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Title: Whispering Smith
Author: Spearman, Frank H. (Frank Hamilton), 1859-1937
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 "Whispering Smith" ***

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



[Illustration: "And whom may I say the message is from?"]



WHISPERING SMITH

BY

FRANK H. SPEARMAN

ILLUSTRATED BY N. C. WYETH AND

WITH SCENES FROM THE PHOTO-PLAY


FILM CORPORATION

NEW YORK

GROSSET & DUNLAP

PUBLISHERS

Published by Arrangement with Charles Scribner's Sons



COPYRIGHT, 1906, BY

CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

Published, September, 1906



TO MY SON

THOMAS CLARK SPEARMAN

IN MEMORY OF

A PIEDMONT WINTER



CONTENTS

  CHAPTER                                                         PAGE
       I. The Wrecking Boss                                          1
      II. At Smoky Creek                                            10
     III. Dicksie                                                   23
      IV. George McCloud                                            33
       V. The Crawling Stone                                        51
      VI. The Final Appeal                                          60
     VII. In Marion's Shop                                          64
    VIII. Smoky Creek Bridge                                        71
      IX. The Misunderstanding                                      76
       X. Sweeping Orders                                           88
      XI. At the Three Horses                                       93
     XII. Parley                                                   103
    XIII. The Turn in the Storm                                    122
     XIV. The Quarrel                                              131
      XV. The Shot in the Pass                                     141
     XVI. At the Wickiup                                           148
    XVII. A Test                                                   155
   XVIII. New Plans                                                162
     XIX. The Crawling Stone Rise                                  169
      XX. At the Dike                                              179
     XXI. Supper in Camp                                           197
    XXII. A Talk With Whispering Smith                             207
   XXIII. At the River                                             217
    XXIV. Between Girlhood and Womanhood                           225
     XXV. The Man on the Frenchman                                 242
    XXVI. Tower W                                                  256
   XXVII. Pursuit                                                  262
  XXVIII. The Sunday Murder                                        271
    XXIX. Williams Cache                                           281
     XXX. The Fight in the Cache                                   292
    XXXI. The Death of Du Sang                                     305
   XXXII. Mcloud and Dicksie                                       312
  XXXIII. The Laugh of a Woman                                     320
   XXXIV. A Midnight Visit                                         327
    XXXV. The Call                                                 334
   XXXVI. Duty                                                     340
  XXXVII. Wickwire                                                 346
 XXXVIII. Into the North                                           352
   XXXIX. Among the Coyotes                                        361
      XL. A Sympathetic Ear                                        373
     XLI. Dicksie's Ride                                           379
    XLII. At the Door                                              389
   XLIII. Closing In                                               395
    XLIV. Crawling Stone Wash                                      403
     XLV. Back to the Mountains                                    413



WHISPERING SMITH

CHAPTER I

THE WRECKING BOSS


News of the wreck at Smoky Creek reached Medicine Bend from Point of
Rocks at five o'clock. Sinclair, in person, was overseeing the making
up of his wrecking train, and the yard, usually quiet at that hour of
the morning, was alive with the hurry of men and engines. In the
trainmaster's room of the weather-beaten headquarters building,
nicknamed by railroad men "The Wickiup," early comers--sleepy-faced,
keen-eyed trainmen--lounged on the tables and in chairs discussing the
reports from Point of Rocks, and among them crew-callers and
messengers moved in and out. From the door of the big operators' room,
pushed at intervals abruptly open, burst a blaze of light and the
current crash of many keys; within, behind glass screens, alert,
smooth-faced boys in shirt sleeves rained calls over the wires or bent
with flying pens above clips, taking incoming messages. At one end of
the room, heedless of the strain on the division, press despatches and
cablegrams clicked in monotonous relay over commercial wires; while at
the other, operators were taking from the despatchers' room the train
orders and the hurried dispositions made for the wreck emergency by
Anderson, the assistant superintendent. At a table in the alcove the
chief operator was trying to reach the division superintendent,
McCloud, at Sleepy Cat; at his elbow, his best man was ringing the
insistent calls of the despatcher and clearing the line for Sinclair
and the wrecking gang. Two minutes after the wrecking train reported
ready they had their orders and were pulling out of the upper yard,
with right of way over everything to Point of Rocks.

The wreck had occurred just west of the creek. A fast east-bound
freight train, double-headed, had left the track on the long curve
around the hill, and when the wrecking train backed through Ten Shed
Cut the sun streamed over the heaps of jammed and twisted cars strung
all the way from the point of the curve to the foot of Smoky Hill. The
crew of the train that lay in the ditch walked slowly up the track to
where the wreckers had pulled up, and the freight conductor asked for
Sinclair. Men rigging the derrick pointed to the hind car. The
conductor, swinging up the caboose steps, made his way inside among
the men that were passing out tools. The air within was bluish-thick
with tobacco smoke, but through the haze the freightman saw facing
him, in the far corner of the den-like interior, a man seated behind
an old dining-car table, finishing his breakfast; one glimpse was
enough to identify the dark beard of Sinclair, foreman of the bridges
and boss of the wrecking gang.

Beside him stood a steaming coffee-tank, and in his right hand he held
an enormous tin cup that he was about to raise to his mouth when he
saw the freight conductor. With a laugh, Sinclair threw up his left
hand and beckoned him over. Then he shook his hair just a little,
tossed back his head, opened an unusual mouth, drained the cup at a
gulp, and cursing the freightman fraternally, exclaimed, "How many
cars have you ditched this time?"

The trainman, a sober-faced fellow, answered dryly, "All I had."

"Running too fast, eh?" glared Sinclair.

With the box cars piled forty feet high on the track, the conductor
was too old a hand to begin a controversy. "Our time's fast," was all
he said.

Sinclair rose and exclaimed, "Come on!" And the two, leaving the car,
started up the track. The wrecking boss paid no attention to his
companion as they forged ahead, but where the train had hit the curve
he scanned the track as he would a blue print. "They'll have your
scalp for this," he declared abruptly.

"I reckon they will."

"What's your name?"

"Stevens."

"Looks like all day for you, doesn't it? No matter; I guess I can help
you out."

Where the merchandise cars lay, below the switch, the train crew knew
that a tramp had been caught. At intervals they heard groans under the
wreckage, which was piled high there. Sinclair stopped at the derrick,
and the freight conductor went on to where his brakeman had enlisted
two of Sinclair's giants to help get out the tramp. A brake beam had
crushed the man's legs, and the pallor of his face showed that he was
hurt internally, but he was conscious and moaned softly. The men had
started to carry him to the way car when Sinclair came up, asked what
they were doing, and ordered them back to the wreck. They hastily laid
the tramp down. "But he wants water," protested a brakeman who was
walking behind, carrying his arm in a sling.

"Water!" bawled Sinclair. "Have my men got nothing to do but carry a
tramp to water? Get ahead there and help unload those refrigerators.
He'll find water fast enough. Let the damned hobo crawl down to the
creek after it."

The tramp was too far gone for resentment; he had fainted when they
laid him down, and his half-glazed eyes, staring at the sky, gave no
evidence that he heard anything.

The sun rose hot, for in the Red Desert sky there is rarely a cloud.
Sinclair took the little hill nearest the switch to bellow his orders
from, running down among the men whenever necessary to help carry them
out. Within thirty minutes, though apparently no impression had been
made on the great heaps of wrenched and splintered equipment, Sinclair
had the job in hand.

Work such as this was the man's genius. In handling a wreck Sinclair
was a marvel among mountain men. He was tall but not stout, with
flashing brown eyes and a strength always equal to that of the best
man in his crew. But his inspiration lay in destruction, and the more
complete the better. There were no futile moves under Sinclair's quick
eyes, no useless pulling and hauling, no false grappling; but like a
raven at a feast, every time his derrick-beak plucked at the wreck he
brought something worth while away. Whether he was righting a tender,
rerailing an engine, tearing out a car-body, or swinging a set of
trucks into the clear, Sinclair, men said, had luck, and no confusion
in day or night was great enough to drown his heavy tones or blur his
rapid thinking.

Just below where the wrecking boss stood lay the tramp. The sun
scorched his drawn face, but he made no effort to turn from it.
Sometimes he opened his eyes, but Sinclair was not a promising source
of help, and no one that might have helped dared venture within
speaking distance of the injured man. When the heat and the pain at
last extorted a groan and an appeal, Sinclair turned. "Damn you, ain't
you dead yet? What? Water?" He pointed to a butt standing in the shade
of a car that had been thrown out near the switch. "There's water; go
get it!" The cracking of a box car as the derrick wrenched it from the
wreck was engaging the attention of the boss, and as he saw the
grapple slip he yelled to his men and pointed to the chains.

The tramp lay still a long time. At last he began to drag himself
toward the butt. In the glare of the sun timbers strained and snapped,
and men with bars and axes chopped and wrenched at the massive frames
and twisted iron on the track. The wrecking gang moved like ants in
and out of the shapeless débris, and at intervals, as the sun rose
higher, the tramp dragged himself nearer the butt. He lay on the
burning sand like a crippled insect, crawling, and waiting for
strength to crawl. To him there was no railroad and no wreck, but only
the blinding sun, the hot sand, the torture of thirst, and somewhere
water, if he could reach it.

The freight conductor, Stevens, afraid of no man, had come up to
speak to Sinclair, and Sinclair, with a smile, laid a cordial hand
on his shoulder. "Stevens, it's all right. I'll get you out of this.
Come here." He led the conductor down the track where they had walked
in the morning. He pointed to flange-marks on the ties. "See
there--there's where the first wheels left the track, and they left on
the inside of the curve; a thin flange under the first refrigerator
broke. I've got the wheel itself back there for evidence. They can't
talk fast running against that. Damn a private car-line, anyway!
Give me a cigar--haven't got any? Great guns, man, there's a case
of Key Wests open up ahead; go fill your pockets and your grip. Don't
be bashful; you've got friends on the division if you are Irish, eh?"

"Sure, only I don't smoke," said Stevens, with diplomacy.

"Well, you drink, don't you? There's a barrel of brandy open at the
switch."

The brandy-cask stood up-ended near the water-butt, and the men dipped
out of both with cups. They were working now half naked at the wreck.
The sun hung in a cloudless sky, the air was still, and along the
right of way huge wrecking fires added to the scorching heat. Ten feet
from the water-butt lay a flattened mass of rags. Crusted in smoke and
blood and dirt, crushed by a vise of beams and wheels out of human
semblance, and left now an aimless, twitching thing, the tramp
clutched at Stevens's foot as he passed. "Water!"

"Hello, old boy, how the devil did you get here?" exclaimed Stevens,
retreating in alarm.

"Water!"

Stevens stepped to the butt and filled a cup. The tramp's eyes were
closed. Stevens poured the water over his face; then he lifted the
man's head and put a cupful to his lips.

"Is that hobo alive yet?" asked Sinclair, coming back smoking a cigar.
"What does he want now? Water? Don't waste any time on him."

"It's bad luck refusing water," muttered Stevens, holding the cup.

"He'll be dead in a minute," growled Sinclair.

The sound of his voice roused the failing man to a fury. He opened his
bloodshot eyes, and with the dregs of an ebbing vitality cursed
Sinclair with a frenzy that made Stevens draw back. If Sinclair was
startled he gave no sign. "Go to hell!" he exclaimed harshly.

With a ghastly effort the man made his retort. He held up his
blood-soaked fingers. "I'm going all right--I know that," he gasped,
with a curse, "but I'll come back for you!"

Sinclair, unshaken, stood his ground. He repeated his imprecation more
violently; but Stevens, swallowing, stole out of hearing. As he
disappeared, a train whistled in the west.



CHAPTER II

AT SMOKY CREEK


Karg, Sinclair's crew foreman, came running over to him from a pile of
merchandise that had been set off the right of way on the wagon-road
for loot. "That's the superintendent's car coming, ain't it, Murray?"
he cried, looking across the creek at the approaching train.

"What of it?" returned Sinclair.

"Why, we're just loading the team."

The incoming train, an engine with a way car, two flats, and the Bear
Dance derrick, slowed up at one end of the wreck while Sinclair and
his foreman talked. Three men could be seen getting out of the way
car--McCloud and Reed Young, the Scotch roadmaster, and Bill Dancing.
A gang of trackmen filed slowly out after them.

The leaders of the party made their way down the curve, and Sinclair,
with Karg, met them at the point. McCloud asked questions about the
wreck and the chances of getting the track clear, and while they
talked Sinclair sent Karg to get the new derrick into action. Sinclair
then asked McCloud to walk with him up the track to see where the
cars had left the rail. The two men showed in contrast as they stepped
along the ties. McCloud was not alone younger and below Sinclair's
height: his broad Stetson hat flattened him somewhat. His movement was
deliberate beside Sinclair's litheness, and his face, though burned by
sun and wind, was boyish, while Sinclair's was strongly lined.

"Just a moment," suggested McCloud mildly, as Sinclair hastened past
the goods piled in the wagon-road. "Whose team is that, Sinclair?" The
road followed the right of way where they stood, and a four-horse team
of heavy mules was pulling a loaded ranch-wagon up the grade when
McCloud spoke.

Sinclair answered cordially. "That's my team from over on the
Frenchman. I picked them up at Denver. Nice mules, McCloud, ain't
they? Give me mules every time for heavy work. If I had just a hundred
more of 'em the company could have my job--what?"

"Yes. What's that stuff they are hauling?"

"That's a little stuff mashed up in the merchandise car; there's some
tobacco there and a little wine, I guess. The cases are all smashed."

"Let's look at it."

"Oh, there's nothing there that's any good, McCloud."

"Let's look at it."

As Bill Dancing and Young walked behind the two men toward the wagon,
Dancing made extraordinary efforts to wink at the roadmaster. "That's
a good story about the mules coming from Denver, ain't it?" he
muttered. Young, unwilling to commit himself, stopped to light his
pipe. When he and Dancing joined Sinclair and McCloud the talk between
the superintendent and the wrecking boss had become animated.

"I always do something for my men out of a wreck when I can; that's
the way I get the work out of them," Sinclair was saying. "A little
stuff like this," he added, nodding toward the wagon, "comes handy for
presents, and the company wouldn't get any salvage out of it, anyway.
I get the value a dozen times over in quick work. Look there!"
Sinclair pointed to where the naked men heaved and wrenched in the
sun. "Where could you get white men to work like that if you didn't
jolly them along once in a while? What? You haven't been here long,
McCloud," smiled Sinclair, laying a hand with heavy affection on the
young man's shoulder. "Ask any man on the division who gets the work
out of his men--who gets the wrecks cleaned up and the track cleared.
Ain't that what you want?"

