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Title: The Coyote - A Western Story
Author: Roberts, James, 1881-1934
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Coyote - A Western Story" ***

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



THE COYOTE



THE COYOTE

A Western Story

By JAMES ROBERTS

CHELSEA HOUSE

79 SEVENTH AVENUE--NEW YORK CITY



The Coyote

Copyright, 1925, by CHELSEA HOUSE

(Printed in the United States of America)

All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign
languages, including the Scandinavian.



CONTENTS

  CHAPTER                                                         PAGE
       I. Rewards Offered                                           11
      II. A Boy and a Girl                                          17
     III. The Law                                                   24
      IV. "I Knew He Lied!"                                         32
       V. A Capture                                                 38
      VI. The Real Low-Down                                         45
     VII. Where to Hide                                             52
    VIII. Two Queer Moves                                           57
      IX. Leave It to Me                                            65
       X. Caught in the Cellar                                      71
      XI. Freedom Behind Bars                                       77
     XII. Against His Ethics                                        87
    XIII. A Man and His Horse                                       93
     XIV. The Witness                                               98
      XV. The Welcome                                              106
     XVI. The Dixie's Boss                                         114
    XVII. A Commission                                             121
   XVIII. In the Night                                             129
     XIX. Quick Turns                                              136
      XX. Appeal to the Law                                        145
     XXI. A Capture                                                151
    XXII. A Second Capture                                         160
   XXIII. Quick Facts                                              165
    XXIV. The Show-down                                            170
     XXV. Filed!                                                   175
    XXVI. The Prodigal                                             179
   XXVII. The Desert Code                                          185
  XXVIII. A Night Summons                                          194
    XXIX. Gunmen                                                   201
     XXX. The Sheriff's Plight                                     207
    XXXI. A New Count                                              215
   XXXII. The Compass Fails                                        220
  XXXIII. Fast Work                                                224
   XXXIV. The Compass Wavers                                       230
    XXXV. Guns in the Night                                        235
   XXXVI. The Loot                                                 242
  XXXVII. The Test of a Man                                        245
 XXXVIII. Ten Miles' Start                                         250



THE COYOTE



CHAPTER I

REWARDS OFFERED


The sign on the tree attracted the man's attention while he was still
far down the slope. He could see the tall pine on the crest of the
ridge above a veritable landmark in that country of stunted timber,
and the square of paper, tacked to its trunk under the lowest
branches, gleamed white against the background of vivid green.

The air was clear, and every detail of the landscape--the red rocks,
the saffron-colored slopes, the green pines and firs and buck brush,
the white cliffs--everything within sight for miles stood out,
clean-cut in the brilliant sunshine which flooded the empty land under
a cloudless sky.

When the man, mounted on a lean, dun-colored horse, first looked up at
a turn of the narrow trail and saw the sign, he grunted. Then he
frowned and looked back along the way he had come with a glowing light
of reflection in his gray eyes. He was a tall man, slim and muscular,
clean-shaven, his face and hands bronzed by sun and wind, and his face
open and good-natured. A shock of blond hair showed where his gray,
wide-brimmed, high-crowned hat was pushed back from his high
forehead.

His dress, though typical of the country which he traversed, was
distinctive, or it might have been a certain natural grace that made
it seem so. He wore a light-gray, soft shirt made of French flannel, a
dark-blue silk scarf, leather chaps over olive-drab khaki trousers,
black, hand-sewed riding boots which displayed their polish despite a
coating of fine dust, silver spurs, and, strapped to his right thigh,
was a worn leather holster, natural color, from which protruded the
black butt of a six-gun.

On the back of his saddle was tied a black slicker, the raincoat of
the open country, which bulged with a medium-sized pack done up within
it.

One would have taken him to be thirty, perhaps a year or two more when
his face was serious; but when he smiled, that is, when he smiled
naturally, he looked little more in years than a youth who has just
attained his majority.

When he smiled the other smile--the smile he now expressed as he
looked up the slope toward the tall pine with the white square of
paper on its trunk--one would have forgotten the smile because of the
sinister, steel-blue look in his eyes, and the direct, piercing
quality of his gaze.

He walked his horse up the winding trail. His right foot was clear of
the stirrup, and he swung it idly. His left hand, in which he held the
reins, rested lightly on the horn of his saddle, and his right gripped
the cantle at his back. He hummed a ditty of the desert, but his gaze,
keen and alert, continually sought the open stretches of trail above
him, and at regular intervals flashed back along the way he had come.

In time he reached the top of the ridge and pulled up his horse near
the tree bearing the poster. He dismounted and walked slowly up a
little grade to where he could the better read the legend on the
paper.

It was printed in large letters, but recent rain had somewhat faded
it.

                      FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD
                         This will be paid for
                               THE COYOTE
                 dead or alive, by San Jacinto County.
                          JUDSON BROWN, J. P.,
                               Dry Lake.

This man is tall and light in complexion, gray or blue eyes, good
teeth, his horse said branded CC2, keeps himself neat, dangerous with
gun, squints when mad. Bring him in and get the money.

The man swore softly as he read the last sentence. "Bring him in an'
get the money," he said snortingly. "You'd think they was talkin'
about a locoed steer that just had to be roped an' drug, or shot an'
hauled. Bring him in an' get the money!"

There was genuine indignation in his tone as he repeated the offensive
sentence.

"Well, it can't be me," he said facetiously, aloud. "My name's
Rathburn--a right good name." His eyes clouded. "A right good name
till they began to tamper with it," he muttered with a frown as he lit
a cigarette he had built while perusing the placard.

He took the stub of a lead pencil from the pocket of his shirt. For
some moments he reflected, staring at the sign on the tree trunk. Then
he laboriously printed on its lower edge:

Five thousand dollars more from the State of Arizona if you can get
it.

Rathburn surveyed his work with a grin, replacing the pencil in his
shirt pocket. Then he stepped back and drew his gun. He seemed on the
point of sending a half dozen bullets through the paper when he
suddenly shook his head, glanced hurriedly about him, and shoved the
weapon back into its sheath.

He walked quickly to his horse, swung into the saddle, and started
down the trail on the western side of the ridge.

Below him he saw a far-flung vista of rounded, yellow hills, spotted
with the green of small pines and firs. The ground was hard, dry, and
gravelly. There were boulders a-plenty, and long, sharp-edged
outcroppings of hard rock of a reddish hue. There was no sign of
habitation to be glimpsed from the trail leading down from the high
ridge which he had crossed. He continually looked about him with the
interested air of a man who is venturing into a new locality with
which he is not familiar.

"Dry Lake!" he exclaimed, while his horse pricked up its ears at the
familiar voice. "Good name for it, if it's anywhere in _this_ country.
Hoss, I don't know when we're goin' to drink again. I didn't figure on
hittin' a desert up here."

He rode on at a brisk jog, down and down the winding trail. Then it
led across a number of the round, low hills, ever westward.

As the afternoon wore on, more green brightened the landscape and
patches of grass appeared. Then they came upon a small stream
trickling down from the higher slopes to northward where horse and
rider drank their fill and rested in a quiet, secluded meadow off the
trail.

The man's face was a study as he lay back upon the grass in the cool
shade of a clump of pines. Whimsical and wistful, it was occasionally
lit by a peculiar smile which carried a hint of sadness. His eyes
half closed, dreamily. The smoke from his cigarette curled upward in a
thin spiral in the still air of the altitudes. His horse, with reins
dangling and saddle cinch loosened, cropped the grass which carpeted
the meadow.

Finally the man arose, tightened the cinch in an absent manner,
mounted, and rode back to the trail to continue on his way. At the top
of the next ridge he halted, looking at a little ranch which lay in a
wide valley a mile or two north of the thread of trail which he could
see winding westward. The place looked poor, poverty-stricken, despite
the small field of living green south of the house and the few head of
cattle grazing along the banks of a little stream which wound through
the valley.

For some time the rider sat his horse motionless, frowning in
indecision. Then he touched the dun lightly with his spurs, left the
trail, and struck off to the north, following the ridge. He kept his
gaze focused on the little ranch. The only sign of life which he saw
was a heavily-burdened clothesline flapping in the idle breeze which
at this point was wafted down from the mountains.

When he was almost directly above the small house he turned his mount
down the slope and gaining the floor of the valley, rode at a gallop
for the house. His right hand now rested on his thigh near the
holstered gun.

As he brought his horse to a stop near the front of the house a girl
appeared in the doorway. He looked at her in pleased surprise. Then
his hat swept low in a gesture of courtesy.

"Ma'am, I've found this to be a country of scattered habitations," he
said in a musical bass. "So when I glimpsed your abode from yonder
hills I said to myself, 'Rathburn, you're most powerful hungry; maybe
you better pay a call.'"

His eyes were glowing with an amused light, and a pleasant smile
played upon his lips.

The girl, who had listened curiously, now laughed in welcome. "There
aren't many places between here and Dry Lake," she said; "and I guess
it would be a pretty hot ride to-day. You can water your horse--and
feed him at the barn, if you wish--and I'll get you something to eat,
if you're not particular." Her eyes danced merrily.

"Ma'am!" he exclaimed, with mock severity, "I quit bein' particular
when I was--when I was as young as that youngster."

A boy of ten or twelve had appeared beside the girl.

"Young man, what're those dirt-looking spots on your face?" asked the
stranger, frowning with his eyes but smiling with his lips.

"They _ain't_ dirt spots!" returned the boy with spirit, advancing a
step.

"No?" said the man, feigning intense astonishment. "What _are_ they?"

"They're freckles," answered the boy stoutly.

"Oh--oh, _that's_ what they are," said the stranger with a delighted
laugh. "Won't they wash off?"

"Naw. You can't fool me. You knew what they were!"

"Well, now, maybe so," observed the man as the girl laughingly turned
inside.

"Grub'll be ready by time you are," she called back to him.

"I'll show you where to put your horse," said the boy as the man
looked searchingly up and down the valley.



CHAPTER II

A BOY AND A GIRL


When Rathburn had put up his horse, after giving him a light feed of
grain in the barn, he followed the boy to the rear of the house where
he found water, soap, and a towel on a bench, above which hung a small
mirror.

The boy left him there, and he soon washed and combed his hair. The
girl opened the rear door for him and he walked through the little
kitchen into a small front room where a table was set for him.

"Sure, ma'am, I didn't figure on causing you so much trouble," he said
with a smile. "I didn't expect anything but a snack, an' here you've
gone an' fixed a regular dinner--this time of day, too."

"My experience with men in this country has taught me that when
they're hungry, they're hungry," replied the girl. "And it wasn't much
trouble. Those beans were in the oven and already warm. I just had to
make the coffee. I was expecting my brother."

"I didn't see any men around the place," he said, beginning to eat.
"If I had I'd have made myself known to them before coming to the
house. Where is he--out with the cattle?"

He saw her gaze was troubled. "I don't know just where he is--to-day,"
she confessed. "He goes away and sometimes doesn't come back for a day
or two." She stood in the doorway.

Rathburn noted her trim, slim figure and her wealth of chestnut hair.
She was pretty and capable. He surmised that her parents were dead,
although he could not ascribe the reason for this deduction. Evidently
the boy was a younger brother. He wondered if the older brother would
return before he finished eating.

"How far is it to Dry Lake?" he asked casually.

"Oh--why, didn't you come from there?" She seemed surprised.

"No. I came from over to eastward."

"But it's miles and miles to any place east of here, isn't it?" she
asked, puzzled. "You must have had a long ride."

A ghost of a frown played on his brows. Then he laughed. "Yes, miss,
I've been ridin' some," he confessed. "I didn't know how far it was to
anywhere or I mightn't have come in this direction."

She looked at him wonderingly, and again he thought he saw a troubled
look in her eyes.

"You're going to Dry Lake?" she asked.

"Yes," he said shortly, and a grim note crept into his voice. "It's
west of here, ain't it?"

"About fifteen or eighteen miles," she answered. "The trail leads
there from the lower end of this valley--the same trail you came on, I
guess. Are you a cow-puncher?"

"Don't I look like one, miss?"

"Yes, you do and--you don't." She was confused by the quality of his
smile. But his eyes seemed to glow at her kindly, with a cheerful,
amused light--altogether honest and friendly. She lowered her gaze and
flushed despite herself.

"My vocation, miss--you're too young an' pretty to be called ma'am, if
you'll excuse me for saying so--is a peculiar one. I've punched cows,
yes; I've prospected an' worked a bit in the mines. I've scared the
wolf from the 'Welcome' mat by standing off the boys at green-topped
tables, an' once I--I--worked on a sort of farm." He appeared
apologetic as he confessed this last. "I guess I wasn't cut out for a
farm hand, miss."

She laughed at this. "Are you going to work in Dry Lake?" she asked,
sobering.

"Well, now, that is a question," he returned, draining his cup of the
last of the coffee.

"I'll get you some more," she said quickly, taking his cup. "Dry Lake
isn't a very big place, you know."

"Just how big _is_ Dry Lake?" he asked when she returned from the
kitchen with more coffee for him.

"Only a hundred or two. But the men from miles and miles go there
because--because there are places there where they can stand the wolf
off at the green-topped tables and--drink." The troubled look was in
her eyes again. "Sometimes the wolf catches up with them before they
get home," she added, smiling faintly.

"It's not a safe system," he said thoughtfully.

"But you might get work in Dry Lake," she said hopefully. "You--you
look capable. The cattlemen from back in the hills go there and
they're nearly always looking for men, I've heard. You might meet some
of them and get a job."

He beamed upon her. "I've always heard that a woman gave a man
encouragement an' ambition, if she was a good one," he mused. "You've
almost got me thinking I'd better go straight to work."

"Why--didn't--wasn't that your intention?" she asked wonderingly.

His face clouded. "It ain't always so easy for me to do what I want to
do, miss," he said. "I--you see----" He broke off his speech with a
frown. "This is a queer country, miss," he said earnestly.

"Oh, I know," she said eagerly. "I'll bet you're an--an officer!"

Then he laughed. It was the spontaneous laugh of youth, vibrant,
compelling, mirth-inspiring.

"Say, miss, if there's one thing I ain't tackled yet, it's being an
officer," he chuckled as he finished his repast.

She smiled vaguely, studying him under her long, dark lashes. The boy
came into the room, holding his hands behind him, and stood with his
sturdy legs braced apart, staring at Rathburn.

"There he is now!" Rathburn exclaimed. "Did you try to wash the
freckles off?" he queried with a wink.

"I know who _you_ are!" said the boy. There was admiration and awe in
his wide eyes.

Rathburn looked at him closely, his brows wrinkling.

"Yes, I do," said the boy, nodding. "Did he tell you who he is, sis?"
he asked, looking at the girl.

"Now, Frankie, we don't care who the man is," she reproved. "He was
hungry and he's welcome. What's the matter with you?"

"I guess you'd be surprised if you knew as much as I do," the boy
boasted. "I guess you'd be surprised all right. I do."

"I've been surprised more than once at things you knew," the girl said
with a laugh.

"Yes, but I guess you'd be surprised all right if you knew who _he_
is," cried the boy, pointing at Rathburn.

"Come, now, young fellow, don't be getting all het up here," said
Rathburn slowly, drawing tobacco and papers from his shirt pocket.
"What do you find to do with yourself around here?"

But the youngster was not to be diverted from his topic. "I was
lookin' at your horse," he said, his eyes shining. "That's how I know
for sure an' certain who you are."

Rathburn gazed at the boy sternly as he touched a match to his
brown-paper cigarette. "My horse is all right, ain't he?"

"Sure he is," said the boy eagerly. "I bet he can go some, too. He'd
have to go for you to have him, wouldn't he? You're The Coyote!"

Rathburn continued to smile with an amused tolerance. But the girl
gave a start; her hands flew to her breast, and she stared at the man
with wide-open eyes.

"Frankie! What are you saying?" she exclaimed.

The boy triumphantly brought his hands from behind his back. He held
out a poster.

"His horse has got CC2 for a brand, just like it says in this bill Ed
brought from town!" he cried. "He's The Coyote, all right. But I won't
tell," he added quickly, looking at Rathburn.

The man avoided the girl's eyes. The boy laid the poster on the table
where she could read it again, word for word.

"Tall--light in complexion--gray or blue eyes--good teeth--horse
branded CC2--dangerous----"

And this man was tall and blond, with gray eyes. Five hundred dollars
reward!

"I won't tell anybody you've been here," the boy continued. "We won't
tell, will we, sis?" He looked at the girl imploringly.

"My brother Ed says what you want you take," said the boy, gazing at
the man in admiration. "An' he says you don't rob anybody that can't
afford it! He says the banks are insured an' you've been a friend to
more'n one that's just gettin' a start in the cattle. I won't tell
anybody you've been here, an' I won't let sis tell anybody, either!"

Rathburn was smiling wistfully. "Always tell the truth, sonny," he
said in a low voice. "Don't forget that. I wouldn't want you to lie
for me. Any man that would want you to lie for him wouldn't be a man
a-tall, son. See?"

"But old Brown, the judge, or the sheriff might come along an' want to
know if you'd been here!" said the boy in breathless excitement.

"Then tell 'em the truth," said Rathburn smilingly. "Tell 'em a man
with a horse branded CC2 was here an' kidded you about your freckles,
had something to eat, an' rode away. Don't lie, sonny, no matter what
happens."

The girl took a step toward the table. "You--_are_--The Coyote?" she
asked in a whisper.

"My name is Rathburn, miss," he replied cheerfully. "In some ways I'm
a lot like the man described in that reward notice. An' I'm riding a
dun-colored horse branded CC2. I don't like that monicker, Coyote, or
I might 'fess up to it."

"Then--if you're him--you're an outlaw!" she stammered.

Rathburn's dreamy look shifted to the boy who was staring at him.

"You'll grow up to be quite a man, son," he said in a fatherly tone.
"Those freckles mean a tough skin. A weak sort of skin tans quick an'
the toughest just sunburns. You're halfway between. That's all right
for freckles; but it don't go in life. It's best to be on one side or
the other, an' the right side's the best for most folks."

He rose and went for his hat. Then he extracted a roll of bills from a
hip pocket and laid a five-dollar note on the table.

"That meal was worth it," he said to the girl with a smile.

She shook her head. "I--I couldn't take it," she said.

"That's clean money, miss. I earned it circumventin' three of the most
ornery card sharps in Arizona."

She continued to shake her head. "You do not understand," she
murmured. "It--it wouldn't make any difference. We couldn't take money
from a stranger who came to us--hungry. It wouldn't make any
difference who you were."

"Aw, we need it, sis!" blurted out the boy. "The Coyote's all right.
He wouldn't lie to us."

Rathburn laughed and, stepping to the boy, ran his fingers in his
hair. "I guess I've made a friend," he said in a wistful voice. Then
he picked up the bill on the table and stuffed it into the boy's
pocket. His eyes encountered the poster again and they clouded. He
turned away from it.

"Miss, you'll let me thank you--sure."

She nodded, retreating a few paces.

"Then I'll be going," he said, stepping to the door.

"To--to Dry Lake?" she found the voice to ask.

"Yes. To Dry Lake."

He left the house and in a few minutes reappeared from the direction
of the barn, riding his dun-colored horse. He did not stop, but
galloped down the valley, waving a hand in farewell which the boy
answered.

The day was nearly spent. The sun was low in the west, sliding down
like a ball of gold toward the rim of the blue mountains. A stiff
breeze had sprung up, driving the heat before it. At the lower end of
the valley Rathburn found the trail he had left when he detoured to
the ranch. He turned westward upon it, put spurs to his horse, and
sped toward town.

It was just as well that the girl could not see the look which came to
his face as he rode into the sunset.



CHAPTER III

THE LAW


Night had descended when Rathburn came in sight of the little town on
the edge of the foothills. He rode slowly toward it, staring moodily
at the flickering lights between interlaced branches which waved and
weaved in the wind blowing down from the mountains. In all the
distance he had traveled from the lonely ranch where he had met the
girl and the boy he had encountered no one. He surmised that the trail
to the desert hills to eastward was not a popular one.

As he neared the town he saw that it consisted of one main street with
buildings clustered about it, and numerous shacks scattered in the lee
of the hills. There were trees close to the eastern end of the street
which he was approaching, and when he reached these trees he
dismounted, led his horse into the shadows, and tied it.

He walked down the main street, which was illuminated only by the
stars and the yellow gleams of light from windows on either side.

There were several resorts, and one in particular seemed the most
popular. Rathburn glanced in through the door of this place as he
passed and saw that it consisted of a bar and numerous tables, where
games were in progress. He did not stop but continued on his way.

Few people were on the street; none of them took any especial notice
of him. Several doors below the largest resort which he had so
casually investigated, he came to a small, one-story, white-painted
building, which, save for the door and window in its front, looked
like a huge box.

Across the glass in the door was lettered in gold:

                         JUDSON BROWN
                         Justice of the Peace
                         Notary Public

A dim light shone within, and, peering through the window, Rathburn
saw that this light came from a lamp in a second room behind the
little front office.

He looked up and down the street and saw but two pedestrians, both
walking up the other side of the thoroughfare with their back to him.
He tried the door stealthily, found it unlocked, and stepped quickly
inside. Three strides took him to the door of the inside room.

A man looked up from a small table where he was engaged in writing. He
was a stout man, large of countenance, with small black eyes under
bushy brows which were black, although his hair was gray. He scowled
heavily at the intruder who failed to remove his hat, and who stood,
with feet well apart, in the doorway, a whimsical smile playing on his
lips.

In a sweeping glance Rathburn saw that the room contained a bed,
wardrobe closet, several chairs, and other articles of furniture and
decoration of a bedroom and living room. His eyes flashed back to the
burly man sitting at the table, pen poised, coolly surveying him with
a frown.

"Your name Jud Brown?" he asked, stepping inside the room and to the
side of the door toward the table where he could not be seen from the
street.

"I'm _Judge_ Brown," replied the large man testily. "You should have
knocked before you came in, but now you're here, state your business
as quickly as possible."

"That's a businesslike tone that I admire to hear, Brown," drawled
Rathburn. "You'll excuse my not callin' you judge. I'm afraid when you
find out who I am you'd think I was kiddin' you!"

He smiled amiably while the justice glared angrily.

"You're drunk!" flared Brown. "The best thing you can do is get out of
here--quick."

Rathburn looked pained. "First you ask me to state my business an' now
you tell me to get out," he complained. "You might as well know that I
never touch likker," he added convincingly.

Brown was studying him intently with a puzzled look on his face.
"Well," he said finally, with a show of irritation, "what do you
want?"

"I want you to tell me the why an' the wherefores of this document,"
said Rathburn sternly as he drew a folded piece of paper from a pocket
and spread it out on the table before the astonished gaze of the
justice.

"That's one of a number I saw tacked on trees on the east trail out of
here," continued Rathburn, frowning. "What's it all about, Brown?"

The pen in the hand of the justice suddenly began to waver as the hand
trembled. Then Brown dropped it, squared away his chair, and looked
grimly at his nocturnal visitor. For some moments his gaze was
concentrated on Rathburn's face. Then he slowly read the poster
offering a reward of five hundred dollars for The Coyote. He wet his
lips with his tongue.

"So I was right!" he exclaimed. "You _were_ headed in this direction.
I'm assuming that you're The Coyote!"

"And you're assuming what's the bare, untarnished truth," said
Rathburn. "I'm The Coyote you've offered five hundred for, an' who'll
bring another five hundred in several counties in Arizona, not to
mention five thousand that the State of Arizona has tossed into the
pot. I suppose I'm worth at least ten thousand as I stand here."

"That would be cheap for a man of your reputation!" said the justice
bravely. "We don't want you across the line in California, Coyote. We
won't put up with your depredations, and if you murder one of our
citizens you'll hang!"

Rathburn's chilling laugh hung upon the justice's words. "You're
side-stepping the point," he said suddenly in crisp tones that were
like the crack of a whiplash. "You're anticipating events, Jud. That's
my complaint--that's my business here with you." He brought his right
palm down upon the table smartly.

"An' now that I'm here, Jud, you're sure goin' to listen!"

"Don't threaten me!" cried the justice. "There are a hundred men
within call and they'd make short work of you if they got their hands
on you. Darn your ornery hide, I'm holding the winning cards in this
game!" he concluded excitedly.

Rathburn was smiling at him; and it was not his natural smile. It gave
the justice pause as he looked up into those narrowed gray eyes, shot
with a steel-blue light. Rathburn's right hand and wrist moved with
incredible swiftness, and Brown found himself staring into the black
bore of a six-gun. Still he saw the eyes above the weapon. His face
blanched.

"There are six winning cards in my right hand," Rathburn said slowly.
"You can start shoutin' for those hundred men you mentioned just as
soon as you want. Brown, it's you an' your kind that's made me
desperate--dangerous, like you said in that printed notice. I won't
fool with you or any other man on earth!"

"What--what did you come here for?" stammered the justice.

"To get away from--from back there in that cactus-bordered country of
black, lava hills where I was born an' where I belong!" said Rathburn
grimly, sliding into a chair on the opposite side of the table from
Brown.

"Listen to me! I was driven out. I've ridden for a week with the idea
of gettin' where I wasn't known an' where I could maybe get a fresh
start, and here I find a reward notice staring me in the face from the
top of the first hill I cross after leaving Arizona. I've never been
here before; I've done nothing to molest you or your town; but you sic
the pack on me first off an' hand-running, without any reason, except
that you've _heard_ things about me, I reckon."

Brown nodded his head as Rathburn finished. A measure of composure
returned to him. His eyes gleamed with cunning as he remembered that
his front door was unlocked and some one might by chance come in. But
he again felt troubled as he conjectured what might happen in such
event.

"You cannot blame me," he said to Rathburn. "You've robbed, and you're
a killer----"

"That's what you _hear_?" thundered Rathburn. "I admit several
robberies--holdups of crooked, gambling joints like you've got in this
town, an' petty-larceny bankers who robbed poor stockmen with sanction
of the law. I've killed one man who had it coming to him. But I've
shouldered the blame for every killing an' every robbery that's been
staged in the desert country for the last three years. 'The Coyote did
it,' is what they say, an' the crooks an' gunmen that turned the deal
go free. I'm talking to you, Brown, as man to man--a thing I've never
done with any mouthpiece of the law before. I'm trying to show you
how you an' your kind can make a man an outlaw an' keep him one till
somebody shoots him down. I'm sore, Brown, because I know that one of
these days I'm going to get it myself!"

The justice saw that the man was in deadly earnest. He saw the hand
resting on the table tighten its grip upon the gun.

"I didn't know all these things," he said hastily. "I had to judge by
what I heard--and read. Why didn't you make all this known to the
Arizona authorities?"

Rathburn laughed harshly. "Because I'd be framed clear across the
board," he said jeeringly. "It's the law! It's as much of a crime to
rob a thieving gambler or a snake of a whisky runner or peddler as it
is to rob a home! I've had to rob to live! An' all the while there's
been the makings of one of the hardest-lookin' bad men that this
Southwest country ever saw in me. And, now that I think of it, why the
devil I've held off I don't know!"

Brown was moved by the sincerity of the man. He saw in Rathburn's eyes
that he was speaking the gospel truth. He saw something else in those
eyes--the yearning of a homeless, friendless man, stamped with the
stigma of outlawry, rebelling against the forces which were against
him, relentlessly hunting him down.

"You say you came here to start over?" he asked curiously. "How do I
know you won't walk right out of this office and turn a trick right
here in this very town?"

"You don't know it, that's the devil of it!" exclaimed Rathburn. "An'
there's no use in my telling you I won't, for you wouldn't take my
word for it. You've got me pegged for a gun-fightin' bandit of first
water an' clear crystal, an' I won't try to wise you up because it
wouldn't do any good. Now that you know I'm in this country, you'll
blame the first wrong thing that happens on to me. I've got no
business here talking to you. I'm wasting my breath. You'll have to
find out from somebody besides me that I was telling you the truth,
an' I reckon that coincidence ain't in the pictures. Where's your
handcuffs?"

The justice stared at him, startled.

"Where's your handcuffs?" insisted Rathburn angrily.

"In the drawer of my desk out in front," replied Brown.

"Go an' get 'em an' bring 'em here," Rathburn commanded. "I'll keep my
drop on you under cover."

Brown rose and went to his desk in the front room while Rathburn
watched him in the doorway with his gun held under his coat.

When the justice returned to the inside room Rathburn moved a chair
close against one of the bedposts. He compelled Brown to sit in the
chair, put his hands around between the supports in the back, and
about the bedpost. He handcuffed him in that position.

Drawing a bandanna handkerchief from a pocket he swiftly gagged the
justice. Then he rummaged about the room until he found a piece of
rope tied about a pack in the bottom of the wardrobe. With this he
secured Brown's ankles to the front legs of the chair.

"There!" he said, standing back to view his handiwork. "You're pretty
well trussed up. I ain't trusting you any more than you'd trust me,
an' I don't figure on you raising any hue an' cry before I can get
along on my way."

The eyes of the justice were rolling as he struggled in vain to
speak.

"Never mind," said Rathburn. "I reckon I know what you want to say.
Under the circumstances, the same being so much on my side, you'd say
you believed me an' all that. But I took a chance in coming here to
tell you what I did an' I never aim to take more'n one chance in a
day. So long."



CHAPTER IV

"I KNEW HE LIED!"


Rathburn extinguished the light in the lamp, walked swiftly to the
front door, and outside. Closing the door softly he turned back up the
street. He sauntered along slowly, debating his next move. Evidently
the town was the last for many miles in the mountainous country east
and north. Westward he would come upon many towns as the country
became more and more densely populated toward the coast. Northwestward
he would be able to keep within the arm of the mountains and still be
in touch with civilization. But he would have to make some changes in
his attire and fix that brand on his horse.

Instinctively his course brought him to the big resort he had noticed
upon his arrival. The entrance doors had been closed against the chill
of the night, but he could see the interior of the place through one
of the windows despite the coating of dust upon the glass.

As he peered within he stiffened to alert attention and a light oath
escaped him. Walking swiftly from a rear door was a tall man, the
lower part of his face concealed by a black handkerchief. He held a
gun in each hand and was covering the score or more patrons of the
place who had risen from the tables, or stepped back from the bar,
with their hands held high above their heads.

"Keep 'em there an' you'll be all right," the masked man was saying in
a loud voice which carried to Rathburn through cracks in the window
glass. "Line up down there, now--you hear me? Line up!"

The patrons lined up, keeping their faces toward the bandit.

"If anybody gets to acting uneasylike it'll be the signal for me to
start shootin'--understand?" came the holdup's menacing voice as he
moved around behind the bar.

"Open both cash drawers," he ordered the servitor in the white apron.
He covered the bartender with one gun while he kept the other pointed
in the direction of the men standing in line.

Obeying instructions, the bartender took the bills from the cash
drawers and laid them before the bandit on the bar. He then made
several piles of silver near the bills, walking to and from the
drawers of the big cash register. Continuing to do as he was told, he
stuffed the bank notes and silver into the masked man's pockets, one
gun's muzzle against his breast, the other holding the men in line at
bay.

Rathburn heard footsteps on the walk close to him. He whirled and saw
two men about to enter the resort. "I wouldn't go in there," he said
sharply in a low voice.

"Eh--what's that?"

The two men paused, looking at him questioningly.

"I wouldn't go in there," Rathburn repeated. "Come here an' take a
look."

One of the men stepped to his side and peered curiously through the
window.

"Bill!" he whispered excitedly. "Look here. It's a holdup!"

The other man looked over his shoulder. He swore softly.

"I'll bet it's The Coyote!" said the first man in an awed voice.

"Probably is," said Rathburn sneeringly. "They say he was heading this
way."

"Good place to stay out of--if it's _him_," declared the second man.

Rathburn suddenly pulled back his left sleeve. "See that?" he said,
pointing to his left forearm.

The two men stared at the bared forearm in the yellow light which
shone through the dust-stained window. They saw a scar about three
inches below the elbow.

"Looks like a bullet made that," one of the men observed.

"You're right," said Rathburn, letting down his shirt sleeve. "A
bullet from The Coyote's gun left that mark."

The men looked at him wonderingly and respectfully.

"You boys live here?" asked Rathburn.

"Sure," was the reply. "We work in the Pine Knot Hotel an' stables.
You from the hills?"

"Yep," answered Rathburn. "Cow-puncher an' horseshoer an' one thing
an' another. What's he doing now?" He again turned his attention to
the scene within the resort, as did the two men with him.

The bandit was backing away from the bar toward the rear of the room,
still keeping his guns thrust out before him, menacing the men who
stood with uplifted hands.

"You can tell your funny judge that I called!" he sang out as he
reached the rear door. "An' now, gents," he continued in an excited
voice, "it won't go well with the man that tries to get out this back
way too soon."

As he ceased speaking his guns roared. The two large hanging
lamps, suspended from the ceiling in the center, went out to the
accompaniment of shattered glass crashing on the floor. The three
smaller lamps above the back bar next were cut to splinters by
bullets and the place was in total darkness.

Then there was silence, save for the sound of a horse's hoofs coming
from somewhere behind the building.

Rathburn drew back from the window as a match flared within and his
two companions moved toward the front door. He stole around the corner
of the building and started on a run for the rear. He stopped when he
heard a horse galloping toward the east end of the street behind the
buildings which lined that side. He hurried behind two buildings which
did not extend as far as the resort and hastened up the street. He did
not once look back.

Behind him he heard shouts and men running in the street. He increased
his pace until he was running swiftly for the trees where he had left
his horse. From above he caught the dying echoes of hoofs flying on
the trail up the foothills by which he had come early that night.

The cries down the street increased, a gun barked, and bullets whined
over his head.

"The locoed fools!" he panted. "Didn't they hear that fellow ride
away?"

But the shooting evidently was of a promiscuous nature, for he heard
more shots around by the rear of the place where the robbery had been
committed. No more bullets were fired in his direction as he darted
into the black shadows of the trees.

He quickly untied his horse, mounted, rode in the shelter of the
timber to the east trail, and began the ascent, urging his horse to
its fastest walking gait up the hard trail. The fleeing bandit's
sounds of retreat no longer came to his ears, but he kept on, scanning
the open stretches of trail above in the starlight, a disparaging
smile playing upon his lips.

Back in the little town excitement was at a high pitch. Extra lamps
had been lighted in the resort where a big crowd had gathered. Several
men ran to the office of Judson Brown, justice of the peace, while
others went in search of the constable.

When Brown failed to answer the summons at his door, some one
discovered it was not locked, and the little group of men trooped in
to find the justice gagged and handcuffed to his bed. They lighted the
lamp and removed the gag. Then acting upon his instructions they took
a bunch of keys from his pocket and unlocked the handcuffs.

He stood, boiling with rage, while they alternately hurled questions
at him and told him of the holdup.

He ignored their questions as to how he came to be bound and gagged
and demanded more details of the robbery.

"We took him to be The Coyote," said the spokesman of the group. He
had been one of the men the bandit had lined up. "He was tall, an'
blue or gray eyes, an'----"

"A puncher from up north picked him out through the window," spoke up
one of the men who had encountered Rathburn outside the resort. "He'd
been shot in the forearm by him once--showed us the scar. The robber
was The Coyote, all right."

"Certainly it was him!" roared Brown. "He came in here, tied me up
after pulling a gun on me, an' threatening to kill me, practically, so
he wouldn't have any trouble pulling his trick. Tried to steer me off
by saying he didn't come here to make any trouble. I knew he lied!"

The constable came in as the justice was finishing his irate speech.

"I'm going to lead this chase myself!" cried Brown. "I want The
Coyote, and I'm going to get him. I raise that reward to a thousand on
the spot, and I know the sheriff will back me up. Get out every man in
town that can stick on a horse, and we'll catch him if we have to comb
the hills and desert country till doomsday!"

Already horsemen were gathering in the street outside. Feeling was
high, for Dry Lake prided itself on its record of freedom from the
molestation of outlaws. The rough element, too, was strong for a man
hunt, or anything, for that matter, promising excitement.

A quarter of an hour later Brown, who was accepted as the leader when
emergencies involving the law arose, distributed his forces. He sent
two posses of twenty men each north and northwest. A third posse of a
dozen men started southward. Towns to the west were notified by
telephone as was the sheriff's office. The sheriff said he would be on
his way to Dry Lake in an hour. He was amazed that The Coyote should
be in his territory. He, too, wanted the outlaw, and he praised Brown
for his reward offer.

Judson Brown himself led the posse of thirty men which took the east
trail up the foothills. It was an hour past midnight. The moon had
risen and was flooding the tumbled landscape with its cold, white
light. From different vantage points on ridges high above, two men
looked grimly down and saw the moving shadows of the man hunters as
they took the trail.



CHAPTER V

A CAPTURE


Three hours after the posses scattered on their search for The Coyote,
spurred by thoughts of the reward of a thousand dollars offered by San
Jacinto county, and Judson Brown's declaration that the reward would
be increased by the thousands more which Arizona had laid upon the
fugitive's head, Rathburn smiled at the rosy dawn in supreme
satisfaction.

He had not lost his man's trail during the early morning hours. Time
and again he had outwitted the man ahead when the latter had waited to
scan the back trail for signs of pursuit; more than once he had gained
ground when screened by timber growth close to the trail; every
stretch of dust-filled trail had been taken advantage of, while the
soft going underfoot had deadened the sound of his horse's flying
hoofs.

The bandit had traveled fast and he had kept steadily to the eastward.
This last was what caused Rathburn to smile with satisfaction. The man
for whose crime Rathburn was suspected was heading straight for
Rathburn's own stamping ground--the far-distant desert range, which he
knew from the low horizon in the south to the white-capped peaks in
the north. To catch up with him would be but a matter of a few hours,
Rathburn reflected contentedly.

Nor had the posse gained upon the two men ahead. Brown's men, perhaps,
did not have as excellent specimens of horseflesh as Rathburn and his
quarry rode. Nor did they possess the trail knowledge, the tricks
which Rathburn knew, and which the latter, more or less to his
surprise, found that the man ahead knew. Whatever it was that caused
that curling, sneering smile of contempt to play upon Rathburn's lips
at intervals, it was not scorn of the riding ability of the man he was
pursuing.

Moreover, both men ahead were saving their horses' strength against a
probable spurt by the posse at daylight. It would not be a hard matter
to follow their trail by the bright light of broad day. So far as he
could determine, Rathburn did not believe the man ahead knew he was
followed by a solitary rider who was between him and the hounds of the
law.

Under the circumstances, the bandit would expect to be pursued by a
number, Rathburn reasoned. He was ordering his pursuit on this theory,
and he did not intend to take any more time than was absolutely
necessary in catching up with the man ahead.

