stammered, all confusion over the familiarity
that she had been taking all day. "I didn't know your other name--nobody
ever told me."

"No; not many of 'em down here knows it," he responded. "But up at
Meander, at the barn, they know it. It's Phogenphole."

"Oh!"

"But if you don't like it," added Smith, speaking with great fervor, and
leaning toward her a little eagerly and earnestly, "I'll have a bill put
through the Legislature down at Cheyenne and change it!"

They ate supper that evening by lantern-light, with the night noise of
Comanche beginning to rise around them earlier than usual. Those who
were there for the reaping realized that it would be their last big
night, for on the morrow the drawing would fall. After the first day's
numbers had been taken from the wheel at Meander, which would run up
into the thousands, the waiting crowds would melt away from Comanche as
fast as trains could carry them. So those who were on the make had both
hands out in Comanche that night.

They all wondered how it would turn out for them, the lumberman and the
insurance agent--who had not been of the party that day in Smith's
coach--offering to lay bets that nobody in the mess would draw a number
below five hundred. There were no takers. Then they offered to bet that
all in the mess would draw under five hundred. Mrs. Reed rebuked them
for their gambling spirit, which, she said, was rampant in Comanche,
like a plague.



CHAPTER VI

THE DRAWING


As has been previously said, one must go fast and far to come to a place
where there is neither a Hotel Metropole nor a newspaper. Doubtless
there are communities of civilized men on the North American continent
where there is neither, but Comanche was not one of them.

In Comanche the paper was a daily. Its editor was a single-barreled
grafter who wore a green mohair coat and dyed whiskers. His office and
establishment occupied an entire twelve-by-sixteen tent; the name of the
paper was _The Chieftain_.

_The Chieftain_ had been one of the first enterprises of Comanche. It
got there ahead of the first train, arriving in a wagon, fully equipped.
The editor had an old zinc cut of a two-storied brick business house on
a corner, which he had run with a grocery-store advertisement when he
was getting out a paper in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This he now made use of with
impressive effect and inspiring display of his cheerful confidence in
his own future and that of the town where, like a blowing seed of
cottonwood, he had found lodgment.

He ran this cut in every issue at the top of what would have been his
editorial column if there had been time for him to write one, with these
words:

                  FUTURE HOME OF _THE CHIEFTAIN_ ON THE
                    CORNER THIS PAPER NOW OCCUPIES,
                     AS DESIGNED BY THE EDITOR AND
                         OWNER, J. WALTER MONG

From the start that Editor Mong was making in Comanche his dream did not
appear at all unreasonable. Everybody in the place advertised, owing to
some subtle influence of which Mr. Mong was master, and which is known
to editors of his brand wherever they are to be found. If a business man
had the shield of respectability to present to all questioners, he
advertised out of pride and civic spirit; if he had a past, J. Walter
Mong had a nose, sharpened by long training in picking up such scents;
and so he advertised out of expediency.

That being the way matters stood, _The Chieftain_ carried very little
but advertisements. They paid better than news, and news could wait its
turn, said the editor, until he settled down steadily into a weekly and
had room for it.

But Mr. Mong laid himself out to give the returns from the drawing for
homesteads, it being one of those rare chances in which an editor could
combine business and news without putting on an extra form. The
headquarters of the United States land-office for that territory being
at Meander, the drawing was to take place there. Meander was sixty miles
farther along, connected with the railroad and Comanche by stage and
telephone. So, every hour of the eventful day, Editor Mong was going to
issue an extra on telephonic information from the seat of the drawing.

On the day of the drawing, which came as clear and bright as the painted
dreams of those who trooped Comanche's streets, there remained in the
town, after the flitting entrants had come and gone, fully thirty
thousand expectant people. They were those in whom the hope of low
numbers was strong. For one drawing a low number must make his selection
of land and file on it at Meander within a few days.

In the case of the first number, the lucky drawer would have but three
days to make his selection and file on it. If he lapsed, then Number Two
became Number One, and all down the line the numbers advanced one.

So, in case that the winner of Number One had registered and gone home
to the far East or the middle states, he couldn't get back in time to
save his valuable chance. That gave big hope to those who expected
nothing better than seven or nine or something under twenty. Three or
four lapses ahead of them would move them along, each peg adding
thousands to their winnings, each day running out for them in golden
sands.

By dawn the streets were filled by early skirmishers for breakfast, and
sunrise met thousands more who, luggage in hand, talked and gesticulated
and blocked the dusty passages between the unstable walls of that city
of chance, which soon would come down and disappear like smoke from a
wayside fire. The thousands with their bags in hand would not sleep
another night beneath its wind-restless roofs. All those who expected to
draw Claim Number One were ready to take the stage or hire a special
conveyance to Meander, or, failing of their expectations in the lottery,
to board the special trains which the railroad had made ready, and leave
for home.

By nine o'clock it seemed to the waiting throngs that several ordinary
days had passed since they left their sagging canvas cots at daybreak to
stand attendant upon the whim of chance. They gathered in the blazing
sun in front of the office of the paper, looking in at Editor Mong, who
seemed more like a quack doctor that morning than ever before, with his
wrinkled coat-sleeves pushed above his elbows and his cuffs tucked back
over them, his black-dyed whiskers gleaming in shades of green when the
sun hit them, like the plumage of a crow.

For all the news that came to Comanche over the telephone-wire that day
must come through the office of _The Chieftain_. There was but one
telephone in the town; that was in the office of the stage-line, and by
arrangement with its owners, the editor had bottled up the slightest
chance of a leak.

There would be no bulletins, the editor announced. Anyone desiring news
of the drawing must pay twenty-five cents for a copy of the paper
containing it. It was the editor's one great chance for graft, and he
meant to work it until it was winded.

The lottery was to open in Meander at ten o'clock; but long before that
hour the quivering excitement which shook the fabric of Comanche had
reached the tent where Mrs. Reed mothered it over the company of
adventurers. The lumberman and insurance agent were away early; Sergeant
Schaefer and Milo Strong followed them to the newspaper office very
shortly; and the others sat out in front, watching the long shadows
contract toward the peg that June had driven in the ground the day
before at the line of ten o'clock.

"Well, this is the day," said William Bentley. "What will you take for
your chance, Doctor?"

"Well, it wouldn't take very much to get it this morning," Dr. Slavens
replied, peering thoughtfully at the ground, "for it's one of those
things that grow smaller and smaller the nearer you approach."

"I'd say twenty-five hundred for mine," offered Horace.

"Great lands!" exclaimed Mrs. Reed, blinking, as she looked out across
the open toward the river. "If anybody will give me three dollars for my
chance he can take it, and welcome."

"Then you'd feel cheap if you won," June put in. "It's worth more than
that even up in the thousands; isn't it, Mr. Walker?"

Walker was warm in his declaration that it would be a mighty small and
poor piece of Wyoming that wouldn't be worth more than that.

"We haven't heard from you, Miss Horton," said William Bentley.

"I'm afraid nothing would tempt me to part with my chance," Agnes
replied. "I hold it just the reverse of Dr. Slavens. The longer I look
at it the bigger it gets."

The doctor was the only one present who understood fully how much she
had built around that chance. Their eyes met as he looked across at her;
he remembered what she had said of planting trees, and having roses
beside her door.

"It's almost there!" cried June, looking at her stake.

"Twenty minutes yet," announced Horace, who sat with his watch in his
palm.

They were all bonneted and booted, ready for an expedition, although
they had none in sight. It was as if they expected Number One to come
flying through the town, to be caught and held by the swiftest of foot,
the one alert and ready to spring up and dash after it.

"Shall we go over to the newspaper office?" asked the doctor, looking
across again and catching Agnes' eyes.

June jumped up and accepted the proposal for all.

"Oh, let's do!" she exclaimed. "Let's be there to get the very first
word!"

On the part of the ladies there was a dash into the tent to adjust their
headgear before glasses and to renew the powder on their noses. While
they were gone Horace Bentley, the lawyer, stood with his watch exposed
to his impatient eye.

"In five minutes," he announced as the ladies rejoined them, "they will
draw the first name from the wheel at Meander. I hope that it may be the
name of someone in this party."

"I hope it will be yours," said Dr. Slavens' eyes as he looked earnestly
at Agnes; and: "Number Two would do very well for me in case your name
came first," her eyes seemed to answer him.

But there was none by who knew what had passed between them of their
hopes, so none could read the messages, even if there had been any so
curious as to try.

Mrs. Mann was humming a little song as they started away toward the
newspaper office, for she was tiring of Wyoming, where she had not seen
a single cowboy yet; and the prospect of returning to the miller was
growing dear to her heart. There was a quiet over Comanche that morning
which seemed different from the usual comparative peace of that portion
of the day--a strained and fevered quiet, as of hushed winds before a
gale. It took hold of even June as the party passed through the main
street, joining the stream of traffic which pressed in one direction
only.

They could not arrive within a square of the newspaper-tent, for the
crowd around it was packed and dense; so they stopped where there was
breathing-space among groups of men who stood with their gripsacks
between their feet, waiting for the first word.

At five minutes past ten the editor of _The Chieftain_ handed his
printer a slip of paper, and the name of the winner of Claim Number One
was put in type. The news was carried by one who pushed through the
throng, his hat on the back of his head, sweat drenching his face. The
man was in a buck-ague over the prospect of that name being his own, it
seemed, and thought only of drawing away from the sudden glare of
fortune until he could collect his wits.

Some people are that way--the timid ones of the earth. They go through
life leaving a string of baited traps behind them, lacking courage to go
back and see what they have caught.

More than two hundred names were in the first extra run off _The
Chieftain's_ press at half-past ten. The name of the winner of Number
One was Axel Peterson; his home in Meander, right where he could step
across the street and file without losing a minute.

Milo Strong, the schoolmaster from Iowa, drew Number Thirty-Seven. None
of the others in the colony at the Hotel Metropole figured in the first
returns.

They went back as silently as they had come, the doctor carrying the
list in his hand. Before the tent stood the lumberman and the insurance
agent, their bags in their hands.

"We've got just six minutes to catch the first train out," said the
insurance agent, his big smile just as wide as ever. "Good luck to you
all, and hope we meet again."

The lumberman waved his farewell as he ran. For them the gamble was off.
They had staked on coming in below one hundred, and they had lost. There
was nothing more to hang around Comanche for, and it is supposed that
they caught the train, for they were seen there no more.

There were several hundred others in that quick-coming and quick-going
population whose hopes were dispersed by the printed list. And so the
town suffered a heavy drain with the departure of the first train for
the East. The railroad company, foreseeing the desire to be gone, had
arranged a long string of coaches, with two engines hitched up and
panting to set out. The train pulled away with every inch of space
occupied.

All day the enterprising editor printed and sold extras. His press, run
by an impertinent little gasoline engine, could turn out eighteen
hundred of those single-sheet dodgers in an hour, but it couldn't turn
them out fast enough. Every time Editor Mong looked out of his tent and
saw two men reading one paper he cursed his limited vision which had
stood in the way of putting sixty dollars more into a press of twice
that capacity. As it was, the day's work brought him nearly three
thousand dollars, money on the spot; no back subscriptions to worry
over, no cabbage or cordwood in exchange.

When the drawing closed for the day and the last extra was off, more
than three thousand numbers had been taken from the wheel at Meander.
The only one among the Metropole colony to draw after the first
published list was Agnes Horton. Claim Number Nine Hundred and Five fell
to her lot.

Claims that high were useless, and everybody knew it; so interest
dropped away, the little gasoline engine popped its last impertinent pop
and subsided, and the crowds drifted off to get ready to depart as fast
as trains could be made up to haul them. Sergeant Schaefer, having
failed of his expectations, felt a revival of interest in the military
life, and announced that he would leave on the first train out next
morning.

That night the price of cots suffered a dispiriting drop. Fifty cents
would hire the most exclusive bed in the phantom city of Comanche.

As for Dr. Slavens, the day's events had left him with a dazed feeling
of insecurity. His air was cleared of hope; he could not touch a stable
bit of footing as far around him as he could reach. He had counted a
good deal on drawing something along in the early hundreds; and as the
day wore along to his disappointment in that hope he thought that he
might come tagging in at the end, in the mean way that his cross-grained
luck had of humiliating him and of forcing the fact that he was more or
less a failure before his eyes.

No matter what he drew under three thousand, he said, he'd take it and
be thankful for it. If he could locate on a trickle of water somewhere
and start out with a dozen ewes and a ram, he'd bury himself away in the
desert and pull the edges of it up around him to keep out the
disappointments of the world. A man might come out of it in a few years
with enough money--that impenetrable armor which gives security even to
fools--to buy a high place for himself, if he couldn't win it otherwise.
Men had done well on small beginnings with sheep; that country was full
of them; and it was a poor one, indeed, that wasn't able to buy up any
ten doctors he could name.

So Dr. Slavens ran on, following the lead of a fresh dream, which had
its foundation on the sands of despair. When the drawing had passed the
high numbers which he had set as his possible lowest, he felt like
sneaking away, whipped, to hide his discouragement where there was no
one to see. His confounded luck wouldn't even grant him the opportunity
of burying himself out there in that gray sea of blowing dust!

There was no use in trying to disguise the fact any longer; he was a
fizzle. Some men were designed from the beginning for failures, and he
was one of the plainest patterns that ever was made. There was a place
for Axel Peterson, the alien, but there was no place for him.

In spite of his age and experience, he did not understand that the world
values men according to the resistance they interpose against it;
according to the stamping down of feet and the presenting of shoulders
and the squaring arms to take its blows. Cowards make a front before it
and get on with amazing success; droves of poltroons bluster and storm,
with empty shells of hearts inside their ribs, and kick up a fine dust
in the arena, under the cloud of which they snatch down many of the
laurels which have been hung up for worthier men. Success lies
principally in understanding that the whole game is a bluff on the
world's part, and that the biggest bluffer in the ring takes down the
purse.

But the timid hearts of the earth never learn this; the sentimentalists
and the poets do not understand it. You can't go along sweeping a clear
path for your feet with a bunch of flowers. What you need is a good,
sound club. When a hairy shin impedes, whack it, or make a feint and a
bluff. You'll be surprised how easily the terrifying hulks of adversity
are charmed out of the highway ahead of you by a little impertinence, a
little ginger, and a little gall.

Many a man remains a coward all his life because somebody cowed him when
he was a boy. Dr. Slavens had put his hands down, and had stood with his
shoulders hunched, taking the world's thumps without striking back, for
so many years in his melancholy life that his natural resistance had
shrunk. On that day he was not as nature had intended him, but as
circumstances had made him.

It had become the friendly fashion in camp for the doctor and Agnes to
take a walk after supper. June's mother had frowned on the boldness of
it, whispering to June's aunt. But the miller's wife, more liberal and
romantic, wouldn't hear of whisperings. She said their conduct was as
irreproachable in that country as eating peas with a spoon.

"I wish I was in her place!" she sighed.

"_Dorothy Ann!_" gasped Mrs. Reed. "Remember your husband, Dorothy
Ann!"

"I do," sighed the miller's wife.

"Well, if you _were_ in her place you'd ask somebody to accompany you on
your moonlight strolls, I hope. I _hope_ that's what you'd do, Dorothy
Ann."

"No," answered the miller's wife thoughtfully. "I'd propose. She'll lose
him if she doesn't."

On the evening of that day of blasted hopes the two of them walked away
in the gloaming toward the river, with few words between them until they
left the lights of Comanche behind.

"Mr. Strong is considerably elated over his luck," said Agnes at last,
after many sidling glances at his gloomy profile.

"That's the way it goes," Dr. Slavens sighed. "I don't believe that
chance is blind; I think it's just perverse. I should say, not counting
myself, that Strong is the least deserving of any man in the crowd of
us. Look at old Horace Bentley, the lawyer. He doesn't say anything, but
you can see that his heart is aching with disappointment."

"I have noticed it," she agreed. "He hasn't said ten words since the
last extra."

"When a man like that dreams, he dreams hard--and deep," the doctor
continued. "But how about yourself?"

She laughed, and placed a restraining hand upon his arm.

"You're going too fast," she panted. "I'll be winded before we get to
the river."

"I guess I was trying to overtake my hopes," said he. "I'm sorry; we'll
go slower--in all things--the rest of the way."

She looked at him quickly, a little curiously, but there was no
explanation in his eyes, fixed on the graying landscape beyond the
river.

"It looks like ashes," said he softly, with a motion of the hand toward
the naked hills. "There is no life in it; there is nothing of the dead.
It is a cenotaph of dreams. But how about your claim?"

"It's a little farther up than I had expected," she admitted, but with a
cheerful show of courage which she did not altogether feel.

"Yes; it puts you out of the chance of drawing any agricultural land,
throws you into the grazing and mineral," said he.

"Unless there are a great many lapses," she suggested.

"There will be hundreds, in my opinion," he declared. "But in case there
are not enough to bring you down to the claim worth having--one upon
which you could plant trees and roses and such things?"

"I'll stick to it anyhow," said she determinedly.

"So this is going to be home?" he asked.

"Home," she answered with a caressing touch upon the word. "I came here
to make it; I sha'n't go away without it. I don't know just how long it
will take me, nor how hard it will be, but I'm going to collect interest
on my hopes from this country before I turn my back."

"You seem to believe in it," said he.

"Perhaps I believe more in myself," she answered thoughtfully. "Have you
determined what you are going to do?"

He laughed--a short, harsh expression of ironical bitterness.

"I've gone through the mill today of heat and cold," said he. "First, I
was going to sell my relinquishment for ten thousand dollars as soon as
the law would allow, but by noon I had come down to five hundred. After
that I took up the notion of sheep stronger than Milo, from Iowa, ever
thought of it. It took just one more extra to put that fire out, and now
the ashes of it aren't even warm. Just what my next phantasy will be I
can't say."

"But you're going to stay here, aren't you?"

"I've thought of that, too. I've thought of making another try at it in
a professional way. But this is a big, empty country. Few people live in
it and fewer die. I don't know."

"Well, you're a doctor, not an undertaker, anyhow," she reminded him.

"Yes; I missed my calling," he laughed, with the bitterness of defeat.

"No," she corrected; "I didn't mean that. But perhaps at something else
you might get on faster here--business of some kind, I mean."

"If I had the chance!" he exclaimed wearily, flinging his hat to the
ground as he sat beside her on a boulder at the river's edge. "I've
never had a square and open chance at anything yet."

"I don't know, of course," said she. "But the trouble with most of us,
it seems to me, is that we haven't the quickness or the courage to take
hold of the chance when it comes. All of us let so many good ones get
away."

Dusk had deepened. The star-glow was upon the river, placid there in its
serene approach to the rough passage beyond. He sat there, the wind
lifting the hair upon his forehead, pondering what she had said.

Was it possible that a man could walk blindly by his chances for
thirty-five years, only to be grasping, empty-palmed, after them when
they had whisked away? For what else did his complainings signify? He
had lacked the courage or the quickness, or some essential, as she had
said, to lay hold of them before they fled away beyond his reach
forever.

There was a chance beside him going to waste tonight--a golden, great
chance. Not for lack of courage would he let it pass, he reflected; but
let it pass he must. He wanted to tell her that he would be a different
man if he could remain near her all the rest of his years; he longed to
say that he desired dearly to help her smooth the rough land and plant
the trees and draw the water in that place which she dreamed of and
called home.

But there was nothing in his past to justify her confidence in his
future. Women worth having did not marry forlorn hopes in the
expectation of making a profit out of them by and by. He had no hearth
to offer her; he had no thatch; he had not a rood of land to lead a
mountain stream across and set with the emerald and royal purple of
alfalfa; not a foot of greensward beside the river, where a yeaning ewe
might lie and ease the burden of her pains. He had nothing to offer,
nothing to give. If he asked, it must be to receive all and return
nothing, except whatever of constancy time might prove out of his
heart.

If he had even a plan to lay down before her and ask her to share, it
would be something, he thought; or a brave resolve, like her own. But
there was emptiness all around him; his feet could not find a square
yard of solid earth to shape his future upon. It was not that he
believed that she cared for money or the material rewards of success,
for she had spoken bitterly of that. The ghosts of money's victims were
behind her; she had said as much the first time they had talked of their
hopes in that new land.

There must be something in that place for him, as she had said; there
must be an unimproved opportunity which Fate had fashioned for his hand.
Hope lifted its resilient head again. Before the morning he must have a
plan, and when he had the plan he would speak.

"We'll have to be breaking up camp in a day or two more," Agnes said,
disturbing the long silence which had settled between them.

"I suppose so," he responded; "but I don't know what the plans of the
others are."

"Mr. Strong is going to Meander in the morning," she told him; "and
Horace Bentley is going with him, poor fellow, to look around, he says.
William Bentley told me this evening that he would leave for home in a
day or two, and Mrs. Reed and her charges are waiting to hear from a
friend of June's who was in school with her--I think she is the
Governor's daughter, or maybe he's an ex-governor--about a long-standing
invitation to visit her in her summer home, which is near here, as they
compute distances in Wyoming."

"And Schaefer is leaving in the morning," reflected the doctor. "That
leaves but you and me unaccounted for. Are you going on to Meander
soon?"

"Yes; I want to be there to file when my time comes."

"I've thought of going over there to feel things out, too," Dr. Slavens
went on. "This place will shrink in a few days like a piece of wet
leather in the sun. They'll have nothing left of it but the stores, and
no business to sustain them until the country around here is settled.
That may be a long time yet. Still, there may be something around here
for me. I'm going to look into the possibilities tomorrow. And we'll
have at least another talk before we part?"

"Many more, I hope," she said.

Her answer presented an alluring lead for him to say more, but before he
could speak, even if minded to do it, she went on:

"This has been a pleasant experience, this camping in the clean, unused
country, and it would be a sort of Persian poet existence if we could go
on with it always; but of course we can't."

"It isn't all summer and fair skies here," he reminded her, "any more
than it is in--well, Persia. Twenty below in winter sometimes, Smith
said. Do you remember?"

"Yes," she sighed. "But it seems impossible."

"You wouldn't believe this little river could turn into a wild and
savage torrent, either, a few hundred yards along, if you had nothing to
judge it by but this quiet stretch," he returned. "But listen to it down
there, crashing against the rocks!"

"There's no news of that rash man who went into the cañon for the
newspaper?" Agnes asked.

"He must have lodged in there somewhere; they haven't picked him up on
the other side," he said, a thoughtful abstraction over him.

"I hope you've given up the thought of trying to explore it?"

"I haven't thought much about it lately," he replied; "but I'm of the
same opinion. I believe the difficulties of the cañon are greatly
exaggerated. In fact, as I told you before, the reward posted by that
newspaper looks to me like easy money."

"It wouldn't pay you if the reward were ten times as large," she
declared with a little argumentative heat.

"Perhaps not," said he, as if he had but a passing and shallow interest
in the subject.

Sitting there bareheaded to the wind, which was dropping down coldly
from the far mountains, he seemed to be in a brooding humor.

"The moon is late tonight," he noted. "Shall we wait till it rises?"

"Yes," she answered, feeling the great gentleness that there was about
him when he was in a serious way.

Why he had not been successful in the profession for which nature
plainly had designed him she could not understand; for he was a man to
inspire confidence when he was at his best, and unvexed by the memory of
the bitter waters which had passed his lips. She felt that there would
be immeasurable solace in his hand for one who suffered; she knew that
he would put down all that he had in life for a friend.

Leaning her chin upon her palm, she looked at him in the last light of
the west, which came down to them dimly, as if falling through dun
water, from some high-floating clouds. As if following in her thought
something that had gone before, she said:

"No; perhaps you should not stay in this big, empty country when there
are crowded places in the world that are full of pain, and little
children in them dying for the want of such men as you."

He started and turned toward her, putting out his hand as if to place it
upon her head.

"How did you know that it's the children that give me the strongest call
back to the struggle?" he asked.

"It's in your eyes," said she. And beneath her breath she added: "In
your heart."

"About all the success that I ever won I sacrificed for a child," he
said, with reminiscent sadness.

"Will you tell me about it?"

"It was a charity case at that," he explained, "a little girl who had
been burned in a fire which took all the rest of the family. She needed
twenty-two square inches of skin on her breast. One gave all that he
could very well part with----"

"That was yourself," she nodded, drawing a little nearer to him quite
unconsciously.

"But that was not half enough," he continued as if unaware of the
interruption. "I had to get it into the papers and ask for volunteers,
for you know that an average of only one in three pieces of cuticle
adheres when set into a wound, especially a burn. The papers made a good
deal of it, and I couldn't keep my name out, of course. Well, enough
school-children came forward to patch up three or four girls, and
together we saved her.

"No matter. The medical association of that city jumped me very promptly.
The old chaps said that I had handled the case unprofessionally and had
used it merely for an advertisement. They charged unprofessional
conduct against me; they tried me in their high court and found me
guilty. They dug the ground from under my feet and branded me as a
quack. They broke me, they tried to have my license to practice revoked.
But they failed in that. That was three years ago. I hung on, but I
starved. So when I speak in what may seem a bitter way of the narrow
traditions of my profession, you know my reason is fairly well grounded."

"But you saved the little girl!"

It was too dark for him to see her eyes. The tears that lay in them
could not drop their balm upon his heart.

"She's as good as new," said he cheerfully, fingering the inner pocket
of his coat. "She writes to me right along. Here's a picture-card that
followed me here, mailed from the home that the man who gave his tough
old hide to mend her found for her when she was well. She lives in
Oklahoma now, and her sweet fortitude under her misfortune has been a
remembrance to sustain me over many a hungry day."

"But you saved the little girl!" Agnes repeated with unaccountable
insistence, as if trying to beat down the injustice of his heavy penance
with that argument.

And then he saw her bow her head upon her folded arms like a little
child, and weep in great sobs which came rackingly as if torn from the
core of her heart.

Dr. Slavens picked up his hat, put it on, got to his feet, and took a
stride away from her as if he could not bear the sight of her poignant
sympathy. Then he turned, came back, and stooped above her, laying his
hand upon her hair.

"Don't do that!" he pleaded. "All that's gone, all that I've missed, is
not worth a single tear. You must not make my troubles your own, for at
the worst there's not enough for two."

She reached out her tear-wet hand and clung to his, wordless for a
little while. As it lay softly within his palm he stroked it soothingly
and folded it between his hands as if to yield it freedom nevermore.
Soon her gust of sorrow passed. She stood beside him, breathing brokenly
in the ebb of that overmastering tide. In the opening of the broad
valley the moon stood redly. The wind trailed slowly from the hills to
meet it, as if to warm itself at its beacon-fire.

"You saved the little girl!" said she again, laying her warm hand for a
moment against his cheek.

In that moment it was well for Dr. Warren Slavens that the lesson of his
hard years was deep within his heart; that the continence and abnegation
of his past had ripened his restraint until, no matter how his lips
might yearn to the sweets which were not his own, they would not taste.
He took hold of himself with a rough hand, for the moonlight was upon
her trembling lips; it stood imprisoned in the undried tears which lay
upon her cheeks.

The invitation was there, and the time, such as the lines of a man's
life are plotted to lead up to from the beginning. But there was lacking
too much on his part for an honest man to stoop and gather what
presented. He might have folded his arms about her and drawn her to his
breast, as the yearning of his soul desired; he might have kissed her
lips and dispelled the moonlight from her trembling tears--and spoiled
it all for both.

For that would have been a trespass without mitigation, a sacrilege
beyond excuse. When a man took a woman like that in his arms and kissed
her, according to his old-fashioned belief, he took from every other man
the right to do so, ever. In such case he must have a refuge to offer
her from the world's encroachments, and a security to requite her in all
that she yielded for his sake.

Such he had not. There was no hearthstone, there was no roof-tree, there
was no corner of refuge in all the vast, gray world. He had no right to
take where he could not give, although it wrenched his heart to give it
up.

He took the soft, warm hand which had bestowed its benediction on his
cheek, and held it in childish attitude, swinging at his side. No word
was said as they faced back to the unstable city, their shadows trailing
them, long and grotesque, like the sins of men which come after them,
and gambol and grimace for all the world to see but those who believe
them hidden.



CHAPTER VII

A MIDNIGHT EXTRA


Dr. Slavens sat on the edge of his cot, counting his money. He hadn't a
great deal, so the job was not long. When he finished he tucked it all
away in his instrument-case except the few coins which he retained in
his palm.

It would not last much longer, thought he. A turn would have to be made
soon, or he must hunt a job on the railroad or a ranch. Walker had
talked a lot about having Dr. Slavens come in on the new sheep venture
with him, on the supposition, of course, that the physician had money.
Walker had told him also a great deal about men who had started in that
country as herders, "running a band of sheep" on shares, receiving so
much of the increase of the flock year by year. Many of the richest
sheepmen in that country had started that way only a few years before,
so Walker and others said.

Perhaps, thought Dr. Slavens, there might be a chance to hook up with
Walker under such an arrangement, put his whole life into it, and learn
the business from the ground up. He could be doing that while Agnes was
making her home on her claim, perhaps somewhere near--a few hundred
miles--and if he could see a gleam at the farther end of the undertaking
after a season he could ask her to wait. That was the best that he could
see in the prospect just then, he reflected as he sat there with his
useless instrument-case between his feet and the residue of the day's
expenses in his hand.

Agnes had gone into the section of the tent sacred to the women; he
supposed that she was going to bed, for it was nearly eleven o'clock.
Strong and Horace were asleep in their bunks, for they were to take the
early stage for Meander in the morning. Walker and William Bentley and
Sergeant Schaefer were out.

The little spark of hope had begun to glow under Slavens' breath.
Perhaps Walker and sheep were the solution of his life's muddle. He
would find Walker before the young man took somebody else in with him,
expose the true state of his finances, and see whether Walker would
entertain a proposal to give him a band of sheep on shares.

Like every man who is trying to do something that he isn't fitted to,
because he has failed of his hopes and expectations in the occupation
dearest to his heart, Slavens heated up like a tin stove under the
trashy fuel of every vagrant scheme that blew into his brain.

Sheep was all that he could see now. Already he had projected ahead
until he saw himself the complacent owner of vast herds; saw the miles
of his ranches; saw the wool of his flocks being trampled into the long
sacks in his own shearing-sheds. And all the time his impotent
instrument-case shone darkly in the light of his candle, lying there
between his feet at the edge of the canvas bed.

With a sigh he came back from his long flight into the future, and took
up his instrument-case with caressing hand. Placing it on his knees, he
opened it and lifted the glittering instruments fondly.

Of course, if he _could_ make it go at his profession that would be the
thing. It would be better than all the sheep on Wyoming's dusty hills. A
little surgery somewhere, with its enameled table and white fittings,
and automobiles coming and going all day, and Agnes to look in at
evening----. Yes, that _would_ be the thing.

Perhaps sheep for a few years would help to that end. Even five years
would leave him right in the middle stretch of life, with all his vigor
and all the benefit of experience. Sheep looked like the solution
indeed. So _thinking_, he blew out his candle and went out to look for
Walker.

At the door of the tent he stopped, thinking again of Agnes, and of the
moonlight on her face as they stood by the riverside, trembling again
when the weight of the temptation which had assailed him in that moment
swept over him in a heart-lifting memory. Perhaps Agnes condemned him
for refusing the opportunity of her lips. For when a woman expects to be
kissed, and is cheated in that expectation, it leaves her in censorious
mood. But scorn of an hour would be easier borne than regret of years.

So he reflected, and shook his head solemnly at the thought. He passed
into the shadows along the deserted street, going toward the sounds
which rose from beneath the lights beyond.

Comanche appeared livelier than ever as he passed along its thronged
streets. Those who were to leave as soon as they could get a train were
making a last reckless night of it; the gamblers were busy at their
various games.

The doctor passed the tent where Hun Shanklin had been stationed with
his crescent table. Shanklin was gone, and another was in his place with
an army-game board, or chuck-a-luck, doing well with the minnows in the
receding sea. Wondering what had become of Shanklin, he turned to go
down a dark little street which was a quick cut to the back entrance of
the big gambling-tent, where he expected to find Walker and go into the
matter of sheep.

Even at that moment the lights were bright in the office of _The
Chieftain_. The editor was there, his green coat wide open, exposing his
egg-spattered shirt-front to all who stopped to look, and making a
prodigious show of excitement at the imposing-stone, where the form of
the last extra of the day lay under his nervous hand.

The printer was there also, his hair standing straight where he had
roached it back out of his eyes with inky fingers, setting type for all
he was worth. In a little while those on the street heard the familiar
bark of the little gasoline engine, and hundreds of them gathered to
inquire into the cause of this late activity.

"Running off an extra," said Editor Mong. A great, an important piece of
news had just reached the office of _The Chieftain_, and in a few
minutes an extra would be on the streets, with the secret at the
disposal of every man who had two bits in his pants. Those were the
identical words of that advance-guard of civilization and refinement,
Mr. J. Walter Mong.

It was midnight when the circulator of _The Chieftain_--engaged for that
important day only--burst out of the tent with an armful of papers,
crying them in a voice that would have been red if voices had been
colored in Comanche, it was so scorched from coming out of the tract
which carried liquor to his reservoir.

"_Ho-o-o!_ Git a extree! Git a extree! All about the mistake in the
winner of Number One! Git a extree! _Ho-o-o-o!_"

People caught their breaths and stopped to lean and listen. Mistake in
the winner of Number One? What was that? The parched voice was plain
enough in that statement:

"Mistake in the winner of Number One."

A crowd hundreds deep quickly surrounded the vender of extras, and
another crowd assembled in front of the office, where Editor Mong stood
with a pile of papers at his hand, changing them into money almost as
fast as that miracle is performed by the presses of the United States
Treasury.

Walker and William Bentley bored through the throng and bought a paper.
Standing under the light at a saloon door, they read the exciting news.
Editor Mong had cleared a place for it, without regard to the beginning
or the ending of anything else on the page, in the form which had
carried his last extra of the day. There the announcement stood in bold
type, two columns wide, under an exclamatory

                               EXTRA!

William Bentley read aloud:

    Owing to a mistake in transmitting the news by telephone, the
    name of the winner of Claim Number One in today's land-drawing at
    Meander was omitted. The list of winners published heretofore in
    _The Chieftain_ is correct, with the single exception that each
    of them moves along one number. Number One, as announced, becomes
    Number Two, and so on down the list.

    The editor regrets this error, which was due entirely to the
    excitement and confusion in the office at Meander, and takes this
    earliest opportunity of rectifying it.

    The editor also desires to announce that _The Chieftain_ will
    appear no longer as a daily paper. Beginning with next Monday it
    will be issued as a four-page, five-column weekly, containing all
    the state, national, and foreign news. Price three dollars a year
    in advance. The editor thanks you for your loyal support and
    patronage.

    The winner of Claim Number One is Dr. Warren Slavens, of Kansas
    City, Missouri. Axel Peterson, first announced as the winner,
    drew Number Two.

Editor Mong had followed the tradition of the rural school of journalism
in leaving the most important feature of his news for the last line.

"Well!" said the toolmaker. "So our doctor is the winner! But it's a
marvel that the editor didn't turn the paper over to say so. I never saw
such a botch at writing news!"

He did not know, any more than any of the thousands who read that
ingenuous announcement, that Editor Mong was working his graft overtime.
They did not know that he had entered into a conspiracy to deceive them
before the drawing began, the clerk in charge of the stage-office and
the one telephone of the place being in on the swindle.

Mong knew that the Meander stage would leave for Comanche at eight in
the morning, or two hours before the drawing began. It was the only
means, exclusive of the telephone, by which news could travel that day
between the two places, and as it could carry no news of the drawing his
scheme was secure.

Mong had feared that his extras might not move with the desired
celerity during the entire day--in which expectation he was agreeably
deceived--so he deliberately withheld the name of the winner of Number
One, substituting for it in his first extra the name of the winner of
Number Two. He believed that every person in Comanche would rush out of
bed with two bits in hand for the extra making the correction, and his
guess was good.

Walker and Bentley hurried back to the Hotel Metropole to find that
Sergeant Schaefer had arrived ahead of them with the news. They were all
up in picturesque _déshabillé_, Horace with a blanket around him like a
bald-headed brave, his bare feet showing beneath it. The camp was in a
state of pleasurable excitement; but Dr. Slavens was not there to share
it, nor to receive the congratulations which all were ready to offer
with true sincerity.

"I wonder where he is?" questioned Horace a little impatiently.

He did not like to forego the ceremony, but he wanted to get back to
bed, for a man's legs soon begin to feel chilly in that mountain wind.

"He left here not very long ago," said Agnes; "perhaps not more than an
hour. I was just preparing to go to bed."

"It's a fine thing for him," commented Sergeant Schaefer. "He can
relinquish as soon as he gets his papers for ten or twelve thousand
dollars. I understand the railroad's willing to pay that."

"It's nice and comfortable to have a millionaire in our midst," said
June. "Mother, you'd better set your cap for him."

"June Reed!" rebuked her mother sharply above the laughter which the
proposal provoked.

But under the hand of the night the widow blushed warmly, and with a
little stirring of the treasured leaves of romance in her breast. She
_had_ thought of trying for the doctor, for she was only forty-seven,
and hope lives in the female heart much longer than any such trifling
term.

They sat and talked over the change this belated news would make in the
doctor's fortunes, and the men smoked their pipes, and the miller's wife
suggested tea. But nobody wanted to kindle a fire, so she shivered a
little and went off to bed.

The night wore on, Comanche howling and fiddling as it never had howled
and fiddled before. One by one the doctor's friends tired of waiting for
him and went to bed. Walker, William Bentley, and Agnes were the last of
the guard; the hour was two o'clock in the morning.

"I believe you'd just as well go to bed, Miss Horton," suggested
Bentley, "and save the pleasure of congratulating him until tomorrow. I
can't understand why he doesn't come back."

"I didn't know it was so late," she excused, rising to act on his
plainly sensible view of it.

"Walker and I will skirmish around and see if we can find him," said
Bentley. "It's more than likely that he's run across some old friend and
is sitting talking somewhere. You've no notion how time slips by in such
a meeting."

"And perhaps he doesn't know of his good fortune yet," she suggested.

"Oh, it's all over town long ago," Walker put in. "He knows all about it
by this time."