"Certainly, Sinclair; no man that ever saw you handle a wreck would
undertake to do it better."

"Then what's all this fuss about?"

"We've been over all this matter before, as you know. The claim
department won't stand for this looting; that's the whole story. Here
are ten or twelve cases of champagne on your wagon--soiled a little,
but worth a lot of money."

"That was a mistake loading that up; I admit it; it was Karg's
carelessness."

"Here is one whole case of cigars and part of another," continued
McCloud, climbing from one wheel to another of the wagon. "There is a
thousand dollars in this load! I know you've got good men, Sinclair.
If they are not getting paid as they should be, give them time and a
half or double time, but put it in the pay checks. The freight loss
and damage account increased two hundred per cent. last year. No
railroad company can keep that rate up and last, Sinclair."

"Hang the company! The claim agents are a pack of thieves," cried
Sinclair. "Look here, McCloud, what's a pay check to a man that's
sick, compared with a bottle of good wine?"

"When one of your men is sick and needs wine, let me know," returned
McCloud; "I'll see that he gets it. Your men don't wear silk dresses,
do they?" he asked, pointing to another case of goods under the
driver's seat. "Have that stuff all hauled back and loaded into a box
car on track."

"Not by a damned sight!" exclaimed Sinclair. He turned to his ranch
driver, Barney Rebstock. "You haul that stuff where you were told to
haul it, Barney." Then, "you and I may as well have an understanding
right here," he said, as McCloud walked to the head of the mules.

"By all means, and I'll begin by countermanding that order right now.
Take your load straight back to that car," directed McCloud, pointing
up the track. Barney, a ranch hand with a cigarette face looked
surlily at McCloud.

Sinclair raised a finger at the boy. "You drive straight ahead where I
told you to drive. I don't propose to have my affairs interfered with
by you or anybody else, Mr. McCloud. You and I can settle this thing
ourselves," he added, walking straight toward the superintendent.

"Get away from those mules!" yelled Barney at the same moment,
cracking his whip.

McCloud's dull eyes hardly lightened as he looked at the driver.
"Don't swing your whip this way, my boy," he said, laying hold quietly
of the near bridle.

"Drop that bridle!" roared Sinclair.

"I'll drop your mules in their tracks if they move one foot forward.
Dancing, unhook those traces," said McCloud peremptorily. "Dump the
wine out of that wagon-box, Young." Then he turned to Sinclair and
pointed to the wreck. "Get back to your work."

The sun marked the five men rooted for an instant on the hillside.
Dancing jumped at the traces, Reed Young clambered over the wheel, and
Sinclair, livid, faced McCloud. With a bitter denunciation of
interlopers, claim agents, and "fresh" railroad men generally,
Sinclair swore he would not go back to work, and a case of wine
crashing to the ground infuriated him. He turned on his heel and
started for the wreck. "Call off the men!" he yelled to Karg at the
derrick. The foreman passed the word. The derrickmen, dropping their
hooks and chains in some surprise, moved out of the wreckage. The
axemen and laborers gathered around the foreman and followed him
toward Sinclair.

"Boys," cried Sinclair, "we've got a new superintendent, a college
guy. You know what they are; the company has tried 'em before. They
draw the salaries and we do the work. This one down here now is making
his little kick about the few pickings we get out of our jobs. You can
go back to your work or you can stand right here with me till we get
our rights. What?"

Half a dozen men began talking at once. The derrickman from below, a
hatchet-faced wiper, with the visor of a greasy cap cocked over his
ear, stuck his head between the uprights and called out shrilly,
"What's er matter, Murray?" and a few men laughed. Barney had deserted
the mules. Dancing and Young, with small regard for loss or damage,
were emptying the wagon like deckhands, for in a fight such as now
appeared imminent, possession of the goods even on the ground seemed
vital to prestige. McCloud waited only long enough to assure the
emptying of the wagon, and then followed Sinclair to where he had
assembled his men. "Sinclair, put your men back to work."

"Not till we know just how we stand," Sinclair answered insolently. He
continued to speak, but McCloud turned to the men. "Boys, go back to
your work. Your boss and I can settle our own differences. I'll see
that you lose nothing by working hard."

"And you'll see we make nothing, won't you?" suggested Karg.

"I'll see that every man in the crew gets twice what is coming to
him--all except you, Karg. I discharge you now. Sinclair, will you go
back to work?"

"No!"

"Then take your time. Any men that want to go back to work may step
over to the switch," added McCloud.

Not a man moved. Sinclair and Karg smiled at each other, and with no
apparent embarrassment McCloud himself smiled. "I like to see men
loyal to their bosses," he said good-naturedly. "I wouldn't give much
for a man that wouldn't stick to his boss if he thought him right. But
a question has come up here, boys, that must be settled once for all.
This wreck-looting on the mountain division is going to stop--right
here--at this particular wreck. On that point there is no room for
discussion. Now, any man that agrees with me on that matter may step
over here and I'll discuss with him any other grievance. If what I say
about looting is a grievance, it can't be discussed. Is there any man
that wants to come over?" No man stirred.

"Sinclair, you've got good men," continued McCloud, unmoved. "You are
leading them into pretty deep water. There's a chance yet for you to
get them out of serious trouble if you think as much of them as they
do of you. Will you advise them to go back to work--all except Karg?"

Sinclair glared in high humor. "Oh, I couldn't do that! I'm
discharged!" he protested, bowing low.

"I don't want to be over-hasty," returned McCloud. "This is a serious
business, as you know better than they do, and there will never be as
good a time to fix it up as now. There is a chance for you, I say,
Sinclair, to take hold if you want to now."

"Why, I'll take hold if you'll take your nose out of my business and
agree to keep it out."

"Is there _any_ man here that wants to go back to work for the
company?" continued McCloud evenly. It was one man against thirty;
McCloud saw there was not the shadow of a chance to win the strikers
over. "This lets all of you out, you understand, boys," he added; "and
you can never work again for the company on this division if you don't
take hold now."

"Boys," exclaimed Sinclair, better-humored every moment, "I'll
guarantee you work on this division when all the fresh superintendents
are run out of the country, and I'll lay this matter before Bucks
himself, and don't you forget it!"

"You will have a chilly job of it," interposed McCloud.

"So will you, my hearty, before you get trains running past here,"
retorted the wrecking boss. "Come on, boys."

The disaffected men drew off. The emptied wagon, its load scattered on
the ground, stood deserted on the hillside, and the mules drooped in
the heat. Bill Dancing, a giant and a dangerous one, stood lone guard
over the loot, and Young had been called over by McCloud. "How many
men have you got with you, Reed?"

"Eleven."

"How long will it take them to clean up this mess with what help we
can run in this afternoon?"

Young studied the prospect before replying. "They're green at this
sort of thing, of course; they might be fussing here till to-morrow
noon, I'm afraid; perhaps till to-morrow night, Mr. McCloud."

"That won't do!" The two men stood for a moment in a study. "The
merchandise is all unloaded, isn't it?" said McCloud reflectively.
"Get your men here and bring a water-bucket with you."

McCloud walked down to the engine of the wrecking train and gave
orders to the train and engine crews. The best of the refrigerator
cars had been rerailed, and they were pulled to a safe distance from
the wreck. Young brought the bucket, and McCloud pointed to the
caskful of brandy. "Throw that brandy over the wreckage, Reed."

The roadmaster started. "Burn the whole thing up, eh?"

"Everything on the track."

"Bully! It's a shame to waste the liquor, but it's Sinclair's fault.
Here, boys, scatter this stuff where it will catch good, and touch her
off. Everything goes--the whole pile. Burn up everything; that's
orders. If you can get a few rails here, now, I'll give you a track by
sundown, Mr. McCloud, in spite of Sinclair and the devil."

The remains of many cars lay in heaps along the curve, and the
trackmen like firebugs ran in and out of them. A tongue of flame
leaped from the middle of a pile of stock cars. In five minutes the
wreck was burning; in ten minutes the flames were crackling fiercely;
then in another instant the wreck burst into a conflagration that rose
hissing and seething a hundred feet straight up in the air.

From where they stood, Sinclair's men looked on. They were nonplussed,
but their boss had not lost his nerve. He walked back to McCloud.
"You're going to send us back to Medicine Bend with the car, I
suppose?"

McCloud spoke amiably. "Not on your life. Take your personal stuff out
of the car and tell your men to take theirs; then get off the train
and off the right of way."

"Going to turn us loose on Red Desert, are you?" asked Sinclair
steadily.

"You've turned yourselves loose."

"Wouldn't give a man a tie-pass, would you?"

"Come to my office in Medicine Bend and I'll talk to you about it,"
returned McCloud impassively.

"Well, boys," roared Sinclair, going back to his followers, "we can't
ride on this road now! But I want to tell you there's something to eat
for every one of you over at my place on the Crawling Stone, and a
place to sleep--and something to drink," he added, cursing McCloud
once more.

The superintendent eyed him, but made no response. Sinclair led his
men to the wagon, and they piled into it till the box was filled.
Barney Rebstock had the reins again, and the mules groaned as the whip
cracked. Those that could not climb into the wagon as it moved off
straggled along behind, and the air was filled with cheers and
curses.

The wreck burned furiously, and the column of black smoke shot
straight up. Sinclair, as his cavalcade moved over the hill, followed
on foot, grimly. He was the last to cross the divide that shut the
scene on the track away from the striking wreckers, and as he reached
the crest he paused and looked back, standing for a moment like a
statue outlined in the vivid sunshine. For all his bravado, something
told him he should never handle another wreck on the mountain
division--that he stood a king dethroned. Uninviting enough to many
men, this had been his kingdom, and he loved the power it gave him. He
had run it like many a reckless potentate, but no one could say he had
not been royal in his work as well as in his looting. It was
impossible not to admire the man, his tremendous capacity, his
extraordinary power as a leader; and no one liked his better traits
more than McCloud himself. But Sinclair never loved McCloud. Long
afterward he told Whispering Smith that he made his first mistake in a
long and desperate game in not killing McCloud when he laid his hand
that morning on the bridle of the mules; it would have been easy then.
Sinclair might have been thinking of it even as he stood looking back.
But he stood only for a moment, then turned and passed over the hill.



CHAPTER III

DICKSIE


The wreckers, drifting in the blaze of the sun across the broad alkali
valley, saw the smoke of the wreck-fire behind them. No breath of wind
stirred it. With the stillness of a signal column it rose, thin and
black, and high in the air spread motionless, like a huge umbrella,
above Smoky Creek. Reed Young had gone with an engine to wire
reënforcements, and McCloud, active among the trackmen until the
conflagration spent itself, had retired to the shade of the hill.

Reclining against a rock with his legs crossed, he had clasped his
hands behind his head and sat looking at the iron writhing in the
dying heat of the fire. The sound of hoofs aroused him, and looking
below he saw a horsewoman reining up near his men at the wreck. She
rode an American horse, thin and rangy, and the experienced way in
which she checked him drew him back almost to his haunches. But
McCloud's eyes were fixed on the slender figure of the rider. He was
wholly at a loss to account, at such a time and in such a place, for
a visitor in gauntleted gloves and a banded Panama hat. He studied her
with growing amazement. Her hair coiled low on her neck supported the
very free roll of the hat-brim. Her black riding-skirt clung to her
waist to form its own girdle, and her white stock, rolled high on her
neck, rose above a heavy shirtwaist of white linen, and gave her an
air of confident erectness. The trackmen stopped work to look, but her
attitude in their gaze was one of impatience rather than of
embarrassment. Her boot flashed in the stirrup while she spoke to the
nearest man, and her horse stretched his neck and nosed the brown
alkali-grass that spread thinly along the road.

To McCloud she was something like an apparition. He sat spellbound
until the trackman indiscreetly pointed him out, and the eyes of the
visitor, turning his way, caught him with his hands on the rock in an
attitude openly curious. She turned immediately away, but McCloud rose
and started down the hill. The horse's head was pulled up, and there
were signs of departure. He quickened his steps. Once he saw, or
thought he saw, the rider's head so turned that her eyes might have
commanded one approaching from his quarter; yet he could catch no
further glimpse of her face. A second surprise awaited him. Just as
she seemed about to ride away, she dropped lightly from the horse to
the ground, and he saw how confident in figure she was. As she began
to try her saddle-girths, McCloud attempted a greeting. She could not
ignore his hat, held rather high above his head as he approached, but
she gave him the slightest nod in return--one that made no attempt to
explain why she was there or where she had come from.

"Pardon me," ventured McCloud, "have you lost your way?"

He was immediately conscious that he had said the wrong thing. The
expression of her eyes implied that it was foolish to suppose she was
lost but she only answered, "I saw the smoke and feared the bridge was
on fire."

Something in her voice made him almost sorry he had intervened; if she
stood in need of help of any sort it was not apparent, and her gaze
was confusing. He became conscious that he was at the worst for an
inspection; his face felt streaky with smoke, his hat and shirt had
suffered severely in directing the fire, and his hands were black. He
said to himself in revenge that she was not pretty, despite the fact
that she seemed completely to take away his consequence. He felt,
while she inspected him, like a brakeman.

"I presume Mr. Sinclair is here?" she said presently.

"I am sorry to say he is not."

"He usually has charge of the wrecks, I think. What a dreadful fire!"
she murmured, looking down the track. She stood beside the horse with
one hand resting on her girdle. Around the hand that held the bridle
her quirt lay coiled in the folds of her glove, and, though seemingly
undecided as to what to do, her composure did not lessen. As she
looked at the wreckage, a breath of wind lifted the hair that curled
around her ear. The mountain wind playing on her neck had left it
brown, and above, the pulse of her ride rose red in her cheek. "Was it
a passenger wreck?" She turned abruptly on McCloud to ask the
question. Her eyes were brown, too, he saw, and a doubt assailed him.
Was she pretty?

"Only a freight wreck," he answered.

"I thought if there were passengers hurt I could send help from the
ranch. Were you the conductor?"

"Fortunately not."

"And no one was hurt?"

"Only a tramp. We are burning the wreck to clear the track."