Rathburn's horse had not been hard ridden the day preceding, nor for
several days before that. He had journeyed westward by easy stages,
taking his time, favoring his mount in anticipation of some unforeseen
emergency which might require hard riding. And he well knew the
extraordinary powers of speed and endurance which the animal
possessed.

He frowned as he thought of the brand. He had not been under the
impression that the iron his horse wore was generally known to the
authorities. He would have to hole-up somewhere in the hills before
long and attend to that brand. As it was, it was a dead give-away as
to his identity. He could thank Brown for this bit of information,
anyway.

With the dawn, Rathburn found it easier to keep on his man's trail
without being seen himself. He gained considerable until he estimated
that he was not more than a mile and a half, or two miles at most,
behind.

The sun was up when he reached the crest of the high ridge where was
the tall pine and the sign which he had first seen the afternoon
before.

He hesitated, debating whether to let the printed notice remain with
his penciled inscription about the Arizona reward on it, or to tear it
down. Then he saw the man he was pursuing below on the trail. He moved
swiftly out of sight down the eastern side of the ridge. But when he
came to the next vantage point he discovered that his man had
apparently seen him; for he was riding at a mad gallop on the trail
which wound eastward along the edge of the hills.

"Now's as good a time as any, hoss!" he cried to his mount as he drove
in his spurs and dashed in swift pursuit.

Down the winding trail plunged horse and rider. The dun slipped and
slid on the hard surface of the steep declivities and finally emerged
upon the more open path which the man ahead was following.

Rathburn no longer made any attempt at concealment. He was after the
man ahead, and, somewhere behind, a posse was in mad pursuit. If he
were captured before he could overtake the bandit who was responsible
for the robbery, the latter would very likely escape--was certain to
make his get-away, in fact.

Rathburn called upon his horse by voice and spur for all the speed
there was in him. He could see the fugitive ahead urging his horse to
its utmost. The race was on in earnest. Thus they came to a long
stretch of open, level trail. Here Rathburn's horse began slowly to
gain.

The man ahead turned in his saddle, and Rathburn saw the glint of
sunlight on dull metal. He brought out his own gun. But the other did
not fire. He kept on, half-turned in the saddle, watching his pursuer
keenly. Rathburn continued to gain upon him.

They now were less than half a mile apart, and the fugitive suddenly
turned his horse due north, straight toward the hills, and sent a
volley of shots whistling in his pursuer's direction.

Rathburn held his fire. The bullets flew wide of their mark, and he
could see his man reloading as he rode. Rathburn now cut across,
racing for the point where he thought the other would reach the hills.
His horse rose to the emergency with a tremendous burst of speed. He
was close enough now to shoot with a reasonable certainty of scoring a
hit on his flying target. But he had no desire to kill, and he could
not be certain, at that distance, of merely wounding his quarry. He
also recoiled from the thought that he might accidently hit the
other's splendid horse.

Just ahead a thin line of straggling pines ranged down the gradual
slope from the first low ridge of the hills for which they were
heading. Rathburn swung north and gained the shelter of this screen
just as the other rider again began firing. The trees now were between
them, and each was an equal distance from the gentle slope of the
ridge.

Rathburn called upon his horse for a last, heartbreaking burst of
speed and the dun made good. At the beginning of the slope to the
ridge, Rathburn veered sharply to the right and burst through the
trees a scant rod or two from his man. His gun was leveled straight at
the other, who had been caught momentarily off his guard.

"Drop it!" shouted Rathburn, racing toward him.

The man's right hand fell to his side while he checked his horse with
his left. Rathburn rode in close to him and they came to a halt.
Rathburn's lips were curled in a smile of contempt. The other stared
at him, white-faced, his eyes wide and inquiring. The fingers of his
right hand relaxed, and the gun fell to the ground. Rathburn swung low
in the saddle and scooped it up, thrusting it into a pocket of his
coat.

"Now beat it up over that ridge ahead," Rathburn ordered. "And be
quick about it. That posse may be close behind us."

The other's eyes lit up with surprise. "You--you're not an officer?"
he stammered.

"Shut up, you fool!" cried Rathburn. "You want to stay here an' talk
when there's a score or two of men after us? I'm worse than an
officer. Slope for that ridge now. Hurry!"

The man put the steel to his horse, and they dashed up the slope,
crossed the ridge, and found themselves in a thick growth of timber
which covered a large area.

"Pick your way into the middle of that patch of timber," snapped out
Rathburn. "An' don't forget I'll be right close behind you. Get
going--don't gape!"

The captive's face flushed at the other's manner and the indubitable
note of contempt in his voice. But he obeyed the instructions and
pushed into the timber.

When they had proceeded some distance Rathburn called a halt. "Ever
been in this country before?" he demanded with a sneer.

"Yes." The other was more composed now. He studied his captor
curiously and seemed more at ease. Evidently he was heartened by the
fact that Rathburn had said he was not an officer and he believed
him.

"I suppose you're after what I'm carrying on me," he said with a touch
of bitterness. "I guess I'd have had as much chance as I've got now
if I'd started shootin' even after you got the drop on me!"

Rathburn laughed harshly. "You never had a chance from the start, if
you only knew it," he jeered. "Why, you upstart, you're not entitled
to any chance!"

The other man's face darkened in swift anger. "Brave talk," he said
sneeringly. "You've got me where you want me, so you can say
anything."

"I've got a pile to say," replied Rathburn shortly. "But this isn't
the time or place to say it. We want to be good an' away out of that
posse's path--an' quick."

"You might as well take what you're after an' then each of us can look
out for himself," was the hot retort.

Rathburn looked at the man quizzically. "You've got more spunk than I
thought," he mused.

He stared at the other man closely. The bandit could not have been
more than twenty-five or twenty-six. He was tall, well-built, blond.
His hair and eyes were about the color of Rathburn's. But Rathburn
particularly noted the man's face, and whatever it was he saw there
caused him to shrug and frown deeply.

"What's your name?" he demanded coldly.

"Percy," sneeringly replied the other.

"That's good enough for me," said Rathburn cheerfully. "All I need is
a name to call you by. Now, Percy, if you're acquainted with this
country in here an' can steer the way to where the posse'll be liable
to overlook us you better be leading on. I see you've ditched your
other gun somewhere--you had two."

"So you want me to take you where you'll be safe so you can rob me,
maybe shoot me down, an' then make your get-away," the other
accused.

Rathburn looked him straight in the eyes. "If you think I'm the kind
of a man who'd shoot another down in cold blood when he was helpless
you don't know much about human beings," he said slowly. "I have no
intention of murdering you or harming you a-tall, if you're halfway
careful. If you feel that it's against your principles to lead this
expedition to temporary safety, we can turn back toward Dry Lake.
We're going to do one thing or the other within one minute!"

"Oh, come on," muttered the captive. He led the way through the timber
to its western edge, then turned north in the shelter of the trees
traversing a long, high, rocky ridge.

"Our horses won't leave any tracks here," he called back. "Or maybe
you don't care whether we leave any tracks or not," he added
sarcastically.

Rathburn spurred his horse alongside of him. "It doesn't make a bit of
difference to me," he said. "You're the one that's got to be scared of
that posse, Percy, not me. If it wasn't for one thing I'd take you
right down there to meet 'em!"

The other looked at him both in anger and perplexity. "Suppose you'd
object to tellin' what that one thing is," he said savagely.

"Well, it may be that I feel sorry for you," said Rathburn as if to
himself. "An' it may be that I want credit for bringing you in without
the help of any posse an' without them knowing it!"



CHAPTER VI

THE REAL LOW-DOWN


They rode on in silence. When they reached the north end of the ridge
the man in the lead turned west on a slope studded with large boulders
and rock outcroppings. There was considerable shale here, too, and
they had to proceed cautiously in spots, both for fear of sliding down
the shale and to prevent making much noise.

"If they follow us up here, we can hear 'em before they get to us,"
said the man who called himself Percy, with a shrug and a frowning
look at his companion.

Rathburn did not reply.

They continued across the slope and descended into a large bowl or
pocket, guarded by huge boulders and scattering trees on the slope
above.

"Guess it's safe to rest our horses here," said Percy. "We can hear
'em coming either way; but I don't think they'll get up here."

However, neither he nor Rathburn knew how many men Brown had at his
command, nor did they know that the sheriff of the county, with two
deputies, had raced to Dry Lake by automobile, procured horses, and
hastened to join Brown on the east trail, which seemed the most likely
route of escape for the outlaw.

There was a spring in the pocket surrounded by a small meadow of good
grass. The pair watered their horses, loosened their saddle-cinches,
and permitted the animals to graze with reins dangling.

Rathburn took his slicker pack from the rear of his saddle and spread
it open on the ground.

"Reckon it's safe to build a small fire here?" he asked cheerfully.
"I'm powerful hungry, an' I've got some emergency provisions--being
trail-broke."

Percy, too, was hungry, as his eager look toward the pack testified.

"I'll climb up to the top on the lower side an' keep an eye out while
you fix some grub," he volunteered. "You needn't be scared of me
jumping over the other side. There's a drop of about five hundred feet
over there."

"Go ahead and jump if you want," said Rathburn. "Me--I'd rather live.
That's why I want to eat."

While the other climbed to his lookout position Rathburn made a fire.
Then he took a small frying pan and coffeepot, minus its handle, from
the pack, removed the packages stuffed in them, and soon was making
coffee, frying bacon, and warming up beans. This, with some hard
biscuits and some sirup out of a bottle, constituted their meal, which
Rathburn soon had ready.

Again he looked closely at Percy's face as the latter scrambled down
from his perch to appease his hunger.

Suddenly he burst out laughing; but it was a belittling laugh, half
sneering, which brought the blood to the face of the captive while
Rathburn watched him closely.

"If I had to-day's actions to do over again you mightn't be so
tickled," said the man viciously.

"I'm laughing to think how lucky you are for a rank beginner an'
botcher!" said Rathburn as they began to eat. "You must have took a
course in outlawing from some correspondence school," he continued.

"Maybe you could have done better," hinted the other.

"Quite likely I could," admitted Rathburn. "In the first place I'd
have shut that back door after I came in so nobody could pot shot me
from behind. Yes, I reckon I'd have done that."

Percy glared at him thoughtfully.

"Then I wouldn't have let myself get in line with the front and side
windows," Rathburn taunted. "Lots of men are shot through windows.
Ever hear of such a thing?"

His listener didn't answer.

"An' now that I think of it," Rathburn droned on, "I'd have lined
those men up against the wall with their faces turned away from me.
That puts 'em at more of a disadvantage, an' they can't see what's
going on."

Percy now was regarding him keenly.

"Let's see," said Rathburn, with tantalizing slowness. "Oh, yes,
Percy. I wouldn't have taken anything from the cash drawers but the
bills. I don't like to take the time to monkey around with a lot of
silver; besides, it sort of weights one down."

He paused long enough to let that sink in, then continued: "The thing
I'd have paid most of my attention to--excepting for keeping a
watchful eye on the men against the wall an' the windows an'
doors--would have been the safe. The big money's usually in the safe,
an' the bartender can be induced to open the safe just as easy as he
can be persuaded into opening the cash drawers. An' say, Percy, I'd
never let a bartender get as close to me as you let that fellow get to
you. He might start something, then you'd have to begin shootin' an'
that would alarm the town an' ball up the program."

"You talk like you'd had considerable experience," observed Percy
warily.

"Maybe so. Maybe I have. But if I have, I can say I've never pulled
anything quite so raw as the way you pulled that stunt last night down
in Dry Lake, Percy. That is the real low-down on that. You just
naturally laid yourself open to attack from all quarters."

His captive looked at him both respectfully and sheepishly.

"An' there's only one reason why you got away with it," said Rathburn,
his eyes narrowing.

"Because I was lucky like you say, I suppose," sneeringly answered
Percy.

"No!" thundered Rathburn. "You got away with it because they thought
you were The Coyote!"

The captive started; stared at Rathburn with widened eyes.

"That's why you got away with it," continued Rathburn in a hard voice.
"An' you thought you'd cinch it when you told 'em before you went out
that they could tell their funny judge you called!"

Rathburn's eyes blazed with angry contempt. "Trading on somebody
else's name," he mocked. "Trying to make out you was the goods, an' I
believe they thought you was The Coyote, at that. Man, I saw the whole
dirty business."

Percy's face went white. However, his emotion was more anger than
fear, and he was prey to an overpowering curiosity.

"How do you know I _ain't_ The Coyote?" he asked shrewdly.

Rathburn stared at him--stunned. Then he leaped to his feet and his
gun flashed into his hand in a movement too swift for the eye to
follow.

"Go over there and look at the brand on my horse," he commanded.
"Remember how that printed bill read that put it in your fool head to
try an' masquerade as The Coyote, an' then read the brand on that
horse!"

The captive rose and without a look back walked to where Rathburn's
horse was cropping the grass. The left side of the animal was toward
him and for a few moments he stood looking with bulging eyes at the
CC2 on the shoulder. Then he turned slowly.

Rathburn's gaze burned into his, but a cool, deliberate light had come
into his eyes.

"So you're The Coyote!" Percy said quietly. "I should have recognized
you."

"Yes, I'm called The Coyote," said Rathburn, walking slowly toward
him. "I'm the man they think robbed that joint down in Dry Lake last
night. I'm the man they're looking for. I'm the man they want to make
pay for your bungling work. That's the way it's gone for three years,
Percy. I've been blamed for job after job that I didn't even know was
pulled off till I heard they were looking for me on account of it. But
this is one job they'll not be able to lay at my door; for I've got
the man who's responsible an' I've got him red-handed!"

"What're you going to do about it?" asked the other coolly.

Again Rathburn's eyes blazed with rage. "Do? Why, I'm just naturally
going to take you in all by my lonesome an' turn you over to the
sheriff with my compliments."

Rathburn cooled down as he said this, drew tobacco and papers from his
shirt pocket, and proceeded to build a cigarette. He looked at his man
queerly.

"Now I reckon you know why I ain't got any idea of taking that money
off you," he said.

"They might not believe you," returned the other.

"I know what you mean. You mean they might think I was putting up a
job on 'em an' trying to shift the blame on somebody else. It can't be
done, Percy. Listen to this: I was looking through the front window of
that place last night when you held it up. Two men that work in the
hotel down there came along an' looked in alongside of me after I
warned 'em not to go in. I showed 'em this scar on my arm." He rolled
back his left sleeve disclosing a scar on the forearm about three
inches below the elbow.

"I told 'em that scar was made by a bullet from The Coyote's gun,"
Rathburn went on, pulling down his sleeve and drawing his right hand
back to the gun he had replaced in its holster. "That scar _was_ made
by The Coyote's gun. I shot myself in the arm by accident some few
years ago. Now, here's the point: Those men will remember me an'
remember that scar. The descriptions the sheriff of that county must
have in his office will tell all about that scar. It won't be hard to
identify me by it an' by the two men that stood out there by the
window with me. So they'll know I didn't pull the robbery!"

The other man shifted uneasily on his feet.

"An' that ain't all, Percy," Rathburn continued. "Somebody saw me
running up the street afterward because they took a couple of shots at
me for luck. That'll dovetail with my story. I've never been known to
use two guns. An' if they want any more proof all they'll have to do
will be to stand you up in front of the men you had in line, dressed
as you are with that black handkerchief over your face. That'll settle
it. I reckon the sheriff will believe me an' give me a chance when he
hears the facts, or I may not wait for a talk with him."

"I take it you've got me right," said the captive, compressing his
lips. "But if you're really The Coyote I've heard so much about,
you'll give me my gun an' give me a chance to run for it!"

Rathburn's laugh jarred on his ears. "Give you a chance an' take a
chance myself on going to the gallows?"

"The gallows!" exclaimed the other. "Oh--I see. But didn't you say you
thought the sheriff would give you a chance if he met you an' heard
your story? At that you don't have to stay around an' get taken back
to Arizona now."

"They hang men in this State," Rathburn interrupted.

"But--there wasn't----" The other man faltered, staring.

"One of those shots you fired at the lamp went wild, or glanced off
something, an'----" Rathburn lifted his brows significantly.

"Killed somebody!" cried the other.

He staggered back just as a rattle of falling stones signified that
horsemen were in the shale on the slope to eastward.



CHAPTER VII

WHERE TO HIDE


For the space of several seconds Rathburn and his captive looked into
each other's eyes. Rathburn's gaze was keen, alert, fired by the quick
thinking he was doing. Stark terror showed in the other's look which
gradually changed to one of haunting fear and indecision. Then his
eyes became clear and he returned Rathburn's glance, cool and
questioning.

"Get your horse," ordered Rathburn, running to his own mount.

In a twinkling he had tightened his cinch, caught up the reins, and
vaulted into the saddle. His captive was at his side shortly
afterward.

"You're still in the lead," Rathburn snapped out; "unless you want to
wait for 'em."

The other whirled his horse, sent him flying for the western end of
the pocket, with Rathburn close behind. They went up a steep, rocky
trail, screened by boulders. When they reached the top of the west rim
they looked back and saw four horsemen on the shale slope leading to
the pocket. Brown evidently had split up his posse and was literally
combing the hills for his quarry.

"They'll know they're on the right trail when they see the remains of
our dinner an' my pack down there," remarked Rathburn dryly.

"But they haven't seen us yet," said Percy breathlessly. "If we can
make Sunrise Cañon Trail we can lose 'em in the mountains--that is if
_you_ want to lose 'em."

"Where's the trail?" asked Rathburn.

"'Bout five miles west. It's the only trail goin' up into the big
mountains between here an' the other side of the Dry Lake range, an'
it's a tough one."

Rathburn quickly sized up the country ahead. He saw low and high
ridges with towering mountains to the right, or north, of them. There
were scattering pines on the slopes and patches of timber in the wide
ravines, many of which were veritable valleys.

"We'll run for it while they're getting in an' out of that hole," he
suddenly decided with a click of his teeth. "Their horses are in no
better shape than ours. Slope along."

The other had dug in his spurs even before he got the order. They rode
swiftly down the steep trail from the rim of the pocket and fled
across an open space and up the slope of the first ridge.

Rathburn looked back as they crossed it, but could see no sign of
their pursuers. His face still was troubled; his gaze kept boring into
the back of the man on the horse ahead of him. At times he muttered to
himself.

They galloped up the hard bed of a dry arroyo and swung westward
across another rock-bound ridge, picking their way carefully among the
boulders. Rathburn's face became more and more strained as he noted
that the leader evidently knew the country they were in like a book.
Rathburn, with the experience born of years spent in the open places,
was able to keep his bearings.

They had followed a course for some miles north of the main trail
leading east, the trail by which he had first come into the locality.
Then they had doubled back westward, some miles above that trail, of
course, and now were heading almost due north again, in the direction
of the mountains which did not appear to be far away. He surmised that
they were nearly directly north of the ranch where he had had the meal
with the girl and boy.

At the top of the next ridge his guide pointed above them.

"See that crack in the mountain?" he said.

Rathburn nodded as he made out what appeared to be a gash in the steep
side of a mountain north of them.

"That's Sunrise Cañon," said the other quietly. "There's a trail up
that cañon into the heart of the mountains where they couldn't catch
us--or you, if you want to go alone--in a hundred years!"

He stared steadily at Rathburn.

"Mosey along, then," said Rathburn. "Let's get somewheres before our
horses drop."

They kept along the ridge until it was cut by a cañon. Here they
descended and entered another long, narrow ravine which they
negotiated at a gallop. At its upper end they again climbed a steep
slope. Their horses were showing the strain of the hours of hard
riding. Rathburn realized that they could go but a limited distance.
But the members of the posse most assuredly must be in the same fix so
far as their mounts were concerned.

He decided that if they could get into the cañon unseen they would be
able to rest their horses and remain secure for the night. Next
morning they could continue on up into the hills, or slip back by a
roundabout way to Dry Lake.

His lips froze into a thin white line. He did not look at the man with
him as they paused for a few moments under the trees which covered the
top of the ridge and gazed at a long, gently sloping stretch of nearly
open country. It was covered with clumps of trees at intervals, that
reached to the dark, narrow opening in the mountains, marking the
entrance to Sunrise Cañon and the trail to the fastnesses of the
higher hills.

"You can swing off here to the left an' down a wide valley to where
there's a cut-off into Dry Lake," he heard his captive suggesting. "I
don't see any sense in all this hard ridin' an' hidin' if you're goin'
to turn me in."

"We'll go on," growlingly replied Rathburn.

They descended the ridge and entered the long, sloping valley, so wide
that it virtually was a plain. They made good headway, although they
favored their horses. They took advantage of the shelter provided by
the occasional clumps of pines. The afternoon was drawing to a close
with the sun dipping sharply toward the western hills when they came
in sight of the entrance to the cañon. But with the first glimpse they
checked their horses and turned into the shelter of some trees near
by.

"Beat us to it!" exclaimed Percy.

"Four of 'em," said Rathburn, frowning. "Brown ain't taking any
chances. He's a better man than I figured him out. An' there's more of
'em!"

He pointed westward where two riders were barely discernible on the
crest of a ridge. They disappeared almost immediately in the timber
below.

"We'll turn back," Rathburn decided. "We'll ride with the trees
between us an' the men up at the cañon, an' keep an eye out for the
pair to the west. You might watch that side, an' I'll look out for the
east an' south. C'mon, let's drift."

The face of the man who called himself Percy was white and strained as
they urged their tired mounts southward. They skirted the western end
of the ridge by which they had gained the wide valley and continued
on, carefully scanning the landscape in all directions for indications
of pursuit. It was plain to them that they had been seen to leave the
east trail early that morning. Brown and his men undoubtedly knew they
had headed north, and the justice had immediately dispatched men to
guard the entrance to the cañon trail into the mountains. Then they
had begun a systematic search of the locality.

This deduction was strengthened when Rathburn suddenly pointed toward
the east. More riders were to be seen on the slope of the valley's
side in that direction. Even as they looked, these riders, too,
disappeared from view as they dropped down behind a rise of ground.

The sun was going down fast. Already the red banners of the sunset
were flaunted in the high western skies. The twilight would be upon
them apace--the long-lasting, purple-veiled twilight of the altitudes.
Then the night would close down with its canopy of stars.

Rathburn looked speculatively at his companion. "We'll make a break
for that clump of trees about a quarter of a mile ahead with all our
horses have got left," he said, driving in his spurs.

In a last mad dash which taxed every iota of strength and endurance
left in their beasts they gained the shelter of the little patch of
timber.

"Here we'll wait," said Rathburn coolly as he dismounted.

"What?" cried the other, staring at him incredulously. "We ain't quite
surrounded yet. We haven't seen anybody in the south. That way may be
open an' it's liable to be closed while we're stayin' here."

"Get off your horse and unsaddle him," commanded Rathburn sternly.
"The best place to hide from a posse is in the middle of it!"



CHAPTER VIII

TWO QUEER MOVES


The captive complied with the order, looking at Rathburn in a peculiar
way--half disgusted, half contemptuous. Indeed, he turned his back on
the other, leaned against the slender trunk of a pine, and stared
steadily into the south. He appeared much worried.

The horses welcomed the chance to rest.

Rathburn walked slowly back and forth the width of the patch of
timber, vigilantly keeping watch. He paid no attention whatsoever to
the man leaning against the tree. For all the interest he displayed he
might have completely forgotten his very existence. In time this got
on the other's nerves.

"I believe you lied when you said there was a man killed down there
last night," he said coolly.

"I didn't say anybody was killed," Rathburn returned without looking
in his direction. "You assumed that part of it."

"Then you wanted me to think so," said the other in a loud voice. "You
was tryin' to throw a scare into me!"

Rathburn swung on his heel and stepped squarely in front of him. "I
let you think that to show you what _might_ have happened," he said.
"Such things have happened to me an' swelled the price on my head.
Now, darn you, if you talk that loud again I'll choke your wind off!"

The words came with sinister earnestness, but they seemed to rouse
some dormant strain of extraordinary courage in the man to whom they
were addressed.

He suddenly leaped from the tree and struck out with all the force at
his command.

But Rathburn had anticipated the attack. He knocked the other's blow
aside and drove his right straight to the jaw.

"There's a little souvenir to show you that I mean business, Percy,"
he panted.

Percy came back to the attack with eyes gleaming with malice. Again he
attempted to hit Rathburn, but the latter stepped aside with lightning
swiftness and drove home another blow. He followed it up with a left
and right and Percy sprawled his length on the grass.

After a time he sat up, dazed. Rathburn was standing over him. But
although he realized fully that he was not a match for Rathburn in
physical combat, and doubtless was greatly his inferior with his gun,
his spirit was undaunted.

"You better finish me, or drag me in," he gritted; "for I'll get you,
if I can. I don't know what your play is, but you've acted too queer
to-day for me to believe you're on the square one way or the other."

"You want some more, Percy?"

"My name is Lamy," growlingly replied the other, as he rose
cautiously.

"Oh, o-h. Percy Lamy."

"No, just Lamy. Lamy's my name, an' I ain't ashamed of it. You'd find
it out--sooner or later--anyway, I--expect." He stammered during this
speech as if he had just remembered something--remembered when it was
too late.

Rathburn noted the frown and the confused expression in Lamy's eyes.
He turned abruptly and walked away.

A few minutes later he came back to find Lamy sitting with his back
to a tree, staring unseeing into the deepening twilight.

"Lamy," he said harshly, "we're going to get away from this
posse--maybe. Anyway, soon's it's dark we'll ride south. It's just
possible we can leave 'em up here in the hills."

"Suppose I refuse to go?"

"Then I'll have to truss you up an' tie you to your horse, an' don't
think I won't do it!" The ring of menace in Rathburn's voice convinced
the other, but he made no comment.

When darkness had fallen they saddled their mounts and started. They
rode at a jog, keeping as much as possible in the shadow of the
timber. Rathburn noticed that the valley gradually widened; he showed
interest in his surroundings.

Then, off to the left below them, he saw moving shadows. He called a
halt at the next clump of trees. "Lamy, are there any horses running
in here that you know of?" he asked.

"There probably are," said Lamy sarcastically; "an' they've probably
got riders on 'em."

"No doubt," returned Rathburn gravely. "I just saw some shadows that
looked like horses down to the left of us."

"I expected they'd shut us off in the south," snapped out Lamy. "You
gave 'em plenty of time."

"We just naturally had to rest our horses," observed Rathburn. "As it
is, they're not good for far, nor for any fast riding. Besides, I've
changed my mind some since this morning."

"So? I suppose you're goin' to give me a chance?" sneeringly inquired
the other.

He could see Rathburn's eyes in the twilight, and suddenly he shifted
in his saddle uneasily. For Rathburn's gaze had narrowed; and it shot
from his eyes steel blue with a flash of fire. His face had set in
cold, grim lines. The whole nature of the man seemed to undergo a
change. He radiated menace, contempt, cold resentment. The corners of
his mouth twisted down sharply. His voice, as he spoke now, seemed
edged like a knife.

"Lamy, hand over that money!"

Lamy's brows lifted in swift comprehension; a look of cunning came
into his eyes--was followed by a gleam of hope, not unmixed with
derision. He thrust his hands into his coat pockets and held out bills
and silver to Rathburn who stuffed the plunder into his own pockets.

"That all of it?" demanded Rathburn sharply. He made no effort to
temper the tones of his voice.

For answer Lamy dug into his trousers' pockets, under his chaps, and
produced two more rolls of bills.

"That's the chunk," he said with a sneering inflection in his voice.
"If you want I'll stand a frisk."

"No, I won't search you. I take it you're too sensible to lie!"

"Thanks," replied Lamy dryly. "I suppose I'm free to go now, unless
you figure you'd be safer by killin' me off."

Anger, swift and uncontrollable, leaped into Rathburn's eyes. Then he
laughed, softly and mirthlessly. "If I'd been minded to do for you, or
had any such idea in my head, I'd have given it to you long before
this," he said. "It's lucky for you, Lamy, that I'm pretty much the
breed you thought I was."

"Don't pose!" retorted Lamy hotly. "You intended to get that money and
make me the goat if you could, from the start. If you'd had any idea
of turnin' me over to Brown you'd have done that little thing, too,
long before this."

"Maybe so," Rathburn mused, staring at the other thoughtfully in the
dim light of the stars. "Maybe I will yet. You're not out of this--an'
neither am I. Those shadows down to the left are getting plainer.
What's that long dark streak over there on the right?"

"Those are trees," answered Lamy sneeringly.

"Let's make for 'em," ordered Rathburn. "Don't forget you're still
under orders, Lamy. An' don't overlook the fact that I'm more or less
in earnest about things in general," he added significantly.

They rode at a tangent for the dark shadow of the trees. At the edge
of the timber ensued another long wait, with Rathburn uncommunicative,
moodily pacing restlessly back and forth. The horses had another
excellent opportunity to rest and the fagged animals took advantage of
it.

Once or twice Rathburn thought he glimpsed a light far down the
valley, but he couldn't be sure. Neither could he be sure he saw the
moving shadows on the opposite side of the wide valley again.

The night wore into early morning and the moon added its cold radiance
to the faint glow of the myriads of stars. Rathburn sensed the
nearness of enemies. Several times he stopped before Lamy, who sat
upon his saddle blanket with his back against a tree trunk and dozed.
Rathburn had to fight off continual drowsiness.

For long hours he walked along the edge of the pines. He dared not
trust himself to sleep. He dared not trust Lamy to stand guard while
he obtained some rest, and he knew that when the sun came up and the
day began, he would be thoroughly awake again; for more than once he
had gone two nights without sleep. Also, he assumed that the hunt
would be less spirited during the night. Members of the posse would
themselves be drowsy, but they could spell each other and in that way
maintain their vigil and secure a few hours of rest.

Rathburn's rage rose at frequent intervals as he thought of the
predicament he was in through no fault of his own. More than once he
glared malevolently at the sleeping Lamy; then the troubled look would
come again to his eyes and he would resume his pacing, muttering to
himself, staring into the blue veil of the night. Once he sat down and
removed his right boot and sock in the darkness; shortly afterward he
again began his pacing.

He felt the pangs of hunger and shook his head savagely as he thought
of the scanty supply of provisions he had been compelled to leave in
the mountain pocket.

His spirits revived as he thought of the horses. They would be fresh
in the morning; and he intended that his horse should have a grain
feed that day. Rathburn always thought of his horse first; and,
although it might seem that he taxed the animal's powers to their
utmost at times, he never went beyond a certain point. He had often
said he would surrender to his pursuers rather than kill his mount in
evading them.

The first faint glimmer of the dawn was lighting the skies above the
ridges to the eastward when he roused Lamy. He awoke with a start,
stared sleepily at Rathburn, then got speedily to his feet.

"You been awake all night?" he asked curiously.

Rathburn nodded, looking at him closely. "Saddle up," he ordered.

They rode southward at a canter in the shelter of the edge of the
timber. When the eastern skies were rosy red and fast changing to
gold with the advent of the sun they saw two things; a small ranch
house about a mile southeast of them, and two riders some distance
north.

Rathburn reined in his mount. He looked at Lamy who met his gaze in
defiance. Then Rathburn reached into his coat pocket with his right
hand and drew out a gun.

"Here's your shooting iron," he said, as he held the weapon out to
Lamy.

The other stared at him in astonishment.

"Take it!" snapped out Rathburn. "Take it, or I may change my mind!"

Lamy took the gun wonderingly, balanced it for a moment in his hand,
and shoved it into his holster.

Rathburn motioned toward the south and Lamy rode along at his side.
They caught another glimpse of the horsemen in the north. As they drew
opposite the ranch house, on the west or front side, they saw a woman
leave it and walk the short distance to the barn and enter. At that
moment both Rathburn and Lamy gave vent to low exclamations. They had
caught sight of riders in the south and to the east. They appeared to
be surrounded by the posse.

Rathburn looked at Lamy soberly. However, it was Lamy who spoke first.
"You said the best place to hide from a posse was in the middle of
it," he said scornfully. "Why not leave the horses in the timber an'
run for the house? Maybe it has a cellar."

"I reckon that would be as good a move as any," replied Rathburn, to
the other's surprise. "I'm game if you are."

Lamy's eyes flamed with excitement as he turned his mount into the
trees. They came to what looked like a bear pit or a prospect hole.
It was partly filled with brush.

"We can hide our saddles in there an' let the horses go," Lamy
suggested. "There's a few horses runnin' in through here, an' they may
join 'em."

"You can do that with yours," said Rathburn grimly. "You seem to
forget that the brand on this dun is pretty well known."

He coolly tied his horse as Lamy followed his own suggestion, hid his
saddle, and turned his mount loose.

They moved back to the edge of the timber and waited until they could
see no one in sight about the house or in any direction in the valley.
Then they started on a run for the house.



CHAPTER IX

LEAVE IT TO ME


Rathburn had recognized the ranch long before they came close to it.
It was the place where he had stopped for a meal with the girl and the
freckle-faced boy two days before--the day he had gone on into Dry
Lake. He saw no sign of the girl or the boy or any one else as they
reached the front door and hurried inside.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Lamy look hurriedly about and step
into the kitchen. He followed him.

Lamy grabbed part of a loaf of bread and some cold meat on a shelf
above the kitchen table.

"There's usually a cellar under the main room in these square houses,"
he said, hurrying back into the larger room.

Rathburn stepped after him, and Lamy pulled back the rug before the
table and disclosed a trapdoor. He raised the door, held out the food
to Rathburn, and whispered: "You better get down there. Take this grub
an'----"

"What's the matter? Isn't there room for both of us?" Rathburn put the
question in a voice which conveyed surprise.

"I thought it might be better if we--if we didn't both hide in the
same place," whispered Lamy. "Then they'd only get one of us, an'
whichever it was they'd think he was the one they wanted, see?" He
appeared excited.

Rathburn's eyes narrowed. His right hand darted to his gun in a flash,
and the muzzle of the weapon was pressed into Lamy's ribs. "Get down
there!" commanded Rathburn. "Get down."

Lamy hesitated with a wild look in his eyes. The muzzle of Rathburn's
gun pressed harder against his midriff. He dropped lightly into the
cellar. Rathburn pulled the rug against the trapdoor as he followed,
then let down the door, certain that the rug would fall into place.

The pair sat upon some gunny sacks in the little cellar until their
eyes became accustomed to the darkness; they could dimly see each
other by the faint light which came to them through some cracks in the
floor above.

They heard steps at the rear of the house; then the pound of hoofs
from in front. Rathburn saw Lamy staring at him fixedly with a puzzled
look. He frowned at him. Rathburn still held his gun in his hand. Both
had forgotten the food which Lamy had in his lap.

"Say," whispered Lamy. "What was your idea in givin' me back my gun?"

He moved closer to get the reply.

"Shut up!" said Rathburn, cocking an ear toward the trapdoor.

The sound of footsteps now was in the kitchen. They heard horses
snorting and men dismounting at the front door. After a brief space
there were light footsteps in the room above followed by the tramp of
heavy boots.

"Good morning, ma'am," came a deep voice.

"Good morning," was the hesitating reply. Rathburn recognized the
voice of the girl who had fed him.

"Ma'am, I'm Sheriff Neal of San Jacinto County," continued the deep
voice, as several feet shuffled slightly. "These men with me are
members of my posse. Maybe you know Judge Brown?"

"I--I've seen him," answered the girl.

Rathburn could feel Lamy's knees shaking against him in excitement.

"I believe we've met some time," Brown put in. Rathburn thought the
justice's voice sounded tired.

"Ma'am, we're looking for a man--or two men." It was the sheriff
speaking again. "Have you seen any one around here this morning--any
stranger, or strangers, I mean?"

"Why, no," replied the girl with a breathless catch in her voice. "I
haven't seen any one."

"You're sure?"

Rathburn frowned at the sheriff's tone, although he kept his eyes on
Lamy's white face.

He smiled as he remembered that the sheriff had mentioned two men.
This doubtless was the cause of Lamy's agitation. Nor did he think
Lamy had forgotten that he, Rathburn, had pointed out that he could
prove he didn't rob the place in Dry Lake.

"You're sure?" the sheriff asked again.

"Why, yes," replied the girl. "I am sure."

"Maybe she can get us some breakfast," said Brown hopefully.

"Can you feed five men, ma'am?" asked the sheriff in a softer tone.

"Just sit down, and I'll get you some breakfast," said the girl.

The two men in the little cellar could hear some of the men taking
chairs and one or two going out to look after the horses. The girl's
light footsteps retreated into the kitchen.

Rathburn smiled mysteriously at Lamy who was shivering with a case of
nerves.

"I can't understand who that was with him--or following him," came
Brown's voice. "Somebody must have seen him getting away and set out
on the trail while it was hot."

"Either that or saw him beating it somewheres on the trail east of
town an' took after him on suspicion," drawled the sheriff. "'Spect
everybody around here has seen those reward notices you put out."

"That's so," said Brown. "I had the right hunch when I got the tip
he'd left his Arizona hangout, sheriff. I figured he'd head this way.
Then he had the nerve--well, you know what happened in my office."

The sheriff chuckled. Then he spoke angrily. "He can't pull any of his
stunts in my territory," he said growlingly. "I'll hunt him down if I
have to put every man I've got on the trail an' keep 'em there. I
figure, though," he added hopefully, "that we've got him cornered in
or around this valley. We traced 'em here, and we got sight of 'em
yesterday. We'll have 'em before night!"

"I hope so," said Brown grimly.

"I've given orders to shoot to kill and not to miss," thundered the
sheriff. "But I guess the rewards offered for him would kind of steady
the aim of the man that got a crack at him."

Rathburn's face went white, and his eyes shot fire as he listened to
the sheriff's cruel laugh in which the others in the room above now
joined.

Lamy signaled that he wished to whisper in his ear, and Rathburn bent
his head, although he kept the gun handy.

"I'm not goin' to risk shootin' anybody if we should be found or
cornered," Lamy whispered. "I thought you ought to know----"

"If we're cornered you leave it to me," Rathburn came back. "I have
reasons for everything I'm doing. An' don't forget that I'd rather be
grabbed for this simple trick of yours in Dry Lake than for one or
two jobs over in Arizona. If things go wrong keep your mouth
shut--don't talk! If you start talking any time I'll try to kill
you!"

Lamy drew back from the ferocity in Rathburn's tone and manner. That
menacing message was again in Rathburn's eyes.

"Who's that boy out there?" the sheriff called sharply.

"Go in and say how-do-you-do," came the girl's voice from the kitchen.
"It's my brother, Frankie."

"Come here, Frankie," said the sheriff.

The pair below heard light footsteps on the floor above.

"That's a fine crop of freckles you've got," said the sheriff.

Rathburn saw Lamy put a hand to his face and make a grimace.

"Listen, Frankie, did you see anybody around here this morning?" asked
the sheriff.

"Who--who you looking for?" asked the boy.