"But it isn't like him to keep away deliberately and shun sharing such
good news with his friends," she objected.

"Not at all like him," agreed Bentley; "and that's what's worrying me."

She watched them away until the gloom hid them; then went to her
compartment in the tent, shut off from the others like it by gaily
flowered calico, such as is used to cover the bed-comforts of the
snoring proletariat. It was so thin that the light of a candle within
revealed all to one without, or would have done so readily, if there had
been any bold person on the pry.

There she drew the blanket of her cot about her and sat in the dark
awaiting the return of Bentley and Walker. There was no sleep in her
eyes, for her mind was full of tumult and foreboding and dread lest
something had befallen Dr. Slavens in the pitfalls of that gray city,
the true terrors and viciousness of which she could only surmise.

Bentley and Walker went their way in silence until they came to the
lights. There was no thinning of the crowds yet, for the news in the
midnight extra had given everybody a fresh excuse for celebrating, if
not on their own accounts, then on account of their friends. Had not
every holder of a number been set back one faint mark behind the line of
his hopes?

Very well. It was not a thing to laugh over, certainly, but it was not
to be mended by groans. So, if men might neither groan nor laugh, they
could drink. And liquor was becoming cheaper in Comanche. It was the
last big night; it was a wake.

"Well, I'll tell you," said Walker, "I don't think we'd better look for
him too hard, for if we found him he wouldn't be in any shape to take
back there by now."

"You mean he's celebrating his good luck?" asked Bentley.

"Sure," Walker replied. "Any man would. But I don't see what he wanted
to go off and souse up alone for when he might have had good company."

"I think you've guessed wrong, Walker," said Bentley. "I never knew him
to take a drink; I don't believe he'd celebrate in that way."

Even if he had bowled up, protested Walker, there was no harm in it. Any
man might do it, he might do it himself; in fact, he was pretty sure
that he _would do it_, under such happy conditions, although he believed
a man ought to have a friend or two along on such occasions.

From place to place they threaded their way through the throng, which
ran in back-currents and cross-currents, leaving behind it upon the bars
and gaming-tables an alluvium of gold. Dr. Slavens was not at any of the
tables; he was not reeling against any of the bars; nor was he to be
seen anywhere in the sea of faces, mottled with shadows under the smoky
lights.

"Walker, I'm worried," Bentley confessed as they stood outside the last
and lowest place of diversion that remained to be visited in the town.

"I tell you, it flies up and hits a man that way," protested Walker.
"Sheep-herders go that way all of a sudden after a year or two without a
taste of booze, sometimes. He'll turn up in a day or two, kind of mussed
up and ashamed; but we'll show him that it's expected of a gentleman in
this country once in a while, and make him feel at home."

"Yes, of course," Bentley agreed, his mind not on the young man's
chatter nor his own reply. "Well, let's run through this hole and have
it over with."

Inside the door four dusty troopers, on detached duty from the military
post beyond Meander, sat playing cards. As they appeared to be fairly
sober, Walker approached them with inquiries.

No, they hadn't seen Dr. Slavens. Why? What had he done? Who wanted
him?

Explanations followed.

"Well," said a sergeant with service-stripes on his sleeve and a broad,
blue scar across his cheek, "if I'd 'a' drawed Number One you bet you
wouldn't have to be out lookin' for me. I'd be up on the highest point
in Comanche handin' out drinks to all my friends. Ain't seen him,
pardner. He ain't come in here in the last two hours, for we've been
right here at this table longer than that."

They passed on, to look upon the drunken, noisy dance in progress beyond
the canvas partition.

"Not here," said Walker. "But say! There's a man over there that I
know."

Bentley looked in that direction.

"The one dancing with the big woman in red," directed Walker.

Bentley had only a glance at Walker's friend, for the young man pulled
his arm and hurried him out. Outside Walker seemed to breathe easier.

"I'll tell you," he explained. "It's this way: I didn't suppose he'd
want to be seen in there by anybody that knew him. You see, he's the
Governor's son."

"Oh, I see," said Bentley.

"So if we happen to run across him tomorrow you'll not mention it, will
you?"

"I'll not be advertising it that I was in there in very big letters,"
Bentley assured him.

"A man does that kind of a thing once in a while," said Walker. "It
bears out what I was saying about the doctor. No matter how steady a man
is, it flies up and hits him that way once in a while."

"Maybe you're right," yielded Bentley. "I think we'd just as well go to
bed."

"Just as well," Walker agreed.

The chill of morning was in the air. As they went back the crowds had
thinned to dregs, and the lights in many tents were out.

"She thinks a lot of him, doesn't she?" observed Walker reflectively.

"Who?" asked Bentley, turning so quickly that it seemed as if he
started.

"Miss Horton," Walker replied. "And there's class to that girl, I'm here
to tell you!"

Agnes, in the darkness of her compartment, strained forward to catch the
sound of the doctor's voice when she heard them enter, and when she knew
that he was not there a feeling which was half resentment, half
accusation, rose within her. Was she to be disappointed in him at last?
Had he no more strength in the happy light of his new fortune than to go
out and "celebrate," as she had heard the sergeant confidentially
charging to Horace, like any low fellow in the sweating throng?

But this thought she put away from her with humiliation and self-reproach,
knowing, after the first flash of vexation, that it was unjust. Her fears
rose towering and immense again; in the silence of the graying morning
she shivered, drawing her cold feet up into the cot to listen and wait.

Walker and Bentley had gone quietly to bed, and in the stillness around
her there was an invitation to sleep. But for her there was no sleep in
all that night's allotment.

The roof of the tent toward the east grew transparent against the sky.
Soon the yellow gleam of the new sun struck it, giving her a sudden warm
moment of hope.

It is that way with us. When our dear one lies dying; when we have
struggled through a night hideous with the phantoms of ruin and
disgrace, then the dawn comes, and the sun. We lift our seamed faces to
the bright sky and hope again. For if there is still harmony in the
heavens, how can the discord of the earth overwhelm us? So we comfort
our hearts, foolishly exalting our troubles to the plane of the eternal
consonance.

The sun stood "the height of a lance" when Agnes slipped quietly to the
door of the tent. Over the gray desert lands a smoky mist lay low.
Comanche, stirring from its dreams, was lighting its fires. Here passed
one, the dregs of sleep upon him, shoulders bent, pail in hand, feet
clinging heavily to the road, making toward the hydrant where the green
oats sprang in the fecund soil. There, among the horses in the lot
across the way, another growled hoarsely as he served the crowding
animals their hay.

Agnes looked over the sagging tent-roofs with their protruding
stovepipes and wondered what would be revealed if all were swept
suddenly away. She wondered what fears besides her own they covered,
silent in the pure light of day. For Comanche was a place of secrets and
deceits.

She laid a fire in the tin stove and put the kettle on to boil. Horace
Bentley and Milo Strong were stirring within the tent, making ready for
the stage, which departed for Meander at eight.

Mrs. Mann, the miller's wife, came out softly, the mark of the comb in
her hair, where it had become damp at the temples during her ablution.
She looked about her swiftly as she stood a moment in the door, very
trim and handsome in her close-fitting black dress, with a virginal
touch of white collar and a coral pin.

Agnes was bending over a bed of coals, which she was raking down to the
front of the stove for the toast--a trick taught the ladies of the camp
by Sergeant Schaefer--and did not seem to hear her.

"Dr. Slavens hasn't come back?" Mrs. Mann whispered, coming over softly
to Agnes' side.

Agnes shook her head, turning her face a moment from the coals.

"I heard you get up," said Mrs. Mann, "and I hurried to join you. I know
just how you feel!"

With that the romantic little lady put an arm around Agnes' neck and
gave her a hurried kiss, for Horace was in the door. A tear which sprang
suddenly leaped down Agnes' face and hissed upon the coals before the
girl could take her handkerchief from her sweater-pocket and stop its
wilful dash. Under the pretext of shielding her face from the glow she
dried those which might have followed it into the fire, and turned to
Horace with a nod and smile.

What was there, she asked herself, to be sitting there crying over, like
a rough-knuckled housewife whose man has stayed out all night in his
cups? If he wanted to stay away that way, let him stay! And then she
recalled his hand fumbling at the inner pocket of his coat, and the
picture post-card which he had handed her at the riverside.

Still, it wasn't a matter to cry about--not yet at least. She would
permit no more disloyal thoughts. There was some grave trouble at the
bottom of Dr. Slavens' absence, and she declared to herself that she
would turn Comanche over, like a stone in the meadow of which the
philosopher wrote, and bare all its creeping secrets to the healthy sun,
but that she would find him and clear away the unjust suspicions which
she knew were growing ranker in that little colony hour by hour.

They all gathered to bid Sergeant Schaefer good-bye, for he was to
rejoin them no more. June pressed upon him a paper-bag of fudge, which
she had prepared the day before as a surprise against this event. The
sergeant stowed it away in the side pocket of his coat, blushing a great
deal when he accepted it.

There was a little sadness in their hearts at seeing the soldier go, for
it foretold the dissolution of the pleasant party. And the gloom of Dr.
Slavens' absence was heavy over certain of them also, even though
Sergeant Schaefer tried to make a joke of it the very last thing he
said. They watched the warrior away toward the station, where the engine
of his train was even then sending up its smoke. In a little while
Horace and Milo followed him to take the stage.

There came a moment after the men had departed when Agnes and William
Bentley found themselves alone, the width of the trestle-supported table
between them. She looked across at him with no attempt to veil the
anxiety which had taken seat in her eyes. William Bentley nodded and
smiled in his gentle, understanding way.

"Something has happened to him," she whispered, easing in the words the
pent alarm of her breast.

"But we'll find him," he comforted her. "Comanche can't hide a man as
big as Dr. Slavens very long."

"He'll have to be in Meander day after tomorrow to file on his claim,"
she said. "If we can't find him in time, he'll lose it."



CHAPTER VIII

THE GOVERNOR'S SON


After a conference with Walker in the middle of the morning, Bentley
decided that it would be well to wait until afternoon before beginning
anew their search for the doctor. In case he had been called in his
professional capacity--for people were being born in Comanche, as
elsewhere--it would be exceedingly embarrassing to him to have the
authorities lay hands on him as an estray.

"But his instrument-case is under his cot in the tent," persisted Agnes,
who was for immediate action.

"He may have had an emergency call out of the crowd," explained
Bentley.

In spite of his faith in the doctor, he was beginning to lean toward
Walker's view of it. Slavens was big enough to take care of himself, and
experienced enough to keep his fingers out of other people's porridge.
Besides that, there had to be a motive behind crime, and he knew of none
in the doctor's case. He was not the kind of man that the sluggers and
holdups of the place practiced upon, sober and straight as he always had
been. Then it must be, argued Bentley, that the doctor had his own
reason for remaining away. His unexpected luck might have unbalanced him
and set him off on a celebration such as was common in such cases.

"Very well," agreed Agnes. "I'll wait until noon, and then I'm going to
the police."

Being a regularly incorporated city, Comanche had its police force.
There were four patrolmen parading about in dusty _déshabillé_ with
prominent firearms appended, and a chief who presided over them in a
little box-house, where he might be seen with his coat off and a diamond
in the front of his white shirt, smoking cigars all day, his heels on
the window-sill.

As Dr. Slavens had not appeared at the time designated as her limit by
Agnes, Bentley went with her to the chief's office to place the matter
before him. It was well that they did not go there for sympathy, and
unfortunate that they expected help. The chief received them with
disdainful aloofness which amounted almost to contempt. He seemed to
regard their appeal to him for the elucidation of the doctor's mystery
as an affront.

The chief was a short man, who vainly believed that he could sustain his
trousers in dignified position about his hipless body with a belt. The
result of this misplaced confidence was a gap between waistcoat and
pantaloons, in which his white shirt appeared like a zebra's stripe.

He was a much-bedizened and garnitured man, for all that he lacked a
coat to hang his ornaments upon. Stones of doubtful value and
unmistakable size ornamented the rings upon his stocky fingers, and
dangled in an elaborate "charm" upon the chain of his watch. The only
name they ever addressed him by in Comanche other than his official
title was Ten-Gallon. Whether this had its origin in his capacity, or
his similarity of build to a keg, is not known, but he accepted it with
complacency and answered to it with pride.

Ten-Gallon was the chief guardian of the interests of the gamblers'
trust of Comanche, which was responsible for his elevation to
office--for even the office itself--and which contributed the fund out
of which his salary came. It is a curious anomaly of civilization,
everywhere under the flag which stretched its stripes in the wind above
the little land-office at Comanche, that law-breaking thrives most
prosperously under the protection of law.

Gambling in itself had not been prohibited by statute at that time in
Wyoming, though its most profitable side diversions--such as dropping
paralyzing poisons in a man's drink, snatching his money and clearing
out with it, cracking him on the head with a leaden billet, or standing
him up at the point of a pistol and rifling him--were, as now,
discountenanced under the laws.

But what profit is there in gambling if the hangers-on, the cappers, the
steerers, and the snatchers of crumbs in all cannot find protection
under the flag and its institutions? That was what the gamblers' trust
of Comanche wanted to know. In order to insure it they had the city
incorporated, and put in a good, limber-wristed bartender as chief of
police.

It was to that dignitary that Dr. Slavens' friends had come with their
appeal for assistance. There was discouragement in the very air that
surrounded the chief, and in the indifference with which he heard their
report. He looked at Agnes with the slinking familiarity of a man who
knows but one kind of woman, and judges the world of women thereby. She
colored under the insult of his eyes, and Bentley, even-tempered and
slow to wrath as he was, felt himself firing to fighting pitch.

"Well," said the chief, turning from them presently with a long gape,
terminating in a ructatious sigh, "I'll shake out all the drunks in the
calaboose this afternoon, and if your friend's among 'em I'll send him
on over to you. No harm could happen to him here in Comanche. He'd be as
safe here, night or day, as he would be playin' tennis in the back yard
at home."

The chief mentioned that game with scorn and curling of the lip. Then he
gazed out of the window vacuously, as if he had forgotten them, his
mashed cigar smoking foully between his gemmed fingers.

Bentley looked at Agnes in amazed indignation. When he squared off as if
to read his mind to the chief she checked him, and laid her hand on his
arm with a compelling pressure toward the door.

"That man's as crooked as the river over there!" he exclaimed when they
had regained the sunlight outside the smoke-polluted office.

"That's plain," she agreed; "and it doesn't mitigate my fears for the
doctor's safety in the least."

"Walker and I were wrong in our opinion; something has happened to
Slavens," said Bentley.

"Your opinion?" she questioned.

"Well, I should say Walker's rather," he corrected. "I only concurred
weakly along toward the end. Walker has held out all the time that
Slavens went out to hold a celebration all by himself."

"No; he didn't do that," said she calmly. "I thought so for a little
while this morning, too. But I know he didn't. Do you suppose----"

She stopped, as if considering something too extravagant to utter.

"Suppose?" he repeated.

"He talked a good deal about going into the cañon to clear up the
mystery of that newspaperman and earn the reward," said she.

Bentley shook his head.

"He'd hardly start at night and without preparation."

"He seemed to be a man of peculiar moods. If it came over him suddenly
and strongly in an hour of depression he might even go to that desperate
length. He believed the difficulties of the cañon were largely
exaggerated, anyhow. Once he told me that he would undertake to go
through it with nothing more than a pair of moccasins and a lantern. It
was his theory that a man would need the moccasins for clinging to the
rocks."

"It's a queer notion," said Bentley reflectively.

"Do you think----" she began, halting her words again and looking at him
with distended eyes.

"There's no telling what a man might do when desperate and despondent,"
he answered. "But I don't believe he'd go without leaving some word, or
at least making some disposition of his property in writing, in case he
never returned. We'll open his bags and see what we can find."

They hurried forward to carry out this intention.

The doctor's baggage consisted of his battered suitcase and the black
bag which contained his instruments. Neither was locked, but neither
contained any word to explain where he had gone, nor to give support to
the belief that he had intended going anywhere.

Walker, whom Bentley and Agnes rejoined at the camp, sat pondering the
information supplied by the girl concerning the doctor's designs on the
cañon.

"I'll tell you," he declared at length, as if talking to himself, "that
man had the nerve to tackle it!"

Agnes looked at him, her face quickening.

"What do you know about him?" she asked.

"I know," said Walker mysteriously, with no intention of bringing his
own indiscretions up for the censure of June and her severe mother,
"that he had courage enough to tackle anything. I've seen proof of that
right here in Comanche, and I want to tell you people that doctor wasn't
any man's coward."

"Thank you for saying that," blurted Agnes, wholly unintentionally, a
glow of pride on her cheeks.

Mrs. Reed and June looked at her, the widow with a severe opening of her
mouth, out of which no sound came; June with a smile behind her hand.

Walker shook his head.

"He had the courage," said he, "but he had too much sense to try to go
through that cañon. No white man ever went in there and came out alive.
And even if the doctor had wanted to go he wouldn't have started at
night."

"I don't know that it would make much difference," said Agnes. "It's
always night in that terrible cañon."

"And that's so, too," Walker agreed. "I think I'll go over there and
take a look around."

"Do you mind if Mr. Bentley and I go with you?" Agnes asked.

"I was going to suggest it," Walker replied, looking longingly at June.

June asked permission with her eyes; Mrs. Reed nodded, having overcome
her fears of Walker, owing to the substantial credentials which he was
able to show. Mrs. Mann put on her hat and slipped her black bag a bit
farther up her arm, and stood ready in a moment to join the expedition.
Mrs. Reed was to remain alone in camp to watch things, for they had been
warned that morning by the hotel people against a band of visiting
Indians, who picked up anything and everything that was not anchored at
least at one end.

It was late in the afternoon; the sun was low when they reached the
river. There wasn't anything to be made out of the footprints there. The
mouth of the cañon had been visited by a great many tourists, some of
whom had ventured within a little way to bring out stones for mementos
of their daring days of fearsome adventures in the West.

The party stood looking into the mouth of the narrow slit between the
high-towering walls. Down there it was already dark; the eye could
pierce the gloom but a little way.

"There are places in there where the sun never shines, even for a second
a day," Walker declared. "And that water goes through there with power
enough in it to grind a man's bones against the rocks. There must be a
fall of more than a thousand feet."

"I don't believe he went in there," said Agnes with finality, after
standing as if trance-bound for a long time, gazing after the foam-white
river as it roared into the echoing depths.

"No," Walker agreed. "He had too much sense for that."

They were all cheered and lightened by this conclusion. A daylight study
of the terrors of the place was sufficient to convince anybody that a
man would have to be driven to desperate lengths before he would venture
for the dubious reward or narrow notoriety to be gained by following
that wild river through its dark way.

"I camped over at the other side one summer," Walker told them as they
turned away to go back to Comanche, "and I used to pick up things that
had come through--boards and things that people had dropped in over at
Meander. It pounds things up, I tell you!"

"Did you ever pick up any gold on the other side?" asked June.

"I never found a trace of any," said Walker. "I think that's all a
sheep-herder's yarn."

They saw one of the police force in conversation with Mrs. Reed in front
of the tent as they drew near, and hastened forward in the hope that he
had brought news of the missing man. Mrs. Reed received them with
shocked expression, and a gesture of the hands denoting hopelessness for
the salvation of the world.

"It's scandalous!" she declared.

The policeman, a carpenterly looking man full of sandy hairs, stood by,
grinning.

"What is it, Mother?" asked June.

"I'll not repeat what he says," announced Mrs. Reed. "I
will--not--repeat--it!"

They turned to the officer, who wore his tarnished badge--evidently
bought after long service in a pawn-shop at Cheyenne--pinned to his
suspender at a point where he could turn his eye down on it whenever the
longing, or a desire to feed upon the pride of his official importance,
overcame him.

"I was tellin' her that the chief sent me over to say that your friend,
the doctor, was seen last night at half-past two in the mornin', jagged
up so tight he took two steps back'ards for every one he went ahead. The
chief told me to tell you he was layin' under a tent somewhere, and that
he'd be as safe as a calf in a barn. I hope that's what you wanted to
know."

The policeman turned and went his dusty way after delivering his message
from the chief, the wagon-spoke which he carried at the end of a thong
twirling at his wrist.

Walker looked around with a little flash of triumph in his eyes, for a
man likes to be vindicated in his opinion, even at the expense of his
friends' honor. But the gust of pain and disappointment which he saw
sweep over Agnes' face set him back with a sudden wrench.

"Say," said he with an assumption of indignation which he did not
altogether feel, "I don't believe that!"

"Nor I," declared Bentley, with no need of assuming a part to say it. "I
heard a man describing a crook the other day. He said the fellow was so
crooked that if you were to shoot him in the top of the head the bullet
would make seven holes in his body before it hit the ground. That's the
kind of a man that chief is."

"Well, it's scandalous!" declared Mrs. Reed. "Even it he comes back, his
conduct is simply disgusting, and I'll never permit him to address a
word to my daughter again!"

Agnes had drawn a little apart from them. She had no heart to come to
Dr. Slavens' defense, although she knew that the charge was calumnious.
But it furnished her a sudden and new train of thought. What interest
had the chief of police in circulating such a report? Was the motive for
Dr. Slavens' disappearance behind that insidious attempt to discredit
him, and fasten a character upon him wholly foreign to his own?

It was a matter worth looking into. Had Dr. Slavens incurred, somehow,
the disfavor of the vicious element which was the backbone of the place?
And had he paid the penalty of such temerity, perhaps with his life?

Thinking over the futility of a further appeal to the authorities there,
and wondering where she could turn for honest assistance beyond William
Bentley, who could do no more than herself, Agnes walked away from the
camp a short distance, retracing the way they had come.

"Of all the deluded, deceived creatures!" said Mrs. Reed.

"Hush-sh-sh!" said the miller's wife.

It was almost sunset when Agnes, overtaking her thoughts, halted with a
start to find that she had gone half the distance back to the river.
Hoping that they would not be waiting supper on her account, she turned
and hurried back.

Meanwhile, at camp there had been a little running-up of excitement,
occasioned by the arrival of the Governor's son, who came on a
commission from his mother and sister, bearing a note of invitation to
Mrs. Reed, her sister, Mrs. Mann, and June Reed.

Jerry Boyle--for that was the name of the Governor's son--was greatly
surprised to find his friend, Joe Walker, in the camp. But that only
made it easier for him, he declared, seeing that Walker could vouch for
him and put him on unquestionable terms at once.

"Just as if it were necessary!" exclaimed Mrs. Reed, glowing with
pleasure. "And you the brother of my daughter's dearest friend!"

Jerry Boyle seemed older by ten years than Walker. He was a tall man,
with a little forward bend to him that gave him an awkward cast. He was
dark-skinned and big-nosed, with black eyebrows which met at its bridge
and appeared to threaten an invasion of that structure. Little
sensitive, expressive ripples ran over his face as he talked, and that
was all the time. For Boyle was as voluble as a political press-agent.

Bentley recognized him, even before he was introduced, as the man whom
Walker had pointed out in the dance-house the night before. He said
nothing about that, but he smiled to himself when he recalled Walker's
anxiety to leave the place. It was a sort of guilty honor, he thought,
such as that which was anciently supposed to stand between thieves.

As Agnes approached, Boyle was in the middle of a story of his
experiences in Comanche during the days of its infancy. Mrs. Reed, busy
about the stove, had grown so deeply interested that she stood with a
lamb chop in her hand poised above the frying-pan, her face all smiles.
Boyle was seated on a low box, and some of the others were standing
around him, hiding him from Agnes, who stopped near the stove on
catching the sound of the new voice. Mrs. Reed nodded reassuringly.

"It's the Governor's son," said she.

Boyle caught sight of Agnes at that moment and jumped to his feet.
Walker turned to introduce him.

"No need," said Boyle, striding forward to their great amazement, his
hand outstretched. "Miss Gates and I are old friends."

Agnes drew back with a frightened, shrinking start, her face very
white.

"I beg your pardon, sir!" she protested with some little show of
indignation.

"This is Miss Horton," said Walker, coming to her rescue with
considerable presence. "She's one of us."

Boyle stammered, staring in amazement.

"I apologize to Miss Horton," said he with something like an insolent
emphasis upon the name. "The resemblance is remarkable, believe me!"

Agnes inclined her head in cold acknowledgment, as if afraid to trust
her tongue, and passed on into the tent. Boyle stared after her, and a
feeling that there was something out of tune seemed to fall upon the
party waiting there for supper in the red sunset.

Boyle forgot the rest of his story, and the others forgot to ask him to
resume it. He repeated something about remarkable resemblances, and
seemed to have fallen into a period of abstraction, from which he roused
himself presently with a short, grunting laugh.

"I must be gettin' on," said he, arising and taking his cowboy hat from
the table, where it lay among the plates--to the great satisfaction and
delight of Mrs. Mann, who believed that she had met a real westerner at
last.

"Oh, stay for supper!" pleaded June.

"You'll get enough of me when you come out to the ranch," he laughed,
giving her cheek a brotherly pinch.

While Mrs. Reed would have resented such familiarity with June's cheek
on the part of Mr. Walker, or even Mr. Bentley, she took it as an act of
condescension and compliment on the part of the Governor's son, and
smiled.

Walker went off down the street with Boyle, to speed him on his way. The
Governor's son was to send out to the ranch, some forty miles distant,
for a conveyance to carry Mrs. Reed and her party thither. It was to be
there early on the morning of the second day from that time, that being,
for that country, only an easy day's drive for a double team to a
democrat wagon.

There was an uncomfortable air of uneasiness and constraint upon them
during supper and afterward, a period usually filled with banter and
chatter, and shrill laughter from June. They were not able to get clear
of the suspicion raised by Boyle's apparent recognition of Agnes and her
denial that she was Miss Gates. The two older women especially seemed to
believe that Agnes had been guilty of some serious misdemeanor in her
past.

"He _wasn't_ mistaken in her identity," whispered Mrs. Reed to Mrs. Mann
when Agnes went in for a wrap as the chill of night began to settle.

Mrs. Mann, charitable and romantic as she was in her mild way, shook her
head sadly.

"I'm afraid he wasn't," said she.

"I'm sorry that I can't take June away from here tomorrow," lamented
Mrs. Reed. "There's something hidden in that woman's life!"

Agnes had come out silently, as anyone must have come over that
velvet-soft earth, which much trampling only made the softer. In the
gloom she stood just behind Mrs. Reed. That pure-minded lady did not
know that she was there, and was unable to see the rolling warning in
her sister's eyes.

"Would you mind walking over to the stage-office with me, Mr. Bentley?"
asked Agnes. "I want to engage passage to Meander for tomorrow."

On the way to the stage-office they talked matters over between them.
Her purpose in going to Meander was, primarily, to enlist the sheriff of
the county in the search for Dr. Slavens, and, remotely, to be there
when her day came for filing on a piece of land.

"I made up my mind to do it after we came back from the cañon," she
explained. "There's nothing more to be hoped for here. That story the
police told us only strengthens my belief that a crime has been
committed, and in my opinion that chief knows all about it, too."

She said nothing of Boyle and the start that his salutation had given
her. Whatever Bentley thought of that incident he kept to himself. But
there was one thing in connection with Boyle's visit which he felt that
she should know.

"The Governor's son told Walker that he saw the doctor late last night
in about the same condition as that policeman described," he said. "It
came up when Walker asked Boyle to keep an eye open and let us know if
he happened to run across him."

"Well, in spite of the high authority, I don't believe it," said she
with undisturbed conviction.

For a little while Bentley walked on beside her in silence. When he
spoke there was the softness of reverence in his voice.

"If I had the faith of a good woman in such measure as that," said he,
"I'd think I was next door to heaven!"

"It is the being who inspires faith that is more admirable than the
faith itself, it seems to me," she rejoined. "Faith has lived in many a
guilty heart--faith in somebody, something."

"Yes," he agreed gently. And then, after a little while: "Yes."

"Will you be returning to the East soon?" she asked.

"I've been thinking some of going on to Meander to get a fuller
impression of this country and see how the boy is getting on," he
replied.

"Then go with me," she invited.

"I wondered if you had faith enough in me to ask me," he laughed.

There was an extra stage out the next morning, owing to the movement
toward Meander of people who must file on their claims within the next
ten days. Smith was to drive it. He was in the office when they
arrived.

"I think I'll assume the responsibility of taking the doctor's two bags
with me," said Bentley.

She agreed that there was little use in leaving them behind. Walker was
to go to his ranch the next day; the others would break camp the
following morning. There would be nobody to leave his possessions in
charge of, except the hotel-keeper, who had a notoriously short memory,
and who was very likely to forget all about it, even if the doctor ever
returned.

Bentley made arrangements for the transportation of that much excess
baggage, therefore. The cost was reminiscent of freight charges in the
days of the Santa Fé Trail.

"We'll leave word for him at the hotel-office," said he.

As they came out of the stage-office a man was mounting a horse before
the stable door, a group of stage employees around him. He galloped off
with a flourish. The man who had caparisoned his horse stood looking
after him as he disappeared in the night.

"That feller's in a hurry--he couldn't wait for the stage in the
morning," said Smith. "He's ridin' relay to Meander tonight on our
horses, and he'll be there long before we start. He's the Governor's
son."



CHAPTER IX

DOUBLE CROOKEDNESS


Comanche was drying up like a leaky pail. There remained only the dregs
of the thronging thousands who had chopped its streets to dust beneath
their heels; and they were worked out, panned down to scant profit, and
growing leaner picking every day.

The ginger was gone out of the barker's spiel; the forced gaiety was
dying out of the loud levees where the abandoned of the earth held their
nightly carousals. Comanche was in the lethargy of dissolution; its
tents were in the shadow of the approaching end.

Most of the shows had gone, leaving great gaps in the tented streets
where they had stood, their débris behind them, and many of the saloons
were packing their furnishings to follow. It had been a seasonable
reaping; quick work, and plenty of it while it lasted; and they were
departing with the cream of it in their pouches. What remained ran in a
stream too thin to divide, so the big ones were off, leaving the little
fellows to lick up the trickle.

A few gambling-joints were doing business still, for men will gamble
when they will neither eat nor drink. Hun Shanklin had set up a tent of
his own, the big one in which he had made his stand at the beginning
having been taken down. To make sure of police protection, he had
established himself on Main Street, next door to headquarters.

Ten-Gallon, the chief, now constituted the entire force, all his special
officers having been dropped to save expense to the municipality, since
the population had begun to leak away so rapidly and the gamblers' trust
had been dissolved.

The chief slept until the middle of each afternoon. Then he went on duty
in Hun Shanklin's tent, where he usually remained the rest of the day,
his chair tilted back against the pole at the front end. It was
generally understood that he had a large interest in the game, which was
the same old one of twenty-seven.

On the side there was an army-game outfit at which a pimple-faced young
man presided, small whiskers growing between his humors where they had
escaped the razor, like the vegetation of that harsh land in the low
places, out of the destroying edge of the wind. For army-game was held
so innocuous in Comanche that even a cook might run it.

It was the third day after the drawing, and the middle of the afternoon.
That short-time had seen these many changes in Comanche, and every hour
was witnessing more. Mrs. Reed and her party had gone that morning in
the wagon sent for them from the Governor's ranch. The Hotel Metropole,
now almost entirely without guests for its many tents and cots, was
being taken down.

The red-nosed proprietor was loading cots into a wagon, his large wife,
in a striped kimono with red ruffles at the sleeves and a large V of
bare bosom showing, standing in the door of the office-tent directing
his labors in a voice which suggested a mustache and knee-boots. A
dangling strand of her greasy black hair swung in the wind across her
cheek, at times lodging in the curve of it and obscuring her eye. As the
lady's hands were both employed, one in holding up the train of her
florescent garb, the other in supporting her weight against the
tent-pole, she had no free fingers to tuck the blowing wisp in place.
So, when it lodged she blew it out of the way, slewing her mouth around
to do so, and shutting one eye as if taking aim.

All these employments left her no time for the man who had approached
within a few feet of her and stood with an inquiring poise as if asking
permission to speak. She went on with her directing, and skirt-holding,
and leaning against the tent-pole, and blowing, without giving him a
full look, although she had taken his appraisement with the corner of
her eye.

The man was not of an appearance to inspire the hope of gain in the
bosom of the hostess. His band-less slouch-hat flapped down over his
forehead and face, partly hiding a bandage, the sanguine dye of which
told what it concealed. A black beard of some days' growth, the dust of
the range caught in it, covered his chin and jowls; and a greasy khaki
coat, such as sheep-herders wear, threatened to split upon his wide
shoulders every time he moved his arms.

His trousers were torn, and streaked with the stain of rain and clay. He
had pinned the rents about his knees together, but he seemed so
insecurely covered that a strong wind might expose him, or a sudden
start burst his seams and scant contrivances to shield his nakedness. He
touched his hat in a moment when he caught the quick eye of the
landlord's wife upon him again, and moved a little nearer.

"Can you tell me, madam," said he respectfully, "what has become of the
party that was camped in the tent around on the other side--four ladies
and several men?"

"We don't lodge either sheep-herders or sheep-shearers unless they take
a bath first," said she, turning from him disdainfully.

"But I am neither a herder nor a shearer," he protested, "although I
may----"

"May be worse," she finished, though perhaps not in the way he
intended.

"Suit yourself about it," he yielded. "I don't want lodging, anyhow."

The landlord came staggering in with an armload of cheap bed-covers and
threw them down where his dragoon of a wife directed with imperious
gesture.

"Just look at all that money invested and no return!" she lamented.

The battered stranger appealed to the landlord, repeating his question.

"None of your business," the landlord replied crabbedly. "But they're
gone, if that'll do you any good."

"Did they leave two grips--a suitcase and a doctor's instrument-case--with
you?" inquired the man.

"They left a pie-anno and a foldin'-bed, and a automobile and a
safety-razor!" said the landlord, looking reproachfully at his big wife,
who was motioning him out to his labors again.

"Or any word for Dr. Slavens?" the stranger pursued with well-contained
patience.

"What do you want to know for?" asked the woman, turning upon him
suddenly.

"Because the grips belonged to me, madam; I am Dr. Slavens."

The landlord looked at him sharply.

"Oh, you're the feller that went off on a drunk, ain't you? I remember
you now. Well, they didn't leave no grips here."

"And no word either that I know of," added the woman.

She swept Dr. Slavens with wondering eyes, for she had held a pretty
good opinion of him before his sudden, and evidently heavy, fall.

"But where in this world have you been, man?" she asked.

"Nowhere in _this_ world," he answered. "I've been taking a little
side-trip to hell!"

"You cert'nly look like it, mister!" the woman shuddered, closing the
wide V at her bosom, the flaring garment clutched in her great
ring-encumbered hand.

"Will you tell me, then, about my friends?" he asked.

"Gone; that's all we know," said she.

"Part went on the train, two or three days ago; some went on the stage;
and the rest left in a wagon this morning," said the landlord.

But he couldn't tell who went on the train, the stage, or the wagon. It
was none of his business, he said. They paid their bill; that was all he
knew, or cared.

"May I take a look around the tent to see if they left any written word
for me there?" the doctor requested.

"Go on," said the woman, a little softening of sympathy coming into her
hard eyes.

Dr. Slavens went back to the tent, which stood as it had been left that
morning when the last of the party went away. The canvas under which
their table stood stretched there hospitably still, and the stove with
the morning's ashes cold upon its little hearth. Inside, the cots were
all in place, but there was not a line of writing from any friendly hand
to tell him where they had gone, or where his property had been left.

He walked toward the business part of the town and turned down Main
Street, considering with himself what turn to make next. His head bent
in meditation, he passed along lamely, his hands in the pockets of his
torn trousers, where there was nothing, not even the thickness of a
dime, to cramp his finger-room. Pausing in the aimless way of one who
has no unfinished business ahead of him, he looked around, marking the
changes which had come upon the street during those few days.

The litter of broken camp was on every hand; broken barrels, piles of
boxes, scattered straw, bottles sown as thickly upon the ground as if
someone had planted them there in the expectation of reaping a harvest
of malt liquors and ardent spirits. Here the depression of a few inches
marked where a tent had stood, the earth where the walls had protected
it from the beating feet showing a little higher all around; there in
the soft ground was the mark of a bar, the vapors of spilled liquors
rising sharply in the sun.

Bands of boys and camp-dregs, of whom he might have been one from his
appearance, scraped and dug among the débris, searching for what might
have been dropped from careless or drunken hands and trampled out of
sight. That they were rewarded frequently was attested by the sharp
exclamations and triumphant cries.

Across from where he stood was the site of a large place, its littered
leavings either already worked over or not yet touched. No one scratched
and peered among its trash-heaps or clawed over its reeking straw. Dr.
Slavens took possession of the place, turning the loose earth and heaped
accumulations with his feet as he rooted around like a swine. It must
have been worked over and exhausted, he concluded, for it turned no
glint of silver to the sun. Persisting, he worked across the space which
the tent had covered, and sat down on a box to rest.

The sun was low; the tops of two tall, round tents across the way came
between it and his eyes when he sat down. That was the luck of some
people, thought he, to arrive too late. The pay-dirt was all worked out;
the pasturage was cropped; the dry sage was all gathered and burned.

No matter. A man had but one moment of life to call his own, wrote
Marcus Aurelius. The moment just passed into the score of time's count,
the moment which the hand of the clock trembles over, a hair's breadth
yet to go--these are no man's to claim. One is gone forever; the other
may mark the passing of his soul. Only this moment, this throb of the
heart, this half-drawn breath, is a living man's to claim. The beggar
has it; the monarch can command no more. Poor as he was, Dr. Slavens
thought, smiling as he worked his foot, into the trampled dust, he was
as rich in life's allotment as the best.

The sole of his cut and broken shoe struck some little thing which
resisted, then turned up white beneath his eye. Broken porcelain, or
bone fragment, it appeared. He would have pushed it aside with his toe;
but just then it turned, showing the marking of a die.

Here was a whimsical turn of circumstance, thought he. An outcast die
for a broken man, recalling by its presence the high games of chance
which both of them had played in their day and lost, perhaps. It was a
little, round-cornered die, its spots marked deep and plain. As it lay
in his hand it brought reminiscences of Hun Shanklin, for it was of his
pattern of dice, and his size, convenient for hiding between the fingers
of his deceptive hand.