"From the divide it looked like a mountain on fire. I'm sorry Mr.
Sinclair is not here."

"Why, indeed, yes, so am I."

"Because I know him. You are one of his men, I presume."

"Not exactly; but is there anything I can do----"

"Oh, thank you, nothing, except that you might tell him the pretty bay
colt he sent over to us has sprung his shoulder."

"He will be sorry to hear it, I'm sure."

"But we are doing everything possible for him. He is going to make a
perfectly lovely horse."

"And whom may I say the message is from?" Though disconcerted, McCloud
was regaining his wits. He felt perfectly certain there was no danger,
if she knew Sinclair and lived in the mountains, but that she would
sometime find out he was not a conductor. When he asked his question
she appeared slightly surprised and answered easily, "Mr. Sinclair
will know it is from Dicksie Dunning."

McCloud knew her then. Every one knew Dicksie Dunning in the high
country. This was Dicksie Dunning of the great Crawling Stone ranch,
most widely known of all the mountain ranches. While his stupidity in
not guessing her identity before overwhelmed him, he resolved to
exhaust the last effort to win her interest.

"I don't know just when I shall see Mr. Sinclair," he answered
gravely, "but he shall certainly have your message."

A doubt seemed to steal over Dicksie at the change in McCloud's
manner. "Oh, pardon me--I thought you were working for the company."

"You are quite right, I am; but Mr. Sinclair is not."

Her eyebrows rose a little. "I think you are mistaken, aren't you?"

"It is possible I am; but if he is working for the company, it is
pretty certain that I am not," he continued, heaping mystification on
her. "However, that will not prevent my delivering the message. By the
way, may I ask which shoulder?"

"Shoulder!"

"Which shoulder is sprung."

"Oh, of course! The right shoulder, and it is sprung pretty badly,
too, Cousin Lance says. How very stupid of me to ride over here for a
freight wreck!"

McCloud felt humiliated at having nothing better worth while to offer.
"It was a very bad one," he ventured.

"But not of the kind I can be of any help at, I fear."

McCloud smiled. "We are certainly short of help."

Dicksie brought her horse's head around. She felt again of the girth
as she replied, "Not such as I can supply, I'm afraid." And with the
words she stepped away, as if preparing to mount.

McCloud intervened. "I hope you won't go away without resting
your horse. The sun is so hot. Mayn't I offer you some sort of
refreshment?"

Dicksie Dunning thought not.

"The sun is very warm," persisted McCloud.

Dicksie smoothed her gauntlet in the assured manner natural to her. "I
am pretty well used to it."

But McCloud held on. "Several cars of fruit were destroyed in the
wreck. I can offer you any quantity of grapes--crates of them are
spoiling over there--and pears."

"Thank you, I am just from luncheon."

"And I have cooled water in the car. I hope you won't refuse that, so
far out in the desert."

Dicksie laughed a little. "Do you call this far? I don't; and I don't
call this desert by any means. Thank you ever so much for the water,
but I'm not in the least thirsty."

"It was kind of you even to think of extending help. I wish you would
let me send some fruit over to your ranch. It is only spoiling here."

Dicksie stroked the neck of her horse. "It is about eighteen miles to
the ranch house."

"I don't call that far."

"Oh, it isn't," she returned hastily, professing not to notice the
look that went with the words, "except for perishable things!" Then,
as if acknowledging her disadvantage, she added, swinging her
bridle-rein around, "I am under obligations for the offer, just the
same."

"At least, won't you let your horse drink?" McCloud threw the force of
an appeal into his words, and Dicksie stopped her preparations and
appeared to waver.

"Jim is pretty thirsty, I suppose. Have you plenty of water?"

"A tender full. Had I better lead him down while you wait up on the
hill in the shade?"

"Can't I ride him down?"

"It would be pretty rough riding."

"Oh, Jim goes anywhere," she said, with her attractive indifference to
situations. "If you don't mind helping me mount."

"With pleasure."

She stood waiting for his hand, and McCloud stood, not knowing just
what to do. She glanced at him expectantly. The sun grew intensely
hot.

"You will have to show me how," he stammered at last.

"Don't you know?"

He mentally cursed the technical education that left him helpless at
such a moment, but it was useless to pretend. "Frankly, I don't!"

"Just give me your hand. Oh, not in that way! But never mind, I'll
walk," she suggested, catching up her skirt.

"The rocks will cut your boots all to pieces. Suppose you tell me what
to do this once," he said, assuming some confidence. "I'll never
forget."

"Why, if you will just give me your hand for my foot, I can manage,
you know."

He did not know, but she lifted her skirt graciously, and her crushed
boot rested easily for a moment in his hand. She rose in the air above
him before he could well comprehend. He felt the quick spring from his
supporting hand, and it was an instant of exhilaration. Then she
balanced herself with a flushed laugh in the saddle, and he guided her
ahead among the loose rocks, the horse nosing at his elbow as they
picked their way.

Crossing the track, they gained better ground. As they reached the
switch and passed a box car, Jim shied, and Dicksie spoke sharply to
him. McCloud turned.

In the shade of the car lay the tramp.

"That man lying there frightened him," explained Dicksie. "Oh," she
exclaimed suddenly, "he has been hurt!" She turned away her head. "Is
that the man who was in the wreck?"

"Yes."

"Do something for him. He must be suffering terribly."

"The men gave him some water awhile ago, and when we moved him into
the shade we thought he was dead."

"He isn't dead yet!" Dicksie's face, still averted, had grown white.
"I saw him move. Can't you do something for him?"

She reined up at a little distance. McCloud bent over the man a moment
and spoke to him. When he rose he called to the men on the track. "You
are right," he said, rejoining Dicksie; "he is very much alive. His
name is Wickwire; he is a cowboy."

"A cowboy!"

"A tramp cowboy."

"What can you do with him?"

"I'll have the men put him in the caboose and send him to Barnhardt's
hospital at Medicine Bend when the engine comes back. He may live yet.
If he does, he can thank you for it."

[Illustration: J. P. McGOWAN IN THE TITLE ROLE OF THE PHOTO-PLAY
PRODUCTION OF "WHISPERING SMITH." © _American Mutual Studio_.]



CHAPTER IV

GEORGE McCLOUD


McCloud was an exception to every tradition that goes to make up a
mountain railroad man. He was from New England, with a mild voice and
a hand that roughened very slowly. McCloud was a classmate of Morris
Blood's at the Boston "Tech," and the acquaintance begun there
continued after the two left school, with a scattering fire of letters
between the mountains and New England, as few and as far between as
men's letters usually scatter after an ardent school acquaintance.

There were just two boys in the McCloud family--John and George. One
had always been intended for the church, the other for science.
Somehow the boys got mixed in their cradles, or, what is the same
matter, in their assignments, and John got into the church. For
George, who ought to have been a clergyman, nothing was left but a
long engineering course for which, after he got it, he appeared to
have no use. However, it seemed a little late to shift the life
alignments. John had the pulpit and appeared disposed to keep it, and
George was left, like a New England farm, to wonder what had become of
himself.

It is, nevertheless, odd how matters come about. John McCloud, a
prosperous young clergyman, stopped on a California trip at Medicine
Bend to see brother George's classmate and something of a real Western
town. He saw nothing sensational--it was there, but he did not see
it--but he found both hospitality and gentlemen, and, if surprised,
was too well-bred to admit it. His one-day stop ran on to several
days. He was a guest at the Medicine Bend Club, where he found men who
had not forgotten the Harvard Greek plays. He rode in private cars and
ate antelope steak grilled by Glover's own darky boy, who had roasted
buffalo hump for the Grand Duke Alexis as far back as 1871, and still
hashed his browned potatoes in ragtime; and with the sun breaking
clear over the frosty table-lands, a ravenous appetite, and a day's
shooting in prospect, the rhythm had a particularly cheerful sound.
John was asked to occupy a Medicine Bend pulpit, and before Sunday the
fame of his laugh and his marksmanship had spread so far that Henry
Markover, the Yale cowboy, rode in thirty-two miles to hear him
preach. In leaving, John McCloud, in a seventh heaven of enthusiasm
over the high country, asked Morris Blood why he could not find
something for George out there; and Blood, not even knowing the boy
wanted to come, wrote for him, and asked Bucks to give him a job.
Possibly, being over-solicitous, George was nervous when he talked to
Bucks; possibly the impression left by his big, strong, bluff brother
John made against the boy; at all events, Bucks, after he talked with
George, shook his head. "I could make a first-class railroad man out
of the preacher, Morris, but not out of the brother. Yes, I've talked
with him. He can't do anything but figure elevations, and, by heaven,
we can't feed our own engineers here now." So George found himself
stranded in the mountains.

Morris Blood was cut up over it, but George McCloud took it quietly.
"I'm no worse off here than I was back there, Morris." Blood, at that,
plucked up courage to ask George to take a job in the Cold Springs
mines, and George jumped at it. It was impossible to get a white man
to live at Cold Springs after he could save money enough to get away,
so George was welcomed as assistant superintendent at the Number Eight
Mine, with no salary to speak of and all the work.

In one year everybody had forgotten him. Western men, on the average,
show a higher heart temperature than Eastern men, but they are
tolerably busy people and have their own troubles. "Be patient,"
Morris Blood had said to him. "Sometime there will be more railroad
work in these mountains; then, perhaps, your darned engineering may
come into play. I wish you knew how to sell cigars."

Meantime, McCloud stuck to the mine, and insensibly replaced his
Eastern tissue with Western. In New England he had been carefully
moulded by several generations of gentlemen, but never baked hard. The
mountains put the crust on him. For one thing, the sun and wind, best
of all hemlocks, tanned his white skin into a tough all-American
leather, seasoned his muscles into rawhide sinews, and, without
burdening him with an extra ounce of flesh, sprinkled the red through
his blood till, though thin, he looked apoplectic.

Insensibly, too, something else came about. George McCloud developed
the rarest of all gifts of temperament, even among men of action--the
ability to handle men. In Cold Springs, indeed, it was a case either
of handling or of being handled. McCloud got along with his men and,
with the tough element among them, usually through persuasion; but he
proved, too, that he could inspire confidence even with a club.

One day, coming down "special" from Bear Dance, Gordon Smith, who bore
the nickname Whispering Smith, rode with President Bucks in the
privacy of his car. The day had been long, and the alkali lay light on
the desert. The business in hand had been canvassed, and the troubles
put aside for chicken, coffee, and cigars, when Smith, who did not
smoke, told the story of something he had seen the day before at Cold
Springs that pleased him.

The men in the Number Eight Mine had determined to get rid of some
Italians, and after a good deal of rowing had started in to catch one
of them and hang him. They had chosen a time when McCloud, the
assistant superintendent of the mine, was down with mountain fever. It
was he who had put the Italians into the mine. He had already defended
them from injury, and would be likely, it was known, to do so again if
he were able. On this day a mob had been chasing the Dagos, and had at
length captured one. They were running him down street to a telegraph
pole when the assistant superintendent appeared in scant attire and
stopped them. Taking advantage of the momentary confusion, he hustled
their victim into the only place of refuge at hand, a billiard hall.
The mob rushed the hall. In the farthest corner the unlucky Italian,
bleeding like a bullock and insane with fright, knelt, clinging to
McCloud's shaky knees. In trying to make the back door the two had
been cut off, and the sick boss had got into a corner behind a
pool-table to make his stand. In his pocket he had a pistol, knowing
that to use it meant death to him as well as to the wretch he was
trying to save. Fifty men were yelling in the room. They had rope,
hatchets, a sprinkling of guns, and whiskey enough to burn the town,
and in the corner behind a pool-table stood the mining boss with
mountain fever, the Dago, and a broken billiard-cue.

Bucks took the cigar from his mouth, leaned forward in his chair, and
stretched his heavy chin out of his neck as if the situation now
promised a story. The leader, Smith continued, was the mine
blacksmith, a strapping Welshman, from whom McCloud had taken the
Italian in the street. The blacksmith had a revolver, and was crazy
with liquor. McCloud singled him out in the crowd, pointed a finger at
him, got the attention of the men, and lashed him across the table
with his tongue until the blacksmith opened fire on him with his
revolver, McCloud all the while shaking his finger at him and abusing
him like a pickpocket. "The crowd couldn't believe its eyes," Gordon
Smith concluded, "and McCloud was pushing for the blacksmith with his
cue when Kennedy and I squirmed through to the front and relieved the
tension. McCloud wasn't hit."

"What is that mining man's name?" asked Bucks, reaching for a message
clip.

"McCloud."

"First name?" continued Bucks mechanically.

"George."

Bucks looked at his companion in surprise. Then he spoke, and a
feeling of self-abasement was reflected in his words. "George
McCloud," he echoed. "Did you say George? Why, I must know that man. I
turned him down once for a job. He looked so peaceable I thought he
was too soft for us." The president laid down his cigar with a gesture
of disgust. "And yet there really are people along this line that
think I'm clever. I haven't judgment enough to operate a trolley car.
It's a shame to take the money they give me for running this system,
Gordon. Hanged if I didn't think that fellow was too soft." He called
the flagman over. "Tell Whitmyer we will stay at Cold Springs
to-night."

"I thought you were going through to Medicine Bend," suggested Smith
as the trainman disappeared.

"McCloud," repeated Bucks, taking up his cigar and throwing back his
head in a cloud of smoke.

"Yes," assented his companion; "but I am going through to Medicine
Bend, Mr. Bucks."

"Do."

"How am I to do it?"

"Take the car and send it back to-morrow on Number Three."

"Thank you, if you won't need it to-night."

"I sha'n't. I am going to stay at Cold Springs to-night and hunt up
McCloud."

"But that man is in bed in a very bad way; you can't see him. He is
going to die."

"No, he isn't. I am going to hunt him up and have him taken care of."

That night Bucks, in the twilight, was sitting by McCloud's bed,
smoking and looking him over. "Don't mind me," he said when he entered
the room, lifted the ill-smelling lamp from the table, and, without
taking time to blow it out, pitched it through the open window. "I
heard you were sick, and just looked in to see how they were taking
care of you. Wilcox," he added, turning to the nurse he had brought
in--a barber who wanted to be a railroad man, and had agreed to step
into the breach and nurse McCloud--"have a box of miner's candles sent
up from the roundhouse. We have some down there; if not, buy a box and
send me the bill."