Rathburn started; his body suddenly tensed.

"I'm looking for an outlaw they call The Coyote," returned the
sheriff. "Ever hear of him?"

"Y-e-s. Ed brought home a notice about a reward for him."

"That's the man we're after. Rides a dun-colored horse; tall,
light-complexioned. Seen anybody like that around here?"

"He was here day before yesterday," said the boy truthfully. "Sis gave
him something to eat, an' he went on into town. He didn't seem like
such a bad man to me. Told me never to lie."

"He was here? Ate here?" The sheriff's voice was excited.

Rathburn saw Lamy's eyes widen.

"Frankie," the sheriff said soberly, "that Coyote went into town an'
robbed a place. He's a bad, dangerous man no matter how he looks or
what he says. Have you seen anybody that looked like him since?"

The question was followed by a deep silence.

Rathburn alert, his eyes gleaming, heard the sheriff rise.

"Answer me, boy. I'm the sheriff of this county!"

"'Tain't that--'tain't that," said the boy in a tremulous voice.
"Only--I'd rather not tell, Mr. Sheriff."

"You must answer me!" said the official sternly. "Have you seen any
one around here--yesterday or this morning?"

"Ye-e-s."

"When?" demanded the sheriff. "Don't lie!"

"This--this morning," stammered the boy.

"Where? Tell me about it, quick."

"Two men ran across from the timber to the house," replied the boy.
"He--he said not to lie for him--but----"

The sheriff stepped quickly to the kitchen door. "I thought you said
no one had been around here, ma'am."

"Why--I didn't see any one," came the girl's voice.

"I saw 'em from the pasture," the boy confessed.

"Then they're here!" cried the sheriff. "Search the house an' the
barn!"

In the dim, narrow cellar Rathburn was holding his gun aimed at Lamy's
heart.

"You remember what I said about keepin' your mouth shut?" he asked in
a low voice, his steel-blue gaze boring into the other's eyes.

Lamy gasped. Then he slowly nodded his head.

"That's your bond!" said Rathburn, as tramping feet sounded
overhead.



CHAPTER X

CAUGHT IN THE CELLAR


Rathburn rose and crouched under the trapdoor, gun in hand. Lamy
watched him, breathless, perplexed, uncertain. They heard men running;
then there were no sounds from above and a deathly stillness settled
down.

Slowly and with infinite care Rathburn raised the trapdoor an inch or
two and listened intently. Lamy scrambled to his knees on the pile of
gunny sacks; but Rathburn swung quickly upon him. They stared at each
other in the semidarkness.

"He said two," breathed Lamy, a curious look in his eyes.

"Are you afraid?" mocked Rathburn. "It's me they want--don't worry. I
may make a break for it, an' if I do there's likely to be powder
burned. You can stay here an' get out when they take after me, if I
go," said Rathburn, and the sneer in his voice caused Lamy to flush
uncomfortably.

Rathburn petted the gun in his hand. "But before I make a break I want
to tell you something that I should have told you before this, when I
had more time----"

He bit off his speech as there came a sudden recurrence of the sounds
in the house. The trapdoor closed down.

"Where's the cellar?" came the sheriff's authoritative voice.

Many feet tramped upon the floor above them. Then they heard the rug
stripped back. There was an exclamation from the sheriff and the sound
of moving feet suddenly was stilled.

"Is there any one in the cellar?" the sheriff called.

Silence--with Lamy pressing Rathburn's knee with a hand, and Rathburn
smiling that queer, grim smile which conveyed so much, yet nothing
which was tangible.

"Get around here, you fellows," they heard the sheriff order.

The sound of boots and spurs attested to the quickness with which his
order was obeyed.

Rathburn leaned down suddenly and with lightning swiftness jerked
Lamy's gun from its holster near his side. He tossed the weapon to a
corner of the dark cellar just as the sheriff's voice was heard
again.

"Coyote, if you're down there I'm not going to take a chance fumbling
with that door. If you ain't there, then there won't be any harm in
what I'm going to do. If I don't hear anything when I finish talking
I'm going to give the signal to my men to start shooting through the
floor--and I mean it. If anybody's down there it'd be good sense to
flip up that door and crawl out hands first, an' those hands empty."

"Sheriff, you're bluffing!" said Rathburn loudly.

Then the sheriff spoke again in an exultant tone. "I figured it was
the best hidin' place you could find, Coyote. You're right; I was sort
of bluffing, but I might have changed my mind an' gone on through with
it. We've got you dead to rights, Coyote; you haven't got a chance.
There's seven of us now an' every man is ready to open up if you come
out of there a-shooting."

Rathburn slipped his gun back into his holster. He raised the trapdoor
slowly until it tipped back on the floor leaving the opening into the
cellar clear.

"Two of 'em!" he heard some one exclaim.

He looked up to accustom his eyes to the light and saw a dozen guns
covering him.

"Gentlemen, the landscape fairly bristles with artillery," he said
amiably. "Who's the sheriff? And--there's Jud Brown. Who let you
loose, Jud?"

"I'm Sheriff Neal," interposed that individual, a slight, dark man
with a bristly mustache. "Come out of there--hands free."

"For the time being, eh, sheriff? I expect you figure on fixing those
hands so they won't be free, eh? Well, all I've got to say is that I
hope you won't spend the money foolishly, sheriff."

Rathburn leaped lightly out of the cellar.

"Keep that other man down there covered, too," snapped out Neal. "It's
principle more than reward money that invites me, Coyote. Hand over
your gun belt an' be careful how you unbuckle it."

"Sheriff, it would be against my code of ethics to hand over my gun.
It can't be done, sheriff; you'll have to come and get it."

Neal hesitated, notwithstanding the fact that he had Rathburn covered
and that several other guns were covering him. Then he stepped
forward, never taking his eyes from Rathburn's, and secured the
other's weapon.

"That's better, sheriff," said Rathburn with a queer smile. "You can
see how I have my pride an' little superstitions. No man has ever took
a gun from me but what I've got it back! Thanks, sheriff."

Lamy had come out of the cellar. Several of the men seemed to
recognize him, but kept their silence with dubious looks in their
eyes.

"My guide, sheriff," said Rathburn, pointing gayly at Lamy. "He was
very kind. He showed me around the country--me not being very well
acquainted around here. I had to take his gun away from him an' sort
of encourage him along with my own, but he did very nicely."

"Just what I thought, Neal," said Brown. "This fellow took after him
an' he captured him and made him lead him. Isn't that so?" he asked of
Lamy.

"Just a minute, Jud," Rathburn interrupted with a frown. "I can't let
the importance of this momentous occasion be transferred to a
subordinate. You must ask your questions of me, as I am the central
figure in this affair."

The cry of a girl startled them. She came running from the kitchen
where she had fled when the sheriff announced his intention to shoot
through the floor.

"Ed!" she cried, running to Lamy and throwing her arms about him.
"Oh--Ed!"

"Who is he, ma'am?" asked the sheriff. "Your husband?"

"He's my brother--Ed Lamy."

"I can recommend him if you need a guide who knows the country,
sheriff," said Rathburn genially. "I guess he had an idea of making
trouble for me at first, but I had the drop on him an' he soon saw
reason. I had to knock him down last night when he got fresh, but he
did very well. Of course I had an advantage on my side." He nodded
toward his gun which the official still held in his hand.

"Did he make you guide him?" Neal asked Lamy, noting his empty
holster.

Rathburn turned so that he could look at his former captive.

Lamy nodded. "Yes," he replied. "I didn't know what minute I was goin'
to get shot in the back."

Rathburn's eyes glowed with an amused light. "I didn't have any idea
of shootin' him, sheriff; he was too valuable as my escort on the
tour. I wonder if the lady could spare me a cup of coffee an' a
biscuit?"

He glimpsed the boy in the kitchen doorway behind the sheriff. "Hello,
sonny," he called cheerfully. "Did you catch those freckles from your
brother?"

The boy gazed at him abashed. There were actually tears in the
youngster's eyes. Ed Lamy and his sister moved into the kitchen and
took the boy with them. The girl had nodded to the sheriff.

"She'll get you something to eat," said Neal. "What have you got on
you?" He stepped to Rathburn's side.

"Ah--the frisk. I see you are a regulation officer, sheriff."
Rathburn's tone fairly radiated politeness and good cheer. "The silver
was rather heavy. It ain't my usual style to pack much silver,
sheriff. There's more of the bills in my hip pockets. Don't suppose
there's more'n a thousand in the whole bundle."

The sheriff put the bills and silver on the table. He investigated all
of Rathburn's pockets, returned him his tobacco, papers, and
handkerchief, but kept a box of matches. Then he felt his prisoner's
clothing to make sure that he had no weapons concealed; he also felt
his boot tops.

He looked at Rathburn with a gloating expression when he had finished;
there was also a glint of admiration in the gaze he directed at him.

"You size right up to the descriptions of you, Coyote," he reflected
in a pleasant voice. "Too bad you couldn't have been in a better
business. I'm glad I caught you, but I ain't any too--too--well, I
might say any too proud of it. That may be pleasant for you to hear.
But I ain't discounting your well-known ability, an' I want to warn
you that I or any of my men will shoot you in your tracks if you
start anything that looks suspiciouslike."

Rathburn yawned. "Sheriff, your courtesy is very greatly appreciated.
I only hope we will arrive in jail or somewhere soon where I can get
some sleep. I'm all in."



CHAPTER XI

FREEDOM BEHIND BARS


In the early afternoon the little cavalcade rode into Dry Lake.
Rathburn was nodding in his saddle, nearly asleep.

"We'll keep him here to-night till I can get the facts straight," he
heard Sheriff Neal say to Brown.

They dismounted at a small square stone building with bars on the
windows. Then Rathburn was proudly led between a line of curious
spectators into jail.

Three rooms comprised Dry Lake's jail. The front of the building, for
a depth of a third of the distance from the front to the rear, was
divided into two of these rooms; one, the larger, being the main
office, and the other, much smaller, being the constable's private
office. The balance of the building was one large room, divided into
two old-fashioned cages with iron and steel bars. The doors to these
cages were on either side of the door into the front office and there
was an aisle between the cages and the wall separating them from the
offices.

Rathburn was taken immediately to the cage on the left of the office
door. Sheriff Neal hesitated as he stood in the cell with him, thought
for a minute, then removed the handcuffs.

"That's right fine of you, sheriff," said Rathburn sleepily, but
cheerfully, nevertheless.

"Oh, you'll be watched well enough," said Neal as he closed the barred
door behind him and locked Rathburn in. "You'll find somebody around
if you try to tear the place down."

"That wasn't just what I was getting at, sheriff," said the prisoner
with a glitter in his eyes. "I meant it was right fine of you to give
me freedom behind the bars."

Rathburn's taunting laugh rang in the official's ears as the latter
pushed the men with him into the outer office. Rathburn listened,
yawning, to the sheriff giving instructions that the prisoner be
watched constantly.

He looked about the cage which was separated from the other cell by a
wall of sheet iron. It contained nothing except a bench and a stool.
He pushed the bench against the stone wall at the rear and reclined
upon it, using his coat for a pillow. Then he turned his face toward
the wall, shading his eyes from the light, which filtered through two
windows high in the wall beyond the bars on the left side by tipping
his hat over his face.

Immediately he fell asleep.

The news that The Coyote had been captured, spread rapidly through the
town and many came to the jail hoping they might be able to see the
prisoner. All of these were denied admittance, but Sheriff Neal told
the few who stated that they had been among the number the bandit had
lined up at the point of his guns, that they would be called to
identify The Coyote on the following day. He asked each if they were
sure the bandit had two guns, and the reply in each case was in the
affirmative.

"That's funny," Neal muttered. "He only had one gun on him."

"More'n likely the other's on his horse with his saddle," Brown
pointed out. "I believe he left his horse somewheres an' made that
fellow Lamy take him to the house thinking he could get something to
eat there, and that they wouldn't be so likely to be seen in the open
on foot. You got to remember that man's more or less clever."

This explanation satisfied Neal, and in the minds of the men who had
been in the resort when it was held up, there was no question as to
the identity of the robber. Even if they had suspected otherwise it is
doubtful if they would have acknowledged it because they considered it
less of an ignominy to be held up by the notorious Coyote than by a
bandit of lesser reputation.

Thus did the bonds of evidence tighten about Rathburn while he slept
through the late afternoon and the twilight.

When he awoke a faint yellow light dimly illuminated his surroundings.
He lay thinking for several minutes. He knew night had fallen and
surmised that he had slept a full eight hours. He could tell this
because he was fully awake and alert. He turned noiselessly on his
bench and saw that the light came from a lamp burning near the door to
the outer office.

Rathburn could hear the hum of voices, and by listening intently,
ascertained that two men were talking, one of whom was the sheriff. He
could not recognize the voice of the other speaker as a voice he had
ever heard before, and he could not hear what they were saying.

He listened dully to the voices until he heard a horse's hoofs in
front of the jail. He turned back with his face to the wall, and his
hat tipped over his eyes, as a man entered the jail office with a
stamp of boots and jingle of spurs.

"Hello, constable," he heard the sheriff say. "What luck?"

"Couldn't find the hoss," came a disgruntled voice. "Looked all
afternoon an' till it got dark for him."

"Confound it!" exclaimed Neal. "The horse must have been somewhere
aroun' close. He sure didn't walk down the valley."

"That's probably right," said the other. "I left a couple of your men
out there to keep up searching when daylight comes. That feller Lamy
showed us about where they left the hosses--his hoss an' The
Coyote's--but they wasn't there. He said there was a bunch of wild
hosses in the valley an' that they'd probably got away an' gone with
'em. We saw the wild hosses, but we couldn't get anywhere near
'em--couldn't get near enough to see if any of 'em was wearin' saddles
or not. We had some chase while it lasted, I'll recite."

"Did Lamy say how they came to leave their horses?" asked the sheriff
in an annoyed tone.

"It was The Coyote's orders. Thought they'd be safer in the middle of
the posse or something like that. Made Lamy leave the hosses an' run
for the house an' made him get down in the cellar with him. Don't know
if he knew Lamy lived there or not, but reckon it wouldn't have made
any difference."

The sheriff was pacing the floor of the office as his footfalls
attested. "I've ordered that Lamy in to-morrow. I've a lot more
questions to ask him. Well, you might as well get a few winks,
constable; Brown and the rest of 'em have hit the hay. Even the
prisoner is tired out, and that's sayin' something for as tough a bird
as he is. But I wish I had his horse. I've got to have his horse!"

Rathburn was smiling at the wall. He heard Neal walk to the door and
look in. Receding footsteps told him that the constable was leaving.
For a time there was silence in the outer office.

Rathburn sat up quietly and began easing off his right boot. The boot
came slowly, very slowly, as Rathburn worked at it, careful not to
make any noise. Then, just as it came free, the sheriff again strode
to the door and looked in.

He saw Rathburn yawning, as the boot dropped on the floor.

Rathburn looked at the sheriff sleepily as the official strode into
the aisle and peered in between the bars. He tipped the bootless foot
back on its toes as he lifted his other foot and tugged at the boot.

"That you, sheriff?" he asked with another yawn. "The lights are so
bad I can't see good. Guess I'm a little groggy anyway. I was too
danged tired when I went to sleep to take off my boots."

"You've got another ten hours to sleep," said Neal with a scowl. "An'
you'll have plenty of time to get rid of your saddle soreness. You'll
ride in automobiles and trains for a while an' keep in out of the hot
sun an' the wet."

The sheriff laughed harshly at his own words.

Rathburn let the other boot drop. "I expect I'll get something to eat
now an' then, too?"

"Feel hungry?" asked Neal.

"Might chaw on a biscuit before I take another nap," yawned the
prisoner.

"I'll see if I can scare you up a bite," said the sheriff, leaving.

Rathburn heard him say something to some one in front. Then the
sheriff went out of the building. The other man came in and looked at
Rathburn curiously.

He was of medium build, with white hair and a face seamed and lined
and red. Rathburn instantly recognized in his jailer a man of the
desert--possibly of the border country.

"So you're The Coyote," said the jailer in a rather high-pitched
voice.

Rathburn winked at him. "That's what they say," he replied.

"You size up to him, all right," observed the man of the desert. "An'
I can tell quick enough when I get a good look at you an' inspect your
left forearm. I've had your descriptions in front of my eyes on paper
an' from a dozen persons that knowed you for three years!"

"You been trailing me?" asked Rathburn curiously.

"I have; an' it ain't no credit to this bunch here that they got you,
for I was headed in this direction myself an' arrived 'most as soon as
you did."

"You from Arizona?" asked Rathburn, grasping his right foot in his
left hand.

"I'm from Arizony an' Mexico an' a few other places," was the answer.
"I've helped catch men like you before, Coyote."

Rathburn frowned, still keeping his hand over his right foot. "I don't
like that word, Coyote," he said softly, holding the other's gaze
between the bars. "A coyote is a cowardly breed of animal, isn't it?"

"An' a tricky one," said the jailer. "I ain't sayin' you're a coward;
but you're tricky, an' that's bad enough."

"Maybe so," agreed Rathburn. "Ah--here's our friend, his nibs, the
sheriff. He went out to rustle me some grub. He wants to keep me fat
for hanging!"

His laugh rang through the jail, empty save for himself and the two
officers. But the temporary jailer hesitated, looking at Rathburn's
eyes, before he turned to the sheriff.

"Open the door and I'll take it in to him," ordered the sheriff.
"Can't get this stuff through the bars. You might keep him covered."

The jailer's hand flew to his hip for his gun as he also brought up a
large key on a ring. He unlocked the door to the cage and held it open
while he kept his gun trained upon Rathburn.

The sheriff entered and placed the food on the stool and a large bowl
of coffee on the floor beside it. Then he backed out, watching
Rathburn keenly as the latter sat on his bench with his right foot in
his hand.

When the door clanged shut and the key rattled in the lock, Rathburn
let down his right foot, took two steps, and pulled the stool to the
bench. He stepped back and secured the coffee. Then he began to eat
and drink, keeping his right foot tipped on its toes, while the two
officials watched him attentively.

"Sheriff," said Rathburn suddenly, between bites on a huge meat
sandwich, "could you let me have a stub of a lead pencil an' a sheet
of paper to write a letter on?"

"Easy enough," answered Neal. "Course, you know all mail that goes out
of the jail is read by us before it's delivered--if it's delivered at
all."

"I'll chance it," snapped out Rathburn.

As the sheriff left to get the writing materials, with the jailer
following him, doubtless for a whispered confab as to what Rathburn
might be wanting to write and its possible bearing on his capture, the
prisoner hastily ran his left hand down into his right sock and with
some difficulty withdrew a peculiar-shaped leather case about ten
inches long and nearly the width of his foot. This he put within his
shirt.

When the officials returned he had finished his repast and was
waiting for them near the bars with a smile of gratitude on his lips.

"This may be a confession I'm going to write," he said, grinning at
Neal. "It's going to take me a long time, I reckon, but you said I had
something like ten hours for sleep, so I guess I can spare two or
three for this effort at literary composition. I figure, sheriff, that
this'll be my masterpiece."

His look puzzled the sheriff as he took the pencil and paper through
the bars and returned to his bunk. He drew up the stool and sat upon
it. It was a little lower than the bench, so, putting his paper on the
bench, he had a fairly good makeshift desk. He began to write
steadily, and after a few minutes the sheriff and jailer retired to
the office.

It did not take Rathburn a quarter of an hour to write what he wished
on the first of the several pieces of paper. He tore off what he had
written, doubled it again and again into a small square, took out his
sack of tobacco which he had been allowed to retain, and put it
therein with the loose tobacco.

Then he wrote for a few minutes on the second sheet of paper.

When the sheriff looked in later he evidently was slowly and
laboriously achieving a composition.

Rathburn heard the sheriff go out of the front door a few minutes
later. Instantly he was alert. He drew on his boots. He surmised that
the sheriff had gone out for something to eat and, though he wasn't
sure of this, it was true.

"Oh, jailer!" he called amiably.

The wrinkled face of the desert trailer appeared in the office
doorway.

Rathburn looked about from his seat on the stool. "This job ain't none
too easy, as it is," he complained. "As a writer I'm a first-rate cow
hand. Lemme take your knife to sharpen this pencil with. When I asked
the sheriff for a stub of a pencil he took me at my word."

"Sure I'll let you have my knife," said the jailer sarcastically. "How
about my gun--want that, too?"

"Oh, come on, old-timer," pleaded Rathburn. "The lead in this pencil's
worn clean down into the wood."

"Hand it over here an' I'll sharpen it," said the jailer, drawing his
pocketknife.

Rathburn walked to the bars and held out the pencil. An amiable smile
played on his lips. "You'll have to excuse me," he said contritely. "I
forgot it wasn't jail etiquette to ask for a knife. But I ain't had
much experience in jail. Now according to his nibs, the sheriff, I'm
in to get pretty well acquainted with 'em, eh?"

He watched the jailer as he began sharpening the pencil.

"Speaking of knives, now," he continued in a confiding tone, "I got in
a ruckus down near the border once an' some gents started after me.
One of 'em got pretty close--close enough to take some skin off my
shoulder with a bullet. He just sort of compelled me to shoot back."

"I suppose you killed him," observed the jailer, pausing in his work
of sharpening the pencil.

"I ain't saying," replied Rathburn. "Anyways I had a hole-up down
there for a few days, an' as luck would have it, I had to put up with
a Mexican. All that Mex would do was argue that a knife was better
than a gun. He claimed it was sure and made no noise--those were his
hardest talking points, an' I'll be danged if there isn't something in
it.

"But what I was gettin' at is that I didn't have nothing to do, an'
that Mexican got me to practicing knife throwing. You know how slick
those fellows are at throwing a blade. Well, in the couple of weeks
that I hung aroun' there he coached me along till I could throw a
knife as good as he could. He thought it was great sport, teaching me
to throw a knife so good, that a way.

"Since I left down there I've sort of practiced that knife-throwing
business now and then, just for fun. Anyways I thought it was just for
fun. But now I see, jailer, that it was my luck protecting me.
Anything you learn is liable to prove handy some time. _Don't move an
inch or I'll let you have it!_"

Rathburn's hand snapped out of his shirt and up above his right
shoulder.

The man from the desert shuddered involuntarily as he saw the yellow
light from the lamp play fitfully upon a keen, white blade.



CHAPTER XII

AGAINST HIS ETHICS


Rathburn's eyes held the other's as completely as would have been the
case if he were invested with a power to charm in some occult way.
Moreover, every trace of his amiable, confiding smile was gone. His
gaze was hard and cold and gleaming. His face was drawn into grim
lines. When he spoke he talked smoothly, rapidly, and with an edge to
his words which convinced his listener that he was in deadly earnest.

"I'm not used to jails, my friend, an' I don't aim to stay here.
You're not very far away an' these bars are wide enough for me to miss
'em; but I don't think I could miss you."

The jailer looked in horror at the gleaming knife which Rathburn held
by its hilt with the blade pointing backward. The jailer was from the
border; he knew the awful possibilities of a quick motion of the wrist
in that position, a half turn of the knife as it streaked toward its
target. He shuddered again.

"Now just edge this way about two steps so your holster will be
against the bars," Rathburn instructed. "I can drop you where you
stand, reach through the bars an' drag you close if need be; but I'm
banking on you having some good sense."

The jailer, without moving the hands which held the pencil and his
pocketknife, sidled up against the bars.

Rathburn leaned forward. Keeping his right hand high and tipped back,
ready for the throw, he reached out with his left, just through the
bars, and secured the jailer's gun.

"Now it's all off," he said quietly. "If the sheriff or anybody else
comes before I get out of here I'm just naturally going to have to
live up to the reputation for shooting that they've fastened on me.
Unlock the door."

The jailer wet his lips with his tongue. The pencil and pocketknife
fell to the floor. Covered by his own gun, now in Rathburn's hand, he
moved to the door, brought out his key, and opened it. Still keeping
him covered, Rathburn backed to the bench, snatched up his coat, and
walked out of the cage, motioning to the jailer to precede him into
the office.

There he slipped the gun in his holster and put on his coat. The
jailer reckoned better than to try to leap upon him while he was thus
engaged; the prisoner's speed with a six-gun was well known.

Rathburn drew a peculiar leather case from within his shirt, put the
knife in it, and stowed it away in a pocket. Then he turned on the
jailer.

"Maybe you think that was a mean trick--resorting to a knife," he said
pleasantly; "but all is fair in love and war and when a man's in jail.
You better sort of stand in one place while I look around a bit."

He backed behind the desk in the big office, opened two or three
drawers, and brought out a pair of handcuffs. He moved around in front
of the jailer again.

"Hold out your hands," he commanded. "That's it." He snapped the
handcuffs on with one hand while he kept the other on the butt of his
gun.

"You don't seem to have much to say," he commented.

"What's the use?" said the jailer. "I know when a man's got me dead to
rights. But I'll be on your trail again, an' if I ever get within
shootin' distance of you an' see you first, you'll never get another
chance to pull a knife."

"Well said," Rathburn admitted. "Now we understand each other. But I
don't intend for you to ever get within shooting distance of me."

Rathburn glanced casually about. "Now it seems to me," he resumed,
"that most of these fellows who gum up their jail breaks make a
mistake by hurrying. Suppose you just walk natural-like through that
door and into the cage I just had the foresight to leave. That's
it--right on in."

He turned the key which the jailer had left in the lock. "Now you're
all right unless you start hollering," said Rathburn.

He stood quietly in the doorway between the office and the cages. The
man from the desert studied him. He saw a variety of expressions flit
over Rathburn's face--anger, determination, scorn, resolve. He was
deliberately ignoring his opportunity to make his escape while
conditions were propitious; he was waiting!

Although the jailer felt the urge to cry out in an endeavor to make
himself heard outside the jail and thus bring help, something in the
bearing of the man standing in the doorway made him keenly curious to
watch the drama which he knew must be enacted sooner or later before
his eyes, for The Coyote was certainly waiting for the sheriff.

Rathburn now drew the jailer's gun from his own holster and toyed with
it to get its "feel" and balance. He dropped it back into the holster
and in a wink of an eyelid it was back in his hand. The man from the
desert gasped at the lightning rapidity of the draw. Time and again
the gun virtually leaped from the holster into The Coyote's hand at
his hip, ready to spit forth leaden death. The jailer drew a long
breath. The man was accustoming himself to the weapon which had come
into his possession, making sure of it. Now he again stood motionless
in the doorway, waiting--waiting----

Boots stamped upon the steps outside, and Rathburn drew back from the
doorway in the aisle before the cages.

The front door opened and a man entered.

Both the man in the cage and the man in the aisle recognized the
sheriff's step as Neal closed the door, paused for a look about the
office, and then walked toward the door leading into the jail proper.

The jailer opened his mouth to sound a warning, but something in
Rathburn's gaze and posture held him silent. Rathburn's body was
tense; his gaze was glued to the doorway; his right hand with its
slim, brown, tapered fingers, hung above the gun at his side.

The sheriff loomed in the doorway. Without a flicker of surprise in
his eyes he took in the situation. His lids half closed as his lips
tightened to a thin, white line. He met Rathburn's gaze and knew that
he now faced The Coyote in the role which had won him his sinister
reputation.

"Did I mention to you that I wasn't used to jails, sheriff?" said
Rathburn evenly, his words carrying crisp and clear. "I don't fancy
'em. But I needed the sleep and the meal. Now I'm going. Do you
recollect I said no one ever took my gun from me but what I got it
back? I had to borrow this one from the gent in the cage. I'll take my
gun, sheriff--_now!_"

Neal had watched him closely. He saw that while he was speaking The
Coyote did not for an instant relax his vigilance. The merest
resemblance of a move would precipitate gun play.

He turned abruptly, and with Rathburn following him closely, went
into the private room off the jail office. He pointed to the other's
gun which lay upon the flat desk where many had curiously inspected
it.

Rathburn took it in his left hand and ascertained at a glance that it
wasn't loaded. Therefore he elected to carry it in his left hand.

"I won't take a chance on feeding it right now, sheriff," he said.
"Under the circumstances it would be right awkward. If you make up
your mind to draw I'll have to depend on a strange gun."

Sheriff Neal's eyes glittered; his lips parted just a little.

"Now if you'll walk back toward the cage, sheriff," Rathburn prompted.
"Correct--don't stumble."

Neal backed slowly out of the door, through the second door into the
aisle before the cages, watching Rathburn like a cat.

Rathburn slipped his own weapon into his left hip pocket and with his
left hand dug into his trousers pocket for the key to the cage. He
didn't take his eyes from Neal's as he brought it out and inserted it
in the lock. His right hand continued to hang above the gun he had
taken from the jailer.

"Sheriff," he said with a cold ring in his voice, "this may seem like
an insult, but I'm goin' to ask you to unlock that cage and go in. You
can take your time if you want, but I warn you fair that if any one
should start coming up the steps outside I'll try to smoke you up."

For answer Neal, with the glitter still in his eyes, stepped to the
cage door, unlocked it, and swung it open.

He took a step, whirled like a flash--and the deafening report of guns
crashed and reverberated within the jail's walls.

Neal staggered back within the cage, his gun clattering to the floor,
his right hand dropping to his side.

"If I hadn't been up against a strange gun I wouldn't have hit your
finger, sheriff," said Rathburn mockingly. "I was shootin' at your
gun."

He shut the cage door quickly, locked it, and stuck the key in his
pocket. Then he threw the jailer's gun in through the bars and thrust
his own weapon in its holster.

"I want you gentlemen inside, an' armed," he said laughingly. "If the
jailer will be so good as to read what's written on the paper on the
bench, he'll learn something to his advantage. Sheriff, you an' Brown
were wrong in this, but the devil of it is you'll never know why."

He left Neal pondering this cryptic sally, ran to the front door,
opened it, and disappeared.

Neal clutched his injured fingers and swore freely, although there was
amazement in his eyes. He could have been killed like a rat in a trap
if The Coyote had felt the whim.

The man from the desert stepped to the bench and read on the sheet of
paper:

If anybody ever gets to read this they will know that what I said
about learning to throw a knife is true. I can do it. I've carried
that knife in a special case that would fit in my sock and boot for
just such an emergency as came up to-night. But I never would have
throwed it. It would be against my ethics.

The man from the desert swore softly. Then he hurriedly picked up his
gun and fired five shots to attract attention.



CHAPTER XIII

A MAN AND HIS HORSE


When Rathburn closed the outer door after him he plunged down the
steps and into the shadows by the wall of the jail. Few lights showed
in the town, for it was past midnight. He could see yellow beams
streaming from the windows of the resort up the street, however, as he
hesitated.

He was mightily handicapped because he had no horse. A horse--his own
horse, he felt--was necessary for his escape, but his horse was a long
distance away.

Rathburn stole across the street to the side on which the big resort
was situated, and slipped behind a building just as the muffled
reports came from within the jail. After a short interval, five more
shots were heard, and Rathburn grinned as he realized that the jailer
had fired the remaining bullets in his own and the sheriff's guns.

He heard men running down the street. So he hurried up street behind
the buildings until he reached the rear of the large resort, which was
the place Lamy had held up.

Peering through one of the rear windows he saw the room was deserted
except for the man behind the bar. Even at that distance he could hear
horses and men down the street. Doubtless they were crowding into the
jail where the sheriff would insist upon being liberated at once so he
could lead the chase and, as Rathburn had the key, this would result
in a delay until another key could be found, or Brown, who probably
had one, could be routed out.

Rathburn thought of this as he looked through the window at the lonely
bartender who evidently could not decide whether to close up and see
what it all was about or not. But the thing which impressed Rathburn
most was the presence of a pile of sandwiches and several cans of
corned beef and sardines--emergency quick lunches for patrons--on the
back bar. Also, he saw several gunny sacks on a box in the rear of the
place almost under the window through which he was looking.

Rathburn stepped to the door in sudden decision, threw it open, and
walked in. His gun flashed into his hand. "Quiet!" was all he said to
the stupefied bartender.

He scooped up one of the sacks, darted behind the bar, brushed the
sandwiches and most of the cans of corned beef and sardines into it,
and then slung it over his left shoulder with his left hand.

"The sheriff will return the money that was taken from here," he said
coolly as he walked briskly to the front door. "Play the game safe;
stay where you are!" he cautioned as he vanished through the door.

There were no horses at the hitching rail, but he saw several down the
street in front of the jail. Men were running back and forth across
the street--after Brown, he surmised.

Again he stole around to the rear of the resort; then he struck
straight up into the timbered slope above the town, climbing rapidly
afoot with the distant peaks and ridges as his guide.

Some two hours after dawn he sat on the crest of a high ridge watching
a rider come up the winding trail from eastward. He had seen other
riders going in both directions from his concealment behind a screen
of cedar bushes. He had watched them with no interest other than that
exhibited by a whimsical smile. But he did not smile as he watched
this rider. His eyes became keenly alert; his face was grim. His mind
was made up.

When the rider was nearing his ambush, Rathburn quickly scanned the
empty stretch of trail to westward, then leaped down and confronted
the horseman.

Ed Lamy drew rein with an exclamation of surprise.

"There's not much time, an' I don't hanker to be seen--afoot," said
Rathburn quickly. "Where's my horse?"

"He's in a pocket on a shale slope this side of the timber on a line
from the house where you left him," replied Lamy readily. "Or you can
have mine."

"Don't want him," said Rathburn curtly. "You going in to see the
sheriff?"

Lamy nodded. "His orders. Say, Coyote----"

"He'll probably meet you on the way," Rathburn interrupted with a
sneer. "You can be figurin' out what to say to him. My saddle with the
horse?"

"It's hanging from a tree where you go into the pocket. Big limestone
cliffs there below the shale. Say, Coyote, my sister an' kid brother
was tellin' me about your visit that morning, an' I guess I
understand----"

"We can't stand here talkin'," Rathburn broke in, pulling the tobacco
sack from his shirt pocket. He extracted a folded piece of paper.
"Here's a note I wrote you in jail before I left. Read it on the way
in when there's no one watching you. Maybe you'll learn something from
it; maybe you won't. I expect you wanted money to fix that ranch up;
but you'll get further by doing a little irrigating from up that
stream than by trying to be a bandit. You just naturally ain't cut out
for the part!"

With these words he handed Lamy the note and bounded back up the
slope. The screen of cedar bushes closed behind him as Lamy pushed on,
looking back, wondering and confused, with heightened color in his
face.

It was late that night when Lamy returned to the little ranch house.
Frankie had gone to bed, but his sister was waiting up for him with a
meal and hot tea ready.

He talked to his sister in a low voice while he ate. When he had
finished he read the note for the third time; read it aloud, so his
sister could hear.

  "LAMY: I meant to take you back and give you up, for I was pretty
  sore. Then I saw your resemblance to your small brother by the
  freckles and eyes and I remembered he had said something about you
  saying some decent things about me. I guess you thought they were
  nice things, anyway.

  "Then I thought maybe you got your ideas about easy money from
  the stuff you'd heard about me, and I sort of felt kind of
  responsible. I thought I'd teach you a lesson by flirting with
  that posse and telling you that killing story to show you what
  a man is up against in this game. I guess I can't get away
  from it because they won't let me. But you don't have to start.
  I was going to give you a good talking to before I let you go,
  but I hadn't counted on the little kid in the house. I'm glad he
  told the truth. He'll remember that. I gave you back your gun
  because you hit the nail on the head when you said if I was
  square I'd give it to you and let you make a run for it.

  "I took the money off you so if they got us I could take the blame
  and let you off. I can take the blame without hurting my
  reputation, so don't worry. I'm not doing this so much for your
  sake as for your kid brother and your sister. I figure you'd sort
  of caught on when I heard they hadn't located my horse. That was a
  good turn. Do me another by getting some sense. There's plenty of
  us fellows that's quite capable to furnish the bad examples.

                                                         "RATHBURN."

The girl was crying softly with an arm about her brother's neck when
he finished reading.

"What--what are you going to do, Eddie?" she sobbed.

"I'm goin' to irrigate!" said Ed Lamy with a new note in his voice.
"I'm goin' to build a sure-enough ranch for us with this piece of
paper for a corner stone!"

Dawn was breaking over the mountains, strewing the gleaming peaks with
warm rosettes of color. A clear sky, as deep and blue as any sea,
arched its canopy above. Virgin stands of pine and fir marched up the
steep slopes to fling their banners of green against the snow. Silver
ribbons of streams laughed in the welcome sunlight.

In a rock-walled gulch, far above the head of Sunrise Cañon, a fire
was burning, its thin smoke streamer riding on a vagrant breeze. Near
by lay a dun-colored horse on its side, tied fast. A man was squatting
by the blaze.

"I hate to have to do this, old hoss," the man crooned; "but we've got
to change the pattern of that CC2 brand if we want to stick together,
an' I reckon we want to stick."

He thrust the running iron deeper into the glowing coals.



CHAPTER XIV

THE WITNESS


The morning was hardly two hours old, and the crisp air was stinging
sweet with the tang of pine and fir, as Rathburn rode jauntily down
the trail on the eastern slope of the divide and drew rein on the
crest of a high ridge. As he looked below he whistled softly.

"Juniper, hoss, there's folks down there plying a nefarious trade, a
plumb dangerous trade," he mused, digging for the tobacco and brown
papers in the pocket of his shirt. "I reckon they're carrying on in
direct defiance of the law, hoss."

The dun-colored mustang tossed his head impatiently, but his master
ignored the animal's fretful desire to be off and dallied with tobacco
and paper, fashioning a cigarette, lighting it, breathing thin smoke
as his gray eyes squinted appraisingly at the scene below.

Winding down into the foothills, in striking contrast to the dim
trails higher up, was a well-used road. It evidently led from the
saffron-tinted dump and gray buildings of a mine which showed on the
side of a big, bald mountain to southward. At a point almost directly
below the ridge where the man and horse stood, it crossed a small
hogback and descended a steep slope between lines of jack pines,
disappearing in the timber farther down.

The gaze of the man on the ridge was concentrated on the bit of road
which showed on the hogback and the slope beyond. A truck was
laboriously climbing the ascent. But the watcher evidently was not so
much concerned with the approach of the truck as with certain
movements which were in progress on the hogback at the head of the
grade.

Three persons had dismounted from their horses behind the screen of
timber. One, a tall man, had donned a long, black slicker and was
tying a handkerchief about his face.

"Juniper, hoss," said Rathburn, "what does that gent want that slicker
on for? It ain't going to rain. An' how does he reckon to see onless
maybe he's got holes cut in that there hanky?"

A second man had made his way down the slope a short distance. He took
advantage of the timber which screened him from sight of the driver of
the oncoming truck.