Dr. Slavens rolled it on the box beside him. It seemed a true and honest
die, for it came up now an ace, now trey; now six, now deuce. He rolled
it, rolled it, thinking of Hun Shanklin and Hun's long, loose-skinned
hand.

For a place of wiles, such as Comanche had been and doubtless was still,
it was a very honest little die, indeed. What use would anybody have for
it there? he wondered. The memory of what he had seen dice do there
moved him to smile. Then the recollection of what had stood on that spot
came to him; the big tent, with the living pictures and variety show,
and Hun Shanklin's crescent table over against the wall.

That must have been the very spot of its location, with the divided wall
of the tent back of him, through which he had disappeared on the night
that Walker lost his money and Shanklin dropped his dice. Of course.
That was the explanation. The little cube in Slavens' palm was one of
Shanklin's honest dice, with which he tolled on the suckers. He had lost
one of them in his precipitate retreat.

Dr. Slavens put the cube in his pocket and got up, turning the débris of
the camp again with his foot, watching for the gleam of silver. As he
worked, a tubby man with whiskers turned out of the thin stream of
traffic which passed through the street and sat on one of the boxes
near at hand. He sat there wiping his face, which was as red and
sweat-drenched as if he had just finished a race, holding his hat in
his hand, exclaiming and talking to himself.

He was so self-centered in his overflowing indignation that he did not
notice the man kicking among the rubbish just a few feet away. Presently
the little man drew out a roll of money and counted it on his knee, to
look up when he had finished, and shake his fist at the tent which stood
shoulder-to-shoulder by the police station. The gesture was accompanied
by maledictions upon crooks and robbers, and the force of his
expressions made necessary the use of the handkerchief again. This the
man took from his hat, which he held in his hand ready to receive it
again like a dish, and scrubbed his fiery face, set over with fiery
whiskers and adorned with a fiery nose. When he had cooled himself a bit
he sat watching the doctor at his labor, lifting his eyebrows every time
he blinked.

"Lost something?" he asked.

"Yes," replied the doctor, kicking away, not even looking at his
questioner.

"Well, if you dropped it out of your hand or through a hole in your
pocket you're lucky!" said the little man, shaking his fist at the tent
where his wrath appeared to center. "This place is full of crooks.
They'll rob you when you're asleep and they'll skin you when you're
awake, with both eyes open."

The doctor had nothing to add to this, and no comment to append. The man
on the box put on his hat, with a corner of handkerchief dangling from
it over his ear.

"You live here?" he inquired.

"Yes; right now I do," the doctor replied.

"Well, do you know anything about a long, lean, one-eyed man that runs a
dice-game over there in that tent?"

"I've heard of him," said the doctor.

"Well, he skinned me out of two hundred dollars a little while ago,
blast his gizzard!"

"You're not the first one, and it's not likely that you'll be the last,"
the doctor assured him, drawing a little nearer and studying the victim
from beneath his hanging hat-brim.

"No; maybe not," snapped the other. "But I'll even up with him before I
go away from here."

"Would you be willing to risk ten dollars more on a chance to get it
back?" asked the doctor.

"Show me the man who can tell me how to do it, and watch me," bristled
the victim.

"I know that man, and I know his scheme," said the doctor, "and I've got
one that will beat it."

The whiskered man put his hand into the pocket where the remainder of
his roll was stored, and looked at the battered stranger with a
disfavoring scowl.

"How do I know you ain't another crook?" he asked.

"You don't know, and maybe I am a crook in a small way. I'm in hard luck
right now."

"What's your scheme?"

"That's my capital," the doctor told him. "If I had a few dollars I'd
put it through without splitting with anybody; but I haven't a cent.
I've been kicking this straw and trash around here for the last hour in
the hope of turning up a dime. I'll say this to you: I'll undertake to
recover your two hundred dollars for you if you'll put up ten. If I get
it back, then you are to give me twenty-five of it, and if I win more
I'm to keep all above the two hundred. And you can hold on to your ten
dollars till we stand up to the table, and then you can hold to my coat.
I can't get away with it, but I don't guarantee, you understand, that
I'll win."

The little man was thoughtful a spell. When he looked up there was the
glitter of hope in his sharp scrutiny.

"It'd take a crook to beat that old man's game," said he, "and maybe you
can do it. As long as I can hold on to the money I don't see how I stand
to lose it, and I've got a notion to go you."

"Suit yourself," said the doctor, turning again to his exploration of
the straw.

"Ain't much in that," commented the gambler's victim, watching him with
puzzled face.

No comment from the searching man.

"You're a funny feller, anyhow, and I got a notion to take you up.
Crook, heh?"

"Oh, a sort of a tin-horn," answered the doctor apparently indifferent
about the whole matter.

Slavens was working farther away now, so the man left his place on the
box to draw within the range of confidential conversation.

"If I was to put up the ten, would you be willing to go over there now
and put that scheme of yours in motion?" he asked.

"No; not now. There would be some preliminaries. In the first place,
that old man knows me, although he might not spot me at the first look
in this rig. I'd have to get a pair of goggles to hide my eyes. And then
there would be supper."

"Sure," agreed the little man. "I was going to ask you about that,
anyhow."

"Thank you. The crowd will be thicker in there about ten o'clock
tonight, and he'll have more money on the table. It will be better for
me and for my scheme to wait till about that time. It's a long shot,
partner; I'll tell you that before you take it."

"One in five?" asked the man, looking around cautiously, leaning
forward, whispering.

"Not one in twenty," discounted the doctor. "But if it goes, it goes as
smooth as grease."

The man stood considering it, looking as grave as a Scotch capitalist.
Suddenly he jerked his head.

"I'll take it!" said he.

Over a greasy supper, in a tent away out on the edge of things, they
arranged the details of their plot against Hun Shanklin's sure thing.
What scheme the doctor had in mind he kept to himself, but he told
his co-conspirator how to carry himself, and, with six small bills
and some paper, he made up as handsome a gambler's roll as could have
been met with in all Comanche that night. Out of the middle of its
alluring girth the corner of a five-dollar note showed, and around the
outside Slavens bound a strip of the red handkerchief upon which the
little man had mopped his sweating brow. It looked bungling enough for
any sheep-herder's hoard, and fat enough to tempt old Hun Shanklin to
lead its possessor on.

After he had arranged it, the doctor pushed it across to his admiring
companion.

"No," said the little man, shaking his head; "you keep it. You may be a
crook, but I'll trust you with it. Anyhow, if you are a crook, I'm one
too, I reckon."

"Both of us, then, for tonight," said the doctor, hooking the smoked
goggles behind his ears.



CHAPTER X

HUN SHANKLIN'S COAT


Several sheep-herders, who had arrived late to dip into the vanishing
diversions of Comanche, and a few railroad men to whom pay-day had just
supplied a little more fuel to waste in its fires, were in Hun
Shanklin's tent when Dr. Slavens and his backer arrived.

Shanklin was running off about the same old line of talk, for he was
more voluble than inventive, and never varied it much. It served just as
well as a new lecture for every occasion, for the memory of suckers is
even shorter than their judgment.

Gents were invited to step up and weigh the honesty of those dice,
and gaze on the folly of an old one-eyed feller who had no more sense
than to take such long chances. If anybody doubted that he took long
chances, let that man step up and put down his money. Could he throw
twenty-seven, or couldn't he? That was the question, gents, and the
odds were five to one that he could.

"I ain't in this business for my health, gents," he declared, pouring
the dice out on his table, shaking them, and pouring them again. "I'm a
gambler, and I'm here to make money, and make it as easy as I can; but
if I'd been takin' my pay in sheepskins since I've been in this man's
town I wouldn't have enough of them to make me a coat. Live and let live
is my motto, and if you can't let 'em live let 'em die.

"Five times one dollar is five dollars, and five times five is
twenty-five. Did any of you fellers ever make that much in a minute?
Look at them dice. Take 'em in your hand; roll 'em on the table. Don't
they run true and straight? Twenty-seven comes up for you sometimes, and
it comes up for me. But it comes up oftener for me than it does for you,
because I've got it charmed. That's m' lucky number. I was borned on the
27th of Jannewarry, in Range 27, Township 27, twenty-seven mile from
Turkey Trail, Montaney, where the wind blows circles and the water runs
up-hill.

"You win, friend," pushing stake and winnings to a sheep-herder who had
ventured a dollar. "Five times one is five."

Interest in the game began to show rising temperature; the infection of
easy money was working through the bystanders' sluggish blood. Shanklin
kept the score of loss and gain a little in his own favor, as he was
able to do from his years of practice, while still leaving the
impression among the players that collectively they were cleaning him
out. Some who felt sudden and sharp drains dropped out, but others took
their places, eyes distended, cheeks flushed, money in hand.

Dr. Slavens and his backer made their way to the front. Slavens noted
that Shanklin was making an extraordinary spread of money, which he had
beside his hand in a little valise. It was craftily disposed in the
mouth of the half-open bag, which seemed crammed to the hinges with it,
making an alluring bait. The long, black revolver of Shanklin's other
days and nights lay there beside the bag asserting its large-caliber
office of protection with a drowsy alligator look about it.

Slavens was as dirty and unwashed as the foulest in that crowd. His
khaki coat bore a varnish of grease, his hat was without band or
binding, and the growth of beard which covered his face like the
bristles of a brush gave him the aspect of one who had long been the
companion and warder of sheep upon the hills. With the added disguise of
the smoked-glass goggles, common to travelers in that glaring, dusty
land, it would have required one with a longer and more intimate
acquaintance with him than Hun Shanklin could claim to pick him out of a
crowd.

Slavens pulled out his roll and stood against the table, holding it in
his hand with a loutish display of excitement and caution, as if unable
to make up his mind whether to risk it on the game or not. When Shanklin
saw it he began to direct his talk with a view to charming it out of the
supposed sheep-herder's hand.

With nervous fingers Slavens untied the strip of handkerchief, turned
his back, and slipped off a dollar bill. This he put on the table with a
cautious leaning forward and a suspicious hovering over it with the
hand, playing the part so well that Shanklin's sharp old eye was
entirely deceived.

"You win, friend," said Shanklin, pushing five dollars across the table.
"This is like takin' money away from a child."

There was some tolling to be done on both sides in that game. Slavens
turned his back again, with a true pastoral show of secrecy concerning
his money, although he bungled it so that Shanklin could see him pulling
the five-dollar note from the middle of his roll, as if searching for
the next smallest bill. This he put on the table.

There was too much under his eye that throw for old Hun to let it get
away. So the magic twenty-seven came rattling out of the box, and Hun
raked over his winnings with doleful face and solemn shaking of the
head, according to his way. He predicted feelingly that his luck could
not last, and that the next time his number came up there would be only
two dollars on the table.

From the little pile of one-dollar bills under his hand--the five which
he had won and the one that he had first staked--the doctor counted five
slowly, and then counted it over again, to make sure. He won.

The others were watching him as he pushed the twenty-five dollars out in
the middle of the table with a defiant snort. He crouched over his stake
with guarding mien as old Hun took up the box and shook the dice. They
fell near his hand, scattering a little, rolling over to the edge of his
money as they settled down. He had won again.

This extraordinary luck seemed to turn the bettor's head. He spread out
his fingers, leaning lower over his stake, as if to prevent its being
swept away by violence or mistake.

"I won, I tell you! I won!" said he.

"You won, friend," said Hun, counting out the money to him, a look of
triumph in his greedy little eye. For, according to all the signs, the
poison was so deep in the supposed sheep-herder's blood that nothing but
the loss of all his hoard would cool it again.

Slavens nervously counted down twenty-five dollars again, keeping the
remainder of his winnings in his hand, as if ready to take chance on the
jump.

A man must have it given to him both ways in order to key him up to the
right place, Hun Shanklin knew. All winning would no more do than all
loss. So this time the loaded dice were switched into the box, and the
charmed number came out again.

"Hold on! Hold on!" protested the bettor as Shanklin started to sweep
the money away with one hand and gather in his tricky dice with the
other. For Hun never left those dice any longer on the board than
necessary.

Slavens threw himself forward on the table, his elbows spread,
scrutinizing the dice as if he had not yet figured the total.

"Yes; you win this time," said he grudgingly, removing his hand from his
stake, but dropping the money which he clutched in his fist at the same
time.

With fatherly kindness Shanklin admonished him to hold on to his money,
and helped him pick it up. And, sharp as his old eye was, he did not see
that one of his precious dice, hidden under a bill, had changed places
with another, which had waited that moment in the doctor's hand.

The others around the table had given the game over to the amazing
sheep-herder who seemed to have so much cash. They stood by, gaping and
exclaiming, growing hotter and hotter with the fever all the time
themselves, licking their dry lips, feeling of their money, getting
ready to pitch into it as soon as the film of chance had thickened a
little on their eyes, shutting out reason entirely.

Slavens straightened up and gave his backer two gentle prods in the
ribs, which was the signal agreed upon to let the other know that the
scheme was in working order, and that something was due to happen. He
counted down one hundred dollars and stood expectant, while Shanklin
held his hand over the mouth of the dicebox and looked at him with
contemptuous reproach.

"No, you don't! No, you don't!" said Hun. "If you want to play this
man's game you got to shove up some money of your own. That money's my
money, and you've been shovin' it on and draggin' it off so much I'm
afraid you'll wear it out if you keep on.

"It's mine, I tell you! Every cent of it's mine! If you got any of your
own put it up, and then I'll roll 'em. If you got a hundred to pile on
top of that, or five hundred, or ten hundred, come on and pile it up.
Then I'll roll 'em. But I ain't a goin' to stand here and speculate in
my own money all night!"

So there they were, caught in a blind cañon when they thought they were
coming into the clear. That was an unlooked-for and unprepared-for turn
that Shanklin had given to their plans. Right when they had him
unsuspectingly loaded up so he could no more throw twenty-seven than he
could fly, except by the tremendously long chance that the good die
would fall right to make up the count, he sat down on his hind legs and
balked.

Slavens was at the end of his rope. There appeared nothing for it but to
withdraw the stake and sneak off with only half of his backer's loss of
the afternoon retrieved. He was reaching out his hand to pull the money
away, when the little fellow with whiskers caught his arm.

Slavens thought he read a signal in the touch, and turned as if to
consult his roll again. As he did so the little man thrust a comfortable
wad of bills into his hand, and Slavens faced the table, counting down
five one-hundred-dollar bills.

Hun Shanklin's eye was burning the backs of those aristocrats of the
currency as he lifted his box.

"That's more like it," he commended. "I can play with a _gentleman_ that
carries them things around with him all night, even if I lose at every
throw."

"Hold on!" said the doctor as Hun was tilting the box to throw. "Cover
that money before you throw. I've got six hundred dollars down there,
and I want you to count out three thousand by the side of it."

"Well, I've got the money, friend, if that's what you doubt," said
Shanklin, with a lofty air of the injured gentleman.

He drew a sheaf of bills from the valise and, in the stillness of awe
which had come over the crowd, counted down the required amount.

"I've won fortunes, gentlemen, and I've lost 'em," said Shanklin, taking
up the box again. "Keep your eye on the dice."

He was so certain of what would come out of the box that he reached for
the money before the dice had settled, ready to sweep it away. But a
change came over his face, as of sudden pain, when he saw the result of
the throw, and with a little dry snort his hand shot out toward the
revolver which lay beside his valise.

The little man with whiskers, admirably cool, got there first. Hun
Shanklin was looking into the end of his own gun, and unloading, through
the vent of his ugly, flat mouth, the accumulated venom of his life. He
was caught in his own trap by a sharper man than himself, a being that
up to that minute he had believed the world could not produce.

Dr. Slavens quickly gathered the money. The others around the table,
blazing now in their desire to get a division of fortune's favors, put
down their bets and called loudly for the gamekeeper to cover them.

"Game's closed," Shanklin announced, shutting up his valise, into which
he had tossed both dice and box.

He made a move as if to part the tent-wall behind him.

"Hold on!" said the doctor, snatching off his goggles and pushing up the
brim of his hat. "I've got another score to settle with you, Shanklin.
Do you know me now?"

Shanklin didn't wait to reply. He dropped to his knees just as Slavens
reached for him, catching the collar of his coat. In an instant the
gambler was gone, but his coat was in Dr. Slavens' hand, a circumstance
from which the assembled men drew a great deal of merriment.

The chief of police, remiss in his high duty, should have been there to
sustain Shanklin's hand, according to their gentlemanly agreement when
the partnership was formed. He arrived too late. Shanklin was gone, and
from the turmoil in the tent the chief concluded that he had trimmed
somebody in his old-fashioned, comfortable way. So his duty, as he saw
it in that moment, lay in clearing them out and dispersing them, and
turning deaf ears to all squeals from the shorn and skinned.

Dr. Slavens and his friend had nothing to linger for. They were the
first to leave, the doctor carrying Shanklin's coat under his arm, the
pockets of his own greasy makeshift bulging with more money than he ever
had felt the touch of before. As they hurried along the dark street away
from the scene of their triumph, the little man with fiery whiskers did
the talking.

"Mackenzie is my name," said he, all of the suspicion gone out of him,
deep, feeling admiration in its place, "and if you was to happen up to
southern Montana you'd find me pretty well known. I've got fifty
thousand sheep on the range up there, average four dollars a head, and
I'd hand half of 'em over to you right now if you'd show me how you
turned that trick. That was the slickest thing I ever saw!"

"It wouldn't do you any good at all to know how it was done," said
Slavens, "for it was a trick for the occasion and the man we worked it
on. The thing for us to do is to go to some decent, quiet place and
divide this money."

"Give me my two hundred and the stake," said Mackenzie, "and keep the
rest. I don't need money; I've got two national banks full of it up
there in Montana now."

"Lord knows I need it!" said the doctor, beginning to sweat over the
nearness to visions which he once believed he should never overhaul.

He stepped along so fast in his eagerness to come up with and lay hands
on them that Mackenzie was thrown into a trot to keep up.

"I don't know who you are or where you came from," said Mackenzie, "but
you're not a crook, anyhow. That money's yours; you got it out of him as
beautiful as I ever saw a man skinned in my day. But if you don't want
to tip it off, that's your business."

"It was a chance," said the doctor, recalling a night beside the river
and the words of Agnes when she spoke of that theme, "and I had the
sense and the courage for once to take it."

In the café-tent where they had taken their supper they sat with a stew
of canned oysters between them, and made the division of the money which
the lost die had won. Mackenzie would accept no more than the two
hundred dollars which he had lost on Shanklin's game, together with the
five hundred and ten advanced in the hope of regaining it.

It was near midnight when they parted, Mackenzie to seek his
lodging-place, Dr. Slavens to make the rounds of the stores in the
hope of finding one open in which he could buy a new outfit of
clothing. They were all closed and dark. The best that he could do
toward improving his outcast appearance was to get shaved. This done,
he found lodging in a place where he could have an apartment to
himself, and even an oil-lamp to light him to his rest.

Sitting there on the side of his bed, he explored the pockets of Hun
Shanklin's coat. There were a number of business cards, advertising
various concerns in Comanche, which Shanklin had used for recording his
memoranda; two telegrams, and a printed page of paper, folded into small
space. There was nothing more.

The paper was an extra edition of _The Chieftain_, such as the doctor
had grown sadly familiar with on the day of the drawing. With a return
of the heartsickness which he had felt that day, he unfolded it far
enough to see the date. It was the day of the drawing. He dropped the
half-folded sheet to the floor and took up the telegrams.

One, dated the day before, was from Meander. The other was evidently
Shanklin's reply, which perhaps had not been filed, or perhaps was a
copy. The first read:

  Can close with Peterson if you are sure he will be Number One.
  Be certain on numbers N. W. quar. 6-12-33. Repeat.
                                                          Jerry.

The reply which Shanklin had written and perhaps sent, preserving a copy
in his crafty, cautious way, was:

  Peterson is Number One. N. W. quarter 6-12-33 is right.

There was neither name nor address on the telegram, but it was easy to
see that it was for "Jerry" at Meander. Some deal was on foot, a crooked
deal, no doubt, between Shanklin and somebody for something in which
Peterson and Number One----

Hold on! Slavens sat up with a quickening of interest in those two words
which he thought he never should feel again. Peterson! That was the name
of the winner of Number One. Certainly! Queer that he didn't put two and
two together at the first glance, thought he. He wondered how much they
were paying Peterson for his relinquishment, and what there was in the
northwest quarter of Section Six, Township Twelve, Range Thirty-three,
that Hun Shanklin wanted to get his hands on.

Well, it was interesting, at any rate, even though he didn't draw
himself. In a flash he thought of Agnes and of her hopes, and her high
number, and wondered whether she had gone to Meander to file. Slavens
held up Shanklin's coat by the collar and ran through the pockets in the
hope of finding something that would yield further particulars.

There was nothing else in the coat. It didn't matter, he reflected; his
interest in Claim Number One was gone forever. He didn't care who had
it, or what was done with it, or whether Hun Shanklin and the man called
Jerry gave ten thousand dollars for it or ten cents.

But that was a pretty good coat. It was a great deal better and more
respectable than the one he had on, and it looked as if it might come
nearer fitting. True, Shanklin was a thin man; but he was wide.

The doctor put on the garment. It was a very comfortable fit; the
sleeves were a little long, but there was room enough in the shoulders.
Surprising, said he, how wide that old rascal was in the chest. He
transferred his money to Hun Shanklin's pockets, chuckling at the
thought that he was returning it whence it came. In conscience, said he,
if conscience required such a palliative, he had made restitution.

On the floor at his foot lay the extra. In falling it had presented to
his view the other side of the fold. The ruled, double-column box, with
the surrounding type lifted irregularly around it, attracted his
attention. He picked it up, sat again on the edge of the bed, and read
his own name printed there as the winner of Number One.

He couldn't make it out. He turned the paper, looking again at the date.
"Owing to a mistake in transmitting the news," he read. He got up and
walked the length of his compartment, the paper in his hand. How was
that? Number One--he was the winner of Number One! How was that? How
_was_ that?

There was fortune's caper for you! Number One! And the time past--or but
a few hours between then and the limit--for stepping up and claiming it!
And Hun Shanklin had a hand in it. Wait a minute--wait!

Hun Shanklin, and a man called Jerry, and Peterson, the Swede. But
Shanklin, who sent telegrams assuring somebody that Peterson was Number
One--Shanklin most of all. Slavens passed his hand with tentative
pressure over the soiled bandage which bound his brow, feeling with
finger and thumb along the dark stain which traced what it hid from
sight. Shanklin! That would explain some things, many things. Perhaps
all things.

He stood there, counting on his fingers like a schoolboy, frowning as he
counted. One--two--three. The third day--that was the third day. And he
was Number One. And he had lost!

                   *       *       *       *       *

Out in the office of the lodging-place a lamp burned smokily at the
elbow of an old man who read a paper by its light.

"This should be the twenty-eighth, according to my reckoning," said
Slavens, appearing before him and speaking without prelude.

The old man looked up, unfriendly, severe.

"You're purty good at figures," said he.

He bumped his bony shoulders over his paper again.

Undaunted, Slavens asked him the hour. The old clerk drew out a cheap
watch and held it close to his grizzled face.

"Time for all honest men but me and you to be in bed, I reckon. It's a
quarter to one."

A quarter to one! Next morning--no; that very morning at nine o'clock,
Peterson would step up to the window of the land-office in Meander and
file on Claim Number One--_his_ claim--Dr. Warren Slavens' claim, the
seed of his dead hope. That is, if the long chance that lay between him
and that hour should be allowed to pass unimproved.

"Do you want to sell that watch?" asked the doctor suddenly.

The old man looked up at him sharply, the shadow of his nose falling
long upon his slanting paper.

"You go to thunder!" said he.

"No," said Slavens without showing offense. "I want that watch for a few
hours, and I'll pay you for it if you want to let me have it."

He drew out a roll of money as thick as the old man's thin neck, and
stood with it in his hand. The old man slipped the leather thong from
his buttonhole and laid the watch on the board in front of him.

"It cost me a dollar two or three years ago"--what was a year to him in
his fruitless life, anyway?--"and if you want to give me a dollar for it
now you can take it."

Slavens took up the timepiece after putting down the required price.

"I paid for my bed in advance, you remember?" said he.

The old clerk nodded, his dull eye on the pocket into which all that
money had disappeared.

"Well, I'm going out for a while, and I may not be back. That's all."

With that the doctor passed out into the street.

Eight hours between him and the last chance at Claim Number One--eight
hours, and sixty miles. That was not such a mighty stretch for a good
horse to cover in eight hours--nothing heroic; very ordinary in truth,
for that country.

With a clearly defined purpose, Slavens headed for the corral opposite
the Hotel Metropole, beside which the man camped who had horses for
hire. A lantern burned at the closed flap of the tent. After a little
shaking of the pole and rough shouting, the man himself appeared,
overalled and booted and ready for business.

"You must weigh a hundred and seventy?" said he, eying his customer over
after he had been told what a horse was wanted for. "What's your hurry
to git to Meander?"

"A hundred and eighty," corrected the doctor, "and none of your
business! If you want to hire me a horse, bring him out. If you don't,
talk fast."

"I ain't got one I'd hire you for that ride, heavy as you are," said the
man; "but I've got one a feller left here for me to sell that I'd sell
you."

"Let me see him," said the doctor.

The man came out of the straw-covered shed presently, leading a pretty
fair-looking creature. He carried a saddle under his arm. While the
doctor looked the beast over with the lantern the man saddled it.

"Well, how much?" demanded the doctor.

"Hundred and fifty," said the man.

"I'll give you a hundred, and that's fifty more than he's worth," the
doctor offered.

"Oh, well, seein' you're in such a rush," the man sighed.

As he pocketed the price he gave the directions asked.

"They's two roads to Meander," he explained; "one the freighters use
that runs over the hills and's solid in most all kinds of weather, and
the stage-road, that follows the river purty much. It's shorter by a few
miles and easier to foller; but it's got some purty loose ground here
and there."

"Much obliged," said the doctor, striking his heels to his horse's sides
and galloping off, following the road which he had seen the stages take
to Meander, in the days when Claim Number One was farther off even than
eight hours and sixty miles.



CHAPTER XI

NUMBER ONE


In Meander that morning people began to gather early at the land-office,
for it was the first day for filing, and a certain designated number,
according to the rules laid down and understood before the drawing, must
appear and make entry on their chosen tracts.

There had been a good deal of talk and excitement over the nonappearance
in Meander of the man who drew the first chance. The story had gone
around, from what source nobody knew, that he would lapse, in which case
Number Two would become Number One, and all along the line would
advance. Number One would have to be there to file first, as Number Two
could not be entered ahead of him, and if he did not step up to the
window when it opened, his chance was gone forever.

The United States Government would accept no excuses; the machinery of
its vast, admirable business could not be thrown out of gear for an hour
or a day, and stand idle while the clerks waited for the holder of Claim
Number One to come from some distant part and step into his own. So
there was a good deal of nervousness and talking, and speculating and
crowding forward in the waiting line, as the hour for opening the office
drew near.

At the head of the line, holding a card with certain figures on it,
stood Axel Peterson, a bony-faced man with lean, high shoulders,
engineer in the flour-mill at Meander. Peterson strained his long neck
and lifted his chin as if his loose collar bound him and choked his
aspirations.

It was a racking hour for Axel Peterson, who had been offered a sum
which was riches to him if he would file on the land described by the
figures on the card, pay its purchase price to the government on the
spot with the money provided him for that purpose, and then step out.
Already he had signed an agreement to make a deed to it. However, the
land was yet in the mists of uncertainty just ahead, beyond his grasp.

For it was stipulated in his agreement that if the-holder of the first
choice should appear in time to file, then Peterson was to hand over the
money which he carried in his pocket to purchase immediate title to the
claim. In that case, Jerry Boyle, the Governor's son, who stood side by
side with Peterson before the window and held Peterson's agreement to
deed certain described lands in his hand; in that case Jerry Boyle would
be free to open negotiations with the holder of the first chance.

There was no secret among those gathered to file regarding what was
going forward at the head of the line. It was generally understood,
also, that others were on hand to grab the same piece of land as that
which Boyle was so eager to get into his possession. Gold, some said.
Others were strong in the statement that it was coal and oil. At any
rate there was another man present who had been active with Peterson,
but he had arrived too late. Boyle already had the Scandinavian down in
writing.

Milo Strong was in his place, hoping in his heart that Dr. Slavens would
not appear, as the physician's lapse would set him one forward. Off to
one side, among hundreds gathered to witness the filing on lands which
would mean the development of a great stretch of country around Meander,
and thereby add to its prosperity and importance, were William and
Horace Bentley and Agnes.

They watched the clerks in the land-office arrive and enter through the
side door. A shelf had been arranged in one of the front windows of the
office, past which the entrants could file without going into the
building. At nine o'clock this window would be opened. It was before it
that Peterson and Jerry were standing.

William Bentley looked at his watch.

"Seven minutes more," he announced.

"He'll never come," said Agnes, shaking her head sadly. "His chance is
slipping away."

"I've hoped right up to this minute that he would come," said William,
"but I drop out now. It would have been such easy money for him, too."

"Yes; Boyle's got that fellow tied up to relinquish to him the minute
the entry is made," Horace added. "I know the lawyer who drew up the
papers. It's illegal all through, but they say Boyle's got such a pull
through his father that anything he wants will go."

Until that hour Agnes had kept her faith in Dr. Slavens and her hope
that he would appear in time to save his valuable claim. Now hope was
gone, and faith, perhaps, had suffered a tarnishment of luster.

For that is the way of human judgment. When one whom we have expected to
rise up out of the smoke of obscurity or the fog of calumniation fails in
what we feel to be his obligation to the world and ourselves--especially
ourselves--faith falters in its place, and gives way to reproach, bitter
words, hot arraignments. There is no scorn like the scorn of one who has
been a friend.

And still Agnes kept her faith that Dr. Slavens was blameless for his
unexplained disappearance and prolonged absence deep-anchored in her
heart. But there was a surface irritation at that moment, a disposition
to censure and scold. For nothing short of death should keep a man away
from the main chance of his career, thought she, and she could not
believe that he was dead.

It was altogether disappointing, depressing. He should have come; he
should have moved the encumbering obstacles out of his way, no matter
what their bulk. Not so much for his own sake maybe, when all was
refined to its base of thought, as for the redemption of her faith and
trust.

"I don't care to stay and see them file," said she, turning away. "I'll
get enough of it, I suppose, when my turn comes, waiting in line that
way in the sun."

"There's a special stage out for Comanche at eleven," said William, his
watch in his hand. "If I can get a seat I'll return on it. It's time I
was back in the shop."

"For," he might have added if he had expressed his thoughts, "no matter
what I think of you, Agnes, I see that it would be useless for me to
hang around and hope. Dr. Slavens has stepped into the door of your
heart, and there is no room for anybody else to pass."

But he left it unsaid, standing with his head bent as if in meditation,
his watch in his hand.

"Two minutes more," he announced.

"I'm moving from the hotel," said she quickly, "to a room I've taken
with a dear old lady in a funny little house among the trees. It's
cheaper for me while I wait to file. I'll see you to say good-bye."

She hurried away, leaving the two men standing looking after her, Horace
smiling, for he did not altogether understand. William could see deeper.
He knew that she was afraid lest her disappointment would burst out in
tears if she remained to see Axel Peterson square his elbows on the
shelf before the window and make entry on Claim Number One.

A clerk within the office was pounding on the window-sash, for the paint
which the building had been treated to in honor of the occasion had
gummed it fast. Axel Peterson, straining his long neck, swallowing dry
gulps, looked to the right, the left, the rear. The ends of his fingers
were fairly on Claim Number One; nobody was pressing forward to supplant
him and take away his chance.

Of course, in case Boyle could not induce the holder of the first
chance, in the event that he _might_ yet come, to file on the coveted
land, then there would be a chance left for Peterson. So Peterson
knew--Boyle had made that plain. But who could resist the amount Boyle
was ready to give? Nobody, concluded Axel Peterson, feeling a chill of
nervousness sweep him as the window-sash gave and the window opened,
showing the two clerks ready, with their pens in hand.

The preliminary questions were being asked; the card with Peterson's
signature on it was taken out of the file for its identification--although
he was personally known to everybody in the town--for no detail of caution
and dignity could be omitted on an occasion so important as that; Axel
Peterson was taking his breath in short bites, his hand trembling as he
took up the pen to enter his name when that moment should arrive; his
voice was shaking as he answered the questions put to him by the clerk.

There was a stirring down the line, and a crowding forward. From the
outer rim of the people gathered to bear witness to the important
ceremony there rose a subdued shout, like the expression of wonder or
surprise. The volume of this sound increased as it swept toward the
office. Those in the line, Axel Peterson first of all, saw a movement
in the crowd, saw it part and open a lane for a dusty man on a
sweat-drenched horse to pass.

One of the clerks arranged the detail-map of the reservation before him
with great deliberation, his pen ready to check off the parcel of land
when the entrant should give its description. The other spread the blank
on the desk, dipped his pen, and asked:

"What tract do you wish to file on, Mr. Peterson?"

The man on horseback had forged through the crowd and brought his
stumbling beast to a stand not a rod away from Axel Peterson's side.
Peterson had viewed the proceeding with a disturbing qualm. Boyle, as
talkative before as a washerwoman, now grew suddenly silent. His mouth
stood open impotently; the gray of a sinking heart came over his face as
he looked long at the battered man, who had dropped the reins to the
ground and was coming toward them on unsteady legs.

Then, in a flash, Boyle recovered his poise.

"Quick! Quick!" he called to the clerk, thrusting an impatient hand
through the window. "Give him the paper and let him sign; you can fill
in the numbers afterward!"

The clerk owed his appointment to Boyle's father when the latter was in
Congress; so he was ready at heart to obey. But it was an irregularity
which might rebound with uncomfortable result. Thus he hesitated a few
seconds, and as he hesitated the road-stained horseman pushed in between
Axel Peterson and the window.

"You're a little hasty," said the man. "It's a few seconds until nine
yet, according to my time. My name is Slavens, and I am Number One."

The people in the crowd pressed closer, closing around the tired horse,
which stood with its head drooping, its flaccid sides heaving. Jerry
Boyle said nothing, but he put into his pocket the paper which he had
been holding ready in his hand for Axel Peterson's signature the minute
the entry should be made, and turned his back. A black-visaged man with
shifting, greasy eyes shouldered, panting, through the press of people
and put his hand on Slaven's arm.

"I'd like to have a word with you before you file," he requested.

Slavens looked at him severely from the shadow of his battered hat. The
man lacked the bearing of one who inspires confidence; Slavens frowned
his disapproval of the approach.

"It means money to you," pressed the man, stretching out his hand and
showing a card with numbers penciled on it.

Axel Peterson had stood gaping, his card with numbers on it also in his
hand, held up at a convenient angle for his eyes. Dr. Slavens had read
them as he pushed Peterson aside, and the first two figures on the other
man's card--all that Slavens could hastily glimpse--were the same. And,
stranger still, they were the same as Hun Shanklin had recorded in
telegraphed reply to the request from Jerry that he repeat them.

That was enough to show him that there was something afoot worth while,
and to fortify him in his determination, strong in his mind every mile
of that long night ride, to file on that identical tract of land, come
of it what might.

"I'll talk to you after a while," said he.

Boyle said nothing, although the look he gave the forward man was
blasting and not without effect. The fellow fell back; something which
looked like a roll of bills passed from Boyle's hand to Axel Peterson's,
and with a jerk of the shoulder, which might have been intended as a
defiance to his rival or as an expression of resignation, Boyle moved
back a little into the crowd, where he stood whispering with his
friends. Peterson's face lit up again; he swallowed and stretched his
neck, wetting his dry lips with his tongue.

The preliminaries were gone over again by the clerks with deliberate
dignity; the card bearing the doctor's signature was produced, his
identity established, and the chart of the reservation again drawn
forward to check off the land as he gave the description.

"What tract have you selected, Dr. Slavens?" asked the clerk with the
blank.

Dr. Slavens drew from the pocket of his coat a crumpled yellow paper,
unfolded it, and spread it on the shelf.

"The northwest quarter of Section Six, Township Twelve, Range
Thirty-three," he replied, his eyes on Hun Shanklin's figures.

Jerry Boyle almost jumped at the first word. As the doctor completed the
description of the land he strode forward, cursing in smothered voice.

"Where did you get that paper?" he demanded, his voice pitched an octave
above its ordinary key by the tremulous heat of his anger.

Dr. Slavens measured him coldly with one long, contemptuous look. He
answered nothing, for the answer was obvious to all. It was none of
Boyle's business, and that was as plain as spoken words.

Boyle seemed to wilt. He turned his back to the winner of Number One,
but from that moment he stuck pretty close to Axel Peterson until
something passed between them again, this time from Peterson's hand to
Boyle's. Peterson sighed as he gave it up, for hope went with it.

Meantime a wave of information was running through the crowd.

"It's Number One," men repeated to each other, passing the word along.
"Number One got here!"

Hurrying to the hotel, Agnes was skirting through the thinner edges of
the gathering at the very moment when Dr. Slavens turned from the
window, his papers in his hand. As he went to his weary horse and took
up the reins, the creature greeted him with a little chuckling whinny,
and the people gave him a loud and hearty cheer.

When the cheering spread to the people around her, Agnes stopped and
asked a man why they did that. She spoke a little irritably, for she was
out of humor with people who would cheer one man for taking something
that belonged to another. That was the way she looked at it, anyhow.

"Why, haven't you heard?" asked the man, amazed, but enlarged with
importance, because he had the chance of telling somebody. "It's Number
One. He rode up on a horse just in the nick of the second and saved his
claim."

"Number One!" said she. "A horse!"

"Sure, ma'am," said her informant, looking at her queerly. "Here he
comes now."

Dr. Slavens passed within a few feet of her, leading his horse toward
the livery stable. If it had not been that the wind was blowing sharply,
turning back the flapping brim of his old hat, she would have repudiated
him as an impostor. But there was no mistaking him, in spite of the
strange clothing which he wore, in spite of the bloody bandage about his
head.