McCloud, who after the rioting had crawled back to bed with a
temperature of 105 degrees, knew the barber, but felt sure that a
lunatic had wandered in with him, and immediately bent his feeble
mental energies on plans for getting rid of a dangerous man. When
Bucks sat down by him and continued talking at the nurse, McCloud
caught nothing of what was said until Bucks turned quietly toward him.
"They tell me, McCloud, you have the fever."

The sick man, staring with sunken eyes, rose half on his elbow in
astonishment to look again at his visitor, but Bucks eased him back
with an admonition to guard his strength. McCloud's temperature had
already risen with the excitement of seeing a man throw his lamp out
of the window. Bucks, meantime, working carefully to seem unconcerned
and incensing McCloud with great clouds of smoke, tried to discuss his
case with him as he had already done with the mine surgeon. McCloud,
thinking it best to humor a crazy man, responded quietly. "The doctor
said yesterday," he explained, "it was mountain fever, and he wants to
put me into an ice-pack."

Bucks objected vigorously to the ice-pack.

"The doctor tells me that it is the latest treatment for that class of
fevers in the Prussian army," answered McCloud feebly, but getting
interested in spite of himself.

"That's a good thing, no doubt, for the Prussian army," replied Bucks,
"but, McCloud, in the first place, you are not a Dutchman; in the
second, you have not got mountain fever--not in my judgment."

McCloud, confident now that he had an insane man on his hands, held
his peace.

"Not a symptom of mountain fever," continued Bucks calmly; "you have
what looks to me like gastritis, but the homeopaths," he added, "have
a better name for it. Is it stomatitis, McCloud? I forget."

The sick man, confounded by such learning, determined to try one
question, and, if he was at fault, to drag his gun from under his
pillow and sell his life as dearly as possible. Summoning his waning
strength, he looked hard at Bucks. "Just let me ask you one question.
I never saw you before. Are you a doctor?"

"No, I'm a railroad man; my name is Bucks." McCloud rose half up in
bed with amazement. "They'll kill you if you lie here a week,"
continued Bucks. "In just a week. Now I'll tell you my plan. I'll take
you down in the morning in my car to Medicine Bend; this barber will
go with us. There in the hospital you can get everything you need, and
I can make you comfortable. What do you say?"

McCloud looked at his benefactor solemnly, but if hope flickered for
an instant in his eyes it soon died. Bucks said afterward that he
looked like a cold-storage squab, just pinfeathers and legs. "Shave
him clean," said he, "and you could have counted his teeth through his
cheeks."

The sick man turned his face to the wall. "It's kind enough," he
muttered, "but I guess it's too late."

Bucks did not speak for some time. Twilight had faded above the hills,
and only the candle lighted the room. Then the master of mountain men,
grizzled and brown, turned his eyes again to the bed. McCloud was
staring at the ceiling.

"We have a town of your name down on the plains, McCloud," said Bucks,
blowing away the cigar smoke after the long silence. "It is one of our
division points, and a good one."

"I know the town," responded McCloud. "It was named after one of our
family."

"I guess not."

"It was, though," said McCloud wearily.

"I think," returned Bucks, "you must be mistaken. The man that town
was named after belonged to the fighting McClouds."

"That is my family."

"Then where is your fight? When I propose to put you into my car and
pull you out of this, why do you say it is too late? It is never too
late."

McCloud made no answer, and Bucks ran on: "For a man that worked out
as well as you did yesterday in a trial heat with a billiard-cue, I
should say you could turn a handspring or two yet if you had to. For
that matter, if you don't want to be moved, I can run a spur in here
to your door in three hours in the morning. By taking out the
side-wall we can back the car right up to the bed. Why not? Or we can
stick a few hydraulic jacks under the sills, raise the house, and push
your bed right on the observation platform." He got McCloud to
laughing, and lighted a fresh cigar. A framed photograph hung on one
of the bare walls of the room, and it caught the eye of the railroad
man. He walked close to it, disinfected it with smoke, brushed the
dust from the glass, and examined the print. "That looks like old Van
Dyne College campus, hanged if it doesn't!"

McCloud was watching him. "It is a photograph of the campus."

"McCloud, are you a Van Dyne man?"

"I did my college work there before I went to Boston."

Bucks stood motionless. "Poor little old Van Dyne! Why, my brother Sam
taught at Van Dyne. No, you would not have known him; he's dead. Never
before west of the Missouri River have I seen a Van Dyne man. You are
the first." He shook his head as he sat down again. "It is crowded out
now: no money, no prestige, half-starved professors with their elbows
out, the president working like a dog all the week and preaching
somewhere every Sunday to earn five dollars. But, by Heaven, they
turned out men! Did you know Bug Robinson?" he asked suddenly.

"He gave me my degree."

"Old Bug! He was Sam's closest friend, McCloud. It's good to see him
getting the recognition he deserves, isn't it? Do you know, I send him
an annual every year? Yes, sir! And one year I had the whole blooming
faculty out here on a fossil expedition; but, by Heaven, McCloud, some
of them looked more like megatheriums than what they dug up did."

"I heard about that expedition."

"I never got to college. I had to hustle. I'll get out of here before
I tire you. Wilcox will be here all night, and my China boy is making
some broth for you now. You'll feel better in the morning."

Ten weeks later McCloud was sent from Medicine Bend up on the Short
Line as trainmaster, and on the Short Line he learned railroading.

"That's how I came here," said George McCloud to Farrell Kennedy a
long time afterward, at Medicine Bend. "I had shrivelled and starved
three years out there in the desert. I lived with those cattle
underground till I had forgotten my own people, my own name, my own
face--and Bucks came along one day with Whispering Smith and dragged
me out of my coffin. They had it ordered, and it being a small size
and 'onhandy,' as the undertaker said, I paid for it and told him to
store it for me. Well, do you think I ever could forget either of
those men, Farrell?"

McCloud's fortunes thus threw him first into the operating department
of the mountain lines, but his heart was in the grades and the curves.
To him the interest in the trainwork was the work of the locomotives
toiling with the heavy loads up the canyons and across the uneven
plateaus and through the deep gorges of the inner range, where the
panting exhaust, choked between sheer granite walls, roared in a
mighty protest against the burden put by the steep grades on the
patient machines.

In all the group of young men then on the mountain division, obscure
and unknown at the time, but destined within so few years to be
scattered far and wide as constructionists with records made in the
rebuilding operations through the Rocky Mountains, none was less
likely to attract attention than McCloud. Bucks, who, indeed, could
hardly be reckoned so much of the company as its head, was a man of
commanding proportions physically. Like Glover, Bucks was a giant in
stature, and the two men, when together, could nowhere escape notice;
they looked, in a word, their part, fitted to cope with the tremendous
undertakings that had fallen to their lot. Callahan, the chess-player
on the Overland lines, the man who could hold large combinations of
traffic movement constantly in his head and by intuition reach the
result of a given problem before other men could work it out, was,
like Morris Blood, the master of tonnage, of middle age. But McCloud,
when he went to the mountain division, in youthfulness of features was
boyish, and when he left he was still a boy, bronzed, but young of
face in spite of a lifetime's pressure and worry crowded into three
years. He himself counted this physical make-up as a disadvantage. "It
has embroiled me in no end of trouble, because I couldn't convince men
I was in earnest until I made good in some hard way," he complained
once to Whispering Smith. "I never could acquire even a successful
habit of swearing, so I had to learn to fight."

When, one day in Boney Street in Medicine Bend, he threw open the door
of Marion Sinclair's shop, flung his hat sailing along the showcase
with his war-cry, and called to her in the back rooms, she thought he
had merely run in to say he was in town.

"How do you do? What do you think? You're going to have an old boarder
back," he cried. "I'm coming to Medicine Bend, superintendent of the
division!"

"Mr. McCloud!" Marion Sinclair clasped her hands and dropped into a
chair. "Have they made you superintendent already?"

"Well, I like that! Do you want them to wait till I'm gray-headed?"

Marion threw her hands to her own head. "Oh, don't say anything
about gray hairs. My head won't bear inspection. But I can't get over
this promotion coming so soon--this whole big division! Well, I
congratulate you very sincerely----"

"Oh, but that isn't it! I suppose anybody will congratulate me. But
where am I to board? Have you a cook? You know how I went from bad to
worse after you left Cold Springs. May I have my meals here with you
as I used to there?"

"Why, I suppose you can, yes, if you can stand the cooking. I have an
apprentice, Mr. Dancing's daughter, who does pretty well. She lives
here with me, and is learning the business. But I sha'n't take as much
as you used to pay me, for I'm doing so much better down here."

"Let me run that end of it, will you? I shall be doing better down
here myself."

They laughed as they bantered. Marion Sinclair wore gold spectacles,
but they did not hide the delightful good-nature in her eyes. On the
third finger of her slender left hand she wore, too, a gold band that
explained the gray in her hair at twenty-six.

This was the wife of Murray Sinclair, whom he had brought to the
mountains from her far-away Wisconsin home. Within a year he had
broken her heart so far as it lay in him to do it, but he could not
break her charm nor her spirit. She was too proud to go back, when
forced to leave him, and had set about earning her own living in the
country to which she had come as a bride. She put on spectacles, she
mutilated her heavy brown hair and to escape notice and secure the
obscurity that she craved, her name, Marion, became, over the door of
her millinery shop and in her business, only "M. Sinclair."

Cold Springs, where Sinclair had first brought her when he had
headquarters there as foreman of bridges, had proved a hopeless place
for the millinery business--at least, in the way that Marion ran it.
The women that had husbands had no money to buy hats with, and the
women without husbands wore gaudy headgear, and were of the kind that
made Marion's heart creep when they opened the shop door. What was
worse, they were inclined to joke with her, as if there must be a
community of interest between a deserted woman and women who had
deserted womanhood. To this business Marion would not cater, and in
consequence her millinery affairs sometimes approached collapse. She
could, however, cook extraordinarily well, and, with the aid of a
servant-maid, could always provide for a boarder or two--perhaps a
railroad man or a mine superintendent to whom she could serve meals,
and who, like all mountain men, were more than generous in their
accounting with women. Among these standbys of hers was McCloud.
McCloud had always been her friend, and when she left Cold Springs and
moved to Medicine Bend to set up her little shop in Boney Street near
Fort, she had lost him. Yet somehow, to compensate Marion for other
cruel things in the mountains, Providence seemed to raise up a new
friend for her wherever she went. In Medicine Bend she did not know a
soul, but almost the first customer that walked into her shop--and she
was a customer worth while--was Dicksie Dunning of the Crawling
Stone.



CHAPTER V

THE CRAWLING STONE


Where the mountain chains of North America have been flung up into a
continental divide, the country in many of its aspects is still
terrible. In extent alone this mountain empire is grandiose. The
swiftest transcontinental trains approaching its boundaries at night
find night falling again before they have fairly penetrated it.
Geologically severe, this region in geological store is the richest of
the continent; physically forbidding beyond all other stretches of
North America, the Barren Land alone excepted, in this region lie its
gentlest valleys. Here the desert is most grotesque, and here are
pastoral retreats the most secluded. It is the home of the Archean
granite, and its basins are of a fathomless dust. Under its sagebrush
wastes the skeletons of earth's hugest mammals lie beside behemoth and
the monsters of the deep. The eternal snow, the granite peak, the
sandstone butte, the lava-bed, the gray desert, the far horizon are
familiar here. With the sunniest and bluest of skies, this is the
range of the deadliest storms, and its delightful summers contrast
with the dreadest cold.

Here the desert of death simulates a field of cooling snow, green
hills lie black in the dazzling light of day, limpid waters run green
over arsenic stone, and sunset betricks the fantastic rock with column
and capital and dome. Clouds burst here above arid wastes, and where
dew is precious the skies are most prodigal in their downpour. If the
torrent bed is dry, distrust it.

This vast mountain shed parts rivers whose waters find two oceans, and
their valleys are the natural highways up which railroads wind to the
crest of the continent. To the mountain engineer the waterway is the
sphinx that holds in its silence the riddle of his success; with him
lies the problem of providing a railway across ranges which often defy
the hoofs of a horse.

The construction engineer studies the course of the mountain water.
The water is both his ally and his enemy--ally because it alone has
made possible his undertakings; enemy because it fights to destroy his
puny work, just as it fights to level the barriers that oppose him.
Like acid spread on copperplate, water etches the canyons in the
mountain slopes and spreads wide the valleys through the plains. Among
these scarcely known ranges of the Rocky Mountain chain the Western
rivers have their beginnings. When white men crowded the Indian from
the plains he retreated to the mountains, and in their valleys made
his final stand against the aggressor. The scroll of this invasion of
the mountain West by the white man has been unrolled, read, and put
away within a hundred years, and of the agencies that made possible
the swiftness of the story transportation overshadows all others. The
first railroad put across those mountains cost twenty-five thousand
miles of reconnaissances and fifteen thousand miles of instrument
surveys. Since the day of that undertaking a generation of men has
passed, and in the interval the wilderness that those men penetrated
has been transformed. The Indian no longer extorts terms from his foe:
he is not.

Where the tepee stood the rodman drives his stakes, and the country of
the great Indian rivers, save one, has been opened for years to the
railroad. That one is the Crawling Stone. The valley of Crawling Stone
River marked for more than a decade the dead line between the Overland
Route of the white man and the last country of the Sioux. It was long
after the building of the first line before even an engineer's
reconnaissance was made in the Crawling Stone country. Then, within
ten years, three surveys were made, two on the north side of the river
and one on the south side, by interests seeking a coast outlet. Three
reports made in this way gave varying estimates of the expense of
putting a line up the valley, but the three coincided in this, that
the cost would be prohibitive. Engineers of reputation had in this
respect agreed, but Glover, who looked after such work for Bucks,
remained unconvinced, and before McCloud was put into the operating
department on the Short Line he was asked by Glover to run a
preliminary up Crawling Stone Valley. Before the date of his report
the conclusions reached by other engineers had stood unchallenged.