"I 'spect that's in case the truck driver should suddenly take it into
his head to slide down backwards," said the observer, speaking his
thoughts aloud in a musical, bass voice. "One in front, one behind;
now how about the kid?"

As if in answer to his question the third member of the party,
evidently a boy, led the horses a short way up the hogback where a
good view could be obtained of the road in both directions.

The watcher grunted in approval. "One in front to do the stick-up, one
behind to stop a retreat and get whatever it is they're after, and one
on the lookout to see there ain't any unexpected guests. Couldn't have
planned the lay any better ourselves, hoss."

He was too far distant to interfere, even if he had had any desire to
do so, which was doubtful from his interested and tolerant manner.
Anyway it could have done no good to shout a warning, for the driver
of the truck could not have heard anything above the roar of his
machine, and the trio had gone about the preparations with dispatch.
Already the truck was climbing the last steep pitch to the top of the
hogback.

The tall man in the black slicker and mask now quickly stepped forth
from the edge of the timber. The watcher above saw his right hand and
arm whip out level with his shoulders. There was a glint of morning
sunlight and dull metal. The truck came to a jarring stop as the
driver jammed on the brakes. Then the driver's hands went into the
air.

Stepping from the timber at the roadside behind the truck, the second
man leaped upon the machine. The watcher grunted again as he saw that
this man was also masked. The driver was disarmed and searched, then
forced to clamber down from the truck into the road, where the man in
the slicker kept him covered while the other quickly searched about
the seat and cab of the truck. Then the second man released the brakes
and dropped nimbly from the machine which plunged backward down the
steep slope, crashed into the tree growth on one side of the road, and
overturned.

The boy mounted and led the other two horses down the hogback in the
scanty timber to the head of the grade. There the man in the slicker
and his companion joined him, mounted, and the trio rode quickly along
the hogback in a southerly direction and disappeared on a blind rail
into the forest.

Rathburn rolled himself another cigarette with a grin as he watched
the truck driver stand for some moments uncertainly in the road and
then start rapidly down the slope toward his disabled machine.

"C'mon, hoss," said the erstwhile spectator, turning his dun-colored
mount again into the trail. "So far's I can make out, this is the only
way down out of these tall mountains to the east, so we might as well
get going. We ain't got no business south or west. We'll be just in
time to get blamed for what's happened down there."

Whatever there might be in the prospect, the rider did not permit it
to have any influence on his cheerful mood. He drew in long breaths of
the stimulating air and sniffed joyously at the fragrance of the
murmuring forests which clothed the higher hills. Far below the timber
would dwindle, the ridges would flatten into round knolls and lose
their verdure; then would come the dust and lava slopes, and
beyond--the desert.

A wistful light came into the horseman's eyes. "Home, Juniper, hoss,"
he said softly. "We've just got to have cactus an' water holes an'
danged blistering heat in ours; and I don't care so much as the faded
label off an empty tomato can if it's in California, or Arizona, or
Nevada, so long as it's desert!"

The trail he was following wound tortuously around ridges, through the
timber, into ravines and cañons; now treading close upon the bank of a
swift-running mountain stream in a narrow valley, and again seeking
the higher places where there were rocks and fallen trees and other
obstructions. An observer would have gleaned at once that the rider
was not familiar with the trail or territory he traversed.

So it was past noon when he finally reached the hogback where the
outstanding event of the morning had taken place. The rider looked
back up toward the divide and grinned as he rested his horse just
above the scene of the holdup.

"Don't reckon they'd have heard me if I'd hollered, or seen me if I'd
waved," he mused. "They picked out a good spot for the dirty work," he
concluded, looking about.

Shortly afterward, as he was staring down at the tracks in the road,
he smothered an exclamation. Then he dismounted, picked up two small
objects from the dust at the point where the trio had started on
their get-away, examined them with a puzzled expression, and thrust
them into a pocket.

"Queer," he ruminated; "mighty queer. If those silly things had been
laying there in the road before the rumpus they'd have been tracked
into the dust. But they was on _top_ of a perfectly good hoss track.
An' it don't look like there's been anybody along here since."

He continued down the road, descending the steep slope, and came to
the overturned truck. At a glance he saw it had been used for hauling
supplies, doubtless to the mine he had glimpsed on the slope of the
high mountain to southward. Several kegs of nails, some hardware, and
some sacks of cement were scattered in the road. He remembered that
the man who had climbed on the truck had only searched the driver and
the cab. Anything he might have taken must have been in a small
package or it would have been discernible even at that long distance.

"That outfit wasn't after no mine supplies," Rathburn reflected as he
finished his brief inspection and again mounted. "An' they wasn't
taking any chances on smoking anybody up or being followed too quick.
Pretty work all around. An' here's the committee, hoss!"

A touring car came careening around a turn in the road and raced
toward him. He turned his horse to the side of the road and spoke to
him as the animal, plainly unfamiliar with motor cars, snorted and
shied.

The car drew to a stop with a screeching of brakes. The horseman
raised his hands as he saw two rifles leveled at him from the rear
seat. There were five men in the car besides the driver. One of the
men, who had been sitting in the front with the driver, leaped from
the machine and strode toward the rider.

"Calm that horse down an' climb out of that saddle," he commanded.
"If you make any motions toward that gun you're packing, it'll make
things simpler, in a way."

The rider slipped from the saddle with a broad grin. "Right up to
form," he sang cheerfully, although he kept his hands elevated while
the other took his gun. "My hoss'll be calm enough now that that
danged thing is shut off. You must be a sheriff to be flirting with
the speed limit that way an' forgetting you've got a horn."

"Where are you from an' where was you going?" demanded the other.

"I'm from up in the mountains, but I'd never got where I was going if
I hadn't seen you first the way you busted around that curve," was the
cool reply.

"Stranger," was the next comment in a tone of satisfaction. "Look
here, friend, I'm Mannix, deputy from High Point. You'll sail smoother
if you answer my questions straight."

The deputy motioned to two men in the car. "Search him," he ordered.
Then he stood back, six-shooter in hand.

The stranger built a cigarette while the men were going through him.
He lighted the weed and smiled quizzically while they examined the
meager contents of the slicker pack on the rear of his saddle.

"See you're packing a black slicker," said Mannix, pointing to the
rough raincoat in which the pack was wrapped.

"That's in case of rain," was the ready answer.

"What's your name?" asked the deputy with a frown.

"Rathburn."

"Where was you heading?"

"I was aiming in a general eastern direction," Rathburn replied in a
drawl. "Is there any law against ridin' hosses in this here part of
the country?"

"Not at all," replied the deputy heartily. "An' there's no law against
drivin' automobiles or trucks. But there's a law against stoppin' 'em
with a gun."

"So," said Rathburn. "You stopped because you saw my gun? An' I'm to
blame, for it? If I'd known you were touchy about guns down here I'd
have worn mine in my shirt."

One of the other men from the car had joined the deputy. He was
looking at Rathburn keenly. Mannix turned to him.

"Look like him?" he asked.

The man nodded. "About the same size and height."

"This man was drivin' a truck up here that was stopped this morning,"
said the deputy sternly to Rathburn. "He says you size up to one of
the men that turned the trick--one of them that wore a black slicker
like yours."

Rathburn nodded pleasantly. "Exactly," he said with a smile. "I happen
to be in the country an' I've got a black slicker. There you are;
everything all proved up. An' yet there was somebody once told me it
took brains to be a sheriff!"

There was a glint in Rathburn's eyes as he uttered the last sentence.

Instead of flying into a rage, Mannix laughed.

"Don't kid yourself," he said grimly. "You're not the man who held up
this truck driver."

He gave Rathburn back his gun, to the latter's surprise. Then he waved
toward Rathburn's horse.

"Go ahead," he said, smiling. "General eastern direction, wasn't it?
This road will take you clean to the desert, if you want to go that
far. So long."

He led the others back to the car which started off with a roar. It
passed the truck and continued on up the road.

Rathburn sat his horse and watched the automobile out of sight. His
expression was one of deep perplexity.

"By all the rules of the game that fellow should have held me as a
suspect," he soliloquized. "Now he don't know me from a hoss thief--or
does he?"

He frowned and rode thoughtfully down the road in the direction from
which the automobile had come.



CHAPTER XV

THE WELCOME


The afternoon wore on as Rathburn followed the road at an easy jog. He
quickened his pace somewhat when he passed through aisles in thick
timber, and, despite his careless attitude in the saddle, he kept a
sharp lookout at all times. For Rathburn was carrying some gold and
bills in a belt under his shirt--which had been examined and returned
to him at the order of the deputy--and he had no intention of being
waylaid. Moreover, the man's natural bearing was one of constant
alertness. He rode for more than two hours without seeing any one.

"Strange," he observed aloud. "This road is used a lot, too. Maybe the
morning's ceremonies has scared all the travelers into the brush."

But, as he turned the next bend in the road, he saw a small cabin in a
little clearing to the right.

Spurred by a desire to obtain some much-needed information, he turned
from the road into the clearing and rode up to the cabin. He doffed
his broad-brimmed hat in haste as he saw a girl.

"Ma'am, I'm a stranger in these woods an' I'm looking for an honest
man or woman to guide me on my way," he said with a flashing smile.

Instead of returning his smile with a gracious word of greeting, the
girl regarded him gravely out of glowing, dark eyes.

"Pretty!" he thought to himself. "Limping lizards, but she's pretty!"

"Where are you from?" the girl asked soberly.

"From yonder mountains, an' then some," he answered with a sweeping
gesture.

"You rode down this morning?"

"I rode down this morning. Down from the toppermost top of the divide
with the wind singing in my whiskers an' the birds warbling in my
ears." He laughed gayly, for he appreciated her puzzled look. "I was
wondering two things," he continued solemnly.

"What might they be?" she asked doubtfully.

"First: Why isn't there more travel on this good road?" he said. "I
haven't seen a soul except yourself and a--a party in an automobile.
Now on a road like this----"

"Where did you meet the automobile?" she asked in a voice which he
interpreted as eager.

"Two hours an' some minutes back--and up. Near a truck which had had
some trouble in the road. Perhaps you heard about it? Turned over on
its side in collapse after some free-thinking gents turned their smoke
wagons toward it."

It was plain she was interested.

"Did--is the automobile still there?" she inquired with a breathless
catch in her voice.

"Oh, no. After some of the passengers had had a little disrespectful
conversation with me, it went on up the road. Are they scarce around
here, ma'am--automobiles?"

"Not exactly," she replied with a frown. "They truck ore and men and
supplies to and from the mine every day. The reason you've seen so few
people to-day is because it's Sunday."

"Thank you," he said gallantly. "That answers my first question. You
remember, I was wondering _two_ things?"

Her lips trembled with a smile, but her eyes flashed with suspicion.

"You will observe, ma'am, that I am not followed by any pack horses or
heavily-laden burros," he went on gravely, although his eyes sparkled
with good humor. "Nor is there anything much to speak of in this
slicker pack on my saddle. I need some new smoking tobacco, some new
shaving soap, some new hair cut, a bath, a dinner, and a bed--after
I've put up my hoss."

This time the girl laughed, and Rathburn was rewarded by the flashing
gleam of two rows of pearls and eyes merry with mirth. But her
reciprocating mood of cheerfulness was quickly spent.

"You are only a mile and a half from High Point," she said hurriedly.
"You can get what you want there."

She retreated into the doorway, and Rathburn saw that the chance
interview was at an end.

"_Gracias_, as they say in the desert country," he said, saluting as
he turned away. "It means thanks, ma'am."

He looked back as he touched the mustang with his steel and saw her
looking after him with a strange look in her eyes.

"That gal looks half like she was scared, hoss," he reflected. "I
wonder, now, if she got me wrong. Dang it! Maybe she thought I was
trying to flirt with her. Well, maybe I was."

He thrust a hand in a pocket and fingered the two objects he had
picked up in the road at the scene of the holdup. Then he pulled his
hat a bit forward over his eyes and increased his pace. The town, as
he had half expected, came suddenly into sight around a sharp bend in
the road.

High Point consisted of some two-score structures, and only a cursory
glance was needed to ascertain that it was the source of supplies and
rendez-vous for entertainment of the several mines and all the miners
and prospectors in the neighboring hills. Several fairly good roads
and many trails led into it, and from it there was a main road of
travel to the railroad on the edge of the desert in the east.

Before he entered the dusty, single street, lined with small buildings
flaunting false fronts, Rathburn recognized the signs of a foothill
town where the hand of authority rested but lightly.

He rode directly to the first hotel, the only two-story structure in
town, and around to the rear where he put up his horse and left his
saddle, chaps and slicker pack in the care of the barn man.

He received instructions as to the location of the best barber shop
and speedily wended his way there. He found Sunday was not observed in
the barber shop, nor in the resort which adjoined it.

"Any chance to get a bath here?" he asked one of the two barbers with
a twinkle in his gray eyes.

He expected a snort of astonishment and a sarcastic reply.

"Sure. Want it first or after?"

Rathburn eyed the barber suspiciously. Was the man poking fun at him?
Well, he was not a stranger to repartee.

"First or after what?" he asked, scowling.

"Your shave and hair cut."

Rathburn laughed. "I'll take it first--if you have it. An' if you
have, I'll say this is a first-class barber shop."

The barber led the way to a room in the rear of the place with a
pleased grin.

An hour or so later Rathburn, with the lower part of his face a shade
paler than the upper half, his dark hair showing neatly under his
broad-brimmed hat, his black riding boots glistening, and a satisfied
smile on his face, sauntered out of the barber shop into the resort
next door.

A man was lighting the hanging lamps, and Rathburn looked about
through a haze of tobacco smoke at a cluster of crowded gaming tables,
a short bar, cigar counter, and at the motley throng which jammed the
small room.

He grinned as he read the sign over the cash register:


FREE DRINKS TO-MORROW

"Swiped in broad daylight from the grand old State of Texas," he
murmured aloud to himself.

Then he noticed a small restaurant in the rear of the place, separated
from the main room by a partition, the upper part of which was glass.

He made his way back, passed through the door, and took a seat at the
counter which afforded him a view of the resort through the glass. He
ordered a substantial meal and, while waiting for it to be served,
studied with calculating eyes the scene in the next room.

The men were mostly of the hills--miners constituting the majority. Of
professional gamblers there were many, and there was also a plentiful
sprinkling of that despicable species known as "boosters" whose
business it is to sit in at the games in the interest of "the house;"
to fleece the victims who occupy the few remaining seats.

But now he saw a man who apparently was not a miner, or a prospector,
nor yet a member of the professional gambling tribe. This was a tall
man, very dark, sinewy. He wore a gun.

At first Rathburn thought he might be a cow-puncher, for he wore
riding boots, and had something of the air and bearing of a cowman;
but he finally decided that this classification was inaccurate. An
officer at one of the mines, perhaps; a forest ranger--no, he didn't
wear the regalia of a ranger--Rathburn gave it up as his dinner was
put before him on the counter.

He fell to his meal eagerly, for he had had nothing to eat since early
morning when he had broken camp high in the mountains to westward.
Steak and French "fries" began quickly to disappear, along with many
slices of bread and two cups of steaming coffee. Then Rathburn looked
up, and to his surprise saw that the tall, dark man was standing near
the glass, studying him intently out of scowling, black eyes.

Rathburn looked at him coolly and steadily for a few moments and
resumed his meal. But the other was inquisitive and Rathburn sensed,
without again looking up, that he was being watched. Was this man,
then, an aide of Mannix, the deputy? He doubted it.

He finished his meal, paid his score with an added cheery word for the
counter jumper, rose, entered the main room of the resort, and walked
directly up to the dark man who still was observing him.

"Was you thinking I was an old acquaintance of yours?" he asked
pleasantly.

The other's eyes narrowed, and Rathburn thought he detected a glow of
recognition and satisfaction.

"Did you have your bath?" sneeringly inquired the man.

Rathburn's brows lifted. Then he smiled queerly. "I sure did. Why? Did
I maybe keep you waiting? Was you next?"

The other's eyes blazed with wrath. "Let me give you a tip, my friend;
you ain't right well acquainted in this here locality, are you?"

Rathburn now noted that they had attracted immediate attention. The
tall, dark man, then, was a personage of importance. He noted another
thing, too--rather, he realized it by instinct as well as by certain
mannerisms. The man before him knew how to use the weapon which hung
low on his right thigh.

"If you mean was I born here, or do I live here, I'd say no," Rathburn
drawled; "but I happen to be here at this precise time so I'd say I'm
right well acquainted with it."

A hush had come over the place. Interested faces were turned in their
direction, and Rathburn sensed an ominous tremor of keen expectancy.
The fine wrinkles at the corners of his eyes tightened a bit.

"This is a poor time for strangers to be hanging around," said the
dark man in a loud voice. "The Dixie Queen pay-roll has been taking
wings too often."

The implication and the murmur from the spectators was not lost upon
Rathburn. His lips tightened into a fine, white line.

"Whoever you are, you've got more mouth than brains!" he said crisply
in a voice which carried over the room.

The effect of his words was electric. There was a sharp intaking of
breath from the spectators. The dark man's face froze, and his eyes
darted red. His right hand seemed to hang on the instant for the swoop
to his gun. Rathburn appeared to be smiling queerly out of his eyes.
Then came a sharp interruption.

"Just a minute, Carlisle!"

Rathburn recognized the voice of Mannix, and a moment later the deputy
stepped between them.

"What's the idea?" he asked coolly.

"This gentleman you just called Carlisle seems to have appointed
himself a reception committee to welcome me into the enterprising town
of High Point," drawled Rathburn, with a laugh.

Mannix turned on Carlisle with a scowl, and Carlisle shrugged
impatiently, his eyes still glaring balefully at Rathburn.

The deputy again confronted Rathburn. "Had your supper?" he asked.

"Best steak I've had in two months," Rathburn replied cheerfully.

"Horse taken care of?"

"First thing." There was a note of derision in Rathburn's tone.
"Service at the hotel barn is high grade."

Mannix's eyes hardened before he spoke again. He hesitated, but when
his words came they were clear-cut and stern.

"Then come with me an' I'll show you where to sleep."

"You mean in jail?" queried Rathburn.

Mannix nodded coldly.

"Sheriff," said Rathburn, in a peculiar tone, addressing the deputy
but looking over his shoulder directly into Carlisle's eyes; "if
there's one thing I'm noted for, it's for being a good guesser!"



CHAPTER XVI

THE DIXIE'S BOSS


If Mannix expected any resistance from Rathburn he soon found that
none was to materialize. The deputy, a short, rather stout man of
perhaps thirty-nine, with bronzed features, clear, brown eyes, and a
protruding jaw covered with a stubble of reddish-brown beard, was
nevertheless wary of his prisoner. He had not yet obtained Rathburn's
gun, and he recognized the unmistakable signs of a seasoned gunman in
the lounging but graceful postures of his prisoner, in the way he
moved his right hand, in the alertness of his eye. He frowned, for
Rathburn was smiling. There was a quality to that smile which was not
lost upon the doughty officer.

"I take it you've got sense enough to come along easylike," he said,
with just a hint of doubt in his voice.

"Yes, I've been known to show some sense, sheriff; now that's a
fact."

"I'll have to ask you for your gun," said the deputy grimly.

"I've never been known to hand over my gun, sheriff," drawled
Rathburn. "Now that's another fact."

Again the tension in the room was high. Others than Mannix, and
probably Carlisle, had readily discerned in the gray-eyed stranger a
certain menacing prowess which is much respected where weapons are the
rule in unexpected emergencies. The crowd backed to the wall.

The deputy wet his lips, and his face grew a shade paler. Then
suddenly he went for his gun, as Rathburn dropped, like a shot, to the
floor. There came the crack of Carlisle's pistol and a laugh from
Rathburn. The deputy, gun in hand, stared at Rathburn who rose quickly
to his feet. Then he thought to cover him. Rathburn raised his hands
while Carlisle returned his own smoking weapon to its holster. Mannix
turned and glared at Carlisle in perplexity.

"I don't know what his game is, Mannix; but he could have drawn down
on you in a wink and shot you in your tracks if he'd wanted to," said
Carlisle.

"So you were taking the play in your own hands," Mannix accused.

The deputy looked at Rathburn angrily. Then he advanced and took the
prisoner's six-shooter from him. He brought handcuffs out of his
pockets.

Rathburn's face went white. "If what Carlisle says is true, it doesn't
look as if I was trying to get away, does it, sheriff?" he asked
coldly.

Mannix was thoughtful for a moment. "Well, come along," he ordered,
thrusting the steel bracelets back into his pocket.

"I'll go with you," Carlisle volunteered.

"That's up to you," snapped out the deputy. "I ain't asking you to."

The trio left the place as the spectators gazed after them in wonder.
There was a hum of excited conversation as the deputy and his prisoner
and Carlisle passed through the door.

No word was spoken on the way to the small, two-room, one-story
structure which served as a detention place for persons under arrest
until they could be transferred to the county jail in the town where
the railroad touched. Petty offenders served their sentences there,
however.

In the little front office of the jail, Rathburn looked with interest
at some posters on the walls. One in particular claimed his
attention, and he read it twice while the deputy was getting some keys
and calling to the jailer, who evidently was on the other side of the
barred door where the few cells and the "tank" were.

This is what Rathburn read:

                                 REWARD

  Two thousand dollars will be paid for the capture of the bandits
  who are responsible for the robberies of Dixie Mine messengers in
  the last few months.

                                     DIXIE MILLING & MINING CO.,
                                           George Sautee, Manager.

Rathburn now knew exactly what Carlisle had meant when he had referred
to the Dixie pay-roll taking wings. He had, however, suspected it. The
holdup of the truck driver also was explained. Rathburn smiled. It was
a peculiar ruse for the mines manager to resort to. Could not the
pay-roll be sent to the mines under armed guard? Rathburn's eyes were
dreamy when he looked at the deputy.

"All right, in you go," said Mannix, as the jailer unlocked the heavy,
barred door from the inside.

He led Rathburn to one of the single cells, of which there were six on
one side of the jail room proper.

"Maybe you'll be ready to talk in the morning," he said, as he locked
his prisoner in.

"Morning might be too late," Rathburn observed, taking tobacco and
papers from his shirt pocket.

"What do you mean by that?" Mannix asked sharply.

"I might change my mind."

"About talking, eh? Well, we'll find a way to make you change it back
again."

"You're a grateful cuss," said Rathburn, grinning.

Mannix scowled. It was plain he was not sure of his man, although he
was trying to convince himself that he was.

"I don't get you," he said growlingly.

"No? Didn't you hear that fellow Carlisle say I saved your life by not
drawing?"

"He'd have got you if you'd tried to draw. That's what he thought you
was going to do. You saved your skin by grabbing the floor."

Rathburn wet the paper of his cigarette and sealed the end. "I'm
wondering," he mused, as he snapped a match into flame, with a thumb
nail and lit the weed.

"It's about time," said the deputy grimly.

"I'm wondering," said Rathburn, in a soft voice, exhaling a thin
streamer of smoke, "if he'd have got me."

Mannix grunted, looked at him curiously, and then turned abruptly on
his heel and left. Rathburn could not see the door, but he heard the
big key grate in the lock, and then the jail room echoed to the clang
of hard metal and the door swung shut again.

Rathburn sat down on the bunk which was to serve as his bed. He smoked
his brown-paper cigarette slowly and with great relish while he
stared, not through the bars to where the dim light of a lamp showed,
but straight at the opposite steel wall of his cell. His eyes were
thoughtful, dreamy, his brow was puckered.

"An' there's that," he muttered as he threw away the stub of his smoke
and began to roll another. "Somebody's been playing the Dixie Queen
for a meal ticket. That sign said 'robberies.' That means more'n one.
The truck driver was the last. Two thousand reward. An' me headed for
the desert where I belong. What stopped me? I reckon I know."

He smiled grimly as he remembered the insolent challenge in Carlisle's
eyes and the reference to the bath.

After a time Rathburn stretched out on the bunk, pulled his hat over
his face, and dozed.

He sat up with a catlike movement as a persistent tapping on the bars
of his cell reached his ears. Blinking in the half light he saw
Carlisle's dark features.

"Well, now's your chance to smoke me up good an' plenty an' get away
with it," said Rathburn cheerfully. "I'm shy my gun which the sheriff
has borrowed."

"You figure he's just borrowed it?" sneeringly inquired Carlisle.

Rathburn rose and surveyed his visitor. "I reckon I've got to tolerate
you," he drawled. "I can't pick my company in here."

"I've got your number," snarlingly replied Carlisle in a low voice.

Rathburn sauntered close to the bars, rolling a cigarette.

"If you have, Carlisle, you've got a winning number," he said evenly.

"Whatever your play is here, I dunno," said Carlisle; "but you won't
get away with it as easy as you did over the range in Dry Lake."

Rathburn's eyes never flickered as he coolly lit his cigarette with a
steady hand. "You're plumb full of information, eh, Carlisle?"

"I was over there an' heard about how you stuck up that joint an'
tried to blame it on some kid by the name of Lamy," said Carlisle,
watching Rathburn closely.

"You sure that was the way of it?" asked Rathburn casually.

"No," replied the other. "I know the kid stuck up the joint an' you
took the blame to keep him under cover. I don't know your reasons, but
I guess you don't want the facts known. You broke jail. They ain't
forgot _that_ over in Dry Lake. There's a reward out for you over
there, an I wouldn't be surprised if there was some money on your head
in Arizona, Coyote!"

Rathburn's eyes were points of red between narrowed lids.

"The Coyote!" said Carlisle in a hoarse voice of triumph. "An' the way
it looks I'm the only one hereabouts that knows it."

"I told you you was plumb full of information," said Rathburn.

"The Coyote has a bit of a record, they tell me," Carlisle leered.
"There's more'n one sheriff would pay a pretty price to get him safe,
eh?"

"Just what's your idea in telling _me_ all this, Carlisle; why don't
you tell what you know to Mannix, say?"

"Maybe I'm just teasing you along."

"Not a chance, Carlisle. I know your breed."

The other's face darkened, and his eyes glittered as he peered in
through the bars.

"What's _your_ breed?" he asked sneeringly.

"I don't have to tell you that, Carlisle. You _know_!" said Rathburn
with a taunting laugh.

Carlisle struggled with his anger for a brief spell. Then he shrugged
his shoulders.

"I ain't going to poke at you in a cage," he said in a more civil
tone; "an' I ain't going to tell anybody what I know. Remember that."

"I ain't the forgetting kind," Rathburn flung after him as he walked
swiftly away.

Again Rathburn sat on the edge of the bunk and smoked and thought.
After a time he went to sleep. The opening of his cell door woke him.
It was Mannix.

"Come to let me out, sheriff?" inquired Rathburn sleepily.

The deputy looked at him keenly, opened the cage, and motioned to him
to follow. Rathburn went with him out into the little office. It was
broad day. Mannix picked up a pistol from his desk and extended it to
Rathburn.

"Here's your gun, Rathburn. You can go," he said, pressing his lips
close together.

"Well, now, sheriff, that's right kind of you," Rathburn drawled,
concealing his astonishment.

"Don't thank me," snapped out Mannix. "This gentleman asked me to set
you loose."

For the first time Rathburn looked squarely at the other man in the
office--a thin man, with a cropped mustache, beady eyes, and a narrow
face.

The man was regarding him intently, and there seemed to be an amused
expression in his eyes. He turned away from Rathburn's gaze.

"I don't believe I've ever had the pleasure of meeting the gentleman,"
said Rathburn agreeably.

"That's George Sautee, manager of the Dixie Queen," said the deputy
with a shrug.



CHAPTER XVII

A COMMISSION


Sautee rose and extended his hand with an affable smile. "Will you
come to breakfast with me, Mr. Rathburn?"

Rathburn took the hand with a curious side glance at Mannix. "I'm
powerful hungry," he confessed; "an' I don't reckon I'd be showing the
best of manners if I balked at havin' breakfast with the man that got
me out of jail."

"Quite right," admitted Sautee, winking at the deputy. "Well, perhaps
I have my reasons. All right, Rathburn, let's be going."

They walked out of the jail, and as they progressed up the street they
were the cynosure of many wondering pairs of eyes; for the report had
spread that the stranger who had been jailed was the bandit who had
made away with the Dixie Queen pay-roll on several occasions, and that
he was a gun fighter and a killer.

They entered a restaurant just below the hotel, and Sautee led the way
to a booth where they were assured comparative privacy.

"Ham an' eggs," said Rathburn shortly when the waiter entered.

Sautee smiled again. He was covertly inspecting the man across the
table from him and evidently what he saw caused him to arrive at a
satisfactory conclusion.

He gave his order with a nod and a mild flourish of the hand,
indicating that he would take the same.

"Oh--waiter," called Rathburn. "Four eggs with mine."

Sautee laughed. It was a peculiar laugh in that it seemed to convey
little mirth. It was perfunctory.

He gazed at Rathburn quizzically. "They tell me you're a gunman," he
said in a low voice.

Rathburn's brows shot up. "They? Who's they?"

Sautee waved a hand impatiently. "I am the manager of the Dixie Queen.
I have been around a bit, and I have eyes. I can see. I know the
signals. I witnessed the play in the Red Feather last night."

"That ain't a bad name for the place," Rathburn mused.

"Just what do you suppose was my object in getting you out of jail?"
Sautee asked seriously, leaning over the table and looking at Rathburn
searchingly. "You said last night you were a good guesser."

"But I didn't say I was good at riddles," drawled Rathburn.

Sautee leaned back. For a moment there was a gleam of admiration in
his eyes. Then they narrowed slightly.

"The Dixie Queen has been robbed four times within the last year," he
said soberly. "That represents considerable money. Yesterday I
resorted to a ruse and sent the money up with a truck driver, but
whoever is doing this thing must have got wise somehow, for the truck
driver was held up, as you know, and the money taken."

"Why not put an armed guard on that truck?" asked Rathburn with a
yawn.

"I had full confidence in that ruse, and I knew the man who drove the
truck could be trusted. Besides, he didn't know what was inside the
package."

"How much did they get?" asked Rathburn sharply.

"Twenty-two thousand eight hundred and seventy dollars in cash."

Rathburn stared at the mine manager and whistled softly. "What's the
sense in sending it up there at all?" he asked suddenly. "Why not pay
off down here in town?"

Sautee sighed with an air of resignation. "That's been argued several
times," he complained. "The men demand their pay in cash. They want it
at the mine, for more than half of them have refused to come down here
for it. It is twenty-nine miles up there to the mine, and it would
take all the trucks we've got and two days to bring them down here and
take them back. Besides, if we got them down here it would be a week
before we could get half of them back up there and at work again."

"But why won't they take checks?" Rathburn demanded.

"It would be the same proposition," Sautee explained. "There is a
little village up there--pool room, soft-drink parlor, lunch room,
store, and all that--and the men, or a large number of them, would
want their checks cashed to make purchases and for spending money, and
the cash would have to be transported so the business places could
cash the checks. Then, there's another reason. All the mines over on
this side of the mountains, clear down into the desert, have always
paid in cash. This is an old district, and the matter of getting paid
in cash has become a tradition. That's what the company is up against.
We can refuse to do it, but all the other mines do it, and the Dixie
Queen would soon have the reputation of being the only mine in the
district that didn't pay in cash. The tradition is handed down from
the old days when men were paid in gold. There was a time when a miner
wouldn't take paper money in this country!"

The waiter entered with the breakfast dishes and they began to eat.

"Your mine owned by a stock company?" Rathburn inquired.

"Certainly," replied Sautee. "All the mines here are. What mine
isn't?"

Rathburn ignored the question. "Stockholders live aroun' here?" he
asked, between mouthfuls.

"Oh--no, that is, not many," replied Sautee with a quick glance at his
questioner. "This district is pretty well worked out. Most of our
stockholders live in the Middle West and the East." He winked at
Rathburn.

"Any other mines been robbed?" Rathburn persisted.

"No, that's the funny part of it. Still--no, it _isn't_ funny. We're
working on the largest scale, and our pay-roll is, naturally, the
largest. It furnishes the biggest incentive. In addition, the Dixie
Queen is the farthest out from town, and there are many excellent
spots for a holdup between town and the mine. Oh, don't look
skeptical. I've tried trusted messengers by roundabout trails, and
guards and all that. They even held up a convoy on one occasion. I've
set traps. I've done everything. But now I've a new idea, and I
believe it'll work."

He finished his breakfast and stared steadily at Rathburn who didn't
look up, but leisurely drank a second cup of coffee. Sautee noted the
slim, tapered right hand of the man across the table from him, the
clear, gray eyes, the unmistakable poise of a man who is absolutely
and utterly confident and sure of himself. The mine manager's eyes
glowed eagerly.

"Yes?" asked Rathburn calmly.

"I'm going to hire, or, rather, I'm going to _try_ to hire a man I
believe is just as tough, just as clever, just as quick with his gun
as the men who've been robbing the Dixie Queen. I'm going to hire him
to carry the money to the mine!"

"So _that's_ why you got me out of jail," said Rathburn, drawing the
inevitable tobacco and papers from his shirt pocket.

"Yes!" whispered Sautee eagerly. "I want you for the job!"

"You ain't forgetting that I was suspected of that last job, are you?
That's why I went to jail, I reckon."

"You didn't have to go to jail unless you wanted to. You didn't have
to stop in this town and invite arrest. Mannix let you go up there
yesterday because he felt sure he could get you when he wanted you
again, and he figured you'd make some break that would give him a clew
to your pals, if you had any. You went to jail because you knew he
didn't have anything on you."

Sautee grinned in triumph.

"How do you know I won't beat it with the money?" asked Rathburn.

"I don't," said Sautee quickly. "But I'm taking a chance on it that
you won't. I don't care who you are, what you are now, or what you've
been; I don't care if you're an outlaw! I figure, Rathburn, that if I
come out square and trust you with this mission and depend upon you to
carry it out, that you'll play square with me. That's what I'm banking
on--your own sense of squareness. You've got it, for I can see it in
your eyes."

"Who's Carlisle?" Rathburn asked dryly.

Sautee frowned. "He's a--well, I guess you'd call him a sort of
adventurer. I knew him down in Arizona. He follows the camps when
they're good, and this one happens to be good right now, for we're
improving the property. That's how he happened to come up here about a
year ago. Then, when the first robbery occurred, I engaged him as a
sort of special agent. He didn't make any progress, so I let him go.
Since then he's been out and in, gambling, prospecting, anything--he's
a fast man with his gun, and he has some claims here which he is
developing on a small scale and trying to sell."

Rathburn nodded but made no comment.

"Will you take the job?" Sautee asked anxiously.

"What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to carry a sum of money to the mine. I'm not going to tell
you how much, but it will be considerable. The money which was stolen
yesterday was for the pay-off to-day. I've got to get the cash for the
men up there quick. They all know about the holdup, so there's no
grumbling--yet. But there will be if they don't have their money
pretty quick. We want to pay off to-morrow. I could go with a guard,
but to tell you the truth, Rathburn, it's got to a point where I can't
trust a soul."

"Why not Mannix?" asked Rathburn sharply.

Sautee shook his head; his beady, black eyes glowed, and he stroked
his chin.

"There's another sorrowful point," he explained. "I tell you we're up
against it here, Rathburn. The Dixie Queen people and most of the
other mines are fighting the present county administration as a matter
of policy. They want certain changes, and--well, keep this to
yourself--privileges. Mannix has been instructed by the sheriff of
this county that he is not here to act as a guard for the Dixie
Queen. See?"

Rathburn frowned and built another cigarette.

"If you'll carry this package of money up to the Dixie Queen for me,
Rathburn, I'll pay you five hundred dollars. Then, if you want to stay
and act as our messenger right along, we'll make a deal. But I'd like
to have you do this this time--make this one trip, anyway, I mean.
They may try to stop you. If they do I don't believe they can get away
with it. I'm banking on your ability to get through, and I think the
proposition will appeal to you in a sporting way if for no other
reason. Will you do it?" Sautee's eyes were eager.

"Yes," said Rathburn shortly, tossing away his cigarette.

Sautee held out his hand. "Go to the hotel and engage a room," he
instructed. "Be in your room at nine o'clock to-night. Do not tell any
one of our deal. I'll get your room number from the register. I'll
bring the package of money to you between nine o'clock and midnight.
Now, Rathburn, maybe I'm mistaken in you; but I go a whole lot by what
I see in a man's eyes. You may have a hard record, but I'm staking my
faith in men on you!"

"I'll be there," Rathburn promised.

He left Sautee at the entrance to the restaurant and strolled around
the hotel barn to see that his horse was being taken care of properly.
He found that the barn man was indeed looking after the dun in
excellent shape. Rathburn spent a short time with his mount, petting
him and rubbing his glossy coat with his hands. Then he took his
slicker pack and started for the hotel.

As he reached the street he saw a girl on a horse talking with a man
on the sidewalk. The girl was leaning over, and the man evidently was
delivering a harangue. He was gesticulating wildly, and Rathburn could
see that the girl was cowering. He paused on the hotel porch as the
man stepped away from the horse and looked his way. He recognized
Carlisle.

Then the girl rode down the street and Rathburn started with surprise
as he saw she was the girl from the cabin up the road who had directed
him to town the day before. He remembered the two objects he had
picked up in the road after the holdup and felt in his pocket to make
sure they were there. Then he entered the hotel.

"Have you a room?" he asked the clerk pleasantly.

"Yes. More rooms than anything else to-day since the Sunday crowd's
gone."

Rathburn wrote his name upon the register.



CHAPTER XVIII

IN THE NIGHT


Rathburn avoided the Red Feather resort during the morning. Instead of
walking about the streets or sitting in the hotel lobby or his room,
he cultivated the acquaintance of the barn man, and because he knew
horses--_all_ about horses--he soon had the man's attention and
respect.

Although Rathburn suspected that he already had a reputation in the
town, he did not know that Carlisle was steadily adding to that
reputation through the medium of veiled hints dropped here and there
until a majority of the population was convinced that a desperate man
was in their midst, and that Mannix had permitted him to go free for
certain secret reasons.

Thus a web of mystery and suspicion was cleverly woven about
Rathburn's movements.

It was not until afternoon, however, that Rathburn began to realize on
his intimacy with the barn man. Then they began to talk of trails, and
for more than an hour the barn man, caught in the spell of Rathburn's
personality, divulged the secret of the trails leading to and from the
Dixie Queen.

"The best trail, an' the straightest, if you should ever want to go up
there an' look at the mine like you say," said the barn man, "hits
into the timber behind the first cabin to the left above town."

Rathburn nodded smilingly. It was the cabin where he had first seen
the girl.

"It's 'bout twenty-nine miles to the mine by the road," the man
explained; "but that trail will take you there in less'n twenty. Well,
maybe twenty or twenty-one. Or you can go up the road till you get to
the big hogback--that's where they held up the truck driver
yesterday--and cut straight up the hill from the south end."