And at the sight of that bandage her heart felt a strange exultation, a
stirring leap of joy, even stronger than her pity and her pain. For it
was his vindication; it was the badge of his honor; it was his
credentials which put him back in the right place in her life.

He had come by it in no drunken squabble, she knew; and he had arisen
from the sickness of it to mount horse and ride--desperately, as his
condition told--to claim his own. Through the leagues of desert he had
come, through the unfriendly night, with what dim hope in his breast no
man might know. Now, sparing the horse that had borne him to his
triumph, he marched past her, his head up, like one who had conquered,
even though he limped in the soreness of bruised body.

People standing near wondered to see the tall, pale woman put out her
hands with more than a mother's pity in her eyes, and open her lips,
murmuring a name beneath her breath.

The Bentleys, who had seen Dr. Slavens arrive, had not been able to
force their way to him through the crowd. Now, with scores of others,
they followed him, to have a word with him after he had stabled his
horse. As they passed Agnes, William made his way to her.

"He arrived in time!" he cried triumphantly, the sparkle of gladness in
his honest eyes. "He has justified your faith, and your trust, and
your----"

She put out both her hands, tears in her eyes, as he halted there,
leaving unsaid what there was no need to say.

"I'll tell him where to find you," said he, passing on.

In her room at the hotel Agnes sat down to wait. Peace had come into her
soul again; its fevered alarms were quiet. Expectancy trembled in her
bosom, where no fear foreshadowed what remained for him to say. Her
confidence was so complete in him, now that he had come, that she would
have been satisfied, so she believed at that hour, if he had said:

"I was unable to come sooner; I am sorry."

For love is content with little while it is young.

Agnes thought of her prettiest dress, tucked away in the little
steamer-trunk, and brought it out. It was not extremely gay, but it was
light in color and fabric, and gave a softness to the lines of the body,
and a freshness of youth. And one needs to look carefully to that when
one is seven-and-twenty, she reflected.

Her fingers fluttered over her hair; she swayed and turned before the
glass, bringing the lines of her neck into critical inspection. There
was the turn of youth there yet, it comforted her to see, and some
degree of comeliness. He would come soon, and she must be at her best,
to show him that she believed in him, and give him to understand that
she was celebrating his triumph over the contrary forces which he had
whipped like a man.

Faith, thought she, as she sat by the window and looked down upon the
crowd which still hung about the land-office, was a sustaining food.
Without it the business of all the world would cease. She had found need
to draw heavily upon it in her years, which she passed in fleeting
review as she looked pensively upon the crowd, which seemed floundering
aimlessly in the sun.

All at once the crowd seemed to resolve into one personality, or to
become but the incidental background for one man; a tall man with a
slight stoop, whose heavy eyebrows met above his nose like two black
caterpillars which had clinched in a combat to contest the passage. Here
and there he moved as if seeking somebody, familiarly greeted,
familiarly returning the salutations.

That morning she had seen him at the head of the line of men waiting to
file on land, close beside Peterson, who believed himself to be Number
One. She had wondered then what his interest might be, and it was
largely due to a desire to avoid being seen by him that she had hurried
away. Now he turned as if her thoughts had burned upon his back like a
sunglass, looked directly toward her window, lifted his hat, and
smiled.

As if his quest had come to an end at the sight of her, he pushed across
the street and came toward the hotel. She left the window, closing it
hurriedly, a shadow of fear in her face, her hand pressed to her bosom,
as if that meeting of eyes had broken the lethargy of some old pain. She
waited, standing in the center of the room, as if for a summons which
she dreaded to hear.

The hotel at Meander had not at that day come to such modern contrivances
as telephones and baths. If a patron wanted to talk out on the one
wire that connected Meander with the world and the railroad, he had to
go to the stage-office; if he wanted a bath he must make a trip to the
steam laundry, where they maintained tubs for that purpose. But these
slight inconveniences were not all on one side of the house. For if a
message came to the office for a guest in his room, there was nothing for
the clerk to do but trot up with it.

And so it came that when Agnes opened her door to the summons, her
bearing had no touch of fear or timidity. In the hall she faced the
panting clerk, who had leaped up the stairs and was in a hurry to leap
down again.

"Mr. Jerry Boyle asks if he may have the pleasure of seeing you in the
parlor, Miss Horton," said the clerk.

"Tell Mr. Boyle," she answered with what steadiness she could command,
"that I have an appointment in a few minutes. I'm afraid that I shall
not be able to see him before--before--tomorrow afternoon."

That was enough for the clerk, no matter how near or how far it came to
satisfying the desires of Jerry Boyle. He gave her a stubby bow and
heeled it off downstairs again, kicking up quite a dust in his rapid
flight over the carpet in the hall.

As if numbed or dreaming, Agnes walked slowly about her room, touching
here or there a familiar article of apparel, and seeking thus to
recall herself to a state of conscious reasoning. The events of the
morning--the scene before the land-office, her start back to the
hotel, the passing of that worn, wounded, and jaded man--seemed to have
drawn far into the perspective of the past.

In a little while William Bentley came up for his bag--for in that hotel
every man was his own porter--and called her to the door. He was off
with Horace on the eleven o'clock stage for Comanche. Next morning he
would take a train for the East. Dr. Slavens sent word that he would
come to the hotel as soon as he could make himself presentable with a
new outfit.

"Horace will stay at Comanche a while to look around," said William,
giving her his card with his home address. "If there's anything that I
can do for you any time, don't wait to write if you can reach a
telegraph-wire."

If there was pain in his eyes she did not see it, or the yearning of
hope in his voice, she did not hear. She only realized that the man who
filled her life was coming soon, and that she must light again the fires
of faith in her eyes to greet him.



CHAPTER XII

THE OTHER MAN


Dr. Slavens stood at the door of the parlor to meet her as she came
toward him, a little tremor of weakness in her limbs, a subconscious
confession of mastery which the active feminine mind might have denied
with blushing show of indignation.

The clothiers of Meander had fitted Slavens out with a very good serge
suit. Tan oxfords replaced his old battered shoes. A physician had
dressed the cut on his forehead, where adhesive plaster, neatly holding
gauze over the cut, took away the aspect of grimness and gravity which
the bloody bandage of the morning had imparted. For all his hard fight,
he was quite a freshened-up man; but there was a questioning hesitation
in his manner as he offered his hand.

Her greeting removed whatever doubt that William Bentley's assurance of
her fidelity might have left. She took his hand between both her own and
held it so a little while, looking into his eyes without the reservation
of suspicion or distrust.

"We believed you'd come in time all along," said she.

"You believed it," he replied softly, not the faintest light of a smile
on his serious face; "and I cannot weigh my gratitude in words. There is
an explanation to be made, and I have saved it for you. I'm a beast to
think of food just now, perhaps, but I haven't eaten anything since
yesterday evening."

"You can tell me afterward, if you wish," she said.

Through the meal they talked of the others, of who had come to Meander,
who had gone home; of June and her mother and the miller's wife. Nothing
was said of the cause of his absence nor of his spectacular arrival just
in the second remaining to him to save his chance.

"I noticed a road running up toward the mountain," said he when they had
finished. "Shall we walk up that way?"

Out past the little cultivated gardens, where stunted corn was growing
in the futile hope that it might come to ear, they followed the road
which led into the mountain gorge. A rod-wide stream came plunging down
beside the way, bursting its current upon a thousand stones here and
there, falling into green pools in which the trout that breasted its
roaring torrent might find a place to pant.

Here, in an acre of valley, some remnant of glacier had melted after its
slow-plowing progress of ten million years. The smooth, round stones
which it had dropped when it vanished in the sun lay there as thickly
strewn as seeds from a gigantic poppy-boll. And then, as the gorge-wedge
narrowed, there were great, polished boulders, like up-peeping skulls,
and riven ledges against which Indian hunters had made their fires in
the old days. And on the tipping land of the mountainside, and the
little strips where soil lodged between the rocks, the quaking-asp grew
thick and tall.

There in a little nook among the trees, where trampling tourists
had eaten their luncheon upon a flat stone and left the bags and
pickle-bottles behind them, they sat down. At that altitude the
sunshine of an afternoon in late August was welcome. A man whipping
the stream for trout caught his tackle in some low branches not ten
feet from where they sat, and swore as he disentangled it. He passed
on without seeing them.

"That goes to illustrate how near a man may be to something, and not
know it," said the doctor, a smile quickening his grave face for a
moment. "This time yesterday I was kicking over the rubbish where a
gambling-tent had stood in Comanche, in the hope of finding a dime."

He stopped, looked away down the soft-tinted gorge as if wrapped in
reminiscent thought. She caught her breath quickly, turning to him with
a little start and gazing at his set face, upon which a new, strange
somberness had fallen in those unaccounted days.

"Did you find it?" she asked.

"No, I didn't," he answered, coming out of his dream. "At that hour I
knew nothing about having drawn the first number, and I didn't know that
I was the lucky man until past midnight. I had just a running jump at
the chance then, and I took it."

"And you won!" she cried, admiration in her eyes.

"I hope so," said he, gazing earnestly into her face.

Her eyes would not stand; they retreated, and a rush of blood spread
over her cheeks like the reserve of an army covering its withdrawal from
the field.

"I feel like I had just begun to live," he declared.

"I didn't see you arrive this morning," she told him, "for I turned and
went away from the land-office when they opened the window. I couldn't
stand it to see that man Peterson take what belonged to you."

He looked at her curiously.

"But you don't ask me where I was those two days," said he.

"You'll tell me--if you want me to know," she smiled.

"When I returned to the Hotel Metropole, even more ragged and
discreditable-appearing than I was when you saw me this morning," he
resumed, "the proprietor's wife asked me where I'd been. I told her I
had been on a trip to hell, and the farther that experience is behind me
the stronger my conviction that I defined it right.

"When I left you that night after we came back from the river, I went
out to look for young Walker, all blazing up, in my old-time way of
grabbing at things like a bullfrog at a piece of flannel, over what you
had said about a man not always having the sense and the courage to take
hold of his chances when they presented.

"Walker had talked to me about going in with him on his sheep-ranch,
under the impression, I suppose, that I had money to invest. Well, I
hadn't any, as you know, but I got the notion that Walker might set me
up with a flock of sheep, like they do in this country, to take care of
on shares. I had recovered entirely from my disappointment in failing to
draw a claim, as I thought, knowing nothing about the mistake in
telephoning the names over.

"I used to be quick to get over things that were based on hope that
way," he smiled, turning to her for a second and scarcely noting how she
leaned forward to listen. "Just then I was all sheep. I had it planned
out ten years ahead in that twenty minutes. When a man never has had
anything to speculate in but dreams he's terribly extravagant of them,
you know. I was recklessly so.

"Well, I was going along with my head in the clouds, and I made a short
cut to go in the back way of the biggest gambling-tent, where I thought
Walker might be watching the games. Right there the machinery of my
recollection jumps a space. Something hit me, and a volcano burst before
my eyes."

"Oh, I knew it! I knew it!" she cried, poignant anguish in her wailing
voice. "I told that chief of police that; I told him that very thing!"

"Did you go to that brute?" he asked, clutching her almost roughly by
the wrist.

"William Bentley and I," she nodded. "The chief wouldn't help. He told
us that you were in no danger in Comanche."

"What else?" he asked.

"Go on with the story," said she.

"Yes. I came back to semiconsciousness with that floating sensation
which men had described to me, but which I never experienced before, and
heard voices, and felt light on my closed eyes, which I hadn't the power
to open. But the first thing that I was conscious of, even before the
voices and the light, was the smell of whisky-barrels.

"Nothing smells like a whisky-barrel. It's neither whisky nor barrel,
but whisky-barrel. Once you have smelled it you never forget. I used to
pass a distillery warehouse on my way to school twice a day, and the
smell of whisky-barrels was part of my early education; so I knew.

"From the noise of voices and the smell of the barrels I judged that I
must be behind the stage of the variety-theater tent, where they kept
the stock of whisky for the bar. In a little while I was able to pick up
the identity of one of the voices. The other one--there were two of them
near me--belonged to a man I didn't know. You have heard us speak, when
we were back in camp, of Hun Shanklin, the gambler?"

She nodded, her face white, her lips parted, her breath hanging between
them as by a thread.

"It was his voice that I heard; I was coming stronger every second. I
made out that they were talking of my undesirable presence in that
community. Shanklin owed me a grudge on account of a push that I gave
his table one night when he was robbing a young fool with more money
than brains by his downright crooked game. That shove laid the old
rascal's scheme bare and kept him out of several thousand dollars that
night.

"I supposed until last night that his sole object in assaulting me in
the dark was to pay off this score; but there was another and more
important side to it than that. Shanklin and the fellow with him,
whoever it was, knew that I was the winner of Number One, and they
wanted me out of the way.

"I'm not clear yet in my mind just why; but they must have had some
inside information ahead of others in Comanche that I, and not Peterson,
was the lucky man, as reported first. For that extra wasn't out then."

"It was all a swindle, the extra," she hastened to explain. "That editor
knew all the time who Number One was. He held your name back just so he
might sell a lot more papers. We found out about it after we came
here."

"Of course Shanklin was in with him some way. They're all crooks," the
doctor commented.

"Perhaps the other man was that wicked chief of police," said she. "I
wouldn't consider him above it."

"Nor I," Slavens admitted. "But I don't know; I never heard him speak. I
thought I heard that other voice this morning here in Meander, but I'm
not sure. I'll be listening. I must get on with my yarn, and I warn you
now that I'm going to tax your credulity and try your confidence before
I'm through.

"I lay there gathering strength while they talked about putting me away,
like a man who had been choked. I couldn't see them when I opened my
eyes, for they were back of me somewhere, moving the barrels and boxes
around. There was a lantern standing on the ground near my head, and the
thought came to me that if I could knock it over and put it out I might
make a stagger for the outside and get clear of them. So I upset it.

"The thing didn't go out. It lay on its side, burning away the same as
ever, but the move I had made tipped it off to them that I wasn't all
in. I heard Shanklin swearing as he came toward me, and I picked up what
strength I had, intending to make a fight for it. I wasn't as brisk as I
believed myself to be, unluckily, and I had only made it to my knees
when they piled on to me from behind. I suppose one of them hit me with
a board or something. There's a welt back there on my head, but it don't
amount to anything."

"The cowards!" she breathed, panting in indignation.

"I wish we could find a name in some language that would describe them,"
said he; "I've not been able to satisfy myself with anything that
English offers. No matter. The next thing that I knew I was being
drenched with icy water. It was splashing over my head and running down
my face, and the restorative qualities of it has not been overrated by
young ladies who write stories about fainting beauties for the
magazines, I can hereby testify. It brought me around speedily, although
I was almost deaf on account of a roaring, which I attributed to the
return circulation in my battered head, and sickened by an undulating,
swirling motion by which I seemed to be carried along.

"I felt myself cramped, knees against my chin, and struggled to adjust
my position more comfortably. I couldn't move anything but my hands, and
exploration with them quickly showed me that I was in a box, rather
tight on sides and bottom--one of those tongue-and-groove cases such as
they ship dry goods in--with the top rather open, as if it had been
nailed up with scraps. The water was splashing through it and drenching
me, and I knew in a flash, as well as if they had told me what they were
going to do, what they had done. They had carted me to the river and
thrown me in."

"The cañon! The cañon!" said she, shuddering and covering her face with
her hands. "Oh, that terrible water--that awful place!"

"But I am here, sitting beside you, with the sun, which I never hoped
to see again, shining on my face," he smiled, stroking her hair
comfortingly, as one might assuage the terror of a child.

Agnes lifted her head in wondering admiration.

"You can speak of it calmly!" she wondered, "and you went through it,
while it gives me a chill of fear even to think about it! Did you--come
to shore before you entered the cañon?"

"No; I went through it from end to end. I don't know how far the river
carried me in that box. It seemed miles. But the cañon is only two miles
long, they say. The box floated upright mainly, being pretty well
balanced by my weight in the bottom, but at times it was submerged and
caught against rocks, where the current held it and the water poured in
until I thought I should be drowned that way.

"I was working to break the boards off the top, and did get one off,
when the whole thing went to pieces against a rock. I was rolled and
beaten and smashed about a good bit just then. Arms were useless. The
current was so powerful that I couldn't make a swimming-stroke. My chief
recollection of those few troubled moments is of my arms being stretched
out above my head, as if they were roped there with the weight of my
body swinging on them. I supposed that was my finish."

"But you went through!" she whispered, touching him softly on the arm as
if to recall him from the memory of that despairing time.

"I came up against a rock like a dead fish," said he, "my head above
water, luckily. The current pinned me there and held me from slipping
down. That saved me, for I hadn't strength to catch hold. The pressure
almost finished me, but a few gasps cleared my lungs of water, and that
helped some.

"There is no need for me to pretend that I know how I got on that rock,
for I don't know. A man loses the conscious relation with life in such a
poignant crisis. He does heroic things, and overcomes tremendous odds,
fighting to save what the Almighty has lent him for a little while. But
I got on that rock. I lay there with just as little life in me as could
kindle and warm under the ashes again. I might have perished of the
chill of that place if it hadn't been that the rock was a big one, big
enough for me to tramp up and down a few feet and warm myself when I was
able.

"I don't know how far along the cañon I was, or how long it was after
day broke over the world outside before the gray light sifted down to
me. It revealed to me the fact that my rock of refuge was about midway
of the stream, which was peculiarly free of obstructions just there. It
seemed to me that the hand of Providence must have dashed me against it,
and from that gleam I gathered the conviction that it was not ordained
for me to perish there. I could not see daylight out of either end of
the cañon, for its walls are winding, and of course I had nothing but a
guess as to how far I had come.

"There was no foothold in the cliffs on either hand that I could see,
and the pounding of that heavy volume of water down the fall of the
cañon seemed to make the cliffs tremble. I had to get ashore against the
cliff-side, somehow, if I ever intended to get out, and I intended to
get out, no two ways about it. I might drown if I plunged in, but I
might not. And I was certain to starve if I stuck to the rock. So I took
off my coat, which the river had spared me, and let myself down from the
lower end of the rock. I had that rolling and thrashing experience all
over again, still not quite so bad, for there was daylight to cheer me
every time my head got clear of the water.

"There's no use pulling the story out. I made it. I landed, and I found
that I could work my way along the side of the cliff and over the fallen
masses by the waterside. It wasn't so bad after that.

"My hope was that I might find a place where a breach in the cliff would
offer me escape that way, but there was none. The strip of sky that I
could see looked no wider than my hand. I saw the light at the mouth of
the cañon when it was beginning to fall dusk in there. I suppose it was
along the middle of the afternoon."

"We were over there about then," said she, "thinking you might have gone
in to try for that reward. If we only had known!"

"You could have come over to the other end with a blanket," said he,
touching her hand in a little communicative expression of thankfulness
for her interest. "There is a little gravelly strand bordering the river
at that end. After its wild plunge it comes out quite docile, and not
half so noisy as it goes in. I reached that strip of easy going just as
it was growing too dark for safe groping over the rocks, and when I got
there my legs bent like hot candles.

"I crawled the rest of the way; when I got out I must have been a sight
to see. I know that I almost frightened out of his remaining wits a
sheep-herder who was watering his flock. He didn't believe that I came
through the cañon; he didn't believe anything I said, not even when I
told him that I was cold and hungry."

"The unfeeling beast!"

"Oh, no; he was just about an average man. He had a camp close by, and
let me warm and dry myself by his fire; gave me some coffee and food
when he saw that I wasn't going to hurt him, but I don't believe he shut
an eye that entire night. He was so anxious to get rid of me in the
morning that he gave me an old hat and coat, and that was the rig I wore
when I returned to Comanche."

"The hotel-keeper gave you the message that we left?" she asked.

"He was surly and ungracious, said he didn't know where you were. I was
of the opinion that you had turned my baggage over to him, and that he
found it convenient to forget all about it."

"We brought it here--it's in my room now; and we told him when we left
where we were going, Mr. Bentley and I."

"Well, what little money I had was in my instrument-case," said he. "So
I was up against it right. I knew there was no use in lodging a
complaint against Shanklin, for I had no proof against him, and never
could convince a jury that I was in my right mind if I should tell my
story in court. So I let that pass."

"It was a miraculous deliverance from death!" Agnes exclaimed, taking
her breath freely again. Tears mounted to her eyes as she measured Dr.
Slavens' rugged frame as if with a new interest in beholding a common
pattern which had withstood so much.

He told her of meeting Mackenzie, and of finding the lost die; of the
raid they had made by means of it on Shanklin's money; of his discovery
of the midnight extra in the pockets of the gambler's coat.

"So there you have it all," said he, smiling in embarrassment as if the
relation of so much about himself seemed inexcusable. "Anyway, all of
the first part of the story. The rest is all on dry land, and not
interesting at all."

"But you hadn't had time to look over the land; you didn't know the good
locations from the worthless," said she. "How did you pick out the claim
you filed on?"

"Well, there's a little more of the story, it seems, after all. There
was a plot between Shanklin and another to file Peterson on a certain
tract and then buy him out, I suppose."

He told her of the telegram signed "Jerry," and of Shanklin's reply.

"So I concluded," he said, "that if the land described by their numbers
was valuable to them it would be valuable to me. That my guess was good,
I had proof when I filed. The chap who was piloting Peterson up to the
window, and who I suspect was the 'Jerry' of the message, wanted to know
where I got the figures. He wasn't a bit nice about it, either."

A swift pallor overspread Agnes Horton's face; a look of fright stood in
her eyes.

"Was he a tall man, dark, with heavy eyebrows?" she inquired, waiting
his answer with parted lips.

"That fits him," said he. "Do you know him?"

"It's Jerry Boyle, the Governor's son. He is Walker's friend; Walker
brought him to camp the day after you disappeared. He had an invitation
for Mrs. Reed and her party from his mother--you know they had been
expecting it. And he said--he said----"

"He said----"

"That is, he told Walker that he saw you--_drunk_ at two o'clock that
morning."

"Hum-m," rumbled the doctor, running his hands through his hair. "Hum-m!
I thought I knew that voice!"

He got to his feet in his agitation. Agnes rose quickly, placing her
hand on his arm.

"Was he the other man?" she asked.

"Well, it's a serious charge to lay against the Governor's son," he
replied, "but I'm afraid he was the other man."

There was such a look of consternation in her face that he sought to
calm her.

"He's not likely to go any further with it, though," Slavens added.

"Oh, you don't know him. You don't know him!" Agnes protested
earnestly.

He searched her face with a quick glance.

"Do you?" he asked, calmly.

"There is something bad in his face--something hiding, it seems to me,"
she said, without show of conscious evasion.

"I'll call him, no matter what move he makes," Slavens declared, looking
speculatively across the gorge. "Look how high the sun is up the wall
over yonder. I think we'd better be going back."

"Oh, I've kept you too long," she cried in self-reproach. "And to think
you were in the saddle all night."

"Yes; I lost the trail and rode a good many miles out of the way," said
he. "But for that I'd have been on hand an hour sooner."

"Well, you were in time, anyway."

"And I've drawn blindly," he laughed. "I've got a piece of land marked
'Grazing,' on the chart. It may be worth a fortune, and it may be worth
twenty cents an acre. But I'm going to see it through. When are you
going to file?"

"My number comes on the fifth day, but lapses may bring me in line
tomorrow," she answered. "Smith, the stage-driver, knows of a piece
adjoining the one he has selected for himself, if nobody 'beats him to
it,' as he says. He has given me the numbers, and I'm going to take his
word for it. About half of it can be irrigated, and it fronts on the
river. The rest is on the hills."

"I hope you may get it. Smith ought to know what's good in this country
and what isn't. When you have it you'll lead on the water and plant the
rose?"

"And plant the rose," she repeated softly.

"Don't you think," he asked, taking her hand tenderly as she walked by
his side, "that you'd better let me do the rough work for you now?"

"You are too generous, and too trusting in one unknown," she faltered.

The beat of hoofs around the sharp turn in the road where it led out
into the valley in which Meander lay, fell sharp and sudden on their
ears. There the way was close-hemmed with great boulders, among which it
turned and wound, and they scarcely had time to find a standing-place
between two riven shoulders of stone when the horseman swept around the
turn at a gallop.

He rode crouching in his saddle as if to reach forward and seize some
fleeing object of pursuit, holding his animal in such slack control that
he surely must have ridden them down if they had not given him the
entire way. His hat was blown back from his dark face, which bore a
scowl, and his lips were moving as if he muttered as he rode. Abreast of
the pair he saw them where they stood, and touched his hat in salute.

In the dust that he left behind they resumed their way. Dr. Slavens had
drawn Agnes Horton's hand through his arm; he felt that it was cold and
trembling. He looked at her, perplexity in his kind eyes.

"That's the man who stood with Peterson at the head of the line," he
said.

"Yes; Jerry Boyle," she whispered, looking behind her fearfully.
"Let's hurry on! I'm afraid," she added with the ineffectiveness of
dissimulation, "that I've kept you from your sleep too long. Together
with your awful experience and that long ride, you must be shattered for
the want of rest."

"Yet I could stand up under a good deal more," he rejoined, his thoughts
trailing Jerry Boyle up the shadowy gorge. "But I was asking you, before
that fellow broke in----"

She raised her hand appealingly.

"Don't, please. Please--not now!"



CHAPTER XIII

SENTIMENT AND NAILS


Vast changes had come over the face of that land in a few days. Every
quarter-section within reach of water for domestic uses had its tent or
its dugout in the hillside or its hastily built cabin of planks. Where
miles of unpeopled desert had stretched lonely and gray a week before,
the smoke of three thousand fires rose up each morning now, proclaiming
a new domain in the kingdom of husbandry.

On the different levels of that rugged country, men and women had
planted their tent-poles and their hopes. Unacquainted with its rigors,
they were unappalled by the hardships, which lay ahead of them, dimly
understood. For that early autumn weather was benignant, and the sun was
mellow on the hills.

Speculation had not turned out as profitable as those who had come to
practice it had expected. Outside of the anxiety of Jerry Boyle and
others to get possession of the apparently worthless piece of land upon
which Dr. Slavens had filed, there were no offers for the relinquishment
of homesteads. That being the case, a great many holders of low numbers
failed to file. They wanted, not homes, but something without much
endeavor, with little investment and no sweat. So they had passed on to
prey upon the thrifty somewhere else, leaving the land to those whose
hearts were hungry for it because it _was_ land, with the wide horizon
of freedom around it, and a place to make home.

And these turned themselves to bravely leveling with road-scrapers and
teams the hummocks where the sagebrush grew, bringing in surveyors to
strike the level for them in the river-shore, plotting ditches to carry
the water to their fields. Many of them would falter before the fight
was done; many would lose heart in the face of such great odds before
the green blessing of alfalfa should rise out of the sullen ground.

Many a widow was there, whose heart was buried in a grave back East, and
many a gray man, making his first independent start. Always the West has
held up its promise of freedom to men, and the hope of it has led them
farther than the hope of gold.

About midway between Meander and Comanche, Agnes Horton was located on
the land which Smith had selected for her. Smith had retired from
driving the stage and had established a sort of commercial center on his
homestead, where he had a store for supplying the settlers' needs. He
also had gone into the business of contracting to clear lands of
sagebrush and level them for irrigation, having had a large experience
in that work in other parts of the state.

Agnes had pitched her tent on the river-bank, in a pleasant spot where
there was plenty of grazing for her horse. Just across her line, and
only a few hundred yards up-stream, a family was encamped, putting up a
permanent home, making a reckless inroad among the cottonwoods which
grew along the river on their land. Across the stream, which was
fordable there, a young man and his younger wife, with the saddle-marks
of the city on them, had their white nest. Agnes could hear the bride
singing early in the morning, when the sun came up and poured its melted
gold over that hopeful scene, with never a cloud before its face.

Twenty miles farther along, toward Comanche, Dr. Slavens had pitched his
tent among the rocks on the high, barren piece of land which he had
selected blindly, guided by Hun Shanklin's figures. He was not a little
surprised, and at the same time cheered and encouraged, to find, when he
came to locating it, that it was the spot where they had seen Shanklin
and another horseman on the afternoon of their stage excursion, when the
two had been taken by Smith as men of evil intent, and the doctor had
been called to the box to handle the lines.

His neighbors in the rich valley below him regarded him with doubt of
his balance, and that was a current suspicion up and down the river
among those who did not know the story. But the politicians in Meander,
and those who were on hand before the filing began, who knew how Jerry
Boyle had nursed Axel Peterson, and how he had dropped the Scandinavian
when the stranger rode up unexpectedly and filed on Number One, believed
that the doctor had held inside information, and that his claim was
worth millions.

But if the quarter-section contained anything of value, there was no
evidence of it that Dr. Slavens could find. It was about the crudest and
most unfinished piece of earth that he ever had seen outside the
Buckhorn Cañon. It looked as if the materials for making something on a
tremendous pattern had been assembled there, thrown down promiscuously,
and abandoned.

Ledges of red rock, which seemed as if fires had scorched them for ages,
stood edgewise in the troubled earth, their seamed faces toward the sky.
It was as if nature had put down that job temporarily, to hurry off and
finish the river, or the hills beyond the river, and never had found
time to come back. Tumbled fragments of stone, huge as houses, showing
kinship with nothing in their surroundings, stood here thickly in a
little cup between the seared hills, and balanced there upon the sides
of buttes among the streaks of blue shale.

A little grass grew here and there in carpet-size splotches, now yellow
and dry, while that in the valley was at its best. Spiked plants, which
looked tropical, and which were as green during the rigors of winter as
during the doubtful blessings of summer, stood on the slopes, their
thousand bayonets guarding against trespass where only pressing
necessity could drive a human foot. Sheep-sage, which grew low upon the
ground, and unostentatious and dun, was found here, where no flocks came
to graze; this was the one life-giving thing which sprang from that
blasted spot.

The lowest elevation on the doctor's claim was several hundred feet
above the river, from which he hauled the water which he drank and used
for culinary purposes. If there was wealth in the land and rocks, nature
had masked it very well indeed. The pick and the hammer revealed
nothing; long hours of prying and exploring yielded no gleam of metal to
confirm his fast-shrinking belief that he had pitched on something
good.

His only comfort in those first days was the thought of the money which
he had taken from Shanklin, with the aid of the gambler's own honest
little die. That cash was now safe in the bank at Meander. There was
enough of it, everything else failing, to take him--and somebody--back
to his own place when she was ready to go; enough to do that and get the
automobile, take the world on its vain side, and pull success away from
it. He was able for it now; no doubt of his ability to climb over any
obstacle whatever remained after his wrestling match with the river in
the Buckhorn Cañon. There was no job ahead of him that he could even
imagine, as big as that.

Nobody had come forward to make him an offer for his place. Jerry Boyle
had not appeared, nothing had been seen of the man who accosted him at
the window the morning he filed. Although he had remained in Meander two
days after that event, nobody had approached him in regard to the land
which so many had seemed anxious to get before it came into his
ownership. Boyle he had not seen since the evening Dr. Slavens and Agnes
met him in the gorge riding in such anxious haste.

Perhaps the value of the claim, if value lay in it, was the secret of a
few, and those few had joined forces to starve out his courage and hope.
If nobody came forward with a voluntary offer for the land, it never
would be worth proving up on and paying the government the price asked
for it. All over that country there was better land to be had without
cost.

As the days slipped past and nobody appeared with ten thousand dollars
bulging his pockets, Slavens began to talk to himself among the
solitudes of his desert. He called himself a foremost example of
stupidity and thick-headedness for not giving ear to the man who wanted
to talk business the day he filed on that outcast corner of the earth.
Then, growing stubborn, he would determine to pay the government the
purchase price, clean up on it at once, and take title to it. Then, if
it _had_ the stuff in it, they might come around with some sort of offer
in time.

No matter; he would stick to it himself until winter. That always was
his final conclusion, influenced, perhaps, by a hope that the roughness
of winter would speedily convince "somebody" that roses and dreams of
roses belonged to the summer. He would have nothing more to pay on the
homestead for a year. And much could happen in a year, in a day; even an
hour.

Slavens had a good tent in a sheltered place, which he believed he could
make comfortable for winter, and he meant to send for some books.
Meantime, he had tobacco to smoke and a rifle to practice with, and
prospects ahead, no matter which way the cat might jump.

The doctor's target practice was a strong contributing force to the
general belief among his neighbors that he was deranged. They said he
imagined that he was repelling invaders from his claim, which would be
valuable, maybe, to a man who wanted to start a rattlesnake farm. But
Slavens had a motive, more weighty than the pastime that this seemingly
idle pursuit afforded. There was a time of settlement ahead between him
and Jerry Boyle for the part the Governor's son had borne in his
assault. When the day for that adjustment came, Slavens intended to seek
it.

Concerning Shanklin, he was in a degree satisfied with what he had done.
The loss of that much money, he believed, was a greater drain on the old
crook than a gallon of blood. Slavens felt that it hurt Shanklin in the
gambler's one sensitive spot. There was a great deal owing to him yet
from that man, in spite of what he had forced Shanklin to pay, and he
meant to collect the balance before he left that state.

So the rifle practice went ahead, day by day, supplemented by a turn now
and then with Hun Shanklin's old black pistol, which Mackenzie had
turned over to Slavens as part of his lawful spoil.

While Dr. Slavens banged away among his rocks, not knowing whether he
was a victim of his own impetuosity or the peculiarly favored son of
fortune, Agnes Horton, in her tent beside the river, was undergoing an
adjustment of vision which was assisting her to see startlingly things
exactly as they were. The enchantment of distance had fallen away. When
she came to grips with the land, then its wild unfriendliness was
revealed, and the magnitude of the task ahead of her was made
discouragingly plain.

All over her cultivable strip of land which lay between the river and
the hills, the gray sage grew in clumps, each cluster anchoring the soil
around it in a little mound. Through many years the earth had blown and
sifted around the sapless shrubs until they seemed buried to the ears,
and hopeless of ever getting out again, but living on their gray life in
a gray world, waiting for the best.

All of this ground must be leveled before it could receive the benefits
of irrigation, and the surprising thing to her was how much wood the
land yielded during this operation. Each little sagebrush had at least
twenty times as much timber under the earth as it had above, and each
thick, tough root was a retarding and vexatious obstacle in the way of
scraper and plow. Smith said it was sometimes necessary in that country
to move three acres of land in order to make one.

But Smith was enthusiastically for it. He kept asserting that it paid,
and pointed to the small bit of agricultural land that there was in the
whole expanse of that reservation, for an example, to prove his point.
There was room for other industries, such as mining and grazing, but the
man who could grow food and forage for the others was the one who would
take down the money from the hook. That was Smith's contention.

He told Agnes that she could lift enough water with a wheel in the river
to irrigate a garden and more, but there was no need of putting in the
wheel until spring. The rains of that season would bring up the seed,
and while it was making the most of the moisture in the ground she could
be setting her wheel.

"A person's got to plan ahead in this country," said Smith. "You must
know to a skinned knuckle just what you'll need a year, or five years,
ahead here, if you ever make it go worth havin'. It ain't like it is
back where you come from. There you can go it more or less hit-or-miss,
and hit about as often as you miss. Here you've got to know."

Smith was moving to organize the settlers along the river into a company
to put in a canal which would water all their land, the chief capital to
be elbow-grease; the work to be done that fall and winter. Smith was
indeed the head and inspiration of all enterprise in that new place.
People to whom that country was strange, and that included nearly all of
them, looked to him for advice, and regarded with admiration and wonder
his aptness in answering everything.

Agnes was doubtful of the future, in spite of her big, brave talk to Dr.
Slavens in the days before the drawing. Now that she had the land, and a
better piece of it than she had hoped for, considering her high number,
she felt weakly unfit to take it in hand and break it to the condition
of docility in which it would tolerate fruit-trees, vines, and roses.

It cheered her considerably, and renewed her faith in her sex, to see
some of the women out with their teams, preparing their land for the
seeding next spring. More than one of them had no man to lean on, and no
money to hire one to take the rough edge off for her. In that respect
Agnes contrasted her easier situation with theirs. She had the means,
slender as they might be, indeed, to employ somebody to do the work in
the field. But the roses she reserved for her own hands, putting them
aside as one conceals a poem which one has written, or a hope of which
he is afraid.

In the first few days of her residence on her land, Agnes experienced
all the changes of mercurial rising and falling of spirits, plans,
dreams. Some days she saddled her horse, which she had bought under the
doctor's guidance at Meander, and rode, singing, over the hills, exalted
by the wild beauty of nature entirely unadorned. There was not yet a
house in the whole of what had been the Indian Reservation, and there
never had been one which could be properly called such.

Here was a country, bigger than any one of several of the far eastern
states, as yet unchanged by the art of man. The vastness of it, and the
liberty, would lay hold of her at such times with rude power, making her
feel herself a part of it, as old a part of it as its level-topped
buttes and ramparts of riven stone.

Then again it frightened her, giving her a feeling such as she
remembered once when she found herself alone in a boat upon a great
lake, with the shore left far behind and none in sight beyond the misty
horizon. She seemed small then, and inadequate for the rough struggle
that lay ahead.

Smith noted this, and read the symptoms like a doctor.

"You've got to keep your nerve," he advised, bluntly kind, "and not let
the lonesomeness git a hold on you, Miss Horton."

"The lonesomeness?" she echoed. It seemed a strange-sounding phrase.

"It's a disease," Smith proceeded, "and I suppose you git it anywhere;
but you git it harder here. I've seen men take it, and turn gray and
lose their minds, runnin' sheep. After you once git over it you're
broke. You wouldn't leave this country for a purty on a chain."

"I hope I'll not get it," she laughed. "How do people act when they take
the lonesomeness?"

"Well, some acts one way and some acts another," said Smith. "Some mopes
and run holler-eyed, and some kicks and complains and talk about 'God's
country' till it makes you sick. Just like this wasn't as much God's
country as any place you can name! It's all His'n when you come down to
the p'int, I reckon. But how a woman acts when she takes it I can't so
much say for I never knew but one that had it. She up and killed a
man."

"Oh, that was terrible! Did she lose her mind?"