The valley was not unknown to McCloud. His first year in the
mountains, in which, fitted as thoroughly as he could fit himself for
his profession, he had come West and found himself unable to get work,
had been spent hunting, fishing, and wandering, often cold and often
hungry, in the upper Crawling Stone country. The valley in itself
offers to a constructionist no insuperable obstacles; the difficulty
is presented in the canyon where the river bursts through the Elbow
Mountains. South of this canyon, McCloud, one day on a hunting trip,
found himself with two Indians pocketed in the rough country, and was
planning how to escape passing a night away from camp when his
companions led him past a vertical wall of rock a thousand feet high,
split into a narrow defile down which they rode, as it broadened out,
for miles. They emerged upon an open country that led without a break
into the valley of the Crawling Stone below the canyon. Afterward,
when he had become a railroad man, McCloud, sitting at a camp-fire
with Glover and Morris Blood, heard them discussing the coveted and
impossible line up the valley. He had been taken into the circle of
constructionists and was told of the earlier reports against the line.
He thought he knew something about the Elbow Mountains, and disputed
the findings, offering in two days' ride to take the men before him to
the pass called by the Indians The Box, and to take them through it.
Glover called it a find, and a big one, and though more immediate
matters in the strategy of territorial control then came before him,
the preliminary was ordered and McCloud's findings were approved.
McCloud himself was soon afterward engrossed in the problems of
operating the mountain division; but the dream of his life was to
build the Crawling Stone Line with a maximum grade of eight tenths
through The Box.

The prettiest stretch of Crawling Stone Valley lies within twenty
miles of Medicine Bend. There it lies widest, and has the pick of
water and grass between Medicine Bend and the Mission Mountains.
Cattlemen went into the Crawling Stone country before the Indians had
wholly left it. The first house in the valley was the Stone Ranch,
built by Richard Dunning, and it still stands overlooking the town of
Dunning at the junction of the Frenchman Creek with the Crawling
Stone. The Frenchman is fed by unfailing springs, and when by summer
sun and wind every smaller stream in the middle basin has been licked
dry, the Frenchman runs cold and swift between its russet hills.
Richard Dunning, being on the border of the Indian country, built for
his ranch-house a rambling stone fortress. He had chosen, it afterward
proved, the choice spot in the valley, and he stocked it with cattle
when yearlings could be picked up in Medicine Bend at ten dollars a
head. He got together a great body of valley land when it could be had
for the asking, and became the rich man of the Long Range.

The Dunnings were Kentuckians. Richard was a bridge engineer and
builder, and under Brodie built some of the first bridges on the
mountain division, notably the great wooden bridge at Smoky Creek.
Richard brought out his nephew, Lance Dunning. He taught Lance
bridge-building, and Murray Sinclair, who began as a cowboy on the
Stone Ranch, learned bridge-building from Richard Dunning. The
Dunnings both came West, though at different times, as young men and
unmarried, and, as far as Western women were concerned, might always
have remained so. But a Kentucky cousin, Betty, one of the Fairfield
Dunnings, related to Richard within the sixth or eighth degree, came
to the mountains for her health. Betty's mother had brought Richard up
as a boy, and Betty, when he left Fairfield, was a baby. But Dick--as
they knew him at home--and the mother wrote back and forth, and he
persuaded her to send Betty out for a trip, promising he would send
her back in a year a well woman.

Betty came with only her colored maid, old Puss Dunning, who had taken
her from the nurse's arms when she was born and taken care of her ever
since. The two--the tall Kentucky girl and the bent mammy--arrived at
the Stone Ranch one day in June, and Richard, done then with bridges
and looking after his ranch interests, had already fallen violently in
love with Betty. She was delicate, but, if those in Medicine Bend who
remembered her said true, a lovely creature. Remaining in the
mountains was the last thing Betty had ever thought of, but no one,
man or woman, could withstand Dick Dunning. She fell quite in love
with him the first time she set eyes on him in Medicine Bend, for he
was very handsome in the saddle, and Betty was fairly wild about
horses. So Dick Dunning wooed a fond mistress and married her and
buried her, and all within hardly more than a year.

But in that year they were very happy, never two happier, and when she
slept away her suffering she left him, as a legacy, a tiny baby girl.
Puss brought the mite of a creature in its swaddling-clothes to the
sick mother,--very, very sick then,--and poor Betty turned her dark
eyes on it, kissed it, looked at her husband and whispered "Dicksie,"
and died. Dicksie had been Betty's pet name for her mountain lover, so
the father said the child's name should be Dicksie and nothing else;
and his heart broke and soon he died. Nothing else, storm or flood,
death or disaster, had ever moved Dick Dunning; then a single blow
killed him. He rode once in a while over the ranch, a great tract by
that time of twenty thousand acres, all in one body, all under fence,
up and down both sides of the big river, in part irrigated, swarming
with cattle--none of it stirred Dick! and with little Dicksie in his
arms he slept away his suffering.

So Dicksie was left, as her mother had been, to Puss, while Lance
looked after the ranch, swore at the price of cattle, and played cards
at Medicine Bend. At ten, Dicksie, as thoroughly spoiled as a pet baby
could be by a fool mammy, a fond cousin, and a galaxy of devoted
cowboys, was sent, in spite of crying and flinging, to a far-away
convent--her father had planned everything--where in many tears she
learned that there were other things in the world besides cattle and
mountains and sunshine and tall, broad-hatted horsemen to swing from
their stirrups and pick her hat from the ground--just to see little
Dicksie laugh--when they swooped past the house to the corrals. When
she came back from Kentucky, her grandmother dead and her schooldays
finished, all the land she could see in the valley was hers, and all
the living creatures in the fields. It seemed perfectly natural,
because since childhood even the distant mountains and their snows had
been Dicksie's.



CHAPTER VI

THE FINAL APPEAL


Sinclair's discharge was a matter of comment for the whole country,
from the ranch-houses to the ranges. For a time Sinclair himself
refused utterly to believe that McCloud could keep him off the
division. His determination to get back led him to carry his appeal to
the highest quarters, to Glover and to Bucks himself. But Sinclair,
able as he was, had passed the limit of endurance and had long been
marked for an accounting. He had been a railroad man to whom the West
spelled license, and, while a valuable man, had long been a source of
demoralization to the forces of the division. In the railroad life
clearly defined plans are often too deeply laid to fathom, and it was
impossible for even so acute a man as Sinclair to realize that he was
not the victim of an accident, but that he must look to his own record
for the real explanation of his undoing. He was not the only man to
suffer in the shake-out that took place under the new superintendent;
but he seemed the only one unable to realize that Bucks, patient and
long-suffering, had put McCloud into the mountain saddle expressly to
deal with cases such as his. In the West sympathy is quick but not
always discerning. Medicine Bend took Sinclair's grievance as its own.
No other man in the service had Sinclair's following, and within a
week petitions were being circulated through the town not asking
merely but calling for his reinstatement. The sporting element of the
community to a man were behind Sinclair because he was a sport; the
range men were with him because his growing ranch on the Frenchman
made him one of them; his own men were with him because he was a
far-seeing pirate and divided liberally. Among the railroad men, too,
he had much sympathy. Sinclair had always been lavish with presents;
brides were remembered by Sinclair, and babies were not forgotten. He
could sit up all night with a railroad man that had been hurt, and he
could play poker all night with one that was not afraid of getting
hurt. In his way, he was a division autocrat, whose vices were
varnished by virtues such as these. His hold on the people was so
strong that they could not believe the company would not reinstate
him. In spite of the appointment of his successor, Phil Hailey, a
mountain boy and the son of an old-time bridge foreman, rumor assigned
again and again definite dates for Sinclair's return to work; but the
dates never materialized. The bridge machinery of the big division
moved on in even rhythm. A final and determined appeal from the
deposed autocrat for a hearing at last brought Glover and Morris
Blood, the general manager, to Medicine Bend for a final conference.
Callahan too was there with his pipe, and they talked quietly with
Sinclair--reminded him of how often he had been warned, showed him how
complete a record they had of his plundering, and Glover gave to him
Bucks's final word that he could never again work on the mountain
division.

A pride grown monstrous with prestige long undisputed broke under the
final blow. The big fellow put his face in his hands and burst into
tears, and the men before him sat confused and uncomfortable at his
outburst of feeling. It was only for a moment. Sinclair raised his
hand, shook his long hair, and swore an oath against the company and
the men that curled the very smoke in Callahan's pipe, Callahan,
outraged at the insolence, sprang to his feet, resenting Sinclair's
fury. Choking with anger he warned him not to go too far. The two were
ready to spring at each other's throat when Farrell Kennedy stepped
between them. Sinclair, drunk with rage, called for McCloud; but he
submitted quietly to Kennedy's reproof, and with a semblance of
self-control begged that McCloud be sent for. Kennedy, without
complying, gradually pushed Sinclair out of the room and, without
seeming officious, walked with him down the hall and quite out of the
building.



CHAPTER VII

IN MARION'S SHOP


In Boney Street, Medicine Bend, stands an early-day row of one-story
buildings; they once made up a prosperous block, which has long
since fallen into the decay of paintless days. There is in Boney
Street a livery stable, a second-hand store, a laundry, a bakery, a
moribund grocery, and a bicycle shop, and at the time of this
story there was also Marion Sinclair's millinery shop; but the
better class of Medicine Bend business, such as the gambling
houses, saloons, pawnshops, restaurants, barber shops, and those
sensitive, clean-shaven, and alert establishments known as "gents'
stores," had deserted Boney Street for many years. Bats fly in the
dark of Boney Street while Front Street at the same hour is a blaze
of electricity and frontier hilarity. The millinery store stood
next to the corner of Fort Street. The lot lay in an "L," and at
the rear of the store the first owner had built a small connecting
cottage to live in. This faced on Fort Street, so that Marion had
her shop and living-rooms communicating, and yet apart. The store
building is still pointed out as the former shop of Marion Sinclair,
where George McCloud boarded when the Crawling Stone Line was built,
where Whispering Smith might often have been seen, where Sinclair
himself was last seen alive in Medicine Bend, where Dicksie
Dunning's horse dragged her senseless one wild mountain night, and
where, indeed, for a time the affairs of the whole mountain division
seemed to tangle in very hard knots.

As to the millinery business, it was never, after Marion bought the
shop, more than moderately successful. The demand that existed in
Medicine Bend for red hats of the picture sort Marion declined to
recognize. For customers who sought these she turned out hats of
sombre coloring calculated to inspire gloom rather than revelry, and
she naturally failed to hold what might be termed the miscellaneous
business. But after Dicksie Dunning of the Stone Ranch, fresh from the
convent, rode into the shop, or if not into it nearly so, and, gliding
through the door, ordered a hat out of hand, Marion always had some
business. All Medicine Bend knew Dicksie Dunning, who dressed
stunningly, rode famously, and was so winningly democratic that half
the town never called her anything, at a distance, but Dicksie.

The first hat was a small affair but haughty. The materials were
unheard of in Marion's stock and had to be sent for. Marion's
arrangements with the jobbing houses always had a C. O. D. complexion;
the jobbers maintained that this saved book-keeping, and Marion, who
of course never knew any better, paid the double express charges like
a lamb. She acted, too, as banker for the other impecunious
tradespeople in the block, and as this included nearly all of them she
was often pressed for funds herself. McCloud undertook sometimes to
intervene and straighten out her millinery affairs. One evening he
went so far as to attempt an inventory of her stock and some schedule
of her accounts; but Marion, with the front-shop curtains closely
drawn and McCloud perspiring on a step-ladder, inspecting boxes of
feathers and asking stern questions, would look so pathetically sweet
and helpless when she tried to recall what things cost that McCloud
could not be angry with her; indeed, the pretty eyes behind the
patient spectacles would disarm any one. In the end he took inventory
on the basis of the retail prices, dividing it afterward by five, as
Marion estimated the average profit in the business at five hundred
per cent.--this being what the woman she bought out had told her.

How then, McCloud asked himself, could Marion be normally hard pressed
for money? He talked to her learnedly about fixed charges, but even
these seemed difficult to arrive at. There was no rent, because the
building belonged to the railroad company, and when the real-estate
and tax man came around and talked to McCloud about rent for the Boney
Street property, McCloud told him to chase himself. There was no
insurance, because no one would dream of insuring Marion's stock
boxes; there were no bills payable, because no travelling man would
advise a line of credit to an inexperienced and, what was worse, an
unpractical milliner. Marion did her own trimming, so there were no
salaries except to Katie Dancing. It puzzled McCloud to find the leak.
How could he know that Marion was keeping nearly all the block
supplied with funds? So McCloud continued to raise the price of his
table-board, and, though Marion insisted he was paying her too much,
held that he must be eating her out of house and home.

In her dining-room, which connected through a curtained door with the
shop, McCloud sat one day alone eating his dinner. Marion was in front
serving a customer. McCloud heard voices in the shop, but gave no heed
till a man walked through the curtained doorway and he saw Murray
Sinclair standing before him. The stormy interview with Callahan and
Blood at the Wickiup had taken place just a week before, and McCloud,
after what Sinclair had then threatened, though not prepared, felt as
he saw him that anything might occur. McCloud being in possession of
the little room, however, the initiative fell on Sinclair, who,
looking his best, snatched his hat from his head and bowed ironically.
"My mistake," he said blandly.

"Come right in," returned McCloud, not knowing whether Marion had a
possible hand in her husband's unexpected appearance. "Do you want to
see me?"

"I don't," smiled Sinclair; "and to be perfectly frank," he added with
studied consideration, "I wish to God I never had seen you.
Well--you've thrown me, McCloud."

"You've thrown yourself, haven't you, Murray?"

"From your point of view, of course. But, McCloud, this is a small
country for two points of view. Do you want to get out of it, or do
you want me to?"

"The country suits me, Sinclair."

"No man that has ever played me dirt can stay here while I stay."
Sinclair, with a hand on the portière, was moving from the doorway
into the room. McCloud in a leisurely way rose, though with a slightly
flushed face, and at that juncture Marion ran into the room and spoke
abruptly. "Here is the silk, Mr. Sinclair," she exclaimed, handing to
him a package she had not finished wrapping. "I meant you to wait in
the other room."

"It was an accidental intrusion," returned Sinclair, maintaining his
irony. "I have apologized, and Mr. McCloud and I understand one
another better than ever."

"Please say to Miss Dunning," continued Marion, nervous and insistent,
"that the band for her riding-hat hasn't come yet, but it should be
here to-morrow."

As she spoke McCloud leaned across the table, resolved to take
advantage of the opening, if it cost him his life. "And by the way,
Mr. Sinclair, Miss Dunning wished me to say to you that the lovely bay
colt you sent her had sprung his shoulder badly, the hind shoulder, I
think, but they are doing everything possible for it and they think it
will make a great horse."