"I guess those are the best trails from what you say," was Rathburn's
yawning comment.

"Them's the best," the other added. "There's another trail going out
below town that follows southeast along a big ridge, but that trail's
as far as the road. When you goin' up?"

"I dunno," replied Rathburn noncommittally. "Say, I guess I know where
that cabin is on the left side of the road going up. I stopped at a
cabin up there coming down an' asked a gal how far it was to
town----"

"That's it," said the barn man. "That's the one. Trail starts right
back of that cabin."

Rathburn yawned again. "Smart-lookin' gal," he observed, digging for
his tobacco and papers. "Who is she?"

"That's Joe Carlisle's sister. Anyway, he says she is. There's been
some talk. Carlisle lives there when he ain't out in the hills or on a
gamblin' trip to some other town."

"I see. Well, old-timer, I ain't hung on the feed bag since morning,
an' I'm going on a still hunt for some grub."

Rathburn went to the Red Feather for his dinner. He was thoughtful
through the meal and kept an eye out for Carlisle, but didn't see him.
During the remainder of the afternoon he hung about the Red Feather
and other resorts, but did not see Carlisle.

That evening, as he was returning to the hotel, he met Mannix. The
deputy looked at him with a scowl in which there was a mixture of
curiosity. Rathburn suddenly remembered what Sautee had said about his
company being on the outs with the county administration. If such was
the case, Rathburn reflected, how did it come that Sautee had been
able to effect his release so easily?

He stopped as he drew alongside of the deputy. "This man Sautee," he
drawled, looking Mannix square in the eye; "he must have a good drag
with the county seat, eh?"

The deputy's scowl deepened. "He didn't get you out by word of
mouth alone," he said sharply. "I haven't got anything on you,
Rathburn--yet."

Rathburn smiled. "I reckon you're a sheriff after my own heart," he
said enigmatically, and moved on.

Mannix looked back after him for a moment, then continued on his way.

Rathburn had dinner that night at the hotel, and it was during the
course of a number of pleasantries with the waitress, who thought he
was looking for work, that he ascertained that Sautee had a little
two-room building at the lower end of the street, the front half of
which served as an office and the rear half as living quarters.

At nine o'clock he went to his room. He lighted the oil lamp, pulled
down the window shade, sat down in a chair to one side of the door to
wait. An hour passed with no sound save occasional footfalls in the
hall and the drone of the wind in the trees outside.

Another hour had nearly been consumed in waiting when Rathburn heard
some one coming up the stairs. The footfalls were soft, catlike. He
could hardly hear them, and it was this fact which made him instantly
alert. The footfalls now sounded in the hallway. They were nearer his
room. He rose; stepped close to the side of the door. Then came a
soft knock.

Rathburn suddenly opened the door, and Sautee started back, blinking
his eyes. The mines manager peered about the room, then entered
swiftly.

"You rather startled me," he accused with a forced smile.

Rathburn closed the door softly and turned the key in the lock.

"I'm just taking natural precautions," he explained.

Sautee shook his head and put a finger to his lips. "Not so loud," he
warned. "These walls"--he waved a hand about--"are all ears."

He took a package from beneath his coat and handed it to Rathburn.
"Put it in your shirt," he instructed. "Deliver it to the office at
the mine and take the bookkeeper's receipt. Then report to my office
here in town. I wish you luck, and I want you to know that I have the
utmost confidence in you."

"You keep such large sums on hand all the time?" Rathburn asked,
putting the package in his shirt. He was mindful of the fact that a
similar sum had been stolen the day before from the truck driver.

"There's a private bank here," answered Sautee frowningly. "He let me
have it, but he's already sent to the county seat for more cash which
will come by auto express to-morrow, probably. Anyway, the bank'll get
most of this back, so their cash won't be short long."

Rathburn nodded. "Let's see," he suggested. "There was a little item
of five hundred between us for my serving--am I right?"

"There is such an item," snapped out Sautee; "when you've delivered."

"Of course," replied Rathburn. "I couldn't expect to be paid in
advance. I'm to deliver the money at the mine and report to you for
the five hundred."

"Exactly," said Sautee. "Which way you figure on going up?" he asked
curiously.

"Don't know much about the trails," Rathburn answered. "An' it
mightn't attract suspicion if I just struck right out on the road."

Sautee shrugged. "Well, that's up to you," he said. "Keep your eye
peeled. I don't think any one knows I drew that money from the bank,
but I didn't think any one knew I stuck that package under the truck
driver's seat, either."

He turned toward the door.

"There's just one other little matter," said Rathburn softly. "You see
nobody knows anything about this deal but you an' me. Maybe it would
be best for my own protection that you scribbled something on a piece
of paper to show what our arrangement is."

Sautee scowled again, hesitated, then smiled. He drew an envelope from
a pocket, extracted its contents, tore it open at each end, and wrote
on the blank side:

  Due Rathburn five hundred dollars when he has delivered package
  intrusted to him by me at the Dixie Queen mine office.

  GEORGE SAUTEE.

Rathburn nodded in satisfaction as he took the slip of paper and
tucked it into his shirt pocket. The wording of the note was a bit
complicated, but it bore Sautee's signature. It was at least evidence
that there _had_ been an agreement.

"Everything set?" asked Sautee.

"All cinched up an' ready to go," replied Rathburn.

"How soon you going to start?" asked Sautee as he unlocked the door.

"By midnight," Rathburn answered.

Sautee held out his hand before he slipped out of the door and was
gone.

Rathburn quickly busied himself with his slicker pack. He took out a
gun which he changed for the gun in his holster. Then he stuck his
regular gun into his waistband on the left. He took out the package
and examined it. It was sealed at each end. Then Rathburn did a queer
thing. He cut the string and paper near the seals and removed the
small box within. He next emptied the box of its paper-wrapped
contents and substituted the first thing of equal weight which he
could lay his hands on--a moleskin glove which was among the things in
the slicker pack. He replaced the box in its wrappings and drew from
one of his pockets a small bottle of glue.

"First time I ever stole anything from a hotel desk," he muttered to
himself as he glued the paper back into place; "but I sure had the
proper hunch when I grabbed this."

Next he retied the string, adding a piece from his slicker pack to
offset the shortness where it had been cut. When he had finished the
package looked exactly as it had in the first place. It would take a
close inspection to learn that it had been tampered with. The original
contents of the package he thrust into his hat and pulled the hat well
down on his head.

Then he extinguished the light and made his way downstairs and out the
lobby into the street. He went quickly around to the barn where he
astonished the man in charge by saddling his horse and riding out
without a word of explanation other than to toss him a five-dollar
bill from the saddle.

"See you again to-morrow--maybe," he called, grinning, as he rode into
the night.

When Rathburn had passed behind the hotel and several other buildings
on the same side of the street and gained the road leading westward
toward the hogback, a slim shadow darted out of the trees, mounted a
horse concealed some distance behind the barn, and slipped into a worn
trail which nearly paralleled the road going west.



CHAPTER XIX

QUICK TURNS


As he rode westward along the road at a swinging lope, Rathburn made
no apparent effort to conceal his movements. The night sky was bright
with stars, and, although the moon was not up, the road was clearly
outlined through the marching stands of timber as he swung upward past
the cabin where he had met the girl said to be Carlisle's sister.

Rathburn could not forget the look on the girl's face when she had
asked him about the activities of the officer in the automobile. Nor
could he forget the expression in her eyes during her altercation with
Carlisle that day.

After he had passed the cabin, Rathburn checked his pace and proceeded
more slowly up the long stretches of road to the hogback. On the
hogback he began to take advantage of the screen of timber on the
lower side of the road, and to ride more cautiously. However, to any
one who might have been watching, his movements still would have been
easily discernible, and it would have appeared that he wasn't quite
sure of himself. Twice he turned off at what he appeared to think was
the beginning of a trail, and both times he again turned back to the
road.

Then, as he reached the south end of the hogback where the trail left
the road and cut straight across to the mine, two horsemen broke from
the timber, and Rathburn reined in his horse as the guns which covered
him glinted.

The taller of the pair of night riders kept him covered with two guns
while the other rode in close and jerked the weapon from his holster.

"C'mon with the package!" said this man in a hoarse voice. "We won't
take a chance on you. If you make any kind of a break you'll get it
where it'll do most good."

There was a sneering inflection in the voice.

Rathburn's hand, as it moved downward toward his shirt, hovered an
instant above where his good gun was stuck in his waistband, out of
sight under the skirt of his coat; then it moved to the open shirt at
his throat. He drew out the package and held it out toward the other.

The man closed in and snatched the package, glancing at it in the dim
starlight.

"Now back the way you came an' don't invite no shootin'!" was the
brief command.

Rathburn whirled his horse and drove in his spurs. As he fled from the
scene a harsh laugh came to his ears from behind. Then utter silence
save for the pounding of his horse's hoofs in the hard road back down
the hogback.

"Jog along, hoss," Rathburn crooned as he sped down the long slopes
toward town; "maybe we're peggin' things wrong, an' if it turns out
that way we've a powerful long ways to go."

It lacked a few minutes of being two hours after midnight when he
reached the Carlisle cabin. There he reined in his horse, dismounted
in the shadow of the timber, and crept to a window. The moon had risen
and was bathing the hills in a ghostly light in which every object
stood out clear-cut and easily distinguishable. Rathburn peered into
the two front windows, but could see nothing. Then, from a side window
into which the moonlight filtered, he made out a bedroom. It was not
occupied. From the other side of the cabin he saw another bedroom,
and it, too, was unoccupied.

"Nobody home," he muttered cheerfully as he ran for his horse.

In another minute he was again speeding down the road toward town. He
slacked his pace as he reached the upper end of the short main street.
The street was dark save for two beams of yellow light, one of which
shone from a window of the jail office and the other from the front of
the Red Feather resort.

He walked his horse down the street past the jail and the resort and
almost to the end of the line of buildings where he arrived before the
small, one-story, two-room structure which was Sautee's office and
abode.

The place was dark. Rathburn dismounted and led his horse into the
dark shadow at the side of the little building. Then he went around to
the front, and, drawing his gun from his waistband, he rapped smartly
on the door with its butt and dropped it into his holster.

There was no movement within, and Rathburn rapped again and tried the
door. It was locked.

A match flared into flame somewhere beyond the front room. A glow of
light followed. Rathburn, looking through the front window, saw a door
open wide and made out the form of Sautee as the mines manager came
forward to the front door.

"Who is it?" Sautee called cautiously.

"Rathburn."

After a moment a key turned in the lock and the door opened part way.
Rathburn pushed his way in.

"Why--didn't you _go_?" asked Sautee in excited tones.

"Lock the door an' come in the other room," whispered Rathburn. "I've
got something to tell you that'll knock you for a goal."

Sautee hurriedly locked the door, and, as he turned to lead the way
into the other room, Rathburn deftly extracted the key.

In the light from the lamp in the bedroom Sautee swung on his visitor
and looked at him keenly. The mines manager was fully dressed, and the
bed was made. It was evident that he had merely dozed on top of the
covers with his clothes on. These things Rathburn noted even as Sautee
surveyed him with a frown.

"Well, what is it?" snapped out Sautee.

Rathburn blinked in the light. "I--I was held up," he said sheepishly.

The mines manager stared. First he stared into Rathburn's eyes, and
then he glanced to the gun in the holster on his thigh.

"Couldn't have been very much afraid of you," he said sneeringly. "I
see they didn't even take your gun."

"It all come from my not knowin' enough about the trails, I guess,"
Rathburn explained lamely. "Got me on the far end of the hogback. Two
of 'em. Had their guns in my face before I knew it. Couldn't have
drawed if I wanted to. They'd have shot me out of the saddle in a
wink. All I could do was hand over the package an' beat it."

"And they said you were a gunman," said Sautee in derision. "How do
_I_ know anybody stopped you and robbed you? Maybe you've come back
here with that story to cover up the theft of the money. I guess I
made a mistake in ever thinking of trusting a man of your caliber."

"I was afraid of that," said Rathburn. "I was afraid if anything like
this was to happen you might think I was lying and was taking the
money myself. But I fooled 'em, Mr. Sautee," he finished in triumph.

"What's that?" Sautee asked sharply.

"Look here," cried Rathburn excitedly as he took off his hat and
recovered the package he had put in it before starting toward the
mine.

He held up the package. "I was scared they might get wise an' get the
drop on me," he said. "So I opened the package an' took out what was
in it and put it in my hat. They got the original package, all right,
but it was stuffed with an old glove of mine. Here's the money. I
didn't go right on to the mine for fear they'd find out their mistake
an' pot me from the timber. This is the money you gave me, minus the
seals an' the string an' box. I wanted you to see that I was on the
square."

Sautee's eyes were bulging. "Give me that," he gulped out.

"Why--don't you want me to take it to the mine?" asked Rathburn in
surprise.

"Hand that over," ordered Sautee, reaching for the package.

Rathburn drew away. "All right, Mr. Sautee," he said in a complaining
voice. "If you don't want me to go through with the job you can back
down, I guess. We'll just make sure the money's here, though."

Sautee leaped toward him.

"Give me that package!" he cried angrily. "Do you hear me?"

Rathburn warded him off, keeping the package at arm's length away.

"Just hold your horses," he said coldly. "I reckon I know what I'm
doing. You don't trust me now, an' I ain't goin' to take any chances
with you. I'm goin' to open this an' show you that the money's there,
that's all; I'm goin' to show you that I'm giving you back what you
gave me all fair an' square."

Sautee's face was ashen. His voice trembled as he spoke again: "Hand
it over and get out of here. I've had enough trouble with you. I'll
take your word for it."

But Rathburn was undoing the paper wrappings.

Again Sautee made a leap, but this time he met Rathburn's left fist
and staggered back, dropping into a chair. Rathburn looked at him
coldly.

"Funny you're so anxious to take my word for things now, when a minute
ago you said you couldn't know but what I'd told that holdup story for
a blind so's I could get away with--_this_!"

The wrappings fell away, revealing a wad of blank paper.

Rathburn's face froze. Sautee stared white-faced at what the other
held in his hand. Then a peculiar glint came into his eyes and he
looked at Rathburn narrowly.

"So that's the way of it," he said sarcastically.

Rathburn stuffed the paper into a pocket. Then he pulled a chair in
front of the mines manager and sat down. He took out paper and tobacco
from his shirt pocket and began to fashion a cigarette.

"It sure looks bad for me, doesn't it, Mr. Sautee?" he asked as he
snapped a match into flame.

"I thought you were going to return the money," Sautee said
sneeringly.

"It looks bad two ways," Rathburn went on as if he hadn't heard the
other's comment. "First, if that package the holdups got had contained
the money you could have swore it was a put-up job. I'd have had to
beat it fast. Now, when I find that the package you gave to me was
full of blank paper, you can say that I framed the holdup story and
changed the money for paper in the bargain."

Sautee's eyes were glowing. "An' you'll have to beat it, after all,"
he jeered.

"So it would seem," mused Rathburn. "I fooled 'em, an' to all
appearances I fooled myself, although maybe I _did_ take a peep into
that package when I changed it in my room, Mr. Sautee."

The mines manager shifted in his chair; but he stared defiantly at
Rathburn.

"You'd have a hard time proving anything," he said grimly.

"That's the trouble," Rathburn admitted. "I'd sort of have to depend
on you. I was thinkin' maybe you double crossed me to make 'em think
_I_ was carrying the money while you sneaked it up some other way, Mr.
Sautee."

"You can think what you want to," said Sautee. "But you better start
moving. If I was you, I'd get as far away from this town and Mannix as
I could by daylight."

Rathburn's manner underwent a lightning change as he threw away his
partly finished cigarette.

"You're right," he said crisply. "It's time to start moving, Sautee."

He rose, and his right hand moved incredibly fast. Sautee gasped as he
looked into the bore of Rathburn's gun. He could hardly realize that
Rathburn had drawn.

"I fooled the night riders twice," explained Rathburn with a peculiar
smile. "First, when I let 'em get the wrong package, an' again when I
let 'em get the wrong gun. This gun an' I work together like clock
ticks when necessary. I'll have to ask you to fork over the money that
you drew from the bank an' that should have been in that package,
Sautee."

Rathburn's eyes had narrowed and hardened; his words were cold and
menacing--deadly in their absolute sincerity.

"What--what do you mean?" stammered the mines manager.

"I take it you're not deaf," snapped out Rathburn. "Maybe you don't
know it, Sautee, but so help me, you're takin' a chance by acting like
you didn't get me."

Sautee's thin face was twitching in a spasm of commingled rage and
fear.

"The Coyote!" he breathed.

"Who told you that?" demanded Rathburn on the instant.

Sautee gripped the sides of his chair, and his face went a shade more
pallid.

"Carlisle," he confessed in a strained voice.

Rathburn laughed, and the mines manager shivered as he heard.

"Now, Sautee, we'll quit beatin' around the bush," Rathburn said
through his teeth. "We'll get down to business together, or I'll begin
to search your place here. But if I have to search, I'll search alone.
There ain't so much chance of a shot bein' heard way up the street;
an' there ain't much chance of me bein' caught on that hoss of mine if
I don't want to get caught. Also, I'm beginning to feel like I was in
a hurry. Fork over that money!"

Sautee looked just an instant longer into the eyes of the man towering
over him. Then he rose, shaking, dry-lipped, and knelt down by the
head of the bed. He lifted a piece of the carpet, opened a small
trapdoor, reached inside, and brought out a bundle of bank notes.
Rathburn took the money from him.

Sautee still was kneeling as he heard Rathburn walk lightly to the
front door and insert the key in the lock. He tried to cry out, but
the effort resulted only in a croak in his throat. He heard the door
close softly.

"The Coyote!" he mumbled, passing a hand across his forehead.

The echoes of galloping hoofs came to him as he scrambled to his feet
and staggered toward the door.



CHAPTER XX

APPEAL TO THE LAW


For some moments Sautee stood in the darkened doorway staring up the
moonlit street. The echoes of Rathburn's flight had died away. The
town was still. Sautee did not cry out, although he had recovered a
considerable measure of his composure. He listened intently and
finally grunted with satisfaction.

"Up the road," he muttered. "That means he is making for the pass over
the mountains."

He walked hurriedly through his office into the living room. There he
stood for a spell beside the table on which burned the lamp. His brows
were knit into a heavy frown. He seemed debating a question in his
mind. He tapped with nervous fingers on the table top.

"Pshaw," he said aloud, his face darkening. "He's an outlaw."

He put on his coat and dropped an automatic pistol into a side pocket.
After another moment of hesitation he blew out the light and walked
quickly out of the place, locking the door after him.

He hurried up the street to the jail. He found the jailer dozing in
the little front office and did not attempt to disturb him. From the
jail he hurried another short distance up the street and turned in at
a little house located some distance back from the sidewalk. He
knocked loudly on the door, and after a brief wait repeated the
performance.

A light showed, and the front door opened. Mannix, the deputy, looked
out.

"Let me in," said Sautee briefly. "There's been another robbery."

Mannix swung the door wide and stepped aside. He wore an ulster over
his night clothes, and his bare feet were thrust into slippers. He
scowled at the mines manager as he shut the door.

"More of the company's money gone?" he asked with a touch of sarcasm
in his voice.

Sautee nodded. "Some twenty-odd thousand," he said soberly; "and I
believe the man that got it is responsible for the holdups that have
been pulled off around here."

"Who got it?" Mannix asked quickly.

"Rathburn," Sautee announced.

Mannix smiled in undisgusted contempt. "Your own fault," he pointed
out. "Wouldn't give me a chance to investigate. Said you had a scheme
that would show him up one way or the other. Wouldn't let me in on it,
an' I was fool enough to let you have a try, although I don't believe
I could have held him anyhow."

"Just it," said Sautee. "Wouldn't have done any good to keep him in
jail, and I thought I had a two-way scheme that would either show him
up, as you say, or get me an excellent messenger. I intrusted Rathburn
with a package to carry to the mines office. He's a gunman, a
desperado, probably a killer, and I thought it would appeal to him to
be put in a place of trust. If he fell down--then I figured you'd be
able to get him like you said you could."

Mannix snorted. "After tryin' a fool scheme you want to shift the
business on _my_ shoulders, eh? Well, Sautee, you've never shown much
confidence in my ability, an' you don't have to show any now. It looks
to me as if the finishing of this play is all up to you."

"Oh, no, it isn't," said Sautee confidently. "You'll be most mighty
glad to take out after him."

"Suppose you wait an' see how quick I start," Mannix retorted angrily.
"What's the matter? Didn't he carry out your orders? I suppose you
gave him a bundle of money to make off with. Sautee, I believe you're
a fool!"

The mines manager winced and then frowned. "I gave him the money to
carry to the mine," he confessed without flinching. "He came back with
a story about being held up, and when he saw that I didn't believe him
and intended to turn him back to you, he pulled a gun on me and made
his get-away. He lit out through town for the road to the hogback and
the pass over the mountains."

Mannix laughed harshly. "You're clever, Sautee; there's no getting
away from how clever you are. Now you want me to go chasing up to the
hogback to head him off. Well, I'm tellin' you that I don't know where
he's gone, an' I ain't starting out after him at any two o'clock in
the morning. If you'd have kept your nose out of this he'd still be
all safe an' quiet in jail. That's final, so you might as well clear
out an' give me a chance to get some sleep."

Sautee merely smiled after this speech from the disgusted deputy.

"Since I intrusted Rathburn with that job I've found out something
about him which takes the case out of my hands entirely," he said with
a smirk. "I don't care if you don't start after him till day after
to-morrow. But if your chief--the sheriff--finds out that you didn't
hit the trail to-night he'll likely ask you for your badge!"

"Are you threatening me?" Mannix demanded loudly.

"No, I'm only stating facts," Sautee replied stoutly. "That man who
calls himself Rathburn is The Coyote!"

Mannix didn't start. He appeared hardly interested. Only the keen,
penetrating quality of the steady gaze he directed at the mines
manager betrayed the fact that his faculties were aroused.

"The Coyote hit back for Arizona after that deal he was mixed up in
over in Dry Lake, across the range," he said with conviction.

"Oh, he did?" Sautee sneered openly. "Well, you had him in jail last
night, and you can probably get him again, if you start right out
after him."

"What makes you think this fellow Rathburn is The Coyote?" demanded
Mannix.

"Carlisle knows him by sight, and he told me."

"Then why didn't you tell me?" the deputy asked sternly.

"Because Carlisle didn't tell me until after I told him what I'd
done," Sautee evaded. "Then I didn't have the--ah--nerve, under the
circumstances, to come to you with the news. At that, I thought he
might go through with it."

Mannix swore softly. "Giving a pay-roll messenger's job to a man who's
got a price on his head a mile long!" he exclaimed savagely. "Why
didn't Carlisle come to me?"

Sautee shrugged. "I'm not responsible for Carlisle. Maybe he didn't
feel sure of it, and maybe he's just naturally jealous of The Coyote
and wants to bring him in himself. Carlisle is a gunman, as you know,
and a good one."

"I know it," snapped out Mannix; "and I know both Carlisle an' you are
a pair of bunglers. I guess you wanted to show me up, but you've gone
about it in a way that won't get you anything nor hurt me, I'll see to
that."

Sautee smiled as the deputy hurried out of the room.

In a few minutes Mannix returned fully dressed and carrying a rifle.
The deputy's face was severe, and his eyes burned with the fire of the
man hunt. He signaled impatiently to the mine manager to follow him.
As they walked across the little porch and around to the rear of the
house where Mannix kept his car the deputy talked fast.

"I'm goin' up to the hogback. He ain't had start enough to get up
there yet on a horse, an' I'll beat him to it. It'll be daylight in
about two hours, an' I'll be there till daylight. If you think you can
do it, get out some of the men an' cover the trails to the mine on
horses. He might try to get over that way. Then you better take your
car and go up to the mine by the road as fast as you can to tell 'em
to be on the lookout. Watch out on the hogback, for I'll be up there,
parked with my lights out."

He had reached his small garage when he finished giving his
instructions, and Sautee, with a promise to do as he had been told as
quickly as possible, ran down the street toward the Red Feather, where
a light still shone.

The news that The Coyote and Rathburn were one and the same, and that
he had robbed the mining company that night and was probably
responsible for the other holdups, created an immediate sensation
among the few gamblers in the resort. Sautee added to the excitement
by quoting rewards at random, and the forming of two posses to comb
the trails to the mine and beyond was under way at once.

Sautee ran to his office and got out his small car. He stopped at the
Red Feather and took one of the men from the mine with him. He
stopped again when he reached the Carlisle cabin, pounded on the
doors, and looked in the windows. But the place was deserted, and
Sautee's features were wreathed in perplexity as he went back to his
car.

"That's queer," he said as he climbed into his seat.

"What's that?" asked the man beside him.

But Sautee's answer was drowned in the roar of the motor as he sped up
the road toward the hogback and the mine.



CHAPTER XXI

A CAPTURE


When Rathburn rode away from Sautee's quarters he galloped up the
street straight for the road which led west out of town. He pulled his
horse down to a trot when he reached the Carlisle cabin and made
another brief inspection which showed that the place was deserted.
Then he struck into the trail behind the cabin and began the ascent
toward the Dixie Queen.

He rode slowly through the timber, depending upon his mount to keep to
the dim trail, but in the open stretches in meadows and on the crest
of ridges where the timber thinned, he made better time. On this
occasion one would not have noted an attitude of uncertainty about his
manner or movements. He had paid strict attention to the barn man's
description of this trail, and he had determined general directions
the day before. Rathburn was not a stranger to the art of following
new trails; nor was he the kind to become confused in a locality with
which he was not familiar unless he became absolutely lost. In this
instance it would be a hard matter to become lost, for the ridges rose
steadily upward toward the summits of the high mountains, the town was
in the narrow valley below, and the foothills ranged down to the
desert in the east.

He was halfway to the mine when he saw the gleam of an automobile's
lights in the road far below.

"Sautee got busy right quick," he said aloud. "I 'spect they're
hustlin' up to head me off at the hogback. They're figuring I'd try to
go back the way I come in."

He smiled grimly in the soft moonlight, and his gaze turned toward the
east, where the stars glowed over the shadowy reaches of desert which
he could not see, but the very thought of which stirred something in
his soul.

Then he pushed on up the trail toward the mine. For more than an hour
he rode, and then, when he came to the crest of a ridge just below the
Dixie Queen, he saw the lights of an automobile in the road to the
right of him.

"Now what?" he ejaculated. "They ain't figurin' I'd come up here!"

He sat his horse with features again wreathed in perplexity. He
scowled at the approaching gleam of light. In the direction of the
hogback he could see nothing. Nor could he see the horsemen already on
the trail below him and on the ridge trail to eastward.

The little mine village was directly below him. The few buildings
huddled together below the big mine dump were dark. The mine
buildings, too, were dark. A faint glow showed in the east--harbinger
of the dawn.

The left side of the automobile was toward him when it stopped in the
little street below. A man climbed out and walked around in front of
the car, and Rathburn grunted in recognition as he made out the
familiar form of Sautee, the mine manager.

He saw Sautee and another leave the car and walk toward a building at
the lower end of the street. He could see them fairly well in the
moonlight and realized that in a comparatively short time it would be
daylight. He turned his horse down the slope.

When he reached the rear of the few buildings which formed the mining
village, catering to the wants of the Dixie Queen workers, Rathburn
edged along to the lower end where he left his horse in the shadow of
a building directly across from the one which Sautee and his companion
had entered, and in the windows of which a light now shone.

He stole across the street. Peering in one of the windows he saw that
the room was an office. Sautee was standing before a desk, talking to
another man. Rathburn quickly surmised that this man had accompanied
Sautee from the town. Even as he looked, Sautee finished his speech by
striking a palm with his fist, and his companion strode toward the
door.

Rathburn darted around the side of the building into the shadow as the
man came out and hurried up a wide road toward the mine buildings
above. Then Rathburn ran around to the front of the building and
quietly opened the door.

Sautee had seated himself at the desk, and he swung about in his chair
as he heard the door open. He looked again into the black bore of
Rathburn's gun. His eyes bulged, and this time they shone with genuine
terror.

"It was sure in the pictures for us to meet again, Sautee," said
Rathburn easily. "Our business wasn't finished. We ain't through
yet."

"There isn't any more money," Sautee gasped out. "There's no money up
here at all."

"Oh, yes, there is," said Rathburn with a mirthless smile. "There's
twenty-odd thousand dollars in my right-hand coat pocket. Now I wonder
what you've got in yours. It don't stand to reason you'd start out
this time without a gun. Stand up!"

Sautee rose. His face was ashen. He held his hands high as Rathburn
pressed his weapon against his chest and relieved him of the automatic
which he carried. Rathburn felt his other pockets and then smiled
agreeably. He tossed the automatic on the desk.

"All right, we'll get goin'," he announced, indicating the open door.
"We'll have to hurry, for I take it you've sent for somebody from the
mine."

"Where are we going?" asked Sautee without moving.

"We're goin' for a little mornin' walk, if you act reasonable,"
replied Rathburn. "That was my intention. But if you don't want to
go----"

He shrugged, and as Sautee looked fixedly at him, he cocked his gun.

Sautee hurried toward the door with Rathburn following him closely.
When they were outside Rathburn directed Sautee across the street.
When they reached Rathburn's horse Rathburn quickly mounted and
motioned to the mines manager to precede him into the timber behind
the little village. When they gained the shelter of the timber they
gradually circled around until they struck a trail which led up above
the mine. They started up this, Sautee leading the way on foot with
Rathburn following on his horse and keeping his gun trained on the
mines manager's back.

"Don't worry," Rathburn crooned. "I won't shoot you in the back,
Sautee. That wouldn't be accordin' to my ethics. But I'd have to stop
you if you made a break to leave the present company."

Sautee plodded on, his breath coming in gasps, the perspiration
standing out on his forehead.

The trail joined with another well-worn path a short distance above
the mine. The eastern sky now was light, and Rathburn saw a stone
building above them. He also saw that they were on the steep slope of
the big mountain on which the Dixie Queen was located, and that there
was a rift in this mountain to the left which indicated the presence
of a pass there.

In a few minutes they reached the stone building. It had an iron door
across which was painted the legend:

  DANGER POWDER--DYNAMITE KEEP AWAY

Rathburn dismounted and tossed the reins over his horse's head so the
animal would stand.

"That place looks like a natural jail," he commented.

"It's the mine's powder house," said Sautee, wiping his wet forehead.

"Sure," Rathburn rejoined, "that's just what it is. I expect there's
enough powder in there to blow half this mountain off."

He walked to the door and took out his gun as he examined the
padlock.

"What are you going to do?" asked Sautee excitedly.

"I'm goin' to blow the lock off," said Rathburn coolly.

"Don't do it!" cried Sautee. "There's high-percentage dynamite in
there and T N T caps that we use on road work--dozens of boxes of it.
You might set it off!"

Rathburn looked at the quaking mine manager speculatively. "That's
right," he said finally, turning aside to grin to himself. "I guess
any little jar might start it workin'. It goes off easy, I've heard."

"There are caps and detonators in there, too," said Sautee quickly.
"You might shoot into them some way, you never can tell. Well, it
would be as bad for you as for me." He uttered the last sentence in a
note of triumph.

Rathburn was looking at the far-flung view below. He turned a hard
gaze on Sautee. "What difference do you suppose it would make to me if
that stuff in there goes off?" he demanded in a harsh voice. "Look
down there!"

Sautee looked and drew in his breath with a gasp.

In the clear light of the blossoming dawn the whole panorama of the
lower mountain country was spread out before them. To the left, under
the towering peaks of the divide, the rounded crest of the hogback was
discernible, and a black spot marked the location of Mannix's
automobile.

"There's a car over there," said Rathburn, noting the direction of
Sautee's gaze.

Almost directly below them a number of mounted men filed over a ridge
and again disappeared in the timber. Off to the right more horsemen
were to be seen.

"Looks like there was a posse or two out this morning," said Rathburn
in a forbidding voice. "I reckon I ain't such a fool as not to know
who they're lookin' for, Sautee. Now maybe you can figure out why I
ain't as scared of that powder house as you are."

"I can stop them!" cried Sautee in a shaking voice.

"Sure," Rathburn agreed. "You can say you lied about me takin' the
money----"

"I'll tell 'em you gave it back!" said Sautee hoarsely. "I'll tell 'em
you brought it on up to the mine and that it's in the safe. I'll
square it----"

"But you can't square the rewards that are out for The Coyote," said
Rathburn sternly. "You've stepped into a bigger game than you
thought, Sautee, an' it's got plumb out of your hands."

He turned on the mine manager fiercely. "Whatever happens, remember
this: Once a man gets a bad reputation in a country like this or the
country I come from, he's got it for keeps. He can't get away from it
no matter how he acts or what he does. Mine has drove me away from the
place where I belong; it's followed me here; I can't lose it; an' the
way things has been going, by glory, I don't know if I _want_ to lose
it!"

Sautee cowered back under the fierceness in Rathburn's manner.

"An' you can tell 'em, if you ever have a chance to talk again, that I
earned my reputation square! I ain't involved nobody else, an' I ain't
stole from any poor people, an' I never threw my gun down on a man who
didn't start for his first."

The deadly earnestness and the note of regret in Rathburn's tone
caused Sautee to forget his uneasiness temporarily and stare at the
man in wonder. Rathburn's eyes were narrowed, his gaze was steel blue,
and his face was drawn into hard, grim lines as he looked out upon the
far-flung, glorious vista below them, broken here and there by the
movement of mounted men.

"Maybe I--I----" Sautee faltered in his speech. His words seemed
impotent in the face of Rathburn's deadly seriousness.

Rathburn turned abruptly to the powder house door.

"Wait!" cried Sautee.

The mines manager dug frantically into his pockets and drew out a
bunch of keys.

"There are some locks on this property to which there are only two
keys," he explained nervously. "This is one of them, and I carry the
second key. Here!"

He held out the key ring with one key extended.

Rathburn thrust his gun back into its holster and took the keys. In a
moment he had unlocked the padlock and swung open the iron door,
exposing case after case of high explosive within the stone
structure.

Sautee was staring at him in dire apprehension.

Rathburn pointed toward the rift in the mountain on the left above
them. Sautee looked and saw a man and a boy riding down the trail.

"That looks to me like the man that held me up last night," said
Rathburn. "He looks like one of the men, anyway. Maybe he's found out
he didn't get much, eh? Maybe he's coming back because he didn't have
enough to make a get-away with. Maybe he thinks he was double crossed
or something."

Sautee's features were working in a spasm of fear and worry. Suddenly
he turned on Rathburn.

"Why don't you get away?" he asked in eager pleading. "That trail will
take you out of the mountains and down into the desert country. You're
from the desert, aren't you? You can make it. You've made a good haul.
Go! It'll be better for me and all of us!"

Rathburn laughed bitterly. "I can't go because I'm a worse fool than
you are," he said acridly. "Get in there. Sneaking lizards, man, can't
you see I'm tempted to put a shot into one of them boxes and blow us
both to kingdom come?"

Sautee shrank back into the powder house, and Rathburn slammed the
door.

As Rathburn snapped the padlock and thrust the keys into his pocket
his eyes again sought the trail to the left above him. No one was in
sight. The man and the boy had disappeared in a bend or depression in
the trail.

But when he looked down toward the hogback he saw a car coming up the
road toward the mine. A number of horsemen had taken its place on the
hogback.

Rathburn ran for his horse.



CHAPTER XXII

A SECOND CAPTURE


Rathburn rode straight up the trail which led from the powder house
toward the pass over the big mountain. His eyes were gleaming with
satisfaction, but several times they clouded with doubt, and he felt
the bank notes in his coat pocket. Each time, however, he would shake
his head and push on up the trail with renewed energy.

Looking backward and downward, he could see the posses gathering in
the street of the mine village. He sensed the excitement which had
followed the sudden disappearance of Sautee and smiled grimly. He saw
that the automobile from the hogback had reached the village. Scores
of men were clustered about it. He knew Mannix was taking personal
charge of the man hunt; but there was a chance to get away!

He looked wistfully eastward. Somewhere off there, beyond the rolling
foothills, was the desert. He thrilled. It had been there he had made
his first mistake. Goaded by the loss of his small cattle ranch he had
taken revenge on the man who had foreclosed on him and others in a
similar predicament. He had held up the bank and restored a small
measure of the losses. Even then the profit of the unscrupulous money
lender had been enormous.

But the law had marked Rathburn. The gunmen who were jealous of his
reputation as an expert at the draw had forced him to fall back upon
that draw to protect his life. Thus he had been driven to obtain a
living in the best way he could, and something in the dangerous,
uncertain life of the outlaw had appealed to his wild blood.

Sautee had said the money in his pocket was a good haul. Why not? He
looked again to eastward. Over the big mountain--into the timber--a
circling back--a straight cut east----

He knew he could do it. He had evaded posses before--posses composed
of trained men who were accustomed to take the man trail. It would
actually be rare sport to play with the crowd below. His left hand
dropped idly into his coat pocket, and he started as he fingered what
was there. Then his brow became furrowed, and he scowled.

"Maybe I ain't such a good guesser after all," he muttered. "Maybe I'm
just what I told Sautee--a fool."

He caught sight of a man and a boy above him. Another instant and they
were lost to view.

Rathburn suddenly put the spurs to his horse, and the dun surged up
the steep trail. As he rode, Rathburn took his rawhide lariat from its
place on the saddle. At a point above where the trail twisted about a
huge outcropping of rock he turned off, dismounted, and crept to the
top of the rocks. Quickly he surveyed the trail above. Then he slipped
back down to his horse, got in the saddle, and took up a position just
at the lower end of the outcropping, some little distance back from
the trail and above it. He held the lariat ready in his hands.

He sat his horse quietly--listening. The wind had died with the dawn,
and there was no sound in the hills. The sun was mounting in the sky
to eastward. Rathburn looked out over the timbered slopes below with
wistful eyes. Suddenly his gaze became alert. The sound of horses upon
the rocky trail above the outcropping came to his ears.

Gradually the sound became more and more distinct. He could hear the
hoofs of the horses striking against the rock of the trail. He shook
out the noose of his rope, and it sang as it whirled in the air.

The head of a horse had hardly pushed past the rock when Rathburn's
noose went swirling downward and dropped true over its target. The man
in the saddle loosed a string of curses as he felt the rawhide lariat
tighten about his arms and chest. His horse shied, and he was dragged
from the saddle, landing on his feet, but falling instantly.

The second horse reared back, and Rathburn's gun covered the boy in
the saddle. Rathburn, keeping tight hold on the rope hand over hand,
and retaining his gun in his right hand at the same time, ran down the
short pitch. The boy's horse became still, and while the youth stared
Rathburn trussed up the first rider and then stood off to look at
him.