"Well, I don't know but you could say she did. You see she married a
sheepman. He brought her out here from Omaha, and left her up there on
the side of the mountain in a little log cabin above Meander while he
went off foolin' around with them sheep, the way them fellers does. I
tell you when you git sheep on the brain you don't eat at home more than
once in three months. You live around in a sheep-wagon, cuttin' tails
off of lambs, and all such fool things as that."

"Why, do they cut the poor things' tails off?" she asked, getting the
notion that Smith was having a little fun at her expense.

"They all do it," he informed her, "to keep the sand and burrs out of
'em. If they let 'em grow long they git so heavy with sand it makes 'em
poor to pack 'em, they say, I don't know myself; I'm not a sheepman."

"But why did she shoot a man? Because he cut off lambs' tails?"

"No, she didn't," said Smith. "She went out of her head. The feller she
shot was a storekeeper's son down in Meander, and he got to ridin' up
there to talk to her and cheer her up. The lonesomeness it had such a
hold on her, thinkin' about Omaha and houses, and pie-annos playin' in
every one of 'em, that she up and run off with that feller when he
promised to take her back there. They started to cut across to the U.P.
in a wagon--more than a hundred miles. That night she come to her head
when he got too fresh, and she had to shoot him to make him behave."

"Her husband should have been shot, it seems to me, for leaving her that
way," Agnes said.

"A man orto stick to his wife in this country, specially if she's new to
it and not broke," said Smith; "and if I had one, ma'am, I'd _stick_ to
her."

Smith looked at her as he said this, with conviction and deep
earnestness in his eyes.

"I'm sure you would," she agreed.

"And I'd be kind to her," he declared.

"There's no need to tell me that," she assured him. "You're kind to
everybody."

"And if she didn't like the name," Smith went on significantly, "I'd
have it changed!"

"I'm sure she'd like it--she'd be very ungrateful if she didn't," Agnes
replied, somewhat amused by his earnestness, but afraid to show it. "I'm
going to order lumber for my house in a day or two."

Smith switched from sentiment to business in a flash.

"Let me sell you the nails," he requested. "I can give 'em to you as
cheap as you can git 'em in Meander."



CHAPTER XIV

"LIKE A WOLF"


Agnes had been on her homestead almost a week. She was making a brave
"stagger," as Smith described all amateurish efforts, toward cutting up
some dry cottonwood limbs into stove-lengths before her tent on the
afternoon that Jerry Boyle rode across the ford.

While she had not forgotten him, she had begun to hope that he had gone
back to Comanche, and his sudden appearance there gave her an unpleasant
shock. He drew up near her with a friendly word, and dismounted with a
cowboy swing to his long body and legs.

"Well, Agnes, you dodged me in Meander," said he. "You've located quite
a piece up the river and off the stage-road, haven't you?"

"But not far enough, it seems," she answered, a little weariness in her
voice, as of one who turns unwillingly to face at last something which
has been put away for an evil day.

"No need for us to take up old quarrels, Agnes," he chided with a show
of gentleness.

"I don't want to quarrel with you, Jerry; I never did quarrel with you,"
she disclaimed.

"'Misunderstandings' would be a better word then, I suppose," he
corrected. "But you could have knocked me over with a feather when you
repudiated me over there at Comanche that day. I suppose I should have
known that you were under an alias before I made that break, but I
didn't know it, Agnes, believe _me_."

"How could you?" she said, irritably. "That was nothing; let it rest.
But you understand that it was for the sake of others that the alias
was--and is--used; not for my own."

"Of course, Agnes. But what do you want to be wasting yourself on this
rough country for? There are more suitable places in Wyoming for you
than this lonesome spot. What's the object, anyhow?"

"I am building here the City of Refuge," said she, "and its solitude
will be its walls."

"Ready for the time when _he_ comes back, I suppose?"

She nodded assent slowly, as if grudging him that share of the knowledge
of her inner life.

"Poor old kid, you've got a job ahead of you!" he commiserated.

A resentful flush crept into her face, but she turned aside, gathering
her sticks as if to hide her displeasure. Boyle laughed.

"Pardon the familiarity--'vulgar familiarity' you used to call
it--Agnes. But 'what's bred in the bone,' you know."

"It doesn't matter so much when there's no one else around, but it's
awkward before people."

"You wouldn't marry me on account of my tongue!" said he with sour
reminiscence.

"It wasn't so much that, Jerry," she chided, "and you know it perfectly
well."

"Oh, well, if a man does take a drink now and then----" he discounted.

"But many drinks, and frequently, are quite different," she reproved.

"We'll not fuss about it."

"Far from it," she agreed.

"I didn't come down to open old matters, although I suppose you thought
that was my intention when you dodged me and stuck so close to that
tin-horn doctor up at Meander."

"It's comforting to know you haven't come for--_that_," said she,
ignoring his coarse reference to Slavens.

"No; things change a good deal in four years' time, even sentiment--and
names."

"But it wouldn't be asking too much to expect you to respect some of the
changes?"

"I don't suppose," he mused, "that many people around here care whether
a man's name is the one he goes by, or whether it's the one he gets his
mail under at the post-office at Comanche. That's generally believed to
be a man's own business. Of course, he might carry it too far, but
that's his own lookout."

"Are you on your way to Comanche?" she asked.

Boyle motioned her to the trunk of the cottonwood whose branches she had
been chopping into fuel, with graceful and unspoken invitation to sit
down and hear the tale of his projected adventures.

"I've been wearing a pair of these high-heeled boots the past few days
for the first time since I rode the range," he explained, "and they make
my ankles tired when I stand around."

He seated himself beside her on the fallen log.

"No, I'm not going to Comanche," said he. "I came down here to see you.
They gave me the worst horse in the stable at Meander, and he'll never
be able to carry me back there without a long rest. I'll have to make
camp by the river."

She glanced at his horse, on the saddle of which hung, cowboy fashion, a
bag of grub which also contained a frying-pan and coffeepot, she knew,
from having seen many outfits like it in the stores at Comanche. A
blanket was rolled behind the high cantle. As for the horse, it seemed
as fresh and likely as if it had come three miles instead of thirty. She
believed from that evidence that Jerry's talk about being forced to make
camp was all contrived. He had come prepared for a stay.

"I got into the habit of carrying those traps around with me when I was
a kid," he explained, following her eyes, "and you couldn't drive me two
miles away from a hotel without them. They come in handy, too, in a
pinch like this, I'm here to tell you."

"It's something like a wise man taking his coat, I suppose."

"Now you've got it," commended Boyle.

"But Smith, who used to drive the stage, could have fixed you up all
right," she told him. "He's got a tent to lodge travelers in down by his
new store. You must have seen it as you passed?"

"Yes; and there's another crook!" said Boyle with plain feeling on the
matter. "But I didn't come down here to see Smith or anybody else but
you. It's business."

He looked at her with severity in his dark face, as if to show her that
all thoughts of tenderness and sentiment had gone out of his mind.

"I'm listening," said she.

"There's a man down here a few miles spreadin' himself around on a piece
of property that belongs to me," declared Boyle, "and I want you to help
me get him off."

She looked at him in amazement.

"I don't understand what you mean," said she.

"Slavens."

"Dr. Slavens? Why, he's on his own homestead, which he filed upon
regularly. I can't see what you mean by saying it belongs to you."

"I mean that he stole the description of that land at the point of a
gun, that's what I mean. It belongs to me; I paid money for it; and I'm
here to take possession."

"You've got your information wrong," she denied indignantly. "Dr.
Slavens didn't steal the description. More than that, he could make it
pretty uncomfortable for certain people if he should bring charges of
assault and intended murder against them, Mr. Jerry Boyle!"

"Oh, cut out that high-handshake stuff, Miss Agnes Horton-Gates, or
Gates-Horton, and come down to brass tacks! The time was when you could
walk up and down over me like a piece of hall carpet, and I'd lie there
and smile. That day's gone by. I've got wool on me now like a
bellwether, and I'm shaggy at the flanks like a wolf. I can be as mean
as a wolf, too, when the time comes. You can't walk up and down over me
any more!"

"Nobody wants to walk up and down over you!" she protested. "But if you
want to put Dr. Slavens off that homestead, go and do it. You'll not
draw me into any of your schemes and murderous plots, and you'll find
Dr. Slavens very well able to take care of himself, too!"

"Oh, sure he can!" scoffed Boyle. "You didn't seem to think so the time
you turned Comanche inside out hunting him, when he was layin' drunk
under a tent. I don't know what kind of a yarn he put up when he came
back to you, but I've got the goods on that quack, I'll give you to
understand!"

Boyle was dropping his polish, which was only a superficial coating at
the best. In the bone he was a cowboy, belonging to the type of those
who, during the rustlers' war, hired themselves out at five dollars a
day, and five dollars a head for every man they could kill. Boyle
himself had been a stripling in those days, and the roughness of his
training among a tribe of as desperate and unwashed villains as ever
disgraced the earth underlay his fair exterior, like collar-welts on a
horse which has been long at pasture.

"I'm not under obligations to keep anybody's secrets in this country
when it comes to that," Boyle reminded her.

"It couldn't be expected of you," she sighed.

"You're close to that feller," he pursued, "and he's as soft as cheese
on you. All right; pool your troubles and go on off together for all I
care, but before you turn another wheel you'll put the crowbar under
that man that'll lift him off of that land; savvy? Well, that's what
you'll do!"

"You can spread it all up and down the river that I'm living here under
an assumed name, and you may tell them anything else--all that is
true--that you think you ought to tell, just as soon as you want to
begin," she said, rising and moving away from him in scorn. "I'll not
help you; I couldn't help you if I would."

Boyle got up, his face in a scowl, and as she retreated toward her tent,
followed her in his peggy, forward-tilting cowboy walk.

"Say," he hailed, unveiling at once all the rudeness of his character,
"come back here a minute and take your medicine!"

She paused while he came up.

"Jerry," said Agnes gently, turning upon him eyes full of sadness and
lost hope, "get on your horse and go away. Don't force me to think worse
of you than I have thought. Go away, Jerry; go away!"

Boyle's face was flushed, and his naturally pop-eyed expression was
greatly aggravated by his anger. It seemed that his eyes were straining
to leap out, and had forced themselves forward until the whites showed
beyond the lids.

"Yes, that Slavens is one of these men that'd eat hot rocks for the
woman he loves," he sneered. "Well, it's up to him to show how far he'll
go for you."

"It's unworthy of even you, Jerry, to talk like that," she reproved. "As
far as I know, I am nothing more to Dr. Slavens than any other friend.
If you want his claim, why don't you go down there and buy it, as you
were ready to buy it from Peterson if you could have filed him on it?"

"Because I can get it cheaper," said Boyle. "I'll not give him ten cents
for it. It's your job to go and tell him that I want him to go over to
Meander and pay up on that land, and I'll furnish the money for it, but
before he pays he must sign a relinquishment to me."

"I'll not do it!" she declared.

"If you won't lead, I'll have to try spurs, and I don't like to do that,
Agnes, for the sake of old days."

"Forget the old days."

"I'll go you," said he.

"There's nothing that you can tell these people about me that will lower
me much in their estimation. None of them, except Smith, knows me very
well, anyhow. I don't care so much for their opinion, for I'm not here
to please them."

Boyle placed his hand on her shoulder and looked gravely into her face.

"But if I was to show proof to the land commissioner that you'd got
possession of a homestead here through fraud and perjury, then where
would you land?" he asked.

"It isn't true!" she cried, fear rising within her and driving away the
color of courage which to that moment had flown in her face.

"It is true, Agnes," he protested. "You registered under the name of
Agnes Horton and made affidavit that it was your lawful name; you
entered this land under the same name, and took title to it in the
preliminaries, and that's fraud and perjury, if I know anything about
the definition of either term."

"Do you mean to tell me, Jerry," she faltered, "that I'd have to go to
prison if Dr. Slavens wouldn't consent to save me by giving up his claim
to you?"

"Well, the disgrace of it would amount to about the same, even if a jury
refused to send you up," said he brutally, grinning a little over the
sight of her consternation. "You'd be indicted, you see, by the Federal
grand jury, and arrested by the United States marshal, and locked up.
Then you'd be tried, and your picture would be put in the papers, and
the devil would be to pay all around. You'd lose your homestead anyhow,
and your right to ever take another. Then where would the City of Refuge
be?"

"But you wouldn't do it," she appealed, placing her hand on his arm,
looking into his face beseechingly, the sudden weight of her trouble
making her look old. "You wouldn't do it, Jerry, would you?"

"Wouldn't I?" he mocked disdainfully. "Well, you watch me!"

"It's a cowardly way to use an advantage over a woman!"

"Never mind," grinned Boyle. "I'll take care of that. If that tin-horn
doctor wants to toe the line and do what I say to keep you out of a
Federal pen, then let him step lively. If he does it, then you can stay
here in peace as long as you live, for anything I'll ever say or do.
You'll be Agnes Horton to me as long as my tongue's in workin' order,
and I'll never know any more about where you came from or what passed
before in your history than Smith down there."

Agnes stood with her head drooping, as if the blackmailer's words had
taken away the last shoring prop of her ambition and hope. After a while
she raised her white, pained face.

"And if I refuse to draw the doctor into this to save myself?" she
asked.

"Then I guess you'll have to suffer, old kid!" said he.

Boyle saw the little tremor which ran over her shoulders like a chill,
and smiled when he read it as the outward signal of inward terror. He
had no doubt in the world that she would lay hold of his alternative to
save herself and her plans for others, as quickly as he, coward at
heart, would sacrifice a friend for his own comfort or gain.

Yet Agnes had no thought in that moment of sacrificing Dr. Slavens and
his prospects, which the unmasking of Boyle's hand now proved to be
valuable, to save herself. There must be some other way, she thought,
and a few hours to turn it in her mind, and reflect and plan, might show
her the road to her deliverance. She did not doubt that the penalty for
what she had done would be as heavy as Boyle threatened.

"So it's up to you, handle first," exulted Boyle, breaking her
reflections. "I'll ride off down the river a little piece and go into
camp, and tomorrow evening I'll come up for your answer from Slavens.
It's about twenty miles from here to his claim, and you can make it
there and back easy if you'll start early in the morning. So it's all up
to you, and the quicker the sooner, as the man said."

With that, Boyle rode away. According to her newly formed habit, Agnes
gathered her wood and made a fire in the little stove outside her tent,
for the day was wasting and the shadow of the western hills was reaching
across the valley.

Life had lost its buoyancy for her in that past unprofitable hour. It
lay around her now like a thing collapsed, which she lacked the warm
breath to restore. Still, the evening was as serene as past evenings;
the caress of the wind was as soft as any of the south's slow breathings
of other days. For it is in the heart that men make and dismantle their
paradises, and from the heart that the fountain springs which lends its
color to every prospect that lies beyond.

Boyle's dust had not settled before Smith came by, jangling a
road-scraper behind his team. He was coming from his labor of leveling a
claim, skip one, up the river. He drew up, his big red face as refulgent
as the setting sun, a smile on it which dust seemed only to soften and
sweat to illumine. He had a hearty word for her, noting the depression
of her spirit.

After passing the commonplaces, a ceremony which must be done with Smith
whether one met him twice or twenty times a day, he waved his hand down
the river in the direction that Boyle had gone.

"Feller come past here a little while ago?" he asked, knowing very well
that Boyle had left but a few minutes before.

"He has just gone," she told him.

"Jerry Boyle," nodded Smith; "the Governor's son. He ain't got no use
for me, and I tell you, if I had a woman around the place----"

Smith hung up his voice there as if something had crossed his mind. He
stood looking down the valley in a speculative way.

"Yes?" she inquired, respectfully recalling him.

"Yes," repeated Smith. "If I had a woman around the house I'd take a
shot at that feller as quick as I would at a lobo-wolf!"

Smith jangled on, his scraper making toadish hops and tortoise-like tips
and amblings over the inequalities in the way. She looked after him, a
new light shining from her eyes, a new passion stirring her bosom, where
his words had fallen like a spark upon tinder.

So that was the estimation in which men held Jerry Boyle--men like
Smith, who moved along the lower levels of life and smoothed over the
rough places for others to pass by and by! It must be but the reflection
of thought in higher planes--"If I had a woman around the place!" Such
then was the predatory reputation of Jerry Boyle, who was capable of
dishonorable acts in more directions than one, whose very presence was a
taint.

And he would ride back there tomorrow evening, perhaps after the sun had
set, perhaps after darkness had fallen, to receive the answer to his
dishonorable proposal that she sacrifice her friend to save herself from
his spite, and the consequences of her own misguided act.

"If I had a woman around the place!"

The spark in the tinder was spreading, warming, warming, glowing into a
fierce, hot flame. Like a wolf--like a wolf--Smith would take a shot at
him--like a wolf! Smith had compared him to a wolf; had said he could be
as mean as a wolf--and if there was a woman around the place!

She went into the tent, the blood rising hot to her temples, beating,
singing in her ears. The revolver which she had brought with her on the
doctor's advice hung at the head of her cot. With it strapped around her
she went back to her stove, which she fed with a wild vigor, exulting in
seeing the flames pour out of the pipe and the thin sides grow red.

"Like a wolf--like a wolf!"

The words pounded in her mind, leaped through her circulation like
quickening fire.

"Like a wolf--if there was a woman around the house----"

And a man like that was coming back, perhaps when the darkness had let
down over that still valley, expecting her to say that she had killed
the hope of her dearest friend to shield herself from his smirched and
guilty hand!



CHAPTER XV

AN ARGUMENT ENDS


Morning found Agnes only the more firmly determined to bear her troubles
alone. Smith came by early. He looked curiously at the revolver, which
she still carried at her waist, but there was approval in his eyes. The
sight of the weapon seemed to cheer Smith, and make him easier in his
mind about something that had given him unrest. She heard him singing as
he passed on to his work. Across the river the bride was singing also,
and there seemed to be a song in even the sound of the merry axes among
the cottonwoods, where her neighboring settler and his two lank sons
were chopping and hewing the logs for their cabin. But there was no song
in her own heart, where it was needed most.

She knew that Jerry Boyle had camped somewhere near the stage-road,
where he could watch her coming and going to carry the demand on Dr.
Slavens which he had left with her. He would be watching the road even
now, and he would watch all day, or perhaps ride up there to learn the
reason when he failed to see her pass. She tied back the flaps of her
tent to let the wind blow through, and to show any caller that she was
not at home, then saddled her horse and rode away into the hills. It
needed a day of solitude, she thought, to come to a conclusion on the
question how she was to face it out with Jerry Boyle. Whether to stay
and fight the best that she was able, or to turn and fly, leaving all
her hopes behind, was a matter which must be determined before night.

In pensive mood she rode on, giving her horse its head, but following a
general course into the east. As her wise animal picked its way over the
broken ground, she turned the situation in her mind.

There was no doubt that she had been indiscreet in the manner of taking
up her homestead, but she could not drive herself to the belief that she
had committed a moral crime. And the doctor. He would drop all his
prospects in the land that he held if she should call on him, she well
believed. He was big enough for a sacrifice like that, with never a
question in his honest eyes to cloud the generosity of the act. If she
had him by to advise her in this hour, and to benefit by his wisdom and
courage, she sighed, how comfortable it would be.

Perhaps she should have gone, mused she, pursuing this thought, to his
place, and put the thing before him in all its ugliness, with no
reservations, no attempts to conceal or defend. He could have told her
how far her act was punishable. Perhaps, at the most, it would mean no
more than giving up the claim, which was enough, considering all that
she had founded on it. Yes, she should have ridden straight to Dr.
Slavens; that would have been the wiser course.

Considering whether she would have time to go and return that day,
wasted as the morning was, she pulled up her horse and looked around to
see if she could estimate by her location the distance from her camp.
That she had penetrated the country east of the river farther than ever
before, was plain at a glance. The surroundings were new to her. There
was more vegetation, and marks of recent grazing everywhere.

She mounted the hill-crest for a wider survey, and there in a little
valley below her she saw a flock of sheep grazing, while farther along
the ridge stood a sheep-wagon, a strange and rather disconcerting figure
striding up and down beside it.

Doubtless it was the shepherd, she understood. But a queer figure he
made in that place; and his actions were unusual, to say the least, in
one of his sedate and melancholy calling. He was a young man, garbed in
a long, black coat, tattered more or less about the skirts and open in
front, displaying his red shirt. His hair was long upon his collar, and
his head was bare.

As he walked up and down a short beat near his wagon, the shepherd held
in his hand a book, which he placed before his eyes with a flourish now,
and then with a flourish withdrew it, meantime gesticulating with his
empty hand in the most extravagant fashion. His dog, sharper of
perception than its master, lay aside from him a little way, its ears
pricked up, its sharp nose lifted, sniffing the scent of the stranger.
But it gave no alarm.

Agnes felt that the man must be harmless, whatever his peculiarities.
She rode forward, bent on asking him how far she had strayed from the
river. As she drew near, she heard him muttering and declaiming,
illustrating his arguments of protestation with clenched fist and
tossing head, his long hair lifting from his temples in the wind.

He greeted her respectfully, without sign of perturbation or surprise,
as one well accustomed to the society of people above the rank of
shepherd.

"My apparent eccentric behavior at the moment when you first saw me,
madam, or miss, perhaps, most likely I should say, indeed----"

Agnes nodded, smiling, to confirm his penetration.

"So, as I was saying, my behavior may have led you into doubt of my
balance, and the consequent question of your safety in my vicinity," he
continued.

"Nothing of the kind, I assure you," said she. "I thought you might be
a--a divinity student by your dress, or maybe a candidate for the legal
profession."

"Neither," he disclaimed. "I am a philosopher, and at the moment you
first beheld me I was engaged in a heated controversy with Epictetus,
whose _Discourses_ I hold in my hand. We are unable to agree on many
points, especially upon the point which he assumes that he has made in
the discussion of grief. He contends that when one is not blamable for
some calamity which bereaves him or strips him of his possessions, grief
is unmanly, regret inexcusable.

"'How?' say I, meeting him foot to foot on the controversy, 'in case I
lose my son, my daughter, my wife--the wife of my soul and heart--shall
I not grieve? shall I not be permitted the solace of a tear?'

"And Epictetus: 'Were you to blame for the disease which cut them off?
Did you light the fire which consumed them, or sink the ship which
carried them down?'

"'No,' I answer; 'but because I'm blameless shall I become inhuman, and
close my heart to all display of tenderness and pain?'

"And there we have it, miss, over and over again. Ah, I am afraid we
shall never agree!"

"It is lamentable," Agnes agreed, believing that the young man's life in
the solitudes had unsettled his mind. "I never agree with him on that
myself."

The philosopher's hollow, weathered face glowed as she gave this
testimony. He drew a little nearer to her, shaking the long, dark, loose
hair back from his forehead.

"I am glad that you don't think me demented," said he. "Many, who do not
understand the deeper feelings of the soul, do believe it. The
hollow-minded and the unstable commonly lose their small balance of
reason in these hills, miss, with no companionship, month in and month
out, but a dog and the poor, foolish creatures which you see in the
valley yonder. But to one who is a philosopher, and a student of the
higher things, this situation offers room for the expansion of the soul.
Mine has gone forth and enlarged here; it has filled the universe."

"But a man of your education and capabilities," she suggested, thinking
to humor him, "ought to be more congenially situated, it seems to me.
There must be more remunerative pursuits which you could follow?"

"Remuneration for one may not be reward for another," he told her. "I
shall remain here until my mission is accomplished."

He turned to his flock, and, with a motion of the arm, sped his dog to
fetch in some stragglers which seemed straying off waywardly over the
crest of the opposite hill. As he stood so she marked his ascetic
gauntness, and noted that the hand which swung at his side twitched and
clenched, and that the muscles of his cleanly shaved jaws swelled as he
locked his teeth in determination.

"Your mission?" she asked, curious regarding what it might be, there in
the solitude of those barren hills.

"I see that you are armed," he observed irrelevantly, as if the subject
of his mission had been put aside. "I have a very modern weapon of that
pattern in the wagon, but there is little call for the use of it here.
Perhaps you live in the midst of greater dangers than I?"

"I'm one of the new settlers over in the river bottom," she explained.
"I rode up to ask you how far I'd strayed from home."

"It's about seven miles across to the river, I should estimate," he told
her. "I graze up to the boundary of the reservation, and it's called
five miles from there."

"Thank you; I think I'll be going back then."

"Will you do me the favor to look at this before you go?" he asked,
drawing a folded paper from the inner pocket of his coat and handing it
to her.

It was a page from one of those so-called _Directories_ which small
grafters go about devising in small cities and out-on-the-edge
communities, in which the pictures of the leading citizens are printed
for a consideration. The page had been folded across the center; it was
broken and worn.

"You may see the person whose portrait is presented there," said he,
"and if you should see him, you would confer a favor by letting me
know."

"Why, I saw him yesterday!" she exclaimed in surprise. "It's Jerry
Boyle!"

The sheep-herder's eyes brightened. A glow came into his brown face.

"You do well to go armed where that wolf ranges!" said he. "You know
him--you saw him yesterday. Is he still there?"

"Why, I think he's camped somewhere along the river," she told him,
unable to read what lay behind the excitement in the man's manner.

He folded the paper and returned it to his pocket, his breath quick upon
his lips. Suddenly he laid hold of her bridle with one hand, and with
the other snatched the revolver from her low-swinging holster.

"Don't be alarmed," said he; "but I want to know. Tell me true--lean
over and whisper in my ear. Is he your friend?"

"No, no! Far from it!" she whispered, complying with his strange order
out of fear that his insanity, flaming as it was under the spur of some
half-broken memory, might lead him to take her life.

He gave her back the revolver and released the horse.

"Go," said he. "But don't warn him, as you value your own life! My
mission here is to kill that man!"

Perhaps it was a surge of unworthiness which swept her, lifting her
heart like hope. The best of us is unworthy at times; the best of us is
base. Selfishness is the festering root of more evil than gold. In that
flash it seemed to her that Providence had raised up an arm to save her.
She leaned over, her face bright with eagerness.

"Has he wronged you, too?" she asked.

He lifted his hand to his forehead slowly, as if in a gesture of pain.
The blood had drained from his face; his cheek-bones were marked white
through his wind-hardened skin.

"It's not a subject to be discussed with a woman, sir," said he
absently. "There was a wife--somewhere there was a wife! This man came
between us. I was not then what I am today--a shepherd on the hills....
But I must keep you here; you will betray me and warn him if I let you
go!" he cried, rousing suddenly, catching her bridle again.

"No, I'll not warn him," Agnes assured him.

"If I thought you would"--he hesitated, searching her face with his
fevered eyes, in which red veins showed as in the eyes of an angry
dog--"I'd have to sacrifice you!"

Agnes felt that she never could draw her weapon in time, in case the
eccentric tried to take it away again, and her heart quailed as she
measured the distance she would have to ride before the fall of the
ground would protect her, even if she should manage to break his hold on
the bridle, and gallop off while he was fetching his pistol from the
wagon.

"I'll not warn him," said she, placing her hand on his arm. "I give you
my sincere word that I'll do nothing to save him from what I feel to be
your just vengeance."

"Go, before I doubt you again!" he cried, slapping her horse with his
palm as he let go the bridle.

From the tip of the hill she looked back. He had disappeared--into the
wagon, she supposed; and she made haste to swerve from the straight
course to put another hill between them, in case he might run after her,
his mad mind again aflame with the belief that she would cheat him of
his revenge.

Agnes arrived in camp full of tremors and contradictory emotions. One
minute she felt that she should ride and warn Boyle, guilty as he might
be, and deserving of whatever punishment the hand of the wronged man
might be able to inflict; the next she relieved herself of this impulse
by arguing that the insane sheep-herder was plainly the instrument of
fate--she lacked the temerity, after the first flush, to credit it to
Providence--lifted up to throw his troubles between her and her own.

She sat in the sun before her tent thinking it over, for and against,
cooling considerably and coming to a saner judgment of the situation.
Every little while she looked toward the hills, to see if the shepherd
had followed her. She had seen no horse in the man's camp; he could not
possibly make it on foot, under two hours, even if he came at all, she
told herself.

Perhaps it was an imaginary grievance, based upon the reputation which
Boyle had earned for himself; maybe the poor, declaiming philosopher had
forgotten all about it by now, and had returned to his discourses and
his argument. She brewed a pot of tea, for the shadows were marking
noonday, and began to consider riding down the river to find Boyle and
tell him of the man's threat, leaving him to follow his own judgment in
the matter. His conscience would tell him whether to stand or fly.

Strong as her resentment was against the man who had come into her plans
so unexpectedly and thrown them in a tangle, she felt that it would be
wrong to her own honesty to conceal from him the knowledge of his
danger. Perhaps there remained manliness enough in him to cause him to
withdraw his avaricious scheme to oust Dr. Slavens in return for a
service like that. She determined at last to seek Boyle in his camp.

She brought up her horse and saddled it, took a look around camp to see
that everything was in shape--for she liked to leave things tidy, in
case some of the neighbors should stop in--and was about to mount, when
a man's head and shoulders appeared from behind her own cottonwood log.
A glance showed her that it was the sheep-herder. His head was bare, his
wild hair in his eyes.

He got to his feet, his pistol in his hand.

"I watched you," said he, sheathing the weapon, as if he had changed his
mind about the use of it. "I knew you'd go!"

"But I didn't intend to when I parted from you up there on the hill,"
she declared, greatly confused over being caught in this breach of faith
with even a crazy man.

"I considered that, too," said the philosopher. "But I watched you. I'll
never be fool enough to entirely trust a woman again. You all lie!"

She wondered how he had arrived there so quickly and silently, for he
gave no evidence of fatigue or heat. She did not know the dry endurance
which a life like his builds up in a man. Sheep-herders in that country
are noted for their fleetness. It is a common saying of them that their
heels are as light as their heads.

But there he was, at any rate, and her good intentions toward Boyle must
be surrendered. Conscience had a palliative in the fact that she had
meant to go.

"Heaven knows I have as little reason to wish him well as you!" said
she, speaking in low voice, as if to herself, as she began to undo the
saddle girth.

"Stay here, then," said the sheep-herder, watching her with glistening
eyes. "I'll kill him for both of us! Where is his camp?"

"I don't know," she replied, shuddering.

The demented shepherd's way of speaking of taking a human life, even
though a worthless one, or a vicious one, was eager and hungry. He
licked his lips like a dog.

"You said he was camped on the river. Where?"

"I don't know," she returned again.

"I'll tell you," said he, staying her hand as she tugged on a strap.
"Both of us will go! You shall ride, and I'll run beside you. But"--he
bent over, grinding his teeth and growling between them--"you sha'n't
help kill him! That's for me, alone!"

She drew back from his proposal with a sudden realization of what a
desperately brutal thing this unstrung creature was about to do,
with a terrible arraignment of self-reproach because she had made no
effort to dissuade him or place an obstacle in the way of accomplishing
his design. It was not strange, thought she, with a revulsion of
self-loathing, that he accepted her as a willing accomplice and
proposed that she bear a hand. Even her effort to ride and find Boyle
had been half-hearted. She might have gone, she told herself, before
the herder arrived.

"No, no! I couldn't go! I couldn't!" she cried, forgetting that she was
facing an unbalanced man, all the force of pleading in her voice.

"No, you want to kill him yourself!" he charged savagely. "Give me that
horse--give it to me, I tell you! I'll go alone!"

He sprang into the saddle, not waiting to adjust the stirrups to his
long legs. With his knees pushed up like a jockey's, he rode off, the
pointer of chance, or the cunning of his own inscrutable brain,
directing him the way Boyle had gone the evening before.

His going left her nerveless and weak. She sat and watched him out of
sight beyond the cottonwoods and willows, thinking what a terrible thing
it was to ride out with the cold intention of killing a man. This man
was irresponsible; the strength of his desire for revenge had
overwhelmed his reason. The law would excuse him of murder, for in the
dimness of his own mind there was no conception of crime.

But what excuse could there be for one who sat down in deliberation----

Base Jerry Boyle might be, ready to sacrifice unfeelingly the innocent
for his own pleasure and gain, ready to strike at their dearest hopes,
ready to trample under his feet the green gardens of their hearts'
desire; yet, who should sit in judgment on him, or seek a justification
in his deeds to--to---- Even then she could not bring her thoughts to
express it, although her wild heart had sung over it less than
twenty-four hours before.

A shiver of sickness turned her cold. With quick, nervous fingers she
unbuckled the belt which held her revolver and cartridges; she carried
the weapon into the tent and flung it to the ground.

At dusk the sheep-herder returned, with the horse much blown.

"He had been there, but he's gone," he announced. "I followed him
eastward along the stage-road, but lost his trail."

He dismounted and dropped the reins to the ground. Agnes set about to
relieve the tired animal of the burden of the saddle, the sheep-herder
offering no assistance. He stood with his head bent, an air of dejection
and melancholy over him, a cloud upon his face. Presently he walked
away, saying no more. She watched him as he went, moodily and unheeding
of his way, until he passed out of view around a thicket of tangled
shrubs which grew upon the river-bank.

While her horse was relieving his weariness in contented sighs over his
oats, Agnes made a fire and started her evening coffee. She had a
feeling of cleanness in her conscience, and a lightness of heart which
she knew never could have been her own to enjoy again if the crazed
herder had come back with blood upon his hands.

There was no question about the feeling of loneliness that settled down
upon her with aching intensity when she sat down to her meal, spread on
a box, the lantern a yellow speck in the boundless night. A rod away its
poor, futile glimmer against such mighty odds was understood, standing
there with no encompassing walls to mark the boundary of its field. It
was like the struggle of a man who stands alone in the vastness of life
with no definite aim to circumscribe his endeavor, wasting his feeble
illumination upon a little rod of earth.

We must have walls around us, both lanterns and men, rightly to fill the
sphere of our designed usefulness; walls to restrain our wastrel forces;
walls to bind our lustful desires, our foolish ambitions, our outwinging
flights. Yet, in its way, the lantern served nobly, as many a man serves
in the circle which binds his small adventures, and beyond which his
fame can never pass.

From the door of her tent Agnes looked out upon the lantern, comparing
herself with it, put down there as she was in that blank land, which was
still in the night of its development. Over that place, which she had
chosen to make a home and a refuge, her own weak flame would fall dimly,
perhaps never able to light it all. Would it be worth the struggle, the
heart-hunger for other places and things, the years of waiting, the toil
and loneliness?

She went back to her supper, the cup which she had gone to fetch in her
hand. The strength of night made her heart timid; the touch of food was
dry and tasteless upon her lips. For the first time since coming to that
country she felt the pain of discouragement. What could she do against
such a great, rough thing? Would it ever be worth the labor it would
cost?

Feeble as her light was against the night, it was enough to discover
tears upon her cheeks as she sat there upon the ground. Her fair hair
lay dark in the shadows, and light with that contrast which painters
love, where it lifted in airy rise above her brow. And there were the
pensive softness of her chin, the sweep of her round throat, the profile
as sharp as a shadow against the mellow glow. Perhaps the lantern was
content in its circumscribed endeavor against the night, when it could
light to such good advantage so much loveliness.

                   *       *       *       *       *

"If I'd have put my hands over your eyes, who would you have named?"
asked a voice near her ear, a voice familiar, and fitted in that moment
with old associations.

"I'd have had no trouble in guessing, Jerry, for I was expecting you,"
she answered, scarcely turning her head, although his silent manner of
approach had startled her.

"Agnes, I don't believe you've got any more nerves than an Indian," he
said, dropping down beside her.

"If one wanted to make a facetious rejoinder, the opening is excellent,"
she said, fighting back her nervousness with a smile. "Will you have
some supper?"

"I'd like it, if you don't mind."

She busied herself with the stove, but he peremptorily took away from
her the office of feeding the fire, and watched her as she put bacon on
to fry.

"Agnes, you ought to have been frying bacon for me these four years
past--figuratively, I mean," he remarked, musingly.

"If you don't mind, we'll not go back to that," she said.

Boyle made no mention of the purpose of his visit. He made his supper
with ambassadorial avoidance of the subject which lay so uneasily on her
mind. When he had finished, he drew out his tobacco-sack and rolled a
cigarette, and, as it dangled from his lip by a shred of its wrapping,
he turned to her.

"Well?" he asked.

She was standing near the lantern, removing the few utensils--the bacon
had been served to him in the pan--from her outdoor table. When she
answered him she turned away until her face was hidden in the shadow.

"I didn't carry your message to Dr. Slavens as you ordered, Jerry."

"I know it," said he. "What next?"

"I guess it's 'up to you,' as you put it. I'm not going to try to save
myself at the expense of any of my friends."

Boyle got up. He took a little turn away from the box whereon the
lantern stood, as if struggling to maintain the fair front he had worn
when he appeared. After a little he turned and faced her, walking back
slowly until only the length of the little stove was between them.

"Have you considered your own danger?" he asked.

"It wouldn't help you a great deal here, among these rough, fair-minded
people, to take an advantage like that of a woman, especially when her
transgression is merely technical and not intentional," she rejoined.

"I wouldn't have to appear in it," he assured her.

"Well, set the United States marshal after me as soon as you want to;
I'll be here," she said, speaking with the even tone of resignation
which one commands when the mind has arrived at a determined stand to
face the last and worst.

"Agnes, I told you yesterday that I was all over the old feeling that I
had for you."

Boyle leaned forward as he spoke, his voice earnest and low.

"But that was a bluff. I'm just as big a fool as I ever was about it. If
you want to walk over me, go ahead; if you want to--oh, rats! But I'll
tell you; if you'll come away with me I'll drop all of this. I'll leave
that tin-horn doctor where he is, and let him make what he can out of
his claim."

"I couldn't marry you, Jerry; it's impossible to think of that," she
told him gently.

"Oh, well, that's a formality," he returned, far more in his voice than
his words. "I'll say to you----"

"You've said too much!" she stopped him, feeling her cheeks burn under
the outrage which he had offered to her chaste heart. "There's no room
for any more words between you and me--never! Go now--say no more!"

She walked across the bright ring of light toward the tent, making a
little detour around him, as if afraid that his violent words might be
followed by violent deeds.