Sinclair's snort at the information was a marvel of indecision. Was he
being made fun of? Should he draw and end it? But Marion faced him
resolutely as he stood, and talking in the most business-like way she
backed him out of the room and to the shop door. Balked of his
opportunity, he retreated stubbornly but with the utmost politeness,
and left with a grin, lashing his tail, so to speak.

Coming back, Marion tried to hide her uneasiness under even tones to
McCloud. "I'm sorry he disturbed you. I was attending to a customer
and had to ask him to wait a moment."

"Don't apologize for having a customer."

"He lives over beyond the Stone Ranch, you know, and is taking some
things out for the Dunnings to-day. He likes an excuse to come in here
because it annoys me. Finish your dinner, Mr. McCloud."

"Thank you, I'm done."

"But you haven't eaten anything. Isn't your steak right?"

"It's fine, but that man--well, you know how I like him and how he
likes me. I'll content myself with digesting my temper."



CHAPTER VIII

SMOKY CREEK BRIDGE


It was not alone that a defiance makes a bad dinner sauce: there was
more than this for McCloud to feed on. He was forced to confess to
himself as he walked back to the Wickiup that the most annoying
feature of the incident was the least important, namely, that his only
enemy in the country should be intrusted with commissions from the
Stone Ranch and be carrying packages for Dicksie Dunning. It was
Sinclair's trick to do things for people, and to make himself so
useful that they must like first his obligingness and afterward
himself. Sinclair, McCloud knew, was close in many ways to Lance
Dunning. It was said to have been his influence that won Dunning's
consent to sell a right of way across the ranch for the new Crawling
Stone Line. But McCloud felt it useless to disguise the fact to
himself that he now had a second keen interest in the Crawling Stone
country--not alone a dream of a line, but a dream of a girl. Sitting
moodily in his office, with his feet on the desk, a few nights after
his encounter with Sinclair, he recalled her nod as she said good-by.
It had seemed the least bit encouraging, and he meditated anew on the
only twenty minutes of real pleasurable excitement he had ever felt in
his life, the twenty minutes with Dicksie Dunning at Smoky Creek. Her
intimates, he had heard, called her Dicksie, and he was vaguely
envying her intimates when the night despatcher, Rooney Lee, opened
the door and disturbed his reflections.

"How is Number One, Rooney?" called McCloud, as if nothing but the
thought of a train movement ever entered his head.

Rooney Lee paused. In his hand he held a message. Rooney's cheeks were
hollow and his sunken eyes were large. His face, which was singularly
a night face, would shock a stranger, but any man on the division
would have given his life for Rooney. The simple fellow had but two
living interests--his train-sheets and his chewing tobacco. Sometimes
I think that every railroad man earns his salary--even the president.
But Rooney was a Past Worthy Master in that unnumbered lodge of
railroad slaves who do killing work and have left, when they die, only
a little tobacco to show for it. It was on Rooney's account that
McCloud's order banishing cuspidors from his office had been
rescinded. A few evenings of agony on the despatcher's part when in
consultation with his chief, the mournful wandering of his
uncomplaining eyes, his struggle to raise an obstinate window before
he could answer a question, would have moved a heart harder than
McCloud's. The cuspidor had been restored to one corner of the large
room, and to this corner Rooney, like a man with a jaw full of
birdshot, always walked first. When he turned back to face his chief
his face had lost its haunted expression, and he answered with solemn
cheer, "On time," or "Fourteen minutes late," as the case might be.
This night his face showed something out of the ordinary, and he faced
McCloud with evident uneasiness. "Holy smoke, Mr. McCloud, here's a
ripper! We've lost Smoky Creek Bridge."

"Lost Smoky Creek Bridge?" echoed McCloud, rising in amazement.

"Burned to-night. Seventy-seven was flagged by the man at the pump
station."

"That's a tie-up for your life!" exclaimed McCloud, reaching for the
message. "How could it catch fire? Is it burned up?"

"I can't get anything on that yet; this came from Canby. I'll have a
good wire in a few minutes and get it all for you."

"Have Phil Hailey and Hyde notified, Rooney, and Reed and Brill Young,
and get up a train. Smoky Creek Bridge! By heavens, we are ripped up
the back now! What can we do there, Rooney?" He was talking to
himself. "There isn't a thing for it on God's earth but switchbacks
and five-per-cent. grades down to the bottom of the creek and cribbing
across it till the new line is ready. Wire Callahan and Morris Blood,
and get everything you can for me before we start."

Ten hours later and many hundreds of miles from the mountain division,
President Bucks and a companion were riding in the peace of a June
morning down the beautiful Mohawk Valley with an earlier and
illustrious railroad man, William C. Brown. The three men were at
breakfast in Brown's car. A message was brought in for Bucks. He read
it and passed it to his companion, Whispering Smith, who sat at
Brown's left hand. The message was from Callahan with the news of the
burning of Smoky Creek Bridge. Details were few, because no one on the
West End could suggest a plausible cause for the fire.

"What do you think of it, Gordon?" demanded Bucks bluntly.

Whispering Smith seemed at all times bordering on good-natured
surprise, and in that normal condition he read Callahan's message.
Everything surprised Whispering Smith, even his salary; but an
important consequence was that nothing excited him. He seemed to
accommodate himself to the unexpected through habitual surprise. It
showed markedly in his eyes, which were bright and quite wide open,
and, save for his eyes, no feature about him would fix itself in the
memory. His round, pleasant face, his heavy brown mustache, the medium
build that concealed under its commonplace symmetry an unusual
strength, his slightly rounding shoulders bespeaking a not too serious
estimate of himself--every characteristic, even to his unobtrusive
suit and black hat, made him distinctly an ordinary man--one to be met
in the street to-day and passed, and forgotten to-morrow.

He was laughing under Bucks's scrutiny when he handed the message
back. "Why, I don't know a thing about it, not a thing; but taking a
long shot and speaking by and far, I should say it looks something
like first blood for Sinclair," he suggested, and to change the
subject lifted his cup of coffee.

"Then it looks like you for the mountains to-night instead of for
Weber and Fields's," retorted Bucks, reaching for a cigar. "Brown, why
have you never learned to smoke?"



CHAPTER IX

THE MISUNDERSTANDING


No attempt was made to minimize the truth that the blow to the
division was a staggering one. The loss of Smoky Creek Bridge put
almost a thousand miles of the mountain division out of business.
Perishable freight and time freight were diverted to other lines.
Passengers were transferred; lunches were served to them in the deep
valley, and they were supplied by an ingenuous advertising department
with pictures of the historic bridge as it had long stood, and their
addresses were taken with the promise of a picture of the ruins. Smoky
Creek Bridge had long been famous in mountain song and story. For one
generation of Western railroad men it had stood as a monument to the
earliest effort to conquer the Rockies with a railroad. Built long
before the days of steel, this high and slender link in the first
transcontinental line had for thirty years served faithfully at its
danger-post, only to fall in the end at the hands of a bridge
assassin; nor has the mystery of its fate ever completely been solved,
though it is believed to lie with Murray Sinclair in the Frenchman
hills. The engineering department and the operating department united
in a tremendous effort to bring about a resumption of traffic.
Glover's men, pulled off construction, were sent forward in
trainloads. Dancing's linemen strung arc-lights along the creek until
the canyon twinkled at night like a mountain village, and men in three
shifts worked elbow to elbow unceasingly to run the switchbacks down
to the creek-bed. There, by cribbing across the bottom, they got in a
temporary line.

Train movement was thrown into a spectacle of confusion. Upon the
incessant and well-ordered activities of the road the burning of the
bridge fell like the heel of a heavy boot on an ant-hill; but the
railroad men like ants rose to the emergency, and, where the possible
failed, achieved the impossible.

McCloud spent his days at the creek and his nights at Medicine Bend
with his assistant and his chief despatcher, advising, counselling,
studying out trouble reports, and steadying wherever he could the
weakened lines of his operating forces. He was getting his first taste
of the trials of the hardest-worked and poorest-paid man in the
operating department of a railroad--the division superintendent.

To these were added personal annoyances. A trainload of Duck Bar
steers, shipped by Lance Dunning from the Crawling Stone Ranch, had
been caught west of the bridge the very night of the fire. They had
been loaded at Tipton and shipped to catch a good market, and under
extravagant promises from the live-stock agent of a quick run to
Chicago. When Lance Dunning learned that his cattle had been caught
west of the break and would have to be unloaded, he swore up a horse
in hot haste and started for Medicine Bend. McCloud, who had not
closed his eyes for sixty hours, had just got into Medicine Bend from
Smoky Creek and was sitting at his desk buried in a mass of papers,
but he ordered the cattleman admitted. He was, in fact, eager to meet
the manager of the big ranch and the cousin of Dicksie. Lance Dunning
stood above six feet in height, and was a handsome man, in spite of
the hard lines around his eyes, as he walked in; but neither his
manner nor his expression was amiable.

"Are you Mr. McCloud? I've been here three times this afternoon to see
you," said he, ignoring McCloud's answer and a proffered chair. "This
is your office, isn't it?"

McCloud, a little surprised, answered again and civilly: "It certainly
is; but I have been at Smoky Creek for two or three days."

"What have you done with my cattle?"

"The Duck Bar train was run back to Point of Rocks and the cattle were
unloaded at the yard."

Lance Dunning spoke with increasing harshness: "By whose order was
that done? Why wasn't I notified? Have they had feed or water?"

"All the stock caught west of the bridge was sent back for feed and
water by my orders. It has all been taken care of. You should have
been notified, certainly; it is the business of the stock agent to see
to that. Let me inquire about it while you are here, Mr. Dunning,"
suggested McCloud, ringing for his clerk.

Dunning lost no time in expressing himself. "I don't want my cattle
held at Point of Rocks!" he said angrily. "Your Point of Rocks yards
are infected. My cattle shouldn't have been sent there."

"Oh, no! The old yards where they had a touch of fever were burned off
the face of the earth a year ago. The new yards are perfectly
sanitary. The loss of the bridge has crippled us, you know. Your
cattle are being well cared for, Mr. Dunning, and if you doubt it you
may go up and give our men any orders you like in the matter at our
expense."

"You're taking altogether too much on yourself when you run my stock
over the country in this way," exclaimed Dunning, refusing to be
placated.

"How am I to get to Point of Rocks--walk there?"

"Not at all," returned McCloud, ringing up his clerk and asking for a
pass, which was brought back in a moment and handed to Dunning. "The
cattle," continued McCloud, "can be run down, unloaded, and driven
around the break to-morrow--with the loss of only two days."

"And in the meantime I lose my market."

"It is too bad, certainly, but I suppose it will be several days
before we can get a line across Smoky Creek."

"Why weren't the cattle sent through that way yesterday? What have
they been held at Point of Rocks for? I call the thing badly
managed."

"We couldn't get the empty cars up from Piedmont for the transfer
until to-day; empties are very scarce everywhere now."

"There always have been empties here when they were wanted until
lately. There's been no head or tail to anything on this division for
six months."

"I'm sorry that you have that impression."

"That impression is very general," declared the stockman, with an
oath, "and if you keep on discharging the only men on this division
that are competent to handle a break like this, it is likely to
continue!"

"Just a moment!" McCloud's finger rose pointedly. "My failure to
please you in caring for your stock in an emergency may be properly a
matter for comment; your opinion as to the way I am running this
division is, of course, your own: but don't attempt to criticise the
retention or discharge of any man on my payroll!"

Dunning strode toward him. "I'm a shipper on this line; when it suits
me to criticise you or your methods, or anybody else's, I expect to do
so," he retorted in high tones.

"But you cannot tell me how to run my business!" thundered McCloud,
leaning over the table in front of him.

As the two men glared at each other Rooney Lee opened the door. His
surprise at the situation amounted to consternation. He shuffled to
the corner of the room, and while McCloud and Dunning engaged hotly
again, Rooney, from the corner, threw a shot of his own into the
quarrel. "On time!" he roared.

The angry men turned. "What's on time?" asked McCloud curtly.

"Number One; she's in and changing engines. I told them you were going
West," declared Rooney in so deep tones that his fiction would never
have been suspected. If his cue had been, "My lord, the conductor
waits," it could not have been rung in more opportunely.

Dunning, to emphasize, without a further word, his disgust for the
situation and his contempt for the management, tore into scraps the
pass that had been given him, threw the scraps on the floor, took a
cigar from his pocket and lighted it; insolence could do no more.

McCloud looked over at the despatcher. "No, I am not going West,
Rooney. But if you will be good enough to stay here and find out from
this man just how this railroad ought to be run, I will go to bed. He
can tell you; the microbe seems to be working in his mind right now,"
said McCloud, slamming down the roll-top of his desk. And with Lance
Dunning glaring at him, somewhat speechless, he put on his hat and
walked out of the room.

It was but one of many disagreeable incidents due to the loss of the
bridge. Complications arising from the tie-up followed him at every
turn. It seemed as if he could not get away from trouble following
trouble. After forty hours further of toil, relieved by four hours of
sleep, McCloud found himself, rather dead than alive, back at Medicine
Bend and in the little dining-room at Marion's. Coming in at the
cottage door on Fort Street, he dropped into a chair. The cottage
rooms were empty. He heard Marion's voice in the front shop; she was
engaged with a customer. Putting his head on the table to wait a
moment, nature asserted itself and McCloud fell asleep. He woke
hearing a voice that he had heard in dreams. Perhaps no other voice
could have wakened him, for he slept for a few minutes a death-like
sleep. At all events, Dicksie Dunning was in the front room and
McCloud heard her. She was talking with Marion about the burning of
Smoky Creek Bridge.

"Every one is talking about it yet," Dicksie was saying. "If I had
lost my best friend I couldn't have felt worse; you know, my father
built it. I rode over there the day of the fire, and down into the
creek, so I could look up where it stood. I never realized before how
high and how long it was; and when I remembered how proud father
always was of his work there--Cousin Lance has often told me--I sat
down right on the ground and cried. Really, the ruins were the most
pathetic thing you ever saw, Marion, with great clouds of smoke
rolling up from the canyon that day; the place looked so lonely when I
rode away that every time I turned to look back my eyes filled with
tears. Poor daddy! I am almost glad he didn't live to see it. How
times have changed in railroading, haven't they? Mr. Sinclair was over
just the other night, and he said if they kept using this new coal in
the engines they would burn up everything on the division. Do you
know, I have been waiting in town three or four hours now for Cousin
Lance? I feel almost like a tramp. He is coming from the West with the
stock train. It was due here hours ago, but they never seem to know
when anything is to get here the way things are run on the railroad
now. I want to give Cousin Lance some mail before he goes through."