"Just takin' a mornin' ride, Carlisle?" he asked cheerfully. "Or did
you forget something? Don't make any false moves, kid. I ain't in a
playful mood."

The boy continued to stare, but Carlisle's face was black with rage,
and curses flowed from his lips.

"That won't get you anything," Rathburn said coolly. "You might better
be doin' some tall thinking instead of cussing. You ain't got the
cards stacked for this deal, Carlisle."

"What's your game?" Carlisle managed to get out.

"It's a deep one," Rathburn replied dryly. "An' it's too complicated
to tell you now. I'm goin' to give you a chance to do the thinking I
mentioned a while back. I ain't takin' your gun or your horse. The
only thing I'm takin' is a chance, an' I ain't takin' it on _your_
account."

For an instant Rathburn's eyes burned with fury. Then he dragged
Carlisle into the shelter of the rocks, to the side of the trail, and
tied his horse near by. Mounting, he motioned to the boy to ride down
the trail ahead of him. He looked at the big hat and the overalls the
boy wore. The youth looked wildly about and then drove the spurs into
his mount and dashed down the trail with Rathburn close behind,
calling to him to take it easy.

Just as they reached a spot directly above the powder house the boy
reined in his horse. Rathburn saw he was looking down at the turbulent
scene in the street of the little village below the mine. Then the boy
swayed in the saddle, and Rathburn had just time to fling himself to
the ground and catch the senseless form in his arms as it toppled.

He put his burden down on the grass beside the trail and led his horse
into the timber and tied him. Next he picked up the boy and made his
way down to the powder house. The shouts of many men came to him from
far below. He succeeded in getting out the keys and unlocking the
padlock which secured the door of the powder house. Then he opened the
door, covered the frightened mine manager with his gun, and carried
his burden in with one arm.

"One of the accomplices," he said briefly to Sautee, as he put the lad
down and loosened the shirt at the throat. "He'll come around in a
minute."

Sautee's eyes were popping from his head. He leaned back upon the
cases of dynamite and passed a clammy hand over his brow.

"I've got Carlisle, too," said Rathburn. "Takin' it all around from
under it ain't a bad morning's haul."

Sautee now stared at him with a new look in his eyes--a look in which
doubt struggled with terror.

"I don't believe you _are_ The Coyote!" he blurted out.

"Who do you reckon I might be, if I ain't?" Rathburn asked quietly.

"You might be some kind of a deputy or something."

Rathburn laughed harshly. "It just happens I'm the man some folks call
The Coyote," he said. "I don't like the name, but it was wished on me,
an' I can't seem to shake it off. If I wasn't the man you think I am
you wouldn't be in such a tight fix, Sautee."

Rathburn's words conveyed a subtle menace which was not lost on the
mine manager. Sautee cringed and rubbed his hands in his nervous
tension.

"What are you going to do?" he asked.

"Listen!" exclaimed Rathburn.

From below came the echoes of shouts and other sounds which conveyed
the intelligence that a large body of men was on the move up to the
mine and the mountain slope above.

"They're after me," said Rathburn bitterly. "They think I stole the
pay-rolls. They can't get me, Sautee--not alive. An' if they get me
the other way I'm goin' to see to it somehow that I don't get blamed
for these jobs up here. Now, do you begin to see daylight?"

Sautee wet his dry lips. The figure on the floor stirred. The shouts
from below sounded more distinct.

Rathburn's gun leaped into his hand. "You better start hoping the
shootin' don't begin till we understand each other, Sautee," he said
grimly. "We've come to the show-down!"



CHAPTER XXIII

QUICK FACTS


Disregarding the sounds which continued to come from below, Rathburn
stood, gun in hand, regarding Sautee with a grim countenance and a
cold look in his keen, gray eyes.

"I saw that truck driver held up, Sautee. I was on a ridge below the
divide. I saw the tall man in the black slicker, his pardner, an' the
boy. I didn't figure it would do any good to tell Mannix I'd taken in
the show, an' I was on my way to the desert. I'd be there now if
Carlisle hadn't overstepped the mark in that Red Feather place."

Sautee pricked up his ears. "You let them arrest you," he said.
"Why----"

"Because I knew Mannix didn't know who I was an' didn't have anything
on me," said Rathburn quickly. "An' I got peevish at Carlisle an'
plumb suspicious when he tried to make things look bad for me right
there at the start. I began to wise up to the whole lay when you got
me out of jail."

Sautee's face went white again.

"Your fine explanations of why you couldn't get that money up to the
mine were thin as water, Sautee. You could get that money up there if
you wanted to, an' when you asked me to carry the package to the mine
it was a dead out-an'-out give-away. I reckon you didn't play me to
have any sense, an' I don't think you gave Carlisle credit for havin'
the brains of a jack rabbit, either."

Rathburn laughed as the mine manager stared at mention of Carlisle's
name again.

"Don't worry," he said contemptuously. "I know it was Carlisle who
held me up. I take it he figured that you'd actually put money in that
package. Wouldn't be surprised if it was him that you got to try that
stunt. An' he started away with the package as soon as he got it
instead of sneakin' back home to split with you. He double crossed you
an' you double crossed him an' me. Now I'm double crossing the two of
you."

Sautee's look had changed to one of anger. He glared at Rathburn,
forgetting his predicament.

"You'd have a fine time proving any of this nonsense," he found the
courage to say.

"I'm not only goin' to prove what I've said so far, but I'm goin' to
prove that these robberies were a put-up job between you an' Carlisle,
with somebody helping you," said Rathburn. "I've been in the mining
game myself, Sautee, but in our country men spend their lives hunting
metal to make some bunch of stockholders rich. Maybe they get
something out of it themselves, an' maybe they don't; but they're
square, an' the men that run the mines are square 'most always. Anyway
they develop properties, an' that's more'n you're doing. You're not
doing this camp any good. You're bleeding the mine an' the company,
too."

"And I suppose you--The Coyote--are taking a hand in this business as
a matter of principle," sneeringly replied Sautee.

"I didn't take a hand," Rathburn pointed out sternly. "You an'
Carlisle forced a hand on me, an' I'm goin' to play it out. I've
another reason, too," he added mysteriously.

"Did you say you had Carlisle?" Sautee asked in feigned anxiety.

"I've got him dead to rights," replied Rathburn shortly, taking some
paper and a pencil from a pocket.

Sautee looked at him curiously as he started to write on the paper.
"Going to write it all out and leave it?" he asked sneeringly.

"I'm going to put it outside the powder house in a place where Mannix
or some of the others will be sure to find it," was the puzzling
answer.

"I suppose they'll believe it quicker if it's in writing," said Sautee
bravely.

Rathburn finished writing, folded the paper, and placed it in the
left-hand pocket of his coat. He carefully put away the pencil. His
next act caused Sautee real concern.

Using a drill which was there for the purpose, evidently, Rathburn
broke open a box of dynamite caps and a box of dynamite. A single coil
of fuse was lying on a box. He quickly affixed the cap to a stick of
the dynamite and crimped on a two-foot length of fuse. Then he moved
the opened box of dynamite to the doorway and struck the stick with
cap and fuse attached into it.

"There," he said, evidently greatly satisfied with his work. "That
fuse will burn about two minutes----" He paused. "That's too long," he
concluded.

Perspiration again stood out on Sautee's forehead as he watched
Rathburn cut off a foot of the fuse.

"That's better," said Rathburn with a queer smile. "That'll burn about
a minute. Time enough."

Sautee stared in horrified fascination at the foot of fuse which stuck
straight out from the box of dynamite in the doorway. "What--what are
you going to do?" he gasped out.

"Listen, Sautee," said Rathburn coolly. "When that stick of powder
explodes it'll set off the box an' the other boxes, an' instead of a
powder house here there'll be a big hole in the side of the
mountain."

"Man--man--you're not going to do--_that_!" Sautee's words came in a
hoarse whisper.

"I reckon that's what I'm goin' to have to do," said Rathburn as he
bent over the form on the floor of the powder house.

The boy's eyes were open and were staring into Rathburn's.

Rathburn lifted him to his feet, where he stood unsteadily. Again the
gun was in Rathburn's hand.

"This party is goin' to leave us," he said to the frightened mine
manager. "I'm goin' to step just outside for a minute. It's your
chance to make a break, Sautee; but if you try it I'll send a bullet
into that cap. Maybe you heard somewhere that I can shoot tolerably
well," he concluded in his drawl.

Sautee gripped the sides of the boxes piled behind him.

Rathburn led the boy outside and said quickly: "Just what is this man
Carlisle to you?"

A look of fear, remorse, dejection--all commingled and pleading--came
into the dark eyes that looked up into his.

Rathburn didn't wait for a verbal answer.

"Your horse is just up the trail a piece," he said hurriedly. "Get up
there--go up behind the powder house, so the men below can't see you.
Swing off into the timber to the left and get down out of here. I'll
keep their attention. Go home."

He waited a moment until he saw that his instructions were being
carried out, then he leaped again to the doorway of the powder house.

Sautee's face was livid, and his teeth were chattering. Rathburn took
a match from his shirt pocket.

"Stop!" screamed Sautee. "I'll talk. You were right. It was a
frame-up. I'll tell everything--_everything_!"

The perspiration was streaming from his face, and his voice shook with
terror.

"You'll have a chance to talk in less than a minute," said Rathburn
calmly.

A chorus of shouts came from the trail just below the powder house as
a number of men came into view.

Rathburn stepped in front of the door with the match in his left hand
and his gun in his right.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE SHOW-DOWN


A wild chorus of yells greeted him. He had surmised that the men had
seen him coming back down the trail to the powder house with his human
burden. Now he called Sautee into view. They would most naturally
assume that it was the mine manager he had been carrying.

"Come to the door where they can see you," he called to Sautee.

The ring in his voice brought Sautee, white-faced and shivering, to
the doorway beside Rathburn.

Another round of yells followed the mine manager's appearance. Then
there was a sudden stillness. Rathburn saw that the crowd was made up
mostly of miners. They paused in the wide place in the trail just
below the powder house, and Mannix pushed to the fore.

"I want you, Coyote," he called sternly.

"Now, don't you think I know it?" replied Rathburn in a voice which
carried to all the members of the mob. "You don't want me for robbing
this mine, Mannix; you want me for something you don't know anything
about--because I've got a record. Wait a minute!"

He shot out the words as the mob pushed a step forward.

"If you fellows take a couple more steps in this direction I'll put a
bullet into this box of dynamite!"

The movement stopped instantly. Men stared up at him breathlessly, for
they realized that he meant what he said.

Mannix's face was pale, but his eyes glowed with determination.

"Do you think it's worth it, Coyote?" he asked.

"Step up here, Mannix, an' listen to what this fellow has to say," was
Rathburn's reply. "Men," he called in a loud voice, "I'm lookin' to
you to give your mine boss an' your deputy sheriff a fair deal."

There was a murmur among the men. Mannix, after a moment of
hesitation, stepped forward.

Rathburn swung on Sautee. "Tell him!" he commanded in a voice which
stung like the crack of a whip on still air.

"I--I had a hand in the business," said Sautee frantically. "It was
Carlisle and me. We--we framed the robberies."

Mannix's eyes narrowed.

"Tell him where I got that money last night," Rathburn thundered.
"Tell him, Sautee, or, so help me, I'll drill a hole through you!"

Sautee cowered before the deadly ferocity in Rathburn's voice. "I had
it in the--office--downtown," he stammered. "There was blank paper in
that package, Mannix. Let him go--let him go, Mannix, or we'll all be
killed!" Sautee cried.

Rathburn was looking steadily at the deputy. "Carlisle is roped an'
tied up the trail by the big rocks," he said. "Send up there for him
an' bring him down here."

Several of the men who were mounted spurred their horses up the steep
trail. There was utter silence now among the men. Mannix, too, was
cool and collected. He had not drawn his gun. He surveyed the quaking
Sautee with a look of extreme contempt. The mine manager's nerves had
gone to pieces before Rathburn's menacing personality. All he cared
for now was his life. The black reputation he had given to Rathburn
led him to believe that the man could not be depended upon, and that
he was liable to carry out his threat and blow them all to bits. He
wet his lips with a feverish tongue.

"Where's the money you an' Carlisle got away with?" demanded Mannix.

"I've got all I took," whined Sautee. "I'll give it back. I don't know
what Carlisle's done with his. It was his scheme, anyway; he proposed
it when he hit this country a year ago."

"And the other man----" suggested Mannix.

"Mike Reynolds," cried Sautee. "But he was only in on the truck driver
deal and--last night. Let The Coyote go, Mannix----"

Then Sautee, in a frenzy of fear, an easy prey to the seriousness of
the situation and his shattered nerves, told everything. He explained
how it had been Carlisle who proposed getting Rathburn out of jail and
making him the goat. He told of the worthless contents of the package
he had given Rathburn to carry to the mine, how they had planned to
rob him on the way and thus put him in a situation where he would have
to get out of the country. He explained how Carlisle had pointed out
that they had a club over Rathburn's head in their knowledge of his
real identity. He complained that Carlisle had intended to double
cross him, and how he had double crossed Carlisle in turn. He ended
with a whining plea for consideration at the hands of Mannix.

The men with Carlisle came down the trail. Carlisle was astride his
own horse. His gun was in his holster.

"We've got you, you outlaw!" he cried as he flung himself from the
saddle and strode up to Rathburn, Mannix, and Sautee.

Rathburn's eyes had narrowed until they were slits through which his
cold, hard gaze centered upon Carlisle. His attitude had changed. Even
his posture was suddenly different. There was a long breath from the
men behind Mannix. It was a tense moment. They could see the menace in
Rathburn's manner, and they could see that Carlisle was fighting mad.

"Ain't you a little free with your language, Carlisle?" drawled
Rathburn.

"You know who he is?" Carlisle cried to Mannix. "He's The Coyote--an
outlaw an' a killer with a price a mile long on his head----"

"But I ain't never sneaked any miners' pay-rolls, Carlisle," Rathburn
broke in with a sneering inflection in his voice. "What'd you do with
Mike Reynolds? He was with you last night, wasn't he?"

Carlisle's jaw snapped shut. He swung on Rathburn with eyes darting
red. Then his gaze flashed to the cringing Sautee.

"You--you rat----"

Rathburn stepped before Sautee. "You haven't any quarrel with him,
Carlisle," he said evenly; "your quarrel, if you've got one, is with
me. I outguessed you, that's all. You ain't plumb clever, Carlisle.
You ought to be in a more genteel business. I just naturally figured
out the play an' made Sautee talk, that's all. I ain't the only gent
Mannix is wanting--there's _three_ of us here!"

Carlisle's face was purple and working in spasms of rage. He realized
instantly that Rathburn had spoken the truth.

"It was his scheme from the start!" shrilled Sautee from the
protection of Rathburn's broad shoulders.

Then the mine manager, unable to longer stand the strain, collapsed on
the ground, groaning.

"Underhanded!" Carlisle shot through his teeth as Mannix stepped back.
"An' I heard The Coyote was a go-getter. By guns, I believe you're
yellow!"

"You've got a chance to try an' finish what you started in the Red
Feather the day I got here, Carlisle," said Rathburn in ringing tones.
"If you think I'm yellow--draw!"

A second's hesitation--two figures in identical postures under the
morning sun--a vagrant breeze murmuring in the timber.

Then two movements, quick as lightning--too fast for the eye to
follow--and the roar of guns.

Rathburn stepped back, his weapon smoking at his hip, as Carlisle
swayed for a moment and then crumpled upon the ground. Rathburn
quickly drew the piece of paper from his left pocket and the roll of
bills from his right. He put the note with the bills and tossed the
roll to Mannix. Then he stepped back to the doorway.

"Join your men, Mannix," he said quietly.

Mannix thrust the money into a pocket and stood for several seconds
looking directly into Rathburn's eyes. A curious expression was on the
deputy's face, partly wonder, partly admiration, partly doubt. Then he
turned abruptly upon his heel and walked back to the gaping men.

Sautee struggled to his feet. Rathburn motioned to him to join the
others, and he staggered down to them.

Then Rathburn coolly lit a match and touched it to the fuse sticking
out from the box of dynamite.

There was a wild yell of terror, and the mob tumbled down the trail as
Rathburn ran for the trail above the powder house. The men had
disappeared when he turned. His gun leaped into his hand and he
fired--once, twice, three times--the fourth shot cut the burning fuse,
and with a sharp intaking of breath, he ran for his horse, mounted,
and rode into the timber along the trail.



CHAPTER XXV

FILED!


Rathburn picked his way slowly through the timber around to the
southeast and then directly down toward the town. It was slow going,
and the man seemed to relish this fact. His face was thoughtful,
wistful, a bit grave. He occasionally patted his horse's neck.

"We're on our way home, old hoss," he said softly. "Seems like we just
_had_ to stop off here."

He fingered two small objects in his coat pocket.

"I wonder," he murmured. "I wonder if I could be mistaken."

He turned west after a time and rode carefully until he gained a worn
trail. This he followed down toward town, and in half an hour he
dismounted in the timber behind a small cabin at the side of the road
to the hogback.

Rathburn went to the rear door and knocked. He received no answer, but
sounds came to him through an open window. He opened the door softly
and stole inside. There was no one in the kitchen. The sounds came
from another room. He passed on into a bedroom and turned into another
bedroom where he saw a figure in overalls lying on the bed. A great
mass of dark hair covered the pillow. The form shook with sobs.

Rathburn laid a gentle hand upon the shoulder, and the face, which was
quickly turned to him, was the face of a girl--the girl he had first
seen when coming into the town, the girl who had been sitting the
horse listening to Carlisle's tirade, the girl the barn man had said
was supposed to be Carlisle's sister.

"They don't know you were up there," said Rathburn softly. "Your boy's
clothes fooled them, if they saw you at all. They probably thought I
was carrying Sautee down the trail, for they found Sautee up there in
the powder house with me."

The girl sobbed again. Her eyes were red with weeping.

"Listen, ma'am," said Rathburn gently. "I picked these up from the
road the day the truck driver was held up." He brought out two
hairpins from his coat pocket.

"It set me to thinking, ma'am, an' was one reason why I stayed over
here to find out what was goin' on. Maybe I've done wrong, ma'am, but
I was hoping I'd be doin' you a favor. I saw the look in your eyes the
day Carlisle was talkin' to you when you was on the hoss. I know you
helped him in his holdups, dressed like a boy, but I figured you
didn't do it because you wanted to."

"No--no--no!" sobbed the girl.

"All right; fine, little girl. No one knows anything about it but me,
an' I'm goin' away. But, listen, girlie, just what was Carlisle to
you?"

A spasm of weeping shook the girl. "Nothing I could help," she sobbed.
"He--I had to do as he said--because--oh, I hate him. I hate him!"

"There, there," soothed Rathburn. "I suspected as much, girlie."

"He made my father a bad man," sobbed the girl; "an' made me go with
him or my father would have to go--to--to go----"

"Never mind, girlie," Rathburn interrupted softly. "I don't want to
hear the story. Just keep it to yourself an' start all over. It ain't
a bad world, girlie, an' there's more good men in it than there's bad.
Now, you can begin to live and be happy like you ought. Carlisle won't
worry you no more."

She raised her head and looked at him out of startled eyes in which
there was a ray of hope.

"You say--he won't--worry me----"

"Not at all, girlie. He walked into his own trap. I'm goin', girlie.
So long, an' good luck."

He took her hand and pressed it, and under the spell of his smile the
hope came into her welling eyes.

"Good-by," he called from the doorway.

She was smiling faintly through her tears when he slipped out.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Deputy Sheriff Mannix was sitting in his little office alone. It was
nearly sunset. A faint glow of crimson shot across the carpet.

Mannix was scowling thoughtfully. On the desk before him were two
pieces of paper. One of them was a reward notice publishing the fact
that The Coyote was wanted and that five thousand dollars would be
paid by the State of Arizona for his capture, dead or alive.

Mannix picked up the second piece of paper and again read the words
penciled upon it:

  I am taking out of this money belonging to the Dixie Queen the
  five hundred dollars Sautee promised me for carrying the money to
  the mine, and the two thousand dollars reward offered for the
  capture of those who had been robbing the Dixie Queen. I expect
  that shortly after this gets into the proper hands Sautee will be
  in jail, and he will be handy to tell you this is all O. K.

RATHBURN.

Mannix took up the reward notice, put it with the note, and jammed the
two pieces of paper into an obscure pigeonhole in his desk.

"Filed!" he said aloud.

Then he rose with a peculiar smile, went out upon the little porch,
and stared toward the east where the reflection of the sunset cast a
rosy glow over the foothills leading down to the desert.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE PRODIGAL


With face upraised to the breath of air which stirred across the bare
black lava hills, Rathburn leaned forward in the saddle eagerly, while
his dun-colored horse stood patiently, seemingly in accord with his
master's mood. A merciless sun beat down from a hot, cloudless sky.

Below, stretching in endless miles was the desert--a sinister,
forbidding land of desolate distances, marked only by slender yucca
palms, mesquite, dusty greasewood, an occasional clump of green palo
verde, the slim fingers of the ocatilla, the high "forks" of the giant
sahuara, and clumps of la cholla cactus, looking like apple orchards
in full bloom.

Yet the man's gaze fell for a moment lovingly on each species of
cactus and desert vegetation; his look was that which dwells in the
homesick eyes of a traveler when he sees his native land from the deck
of an inbound ship.

"Hoss, we're home!" he said aloud, while the animal pricked up its
ears.

Then he looked off to the left, where the blue outlines of a low range
of mountains wavered in the heat like a mirage.

"Imagination Range," he said moodily.

He tickled the dun with his spurs and trotted along the crest of the
lava ridge. At its eastern terminus he swung down into the desert and
struck straight east in the direction of Imagination Range. The
desert's surface between the lava ridge and the higher hills of the
range to eastward was cut by dry washes and arroyos and miniature
ridges studded with giant cactus.

On the top of one of these high rises the horseman suddenly reined in
his mount and stared into the south. "There's trouble--an' spelled
with a capital T!" he ejaculated.

The gaze in his keen gray eyes centered upon a number of riders
speeding their horses over the tumbled section of desert below him to
his right. He made out two divisions of horsemen. One group was some
distance ahead of the other. Even as he stared down at them, its group
separated, and some rode for Imagination Range, while others hastened
toward the lava hills, or due north in his direction. The second group
halted for a brief spell, evidently for a conference, and then its
members also divided and started in swift pursuit of the men ahead.

The watcher on the top of the rise frowned.

"Out of here, hoss," he said sharply. "This ain't our day for
visitors."

He pushed on eastward, increasing its pace, but losing time in
skirting the frequent bits of high ground. As he rode down into a deep
arroyo, a horseman came galloping into its lower end and raced almost
upon him before seeing him. His hand darted like lightning to his gun,
and the weapon snapped into aim at his hip. The horseman came to a
rearing halt, reins dangling, his hands held high, his eyes bulging
from their sockets.

"Rathburn!" he exclaimed.

"The same," said the man with the gun. "What's all the disturbance
down there?"

"Bob Long is chasing us," the other answered with a nervous grin.

"As I remember it," drawled Rathburn, "Bob Long is the sheriff of
Mesquite County. You boys sure ain't been misbehaving?"

"It's worse than that," said the fugitive, staring doubtfully at his
questioner. "The stage driver's dead. Had a notion the boss was
foolin' when he told him to reach up for the bugs in the air."

"Who does the boss happen to be in this case?"

The man hesitated.

"Take your time," said Rathburn sarcastically; "there's nobody after
you but the sheriff, an' he probably won't be along for a minute or
two."

"It won't do _you_ no good for him to find us here," said the other
boldly.

Rathburn's eyes blazed. "I reckon you're forgettin' that Bob Long
knows I travel alone," he said hotly. "He savvys I don't travel with a
crowd. I ain't found it necessary so far, an' I ain't aiming to start.
I counted eight in your gang--to hold up one stage, eh?" He concluded
with a sneer, while the other shifted nervously in his saddle and cast
a quick look back over his shoulder. There seemed no one there.

"You needn't be lookin' around," Rathburn said coldly. "You're goin'
to stay here till you answer my question, if all the sheriffs in
Arizona come ridin' up meanwhile. Who's headin' your gang?"

"That ain't professional," the fugitive grumbled. "You're just the
same as one of us."

Then, seeing the look that came into Rathburn's eyes, he said hastily:
"Mike Eagen planned the lay."

"I guessed it," said Rathburn in a tone of contempt. "Well, you better
slope while you've still got a chance."

He motioned to the man to go, and the latter rode at a gallop up the
arroyo and out of sight. Rathburn's face wore a worried scowl, as he
slid his gun into its holster, whirled his horse, and speedily climbed
the east side of the arroyo.

From a vantage point he caught sight again of the horsemen racing up
from the south. They were much nearer, and he could readily make out
the members of the sheriff's posse. He had had experience with posses
before.

Striking around the crest of the high ground which formed the east
side of the arroyo, he again raced toward the range of mountains in
the east, taking advantage of every bit of cover which offered
concealment from the riders approaching at top speed from the south.

Occasional glances made it plain that the sheriff was sending, or
personally bringing, most of his posse east in the direction of the
mountains, presumably in the hope of cutting off the outlaws from
seeking refuge in the hills. But the mountains were Rathburn's goal as
well as the goal of a majority of Mike Eagen's band, though for
totally different reasons. He refused to change his direction,
although by going north, the stout, speedy dun could doubtless
outdistance the posse before the afternoon was spent.

Rathburn's teeth snapped shut, his jaw squared, and his eyes narrowed,
as he saw indubitable signs that he had been detected. Two of the
posse were waving their arms and dashing in his direction. At that
distance they could not identify him, but under the circumstances such
identification was unnecessary. His presence there, riding like mad,
was certain to convince the pursuers that he was one of the gang
responsible for the stage job. This was obvious.

For good reasons, Rathburn did not want it generally known that he was
back in a country where he had spent most of his life, and where he
was branded as a desperate outlaw with a big price on his head.
Consequently, seeing that the sheriff's men were out to get him, he
abandoned all attempt at concealment, drove in his spurs, gave the dun
horse its head, and raced for the mountains.

Other members of the posse who were farther to the east caught the
signals of the two who were in hot pursuit of Rathburn, and they
dashed north to cut him off. The outlaws had disappeared, and Rathburn
shook his head savagely, as he realized they had sought cover when
they saw the chase was directed at one man. Without having had a hand
in the holdup of the stage, he had arrived on the spot just in time to
draw the fire of the authorities. And fire it was now; for the men
behind him had begun shooting in the hope of a chance hit at the
distance.

A scant mile separated him from his goal. He came to a level stretch
which was almost a mass of green because of the clumps of palo verde.
Here he urged the dun to its utmost, outdistanced the pair in his
rear, and gained on the men riding from the south, almost ahead of
him. He swerved a bit to the north and cut straight for a notch in the
mountains. He smiled, as he approached it, and saw a narrow defile
leading into the hills. He gained it in a final, heartbreaking burst
of speed on the part of his mount. As he dashed into the cañon,
bullets sang past him and over his head. Then a cry of amazement came
to his ears.

"It's The Coyote!" a man was yelling. "Rathburn's back!"

He dashed into the shelter of the defile, a grim smile playing on his
lips. He had been recognized. His face hardened. He rounded a huge
boulder, checked his horse, and dismounted. He could hear the pound of
hoofs in the entrance of the narrow cañon. A rider came into view
below.

Rathburn leaned out from the protection of the boulder. His lips were
pressed into a fine, white line, and there was a look of haunted worry
in his eyes. His gun flashed in his hand. The rider saw him and
yelled, spurring his horse. Then Rathburn's gun swung quickly upward.
A sharp report sounded, like a crash of thunder in the narrow confines
of the cañon, and its echoes reverberated through the hills.

The rider toppled in his saddle and fell to the floor of the cañon.
His horse came to a snorting stop, reins dangling, all four legs
braced. The hoof-beats instantly were stilled. A silence, complete and
sinister, reigned in the defile.

Rathburn slipped his smoking gun into his holster and mounted
noiselessly. Then he walked his horse slowly up the cañon, sitting
sidewise in the saddle to keep a vigil on the trail behind. A minute
later he heard a volley of shots below, the signal to all the
scattered members of the posse to race to the entrance of the cañon.
He increased his pace, broke his gun, extracted the empty shell, and
inserted a fresh cartridge in its place.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE DESERT CODE


Keeping to the trail, Rathburn mounted higher and higher and spoke
continually to his horse in a crooning tone of encouragement. His face
was drawn in grim lines, his eyes were constantly alert, his very
posture in the saddle showed that his nerves were at high tension.

He ignored dim paths which occasionally led off to the left or right
in rifts in the sheer, black walls of the narrow cañon. No sound came
to him from below. He knew the posse would have to proceed with the
utmost caution, for the sheriff and his men could not be sure that
they would not encounter him at some bend in the trail. They would be
expecting shots from every boulder; for Rathburn had let them know he
had no intention of being taken easily or alive.

The afternoon wore on, with Rathburn steadily penetrating the very
heart of Imagination Range. Finally he swung out of the cañon trail
and took a dim path to the right. He dismounted and walked back to rub
off the scars left by his horse's shoes on the rock floor of the side
trail. Satisfied that he would leave the members of the posse confused
as to which side trail he had taken, he returned to his horse,
mounted, and proceeded up the narrow trail leading to the top of the
range to the south of the deep cañon.

In the western sky the sun was low when he rode down the crest of the
range. The mountains were devoid of vegetation, bleak and bare and
black. The lava rock seemed to absorb the heat of the sun and throw
it in the rider's face. But Rathburn didn't appear to mind it.

He crossed the backbone of the range and began the descent on the
eastern side. But he descended only a short distance before he swung
out of the saddle. From the slicker pack on the rear of his saddle he
took a pair of heavy leather gloves. He cut these open in the palms
with his pocketknife and then tied them about the shoes on his horse's
hind feet. The dun was only shod behind.

Again he mounted, and this time he turned to the south and rode down a
long slope of lava rock. He grunted with satisfaction, as he looked
behind and saw that the leather prevented the shoes on his mount's
hind feet from leaving their mark. He was completely obliterating his
trail--leaving nothing for the posse to follow, if they should trace
him to the top of the range.

He walked his horse slowly, for the dun did not like the idea of the
leather tied to its hoofs. In less than two miles the leather was worn
through upon the hard rock, and he got down and removed the remnants.
He straightened up and looked out over the vista of the desert.

The western sky was a sea of gold. Far to southward a curl of smoke
rose upward, marking the course of a railroad and a town. Rathburn
looked long in this direction, with a dreamy, wistful light in his
eyes. Close at hand vegetation appeared upon the slopes of the hills.
His gaze darted here and there along the ridges below him, and his
parted lips and eager attitude showed unmistakably that he was
familiar with every rod of the locality in which he found himself.

Again he climbed into the saddle and turned off to the left, entering
a cañon. For better than half a mile he proceeded down this way, then
he rode eastward again, winding in and out in a network of cañons
until he came to the rock-ribbed crest of a ridge which overlooked an
oasis in the desert hills. There was green vegetation where the water
from a spring seeped into the floor of the cañon below him. The spring
was nothing more than a huge cup in the rock which had caught the
water from the spring rains and filled. Above the spring was a small
cabin, and Rathburn saw that the cabin door was open.

Hurriedly he rode down a trail to the right which circled around into
the cañon from its lower end. As he galloped toward the spring, a
figure appeared in the doorway of the cabin. Rathburn waved an arm and
dismounted at the spring. He led his horse to drink, as the man came
walking toward him from the cabin. He compelled the dun to drink
slowly; first a swallow, now two, then a few more; finally he drew the
horse away from the water.

"You can have some more a little later," he said cheerfully. "Hello,
Joe Price!"

The man walked up to him without a great show of surprise and held out
his hand. He was bareheaded, and the hair which hung down to his
shoulders was snow-white. The face was seamed and lined, burned by the
sun of three score Arizona summers, and the small, blue eyes
twinkled.

"Hang me with a busted shoe string if it ain't Rathburn," said the old
man. "Why, boy, you're just in time for supper. Put your horse up
behind the cabin an' get in at the table. She's a big country, all
full of cactus; but the old man's got grub left!"

Rathburn laughed, rinsed his mouth out with water he dipped from the
spring in a battered tin cup, and took a swallow before he replied.

"Joe, there's two things I want--grub an' gaff. I know you've got
grub, or you wouldn't be here; but I don't know if you're any good at
the gaff any more."

The old man scrutinized him. "You look some older," he said finally.
"Not much of the wild, galootin' kid left in you, I 'spect. But don't
go gettin' fresh with me, or I'll clout you one with my prospectin'
pick. Go 'long now; put up your horse an' hustle inside. If you want
to wash up, I guess you can--bein' a visitor."

Rathburn chuckled, as he led his horse around behind the cabin, where
two burros were, and unsaddled him. Before he entered the cabin he
stood for a moment looking up the ridge down which he had come. The
old man watched him, but made no comment. As Rathburn sat down to the
table, however, he spoke.

"I kin hear anybody comin' down that trail over the ridge, while
they're a mile away," he said simply without looking up.

Rathburn flashed a look of admiration at the old man.

The glow of the sunset lit the hills with crimson fire, and a light
breeze stirred with the advent of the long, colorful desert twilight.
They ate in silence, washing down the hardy food with long drafts of
strong coffee. The old man asked no questions of his friend. He knew
that in time Rathburn would talk. A man's business in that desolate
land of dreadful distances was his own, save such of it as he wanted
to tell. It was the desert code.

Supper over, they went out to a little bench in front of the cabin.
There Joe Price lit his pipe, and Rathburn rolled a cigarette.

For some time they smoked in silence. The purple twilight drifted
over the hills, and the breeze freshened in welcome relief to the heat
of the day.

"Joe, I just had to come back," said Rathburn softly. "Something's
wrong with me. You wouldn't think I'd get homesick this way, after all
the trouble I've had here, would you?"

The old man removed his pipe. "Anybody here in particular you want to
see?" he asked slowly.

Rathburn shrugged. "You're always gettin' right down to cases first
hand off an' running," he complained. "Of course there's folks I want
to see. I want to see you, for instance."

"I don't reckon you'd be ridin' any terrible great distance an' takin'
chances by the handful just to see me, boy," said Price. "But I ain't
tryin' to pry into your affairs. You don't have to answer any of the
fool questions I ask you--you know that. I'm an old man an' gettin'
childish."

Rathburn laughed. "I can believe that when I find you still putterin'
around up here where there ain't even a sign of mineral," he chided.

"There's gold right under your feet," said the old man stoutly. "I'll
have a payin' vein opened up here in less'n three months."

"I hope so, Joe. There's nobody I'd like more to see make a big strike
than you. You were my dad's friend, an' you've been mine. I haven't
got many friends, Joe."

"But them you've got is good ones," said Price quickly. "How long you
been away?"

"About eight months," Rathburn replied with a frown.

"It's hard to get away from the desert," mused the old man. "It's in
your blood. If you leave here for good you've just naturally got to
take something along with you from here--something that's a part of
the desert, you might say."

Rathburn looked keenly at the face of his friend. But the old man was
regarding his pipe, as if he had never until that moment seen it.

"I ran into a posse chasin' a gang that robbed a stage on the way over
here this noon," Rathburn said presently.

Price's interest quickened, but he made no sign. "They saw you?" he
asked.

"Couldn't help it," Rathburn grumbled. "Took after me. I had to drop
one of 'em with a bullet in the shoulder to slow 'em up in the long
cañon over on the other side."

"Know any of the gang?" Price asked.

"Met one. Threw down my gun on him. He told me Mike Eagen was runnin'
the works."

Price nodded. "I reckon Mike's been pullin' quite a few stunts while
you been away."

"An' I've been gettin' the blame for 'em more'n likely," said Rathburn
in indignation.

Price nodded again. "Might be so," he commented.

Rathburn looked up at him in understanding. "They'll have me mixed up
with this stage holdup," he said earnestly. "From what I gathered they
killed the driver, an' they'll say that was my part."

"That's the trouble, boy," said the old miner. "If a fellow's handy
with his gun somebody's sure to get jealous of him an' make him draw.
If he gets his man because he has to, he's a killer. When he's known
as a killer he ain't got a chance. You _had_ to drop the two men you
dropped aroun' here, boy; but they ain't forgettin' it."

"Bob Long was headin' that posse," said Rathburn thoughtfully.

"An' Bob Long's a sticker when he hits out on a man's trail," said
Price. "Still, I guess you'd be safe in here for a while. There ain't
many knows this place."

"I don't figure on stayin' here long, Joe," said Rathburn.

"I didn't think you did," said Price.

"I'll have to get goin'--hit for new country an' never know when I may
run up against the law in a quarter where I ain't expecting it; always
sneaking along--like the coyote. It was Mike Eagen who gave me that
name, Joe."

Rathburn's voice was low and vibrant, and the old man felt the
menacing quality in it.

"What's more," Rathburn went on, "I'm always remembering that he's
back here, getting away with his dirty tricks, shoving the blame off
on me, some way or other, when the chase gets too hot."

For some time the old man was silent. When he spoke he put an arm
about Rathburn's shoulder.

"Boy, before you get worse mixed up than you are, there's a place you
ought to visit aroun' here," he said in a fatherly tone.

Rathburn shrugged and stared up at the night sky which was blossoming
with stars.

"It would be a right smart risk," Price went on, "for they'd maybe
think to drop aroun' that way on a lookout for you; but I reckon
before you do much more, you better drop in at the Mallory place."

Rathburn rose abruptly. "I guess that's what I came up here to hear
you say," he said irritably. "But I don't reckon it can be done, Joe.
I haven't any business there."

"How do you know, boy? Maybe you ain't bein' right fair."

"Seems to me it would look better for me to stay away."

"They don't _have_ to see you," urged the old man. "The Mallory place
is a good fifteen miles from Hope, close up against the mountains.
Boy, don't you think you better make sure?"

The wistful, yearning look was back in Rathburn's eyes. His right hand
rested upon the butt of his gun. The other held his forgotten
cigarette. He turned and looked into the old man's eyes.

"Joe, you said something about takin' something from the desert if I
left it. You're right. But it can't be, Joe. This thing has killed my
chances!"

The gun seemed to leap from its holster into his hand at his hip of
its own accord. The old miner's brows lifted in astonishment at the
draw.

"If I was you I wouldn't be much scared who I met on the way down to
the Mallory place if I didn't meet too many of 'em at once," he said
with a smile.

"I--I couldn't wear it--there," Rathburn faltered.

"Well, leave it hangin' on a handy peg, boy," said the old man
cheerfully.