Boyle turned where he stood, following her with his eyes. The light of
the lantern struck him strongly up to the waist, leaving his head and
shoulders in the gloom above its glare. His hands were in the pockets of
his trousers, his shoulders drooping forward in that horseback stoop
which years in the saddle had fastened on him.

Agnes had reached the tent, where she stood with her hand on the flap,
turning a hasty look behind her, when a shot out of the dark from the
direction of the river-bank struck her ears with a suddenness and a
portent which seemed to carry the pain of death. She was facing that
way; she saw the flash of it; she saw Jerry Boyle leap with lithe
agility, as if springing from the scourge of flames, and sling his
pistol from the hostler under his coat.

In his movement there was an admirable quickness, rising almost to the
dignity of beauty in the rapidity with which he adjusted himself to meet
this sudden exigency. In half the beat of a heart, it seemed, he had
fired. Out of the dark came another leap of flame, another report. Boyle
walked directly toward the point from which it came, firing as he went.
No answer came after his second shot.

Agnes pressed her hand over her eyes to shut out the sight, fearing to
see him fall, her heart rising up to accuse her. She had forgotten to
warn him! She had forgotten!

Boyle's voice roused her. There was a dry harshness in it, a hoarseness
as of one who has gone long without water on the lips.

"Bring that lantern here!" he commanded.

She did not stand to debate it, but took up the light and hurried to the
place where he stood. A man lay at his feet, his long hair tossed in
disorder, his long coat spread out like a black blotch upon the ground.
Boyle took the lantern and bent over the victim of his steady arm,
growled in his throat, and bent lower. The man's face was partly hidden
by the rank grass in which he lay. Boyle turned it up to the light with
his foot and straightened his back with a grunt of disdain.

"Huh! _That_ rabbit!" said he, giving her back the light.

It did not require that gleam upon the white face to tell Agnes that the
victim was the polemical sheep-herder, whose intention had been steadier
than his aim.

Boyle hesitated a moment as if to speak to her, but said nothing before
he turned and walked away.

"You've killed him!" she called after him sharply. "Don't go away and
leave him here like this!"

"He's not dead," said Boyle. "Don't you hear him snort?"

The man's breathing was indeed audible, and growing louder with each
labored inspiration.

"Turn him over on his face," directed Boyle. "There's blood in his
throat."

"Will you go for Smith?" she asked, kneeling beside the wounded man.

"He's coming; I can hear the sauerkraut jolt in him while he's half a
mile away. If anybody comes looking for me on account of this--coroner
or--oh, anybody--I'll be down the river about a quarter below the
stage-ford. I'll wait there a day longer to hear from you, and this is
my last word."

With that Boyle left her. Smith came very shortly, having heard the
shots; and the people from up the river came, and the young man from the
bridal nest across on the other side. They made a wondering, awed ring
around the wounded man, who was pronounced by Smith to be in deep
waters. There was a bullet through his neck.

Smith believed there was life enough left in the sheep-herder to last
until he could fetch a doctor from Meander.

"But that's thirty miles," said Agnes, "and Dr. Slavens is not more than
twenty. You know where he's located--down by Comanche?"

Smith knew, but he had forgotten for the minute, so accustomed to
turning as he was to the center of civilization in that section for all
the gentle ministrants of woe, such as doctors, preachers, and
undertakers.

"I'll have him here before morning," said Smith, posting off to get his
horse.

The poor sheep-herder was too sorely hurt to last the night out. Before
Smith had been two hours on his way the shepherd was in the land of
shades, having it out face to face with Epictetus--if he carried the
memory of his contention across with him, to be sure.

The neighbors arranged him respectably upon a board, and covered him
over with a blanket, keeping watch beside him in the open, with the
clear stars shining undisturbed by this thing which made such a turmoil
in their breasts. There he lay, waiting the doctor and the coroner, and
all who might come, his earthly troubles locked up forever in his cold
heart, his earthly argument forever at an end.



CHAPTER XVI

A PROMISE


Dr. Slavens rode in before dawn, more concerned about Agnes than about
the person in whose behalf he had been summoned. On the way he asked
Smith repeatedly how the tragedy affected her; whether she was
frightened or greatly disturbed.

"She's as steady as a compass," said Smith; and so he found her.

Somewhat too steady, in fact. It was the steadiness of a deep and
settled melancholy, through which his best efforts could do no more than
strike a feeble, weary smile.

Immediately upon the death of the herder, one of the men had ridden to
Meander and carried word to the coroner. That official arrived in the
middle of the forenoon, bringing with him the undertaker and a wagon.
After some perfunctory inquiries, the coroner concluded that an inquest
was not necessary. He did not go to the trouble to find Boyle and
question him, but he looked with a familiar understanding in his piggish
eyes at Agnes when she related the circumstances of the tragedy.

Coroners, and others who knew the Governor's son, had but one measure
for a woman who entertained Jerry Boyle alone in her tent, or even
outside it, at night. Boyle's associations had set the standard of his
own morality, as well as that of his consorts. The woman from up the
river, and the little bride from across the ford, drew off together,
whispering, after Agnes had told her story. Presently they slipped away
without a word.

Even Dr. Slavens, cool and just-minded as he was, felt the hot stirring
of jealous suspicion. It brought to his mind unpleasantly the
ruminations of his solitary days in camp among the rocks, when he had
turned over in his mind the belief that there was something of the past
between Agnes and Boyle.

He had not convicted her in his own judgment of any wrong, for the
sincerity of her eyes had stood between him and the possibility of any
such conclusion. Now the thought that, after all his trust, she might be
unworthy, smote painfully upon his heart.

When the others had gone away, after a little standing around,
hitch-legged and wise, in close discussion of the event, the doctor
sitting, meantime, with Agnes in front of the tent, he spoke of the
necessity of getting back to his claim. She was pale after the night's
strain, although apparently unconscious of the obloquy of her neighbors.
Nevertheless, she pressed him to remain for the midday meal.

"I've not been very hospitable, I'm afraid," said she; "but this thing
has stunned me. It seems like it has taken something away from the
prospect of life here."

"Yes, it has taken something away," he responded, gravely thoughtful,
his look bent upon the ground.

She sprang up quickly, a sharp little cry upon her lips as if from the
shock of a blow from a hand beloved.

"I saw it in their eyes!" she cried. "But you--but you! Oh--oh--I
_trusted_ you to know!"

"Forgive me," he begged. "I did not mean to hurt you. Perhaps I was
thinking of the romance and the glamour which this had stripped away
from things here. I think my mind was running on that."

"No," she denied. "You were thinking like that little woman across the
river with the fright and horror in her big eyes. You were thinking that
I am guilty, and that there can be but one answer to the presence of
that man in my camp last night. His notorious name goes before him like
a blight."

"You'll have to move your camp now," as if seeking delicately to avoid
the ghost that seemed to have risen between them; "this place will have
unpleasant associations."

"Yes; it cannot be reconsecrated and purified."

He stood as if prepared to leave. Agnes placed her hand upon his
shoulder, looking with grieved eyes into his face.

"Will you stay a little while," she asked, "and hear me? I want to part
from you with your friendship and respect, for I am entitled to both, I
am worthy of both--if ever."

"Let me move your stool out into the sun," he suggested. "There's a
chill in the wind today. Of course I'll stay, and we'll have some more
of that excellent coffee before I go. You must teach me how you make it;
mine always turns out as muddy as a bucket of Missouri River water."

His cheerfulness was like that which a healthy man displays at the
bedside of a dying friend--assumed, but helpful in its way. He placed
her folding canvas stool in the sun beyond the shadow of the tent and
found a box for himself. Thus arranged, he waited for her to speak.

"Still, I am not sure of what I protested in regard to your friendship
and respect," said she after a little brooding silence. "I am a fraud,
taken at the best, and perhaps a criminal."

Dr. Slavens studied her face as she paused there and looked away, as if
her thoughts concentrated beyond the blue hills in the west.

"My name is not Horton," she resumed, facing him suddenly. "It is Gates,
and my father is in the Federal penitentiary at Leavenworth."

"But there was no call for you to tell me this," he protested softly.

"Yes, every reason for it," she averred. "The fabric of all my troubles
rests on that. He was president of a bank--you remember the scandal,
don't you? It was nation-wide."

He nodded.

"I spoke to you once of the ghosts of money. They have worried me for
four years and more, for nothing but the ghosts are left when one loses
place and consequence before the world. It was a national bank, and the
charge was misapplication of funds. He had money enough for all the sane
uses of any man, but the pernicious ambition to be greater assailed him,
even old as he was.

"He never said, and I never have held it so, that his punishment was
unjust. Only it seemed to us unfair when so many greater evildoers
escape or receive pardons. You will remember, perhaps, that none of the
depositors lost anything. Wild as his schemes appeared, they turned out
sound enough after a while, and everything was liquidated.

"We gave up everything of our own; mother and I have felt the rub of
hardship before today. The hardest of all was the falling away of those
whom we believed to be friends. We learned that the favors of society
are as fickle as those of fortune, and that they walk hand in hand.

"No matter. Father's term will expire in less than one month. He is an
old, broken, disgraced man; he never will be able to lift up his face
before the world again. That is why I am here. Mother and I concluded
that we might make a refuge for him here, where he would be unknown. We
planned for him to leave his name, and as much of his past as he could
shake off, behind him at the prison door.

"It was no sacrifice for me. All that I had known in the old life was
gone. Sneers followed me; the ghosts of money rose up to accuse. I was a
felon's daughter; but, worse than that--I was poor! This country held
out its arms to me, clean and undefiled. When I got my first sight of
it, and the taste of its free air in my nostrils, my heart began to
unfold again, and the cramped wrinkles fell out of my tired soul."

The sunshine was around them, and the peace of the open places. They sat
for the world to see them, and there was nothing to hide in the sympathy
that moved Dr. Slavens to reach out and take the girl's hand. He
caressed it with comforting touch, as if to mitigate the suffering of
her heart, in tearing from it for his eyes to see, her hoarded sorrow
and unearned shame.

"There is that freedom about it," said he, "when one sees it by day and
sunlight."

"But it has its nights, too," she shuddered, the shadow of last night in
her eyes.

"Yet they all pass--the longest of them and the most painful," he
comforted her.

"And leave their scars sometimes. How I came here, registered, drew a
claim, and filed on it, you know. I did all that under the name of
Horton, which is a family name on mother's side, not thinking what the
consequence might be. Now, in payment for this first breach of the law,
I must at least give up all my schemes here and retreat. I may be
prosecuted; I may even go to prison, like my father did."

"Surely not!" he protested. "Who is there to know it, to lay a charge
against you?"

"Such person is not wanting in the miserable plot of my life," she
answered. "I will reach him soon in my sorry tale."

"Boyle!" Slavens said, as if thinking aloud. "He's the man!"

"You take the name from my mouth," she told him. "He has threatened me
with prosecution. Perjury, he says it would be called, and prison would
be the penalty."

"It might be so here," he admitted.

"I met Jerry Boyle about five years ago, when father was in Congress.
His father was at that time Senator from this state. We lived in
Washington, and Jerry Boyle was then considered a very original and
delightful young man. He was fresh in from the range, but he had the
polish of a university education over his roughness, and what I know now
to be inborn coarseness was then accepted for ingenuousness. He passed
current in the best society of the capital, where he was coddled as a
butterfly of new species. We met; he made love to me, and I--I am afraid
that I encouraged him to do it at first.

"But he drank and gambled, and got into brawls. He stabbed an attaché of
the Mexican Legation over a woman, and the engagement to marry him which
I had entered into was broken. I was foolish in the first instance, but
I plead the mitigation of frivolity and youth. My heart was not in it. I
beg you to believe, Dr. Slavens, that my heart was not in it at all."

She looked at him with pleading sincerity, and from her eyes his heart
gathered its recesses full of joy.

"I need no further assurance of that," he smiled.

"You are generous. It was on the afternoon of the day that followed your
disappearance from Comanche that Boyle came into camp there. I had not
forgotten him, of course, nor his influential position in this state;
but I never thought of meeting him there. It was a sickening shock to
me. I denied his protestations of acquaintanceship, but it passed off
poorly with all of them who were present, except William Bentley,
generous gentleman that he is."

"He is so," testified Slavens.

"I left Comanche because I was afraid of him, but he rode post the night
that I engaged passage and beat me to Meander; but he wasn't hurrying on
my account, as you know. He tried to see me there in Meander, but I
refused to meet him. The day before yesterday he came here and solicited
my help in carrying out a scheme. I refused. He threatened me with
exposure and arrest on account of false entry and affidavit."

Agnes told then of her ride into the hills, the meeting with the herder,
and subsequent events up to the shooting. But she said nothing of
Boyle's base proposal to her, although her face burned at the
recollection, giving Slavens more than half a guess what was behind that
virtuous flame.

"And so, you poor little soul, all your plans for your City of Refuge
are shattered because you refuse to sacrifice somebody to keep them
whole," said he.

"No matter," she returned in that voice of abnegation which only a long
marching line of misfortunes can give a woman or a man command over. "I
have decided, anyway, to give it up. It's too big and rough and lonesome
for me."

"And that person whom you put up your heart and soul to shield," he went
on, looking steadily into her face and pursuing his former thought, "has
something in his possession which this man Boyle covets and thinks he
must have? And the cheapest and easiest way to get it is to make you pay
for it in the violation of your honest principles, if he can drive you
to it in his skulking way?"

She bowed assent, her lips tightly set.

"Yes," said he. "Just so. Well, why didn't Boyle come to me with his
threats, the coward!"

"No, no!" she cried in quick fright. "Not that; it is something--something
else."

"You poor dissembler!" he laughed. "You couldn't be dishonest if you
wanted to the worst way in the world. Well, don't you worry; I'll take
it up with him today."

"You'll _not_ give it up!" she exclaimed vehemently. "All your hopes are
there, and it's yours, and _you'll not_ give it up!"

"Never mind," he soothed, again taking her hand, which she had withdrawn
to aid in emphasizing her protest. "I don't believe he'd carry out his
threats about the United States marshal and all that."

"You'll not give it up to him unless he pays you for it," she
reiterated, ignoring her own prospect of trouble. "It's valuable, or he
wouldn't be so anxious to get it."

"Perhaps," Slavens assented.

"I'm going to leave here," she hurriedly pursued. "It was foolish of me
to come, in the first place. The vastness of it bewildered me, and 'the
lonesomeness,' as Smith calls it, is settling in my heart."

"Well, where will you go?" he asked bewilderedly.

"Somewhere--to some village or little farm, where we can raise poultry,
mother and I."

"But I haven't planned it that way," Slavens smiled. "If you leave, what
am I going to do?"

"I don't know," she acknowledged, "unless--unless you come some time."

"Look here, Agnes," said he, taking the matter entirely in hand. "When
we leave this place, we'll leave together. I've arranged that all in my
mind and intention. It's all disposed of and settled. Here comes Boyle
now, I think."

Boyle left his horse standing a few rods distant and came over to where
they sat.

"You look comfortable," he commented, as serene and unperturbed as if
the load of one more human life on his soul were a matter too light to
be felt with inconvenience.

"Very comfortable," answered Slavens, rising stiffly. "We have nothing
on our hands that common water will not wash off."

"Oh, that nut!" depreciated Boyle. "He'd talked around for a year or two
about getting me. I only beat him to it when he tried; that's all."

"But there was another occasion--another attempt that didn't turn out
quite like you intended," said Slavens. "Do you remember me?"

"Yes; you're the tin-horn doctor that held a man up in Comanche and
stole the coat off of his back," Boyle retorted with easy insolence.

Agnes looked at the doctor imploringly, plainly begging him not to
provoke Boyle to another outbreak of violence. She was standing beside
him, the fear and loathing which Boyle's presence aroused undisguised in
her frank face.

"It was an outrage against one of the honest men who tried to murder
me," said the doctor. "But, vicious as it was, neither Shanklin nor you,
his side-partner, has ever made a squeal. If it was a holdup, why
haven't you sent one of your little sheriffs out after me?"

"I'm no partner of Hun Shanklin's!" denied Boyle.

"Maybe you've parted company since the night you slugged me and nailed
me up in that box for the river to hide your work."

"I'll make you prove that charge!" threatened Boyle hotly.

"I can't prove it," admitted the doctor. "If I could, I'd have you in
court tomorrow. But you were one of them, and I want you to understand
fully that I know it, and will treat you accordingly in any private
dealings that may come up between you and me."

"If you keep spoutin' it around that I ever slugged you, I'll pull you
into court and make you prove it! It'll either be put up or shut up with
you, mister!"

"Whenever you're ready," invited Slavens.

With somewhat more of ostentation than the simple act seemed to warrant,
Boyle unbuttoned his coat, displaying his revolver as he made an
exploration of his vest-pockets for a match to light his cigarette.

"Well, I guess you know what I'm here for?" Boyle suggested, passing his
glance significantly from one to the other of them.

"Dr. Slavens is acquainted with your proposal," said Agnes; "and it
ought to be needless for me to say that I'll not permit him to make any
concession to shield myself."

"Fine! fine!" said Boyle in mock applause, throwing his head back and
snorting smoke.

"In the first place," said Slavens, "your bluff don't go. Miss Gates has
not broken any law in registering and entering this land under an
_alias_. There's no crime in assuming a name, and no felony in acquiring
property under it, unless fraud is used. She has defrauded nobody, and
you could not make a case against her in a thousand years!"

"I can get an indictment--that's a cinch!" declared Boyle.

"Go ahead," said the doctor. "We've got some new blood in this country
now, and we can find a jury that you don't own and control when it comes
to trial."

"And after the indictment comes arrest and jail," Boyle continued,
overlooking the doctor's argument in the lofty security of his position.
"It would make a lot of noisy talk, considering the family reputation
and all that."

"And the outcome of it might be--and I doubt even that--that Miss Gates
would lose her homestead," Slavens supplied.

"You don't know the Federal judge in this district," Boyle grinned.
"Jail's what it means, and plenty of it, for the judge has to approve a
bond, if you know what that means."

"Why don't you pay Dr. Slavens for his homestead, as you were ready to
pay that man Peterson if you could have filed him on it?" Agnes asked.

"Because it's mine already," said Boyle. "This man stole the description
of that land, as I have told you before, at the point of a gun."

"Then you lied!" Slavens calmly charged.

Boyle hitched his hip, throwing the handle of his pistol into sight.

"You can say that," said he, "because I've got to have your name on a
paper."

"I'll never permit Dr. Slavens to sign away his valuable claim to you,"
declared Agnes. "I'll not allow----"

Slavens lifted his hand for silence.

"I'll do the talking for this family from now on," said he, smiling
reassuringly as he held her eyes a moment with his own.

He turned abruptly to Boyle.

"And the fighting, too, when necessary. You keep that little gun in its
place when you're around me, young man, or you'll get hurt! One more
break like that to show me that you've got it, and you and I will mix.
Just put that down in your book."

"Oh, all right, pardner!" returned Boyle with that jerky insolence which
men of his kind assume when they realize that they have been called, and
called hard. He buttoned his coat.

"And as far as Miss Gates is concerned, consider her out of this case,"
said Slavens. "But I want to have some private talk with you."

They walked over to the place where Boyle's horse stood, and there, out
of the hearing of Agnes, Slavens sounded Jerry sharply on his
intentions. It was plain that there was no bluff in Boyle; he meant what
he threatened, and he was small enough to carry it through.

As an illustration of his far-reaching influence, Boyle pointed out to
Slavens that nobody had approached the physician with an offer to buy
him out, although one had appeared anxious enough to open negotiations
the day he filed.

"When we tell a man to lay down in this part of the country, he lays
down," said Boyle; "and when we order him to walk on his hind legs, he
walks. Nobody will offer you any money for that place; it isn't worth
anything to a soul on earth but me. You couldn't sell out in a century.
You'll get that through your nut if you hang around here long enough."

For a little while Slavens thought it over, walking away a few paces and
appraising the situation studiously. Suddenly he wheeled and confronted
Boyle, leveling his finger at his face.

"Your bluff don't go, Boyle!" said he. "You'd just as well get on your
horse and light out; and if you want to bring it to a fight, then let it
be a fight. We'll meet you on any ground you pick."

"You're a fool!" snarled Boyle.

"Then I'll be a bigger one--big enough to call you to account before
another day has passed over your head for your part in that dirty work
in Comanche that night. And I want to lay it off to you right now that
all the influence you can command in this state isn't going to save you
when I go after you!"

Boyle picked up his bridle-reins and threaded his arm through them,
standing so, legs wide apart, while he rolled a cigarette. As it dangled
between his lips and the smoke of it rose up, veiling his eyes, he
peered narrowly through it at the doctor.

"There's a man in the graveyard up at Cheyenne that made a talk like
that one time," he said.

"I'll have to take your word for that," returned Slavens, quite unmoved.
"I'll meet you at the hotel in Meander tomorrow morning at nine o'clock
for a settlement, one way or the other."

"One way or the other," repeated Boyle.

He mounted his horse and rode away toward Meander, trailing a thin line
of smoke behind him.

Agnes hurried forward to meet Slavens as he turned toward her. Her face
was bloodless, her bosom agitated.

"I heard part of what you said," she told him. "Surely you don't mean to
go over there and fight him on his own ground, among his friends?"

"I'm going over there to see the county attorney," said he. "He's from
Kansas, and a pretty straight sort of chap, it seemed to me from what I
saw of him. I'm going to put this situation of ours before him, citing a
hypothetical case, and get his advice. I don't believe that there's a
shred of a case against you, and I doubt whether Boyle can bluff the
government officials into making a move in it, even with all his
influence."

"And you'll come back here and tell me what he says, no matter what his
opinion may be, before you act one way or another?"

"If you wish it, although--Well, yes--if you wish it."

"I do, most earnestly," she assured him.

"You need a good sleep," he counseled. "Turn in as soon as I'm gone, and
don't worry about this. There's a good deal of bluff in Boyle."

"He's treacherous, and he shoots wonderfully. He killed that poor fellow
last night without ever seeing him at all."

"But I'm not going to take a shot at him out of the dark," said he.

"I know. But I'll be uneasy until you return."

"There's too much trouble in your face today for one of your years," he
said, lifting her chin with rather a professional rebuke in his eyes.
"You'll have to put it down, or it will make you old. Go right on
dreaming and planning; things will come out exactly as you have
designed."

"Perhaps," she agreed, but with little hope in her voice.

Slavens saddled his horse after they had refreshed themselves with
coffee. Agnes stood by, racked with an anxiety which seemed to grind her
heart. The physician thought of the pioneer women of his youth, of those
who lived far out on the thin edge of prairie reaches, and in the gloom
of forests which groaned around them in the lone winds of winter nights.
There was the same melancholy of isolation in Agnes' eyes today as he
had seen in theirs; the same sad hopelessness; the same hunger, and the
longing to fly from the wilderness and its hardships, heart-weariness,
and pain.

Her hand lay appealingly upon his shoulder for a moment before he
mounted, and her face was turned up to him, unspoken yearning on her
lips.

"Promise me again before you go that you will come back here before you
relinquish your homestead to Boyle," she demanded. "Promise me that, no
matter what the lawyer's opinion may be, you'll return here before you
do anything else at all."

"I promise you," said he.

When he had ridden a little way he halted his horse and turned in his
saddle to look back. She was sitting there in the sun, her head bowed,
her hands clasped over her face, as if she wept or prayed. A little
while he waited there, as if meditating a return, as if he had forgotten
something--some solace, perhaps, for which her lips had appealed to his
heart dumbly.

Yet a sincere man seldom knows these things, which a trifler is so quick
to see. He did not know, perhaps; or perhaps he was not certain enough
to turn his horse and ride back to repair his omission. Presently he
rode on slowly, his head bent, the bridle-reins loose in his hand.



CHAPTER XVII

A PLAN


The man who had supplied the horse-blanket for covering the dead
sheep-herder had taken it away, but the board upon which they had
stretched him still lay under the tree where they had left it. There was
blood on it where the wound had drained, a disturbing sight which
persisted in meeting Agnes' eye every time she came out of the tent. She
was debating in her mind whether to throw the board in the river or
split it up and burn it in the stove, when Smith came along and claimed
it.

"Scarce as wood's goin' to be in this valley six months from now," Smith
remarked, rubbing dust over the stain which did not appear to give him
any qualms, "a man's got to take care of it. That's a shelf out of my
store."

"I don't suppose you'll ever put goods on it again."

"Sure. Why not?"

"Well, not groceries, at any rate," she ventured.

"It won't hurt canned goods," Smith told her, turning it stain downward.
"Doctor gone back?"

"He's gone on to Meander on some business."

"Smart feller," commended Smith. "If I had to have my leg took off I'd
just as lief have that man do it as any doctor I ever saw."

"I'm sure he would appreciate your confidence," she smiled.

"Been acquainted with him a good while?" he wanted to know.

"Only since I've been in this country. We met on the train coming to
Comanche."

Smith sighed as if oppressed by a secret trouble, and cast his wise eye
about the camp.

"I wouldn't leave them things around out here at night," he advised,
indicating some boxes of supplies with which she was rather liberally
provided. "Animals might git at 'em."

"You don't mean bears?" she asked with lively concern.

"No; not likely bears," said he. "Badgers, more like. They're awful
thieves."

"Thank you for the advice. I meant to put them in today, but I've been
so distracted by last night's awful events----"

"Yes, I know," Smith nodded. "I'll put 'em in for you."

Smith stored the boxes within the tent. The exertion brought out the
sweat on his red face. He stood wiping it, his hat in his hand, turning
his eyes to see how she regarded his strength.

"I tell you, a woman needs a man to do the heavy work for her in a place
like this," he hinted.

"I'm finding that out," she laughed.

Smith sat down comfortably on the box lately occupied by Dr. Slavens. He
buckled his hands over a knee and sat with that foot raised from the
ground in a most ungainly, but perhaps refreshing, attitude.

"Thinkin' about marryin'?" he asked.

The frankness of the question relieved her of embarrassment. She
smiled.

"I suppose every woman thinks of that, more or less," she admitted.

Smith nodded, and slowly lowered his foot, looking up at her with sly
confidence, as if discovering to her a mighty secret which he had just
become convinced she was worthy to share.

"Well, so am I," said he.

It began to look like dangerous ground, but she didn't know how to turn
him. Thinking to try a show of abstract interest, she told him she was
glad to hear it.

"There's money to be made in this country," he continued, warming up to
his argument, "and I know how to make it. Inside of five years I'll be
able to put up a house with a cupola on it, and a picket fence in front,
and grass in the yard, for the woman that marries me."

"I believe you will," she agreed. "What kind of a noise does a bear
make?"

"Dang bears!" said Smith, disconcerted by having his plans thrown out of
joint in such an abrupt way.

"I thought I heard one the night before last," she went on. "I was
afraid."

"No need to be," he assured her. "Bears don't come down here any more.
What could a bear live on down here, I'd like to know? Snakes? Well,
bears don't eat snakes."

"Oh!" said she, enlightened.

"There's not a bear in a hundred miles of here," he told her.

"That's comforting knowledge," she said. "You've never told me about the
big grizzly that you killed. Was it long ago?"

"Not so very long," Smith replied, sighing as he saw himself led so far
away from the subject nearest his heart, and despairing of working his
courage up to it again that day.

"It was a big one, wasn't it?"

"Well, I got fifty dollars off of a feller for the hide."

"Tell me about it," she requested.

Inwardly she wished that Smith would go, so she might take a sleep, but
she feared lest he might get back to the subject of houses and wives if
she allowed him to depart from bears, and the historic grizzly in
particular.

"Well, I'll tell you. I didn't kill that bear on purpose," he began. "I
didn't go out huntin' him, and I didn't run after him. If he'd minded
his own business like I minded mine, he'd be alive today for all I'm
concerned."

"Oh, it was an accident?" she asked.

"Part accident," Smith replied. "I was a deputy game-warden in them
days, and a cowboy on the side, up in the Big Horn Valley. A gang of
fellers in knee-pants and yeller leggings come into that country,
shootin' everything that hopped up. Millionaires, I reckon they must 'a'
been, countin' their guns and the way they left game to rot on the
ground. They killed just to kill, and I tracked 'em by the smell of the
carcasses behind 'em. They made a sneak and got into Yellowstone Park,
and there's where I collared 'em. They was all settin' around a fire one
night when I come up to 'em, their guns standin' around. I throwed down
on 'em, and one fool feller he made a grab for a gun. I always was sorry
for that man."

"What did you do to him?" she asked.

"Busted a diamond he had in a ring," said Smith. "Well, they got fines,
them fellers did, when I marched 'em out of there, I'm here to tell you!
If it'd been me that was judge I'd 'a' sent 'em all to jail for life.

"When I was comin' back to the ranch from that trip I met that bear
you've heard so much talk and mostly lies, about. That bear he's the
most slandered bear that ever lived."

"Slandered?"

"That's it. He wasn't wallered to death, choked to death, pounded to
death, nor run down. He was just plain shot in the top of the head."

"What a queer place to shoot a bear! How did you manage it?"

"He managed it. He come under the tree where I was at."

"Oh, I see."

"And that's all there is to _that_ yarn, ma'am. I got a man today that I
can put on that work of levelin' off for you in the morning, if you want
me to."

"I think we'll let it stand a day or two," she told him. "I'll let you
know when to take it up again. I've got so much to think about right now
that I just stand turning round and round."

"Yes, you do feel that way in a new place, sometimes," Smith allowed.
"Well, I guess I'll have to be goin' on down to the store. Business is
pickin' up so fast I'll have to keep open all the time, not only
evenin's like I have been doin'."

"I'm glad to hear it," said she.

"Yes; I'll have to hire a clerk, because I've got to 'tend to my outside
work. I've been paintin' a sign to go over the front, and I tell you
that name don't look so bad when it's in print, neither."

"It isn't a name to be ashamed of, I'm sure," she cheered. "It's just as
good as any other name, as far as I can see."

"Phogenphole has got a good many shanks to it when you come to write it,
though," reflected Smith. "It looks a lot better printed out. I think
I'll git me one of these here typewritin'-machines. But say! Stop in and
take a look at that sign the first time you're passin'; will you?"

Agnes assured him that she would. Smith upended his board as if to go.

"That feller, Boyle, he's gone," said he, nodding as if to confirm his
own statement. "I saw him ride off up the river an hour or so ago."

"Yes; I believe he went to Meander also."

"He's a bad egg," Smith continued, "and he comes out of a basket of bad
eggs. His old man, he's doin' more to keep this state down than anything
you can name. He's got millions--and when I say millions, ma'am, I
_mean_ millions--of acres of government land fenced and set off to his
own use, and school lands, and other lands belongin' to you and me and
the high-minded citizens of this country, and he don't pay a cent for
the use of 'em, neither. Taxes? That man don't know what taxes is."

"Why do the people permit him to do it?"

"People! Huh! He's got rings in their noses, that's why. What he don't
own he's got cowed. I tell you, I know of a town with three or four
thousand people in it, and a schoolhouse as big as one of them
old-country castles up on a hill, that ranchers has to go forty miles
around to git to. Can't put a road through Boyle's land--government
land, every inch of it. What do you think of that?"

"I think a stop ought to be put to it, somehow."

"Sure it had! All of it's subject to homestead entry, but it's got a
five-wire fence around it, and thousands of sheep and cattle that the
people of this country feed and bring up and fatten for nothing, for the
Hon. Mr. Boyle. More than one man's been shot by Boyle's fence-riders
for tryin' to homestead a piece of land he claims he's got a lease on.
He ain't got no lease, but that don't matter.

"There's men settled here in this reservation that's run up and down
this state till they turned gray tryin' to locate on a piece of land.
They've been hustled and humped along till they've lost heart, most of
'em, and I reckon they doubt now whether they're goin' to be let stay
here from one day to another.

"Cattlemen's kicked 'em out of one place, sheepmen out of another, till
this state ain't got no farms--the only thing that it needs. Yes, I tell
you, when a man sets up ag'in' a Boyle or any of that crowd in this
state, he's due to lose. Well, say, don't forgit to stop in and see that
sign; will you?"

Agnes promised again to do so, and Smith departed, the sheep-herder's
cooling-board under his arm.

With Smith's going, the temperature of her spirits, which had risen a
little to help her through with him, suffered a recession. She looked
about with the thought of finding another location for her camp, feeling
that the disturbing associations of the previous night never would allow
her to spend a comfortable hour there again.

Her homestead did not offer another spot with the advantages which she
enjoyed right where she was. There the river-bank was low, coming down
as the stream did to a gravelly, fordable place, and there the trees
offered shelter against the summer sun, the thick-matted willows a break
for the winter winds. There was a home look about it, too, such as
nature sometimes contrives in uninhabited places, upon which the
traveler lights with satisfaction and restful delight.

She spent the remainder of the afternoon up and down her half-mile of
river-bank, trying to choose between the next likeliest spots, but she
hadn't much heart in the hunt. Perhaps it would be unwise to allow any
affection to grow for the place, one location or another, or for any
hope to take deeper root than the sickly sprigs which she had planted at
the beginning.

Drooping and weary, she returned to her tent when the sun was low, for
the thought of sleep had left her with Smith's discussion of the blight
of the Boyles upon that land. There appeared little use in trying to
stand out against the son of this great obstructionist who, with a few
friends and servitors, had kept the state for years as another man might
keep his field. Others might look into the enclosure and see the
opportunities which were being wasted, but none might touch.

If the gang were deprived of their chief weapon of menace, namely, the
hold which the Federal laws had upon her, Dr. Slavens might be able to
withstand their covetous attempt to dispossess him of his valuable
holdings. She knew that Slavens would not stand by and see her indicted
by the creatures of the Boyles, nor any more nearly threatened with the
disgrace of prison than she was at that hour. He would put down
everything to save her, even now when the fruition of his hard-lived
years was at hand.

She sat in the failing sun, scooping a little furrow with the heel of
her boot as she reflected. She still wore the divided riding-skirt which
she had worn the day before on her excursion into the hills, and with
her leather-weighted hat she looked quite like any other long-striding
lady of the sagebrush. Sun and wind, and more than a week of bareheaded
disregard of complexion had put a tinge of brown on her neck and face,
not much to her advantage, although she was well enough with it.

How was it, she wrangled in her mind, that the lines of their lives had
crossed in that place, this physician's and hers? Perhaps it was only
the trick of chance, or perhaps it was the fulfilment of the plan drawn
for them to live by from the first. But it seemed unfair to Dr. Slavens,
who had made a discouraging beginning, that he must be called upon to
surrender the means of realizing on his ambition when he held them in
his hand, and for no other purpose than to save her, a stranger.

It was unfair of fate to lay their lines so, and it would be doubly
ignoble and selfish of her to permit him to make the sacrifice. Dr.
Slavens cared enough for her to ask her to marry him, and to expect her
to marry him, although she had given him no word to confirm such
expectation. He had taken hold of that matter to shape it for himself,
and he intended to marry her, that was plain.

Her heart had jumped and turned warm with a softness toward him when he
spoke of "this family" so naturally and frankly to Jerry Boyle. It
seemed to her that those words gave her a dignity and a standing before
the world which all the shadows of her troubled life could not dim.

But there were the shadows, there were the ghosts. She felt that it
would be exceedingly burdensome to him to assume the future of two aged
people, besides that of her own. Marrying her would be marrying a
family, indeed, for she had wasted on that desert hope much of the small
bit of money which the scraping and cleaning of their once great
properties had yielded. And there lay the scheme prostrate, winded, a
poor runner in a rugged race.

Of course, she might come clear of the tangle by permitting Dr. Slavens
to surrender his homestead to Boyle; she might do that, and impoverish
him, and accept that sacrifice as the price of herself. For after the
doctor had given up his claim she could marry him and ride off
complacently by his side, as heartless and soulless as anything which is
bought and sold.

That's all it would amount to--a downright sale, even though she did not
marry the doctor. She would be accepting immunity at the shameful price
of a man's biggest chance in all his days. It was too much. She couldn't
do it; she never intended to do it; she couldn't bring it around so that
it would present an honorable aspect from any angle.

Evening came over the hills with a chill, which it gave to the
cottonwoods as it passed them on the river-bank. Their leaves trembled
and sighed, and some were so frightened by the foreboding of winter in
that touch that they lost their hold upon the boughs and came circling
down. In the tall grass which thrived rankly in that sub-irrigated spot
the insects of summer were out of voice. The choristers of the brushwood
seemed to be in difficulties over the beginning, also. They set out in
shivering starts, and left off with jerky suddenness, as if they had no
heart for singing against this unmistakable warning that their summer
concert season had come to its end.

Agnes fired up her stove and sat by it, watching the eager sparks make
their brave plunge into the vast night which so soon extinguished them,
as the world engulfs and silences streams and clouds of little men who
rush into it with a roar. So many of them there are who go forth so day
by day, who avail, with all their fuss and noise, no more against it
than the breath of an infant against a stone.

Sitting there with the night drawing in around her, she felt the cold
truth in her heart about that place, and the acknowledgment of it, which
she had kept away from her up to that hour. It wasn't worth while; she
did not care for it. Then and there she was ready to give it up and
leave it to whoever might come after her and shape its roughness into a
home.

There was a heaviness upon her, and a weight of sadness such as comes
out of the silent places of the night. It was such a wide and empty land
for a young heart, and its prospect was such a waste of years! The
thought of refuge and peace was sweet, but there is refuge to be found
and peace to be won among men and the works of men; among books, and the
softer ways of life.

At that hour she was ready to give it up, mount her horse, and ride
away. If giving it up would save Dr. Slavens his hard-won claim, she
would not hesitate, she told herself, to ride to Comanche that night and
take the first train for the East. But flight would not put her out of
the reach of the Federal officials, and if she should fly, that would
only bring the spite of Boyle down upon her more swiftly and sharply
than remaining there, facing him, and defying him to do his worst.

No; flight would be useless, because Jerry Boyle knew exactly where she
would go. There was but one place; they would follow her to it and find
her, and that would be carrying trouble to a home that had enough of it
as it stood. There must be some other way. Was there no bond of
tenderness in that dark man's life which she could touch? no soft
influence which she might bring to bear upon him and cause him to
release his rapacious hold?