"The passenger trains crossed the creek over the switchbacks hours
ago, and they say the emergency grades are first-rate," said Marion
Sinclair, on the defensive. "The stock trains must have followed right
along. Your cousin is sure to be here pretty soon. Probably Mr.
McCloud will know which train he is on, and Mr. Lee telephoned that
Mr. McCloud would be over here at three o'clock for his dinner. He
ought to be here now."

"Oh, dear, then I must go!"

"But he can probably tell you just when your cousin will be in."

"I wouldn't meet him for worlds!"

"You wouldn't? Why, Mr. McCloud is delightful."

"Oh, not for worlds, Marion! You know he is discharging all the best
of the older men, the men that have made the road everything it is,
and of course we can't help sympathizing with them over our way. For
my part, I think it is terrible, after a man has given all of his life
to building up a railroad, that he should be thrown out to starve in
that way by new managers, Marion."

McCloud felt himself shrinking within his weary clothes. Resentment
seemed to have died. He felt too exhausted to undertake controversy,
even if it were to be thought of, and it was not.

Nothing further was needed to complete his humiliation. He picked up
his hat and with the thought of getting out as quietly as he had come
in. In rising he swept a tumbler at his elbow from the table. The
glass broke on the floor, and Marion exclaimed, "What is that?" and
started for the dining-room.

It was too late to get away. McCloud stepped to the portières of the
trimming-room door and pushed them aside. Marion stood with a hat in
her hand, and Dicksie, sitting at the table, was looking directly at
the intruder as he appeared in the doorway. She saw in him her
pleasant acquaintance of the wreck at Smoky Creek, whose name she had
not learned. In her surprise she rose to her feet, and Marion spoke
quickly: "Oh, Mr. McCloud, is it you? I did not hear you come in."

Dicksie's face, which had lighted, became a spectacle of confusion
after she heard the name. McCloud, conscious of the awkwardness of
his position and the disorder of his garb, said the worst thing at
once: "I fear I am inadvertently overhearing your conversation."

He looked at Dicksie as he spoke, chiefly because he could not help
it, and this made matters hopeless.

She flushed more deeply. "I cannot conceive why our conversation
should invite a listener."

Her words did not, of course, help to steady him. "I tried to get
away," he stammered, "when I realized I was a part of it."

"In any event," she exclaimed hastily, "if you are Mr. McCloud I think
it unpardonable to do anything like that!"

"I am Mr. McCloud, though I should rather be anybody else; and I am
sorry that I was unable to help hearing what was said; I----"

"Marion, will you be kind enough to give me my gloves?" said Dicksie,
holding out her hand.

Marion, having tried once or twice to intervene, stood between the
firing-lines in helpless amazement. Her exclamations were lost; the
two before her gave no heed to ordinary intervention.

McCloud flushed at being cut off, but he bowed. "Of course," he said,
"if you will listen to no explanation I can only withdraw."

[Illustration: HELEN HOLMES AS MARION SINCLAIR IN THE PHOTO-PLAY
PRODUCTION OF "WHISPERING SMITH." © _American Mutual Studio_.]

He went back, dinnerless, to work all night; but the switchbacks were
doing capitally, and all night long, trains were rolling through
Medicine Bend from the West in an endless string. In the morning the
yard was nearly cleared of westbound tonnage. Moreover, the mail in
the morning brought compensation. A letter came from Glover telling
him not to worry himself to death over the tie-up, and one came from
Bucks telling him to make ready for the building of the Crawling Stone
Line.

McCloud told Rooney Lee that if anybody asked for him to report him
dead, and going to bed slept twenty-four hours.



CHAPTER X

SWEEPING ORDERS


The burning of Smoky Creek Bridge was hardly off the minds of the
mountain men when a disaster of a different sort befell the division.
In the Rat Valley east of Sleepy Cat the main line springs between two
ranges of hills with a dip and a long supported grade in each
direction. At the point of the dip there is a switch from which a spur
runs to a granite quarry. The track for two miles is straight and the
switch-target and lights are seen easily from either direction save at
one particular moment of the day--a moment which is in the valley
neither quite day nor quite night. Even this disadvantage occurs to
trains east-bound only, because due to unusual circumstances. When the
sun in a burst of dawning glory shows itself above the crest of the
eastern range an engineman, east-bound, may be so blinded by the rays
streaming from the rising sun that he cannot see the switch at the
foot of the grade. For these few moments he is helpless should
anything be wrong with the quarry switch. Down this grade, a few
weeks after the Smoky Creek fire, came a double-headed stock train
from the Short Line with forty cars of steers. The switch stood open;
this much was afterward abundantly proved. The train came down the
grade very fast to gain speed for the hill ahead of it. The head
engineman, too late, saw the open target. He applied the emergency
air, threw his engine over, and whistled the alarm. The mightiest
efforts of a dozen engines would have been powerless to check the
heavy train. On the quarry track stood three flat cars loaded with
granite blocks for the abutment of the new Smoky Creek Bridge. On a
sanded track, rolling at thirty miles an hour and screaming in the
clutches of the burning brakes, the heavy engines struck the switch
like an avalanche, reared upon the granite-laden flats, and with forty
loads of cattle plunged into the canyon below; not a car remained on
the rails. The head brakeman, riding in the second cab, was instantly
killed, and the engine crews, who jumped, were badly hurt.

The whole operating department of the road was stirred. What made the
affair more dreadful was that it had occurred on the time of Number
Six, the east-bound passenger train, held that morning at Sleepy Cat
by an engine failure. Glover came to look into the matter. The
testimony of all tended to one conclusion--that the quarry switch had
been thrown at some time between four-thirty and five o'clock that
morning. Inferences were many: tramps during the early summer had been
unusually troublesome and many of them had been rigorously handled by
trainmen; robbery might have been a motive, as the express cars on
train Number Six carried heavy specie shipments from the coast.

Yet a means so horrible as well as so awkward and ineffective
seemed unlike mountain outlaws. Strange men from headquarters were on
the ground as soon as they could reach the wreck, men from the
special-service department, and a stock inspector who greatly
resembled Whispering Smith was on the ground looking into the brands
of the wrecked cattle. Glover was much in consultation with him,
and there were two or three of the division men, such as Anderson,
Young, McCloud, and Lee, who knew him but could answer no inquiries
concerning his long stay at the wreck.

A third and more exciting event soon put the quarry wreck into the
background. Ten days afterward an east-bound passenger train was
flagged in the night at Sugar Buttes, twelve miles west of Sleepy Cat.
When the heavy train slowed up, two men boarded the engine and with
pistols compelled the engineman to cut off the express cars and pull
them to the water-tank a mile east of the station. Three men there in
waiting forced the express car, blew open the safe, and the gang rode
away half an hour later loaded with gold coin and currency.

Had a stick of dynamite been exploded under the Wickiup there could
not have been more excitement at Medicine Bend. Within three hours
after the news reached the town a posse under Sheriff Van Horn, with a
carload of horseflesh and fourteen guns, was started for Sugar Buttes.
The trail led north and the pursuers rode until nearly nightfall. They
crossed Dutch Flat and rode single file into a wooded canyon, where
they came upon traces of a camp-fire. Van Horn, leading, jumped from
his horse and thrust his hand into the ashes; they were still warm,
and he shouted to his men to ride up. As he called out, a rifle
cracked from the box-elder trees ahead of him. The sheriff fell, shot
through the head, and a deputy springing from his saddle to pick him
up was shot in precisely the same way, through the head. The riderless
horses bolted; the posse, thrown into a panic, did not fire a shot,
and for an hour dared not ride back for the bodies. After dark they
got the two dead men and at midnight rode with them into Sleepy Cat.

When the news reached McCloud he was talking with Bucks over the
wires. Bucks had got into headquarters at the river late that night,
and was getting details from McCloud of the Sugar Buttes robbery
when the superintendent sent him the news of the killing of Van Horn
and the deputy. In the answer that Bucks sent came a name new to the
wires of the mountain division and rarely seen even in special
correspondence, but Hughie Morrison, who took the message, never
forgot that name; indeed, it was soon to be thrown sharply into the
spotlight of the mountain railroad stage. Hughie repeated the
message to get it letter-perfect; to handle stuff at the Wickiup
signed "J. S. B." was like handling diamonds on a jeweller's tongs
or arteries on a surgeon's hook; and, in truth, Bucks's words were
the arteries and pulse-beat of the mountain division. Hughie handed
the message to McCloud and stood by while the superintendent read:

    Whispering Smith is due in Cheyenne to-morrow. Meet him at the
    Wickiup Sunday morning; he has full authority. I have told him
    to get these fellows, if it takes all the money in the
    treasury, and not to stop till he cleans them out of the Rocky
    Mountains. J. S. B.



CHAPTER XI

AT THE THREE HORSES


"Clean them out of the Rocky Mountains; that is a pretty good
contract," mused the man in McCloud's office on Sunday morning. He sat
opposite McCloud in Bucks's old easy chair and held in his hand
Bucks's telegram. As he spoke he raised his eyebrows and settled back,
but the unusual depth of the chair and the shortness of his legs left
his chin helpless in his black tie, so that he was really no better
off except that he had changed one position of discomfort for another.
"I wonder, now," he mused, sitting forward again as McCloud watched
him, "I wonder--you know, George, the Andes are, strictly speaking, a
part of the great North American chain--whether Bucks meant to include
the South American ranges in that message?" and a look of mildly
good-natured anticipation overspread his face.

"Suppose you wire him and find out," suggested McCloud.

"No, George, no! Bucks never was accurate in geographical expressions.
Besides, he is shifty and would probably cover his tracks by telling
me to report progress when I got to Panama."

A clerk opened the outer office door. "Mr. Dancing asks if he can see
you, Mr. McCloud."

"Tell him I am busy."

Bill Dancing, close on the clerk's heels, spoke for himself. "I know
it, Mr. McCloud, I know it!" he interposed urgently, "but let me speak
to you just a moment." Hat in hand, Bill, because no one would knock
him down to keep him out, pushed into the room. "I've got a plan," he
urged, "in regards to getting these hold-ups."

"How are you, Bill?" exclaimed the man in the easy chair, jumping
hastily to his feet and shaking Dancing's hand. Then quite as hastily
he sat down, crossed his knees violently, stared at the giant lineman,
and exclaimed, "Let's have it!"

Dancing looked at him in silence and with some contempt. The
trainmaster had broken in on the superintendent for a moment and the
two were conferring in an undertone. "What might your name be,
mister?" growled Dancing, addressing with some condescension the man
in the easy chair.

The man waved his hand as if it were immaterial and answered with a
single word: "Forgotten!"

"How's that?"

"Forgotten!"

"That's a blamed queer name----"

"On the contrary, it's a very common name and that is just the
trouble: it's forgotten."

"What do you want, Bill?" demanded McCloud, turning to the lineman.

"Is this man all right?" asked Dancing, jerking his thumb toward the
easy chair.

"I can't say; you'll have to ask him."

"I'll save you that trouble, Bill, by saying that if it's for the good
of the division I am all right. Death to its enemies, damme, say I.
Now go on, William, and give us your plan in regards to getting these
hold-ups--yes."

Dancing looked from one man to the other, but McCloud appeared
preoccupied and his visitor seemed wholly serious. "I don't want to
take too much on myself--" Bill began, speaking to McCloud.

"You look as if you could carry a fair-sized load, William, provided
it bore the right label," suggested the visitor, entirely amiable.

"--But nobody has felt worse over this thing and recent things----"

"Recent things," echoed the easy chair.

"--happening to the division that I have. Now I know there's been
trouble on the division----"

"I think you are putting it too strong there, Bill, but let it pass."

"--there's been differences; misunderstandings and differences. So I
says to myself maybe something might be done to get everybody together
and bury the differences, like this: Murray Sinclair is in town; he
feels bad over this thing, like any railroad man would. He's a
mountain man, quick as the quickest with a gun, a good trailer, rides
like a fiend, and can catch a streak of sunshine travelling on a pass.
Why not put him at the head of a party to run 'em down?"

"Run 'em down," nodded the stranger.

"Differences such as be or may be----"

"May be----"

"Being discussed when he brings 'em in dead or alive, and not before.
That's what I said to Murray Sinclair, and Murray Sinclair is ready
for to take hold this minute and do what he can if he's asked. I told
him plain I could promise no promises; that, I says, lays with George
McCloud. Was I right, was I wrong? If I was wrong, right me; if I was
right, say so. All I want is harmony."

The new man nodded approval. "Bully, Bill!" he exclaimed heartily.

"Mister," protested the lineman, with simple dignity, "I'd just a
little rather you wouldn't bully me nor Bill me."

"All in good part, Bill, as you shall see; all in good part. Now
before Mr. McCloud gives you his decision I want to be allowed a word.
Your idea looks good to me. At first I may say it didn't. I am candid;
I say it didn't. It looked like setting a dog to catch his own tail.
Mind you, I don't say it can't be done. A dog _can_ catch his own
tail; _they do do it_," proclaimed the stranger in a low and emphatic
undertone. "But," he added, moderating his utterance, "when they
succeed--who gets anything out of it but the dog?" Bill Dancing,
somewhat clouded and not deeming it well to be drawn into any damaging
admissions, looked around for a cigar, and not seeing one, looked
solemnly at the new Solomon and stroked his beard. "That is how it
looked to me at first," concluded the orator; "_but_, I say now it
looks good to me, and as a stranger I may say I favor it."

Dancing tried to look unconcerned and seemed disposed to be friendly.
"What might be your line of business?"

"Real estate. I am from Chicago. I sold everything that was for sale
in Chicago and came out here to stake out the Spanish Sinks and the
Great Salt Lake--yes. It's drying up and there's an immense
opportunity for claims along the shore. I've been looking into it."

"Into the claims or into the lake?" asked McCloud.

"Into both; and, Mr. McCloud, I want to say I favor Mr. Dancing's
idea, that's all. Right wrongs no man. Let Bill see Sinclair and see
what they can figure out." And having spoken, the stranger sank back
and tried to look comfortable.