Rathburn jammed the gun back into its holster and walked around to his
horse. He led the animal down to drink and then returned and saddled.

"You goin' on to-night?" asked Price casually.

"I'm takin' a ride," Rathburn confessed.

"You ain't takin' my advice at the same time, are you?" asked Price,
pretending to be greatly concerned.

Rathburn mounted and looked down upon him in the faint light of the
stars.

"Joe Price, you're a wise old desert rat, an' I'm a young fool," he
said with a twinkle in his gray eyes. "If Bob Long happens this way
give him my regards an' tell him they got the reward notices over in
California all right, for I saw 'em stuck up over there. So long."

The old miner called out after him and watched him ride down the cañon
and disappear in the shadows. Nor was he the only watcher; for, high
on the ridge above, another man touched his horse with his spurs and
started down the west side of the range, as Rathburn vanished.



CHAPTER XXVIII

A NIGHT SUMMONS


In two hours Rathburn came to a fence about a small ranch. Cattle were
grazing on the sparse feed within the inclosure, and he saw a clump of
trees marking the site of a house.

He rode around the fence until he came to a gate. There was a light
shining from two of the windows of the house. He passed through the
gate, and, as he approached the house from the side, he saw two
figures on the porch. He halted in the shelter of the trees, and, as
one of the figures crossed the beam of light which shone out the door,
he saw that it was a man. He obtained a fleeting look at the man's
face. He was comparatively young, not bad looking, with blue eyes and
a small, close-cropped, sandy mustache.

Rathburn scratched his head in an effort to place the man. He seemed
vaguely familiar. Rathburn was sure he had seen him somewhere. But he
gave up the futile effort to identify him when he saw that the other
figure on the porch was that of a girl.

Dismounting, he led his horse around to the rear and put him in a
corral near the barn. He surmised that it was about ten o'clock. As he
walked toward the front of the house, again he heard the sputtering of
a small motor car; then he saw the path of light from its headlights
go streaking across the desert in the direction of the town to
southward. The front door closed, and all was still.

Rathburn hesitated for several moments, then he stamped up the porch
steps and knocked at the door. It was opened by a girl. She held a
lighted lamp in her hand. When she saw Rathburn standing, hat in
hand, before her, her dark eyes widened, and she nearly dropped the
lamp. He stepped forward quickly and took it from her.

"Roger!" she exclaimed breathlessly. "You--here?"

"I'm here, Laura," he said quietly. "I'm home on a--a visit."

"I heard you were back," she faltered. "Mr. Doane--that is--a
gentleman from town told me he had heard you were back. But----"

She scanned his face closely and peered beyond him into the shadows
with visible concern.

"Roger, come in quickly," she invited, stepping back from the door.

With a faint smile he entered and closed the door after him. He put
the lamp down on the table in what was evidently the sitting room of
the small house. He looked about him with the air of one who sees
familiar surroundings, but is embarrassed by them.

"Some one been tellin' you the details of my arrival?" he asked with
an effort to appear casual.

"I heard you were in some trouble, Roger." The girl continued to stare
at him with a queer expression in her fine eyes--part sorrow, part
concern, part gladness.

"I'm not a stranger to trouble these days, Laura," he said soberly.

There was a sob in the girl's throat, but she recovered herself at
once.

"Have you eaten?" she asked quickly.

"Up at Joe Price's place," he replied. "All fed and chipper."

There was not much confidence in his tone or manner. As the girl
lowered her gaze, he looked at her hungrily; his eyes feasted on the
coils of dark hair, her long, black lashes, the curve of her cheek
and her delicate color, the full, ruby lips, and the small, quivering
chin. She was in the throes of a strong emotion.

"I'm sorry, Laura, if--you didn't want me to come," he said
unsteadily.

"Oh, Roger! Of course we want you to come. It's been so long since we
saw you. And you've--you've gone through so much."

She raised her eyes, and the expression which he saw in their depths
caused him to look away and to bite his lips.

"There's a lot of it I wish I could undo, Laura; an' there's a lot
more of it I couldn't help, an' maybe some I--I--wasn't----" He
paused. He couldn't bring himself to say anything in extenuation of
himself and his acts in the presence of this girl. It might sound as
if he were playing for her sympathy, he thought to himself.

"Roger, I know you haven't done all the things I've heard about," she
said bravely. "And there's always a chance. You're a man. You can find
a way out. If the trails seem all twisted and tangled, you can use a
compass--your own conscience, Roger. You still have that."

"How did you happen to mention the trails bein' all mixed up like
that?" he asked curiously.

"Why--I don't know. Isn't that the way it seems?"

Rathburn looked away with a frown. "You come near hittin' the nail on
the head, Laura."

"Oh, then you _are_ beginning to think!" she said eagerly.

"I've done nothing but think for months," Rathburn confessed.

She looked at him searchingly. Then her eyes dropped to the black
butt of the gun in the holster strapped to his right thigh. She
shuddered slightly.

"You came from the west, Roger?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied shortly. "From where there's water an' timber an'
flowers an' grass--but they had my number there, just the same as
they've got it here. I'm a marked man, Laura Mallory."

She leaned upon the table with one hand; the other she held upon her
breast.

"Are--are they--after you, Roger?" she asked in a low, anxious tone.

"As usual," he answered with a vague laugh. "Laura, I didn't come here
to bother you with my troubles; I come here just to see _you_."

The girl colored. "I know, Roger. We've known each other a long
time--since we were children. You wouldn't like it for me not to show
any concern over your troubles, would you?"

"I wish we could talk about something else," said Rathburn. "I can't
stay long."

Laura Mallory looked worried. "May I ask where you plan to go,
Roger?"

"I'm not sure. I only know I wanted to come back, an' I came. I hadn't
any fixed plans, an' I wasn't expecting the reception I got." His face
clouded. Then he looked straight into the girl's eyes. "I hit this
country this morning," he said steadily. "The first folks I saw was
some men ridin' in my direction up between the lava hills and the
range. Then things began to happen."

She nodded brightly. "I believe you," she said simply.

Rathburn smiled. "You aways did that, Laura, an' I ain't never been
much of a hand at lying."

"Roger," she said quickly, "if they all knew you as well as I think I
know you----"

"They wouldn't believe," he interrupted. "They call me The Coyote,
an' they'll have me live up to the name whether I want to or not," he
added bitterly.

"But, Roger, you're forgetting what I said about the trails and the
compass."

"No, Laura, I'm not, but there's another force besides the big
lodestone that's affectin' that compass."

"Roger, you're thinking of an enemy!"

He did not answer her. His face appeared grim, almost haggard, in the
yellow rays of the lamplight.

"Roger, you once promised me anything I might ask," she said softly.

"An' all you have to do is ask," he answered, taking a step toward
her.

"I'm going to ask you for something, Roger," she said without looking
at him. "Maybe you'll think it's--it's too much that I ask." She
glanced up at him doubtfully.

"What is it, Laura?" he insisted.

"I want your gun, Roger," she whispered.

He straightened and stared at her in startled wonder. "But, Laura--a
man in my position--why--why--where would I be at?"

"Maybe if you gave it to me it would help you find a way out, Roger,"
she pleaded earnestly.

Rathburn looked into her eyes and thrilled. Then without a word he
unbuckled his cartridge belt which held his holstered gun, untied the
strap about his thigh and laid the belt with the weapon upon the
table.

"Roger!" said the girl. The sob again was in her voice. She reached
out and placed a hand upon his arm.

An elderly man appeared in the doorway from the kitchen.

"Father, this is Roger," said the girl hurriedly. "He's back."

"What's that? Roger, eh? You mean Rathburn is here?"

The old man peered at the visitor from the doorway, his lean face
twitching. He stroked his gray beard in indecision. His blue eyes
looked long at Rathburn, then at the girl, and lastly at the gun and
belt on the table.

"Well, hello, Rathburn," he said finally, advancing into the room. He
held out a hand which Rathburn grasped.

"Did you eat yet?" asked Mallory.

"In the hills with Joe Price," replied Rathburn. "But I'm just as much
obliged."

"Yes, of course," Mallory muttered. "With Joe, eh? He ain't been down
in months. How is he?"

"Looks good as a gold mine an' thinks he's found one," said Rathburn,
looking at the girl's father curiously.

"That's what keeps him up," Mallory asserted loudly. "He'll never get
old as long as he thinks he's got a mine corralled. He ought to try
stock raisin' for a while. You look older, Rathburn--more filled out.
Are you still cutting 'em high, wide, an' handsome?"

Rathburn's face clouded.

"Roger's starting new, dad," the girl interposed.

Mallory stared keenly at the younger man. He started to speak, but was
interrupted by the sound of horses outside the house.

Rathburn whirled toward the door, took a step, and stopped in his
tracks. The girl's hands flew to the sides of her face, and her eyes
widened with apprehension.

"I'll go see who it is," said Mallory with a quick look at Rathburn.

He hastened out into the kitchen, and a moment later they heard the
kitchen door open. There was a murmur of voices. The girl stared at
Rathburn breathlessly, while he tapped with his slim fingers upon the
top of the table.

Then Mallory came in. "Somebody to see you," he said to Rathburn.

Rathburn looked once at the white-faced girl and followed her father
out into the kitchen. She heard them speak in an undertone, and then
Rathburn came back into the room.

"I ain't much elated over my visitor," he said slowly. "I wish you
hadn't asked me what you did until--well, until this caller had come
an' gone."

She looked straight into his eyes in an agony of dread.

"Who is it, Roger?" she asked, wetting her lips.

"Mike Eagen is out there," he answered calmly.

She drew a quick breath, while he waited. Then he turned on his heel
and started for the kitchen door.

"Roger!" she called.

He swung about and eyed her questioningly. She pointed at the heavy
belt and gun on the table.

"Take it," she whispered.

He buckled on the belt and tied down the end of the holster so it
could not slip if he should draw the weapon within it. Then he made
his way into the kitchen and out of the rear door. Laura Mallory sank
into a chair, sobbing.



CHAPTER XXIX

GUNMEN


For a moment Rathburn waited at the kitchen door. He heard Mallory
going upstairs from the next room. All was still outside, save for the
stamping of several horses. Then he suddenly opened the door and
stepped out. There was no sound or movement, as he accustomed his eyes
to the dim light without. He moved across the threshold and walked
straight to a bulky figure standing beside a large horse.

"You want to see me, Eagen?" he asked coldly.

"Watch out there, Eagen!" came Mallory's voice in a strident tone from
a window above them. "I've got you covered with this Winchester!"

Both Rathburn and Eagen looked up and saw Mallory leaning out of a
window over the kitchen, and the stock of a rifle was snug against his
cheek and shoulder.

"Acts like he's scared you can't take care of yourself," said Eagen
with a sneer. "The way you ditched that posse to-day I didn't think
you needed a bodyguard."

"I don't," Rathburn retorted. "The old man is acting on his own hook.
You was watching the sport to-day?"

"Couldn't help it," said Eagen. "It was me an' some of the boys they
was after. You sort of helped us out by coming along an' attracting
their attention. I pegged you when I saw you ride for it, an' I knew
they wouldn't get you."

"You mean you hid an' let me stand the gaff," said Rathburn
scornfully. "That's your style, Eagen. You're plumb afraid to come out
from under cover."

He noted that there were three men with Eagen. They were quietly
sitting their horses some little distance behind their leader.

Eagen muttered something, and Rathburn could see his face working with
rage. Then Eagen's coarse features underwent a change, and he grinned,
his teeth flashing white under his small, black mustache.

"Look here, Rathburn, there's no use in you an' me being on the outs,"
he said in an undertone. "We've got something in common."

"You've made a mistake already," Rathburn interrupted sharply. "We
haven't a thing in common I know of, Eagen, unless it's a gun
apiece."

"Maybe you think that's all we need," said Eagen hoarsely; "an' if
that's the way you feel you won't find me backin' down when you start
something. Just now I ain't forgetting that crazy fool with that rifle
up there."

"You didn't come here for a gun play, Eagen," said Rathburn. "You
ain't plumb loco _every_ way. I take it you saw me makin' for this
place an' followed me here. What do you want?"

"I want to talk business," said Eagen with a hopeful note in his
voice; "but you won't let me get started."

"An' I won't have dealings with you," said Rathburn crisply.

"That's what you think," sneered Eagen. "But you're in a tight corner,
an' we can help you out. Long said to-day, I heard just now, that he'd
put every deputy he had an' every man he could swear in as a special
on your trail, and he'd get you."

"The thing that I can't see," drawled Rathburn, "is what that's got
to do with you. I suppose you're here as a missionary to tip me off.
Thanks."

Eagen had calmed down. He stepped closer to Rathburn and spoke in a
low tone.

"Here's the lay: They're after you, an' they're after us. I know
you're no stool pigeon, an' I know I ain't takin' a chance when I tell
you that we've got a big job comin' up--one that'll get us a pretty
roll. It takes nerve to pull it off, even though certain things will
make it easier. You might just as well be in on it. You can make it a
last job an' blow these parts for good. You don't have to come in, of
course; but it'll be worth your while. You've got the name, an' you
might as well have what goes with it. I'll let you head the outfit an'
shoot square all the way."

Rathburn laughed scornfully. "When I heard you was out here, Eagen, I
guessed it was something like this that brought you here. Maybe you're
statin' facts as to this job which, you say, is coming up. But you
lied when you said you'd shoot square, Eagen. I wouldn't trust you as
far as you could throw a bull by the tail, an' there's half a dozen
other reasons why you an' me couldn't be pardners!"

Eagen stepped back with a snarl of rage. "I don't reckon you're
entitled to what rep you've got!" he blurted hoarsely. "Right down
under the skin, Rathburn, I believe you're soft!"

"That's puttin' it up to me all fair an' square," Rathburn replied
evenly. "I'll give it right back to you, Eagen."

"Get that gun out of the window."

"Mallory."

"Right here, Rathburn, an' all set," came Mallory's voice.

"Get that gun out of the window."

"What's that? Don't you see there's three of 'em? You----"

"Get that gun out of the window!" rang Rathburn's voice.

"Let him play with it," Eagen said harshly.

Mallory withdrew from the window, as Eagen reached for his left
stirrup and swung into the saddle.

"I see you ain't takin' it," Rathburn called to him with a jeering
laugh.

"An' I ain't forgettin' it?" Eagen shouted, as he drove in his spurs.

His three companions galloped after him, and Rathburn caught sight of
a dark-skinned face, a pair of beady, black eyes, and the long,
drooping mustaches of one of the men.

"Gomez!" he exclaimed to himself. "Eagen's takin' up with the
Mexicans."

Mallory appeared in the kitchen door, holding a lamp above his head.
"What'd he want?" he demanded of Rathburn.

"More'n he got," answered Rathburn shortly. Then he saw Laura Mallory
standing behind her father.

"I mean to say he made a little proposition that I had to turn down,"
he amended, with a direct glance at the girl. "An' now I've got to do
some more ridin'."

"You leavin' to-night?" asked Mallory in surprise. "We can put you up
here, Rathburn, an' I'll keep an eye out for visitors."

"And we'd have 'em afore mornin'," said Rathburn grimly. "Eagen will
see to it that Bob Long knows I was out here, right pronto. But I aim
to stop any posses from botherin' around your place. If there's one
thing I don't want to do, Mallory, it's make any trouble for you."

The girl came walking toward him and touched his arm.

"What are you going to do, Roger?" she asked in an anxious voice.

"I'm goin' straight into Hope," Rathburn replied.

"But, Roger," the girl faltered, "won't that mean--mean----"

"A show-down? Maybe so. I ain't side-steppin' it."

A world of worry showed in the girl's eyes. "Roger, why don't you go
away?" she asked hesitatingly. "Things could be worse, and maybe in
time they would become better. Folks forget, Roger."

For a moment Rathburn's hand rested on hers, as he looked down at
her.

"There's two ways of forgettin', girlie," he said soberly. "An' I
don't want 'em to forget me the wrong way."

"But, Roger, promise me you won't--won't--turn your gun against a man,
Roger. It would make things so much worse. It would leave--nothing
now. Don't you see? It takes courage to avoid what seems to be the
inevitable. That terrible skill which is yours, the trick in this hand
on mine, is your worst enemy. Oh, Roger, if you'd never learned to
throw a gun!"

"It isn't that," he told her gently. "It isn't what you think at all.
I'd rather cut off that right hand than have it raised unfairly
against a single living thing. They call me a gunman, girlie, an' I
reckon I am. But I'm not a killer. There's a difference between the
two, an' sometimes I think it's that difference that's makin' all the
trouble. I'm still tryin' to steer by that thing you call the compass,
an' that's why I've got to go to town."

He stepped away from her, waved a farewell to Mallory, who was
watching the scene with a puzzled expression, and ran for his horse. A
minute later the ringing hoof beats of his mount were dying in the
still night.

Laura Mallory swayed, and her father hurried to her with the lamp and
put his arm about her.

"What's it all about, sweetie?" he asked complainingly.

"Nothing, daddy, nothing--only I love him."

A puff of wind blew out the light in the lamp, and father and daughter
stood with arms about each other under the dancing stars.



CHAPTER XXX

THE SHERIFF'S PLIGHT


Riding slowly Rathburn kept well in toward the range and proceeded
cautiously. This wasn't alone a safety measure, for he wished to favor
his horse. The dun had been hard ridden in the spurt to gain the
mountains ahead of the posse. He had been rested at Price's cabin, to
be sure, and also at the Mallory ranch; but now Rathburn had a ride of
fifteen miles to the town of Hope, and he did not know how much riding
he might have to do next day.

When a scant three miles from Hope, he halted, loosened the saddle
cinch, and rested his horse, while he himself reclined on the ground
and smoked innumerable cigarettes. He was in a thoughtful mood,
serious and somewhat puzzled. The recollection of Eagen's proposition
caused him to frown frequently. Then a wistful light would glow in his
eyes, and he thought of Laura Mallory. This would be succeeded by
another frown, and then his eyes would narrow, and the smile that men
had come to fear would tremble on his lips.

He was again in the saddle with the first faint glimmer of the
approaching dawn. He covered the distance into Hope at a swinging lope
and rode in behind a row of neat, yellow-brick buildings which formed
the east side of one block on the short main street.

Securing his horse behind a building midway of the rear of the block,
he entered one of the buildings through a back door. It proved to be
a combination pool room and soft-drink bar. No one was in the place
except the porter who was cleaning up. Rathburn noted that the man
showed no evidences of knowing him, although this was Rathburn's home
town.

"Kind of early, ain't you, boss?" grinned the porter. "Maybe you're
lookin' for something to start the day with." He winked broadly.

Rathburn nodded and walked over to the bar.

"Just get in?" asked the porter, as he put out a bottle of white
liquor and glanced at the dust on Rathburn's clothes.

"Just in," replied Rathburn, pouring and tossing off one drink.
"Where's everybody? Too early for 'em?"

"Well, it's about an hour too early on the average, unless there's
been an all-night game," replied the porter, putting the bottle away,
as his customer declined a second drink. "But then there ain't very
many in town right now. Everybody's out after the reward money."

Rathburn lifted his brows.

"Say," exclaimed the porter eagerly, "you didn't see any men ridin'
looselike, when you was coming in, did you?"

Rathburn shook his head. "What's all this you're tryin' to chirp into
my ear?" he asked.

"Well, Bob Long, the sheriff, has got all his deputies out except just
the jailer--there ain't anybody much in jail now, anyway--an' all the
other men he could pin a star on, lookin' for a gang that held up the
stage from Sunshine yesterday mornin', shot the stage driver dead, an'
made off with an express package full of money. There's a big reward
out for the man that's leadin' the gang. He's called The Coyote. Used
to live here. He's a bad one."

"Sheriff out, too?" Rathburn asked, showing great interest.

"Sure. Come back in early last night an' got more men. They're tryin'
to surround Imagination Range, I guess. That's where this Coyote an'
his gang are supposed to be hanging out. The sheriff don't care so
much for the fellers that's with him, I guess, but he sure does want
this Coyote person. He told everybody to let the gang go if they had
to, but to get the leader."

Rathburn looked through the front windows with a quizzical smile on
his lips. The sun was shining in the deserted street.

"How many men has the sheriff got?" he inquired casually.

"Most two hundred, I guess. They're scattered all over the range, an'
a lot of 'em has hit over on the other side. They think The Coyote
crossed the range an' is makin' east."

"Well, maybe he has, an' maybe he hasn't," Rathburn observed. "The
best place to hide from a posse is in the middle of it."

The porter looked at him, then burst into a loud laugh. "I guess you
said something that time, pardner. In the middle of it, eh?" He went
about his work, chuckling, while Rathburn walked to a front window and
stood looking out.

A few minutes later he stepped quickly back into a corner, as a small
automobile raced up the street. He sauntered to the rear door, passed
out with a pleasant word to the porter, and when he gained the open,
hurried up behind the buildings the length of the block. There he
turned to the left and walked rapidly to a large stone building. He
went around on the east side and entered a door on the ground floor.
He found himself in a hallway, and on his left was a door, on the
glazed glass of the upper half of which was the gold lettering:
"Sheriff's Office."

After a moment's hesitation he opened the door quickly and went in. A
man standing before an open roll-top desk turned and regarded the
early-morning visitor. He was a small man, but of wiry build. His eyes
were gray, and he wore a small, brown mustache. He had a firm chin,
and his face was well tanned. He was holding a paper in his hands, and
the paper remained as steady as a rock in his grasp. His eyes bored
straight and unflinchingly into Rathburn's. He showed no surprise, no
concern. He made no move toward the pair of guns in the holsters of
the belt which reposed on top of his desk. He spoke first.

"Have you come to give yourself up, Rathburn?"

"Hardly that, sheriff," replied Rathburn cheerfully. "I arrived in
town this morning after most of the population had moved to the desert
and the country aroun' Imagination. I didn't think I was goin' to be
lucky enough to catch you in till I saw you arrive in that flivver.
Are you back for more recruits?"

The sheriff continued to hold the paper without moving.

"When you first started to talk, Rathburn, I thought maybe bravado had
brought you here to make a grand-stand play," he said coolly. "But I
see you're not as foolhardy as some might think. I always gave you
credit for being clever."

"Thanks, Sheriff Long," said Rathburn dryly. "There's a few
preliminaries we've got to get over, so----"

His gun leaped into his hand and instantly covered the official. He
stepped to the end of the desk, reached over and appropriated the belt
with the two guns with his left hand. He tossed the belt and weapons
to a vacant chair.

"Now, sheriff, I didn't come lookin' for a cell like you hinted; I
drifted in for a bit of information."

"This is headquarters for that article, especially if it's about
yourself," said Long, dropping the paper on his desk and sitting down
in the chair before it.

"What all have you got against me?" frowned Rathburn.

"Nothing much," said the sheriff with biting sarcasm; "just a few
killings, highway robbery, a bank stick-up, two or three gaming houses
looted, and a stage holdup. Enough to keep you in the Big House for
ninety-nine years and then hang you."

Rathburn nodded. "You're sure an ambitious man, sheriff. The killings
now--there was White and Moran, that you know about, an' a skunk over
in California named Carlisle, that you don't know about, I guess. I
couldn't get away from those shootings, sheriff."

"How about Simpson and Manley?" countered the official scornfully.

"Not on my list," said Rathburn quickly. "I heard I was given credit
for those affairs, but I wasn't a member of the party where they were
snuffed out."

"If you can make a jury believe that, you're in the clear," said Long.
"But how about that stage driver yesterday morning?"

Rathburn's face darkened. "I got in from the west just in time to
stumble on that gang of rats," he flared. "That's how your men came to
see me. The chase happened to come in my direction, that's all."

"If you can prove that, you're all right again," the sheriff pointed
out. "The law will go halfway with you, Rathburn."

"An' I probably wouldn't be able to prove it," said Rathburn bitterly.
"Those other things--the bank job an' the gamblin' stick-ups--I was
younger then, sheriff, an' no one can say that that bank sharp didn't
do me dirt."

"If you can show a good, reasonable doubt in those other cases,
Rathburn, I know the court would show leniency if the jury found you
guilty on the counts you just mentioned," said the sheriff earnestly.
"I'm minded to believe you, so far as yesterday's work was concerned.
I have an idea or two myself, but I haven't been able to get a good
line on my man. He's too tricky. Of course I'm not going to urge you
to do anything against your will. I appreciate your position. You're a
fugitive, but you have your liberty. Perhaps you can get away clean,
though I doubt it. But there's that chance, and you've naturally got
to take it into consideration. And you're not _sure_ of anything if
you go to trial on the charges there are against you. But it would
count like sixty in your favor, Rathburn, if you'd give yourself up."

Rathburn stared at the official speculatively. His thoughts flashed
back along the years to the time when he and Laura Mallory had played
together as children. He thought of what she had said the night before
about the compass. He shifted uneasily on his feet.

"Funny thing, sheriff, but I had some such fool notion," he
confessed.

"It takes nerve, Rathburn, for a man who is wanted to walk in and give
up his gun," said the sheriff quietly.

"I was thinking of something else," said Rathburn. "An' I've got to
think some more about this that you've sort of put in my head."

"How much time do you want, Rathburn?" asked Long.

Rathburn scowled. "Our positions haven't changed," he said curtly.
"I'm still the man you're lookin' for. I'll have to do my thinkin' on
my own hook, I reckon."

"Just as you say," Long said gravely. "Go over what I've told you
carefully and don't make any more false moves while you're making up
your mind. You wounded one of my men yesterday."

"I shot high on purpose," Rathburn pointed out. "I didn't aim to be
corralled just then."

"I know you did," was the sheriff's rejoinder. "I know you could have
killed him. I gave you credit for it."

"You give me credit for quite a few things, sheriff," said Rathburn
whimsically. "An' now you'll have to give me credit for bein' plumb
cautious. It ain't my intention to have my thinking spell disturbed."

His gun flashed in his hand.

"I'll have to ask you to go inside an' occupy one of your own cells,
sheriff, while I'm wanderin' around an' debatin' the subject."

"I know you too well, Rathburn," said the sheriff with a grim smile.
"I'm not armed, and I don't intend to obey you. If you intend to shoot
you might just as well start!"

Rathburn gazed at him coolly for a moment; then he shoved his gun in
its holster and leaped.

Quick as he was, Long was quicker. The sheriff was out of his chair in
a twinkling, and he made a flying tackle, grasping Rathburn about the
legs. The two fell to the floor and rolled over and over in their
struggles.

Although Rathburn was the larger man, the sheriff seemed made of steel
wire. He twisted out of Rathburn's holds, one after another. In one
great effort he freed himself and leaped to his feet. Rathburn was up
instantly. Long drove a straight right that grazed Rathburn's jaw and
staggered him, but Rathburn blocked the next blow and succeeded in
upper-cutting his left to the sheriff's chin.

They went into another clinch, and the sheriff got the better of the
close fighting. Rathburn's face was bleeding, where it had been cut on
a leg of the chair, when they were struggling on the floor. The feel
of trickling crimson drove him mad. He threw Long off in an amazing
burst of strength and then sent his right to the sheriff's jaw with
all the force he could put into it.

Long dropped to the floor, and Rathburn raised him and carried him to
a door leading into the jail proper. As he drew open the door, he drew
his gun and threw it down on the astonished jailer who was dozing in
the little office outside the bars.

"Open up!" Rathburn commanded.

The jailer hastened to obey, as he saw the appearance of Rathburn's
face and the dangerous look in his eyes.

Rathburn compelled him at the point of his gun to lead the way to a
cell in the rear, unlock it, and go inside. Rathburn pushed Long, who
was regaining his senses, in after him and took the jailer's keys.

"Tell Long I'm thinkin' over what he told me," he said to the jailer,
as he locked them in.

Then he hurried back to the entrance, locked it, and tossed the keys
in through the bars.

He wet his handkerchief with ice water from a tank in Long's office,
wiped his face clean, and left the building.



CHAPTER XXXI

A NEW COUNT


As Rathburn wended his way to an obscure restaurant on a side street
of the little town which was the county seat of Mesquite County, his
thoughts were busy with what he had learned from the sheriff. He knew
the official had been right when he said that it would react in
Rathburn's favor if he gave himself up. Some of the counts on which he
would be indicted undoubtedly would be quashed; others he might
disprove. There was a chance that he might get off lightly; in any
event he would have to spend a number of years in prison.

Rathburn looked up at the bright sky. At the end of the street he
could see the desert, and far beyond, the blue outlines of the
mountains. It seemed to him that the sunshine was brighter on this
deadly morning when he struggled with troubled thoughts. Having always
lived in the open, liberty meant everything to him.

But constantly his thoughts reverted to Laura Mallory. What did she
expect of him? What would she think if he were to give himself up? Her
talk of the compass--his conscience--bothered him. Why should she say
such a thing if she didn't feel more than a friendly interest in him?
Did she care for him then?

Rathburn laughed mirthlessly, as he entered the eating house. There
was no doubt of it--he was a fool. He continued to think, as he ate;
by the time he had finished he found himself in a bad mental state.
He wiped some moisture from his forehead, as he left the restaurant.
For a moment he felt panicky. He was wavering!

The tenor of his thoughts caused him to abandon his caution. He turned
the corner by the State Bank of Hope and walked boldly down the
street. Few pedestrians were about. None took any special notice of
him, and none recognized him. He turned in at the resort he had
visited when he first arrived that morning.

He started, as he entered the place. A deep frown gathered on his
face. Gomez, Eagen's Mexican henchman, was at the bar. At first
Rathburn feigned ignorance of the Mexican's presence; but Gomez smiled
at him, his white teeth glistening against his swarthy skin.

Rathburn marveled at the audacity of the Mexican, who undoubtedly was
one of those who had held up the stage the day before, in coming
boldly into town. Then he recollected that the sheriff had mentioned
he had an idea of who was responsible for that job, but had been
unable to get a line on his man. Eagen and his gang were evidently
well covered up. If such were the case, Eagen himself might be in
town.

It was because he thought he might learn something from Gomez that he
finally acknowledged the fellow's greeting by a nod.

The Mexican left the bar and walked up to him.

"We are not afraid to come in town, Mr. Coyote," he murmured.

"Drop that name," said Rathburn sharply in an undertone. "Is Eagen
here?"

"He is here," replied Gomez with another display of his white teeth.
"You want to see him? He is up talking with Mr. Doane."

Doane! Rathburn remembered the name instantly as being the same which
had been spoken by Laura Mallory the night before. He remembered, too,
the man who had been there and who had driven away to town in the
little car. He surmised that this man had been Doane; and it had been
he who had brought the information of Rathburn's arrival and the
posse's pursuit to the girl.

"You want to see him?" asked Gomez craftily.

Rathburn had a consuming aversion for the wily Mexican. He hated the
shifty look in his eyes and his oily tongue.

"Not yet," he answered shortly.

"He will be here maybe," said Gomez eagerly. "It is you change your
mind?"

Rathburn scowled. The Mexican then knew all about the proposition
Eagen had made to him the night before. Perhaps he could get more
information from him than he had suspected.

"What job is it Eagen is planning?" he asked in a low voice.

There were several men at the bar now, and both Rathburn and the
Mexican were keeping an eye upon them.

"Oh, that he will have to tell you himself when you are ready," Gomez
replied.

Rathburn snorted in keen disgust. But Gomez sidled up to him.

"You go to the Mallory rancho last night," he whispered. "You are not
the only one there last night." His smile flashed again, as Rathburn
looked at him quickly.

"There was another there before," he continued; "Mr. Doane. He goes
there, too. You have been away a long time, and Mr. Doane take the
advantage."

Rathburn's eyes were narrowing, and the Mexican evidently took his
face for an encouraging sign.

"Mr. Doane--he is not lucky at cards," continued Gomez. "He like to
play, and he play lots; but not too well. Maybe he have more luck in
love--while you are away."

"What do you mean?" asked Rathburn through his teeth.

"Oh, you do not know?" The Mexican raised his black brows. "While you
are away, Mr. Doane make hay while the sun shine bright. He was there
much. He was there last night before you. He tries hard to steal your
señorita before you come, and he will try to keep her now." He winked
slyly.

Rathburn suddenly grasped him by the throat. "What are you tryin' to
say?" he asked sternly, shaking the Mexican like a rat.

Gomez broke away, his black eyes darting fire. "You are a fool!" he
exclaimed. "You get nothing. Even your woman, she is stole right under
your eyes. Doane, he goes there, and he gets her. She fall for him
fast. Then she talks to you with sugar in her mouth, and you believe.
Bah! You think the Señorita Mallory----"

Rathburn's open palm crashed against the Mexican's mouth.

"Don't speak her name, you greaser!"

Gomez staggered back under the force of the slap. His eyes were pin
points of fire. He raised his right hand to his mouth and then to the
brim of his sombrero. His breath came in hissing gasps, as the hatred
blazed in his glittering eyes.

Rathburn's face was white under its heavy coating of tan. He saw the
few men at the bar turn and look in their direction, and he realized
instinctively that these men were gamblers and shady characters who
were probably friends of Eagen and his gang.

"I give you my regards," cried Gomez in a frenzy of rage. "You--gringo!"

His right hand tipped his sombrero in a lightning move, and there was
a flash in the sunlight filtering through the back windows, as
Rathburn's gun barked at his hip.

Gomez crumpled backward to the floor, as the knife dropped from his
grasp at the beginning of the throw.

Rathburn, still holding his smoking gun ready, walked rapidly past the
men at the bar and gained the open through the door at the rear.



CHAPTER XXXII

THE COMPASS FAILS


In the alley behind the buildings fronting on the main street,
Rathburn paused in indecision, while he shoved his gun into the
holster on his thigh. He had known by the look in Gomez's eyes that he
was going to throw a knife. Instinct had caused him to watch the
Mexican's right hand, and, in the instant when Gomez had secured the
knife from his hat and snapped back his hand for the throw, Rathburn
had drawn and fired. He knew well the dexterity of a man of Gomez's
stamp with a knife. The gun route was the only chance to protect his
life. But Rathburn realized, too, that he had shot to kill!

He had been incensed by the Mexican's subtle insinuations--maddened by
the way he leered when he spoke Laura Mallory's name. He had virtually
been driven to it. Even now he could not see how he could have avoided
it.

Securing his horse, Rathburn rode swiftly around a back street to a
small barn on the edge of the desert. He ordered his mount watered and
fed. He had known the man who owned this barn, but the individual who
attended to his horse was a new employee. He sat in the little front
office which also served as the quarters of the night man, while his
horse was being looked after. He had not removed his saddle.

Rathburn's thoughts dwelt on what Gomez had said. There was no
question but that the Mexican had taken liberties in saying what he
did, but there was more than a glimmer of truth in his statements.
Rathburn had seen the man leaving Laura Mallory on the porch of the
Mallory ranch house. She had mentioned a man named Doane as having
brought word that he, Rathburn, was back in the country and in more
trouble. Now Gomez had identified this visitor as Doane, the man who
had been calling on Laura Mallory regularly. Rathburn's brows wrinkled
at the thought. But why not? What hold had he upon her? It certainly
wasn't within his rights to resent the fact that another man had found
the girl attractive. But, to his increasing torment, he found that he
_did_ resent it; he couldn't help it!

Suddenly he remembered that Gomez had said Eagen was paying a call on
Doane. What could Eagen have to do with Doane which would warrant his
visiting him early in the morning? Rathburn recalled that Gomez had
intimated that Doane liked to play cards. Was the man then a
professional gambler? But no, Gomez had said he did not play well.

Rathburn tried to recollect where he had seen this man Doane before.
The blond face and mustache were vaguely familiar. Again he strove to
place the man without result.

He shrugged his shoulders, drew out his gun, and replaced the empty
shell with a fresh cartridge. He dropped the weapon back into his
holster and went outside to see about his horse. The dun still was
feeding. Rathburn contented himself with looking over his saddle and
readjusting the small slicker pack on its rear. Then he paced the
length of the barn, frowning in a thoughtful mood.

There was only one thing he was reasonably sure of; no one around the
town knew that he was the outlaw known as The Coyote. He had not seen
anybody he knew except the sheriff, and that official was safely out
of the way for the present. Gomez had mentioned his name when they had
first met, but he had not been heard save by Rathburn. Therefore, if
they were looking for the man who had shot down Gomez, they were
merely looking for a man measuring up to his description; and Rathburn
doubted if anything would be done until the authorities had been
notified. Visitors to the sheriff's office would find Long out and
would assume that he had not returned from the chase in the hills. It
might be another hour before the sheriff's predicament was discovered.
And in that hour----

Rathburn caught himself up with another shrug. He was falling a prey
to his former hopeless trend of thought. Resentment was swelling
within him again, and he struggled to put it down. Perhaps it would be
safer to yield to the inclination to take a chance on the courts.

It was after nine o'clock when he rode out of the barn. He proceeded
straight toward the main street of the town. He was struggling
with a half-formed resolve; summoning courage by shutting out all
recollections save that of Laura Mallory's apparently earnest remark
about the compass.

Reaching the main street, he started to turn the corner at the bank
building when he suddenly checked his horse and stared at two people
walking up the opposite side of the street. Rathburn recognized the
girl immediately. She was Laura Mallory. A moment later he caught a
glimpse of the man's face, as he half turned toward Rathburn,
laughing. He had taken Laura's arm. It was Doane!

The realization that Laura had come to town and was in the company of
Doane stunned Rathburn. More than anything else it had the effect of
convincing him that Gomez had been right when he had hinted that
Doane was successful in love. Hadn't she told him to take his gun when
Eagen had been waiting for him? Had she thought, perhaps, that there
would be gun play, and that Eagen might emerge the victor, thus
assuring her that he, Rathburn, would bother her no more?

Rathburn's eyes narrowed, and his face froze, as he watched Laura and
Doane out of sight up the street. He knew now why he had had to come
back. There was nothing left--nothing but his dreams, his sinister
reputation, and his gun!

He looked about in a different way from that in which he had first
surveyed the street, now showing life. His gaze encountered the bank
building. The door was open. The bank doubtless opened at nine
o'clock. He remembered that this was so. A second of indecision, then
he moved in front of the bank. He dismounted, flung the reins over the
dun's head, and entered briskly.

Two men were behind the screens of the two cages. Rathburn approached
a window and nodded to the man behind it. Then his gun leaped into his
hand, and he covered the pair.

"Reach high an' hard!" he commanded. "An' quick!"

The men in the cages hesitated; but the look in Rathburn's eyes
convinced them, and they raised their hands over their heads. Rathburn
leaped to the ledge outside the window and climbed nimbly over the
wire network of the cage. Then he dropped to the floor inside.