None. So far as she could fit the pieces of the past together she could
fashion no design which offered relief.

Agnes brought up her horse and gave it a measure of oats near the tent
for the sake of the companionship of its noise, and large presence in
the lantern light. She thought that even after she had gone to sleep
there would be comfort in the sense of the animal's nearness.

And so, beside her stove, the lonely night around her, the dread ache of
"the lonesomeness" in her heart, she sat watching the sparks run out of
the stovepipe like grains of sand running in a glass. Distance and hope
alike have their enchantments, she owned, which all the powers of reason
cannot dispel. Hand to hand this land was not for her. It was empty of
all that she yearned for; it was as crude as the beginning.

And out of the turmoil of this thought and heartache there came tears
which welled copiously and without a sob, as one weeps for things which
have not been and cannot be; as one weeps for hopelessness. And the
whisperings of memory stirred in her heart, and the soft light of
recollection kindled like a flame. Out of the past there rose a
face--and flash!

A plan!

There was something to be done now; there was hot blood in the heart
again. In one moment the way had straightened before her, and resolution
had taken firm captaincy. With a pang of hunger she remembered that for
a day she had subsisted principally on coffee.

After a hasty supper, sleep was necessary, and rest. The horse had
finished its oats, and was now watching her sudden activity with
forward-thrown ears, its bright eyes catching the lantern-gleam as it
turned its head. Satisfied, apparently, that the bustle included no
immediate plans for itself, the animal lounged easily on three legs and
went to sleep.

Agnes stopped to give it a caressing pat as she went in. Sleep was the
important thing now, for her plan called for endurance and toil. But
there was one little thing to be done tonight for which the early light
of morning, in which she must be stirring, might not suffice--just a
little writing. It was quickly done, her suitcase held across her knees
serving for a desk.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE STRANGE TENT


"Do nothing until I return," ran her letter, which Dr. Slavens read by
the last muddy light of day. "I will hold you to a strict account of
your promise to me that you would not act in this matter without first
returning here."

There was no word of where she had gone, no time fixed for her to
return. He had found the envelope pinned to the tent-cloth when he rode
up, weary and grim, from his journey to Meander.

Inside the tent all was in order. There stood her boxes of canned goods
and groceries against the wall. There was her cot, its blanket folded
over the pillow and tucked in neatly to keep out the dust. She had not
left hastily, it appeared, although the nervous brevity of her note
seemed to indicate the contrary. She had contrived herself a broom of
greasewood branches, with which she swept the space between stove and
tent, keeping it clean down to hard earth. It stood there as she had
left it, handle down, as carefully placed as if it were a most expensive
and important utensil.

Slavens smiled as he lifted it. Even in the wilderness a true woman
could not live without her broom, a greater civilizing influence, he
thought, than the sword.

He did not go inside the tent, but stood holding up the flap, looking
around the dim interior. Her lantern stood on a box, matches beside it,
as if it had been left there ready to his hand in the expectation that
he would come in and make himself at home.

It was not likely, he thought, that any of the neighbors could tell him
where she had gone when she had not felt like giving him that much of
her confidence. But he went down to Smith's, making casual inquiry,
saying nothing about the note which she had left, not taking that to be
any of Smith's concern.

As always, Smith had been astir at an early hour. He had seen her pass,
going in the direction of Comanche. She was riding briskly, he said, as
if she had only a short journey ahead of her, and was out of hail before
he could push the pan of biscuits he was working over into the oven and
open the door. It was Smith's opinion, given with his usual volubility
and without solicitation, that she had gone out on one of her
excursions.

"More than likely," said the doctor. "I think I'll go back up there and
kind of keep an eye on her stuff. Somebody might carry some of it off."

This unmalicious reflection on the integrity of the community hurt
Smith. There was evidence of deep sorrow in his heart as he began to
argue refutation of the ingenuous charge. It was humiliating, he
declared, that a man should come among them and hold them in such low
esteem.

"In this country nobody don't go around stealin' stuff out of houses and
tents," he protested. "You can put your stuff down on the side of the
road and leave it there, and go back in a month and find it. Sheepmen
leave supplies for their herders that way, and I've known 'em to leave
their pay along with 'em. Maybe it'd be a week or two before them
fellers got around to it, but it'd be there when they got there. There's
no such a thing as a tramp in this country. What'd a tramp live on
here?"

"I don't question your defense of conditions as they were," the doctor
rejoined; "but I'm looking at things as they are. There are a lot of new
people in here, the country is becoming civilized; and the more
civilized men grow the more police and battle-ships and regiments of
soldiers they need to keep things happy and peaceful between them, and
to prevent their equally civilized and cultured neighbors from stepping
in from across the seas and booting them out of their comfortable homes.
You've got to keep your eyes on your suitcase and your hand on your
wallet when you sit down among civilized people, Smith."

"Say, I guess you're right about that," admitted Smith after some
reflection. "I read in the paper the other day that they're goin' to
build three new battle-ships. Yes, I reckon things'll change here in
this part of Wyoming now. It'll be so in a year or two that a man can't
leave his pants hangin' out on the line overnight."

"Yes, you'll come to that," the doctor agreed.

"Pants?" pursued Smith reminiscently. "Pants? Well, I tell you. There
was a time in this country, when I drove stage from Casper to Meander,
that I knew every pair of pants between the Chugwater and the Wind
River. If one man ever had come out wearin' another feller's pants, I'd
'a' spotted 'em quick as I would a brand on a stray horse. Pants wasn't
as thick in them days as they are now, and crooks wasn't as plentiful
neither. I knew one old sheepman back on the Sweetwater that wore one
pair of pants 'leven years."

"That's another of the inconveniences of civilization."

"Pants and pie-annos," said Smith. "But I don't care; I'll put in a
stock of both of 'em just as soon as folks get their houses built and
their alfalfa in."

"That's the proper spirit," commended Slavens.

"And insurance and undertakin'," added Smith. "I'll ketch 'em comin' and
goin'."

"If you had a doctor to hitch in with you on the deal," suggested
Slavens.

"What's the matter with you?" grinned Smith.

"I'll be cutting a streak out of here before long, I think."

"Soon as you sell that claim?"

Slavens nodded.

"Don't let 'em bluff you on the price," advised Smith. "They're long on
that game here."

Slavens answered as Smith doubtless expected, and with a show of the
deepest confidence in his own sagacity, no matter what feeling lay in
the well of his conscience at that hour. He left Smith and went back to
Agnes' camp, hoping to see a light as he drew near. There was none. As
he carried no food with him, he was forced to draw on her stores for
supper.

For a long time he lay upon his saddle, smoking beside the stove,
turning over in his mind a thousand conjectures to account for her
sudden and unexplained absence. He was not worried for her safety, for
he believed that she had gone to Comanche, and that was a ride too long
for her to attempt in a day. Doubtless she would set out on the return
early in the morning, and reach home about noon.

It was well in the turn of the following afternoon when Slavens decided
that he would wait in camp for her no longer. Fears were beginning to
rise in him, and doubt that all was with her as it should be. If she
went toward Comanche, she must return from Comanche; he might meet her
on the way to his own camp. If not, in the morning he would go on to
Comanche in search of her.

His horse, fresh and eager, knowing that it was heading for home,
carried him over the road at a handsome gait. At the first stage-station
out of Comanche, a matter of twenty-five miles, and of fifteen beyond
his camp, he made inquiry about Agnes.

She had passed there the morning before, the man in charge said,
measuring Slavens curiously with his little hair-hedged eyes as he stood
in the door of his shanty, half a cabbage-head in one hand, a
butcher-knife in the other. Slavens thanked him and drew on the reins.

"I'm breaking in on your preparations for supper."

"No; it's dinner," the man corrected.

"I didn't know that you'd come to six-o'clock dinners in this part of
the country," the doctor laughed.

"Not as I know of," the cook-horse-wrangler said. "This dinner that I'm
gittin' ready, stranger, is for tomorrow noon, when the stage comes by
from Comanche. I always cook it the day before to be sure it'll be ready
on time."

With that the forehanded cook turned and went back to his pot. As
Slavens rode away he heard the cabbage crunching under the cook's knife
as he sliced it for the passengers of the Meander stage, to have it hot
and steaming, and well soaked with the grease of corned beef, when they
should arrive at noon on the morrow.

Dusk was settling when the doctor reached his tent. Before he dismounted
he rode to a little clear place among the bewilderment of stones which
gave him a view of half a mile, and he sat there looking a while down
the stage-trail toward Comanche. Beyond him a few hundred yards another
tent had been planted. In front of it a man sat cooking his supper over
a little blaze.

"Boyle lost no time in getting here," muttered the doctor, turning to
his own shelter and kindling a fire on the ashes of other days.

Ashes were graying again over the embers long after he had boiled his
pot of coffee and put away his can of warmed-over beans. Night was
charged with a threat of frost, as is not uncommon in those altitudes at
the beginning of September. It was so chilly that Slavens had drawn a
blanket over his back as he sat before his dying fire, Indian fashion,
on the ground, drawing what solace he could from his pipe.

A sound of scrambling hoofs laboring up the sharp hill from the
direction of Meander came to him suddenly, startling him out of his
reflections. His thought leaped to the instant conclusion that it was
Agnes; he laid light fuel to the coals, blowing it to quicken a blaze
that would guide and welcome her.

When the rider appeared an eager flame was laving the rocks in the
yellow light, and Slavens was standing, peering beyond its radius. A
glance told him that it was not she for whom he had lighted his guiding
fire. It was a man. In a moment he drew up on the other side of the
blaze and leaned over, looking sharply into Slavens' face.

"Hello!" he hailed loudly, as if shouting across a river.

Slavens returned his bellowed hail with moderation, recognizing in the
dusty traveler Comanche's distinguished chief of police, Ten-Gallon, of
the diamond rings. Slavens never had been able to feel anything but the
most lively contempt for the fellow; now, since learning of Ten-Gallon's
treatment of Agnes, and his undoubted hand in the plot of Hun Shanklin
and Boyle against himself, the doctor held him to be nothing short of an
open enemy.

"I'm lookin' for a man by the name of Boyle," announced Ten-Gallon. "Are
you holdin' down camp for him?"

"He's on down the road a little way."

"Oh, yes," said Ten-Gallon, "I know you now. You're the feller that beat
him to it. Well, I had a complaint ag'in' you for stealin' a man's coat
over in Comanche."

"I'm out of your jurisdiction right now, I guess; but I'll go down to
Comanche and give you a chance at me if you want to take it," the doctor
told him, considerably out of humor, what with his own disappointment
and the fellow's natural insolence.

The police chief of Comanche laughed.

"I'd be about the last man to lay hands on you for anything you done to
that feller, even if you'd 'a' took his hide along with his coat," said
he.

"Then the crime trust of Comanche must be dissolved?" sneered Slavens.

"I don't git you, pardner," returned Ten-Gallon with cold severity.

"Oh, never mind."

"You're the feller that beat Boyle to it, too," added the chief; "and I
want to tell you, pardner, I take off my katy to you. You're one smart
guy!"

"You'll find your man on down the road about a quarter," directed
Slavens, on whose ear the encomiums of Ten-Gallon fell without savor.

"I heard in Meander today that you'd sold out to Boyle," said
Ten-Gallon.

"Well, you got it straight," the doctor told him.

Ten-Gallon slued in his saddle, slouching over confidentially.

"Say, it ain't any of my business, maybe, but how much did you git out
of this pile of rocks?"

"It isn't any of your business, but I'll tell you. I got more out of it
than this whole blasted country's worth!" Slavens replied.

Ten-Gallon chuckled--a deep, fat, well-contented little laugh.

"Pardner," said he admiringly, "you certainly are one smart guy!"

Ten-Gallon rode on in his quest of Boyle, while Slavens sat again beside
his fire, which he allowed to burn down to coals.

Slavens could not share the fellow's jubilation over the transfer of
the homestead to Boyle, for he had surrendered it on Boyle's own
terms--the terms proposed to Agnes at the beginning. As he filled
his big, comforting pipe and smoked, Slavens wondered what she would
say concerning his failure to return to her before signing the
relinquishment. There would be some scolding, perhaps some tears,
but he felt that he was steering the boat, and the return merely to
keep his word inviolate would have been useless.

He reviewed the crowded events of the past two days; his arrival at
Meander, his talk with the county attorney. While that official appeared
to be outwardly honest, he was inwardly a coward, trembling for his
office. He was candid in his expression that Boyle would make a case
against Agnes if he wanted it made, for there was enough to base an
action upon and make a public showing.

When it came to guarding that part of the people's heritage grandiloquently
described as "the public domain," the Boyles were not always at the front,
to be sure. They had entered hundreds of men on the public lands, paid
them a few dollars for their relinquishment, and in that way come into
illegal ownership of hundreds of thousands of acres of grazing land. But
all the big fish of the Northwest did it, said the county attorney; you
couldn't draw a Federal grand jury that would find a true bill in such a
case against a big landowner, for the men in shadow always were drawn on
the juries.

Of course, when one of them turned against somebody else that would be
different. In the case of the person whose entry of lands was covered by
the doctor's hypothetical statement, and whose name was not mentioned
between them, the crime had been no greater than their own--not so great
from a moral interpretation of the law. Cupidity prompted them; the
desire for a home the other. Still, that would have no weight. If Boyle
wanted to make trouble, said the county attorney, he could make it, and
plenty of it.

Seeing how far the shadow of the Boyles fell over that land, Slavens at
once dismissed the notion that he had carried to Meander with him of
bringing some legal procedure against Boyle and Boyle's accomplices on
account of the assault and attempted murder which they had practiced
upon him. There could be no hope of an indictment if brought before the
grand jury; no chance of obtaining a warrant for the arrest of Shanklin
and Boyle by lodging complaint with the county attorney.

Yet he took up that matter with the little lawyer, whose blond hair
stood out in seven directions when Slavens told him of the felonious
attack and the brutal disposition of what they had doubtless believed to
be his lifeless body. The county attorney shook his head and showed an
immediate disposition to get rid of Slavens when the story was done. It
was plain that he believed the doctor was either insane or the tallest
liar that ever struck that corner of the globe.

"You couldn't make a case stick on that," said he, shifting his feet and
his eyes, busying his hands with some papers on his desk, which he took
up in assumed desire to be about the duties of his office without
further loss of time. "All I can say to you on that is, when you get
ready to leave the country, take a shot at them. That's about the only
thing that's left open for you to do if you want to even it up. This
office can't help you any."

And that was his advice, lightly offered doubtless, with no thought that
it would be accepted and carried out; but strange advice, thought
Slavens, for the protector of the people's peace and dignity to give. In
case he should take it, he would have to be ready to leave, that was
certain.

At his meeting with Boyle in the hotel at Meander on the appointed hour,
Slavens found the Governor's son more arrogant and insistent than
before. Boyle set a limit of noon for Slavens to meet his demand.

"I've got everything greased," he boasted, "and I'll cut the string if
you don't come up to the lick-log then."

He offered to take Slavens to interview the official in charge of the
land-office if the doctor doubted that things had not been set in motion
to cause trouble for Agnes in the event of Slavens' refusal to yield.
While Slavens believed this to be pure bluff, knowing that whatever
influence Boyle might have with the person in question, the official
would be too wise to show his subserviency in any such manner, at the
same time the doctor was well enough convinced of Boyle's great and
pernicious influence without a further demonstration. He saw nothing to
be gained by holding out until he could return to Agnes and place the
situation before her, if Boyle had been willing to forego moving against
her that long.

They went to the land-office together, Boyle advancing the money to
Slavens for the outright purchase of the land under the provision of the
act of Congress under which the reservation had been opened. Slavens
immediately transferred title to Boyle, drew the money which he had on
deposit in the bank at Meander, and rode away with the intention of
quitting the state as soon as might be. How soon, depended upon the
readiness of someone to go with him.

Boyle had told him that he might take his own time about removing his
possessions from the land; but it was his intention, as he gloomed there
by his low fire, to get them off the next day. In the morning, he
intended to go to Comanche, which was only ten miles distant, and try to
find out what had become of Agnes. From there he would send out a wagon
to bring in his tent and baggage.

He turned again in his mind every reason, tenable and untenable, that he
could frame to account for Agnes' sudden and unexplained trip. He
thought she probably had gone for her mail, or to send a telegram and
receive a reply, or for money, or something which she needed in camp.
More than once he took up the probability that she had gone off on some
forlorn scheme to adjust their mutual affairs; but there was not a hook
of probability to sustain the weight of this conjecture, so with little
handling it had to be put down as profitless.

At the best she was gone, and had been gone now two days--a long time
for a trip to Comanche. He wondered if anything had happened to her on
the way; whether she had fled the state in precipitation, so that his
homestead might be saved from Boyle. She was generous enough to do it,
but not so thoughtless, he believed, knowing as she must know the
concern and worry to which he would be subject until he could have word
from her.

But for Agnes' return to round it out, Slavens' adventure in that
country had come to a close. Without Agnes it would be incomplete, as
without her there would be missing a most important part in the future
pattern of his life. He could not go without Agnes, although he had
nothing yet of success to offer her.

But that was on the way. The knocks which he had taken there in those
few weeks had cracked the insulation of hopelessness which the frost of
his profitless years had thickened upon him. Now it had fallen away,
leaving him light and fresh for the battle.

Agnes had said little about the money which Dr. Slavens had taken from
Shanklin at the gambler's own crooked game. Whether she countenanced it
or not, Slavens did not know. Perhaps it was not honest money, in every
application of the term, but it was entirely current, and there was a
most comfortable sense in the feel of it there bulked in the inner
pocket of his coat. He had no qualms nor scruples about it at all. Fate
had put it in his hands for the carrying out of his long-deferred
desires. If it hadn't worked honestly for Shanklin, it was about to set
in for a mighty reformation.

But there was the trouble of Agnes' absence, which persisted between him
and sleep when he arranged himself in his blankets. He turned with it,
and sighed and worked himself into a fever of anxiety. Many times he got
up and listened for the sound of hoofs, to go back to his tent and tell
himself that it was unreasonable to think that she would ride by night
over that lonely road.

When morning began to creep in it brought with it a certain assurance
that all was well with her, as daylight often brings its deceptive
consolation to a heart that suffers the tortures of despair in the dark.
Sleep caught him then, and held him past the hour that he had set for
its bound. When he awoke the sun was shining over the cold ashes of his
last night's fire.

Slavens got up with a deeper feeling of resentment against Boyle than he
ever had felt for any man. It seemed to come over him unaccountably,
like a disagreeable sound, or a chill from a contrary wind. It was not a
pettish humor, but a deep, grave feeling of hatred, as if the germ of it
had grown in the blood and spread to every tissue of his body. The
thought of Boyle's being so near him was discordant. It pressed on him
with a sense of being near some unfit thing which should be removed.

Dr. Slavens never had carried arms in his life, and he had no means of
buckling Hun Shanklin's old revolver about him, but he felt that he must
take it with him when he left the tent. Big and clumsy as it was, he
thrust it under the belt which sustained his trousers, where it promised
to carry very well, although it was not in a free-moving state in case
an emergency should demand its speedy use.

There would be no time for breakfast. Even then he should have been in
Comanche, he told himself with upbraidings for having slept so long. His
horse had strayed, too. Slavens went after it in resentful mood. The
creature had followed the scant grazing to the second bench, an
elevation considerably above its present site.

Slavens followed the horse's trail, wondering how the animal had been
able to scramble up those slopes, hobbled as it was. Presently he found
the beast and started with it back to camp. Rounding the base of a great
stone which stood perched on the hillside as if meditating a tumble,
Slavens paused a moment to look over the troubled slope of land which
had been his two days before.

There was Boyle's tent, with a fire before it, but no one in sight; and
there, on the land which adjoined his former claim on the south, was
another tent, so placed among the rocks that it could not be seen from
his own.

"It wasn't there when I left," Slavens reflected. "I wonder what he's
after?"



CHAPTER XIX

CROOK MEETS CROOK


Slavens was saddling his horse before his tent, his mind still running
on the newcomer who had pitched to the south of him, evidently while he
was away. He was certain that he would have seen the tent if it had been
there before he left, for it was within plain view of the road.

Well, thought the doctor, whoever the stranger was, whatever he hoped or
expected of that place, he was welcome to, for all that Slavens envied
him. As for Slavens himself, he had run his race and won it by a nose;
and now that he was putting down the proceeds to appease what he held as
blackmail, he had no very keen regrets for what he was losing. He had
passed through that. There would be the compensation----

But of that no matter; that must come in its time and place, and if
never, no matter. He would have the ease of conscience in knowing that
he had served her, and served her well.

His horse was restive and frisky in the cool of the morning, making a
stir among the stones with its feet. Slavens spoke sharply to the
animal, bending to draw up the girth, the stirrup thrown across the
saddle.

"Now, you old scamp, I'll take this friskiness out of you in a minute,"
said he, giving the horse a slap under the belly as he reached to pull
the stirrup down.

He drew back with a start as his eyes lifted above the saddle, and his
hand dropped to the butt of the revolver which he carried so clumsily in
his belt. Hun Shanklin was standing there facing him, not above a dozen
feet away, grinning dubiously, but with what he doubtless meant for an
expression of friendliness.

The old gambler threw out his hands with a sidewise motion eloquent of
emptiness, lifting his shoulders in a quick little jerk, as if to say,
"Oh, what's the use?"

"Kind of surprised you; didn't I, Doc?" he asked, coming nearer.

"What do you want here?" demanded Slavens harshly.

"Well, not trouble," replied Shanklin lightly. "If I'd come over for
that, I guess I could 'a' started it before now."

"Yes, I suppose you could," admitted Slavens, watching him distrustfully
and feeling thankful, somehow, that the horse was between them.

"I saw you up on the hill after your horse, so I thought I'd come over
and let you know I was around," said Shanklin. "Thought I'd tell you
that I ain't holdin' any grudges if you ain't."

"I don't see where you've got any call to. I never took a crack at you
with a blackjack in the dark!"

"No, you didn't, friend," Shanklin agreed in his old easy, persuasive
way. "And I never done it to you. You owe the honorable Mr. Jerry Boyle
for the red mark you've got on your forrid there. I'll own up that I
helped him nail you up and dump you in the river; but I done it because
I thought you was finished, and I didn't want the muss around."

"Well, it will all come out on the day of reckoning, I suppose," said
Slavens, not believing a word the old scamp said.

He knew that minute, as he had known all the time, that no other hand
than Shanklin's had laid him low that night. Of this he was as certain
in his own mind as if he had seen the gambler lift hand for the blow.
Boyle had no motive for it up to that time, although he had been quick
to turn the circumstance to his advantage.

"I thought Boyle'd dickered you out of this claim before now," said
Shanklin, looking around warily.

"He's down the road here a little piece," replied Slavens testily, "in
company of another friend of yours. You could have seen his tent as you
came over if you'd looked."

"I just put up my tent last night," Shanklin explained.

Slavens took hold of his saddle-horn as if to mount, indicating by his
action that the visit should come to an end. Shanklin, who was not in
the least sensitive on the matter of social rebuffs, did not appear to
be inclined to accept the hint. He shifted his legs, thrusting one of
them forward in a lounging attitude, and dug in his trousers pockets
with his long, skinny hands.

"Well, spit it out and have it over with!" snapped Slavens, feeling that
there was something behind the man's actions to which he had not given
words.

"That was a purty good coat I left with you that night," suggested
Shanklin, looking up without the slightest stirring of humor in his dry
face.

"You're welcome to it, if that's all," said Slavens.

"That's all. I was kind of attached to that coat."

Slavens left him standing there and entered the tent, feeling that
Shanklin was as irresponsible morally as a savage. Evidently the
inconsequential matter of an attempt at murder should not be allowed to
stand between friends, according to the flat-game man's way of viewing
life. It appeared that morning as if Shanklin had no trace of malice in
him on account of the past, and no desire to pursue further his
underhanded revenge. Conscience was so little trouble to him that he
could sit at meat with a man one hour and stick a knife in his back the
next.

The coat was under a sack of oats, somewhat the worse for wrinkles and
dust. Slavens gave it a shake, smoothed the heaviest of the creases with
his hand, and went out to deliver it to its owner.

Shanklin was facing the other way, in the direction of his own camp. His
attitude was in sharp contrast with the easy, lounging posture of a few
moments before. He was tense and alert, straining forward a little, his
lean body poised as if he balanced for a jump. There was a clattering on
the small stones which strewed the ground thickly there, as of somebody
approaching, but the bulk of the horse was between Slavens and the view,
as the doctor stopped momentarily in the door of the low tent.

Clearing the tent and standing upright, Slavens saw Boyle and Ten-Gallon
coming on hurriedly. They had been to Shanklin's camp evidently, looking
for him. From the appearance of both parties, there was something in the
wind.

Boyle was approaching rapidly, Ten-Gallon trailing a bit, on account of
his shorter legs perhaps, or maybe because his valor was even briefer
than his wind. Boyle seemed to be grinning, although there was no mirth
in his face. His teeth showed between his parted lips; he carried his
right arm in front, crooked at the elbow, his fingers curved.

Slavens saw that all thought of the coat had gone but of Shanklin's
mind. The old gambler did not so much as turn his head. Slavens threw
the coat across his saddle as Boyle came up.

"Well, what have you got to say to it, you dirty old thief?" demanded
Boyle, plunging into the matter as if preliminaries were not needed
between him and Shanklin.

"You seem to be doin' the talkin'," returned Shanklin with a show of
cold indifference, although Slavens saw that he watched every movement
Boyle made, and more than once in those few seconds the doctor marked
Hun's sinewy right arm twitch as if on the point of making some swift
stroke.

Boyle stopped while there was yet a rod between them, so hot with anger
that his hands were trembling.

"That don't answer me!" he growled, his voice thick in his constricted
throat. "What have you got to say to the way you double-crossed me, you
old one-eyed hellion?"

"Talk don't hurt, Jerry, unless a man talks too much," Shanklin answered
mildly. "Now, if I wanted to talk, I could mighty near talk a rope
around your little white neck. I know when to talk and when to keep
still."

"And I know how to jar you loose!" threatened Boyle.

Shanklin leaned toward the Governor's son never so little, his left hand
lifted to point his utterance, and opened upon Boyle the most withering
stream of blasphemous profanity that Slavens had ever heard. If there
ever was a man who cursed by note, as they used to say, Hun Shanklin was
that one. He laid it to Boyle in a blue streak.

"What do I owe you?" he began.

Then he swung off into the most derogatory comparisons, applications,
insulting flagellations, that man ever stood up and listened to. His
evident motive was to provoke Boyle to some hostile act, so that
twitching right arm might have the excuse for dealing out the death
which lay at its finger-ends. Every little while the torrent of abuse
broke upon the demand, "What do I owe you?" like a rock in the channel,
and then rushed on again without laying hold of the same epithet twice.
If a man were looking for a master in that branch of frontier learning,
a great opportunity was at hand.

Boyle leaned against the torrent of abuse and swallowed it, his face
losing its fiery hue, blanching and fading as if every word fell on his
senses like the blow of a whip to the back. The Governor's son watched
every muscle of Shanklin's face as if to read the gambler's intention in
his eye, while his hand, stiff-set and clawlike, hovered within three
inches of his pistol-butt.

Presently Shanklin stopped, panting like a lizard. Both men stooped a
little lower, leaning forward in their eager watchfulness. Neither of
them seemed to be conscious that the world held any other object than
his enemy, crouching, waiting, drawing breath in nostril-dilating
gasps.

Boyle moved one foot slightly, as if to steady himself for a supreme
effort. A little stone which he dislodged tumbled down the side of a
four-inch gully with a noise that seemed the sound of an avalanche. With
that alarm Shanklin's arm moved swiftly. Like a reflection in a glass,
Boyle's arm moved with it.

Two shots; such a bare margin between them that the ear scarcely could
mark the line. Then one.

Shanklin, his hands half lifted, his arms crooked at the elbow and
extended from his sides, dropped his pistol, his mouth open, as if to
utter the surprise which was pictured in his features. He doubled limply
at the knees, collapsed forward, fell upon his face.

Boyle put his hand to his breast above his heart, pressing it hard; took
it away, turned about in his tracks as if bewildered; swayed sickly,
sank to his knees, and fell over to his side with the silent, hopeless,
huddling movement of a wild creature that has been shot in the woods.

Ten-Gallon came from behind the tent, where he had been compressing
himself into a crevice between two boulders. His face was white, and
down it sweat was pouring, drawn from the agony of his base soul. He
went to the place where Dr. Slavens knelt beside Boyle.

"Cra-zy Christmas!" gasped he, his mouth falling open. Then again:

"Cra-zy Christmas!"

Slavens had gone to Boyle first, because there was something in the
utter collapse of Shanklin which told him the man was dead. As he
stripped Boyle's clothing off to bare the wound, Slavens ordered
Ten-Gallon to go and see whether the old gambler had paid his last
loss.

"I won't touch him! I won't lay a hand on him!" Ten-Gallon refused,
drawing back in alarm.

Boyle was not dead, though Shanklin's bullet had struck him perilously
near the heart and had passed through his body. With each feeble intake
of breath blood bubbled from the blue mark, which looked like a little
bruise, on his chest.

"Well, see if you can make a fire, then, and hurry about it! Get some
water on to boil as fast as you can!" Slavens directed the nerveless
chief of police.

Ten-Gallon set about his employment with alacrity while Slavens went
over to Shanklin, turning his face up to the sky. For a little while he
stooped over Hun; then he took the gambler's coat from the saddle and
spread it over his face. Hun Shanklin was in need of no greater service
that man could render him.

Dr. Slavens took off his coat and brought out his instrument-case. He
gave Boyle such emergency treatment as was possible where the
gun-fighter lay, and then called Ten-Gallon to help take him into the
tent.

"Lord, he's breathin' through his back!" said Ten-Gallon. "He'll never
live till we git him to the tent--never in this world, Doc! I knew a
feller that was knifed in the back one time till he breathed through his
ribs that way, and he----"

"Never mind," said Slavens. "Take hold of him."

Ten-Gallon's fire burned briskly, and the water boiled. Dr. Slavens
sterilized his instruments in a pan of it, and set about to establish
the drainage for the wound upon which the slender chance of Boyle's life
depended. Boyle was unconscious, as he had been from the moment he fell.
They stretched him on the doctor's cot. With the blankets spread
underfoot to keep down the dust, the early sun shining in through the
lifted flap, Slavens put aside whatever animosity he held against the
man and went to work earnestly in an endeavor to save his life.

Ten-Gallon showed a nervous anxiety to get away. He wanted to go after
his horse; he wanted to go to Boyle's tent and get breakfast for
himself; and then he pressed the necessity of his presence in Comanche
to keep and preserve the peace. But Slavens would not permit him to quit
the tent until he could no longer be of assistance.

It was not the wounded body of Jerry Boyle that the pot-bellied peace
officer feared, but the stiffening frame of Hun Shanklin, lying out
there in the bright sun. Every time he looked that way he drew up on
himself, like a snail. At length Slavens gave him permission to leave,
charging him to telephone to Meander for the coroner the moment that he
arrived in Comanche, and to get word to Boyle's people at the earliest
possible hour.

There seemed to be nothing for Slavens to do but to forego his trip in
quest of Agnes, and sit there in the hope that she would come. Boyle
could not be left alone, and Shanklin's body must be brought up out of
the gully and covered.

This ran through his mind in erratic starts and blanks as he bent over
the wounded man, listening to his respiration with more of a humane than
professional fear that the next breath might tell him of the hemorrhage
which would make a sudden end of Boyle's wavering and uncertain life.

Ten-Gallon had been gone but a little while when Slavens heard him
clattering back in his heel-dragging walk over the rocks. He appeared
before the doctor with a lively relief in his face.

"Some people headin' in here," he announced. "Maybe they'll be of some
help to you. I hated to go and leave you here alone with that
feller"--jerking his head toward Shanklin's body--"for I wouldn't trust
him dead no more than I would alive!"

"All right," said Slavens, scarcely looking up.

Ten-Gallon appeared to be over his anxiety to leave. He waited in front
of the tent as the sound of horses came nearer.

"Stop them off there a little way," ordered the doctor. "We don't want
any more dust around here than we can help."

He looked around for his hat, put it on, and went out, sleeves up, to
see that his order was enforced. Agnes was alighting from a horse as he
stepped out. A tall, slight man with a gray beard was demanding of
Ten-Gallon what had happened there.

Relief warmed the terror out of her eyes as Agnes ran forward and caught
Dr. Slavens' hand.

"You're safe!" she cried. "I feared--oh, I feared!"

A shudder told him what words faltered to name.

"It wasn't my fight," he told her.

"This is Governor Boyle," said Agnes, presenting the stranger, who had
stood looking at them with ill-contained impatience, seeing himself
quite forgotten by both of them in that moment of meeting.

"I am sorry to tell you, sir, that your son is gravely wounded," said
Dr. Slavens, driving at once to the point.

"Where is he?" asked the Governor, his face pale, his throat working as
if he struggled with anguish which fought to relieve itself in a cry.

Dr. Slavens motioned to the tent. The old man went forward, stopping
when he saw his unconscious son and the bloody clothing beside the cot.
He put his hand to his forehead and stood a moment, his eyes closed.
Then he went in and bent over the wounded man.

A sob of pity rose in Agnes' throat as she watched him and saw the pain
and affection upon his face. Presently Governor Boyle turned and walked
to the spot where Hun Shanklin's body lay. Without a word, he lifted the
coat from the gambler's face, covered it again, and turned away.

"Bad company! Bad company!" said he, sadly shaking his head. "How did it
happen, Doctor? You were here? First"--he held up his hand, as if to
check the doctor's speech--"will he live?"

"Men have recovered from worse wounds," responded the doctor. "There's a
chance for him, at least."

He related, then, the circumstance of the meeting, the brief quarrel,
and the fight, Ten-Gallon putting in a word here and there, although his
testimony was neither asked nor welcomed.

"I don't know what the cause of the quarrel was," concluded the doctor.
"Two days ago I relinquished this claim to your son. He came here
immediately and took possession."

"You--you relinquished!" exclaimed Agnes, disappointment in her voice,
reproach in her eyes.

"I am sorry that you relinquished it," said the Governor. "This brave
young woman rode all the way to my ranch--almost a hundred miles--to
save it to you. I was absent when she arrived, but I set out with her at
the earliest possible moment upon my return. We rode all night last
night, sir, changing horses in Comanche this morning."

"I am grateful to you, both of you, for the trouble and fatigue you have
undergone in my behalf. But the case, as your son urged it, sir, was
beyond temporizing. Perhaps Miss Gates has told you?"

The Governor nodded curtly, a look of displeasure on his face.

"I can't believe that Jerry meant it," he protested. "It must have been
one of his jokes."

"I am sorry, then, that my idea of humor is so widely divergent from
his!" said Dr. Slavens with deep feeling.

"Well, he's paid for it. The poor boy has paid for his indiscretion,"
said the old man sadly.

He turned away and went a little space, where he stood as if in
meditation.

"You promised me that you'd do nothing until you returned and saw me,"
Agnes charged. "And I had saved it for you! I had saved it!"

"You would have been too late," returned the doctor sharply. "The
machinery for your humiliation was already in motion. I doubt whether
even the Governor could have stopped it in another day without a great
deal of unpleasant publicity for you. Boyle meant to have this piece of
land, and he got it. That's all."

Ten-Gallon was fooling around the fire. He drew over toward the group as
the Governor came back.

"Can my son be removed from here?" the old man asked.

The doctor said that he could not, without practically throwing away his
slender chance for life.

"Do for him what you can; you seem to be a capable man, sir; you inspire
confidence in me," said the Governor, laying his hand appealingly on the
doctor's shoulder; "and if you can save him, I'll pay you twice what
this infernal claim was worth to you!"

"I've done all that can be done for him, without hope or expectation of
reward," said the doctor; "and I'll stick by him to the end, one way or
another. We can care for him here as long as this weather holds, just as
well as they could in a hospital."

"Well, as far as what this claim's worth goes," put in Ten-Gallon,
edging into the conversation, "you don't need to lose any sleep over
that."

"What do you mean?" demanded Slavens, turning upon him sharply.

Ten-Gallon stirred the dust with his toe, stooped and picked up an empty
revolver-cartridge.

"It ain't worth that!" said he, presenting it in the palm of his hand.

"I don't know what you're driving at," said the doctor, inclined to walk
away and leave him.

"I mean that Hun Shanklin queered all of you," said Ten-Gallon. "You had
the wrong figgers, and you filed on the wrong claim!"

Pressed for an explanation of how he knew, Ten-Gallon told them that he
had been Shanklin's partner at the beginning, and that Shanklin had
deceived and cheated both him and Boyle.

"Ah, then he did double-cross my son!" cried the Governor triumphantly,
seizing this vindication for the young man's deed with avid eagerness.

"He sure did," Ten-Gallon agreed; "and he done it right! I know all
about you"--nodding to the doctor--"and what happened to you back of
that tent in Comanche that night. Shanklin had it in for you ever since
you showed up his game the night that sucker feller was goin' to put
down that wad of money. He'd been layin' for you, one way and another,
for a couple of days or so. You walked right into his hand that night."

"I seemed to," admitted Slavens with bitter recollection.

"Shanklin knew about copper in these rocks over here----"

"So it's copper?" said Slavens, unable to restrain his words.

"Copper; that's what it is," nodded Ten-Gallon. "But it ain't on this
claim, and I'll show that in a minute, too. Hun had been writin' to
Jerry about it, tryin' to git up a company to pay him for what he knew,
so they could locate the man that drawed Number One there, see? Well,
Hun, he'd known about that copper a long time; he could go to it with
his eyes shut. So he got the description of the land as soon as the
survey maps was out, and he offered to sell the location for five
thousand dollars. He had samples of the ore, and it run rich, and it
_is_ rich, richest in this state, I'm here to tell you, gentlemen.

"But Jerry wouldn't give him no five thousand for what he knew. So Hun
he got some other fellers on the string, and him and me was partners on
the deal and was goin' to split even on account of some things I knew
and was to keep under my katy.

"Well, Hun sold the figgers of that land to Jerry for five hundred
dollars in the end, and he sold it to them other fellers for the same.
When it come out that you was Number One, Doc--and us fellers knew that
in the morning of the day of the drawin', for we had it fixed with
Mong--Hun he tells Jerry that you'll never sell out for no reasonable
price.

"'We'll have to soak that feller,' he says, 'and git him out of the
way.' Jerry he agreed to it, and they had men out after you all that day
and night, but they didn't git a chance at you. Then you walked right
into old Hun's hand. Funny!" commented Ten-Gallon stopping there to
breathe.

"Very!" said the doctor, putting his hand to the tender scar on his
forehead.

He pushed back his hat and turned to the Governor.

"Very funny!" said he.

"Of course, Jerry, he was winded some when you put in your bill there
ahead of him and Peterson that morning and filed on the claim he had it
all framed up to locate the Swede feller on. Jerry telephoned over to
Comanche and found out from Shanklin how you got the numbers, and then
he laid out to start a fire under you and git you off. Well, he done it,
didn't he?"

Ten-Gallon leered up at Slavens with some of his old malevolence and
official hauteur in his puffy face.

"Go on with your story, and be careful what charges you lay against my
son!" commanded the Governor sharply.

Ten-Gallon was not particularly squelched or abashed by the rebuke. He
winked at Agnes as if to express a feeling of secret fellowship which he
held for her on account of things which both of them might reveal if
they saw fit.

"Shanklin, he closed up his game in Comanche three or four days ago and
went over to Meander," Ten-Gallon resumed. "He never had split with me
on that money he got for the numbers of this claim out of Jerry and that
other crowd. So I follered him. Yesterday morning, you know, the land
left over from locatin' them that had drawed claims was throwed open to
anybody that wanted to file on it.

"Well, the first man in the line was that old houn' that's layin' over
there with his toes turnin' cold. He filed on something, and when I
collared him about the money, he throwed me down. He said he sold the
numbers of land that didn't have no more copper on it than the palm of
his hand, and he said he'd just filed on the land that had the mines. He
showed me the papers; then he hopped his horse and come on down here."

"Incredible!" exclaimed the Governor.

"It was like him," Slavens corroborated. "He was a fox."

"I was goin' to take a shot at him," bragged Ten-Gallon, "but he was too
fur ahead of me. He had a faster horse than mine; and when I got here
last night he was already located on that claim. The copper mine's over
there where the old feller's tent stands, I tell you. They ain't enough
of it on this place to make a yard of wire."

"And you carried the story of Shanklin's deception and fraud to my son,"
nodded the Governor, fixing a severe eye on Ten-Gallon, "and he sought
the gambler for an explanation?"

"Well, he was goin' to haul the old crook over the fire," admitted
Ten-Gallon, somewhat uneasy under the old man's eye.

The Governor walked away from them again in his abstracted, self-centered
way, and stood looking off across the troubled landscape. Dr. Slavens
stepped to the tent to see how the patient rested, and Ten-Gallon gave
Agnes another wink.

"Comanche's dwindlin' down like a fire of shavin's," said he. "Nobody
couldn't git hurt there now, not even a crawlin' baby."

Indignation flushed her face at the man's familiarity. But she reasoned
that he was only doing the best he knew to be friendly.

"Are you still chief of police there?" she asked.

"I'm marshal now," he replied. "The police force has been done away with
by the mayor and council."

"Well then, I still have doubt about the safety of Comanche," she
observed, turning from him.

Governor Boyle approached Ten-Gallon and pointed to Hun Shanklin's
body.

"You must do something to get that carcass out of camp right away," he
said. "Isn't there a deputy coroner at Comanche?"

"The undertaker is," said Ten-Gallon, drawing back at the prospect of
having to lay hands on the body of the man whom he feared in death as he
had feared him in life.

"Send him over here," Governor Boyle directed.

Ten-Gallon departed on his mission, and the Governor took one of the
trodden blankets from in front of the tent and spread it over Shanklin's
body, shrouding it completely. Dr. Slavens had lowered the flap of the
tent to keep the sun from the wounded man's face. When he came out,
Agnes met him with an inquiring look.

"He's conscious," said the doctor. "The blow of that heavy bullet
knocked the wind out of him for a while."

"Will he--lapse again?" asked the Governor, balancing between hope and
fear.

"It isn't likely. You may go in and speak to him now if you want to. But
he must keep still. A little exertion might start a hemorrhage."

Jerry Boyle lay upon his back, his bloodless face toward them, as they
gathered noiselessly in the door of the tent. His eyes were standing
open, great and questioning, out of his pallor, nothing but the animal
quality of bewilderment and fear in their wide stare.

Governor Boyle went in and dropped to his knees beside the cot. Dr.
Slavens followed hastily, and placed his hand on the wounded man's
breast.

"You may listen," said he; "but keep still."

"Don't even try to whisper," admonished the Governor, taking his son's
hand between his own.

"That's all right, Governor," replied the young man, his face quickening
with that overrunning little crinkling, like wind over water, which was
his peculiar gift for making his way into the hearts of women and men,
unworthy as he was.

"Be still!" commanded the old man. "I know what happened. There's
nothing to say now."

"Did I get him?" whispered Jerry, turning his head a little and looking
eagerly into his father's face.

The Governor placed his hand over his son's mouth, silencing the young
man with a little hissing sound, like a mother quieting her babe.

Agnes turned away, the disgust which she felt for this savage spirit of
the man undisguised in her face. Dr Slavens cautioned the Governor
again.

"If he says another word, you'll have to leave him," said he. "This is
one case where talk will turn out anything but cheap."

He joined Agnes, and together they walked away from the scene of
violence and death.

"You're tired to death," said he. "I'm going to take possession of
Boyle's tent down there for you, and you've got to take a long sleep.
After that we'll think about the future."

She walked on beside him, silent and submissive, interposing no
objection to his plan. They found the tent very well equipped; he
started to leave her there to her repose. She stood in the door with her
hat in her hand, her hair in disorder, dust over her dress and shoes.

"Could you send word to Smith by the stage this morning and ask him to
bring my things--tent and everything--down here?" she asked.

"Then you're not planning to go back there?" he asked, his heart jumping
with hope.

She shook her head, smiling wanly.

"I can't bear the thought of it," said she.



CHAPTER XX

A SUDDEN CLOUD


Dr. Slavens went back to his camp, concluding on the way that it would
be wise to have a complete understanding with Governor Boyle in regard
to taking further charge of his son's case. If, after three days allowed
for infection to manifest itself, the wound remained healthy and clean,
there would be little need of a doctor in constant attendance. Young
Boyle would be able to express his preference in the matter then, and
Slavens did not want to act as physician to him against his will.

Governor Boyle was walking up and down like a sentry before the tent
when Dr. Slavens came up.

"He's asleep," said the father. "He seems to be pitifully weak for a man
suffering from a fresh wound; he dropped off as if he had fainted."

"When you consider that a bullet of that caliber, with the powder back
of it that this one had, strikes somewhere around a ton," said the
doctor, "it ceases to be a wonder that he is weak."

"It's Heaven's mercy that spared him!" declared the Governor, his voice
troubled with emotion.

Slavens wondered at the deep affection which this man of so hard a
repute could show for his son, and at the tie of tenderness which
plainly bound them. But precedent is not wanting, as the doctor
reflected, to establish the contention that some of the world's greatest
oppressors have been good fathers, kind husbands, and tender guardians
of the home.

"Yes; Shanklin shot twice," said Slavens. "It was his second one that
hit, after he had been mortally hurt himself."

"It was the hand of Providence that turned his aim!" said the Governor.
"The old one-eyed villain had the reputation of being the best shot in
the Northwest. He provoked my son to draw on him, or tried to at
least--for I can't believe that Jerry drew first--with the intention of
putting him out of the way."

"What do you propose to do about bringing another surgeon here?" asked
Dr. Slavens.

"Why, I hadn't given it any serious thought," answered Governor Boyle,
looking at him quickly.

"It would please me better to have you do so."

"But I have entire confidence in your ability to handle the case, sir.
Your conduct in the matter has been admirable, and I see no reason why
you should not continue to attend my son until--the end, one way or the
other."

"You understand, Governor," said Dr. Slavens gravely, searching the old
man's face with steady eyes, "that there is no ground for good feeling
or friendship between your son and me?"

The Governor nodded, averting his face, as if the acknowledgment gave
him pain or shame.

"And in case that everything should not turn out to the happiest
conclusion for him, I should not want to stand the chance of blame."

"Quite sensible, but unnecessarily cautious, I tell you," the Governor
replied.

"I have done all that a better surgeon could have done," pursued the
doctor, "and I am quite willing to go ahead and do all that can be done
until you can bring another physician here, to relieve me, or at least
satisfy you that I have not allowed any feeling of man to man to stand
between physician and patient."

"Very well; I will telegraph to Cheyenne for a physician," agreed the
Governor, "since it is your wish. But I am entirely satisfied with, and
trustful of you, sir. That I desire you to understand plainly."

Dr. Slavens thanked him.

"I shall send for the other physician to act merely in an advisory
capacity, and in no manner to relieve you of the case unless you desire
to be relieved. But I think it will be to your interest to stand by me.
I feel that I am under a certain obligation to you, more especially to
Miss Gates, for my son's----"

"We will not discuss that, if you please," Dr. Slavens interrupted.

"At least I will stand by what I said to you a little while back," the
Governor said; "that is, in the matter of remuneration, if you pull him
through."

"All of that in its proper place," said the doctor. "I am going back to
Comanche now to send for the boy's mother," the Governor announced, "and
telegraph to Cheyenne for the doctor of whom I spoke. I have known him
for many years. I'll have some more tents and camp-supplies sent out,
and anything that you stand in need of which can be procured in
Comanche."

Dr. Slavens gave him a list of articles needed in the patient's case,
and the Governor rode away. The undertaker from Comanche arrived a
little later, and took Hun Shanklin's body up from the ground. When his
wagon, on its return to Comanche, had passed the tent where Agnes was
trying to sleep, she got up and joined Dr. Slavens.

"I couldn't sleep," she explained. "Every time I shut my eyes I could
see that poor old gambler's body lying there with the coat over his
face!"

"I don't feel either pity or pain in his case," said the doctor; "or,
when it comes to that, for the other one, either."

"Well, you couldn't have prevented it, anyway," she sighed.

"And wouldn't have if I could," he declared. "I looked on them as one
poison fighting another, as we set them to do in the human system. When
one overcomes the other, and the body throws them both out, health
follows."

"Do you think Jerry will recover?"

"There's a chance for him," he replied.

"For his mother's sake I hope he will," she said. "I went to see her,
remembering in the midst of my distress her kind face and gentle heart.
I'm glad that I went, although my mission failed."

"No, nothing fails," he corrected gently. "What looks to us like failure
from our side of it is only the working out of the plan laid down a long
time ahead. We may never see the other side of the puzzle, but if we
could see it we'd find that our apparent failure had been somebody
else's gain. It's the balance of compensation. Your thought of Boyle's
mother, and your ride to appeal to her in my behalf, worked out in
bringing his father here at a time when Jerry needed him as he never may
need him in his life again."

"It was a strange coincidence," she reflected.

"We call such happenings that for want of a better name, or for the
short-sightedness which keeps us from applying the proper one," said he.
"It's better that you have concluded to give up the City of Refuge.
You'll not need it now."

"It was a foolish undertaking, romantic and impossible, from the very
beginning," she owned. "I never could have put it through."

"It would have carried many a heartache with it, and many a hard and
lonely day," said he. "And so we are both back where we were, so far as
landed possessions go in this country, at the beginning."

"I've lost considerable by my foolish dream," she confessed with
regret.

"And I have gained everything," he smiled, taking her hand in his.

The world around them seemed to be too grave to look kindly on any
love-passages of tenderness or kisses, or triflings such as is the
common way of a man with a maid. In that moment when hand touched hand
she looked up into his eyes with warm softness glowing in her own, and
on her lips stood an invitation which his heart sprang to seize, like an
eager guest leaping through the portal of welcome.

At that moment, when eye drew eye, heart warmed to heart, and lips
trembled to meet, Jerry Boyle coughed as if blood were mounting to his
throat and cutting off his life.

Dr. Slavens was at his side in a moment. It must have been the
strangulation of an uneasy dream, for there was no symptom of
hemorrhage. The wounded man still slept, groaning and drawing the lips
back from the teeth, as he had drawn them in his passion when he came on
that morning to meet his enemy with the intention in his heart to slay.

But love shuddered and grew pale in the cold nearness of death. The kiss
so long deferred was not given, and the fluttering pulse which had
warmed to welcome it fell slow, as one who strikes a long stride in a
journey that has miles yet to measure before its end.

Governor Boyle was back in camp in the middle of the afternoon, and
before night the tents and furnishings for lodging the party comfortably
arrived from Comanche. The Governor pressed Agnes, who was considering
riding to Comanche to find lodging, to remain there to assist and
comfort his wife when she should arrive.

"We need the touch of a woman's hand here," said he.

They brought Jerry's tent and set it up for her. She was asleep at
dusk.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Boyle arrived next morning, having started as soon as the messenger
bearing news of the tragedy reached the ranch. She was a slight,
white-haired woman, who had gone through hardships before coming to
prosperity on that frontier, so the fifty-mile ride in a wagon was no
unusual or trying experience for her.

Whatever tears she had for her son's sad plight she had spent on the
rough journey over. As she sat beside him stroking his heavy hair back
from his pallid brow, there was in her face a shadow of haunting
anxiety, as if the recollection of some old time of terror added its
pangs to those of the present.

Her presence in camp, and her constant ministrations at her son's side,
relieved Dr. Slavens of considerable professional anxiety, as well as
labor. It gave him time to walk about among the gigantic stones which
cast their curse of barrenness over that broken stretch, Agnes with him,
and make a further investigation of the land's mineral possibilities.

"Ten-Gallon was telling the truth, in my opinion," said he. "I have
explored these rocks from line to line of this claim, and I reached the
conclusion a good many days ago that somebody had been misled in
supposing it was worth money. It was nothing but Boyle's persistent
determination to get hold of it that gave it a color of value in my
mind."

"Still, it may be the means, after all, of yielding you as much as you
expected to get out of it at the first," she suggested.

He looked at her questioningly.

"I mean the Governor's declaration yesterday morning that he would pay
you twice what you expected to get out of it if you would save Jerry's
life."

"Oh, _that_!" said he, as if he attached little importance to it.

"He's a millionaire many times over," she reminded him. "He can afford
to do it, and he should."

"I may be out of the case entirely before night," he told her,
explaining that another physician would arrive on the first train from
Cheyenne.

"You know best," said she, resigning hope for his big fee with a sigh.

"Smith will come over with your tent and goods today, very likely," said
he, "and then we can leave. I had planned it all along, from the time we
used to take those moonlight walks to the river, that we should leave
this country together when it came our time to go."

"It would be wrong for you to waste your life here, even if you could
make more money than elsewhere, when the world with more people and more
pain in it needs you so badly," she encouraged him.

"Just so," he agreed. "It's very well for Smith to stay here, and men of
his kind, who have no broader world. They are doing humanity a great
service in smoothing the desert and bringing the water into it."

"We will leave it to them," she said.

They tramped across the claim until they came in sight of Hun Shanklin's
tent. Its flap was blowing in the wind.

"The old rascal came over to make friends with me," said Slavens. "He
claimed that he never lifted his hand against me. There's his horse,
trying to make it down the slope to the river. I'll have to catch the
beast and take that rope off.

"There's a man over there!" Agnes exclaimed. "Look! There among the
rocks to the right of the tent! I wonder who it is?"

Slavens looked where she pointed, just as the man disappeared among the
rocks.

"It's the Governor!" she whispered.

"Looked like his coat," he agreed.

"Do you suppose he's----"

"Trying to locate old Shanklin's mine," he said. "That's what he's
after. If there's copper on that piece the Governor will get it, even if
his son doesn't live to share with him. The difference of a figure or
two in the description of a piece of land might be revised on the books,
if one had the influence."

The doctor for whom Governor Boyle had sent arrived on the afternoon
train from Cheyenne and reached the camp before sunset. He spoke in the
highest terms of the manner in which Dr. Slavens had proceeded, and
declared that it would be presumptuous meddling for him, or anyone else,
to attempt to advise in the case.

Agnes heard his commendation with triumph in her eyes, and Mrs. Boyle
gave Dr. Slavens her blessing in a tearful look. The doctor from
Cheyenne took up his instrument-case and held out his hand with a great
deal more respect in his bearing toward the unknown practitioner than he
had shown upon his arrival.

"On vacation here?" he asked, puzzled to find any other excuse for so
much ability running wild among the rocks in that bleak place.

"Something like that," answered Slavens noncommittally.

"When you're passing through Cheyenne, stop off and see me," giving
Slavens a respectful farewell.

Dr. Slavens advanced several points in the appraisement of Governor
Boyle, although, to do the Governor justice, he had seen from the
beginning that the wandering physician was a master. Boyle had been
weighing men for what they were worth, buying them and selling them, for
too many years to place a wrong bet. He told Slavens that unlimited
capital was back of him in his fight for Jerry's life, and that he had
but to demand it if anything was wanted, no matter what the cost.

Dr. Slavens told him bluntly that his son was in a fix where one man's
money would go as far as another's to get him clear, and that it had
very little weight in the other end of the scales against the thing they
were standing in front of, face to face.

"Save him to me, Doctor! For God's sake save him!" begged the old man,
his face bloodless, the weight of his unshored years collapsing upon him
and bowing him pitifully.

Again Slavens felt the wonder of this man's softness for his son, but
pity was tinctured with the thought that if it had been applied in
season to shaping the young man's life, and his conscience, and his
sense of justice, it might have commanded more respect. But he knew that
this was the opportunity to make the one big chance which the years had
been keeping from him. At the start Slavens had told the old man that
his son had a chance for life; he had not said how precariously it lay
balanced upon the lip of the dark cañon, nor how an adverse breath might
send it beyond the brink. The weight of the responsibility now lay on
him alone. Failure would bring upon him an avalanche of blame; success a
glorious impetus to his new career.

He took a walk down to the river to think about it, and breathe over it,
and get himself steadied. When he came back he found Smith there,
unloading Agnes' things, soaking up the details of the tragedy with as
much satisfaction as a toad refreshing itself in a rain.

Smith was no respecter of office or social elevation. If a man deserved
shooting, then he ought to be shot, according to Smith's logic. As he
made an excuse to stay around longer by assisting the doctor to raise
Agnes' tent, he expressed his satisfaction that Jerry Boyle had received
part payment, at least, of what was due him.

"But I tell you," said he to the doctor in confidence, turning a wary
eye to see that Agnes was out of hearing just then. "I'm glad he got it
the way he did. I was afraid one time that girl over there was goin' to
let him have it. I could see it in her eye."

"You can see almost anything in a woman's eye if your imagination is
working right," the doctor told him, rather crabbedly.

"You don't need to believe it if you don't want to," returned Smith,
somewhat offended, "but I tell you that girl'd shoot a man in a minute
if he got too fresh!"

"I believe you're right about that, Smith," agreed the doctor, "so let's
you and I be careful that we don't get too fresh."

Smith said no more, but he kept turning his eye upon the doctor as he
got his wagon ready to set off on his return, with a good deal of
unfriendliness in it. Evidently it had come into his mind only then that
Dr. Slavens was assuming a sort of proprietary air around Agnes.

With his foot on the brake and his lines drawn up, Smith looked down and
addressed her.

"Well, I don't suppose you'll be back on the river for some time?"

"I expect it will be a long time," she replied, evading exposition of
her plans.

"I'll keep my eye on the place for you, and see that them fellers don't
cut down your timber," he offered.

She thanked him.

"When you come over that way, take a look at that sign on the front of
my store," said Smith, giving her a significant, intimate glance. "The
more you see that name in print the better you like it."

With that Smith threw off his brake so suddenly and violently that it
knocked a little cloud of dust out of his wagon, laid the whip to his
team, and drove off with almost as grand a flourish as he used to
execute when setting out from Comanche on the stage.

Mrs. Boyle left her son's side, her husband relieving her, to see that
Agnes was supplied with everything necessary. She had pressed Agnes to
remain with her--which was well enough in accord with the girl's own
inclination--and help her care for her "little boy," as she called him
with fond tenderness.

"Isn't she sweet?" whispered Agnes, as Mrs. Boyle went to her own tent
to fetch something which she insisted Agnes must have. "She is so gentle
and good to be the mother of such a wolf!"

"But what did she think about her precious son going to turn the whole
United States out after you because you wouldn't help him pull the plank
out from under an unworthy friend?"

"I didn't tell her that," said Agnes, shaking her head. "I told the
Governor as we came over, and she isn't to know that part of it."

Their tents made quite a little village, and the scene presented
considerable quiet activity, for the Governor had brought a man over
from Comanche to serve the camp with fuel and water and turn a hand at
preparing the food. Agnes was cook-in-extraordinary to the patient and
the doctor. She and Slavens took their supper together that night,
sitting beside the fire.

There they talked of the case, and the prospect of the fee, and of the
future which they were going to fix up together between them, as
confidently as young things half their age. With the promised fee, life
would be one way; without it another. But everything was white enamel
and brass knobs at the poorest, for there was confidence to give hope;
strength and love to lend it color.

Striking the fire with a stick until the sparks rose like quail out of
the grass, Dr. Slavens vowed solemnly that he would win that fee or take
in his shingle--which, of course, was a figurative shingle only at that
time--and Agnes pledged herself to stand by and help him do it as
faithfully as if they were already in the future and bound to sustain
each other's hands in the bitter and the sweet of life.

"It would mean a better automobile," said he.

"And a better surgery, and a nicer chair for the consulting-room," she
added, dreaming with wide-open eyes upon the fire.

"And a better home, with more comfort in it for you."

"Oh, as for that!" said she.

"I've got my eye on a place with old elms in front of it, and moss on
the shingles, and a well where you pull the bucket up with a rope over a
pulley," said he. "I've got it all laid out and blooming in my heart for
that precious mother of yours. It is where mine used to live," he
explained; "but strangers are in it now. We'll buy them out."

"It will be such a burden on you. And just at the beginning," she
sighed. "I'm afraid, after all, that I'll never be coward enough to
consent to it at the last."

"It's out of your hands now, Agnes," said he; "entirely out of your
hands."

"It is strange how it has shaped out," she reflected after a little
silence; "better, perhaps, than we could have arranged it if we had been
allowed our own way. The one unfortunate thing about it seems to be that
this case is isolated out here in the desert, where it never will do you
a bit of good."

"Except the fee," he reminded her with a gentle smile.

"Oh, the fee--of course."

"But there is a big hurdle to get over before we come to even that."

"You mean----"

She looked at him with a start, the firelight catching her shining
eyes.

"The crisis."

"Day after tomorrow," said she, studying the fire as if to anticipate in
its necromancy what that day offered to their hopes.

The shadow of that grave contingency fell upon them coldly, and the
plans they had been making with childlike freedom of fancy drew away and
grew dim, as if such plans never had been. So much depended on the
crisis in Jerry Boyle's condition, as so much devolves upon the big _if_
in the life of every man and woman at some straining period of hopes and
schemes.

Words fell away from them; they let the fire grow pale from neglect, and
gray ashes came over the dwindling coals, like hoarfrost upon the bright
salvia against a garden wall. Silence was over the camp; night was deep
around them. In Jerry Boyle's tent, where his mother watched, a dim
light shone through the canvas. It was so still there on that barren
hillside that they could hear the river fretting over the stones of the
rapids below the ford, more than half a mile away.

After a while her hand sought his, and rested warm upon it as she
spoke.

"It was pleasant to dream that, anyway," said she, giving up a great
sigh.

"That's one advantage of dreams; they are plastic material, one can
shape them after the heart's desire," he answered.

"But it was foolish of me to mingle mine with yours so," she objected.
"And it was wrong and selfish. I can't fasten this dead weight of my
troubles on you and drag you back. I can't do that, dear friend."

He started at the word, laying hold of her hand with eager grip.

"Have you forgotten the other word--is that all there is to it?" he
asked, bending toward her, a gentle rebuke in his trembling voice.

"There is so much more! so much more!" she whispered. "Because of that,
I cannot be so selfish as to dream those splendid dreams again--wait,"
she requested, as she felt that he was about to speak.

"If I thought only of myself, of a refuge for others and myself, then I
would not count the penalty which would attach to you to provide it. But
unless we win the Governor's fee, my dear, dear soul, don't you see how
impossible it will be for us to carry out even the most modest of our
fond schemes?"

"Not at all," he protested.

"It would drag you back to where you were before, only leaving you with
a greater burden of worry and expense," she continued, unheeding. "I was
rapt, I was deadened to selfish forgetfulness by the sweet music of
those dreams. I am awake now, and I tell you that you must not do it,
that I shall never permit you to ruin your life by assuming a load which
will crush you."

"Agnes, the chill of the night is in your heart," said he. "I will not
listen to such folly! Tomorrow, when the sun shines, it will be the same
as yesterday. I have it all arranged; you can't change it now."

"Yes. You took charge of me in your impetuous generosity, and I was
thoughtless enough to interpose no word. But I didn't mean to be
selfish. Please remember above it all that I didn't mean to be
selfish."

"I have it all arranged," he persisted stubbornly, "and there will be no
turning back. Tomorrow it will not look so gloomy to you. Now, you'd
better go to bed."

He rose as he spoke, gave her his hand, and helped her to her feet. As
they stood face to face Agnes placed her hand upon his shoulder
gravely.

"I am in sober earnest about this, Doctor," said she. "We must not go on
with any more planning and dreaming. It may look as if I feared the
future with you for my own sake, putting the case as I do, all dependent
on the winning of that fee. But you would not be able to swim with the
load without that. It would sink you, and that, too, after you have
fought the big battle and won new courage and hope, and a new vision to
help you meet the world. Unless we weather the crisis, I must ride away
alone."

"I'd be afraid of the future without you; it would be so bleak and
lonesome," said he simply. He gave her good night before her tent.

"And for that reason," said he, carrying on his thought of a minute
before, "we must weather the crisis like good sailormen."



CHAPTER XXI

THE CRISIS


Brave words are one thing, and inflammation in a gunshot wound is
another. Infection set up in Jerry Boyle's hurt on the day after that
which the doctor had marked as the critical point in his battle for
life.

Dr. Slavens was of the opinion that the bullet had carried a piece of
clothing into the wound, which it was not able to discharge of itself.
An operation for its removal was the one hope of saving the patient, and
that measure for relief was attended by so many perils as to make it
very desperate indeed.

The doctor viewed this alarming turn in his patient with deep concern,
not so much out of sympathy for the sufferer and his parents, perhaps,
as on his personal account. The welfare of Jerry Boyle had become the
most important thing in life to him, for his own future hinged on that
as its most vital bearing.

Agnes was firm in her adherence to the plan of procedure which she had
announced. She declared that, as matters stood, she would not become a
burden, with all her encumbrances, upon his slender resources. If
mischance wrested the promised fee out of his hands, then they must go
their ways separately. She repeated her determination to abide by that
on the morning when Dr. Slavens announced the necessity of the
operation.

Slavens was hurt and disappointed. It seemed that his faith in her
suffered a blighting frost.

"In plain words," he charged, "you will refuse to marry me because I am
poor."

"There's no other way to put it," she admitted. "But I refuse only out
of my boundless esteem and tenderness for you and your success. I am
putting down happiness when I do this, and taking up an additional load
of pain. But what peace or self-respect would ever be mine again if I
should consent to add the burden of two helpless old people to what you
will have to carry on your own account?"

"My back is broad enough to be Atlas to your little world," he
declared.

"But there's no use strangling success," she argued. "It can't be many
years, at the longest, until time and nature relieve my tottering
charges of their dependence on me. If you would care to wait, and if I
might not be too old----"

"If there's nothing better for it, then we'll wait," he cut in almost
sharply. "Do you remember how I showed you to hold that cone?"

She had consented to assist him in the operation to the extent of
keeping the patient under the ether after he had administered it.

"This way," said she, placing the cotton-filled paper cone over the
nostrils.

From the physician's standpoint, the operation was entirely successful.
A successful operation, as the doctor defines it, means that the doctor
gets what he starts after. Frequently the patient expires during the
operation, but that does not subtract anything from the sum of its
success.

In the case of Jerry Boyle the matter wore a brighter aspect all around.
The doctor found the bit of coat-lining which the bullet had carried in
with it, and removed it. The seat of inflammation was centered around
it, as he had foreseen, and the patient was still alive, even though the
greater part of the day had passed since the tormenting piece of cloth
was removed.

The camp was hushed in the depression of despair. Until that day they
had heard Mrs. Boyle's hopeful voice cheering her husband, upon whom the
foreboding of disaster seemed to weigh prophetically. Sometimes she had
sung in a low voice as she watched beside her son. But now her courage
seemed to have left her, and she sat in the tent with the Governor,
huddled like two old tempest-beaten birds hiding under a frail shelter
which could not shield them from the last bitter blow. They had given
the care of their son over to the doctor and Agnes entirely, watching
their coming and going with tearful eyes, waiting for the word that
would cut the slender stay of hope.

On the afternoon of the second day after the operation, Agnes entered
the tent and looked across the patient's cot into Dr. Slavens' tired
eyes. He shook his head, holding the sufferer's wrist, his finger on the
fluttering pulse. It seemed to Agnes that Boyle had sunk as deep into
the shadow of the borderland as human ever penetrated and drew breath.
From all appearances he was dead even that moment, and the solemn shake
of the head with which the doctor greeted her seemed to tell her it was
the end.

She went to her own tent and sat in the sun, which still fell hot and
bright. The Governor and his wife had let down the flap of their tent,
as if they could no longer bear the pain of watching. Tears came into
Agnes' eyes as she waited there in the wreckage of so many human hopes;
tears for the mother who had borne that unworthy son, but whose heart
was tender for him as if his soul had been without a stain; tears for
the old man whose spirit was broken, and tears for herself and her own
dreams, and all the tender things which she had allowed to spring within
her breast.

After a long time Dr. Slavens came out of the hospital-tent and let the
flap down after him. The sun was striking long, slanting shadows across
the barrens; the fire was dying out of its touch. Agnes' heart sank as
she saw the doctor draw away a little distance, and then turn and walk a
little beat, back and forth, back and forth, his head bowed, his hands
clasped behind him in an attitude of thorough disappointment and deep
gloom. She got up and went to him, a feeling that all was over.

"Never mind," she consoled, lifting her tear-streaked face to meet his
haggard look. "You've lost, but I have come to tell you that it makes no
difference between us. We will go on with our life together as we
planned it; we will take up our dreams."

"Agnes, you have come in good time," said he, lifting his hand to his
forehead wearily.

"I am not noble enough to sacrifice my happiness for your good," she
continued. "I am too weak and common, and womanly frail for that. I
cannot carry out my brave resolution, now that you've lost. We will go
away together, according to your plan, and I will live by your plan,
always and forever."

"You have come in good time--in good time," said he again, as one
speaking in a daze.

Then he drew her to his breast, where her head lay fair and bright, her
straying hair, spread like a shattered sunbeam, lifting in the young
wind that came from the hills beyond the river.

There she rested against the rock of his strength, his hand caressing
her wild tresses, the quiver of her sobbing breast stirring him like a
warm and quickening draught.

"You did well to come and tell me this," said he, "for, as I love you,
my dear, dear woman, I would not have had you on the other terms. But I
have not lost. Jerry Boyle has emerged from the shadow. He will live."

                   *       *       *       *       *

After that day when his adventuring soul strayed so near the portal
which opens in but one direction, Boyle's recovery was rapid. Ten days
later they loaded him into a wagon to take him to Comanche, thence to
his father's home by rail.

Young Boyle was full of the interest of life again, and his stock of
audacity did not appear to be in the least diminished by his melancholy
experience. He treated Dr. Slavens on the footing of an old friend, and
if there was any shame in his heart at his past behavior toward Agnes,
his colorless cheeks did not betray it.

With the exception of one flying visit to the capital city of the state,
Governor Boyle had remained in camp faithfully since the day of the
tragedy. But the slow days in those solitudes were galling to his busy
mind once the safety of his boy's life was assured. He became in a
measure dictatorial and high-handed in his dealings with the doctor, and
altogether patronizing.

Dr. Slavens considered his duty toward the patient at an end on the
morning when they loaded him into the spring wagon to take him to
Comanche. He told the Governor as much.

"He'll be able to get up in a few days more," said the doctor, "and
inside of a month he'll be riding his horse as if daylight never had
been let through him."

Governor Boyle took this announcement as the signal for him to produce
his checkbook, which he did with considerable ostentation and flourish.

"How much did you expect to get out of this pile of rocks?" he asked the
doctor, poising his fountain-pen over the page.

Dr. Slavens colored under the question, which came so sharply and
indelicately, although he had rehearsed in his mind for that moment an
uncounted number of times. He said nothing, fumbling as he was for a
reply.

Jerry, lying back on his cot in the wagon, his head propped up, laughed
shortly and answered for him.

"It was about twenty thousand, wasn't it, Doctor?"

"Somewhere around there," admitted Slavens, as if confessing some wild
folly.

"Well, I said I'd give you half as much as you expected to get out of it
if you pulled Jerry through, and I'm here to keep my word," said the
Governor, beginning to write.

Agnes looked at the doctor, indignant amazement in her face. Then she
turned to the Governor sharply.

"I beg your pardon, Governor Boyle, but I was present when you made that
promise; you said you'd pay him _twice_ as much as he hoped to get out
of the claim if he saved Jerry's life," said she.

Governor Boyle raised his eyes with a cold, severe look on his bearded
face.

"I beg your pardon!" said he with withering rebuke, which carried with
it denial and challenge of proof. That said, he bent to his writing
again.

Jerry Boyle laughed.

"Oh, jar loose a little, Governor--be a sport!" he urged.

"Here is my check for ten thousand dollars, Doctor," said the Governor,
handing the slip to Slavens; "I consider that pretty good pay for two
weeks' work."

The Governor mounted his horse, and gave the driver the word to proceed
slowly to the station.

"And if I croak on the road over the Governor'll stop payment on the
check," said Jerry facetiously.

"Well, unless you get busy with that little gun of yours and somebody
puts another hole through you on the way," the doctor assured him, "I'll
make it to the bank door with a perfectly good check in my hand."

Young Boyle held out his hand in farewell, his face suddenly sober and
serious.

"The gun has been cached," said he. "I promised mother I'd never sling
it on a man again, and I'm going to stick to it. I'm going to get a bill
put through the Legislature making it a felony to pack one, if it can be
done. I'm cured, Doctor, in more ways than one."

The cavalcade moved off down the winding road. Agnes was ablaze with
indignation.

"The idea of that man going back on his solemn word, given in the very
presence of death!"

"Never mind; that's the way he made his money, I suppose," said the
doctor. "I've got more out of it than I ever expected to get without a
row, and I'm going to make a line for that bank in Cheyenne and get the
money on his check before he changes his mind. He may get to thinking
before he gets home that Jerry isn't worth ten thousand dollars."

As they rode up to the rise of the hill, Agnes reined in and stopped.

"Here is where we changed places on the coach that day when Smith
thought there was going to be a fight," she recalled.

"Yes, this is the place," he said, looking around with a smile. "Old Hun
Shanklin was up here spying out the land."

"Smith called you to the box to help him, he told me later, because he
picked you out as a man who would put up a fight," said she.

"Well, let us hope that he made a good guess," Slavens said, "for here's
where we take up the racket with the world again."

"We changed places on the coach that day; you took the post of danger,"
she reflected, her eyes roaming the browning hills and coming back to
his face with a caress in their placid depths.

"Yes," he said, slowly, gravely; "where a man belongs."

Dr. Slavens gathered up his reins to go, yet lingered a little, looking
out over the gray leagues of that vast land unfolded with its new
adventures at his feet. Agnes drew near, turned in her saddle to view
again the place of desolation strewn over with its monumental stones.

"This is my Gethsemane," she said.

"It was cursed and unholy when I came to it; I leave it sanctified by my
most precious memory," said he.

He rode on; Agnes, pressing after, came yet a little way behind, content
to have it so, his breast between her and the world. And that was the
manner of their going from the place of stones.



                   *       *       *       *       *



EDGAR RICE BURROUGH'S NOVELS

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DAWN

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FROM THE VALLEY OF THE MISSING

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father's plans for him to be a servitor of big business. The love of a
fine girl turns Bibbs' life from failure to success.

THE GENTLEMAN FROM INDIANA. Frontispiece.

A story of love and politics,--more especially a picture of a country
editor's life in Indiana, but the charm of the book lies in the love
interest.

THE FLIRT. Illustrated by Clarence P. Underwood.

The "Flirt," the younger of two sisters, breaks one girl's engagement,
drives one man to suicide, causes the murder of another, leads another
to lose his fortune, and in the end marries a stupid and unpromising
suitor, leaving the really worthy one to marry her sister.

Ask for Complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



THE NOVELS OF GRACE LIVINGSTON HILL LUTZ

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.

THE BEST MAN

Through a strange series of adventures a young man finds himself
propelled up the aisle of a church and married to a strange girl.

A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS

On her way West the heroine steps off by mistake at a lonely watertank
into a maze of thrilling events.

THE ENCHANTED BARN

Every member of the family will enjoy this spirited chronicle of a
young girl's resourcefulness and pluck, and the secret of the
"enchanted" barn.

THE WITNESS

The fascinating story of the enormous change an incident wrought in a
man's life.

MARCIA SCHUYLER

A picture of ideal girlhood set in the time of full skirts and poke
bonnets.

LO, MICHAEL!

A story of unfailing appeal to all who love and understand boys.

THE MAN OF THE DESERT

An intensely moving love story of a man of the desert and a girl of
the East pictured against the background of the Far West.

PHOEBE DEANE

A tense and charming love story, told with a grace and a fervor with
which only Mrs. Lutz could tell it.

DAWN OF THE MORNING

A romance of the last century with all of its old-fashioned charm. A
companion volume to "Marcia Schuyler" and "Phoebe Deane."

Ask for Complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York





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