CHAPTER XXXIII

FAST WORK


Quickly and methodically Rathburn went about his work. His face was
drawn and pale, but his eyes glittered with a deadly earnestness which
was not lost upon the two men who obeyed his orders without question.
The very boldness of his intrepid undertaking must have convinced them
that here was no common bandit. He herded them back toward the vault
at the point of his gun. Then he ordered them into the vault.

"Now then," he said crisply, "you know what I'm after. Trot it out!"

One of the men, evidently an assistant cashier or head teller, who was
in charge, opened a compartment of the inner safe and pulled out a
drawer. Rathburn could see the packages of bills. He looked quickly
about and saw a pile of empty coin sacks on a shelf.

"Fill two of those large sacks," he instructed the other man.

The clerk hastened to carry out his orders and jammed package after
package of bills into one of the largest of the coin sacks. Both men
were white-faced and frightened. They did not try to delay the
proceedings. Rathburn looked dangerous; and what was more sinister, he
went about his nefarious business in a cool, calm, confident manner.
He did not look like the Rathburn who had visited Laura Mallory the
night before, nor the Rathburn who had talked with the sheriff. In
this critical moment he was in look, mood, and gesture The Coyote at
his worst--worthy of all the terrible things that had been whispered
about him.

It may be that the bank employees suspected as much. It may be that
they didn't believe it would be possible for the outlaw to make his
get-away in broad daylight, and it was certain that they stood in
mighty fear of him. They cowered back, pale and shaking, as he calmly
took the sack, heavy with its weight of bank notes of healthy
denomination, and stepped to the entrance to the big vault.

"When they come an' let you out," said Rathburn, "you can tell them
that the gent who helped himself to the berries in the cash box is
just beginnin' to cash in on the reputation that's been wished on
him!"

He smiled grimly, as he swung the light, inner door of the vault shut
and clamped down the lever. He slid his gun into its holster and,
carrying the sack of loot, walked out of the door of the second cage
toward the main entrance of the bank. As he reached the door, a man
came up the steps. Rathburn recognized Doane, and his lips curled in a
snarl. It was the first time Doane had come face to face with him, but
the man started back in surprise.

"Rathburn!" he exclaimed.

Rathburn hesitated. His first feeling of instinctive animosity fled.
He scowled in a swift effort to place the man, and the thought that in
an indirect way Doane was partly responsible for what had come to pass
flashed through his tortured brain. This brought swift comprehension
of his immediate danger. Now that he had taken the decisive step he
would have to call upon all his resources of courage and cunning to
protect his liberty. The die had been cast!

He hurried past Doane, swung into the saddle, and rode at a swift
pace around the corner, leaving Doane standing on the steps of the
bank, staring after him with an expression of amazement on his face.

Rathburn knew it would be but a matter of a very few minutes before
the knowledge that the State Bank of Hope had been held up and
robbed--would be common property in the town. The very boldness of the
robbery had insured its success, for none would dream that a lone
bandit would have the nerve to come into town in broad daylight, hold
up the bank, and attempt to run for it across the open, burning spaces
of the desert. But he was not aware of the coincidence which would
make the news of the robbery known sooner than he expected.

At the end of the side street he struck boldly across the desert,
driving in his spurs and urging the gallant dun to its top speed. In a
matter of minutes he was out of view of the town--a speck bobbing amid
the clumps of mesquite, palo verde, and cactus. He raced for the
mountains in the northwest.

There was another element of uncertainty which entered into the
probability of quick pursuit, as he had shrewdly divined. It might be
some time before the sheriff's predicament was discovered. Meanwhile
most of the male population was scouring the vicinity of Imagination
Range looking for him, and there would be no one to lead a second
posse until the sheriff was liberated. There was nothing in sight
behind him toward town except the vista of dry desert vegetation
swimming in the heat. Rathburn rode on with a feeling of security, so
far as trouble from that quarter was concerned.

His thoughts were in a turmoil, and he passed a shaking hand over his
damp brow. The resentment had given way to grim decision and
determination. Well, he had shown them what The Coyote could do. They
would remember that job; they could lay that at his door. The proceeds
would carry him a long way. They had given him his reputation, and he
would make the game worth the candle!

The old fierce defiance of misguided youth was in his veins. He felt a
wild exultation seize him. Doubt and all problems were set aside. His
eyes glowed with a reckless light, as he raced on toward the blue
hills.

Doane had known him--had called him by name. Therefore Doane knew he
was The Coyote--the outlaw with a price on his head. So much the
better. He _wanted_ them to know!

The sun was at its zenith, as he passed above the Mallory place. He
did not once turn his head and look down upon it. His jaw was squared,
his lips pressed tight, as he guided his horse into the winding
foothills of the range. In a narrow cañon he dismounted and undid his
slicker pack. When he again tied it behind the saddle it contained the
bag which held the bank notes he had taken that morning. He pushed on
in the early afternoon.

He now rode with more caution. The fact that he had not seen any
members of the posses which were scouring the hills, he accredited to
ignorance on their part of the fact that he had been at the Mallory
ranch the night before and had gone into town. These things they had
hardly had time to learn. More than likely they had assumed that he
had crossed the mountains, and it was possible that most of the men on
the hunt were on the east side of the range. He became more and more
convinced of this as the afternoon wore on, but he did not relax his
vigilance. His face had clouded.

"We made a mistake, hoss," he muttered, "in not remembering to hunt up
Mike Eagen first thing."

In the quick moves following his sudden momentous decision, he had
forgotten Eagen. This fact now bothered him. He had a score to settle
with Eagen on general principles. This did not mean that he
necessarily would have to shoot Eagen down; but he wanted Eagen to
hear straight out what he thought of him. It might be a long time
before he could gratify that desire after the events of this day.

Slowly he proceeded, not once venturing upon a high spot until he had
investigated by crawling to a vantage point on his hands and knees. It
was sundown when he saw the first riders. Two were farther down the
slopes to westward, and several more were far to eastward. It was true
then that Long had thrown a cordon about the section of the mountains
which he had been seen to enter the day before.

However, Rathburn's knowledge of the range and the secrets of the
mountain trails gave him a distinct advantage over the inexperienced
members of the posses. True, there were deputies and some others who
were experienced; but they were in the minority.

Rathburn realized that the sheriff must have been released some hours
before, and that his escapade of the morning would stimulate the man
hunt. The rewards would be increased, and every able-bodied man in
Hope would doubtless join in the scramble for the reward money. He was
satisfied that Sheriff Long's order would be to "shoot on sight!"

On the very crest of the range he paused in the shelter of the rocks.
There still was a fair chance for him to get away clean to eastward.
The sheriff had not had time to get more men over there, and by making
a break into the southeast and then cutting straight to the east,
there was a strong possibility that he would succeed in circling
around the posse and effect his escape.

But something was drawing him to Joe Price! He did not quite
understand that it was the desire to confide in and confess to his
friend what had actuated his choice of moral trails. But the yearning
was there, and he was yielding to it. He conjectured shrewdly that
Long might not dream that he would have the temerity again to enter
the very district where he was being sought. It was his belief that
the best place to hide from a posse was in the midst of it!

It was this confidence, almost as much as his skill in trailing, which
enabled him to gain a point above Joe Price's cabin in the early
twilight. He waited patiently until the curtain of night had fallen,
and the stars had replaced the fading banners of the sunset, before he
slipped down a steep slope and walked his horse into the cañon below
the old miner's abode.



CHAPTER XXXIV

THE COMPASS WAVERS


Joe Price regarded Rathburn with a curious look in his eyes when he
beheld him in the doorway of his cabin. He stepped swiftly to the one
window, which was over the table, and dropped the burlap shade. Then
he closed the door.

"So they've been here?" asked Rathburn.

"What else could you expect?" replied Price testily. "They're combin'
these hills for you." He looked at Rathburn keenly, but Rathburn only
smiled.

"That's not news to me," he said quietly; "I've percolated through
their lines twice."

"Stay here," said Price, "and I'll look after your horse--or were you
hidin' up all day?"

"No such luck," answered Rathburn grimly.

The old man looked at him curiously; then he went out of the door,
closing it carefully after him.

Rathburn found cold food, put it on the table, and sat down to eat.
When Price returned he had finished. The old miner sat down in a chair
opposite Rathburn.

"Now, out with it," he said. "Something has happened. I can see it in
the way you look an' act. What's up?"

Rathburn carefully rolled a brown-paper cigarette, snapped a match
into flame, and lit it before he replied. He was half smiling.

"I held up the State Bank of Hope this mornin' an' extracted a bag of
perfectedly good bills," he announced. "Didn't bother with the counter
money. Made 'em serve me from the vault."

Joe Price's eyelids did not even flicker.

"Any idear what you got?" he asked.

"Not whatsoever," replied Rathburn coolly; "but the smallest I saw on
top of the package was a fifty."

Price nodded. "You got plenty," he said.

Rathburn scowled. He had expected some kind of an outbreak--at least a
remonstrance from his old friend. He glanced about uneasily and then
glared defiance at Price.

"It had to come, Joe," he asserted. "There wasn't any way out of it.
What's more, I killed that greased pard of Eagen's, Gomez."

"How so?" queried Price.

"Well, I'll tell _you_, Joe, but I don't expect it to go any further.
He said something about Laura Mallory an' a man named Doane, an' I
didn't like it. I slapped him. Then he went for a knife he had in his
hat."

The old man nodded again. "I see," he said simply. "You shot him. Not
a bad riddance. How did you come to rob the bank, Rathburn?"

Rathburn's gaze again shifted uneasily. Then he rose with a burning
look at Price, walked up and down the slanting length of the cabin,
and halted before the old miner.

"Joe," he said in a tremulous voice, "it's the last ditch. I can't get
away from it. I thought I could tell you--an old friend--the whole
story, but I can't, Joe. That's the devil of it! There's something
wrong with me. I reckon I'm one of those fellows who just had
everything mapped out for him. I had some trouble, Joe, an' it's
started something--something I can't control. They _had_ to remember
me, an' I gave them something to remember me by!"

"Who do you mean by 'they,' Rathburn?" asked the miner.

"Sheriff Long an' the others," said Rathburn quickly. "There wasn't a
chance for me. Why, I was thinking of giving myself up only this
morning. Joe, it ain't in the pictures--not after I let Gomez have it.
Even after I stopped Gomez I had an idea that I could face the music.
Besides, Joe, there's more to this than you think. They call me The
Coyote, an', Joe, so help me, from now on I am!"

"Did you stop at the Mallory place?" asked Price quietly.

Rathburn did not reply at once. With agony in his eyes he looked at
his old friend, and suddenly he bristled:

"I might as well never have gone there," he flung out. "I see now I
wasn't wanted. I found out as much from Gomez. He told me about
Laura's affair with that fellow Doane. But what could I expect? I
wasn't entitled to no thought from her, an' I should have known as
much. I'm just a plain fool--a worse one now than I was before."

Joe Price's faded blue eyes glowed with comprehension.

"You thought Laura had put you off, so you gave in an' robbed the
bank, Rathburn, an' just naturally made a mess of things when you had
a chance," said the old man stoutly. "That ain't actin' with a lick of
sense. You wasn't gettin' square with anybody, an' you wasn't doin'
that girl right by takin' the word of Gomez."

"I saw the two of them, her an' Doane, in Hope this morning, walkin'
down the street, arm in arm, laughing--probably over me," Rathburn
replied bitterly. "I've got eyes, and I can put two an' two together.
I'm only The Coyote with her, and I'll _be_ The Coyote. She took my
gun an' then gave it back when Mike Eagen showed up, thinkin' maybe
there'd be gun play, an' I'd get mine."

"Now you shet up!" shrilled Price. "I reckon you've lost all the
brains you ever did have? Do you think Laura would keep your gun,
knowin' there might be trouble, an' you wouldn't have any way to
protect yourself? Don't you suppose she knows you're as fast as Eagen?
She's no fool, if you are. But, if you've got to stay the fool, you
better be lightin' out with your winnings. An' you're not takin' the
bank's money, either."

"What do you mean by that?" scowled Rathburn, who had been thoughtful
while his friend was speaking.

"I had money in that bank, Rathburn, an' so did Mallory, an' there's a
lot more of us----"

"I'll give you back your money," Rathburn growled. "Anyway, they're
protected by insurance, an' the insurance people can hunt me till
doomsday--I guess." He was cooling off rapidly.

"Maybe they are," said Price, "an' maybe they ain't. But it ain't
goin' to help you none the way you're goin' to feel about it later, no
matter who loses it."

Rathburn was pacing the room, frowning. Twice he started to speak, but
the words failed to come. Then he put a question. "Who is this man
Doane? He knew me, for I met him when I was comin' out of the bank,
an' he called me by name."

"Doane is cashier of the bank down at Hope. He was likely just comin'
to work when you met him."

Rathburn stared with an incredulous expression. "You're sure?" But
even as he put the question, Rathburn placed his man.

"I'm dead certain on it," declared Price.

Rathburn sat down heavily and took his hat in his hand.

"That makes it different," he said dully, as if to himself. "Maybe
she's stuck on him for his money, an' maybe she's stuck on him because
he's a good guy. Maybe this thing would hurt him."

"Oh, I don't think they'd blame him," said Price with a note of
consolation in his voice; "an' he probably wouldn't lose nothin'."

"But she might think--it might be that she----" Rathburn swung his hat
to his head and rose. He walked toward the door, but Joe Price got in
his way.

"Where you goin'?" he asked.

"To the Mallory ranch!"

"You can't get there!" said Price hoarsely, pushing him back.

"I've got to get there!" answered Rathburn grimly, pushing the old man
aside. "I must see Laura."

"You got here just by luck," Price pointed out. "An' there's more men
in by now. Maybe they know you're here. But wait till I get your
horse--he's hid."

"Get him," Rathburn commanded.

After a moment's hesitation Price went out the door, and he returned
almost instantly. He walked to the table and blew out the light. "Go
to the door an' see," he urged in an excited voice.

Rathburn hurried out. High on the mountain above the cañon a fire was
burning.

"It's the signal," Price whispered in his ear.

"Joe, do me a last favor," said Rathburn in a queer voice. "Get me my
hoss before it's too late!"

The old man obediently slipped into the shadows behind the cabin.



CHAPTER XXXV

GUNS IN THE NIGHT


When Joe Price returned, leading Rathburn's horse which he had fed and
watered, and turned over the reins, he spoke swiftly in a low voice:

"They'll be watchin' hard for you down the cañon, boy. Bob Long's sure
to mean business this 'ere time."

"Well, I know it," said Rathburn with a low, mirthless laugh. "I
locked him in his own jail this mornin' to get a clean chance to
decide to give myself up. Then, when the chance came--well, he surely
thinks now that I put him away to cover my tracks. I expect the boys
have got their shootin' orders."

"Listen!" whispered Price excitedly. "Wait till I get my own horse,
an' I'll strike east across the hump. That'll start 'em after me
maybe--sure it will, Rathburn! They'll think I'm you, see, an' light
right out after me."

Rathburn laid one hand on the old man's shoulder and put the other
over Joe's mouth.

"Joe, you're all excited--plumb unreasonable excited. You know I
wouldn't let you do that. Now don't hand me more worries than I've
got. Be good, Joe." He patted Price's shoulder, then swung into the
saddle.

The old miner looked up at him, his face showing strangely white in
the dim starlight, pierced by the fire on the peak.

"I didn't tell 'em you'd been here, Roger; don't forget that!"

"I knew that, Joe," Rathburn chuckled. "So long."

Swiftly he rode down the little meadow below the spring into the deep
shadows of the cañon which led down a steep trail to the desert.
Presently he checked his pace until he was walking the gallant dun. He
wished to avoid as much noise as possible, and to save the horse for a
final spurt down nine miles of desert to the Mallory ranch from the
mouth of the cañon--providing he got out.

For two reasons he had deliberately chosen this route: it was
shortest, and it offered the best going. He must save the dun's
strength. Rathburn knew the limits of his splendid mount; knew they
had almost been reached; knew there was just enough left in the horse
to make the ranch without killing him. The Coyote would surrender
before he would kill his horse to effect his escape or gain an
objective!

Thus they slipped down the narrow cañon, with the desert stars
gleaming white above the lava hills of Imagination Range, while the
fire glowed on the peak above Joe Price's cabin. Rathburn's face was
pale under his tan; his thoughts were in a turmoil, but his lips were
pressed into a fine line that denoted an unwavering determination. Had
Sheriff Bob Long seen his face at this time he might have glimpsed
another angle of Rathburn's many-sided character--an angle which would
have given him pause.

Rathburn looked behind, and his eyes narrowed. Two fires were burning
on the peak.

Already the watchers were cognizant of his latest move and were
signaling to those who might be below. He wondered vaguely why they
had not surrounded Joe Price's cabin while he had been there. Then he
realized he had been there hardly long enough for his pursuers to get
there in any number. Suddenly his thoughts were broken into by a
streak of red in the cañon depths below him. He swerved close against
the rock wall, drew his gun, and, speaking to the dun, drove in his
spurs.

A short distance below he could see the faint glow of the starlight
night and knew he was near the cañon's mouth. There were more streaks
of red, and bullets whistled past him. Then Rathburn raised his gun
and sent half its deadly contents crashing down into the trail ahead.

There followed a few moments of quiet, broken only by the harsh,
ringing pound of his mount's hoofs. Rathburn could see open country
just ahead. Then a flash of fire came from almost under him, and the
big dun lunged into the air, half twisting, and came down upon some
object under its hoofs. The dun bounded on in great leaps, literally
flying through the air, as Rathburn thrilled with the knowledge that
the horse had knocked down the man who had sought to kill him.

From above came sharp reports, and the blackness of the high cañon
walls was streaked with spurts of flame. Leaden death hurled itself
into the rock trail behind him. Then he was out of the cañon, riding
like mad through the white desert night toward his goal--the Mallory
ranch!

                  *       *       *       *       *

Laura Mallory stood on the porch of the little ranch house, staring
out across the dimly lit spaces of desert. A worried look appeared in
her eyes. The front door was open, and in the small sitting room her
father was reading under a shaded lamp at the table. At times the
worried look in the girl's eyes would change to one of wistfulness,
and twice the tears welled.

Presently she straightened and listened intently, looking into the
south instead of northwest. Her ears, keen as are those of the desert
born, had caught a sound--a succession of faint sounds--in the still
night air. Gradually the sound became more and more distinct, and the
worried expression of her face increased. She hurried into the sitting
room.

"Father, Fred Doane is coming out from town," she said breathlessly.
"Do you suppose they've got him?"

"Maybe so, girlie," said the old man. "It was a bold business, an'
what could you expect?"

"Oh, I don't know. I can't seem to understand. All this trouble is
coming so suddenly. Father, are you sure you heard Roger refuse to aid
that man Eagen in some shady scheme last night?"

"Ab-so-lutely," declared Mallory. "I've been wondering, daughter, if
he didn't turn Eagen down because he had this scheme of his own."

The purr of a motor came to them from outside, and Laura, hastily
wiping her eyes with a small handkerchief, went slowly out.

"Laura!" cried Fred Doane, as he came up the steps, holding out his
hands.

"What--what is it, Fred?" she faltered. "Have they caught----"

"Not yet," said Doane briskly, as Mallory appeared in the door. "An'
they probably won't get him. He's clever, that fellow."

The bank cashier indulged in a frown, but he was plainly nervous.

"Then what news do you bring here?" Mallory demanded. "Did you come to
tell us he'd got away clean?"

"Why, not--not exactly," said Doane. "I meant to tell you that, of
course, but I also want to have a little talk with Laura. Can I see
you alone, Laura, for a few minutes?"

"Oh, _that's_ it," snorted Mallory, as he stamped back into the
house.

"You have something to tell me you don't want father to hear?" asked
the girl in a worried voice.

"Laura, there's something I must tell you right away," said Doane
nervously, leading her to the shadow of the far end of the porch.
There he turned and faced her, taking her hands.

"Laura, you must have seen it for a long time. You could hardly help
but see it. I love you, Laura--I love you with all my heart, and I
want you to be my wife."

The girl drew back in astonishment.

"But why do you have to tell me this so suddenly?" she asked, her
color coming and going.

"Because I want you to marry me, Laura, to-night!" he said.

Again he reached for her hands. "Please, Laura," he pleaded. "It means
so much to me. Don't you care for me, sweetheart? I've been led to
think you did, and I intended to tell you soon, but all this
trouble--this terrible trouble to-day--has nearly driven me mad. I'm
afraid I'll go mad, Laura, if I don't have something else to think
about. Oh, Laura, marry me and help me out of this big trouble."

"Fred!" exclaimed the girl, startled by his passion of pleading.
"Fred, I've never tried to make you think I cared for you. And
now--well, I'd have to have a long time to think it over. How would it
help you out of trouble, Fred? Tell me that."

"By helping me forget--by helping me forget that our bank is ruined!
By saving my mind! By keeping me from going mad! By----"

"Fred you must not talk so. That robbery has unnerved you for the time
being, that's all. You're excited and so----"

"I'm more than excited," he declared, trying to put his hands on her
shoulders. "I'm about--about--_gone_! Laura, marry me to-night, and
we'll go somewhere--we'll go somewhere right from here, from this
ranch--go a long way and get married in the morning. Then we can stay
away for a short time till I get to be myself again."

"No, Fred," replied the girl in convincing tones, "I can't. It would
be asking too much even if I loved you. Come inside, and I'll make you
some strong tea. You can talk to father and me and regain control of
yourself."

There was a moment of silence. Mallory with the lamp had come to the
door at the sound of Doane's loud voice. He was looking at them. Then
out of the night came the pound of hoofs. There was no mistaking the
sound.

Doane whirled around, as a rider came out of the sea of mesquite and
greasewood and flung himself from the saddle in front of the porch.
The bank cashier turned toward Mallory. His face was haggard. He
seemed to sway, as the rider came stamping up the steps. He darted for
the door, but had hardly got inside before the rider caught him and
made him face about. Mallory hurried in with the lamp, followed by the
girl.

Doane was quailing before the new arrival. Both cried out, as they saw
it was Eagen who had broken out so suddenly. Eagen towered above the
shrinking Doane.

"So you thought you'd double cross me, did you, eh?" came Eagen's
harsh voice, and he slapped Doane in the face.

Doane went red, then white. For a moment intense hatred and anger
flashed in his eyes, but he made no move to avenge the insult. Slowly
the light in his eyes died again to fear, as he realized his
inability to cope with this man of strength.

"Here, Eagen, you can't come into my house and act like that," said
Mallory stoutly, putting the lamp on the table.

Laura still stood in the doorway, stunned by the rapid and extraordinary
turn of events. Eagen turned on Mallory with a snarl.

"Shut up, you old fool! Don't butt in where you ain't wanted, an' on
something you don't know anything about."

"I know you're in my house!" Mallory retorted sternly.

"I'll only be here a minute," said Eagen with a sneer. "I'm goin' out
of your house, an' I'm goin' to drag this sneaking cur out with
me--out on the solid ground an' give him what's comin' to him. An'
then," he added in a terrible voice; "I'm goin' to go out an' get his
pardner--Rathburn, The Coyote--get him when the others can't come
within a mile of him!"

"You can't take this man out of my house when he is my guest!"
thundered Mallory.

"No?" asked Eagen contemptuously. "Well, you watch an' see! If you try
to stop me you'll stop lead!"

He leaped forward and grasped Doane by the shoulder, jerked him
forward, and stepped backward himself. He turned, dragging his victim,
then stopped dead in his tracks with a hissing intake of breath.
Rathburn was standing quietly in the doorway.



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE LOOT


In the heat of the threats and counterthreats which had been in
progress, none of the occupants of the room had heard the newest
arrival thunder up to the porch and leap from the saddle to the
steps.

Eagen was dumfounded by Rathburn's sudden appearance. He saw that the
girl was standing now in a front corner of the room, with her hands
crossed on her breast, a look of horror in her eyes. Slowly Eagen
recovered and loosed his hold on Doane, who staggered weakly to the
table and leaned upon it. Eagen's sneer returned to his thick lips,
and his narrowed gaze traveled quickly to a sack which Rathburn held
in his left hand. Eagen's eyes shone with fury.

"Come here to fix up the divvy!" he choked. "I knew it was a put-up
job between you an' Doane, an' I figured you'd maybe meet aroun' here
where Doane would be sure to come to try an' take this woman with
him."

Rathburn eyed him calmly. There was something of a deadly calm in his
very posture, as he stood just within the threshold. He looked past
Eagen to Doane. Then he tossed the sack on the table.

"Here's the money I took this morning, Doane," he said in matter-of-fact
tones. "I came here to turn it over to you."

With bulging eyes Doane stared at him.

Eagen laughed loudly. "That's rich! Tryin' to make me think you was
goin' to give it _all_ to him? Don't you figure, Mr. Coyote, that I
can throw my rope aroun' a simple scheme like you an' that shivering
rat over by the table cooked up? That's why you turned down my little
proposition last night. It was this same deal--only, _me_, an' Doane
there was goin' to put it over. You figured I'd cut you out of your
divvy, an' you figured right; he suspected I might double cross him,
an' maybe he was right, too. So he cooked it up with you to pull the
robbery, thinkin' you'd be more likely to go through an' give him his
end. But the pair of you figured too many points when you thought I
wouldn't catch on."

"That was what your proposition was to be, was it?" asked Rathburn
pleasantly. "Rob the bank? Why, I didn't need a gang to rob the bank,
Eagen, an' I didn't have anybody in with me. The trouble with you is
that you've got too much imagination."

The drawl in which Rathburn concluded his speech drove Eagen to a
frenzy.

"You lie, Rathburn!"

Rathburn smiled. "I might as well tell you that I intended to get away
with that money that's on the table, Eagen. That's what I took it for.
I'm making this little statement because something's liable to happen
to one, or both of us. I didn't know Doane was cashier of the bank
when I took it. I only recently learned that fact. Then I brought it
back to turn over to him, not so much on his account as on account of
Miss Mallory. I understand Doane is a very good friend of Miss
Mallory. I wouldn't want his bank hurt for that reason."

It was Laura Mallory who cried out at this. She walked toward
Rathburn, although he did not look at her.

"Why did you do it, Roger?" she asked in a trembling voice.

"I can't tell you _that_, ma'am," he said.

"But I know!" she cried. "I've guessed it. You saw Mr. Doane and me
together in Hope to-day and remembered he was at the ranch last night,
and----"

"Don't say any more, Laura!" Rathburn commanded sternly.

"Be still, daughter; it's best," said Mallory.

"Neither she, nor you, nor Doane, nor all of you together can talk me
out of it!" roared Eagen. "It was a frame-up!"

In the deadly stillness that followed, Laura Mallory shrank back from
the sight of two gunmen looking steadily into each other's eyes, their
hands ready for the lightning draw--each waiting for the merest
suggestion of the beginning of a move on the part of the other to get
his weapon into action. But the draws did not come. The pregnant
silence was broken by the thundering roll of many horses galloping
into the yard about the house.

"There!" yelled Eagen in a voice of triumph. "There's your sweet
little posse, Coyote!"

"I expected to see Bob Long when I came down here!" said Rathburn
coolly, looking at Laura Mallory for the first time.



CHAPTER XXXVII

THE TEST OF A MAN


Several men stamped across the porch to the jingle of spur chains.
Others broke in through the back door and entered the kitchen. Sheriff
Bob Long appeared at the door, with two guns leveled.

"You're covered from both doors and all the windows, Rathburn!" he
said sharply.

"That's almost just what I thought, sheriff," Rathburn drawled.

Long stepped into the room, shoving his guns into their holsters. Many
other guns were covering Rathburn.

"What's the meaning of all this, anyway?" demanded Long with a puzzled
expression on his face. His eyes widened, as he saw the bag of money
on the table. "Is that the money that was taken from your bank this
morning Mr. Doane?" he asked sharply.

Doane nodded weakly. The sheriff looked at Rathburn curiously.

"You brought it back? You was up to Joe Price's place."

"Yes, I brought it back, sheriff," said Rathburn cheerfully.

"Well, I'll be frank and tell you, Rathburn, that if you expect
leniency after what happened this morning you might just as well give
up that idea. Any man can change his mind when he sees he can't get
away."

"That's up to you, sheriff," replied Rathburn, taking tobacco and
papers from his shirt pocket. "As I was just tellin' our friend, Mr.
Eagen, I brought it back on purpose, an' I expected to see you when I
got here. I came near not gettin' here at that."

"You took a long chance," scowled Long. "But it won't get you much now
at this stage of the game--especially after the way you led me to
believe this morning that you were thinking of giving yourself up."

Eagen's laugh startled them.

"He brought it back to give it up an' himself, too?" he jeered. "He
brought it back, sheriff, because he an' that rat of a Doane planned
this thing. Coyote got away with the money an' came back here to divvy
up with Doane. Didn't Doane make the same kind of a proposition to me?
Didn't he tell me he was short in his accounts, an' it could be
covered up if the bank was robbed, for then he could say more money
was took than really was? I'll say he did. An' I was goin' to see if
he'd go through with it, an' then I was going to wise you up so we
could get him cold."

With knitted brows the sheriff stared at Eagen, then looked at the
white-faced Doane.

"Tell him I'm tellin' the truth!" shouted Eagen at the shaking bank
cashier. "You can't get out of it."

There was a tense moment.

Doane shook his head weakly; he was a picture of guilt.

"He got scared I wouldn't go through with the play, sheriff," Eagen
continued. "Thought maybe I'd make off with all the kale. So he framed
it with Rathburn, an' I caught 'em about to divide it here."

"He lies!" screamed Doane. "I didn't frame it with Rathburn. I can
prove it. That man"--he pointed a shaking finger at Eagen--"has come
to me with threats and made me take securities I knew were stolen.
There's some of them in the bank now. Some of the stuff he took from
the stage driver yesterday is there! He's pulled job after job----"

Eagen, recovering from his amazement at the man's outbreak, leaped and
drove his powerful fist against Doane's jaw, knocking him nearly the
length of the room, where he crashed with his head against the stones
of the fireplace. Eagen turned quickly. His eyes were blazing red.

"You're the man!" he yelled wrathfully. "You're the yellow Coyote----"

His right hand went to his gun, as there came a crashing report. He
staggered back, trying to get out the weapon which had not left his
holster. He sank down to his knees, still glaring death at the man
above him, still fumbling at his gun. Then he lurched forward on his
face.

Rathburn flipped his smoking pistol so that its barrel landed in his
hand. Then he tendered it, butt foremost, to Sheriff Bob Long. Long
took it and threw it on the table, looking first at Rathburn, then at
the dead man on the floor. He waved toward the doors and windows.

"You boys can draw back," he ordered.

Mallory stepped to the fallen Doane. The man's face had set in a white
cast. He felt his heart.

"He did for him," he said, rising.

Laura Mallory came walking slowly up to the sheriff. Her face was
ghastly after what she had witnessed.

"Sheriff Long," she said in a voice strangely calm, "we heard
Eagen"--she shuddered, as she mentioned the name--"ask Roger--ask Mr.
Rathburn last night to help with some job that would get them a lot
of money. It may be that--that--Fred did plan such a thing. I'm sorry
to say it, but Fred had seemed awfully nervous lately, and to-night he
came to me and asked me to run away with him--at once. He seemed
horribly afraid of something. Anyway, Roger refused to go in with
Eagen, and an examination of Fred's books will tell all."

She hesitated. Then she spoke slowly and softly.

"I know why Roger robbed the bank and----"

"Stop, Laura!" cried Rathburn.

"No," said Laura firmly; "you may be going to prison."

He put out one hand in protest.

Turning again to the sheriff she said:

"Roger did go to town last night, intending to give himself up. I knew
he was going to do it by the way he looked at me. But to-day he saw me
with Mr. Doane, and maybe he's heard things for which there was no
warrant. Anyway, I know he thought I--I--was in love with Fred."

"Laura--please!" Rathburn pleaded.

"And to-night," said the girl in triumph, "he heard Fred was cashier
of the bank he'd robbed, and he brought the money back because he
thought the robbery would hurt Fred and in that way hurt me!"

Rathburn turned appealingly to the sheriff. "Let's go," he urged.

"He robbed that bank because he thought I had betrayed his trust,
Sheriff Long!" cried Laura, her eyes shining.

"Are we going, Long?" cried Rathburn in an agony.

The sheriff stepped to the door and called to some of his men who
entered and bore the bodies of Doane and Eagen out of the sitting
room. Then he took the money sack from the table and indicated to
Rathburn to follow him, as he went out of the door. Rathburn went
after him quickly, and the girl ran to the porch. Rathburn drew back
with a cry, as he reached the porch. Just beyond the steps a horse was
lying on its side.

"My--my hoss!" he cried wonderingly.

He leaped down beside the dead beast. Then he saw crimson upon the
animal's shoulder, as a little gleam of light came from the door.

"That was why he jumped on the trail. He was hit. He carried me all
this way with a bullet in him an' then dropped! One of Long's men shot
him."

Rathburn looked about vacantly. Then he sank down and buried his face
on the shoulder of the dun, as Sheriff Long turned away. Laura Mallory
stepped quickly to the side of the sheriff and touched his arm.

"Is he as bad as you think, sheriff?"

Long scowled at her in the dim light from the door, took out a thick,
black cigar, bit the end off savagely, and began to chew it. He walked
abruptly out to where some of his men were standing by their horses,
and he said something in an undertone. When he returned, Rathburn had
taken the saddle and bridle off the dead horse and was throwing the
leather on the porch.

"Yours, dad," he called to Mallory; "I wouldn't use 'em again if I
could." Then he turned to the sheriff. "All right, Bob."

"Come inside," said Long gruffly.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

TEN MILES' START


When they were in the sitting room the sheriff confronted Rathburn.

"This has been a queer case for me," he said slowly, with an attempt
at harshness. "I knew Eagen was up to a lot of dirty work, but I never
could fasten anything on him till to-night. I'll get some of the rest
of the gang now. Doane showed in his face that he was guilty. Those
things don't worry me none. But _you_ are the hardest character I ever
had to handle, Rathburn!"

"I don't figure on givin' you any more trouble, sheriff," Rathburn
assured him, smiling.

"That's the puzzle of it!" Long exploded. "That puts it up to me. I
know you had reason for giving Gomez his, and I know this girl
wouldn't lie about the other. But--well, I don't get you a-tall,
Rathburn, and that's a fact. Something tells me I've got to give you a
chance, and if I knew what tells me this I'd wring its neck!"

He stepped close to Rathburn and looked him straight in the eye.

"Take one of Mallory's horses. He's got some good ones. I give you ten
miles in any direction. If you can make it--it's your candy. But
remember, Rathburn, I'm going to try to stop you!"

He walked swiftly out of the door, leaving Rathburn staring at the
smiling girl.

Laura stepped close to him and nodded. Rathburn shook his head.

"I can't see where I've got the right to give Long any more
trouble."

"But he isn't letting you go, Roger. He's putting it up to you, and he
means what he says when he declares he'll try to get you."

"If he does, he'll probably get me," mused Rathburn.

"But maybe he won't get _us_, Roger."

"Us?"

"You and I, Roger. Listen! There's a land 'way up north, Roger. I've
read about it. It's past the desert and the mountains and the
plains--in another country! And there's a river there, Roger--a river
they call Peace River. I've always loved the name. We'll go there,
Roger, you and I--and father can come later."

She looked up at him with shining eyes and put her arms about his
neck, and she saw the unbelievable wonder in his face. The man
trembled. Then he took her and held her and kissed her, time after
time.

"Joe Price said I could never be satisfied away from the desert unless
I took along something that was of it," he muttered hoarsely; "I
wonder----"

"Yes, Roger, he meant me."

"We can't make it," he said softly. "Not the two of us--but Laura,
girlie, _this_ is worth the game!"

"Yes we can, Roger," she said eagerly. "Think! We can be married when
we've left the desert. It's not quite ten miles to Boxall Cañon. We
can go up Boxall over the range and cross Death Flat."

"I was thinking of that, sweetheart," he replied. "But no horse can
get up Boxall, an' if he did he couldn't get across Death Flat. Few
men have crossed that stretch. It's well named. I might try it alone;
but you--no, Laura. It just ain't in the pictures!"

"We don't need horses, Roger. You've forgotten the burros. They'll
kill any horse on the desert, won't they? We can take two or three
loaded with food and water."

"But it's miles and miles an' then some--an' it all looks alike."

"But when we've reached the other side, Roger?"

He drew away from her and stepped to the door. He could not see or
hear anything. When he turned and again approached her, his face was
white. He looked at Mallory, who was standing with a look of
stupefaction on his lined face.

"Wait!" he said and stepped into another room. In a few moments he was
back, holding a money belt in his hands. He took out gold and bills
and deposited the money on the table.

The others stared.

"There's about six thousand there, Mallory. It's gamblin' money. Turn
it in to the bank to make or help out Doane's shortage. I've got just
twenty-five hundred left which I earned in a better way."

"Daddy, get the burros!" cried the girl. "We're going!"

                  *       *       *       *       *

Sheriff Bob Long looked down from a ledge above a narrow, deep,
boulder-strewn, awe-inspiring cañon and drew in his breath sharply.
Below he saw two human beings and three animals.

"I knew he'd try it," Long said wonderingly to himself. "I thought
he'd try it afoot. But the girl! And they're going to try to cross
Death Flat!"

His look of wonder increased, and he made no move toward the weapons
in his holsters.

"I wonder now," he mused. "Can they make it? I wonder----"

He scowled and looked about with a frowning stare. His gaze again
shifted downward. Suddenly he shrugged and put the wrong end of his
unlighted cigar in his mouth.

"That's the queerest cigar I ever had," he growled, as he made his way
to his horse. "It won't stay lit because it wants to be swallowed."

He mounted and rode slowly back toward the far-reaching stretches of
desert. Once he halted and turned in his saddle for a backward look.

"He had the makings of the worst bad man this country ever saw," he
muttered aloud. "Now, if that woman and another country--but first
they've got to get across."

                  *       *       *       *       *

On the western edge of a great, ghastly plain of white, in which a
deceiving, distant glow was mirrored in the desert dawn, two figures,
a man and a girl, stood hand in hand. Three shaggy burros, heavily
laden, stood behind them. The burros saw not the Death Flat ahead, for
they were asleep.

And the man and the girl saw not the frightful white, as of powdered
skulls, bare, sinister, sunbaked, but a vision of a little house in a
fragrant green meadow, with golden fields on either side of a peaceful
river, and forests ranging up to distant hills.

THE END



TO THE READER

If you have enjoyed this book, you will be glad to know that there are
many others just as well written, just as interesting, to be had in
the Chelsea House Popular Copyright Novels.

The stories which we will publish in this line have never appeared in
book form before, and they are without question the best value in the
way of cloth-bound books that has been offered to the reading public
in many years.

CHELSEA HOUSE

79 Seventh Avenue--New York City





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