"I'll talk with you later about it, Bill," said McCloud briefly.

"Meantime, Bill, see Sinclair and report," suggested the stranger.

"It's as good as done," announced Dancing, taking up his hat, "and,
Mr. McCloud, might I have a little advance for cigars and things?"

"Cigars and ammunition--of course. See Sykes, William, see Sykes; if
the office is closed go to his house--and see what will happen to
you--" added the visitor in an aside, "and tell him to telephone up to
Mr. McCloud for instruction," he concluded unceremoniously.

"Now why do you want to start Bill on a fool business like that?"
asked McCloud, as Bill Dancing took long steps from the room toward
the office of Sykes, the cashier.

"He didn't know me to-day, but he will to-morrow," said the stranger
reflectively. "Gods, what I've seen that man go through in the days of
the giants! Why, George, this will keep the boys talking, and they
have to do something. Spend the money; the company is making it too
fast anyway; they moved twenty-two thousand cars one day last week.
Personally I'm glad to have a little fun out of it; it will be hell
pure and undefiled long before we get through. This will be an easy
way of letting Sinclair know I am here. Bill will report me
confidentially to him as a suspicious personage."

To the astonishment of Sykes, the superintendent confirmed over the
telephone Dancing's statement that he was to draw some expense money.
Bill asked for twenty-five dollars. Sykes offered him two, and Bill
with some indignation accepted five. He spent all of this in trying to
find Sinclair, and on the strength of his story to the boys borrowed
five dollars more to prosecute the search. At ten o'clock that night
he ran into Sinclair playing cards in the big room above the Three
Horses.

The Three Horses still rears its hospitable two-story front in Fort
Street, the only one of the Medicine Bend gambling houses that goes
back to the days of '67; and it is the boast of its owners that since
the key was thrown away, thirty-nine years ago, its doors have never
been closed, night or day, except once for two hours during the
funeral of Dave Hawk. Bill Dancing drew Sinclair from his game and
told him of the talk with McCloud, touching it up with natural
enthusiasm. The bridgeman took the news in high good humor and slapped
Dancing on the back. "Did you see him alone, Bill?" asked Sinclair,
with interest. "Come over here, come along. I want you to meet a good
friend. Here, Harvey, shake hands with Bill Dancing. Bill, this is old
Harvey Du Sang, meanest man in the mountains to his enemies and the
whitest to his friends--eh, Harvey?"

Harvey seemed uncommunicative. Studying his hand, he asked in a sour
way whether it was a jackpot, and upon being told that it was not,
pushed forward some chips and looked stupidly up--though Harvey was by
no means stupid. "Proud to know you, sir," said Bill, bending frankly
as he put out his hand. "Proud to know any friend of Murray
Sinclair's. What might be your business?"

Again Du Sang appeared abstracted. He looked up at the giant lineman,
who, in spite of his own size and strength, could have crushed him
between his fingers, and hitched his chair a little, but got no
further toward an answer and paid no attention whatever to Bill's
extended hand.

"Cow business, Bill," interposed Sinclair. "Where? Why, up near the
park, Bill, up near the park. Bill is an old friend of mine, Harvey.
Shake hands with George Seagrue, Bill, and you know Henry Karg--and
old Stormy Gorman--well, I guess you know him too," exclaimed
Sinclair, introducing the other players. "Look here a minute,
Harvey."

Harvey, much against his inclination, was drawn from the table and
retired with Sinclair and Dancing to an empty corner, where Dancing
told his story again. At the conclusion of it Harvey rather snorted.
Sinclair asked questions. "Was anybody else there when you saw
McCloud, Bill?"

"One man," answered Bill impressively.

"Who?"

"A stranger to me."

"A stranger? What did he look like?"

"Slender man and kind of odd talking, with a sandy mustache."

"Hear his name?"

"He told me his name, but it's skipped me, I declare. He's kind of
dark-complected like."

"Stranger, eh?" mused Du Sang; his eyes were wandering over the room.

"Slender man," repeated Bill, "but I didn't take much notice of him.
Said he was in the real-estate business."

"In the real-estate business? And did he sit there while you talked
this over with the college guy?" muttered Du Sang.

"He is all right, boys, and he said you'd know his name if I could
speak it," declared Bill.

"Look anything like that man standing with his hands in his pockets
over there by the wheel?" asked Du Sang, turning his back carefully on
a new-comer as he made the suggestion.

"Where--there? No! Yes, hold on, that's the man there now! Hold on,
now!" urged Bill, struggling with the excitement of ten hours and ten
dollars all in one day. "His name sounded like Fogarty."

As Dancing spoke, Sinclair's eyes riveted on the new face at the other
side of the gambling-room. "Fogarty, hell!" he exclaimed, starting.
"Stand right still, Du Sang; don't look around. That man is Whispering
Smith."



CHAPTER XII

PARLEY


It was recalled one evening not long ago at the Wickiup that the
affair with Sinclair had all taken place within a period of two years,
and that practically all of the actors in the event had been together
and in friendly relation on a Thanksgiving Day at the Dunning ranch
not so very long before the trouble began. Dicksie Dunning was away at
school at the time, and Lance Dunning was celebrating with a riding
and shooting fest and a barbecue.

The whole country had been invited. Bucks was in the mountains on an
inspection trip, and Bill Dancing drove him with a party of railroad
men over from Medicine Bend. The mountain men for a hundred and
fifty miles around were out. Gene and Bob Johnson, from Oroville and
the Peace River, had come with their friends. From Williams Cache
there was not only a big delegation--more of one than was really
desirable--but it was led by old John Rebstock himself. When the
invitation is general, lines cannot be too closely drawn. Not
only was Lance Dunning something of a sport himself, but on the Long
Range it is part of a stockman's creed to be on good terms with his
neighbors. At a Thanksgiving Day barbecue not even a mountain
sheriff would ask questions, and Ed Banks, though present, respected
the holiday truce. Cowboys rode that day in the roping contest who
were from Mission Creek and from Two Feather River.

Among the railroad people were George McCloud, Anderson, the assistant
superintendent, Farrell Kennedy, chief of the special service, and his
right-hand man, Bob Scott. In especial, Sinclair's presence at the
barbecue was recalled. He had some cronies with him from among his
up-country following, and was introducing his new bridge foreman,
Karg, afterward known as Flat Nose, and George Seagrue, the Montana
cowboy. Sinclair fraternized that day with the Williams Cache men, and
it was remarked even then that though a railroad man he appeared
somewhat outside the railroad circle. When the shooting matches were
announced a brown-eyed railroad man was asked to enter. He had been
out of the mountains for some time and was a comparative stranger in
the gathering, but the Williams Cache men had not forgotten him;
Rebstock, especially, wanted to see him shoot. While much of the time
out of the mountains on railroad business, he was known to be closely
in Bucks's counsels, and as to the mountains themselves, he was
reputed to know them better than Bucks or Glover himself knew them.
This was Whispering Smith; but, beyond a low-voiced greeting or an
expression of surprise at meeting an old acquaintance, he avoided
talk. When urged to shoot he resisted all persuasion and backed up his
refusal by showing a bruise on his trigger finger. He declined even to
act as judge in the contest, suggesting the sheriff, Ed Banks, for
that office.

The rifle matches were held in the hills above the ranch-house, and in
the contest between the ranches, for which a sweepstakes had been
arranged, Sinclair entered Seagrue, who was then working for him.
Seagrue shot all the morning and steadily held up the credit of the
Frenchman Valley Ranch against the field. Neither continued shooting
nor severe tests availed to upset Sinclair's entry, and riding back
after the matches with the prize purse in his pocket, Seagrue, who was
tall, light-haired, and perfectly built, made a new honor for himself
on a dare from Stormy Gorman, the foreman of the Dunning ranch.
Gorman, who had ridden a race back with Sinclair, was at the foot of
the long hill, down which the crowd was riding, when he stopped,
yelled back at Seagrue, and, swinging his hat from his head, laid it
on a sloping rock beside the trail.

"You'd better not do that, Stormy," said Sinclair. "Seagrue will put a
hole through it."

Gorman laughed jealously. "If he can hit it, let him hit it."

At the top of the hill Seagrue had dismounted and was making ready to
shoot. Whispering Smith, at his side, had halted with the party, and
the cowboy knelt to adjust his sights. On his knee he turned to
Whispering Smith, whom he seemed to know, with an abrupt question:
"How far do you call it?"

The answer was made without hesitation: "Give it seven hundred and
fifty yards, Seagrue."

The cowboy made ready, brought his rifle to his shoulder, and fired.
The slug passed through the crown of the hat, and a shower of
splinters flying back from the rock blew the felt into a sieve.
Gorman's curiosity, as well as that of everybody else, seemed
satisfied, and, gaining the level ground, the party broke into a
helter-skelter race for the revolver-shooting.

In this Sinclair himself had entered, and after the early matches
found only one troublesome contestant--Du Sang from the Cache, who was
present under Rebstock's wing. After Sinclair and Du Sang had tied in
test after test at shooting out of the saddle, Whispering Smith, who
lost sight of nothing in the gun-play, called for a pack of cards,
stripped the aces from the deck, and had a little conference with the
judge. The two contestants, Sinclair and Du Sang, were ordered back
thirty-five paces on their horses, and the railroad man, walking over
to the targets, held out between the thumb and forefinger of his left
hand the ace of clubs. The man that should first spot the pip out of
the card was to take the prize, a Cheyenne saddle. Sinclair shot, and
his horse, perfectly trained, stood like a statue. The card flew from
Smith's hand, but the bullet had struck the ace almost an inch above
the pip, and a second ace was held out for Du Sang. As he raised his
gun his horse moved. He spurred angrily, circled quickly about,
halted, and instantly fired. It was not alone that his bullet cut the
shoulder of the club pip on the card: the whole movement, beginning
with the circling dash of the horse under the spur, the sudden halt,
and the instantly accurate aim, raised a quick, approving yell for the
new-comer. The signal was given for Sinclair, and a third ace went up.
In the silence Sinclair, with deliberate care, brought his gun down on
the card, fired, and cut the pip cleanly from the white field. Du Sang
was urged to shoot again, but his horse annoyed him and he would not.

With a little speech the prize was given by Ed Banks to Sinclair.
"Here's hoping your gun will never be trained on me, Murray," smiled
the modest sheriff.

Sinclair responded in high humor. He had every reason to feel good.
His horses had won the running races, and his crowd had the honors
with the guns. He turned on Du Sang, who sat close by in the circle of
horsemen, and, holding the big prize out toward him on his knee, asked
him to accept it. "It's yours by rights anyway, Du Sang," declared
Sinclair. "You're a whole lot better shot than I am, every turn of the
road. You've shot all day from a nervous horse."

Not only would Sinclair not allow a refusal of his gift, but, to make
his generosity worth while, he dispatched Flat Nose to the corral, and
the foreman rode back leading the pony that had won the half-mile
dash. Sinclair cinched the prize saddle on the colt with his own
hands, led the beast to Du Sang, placed the bridle in his hand, and
bowed. "From a jay to a marksman," he said, saluting.

Du Sang, greatly embarrassed by the affair--he had curious pink
eyes--blinked and got away to the stables. When Rebstock joined him
the Williams Cache party were saddling to go home. Du Sang made no
reference to his gift horse and saddle, but spoke of the man that had
held the target aces. "He must be a sucker!" declared Du Sang, with an
oath. "I wouldn't do that for any man on top of ground. Who is he?"

"That man?" wheezed Rebstock. "Never have no dealings with him. He
plays 'most any kind of a game. He's always ready to play, and holds
aces most of the time. Don't you remember my telling about the man
that got Chuck Williams and hauled him out of the Cache on a
buckboard? That's the man. Here, he give me this for you; it's your
card." Rebstock handed Du Sang the target ace of clubs. "Why didn't
you thank Murray Sinclair, you mule?"

Du Sang, whose eyelashes were white, blinked at the hole through the
card, and looked around as he rode back across the field for the man
that had held it; but Whispering Smith had disappeared.

He was at that moment walking past the barbecue pit with George
McCloud. "Rebstock talks a great deal about your shooting, Gordon,"
said McCloud to his companion.

"He and I once had a little private match of our own. It was on the
Peace River, over a bunch of steers. Since then we have got along very
well, though he has an exaggerated opinion of my ability. Rebstock's
worst failing is his eyesight. It bothers him in seeing brands. He's
liable to brand a critter half a dozen times. That albino, Du Sang, is
a queer duck. Sinclair gave him a fine horse. There they go." The
Cache riders were running their horses and whooping across the creek.
"What a hand a State's prison warden at Fort City could draw out of
that crowd, George!" continued McCloud's companion. "If the right man
should get busy with that bunch of horses Sinclair has got together,
and organize those up-country fellows for mischief, wouldn't it make
things hum on the mountain division for a while?"

McCloud did not meet the host, Lance Dunning, that day, nor since the
day of the barbecue had Du Sang or Sinclair seen Whispering Smith
until the night Du Sang spotted him near the wheel in the Three
Horses. Du Sang at once drew out of his game and left the room.
Sinclair in the meantime had undertaken a quarrelsome interview with
Whispering Smith.

"I supposed you knew I was here," said Smith to him amiably. "Of
course I don't travel in a private car or carry a bill-board on my
back, but I haven't been hiding."

"The last time we talked," returned Sinclair, measuring words
carefully, "you were going to stay out of the mountains."

"I should have been glad to, Murray. Affairs are in such shape on the
division now that somebody had to come, so they sent for me."

The two men were sitting at a table. Whispering Smith was cutting and
leisurely mixing a pack of cards.

"Well, so far as I'm concerned, I'm out of it," Sinclair went on after
a pause, "but, however that may be, if you're back here looking for
trouble there's no reason, I guess, why you can't find it."

"That's not it. I'm not here looking for trouble; I'm here to fix this
thing up. What do you want?"

"Not a thing."

"I'm willing to do anything fair and right," declared Whispering
Smith, raising his voice a little above the hum of the rooms.

"Fair and right is an old song."

"And a good one to sing in this country just now. I'll do anything I
can to adjust any grievance, Murray. What do you want?"

Sinclair for a moment was silent, and his answer made plain his
unwillingness to speak at all. "There never would have been a
grievance if I'd been treated like a white man." His eyes burned
sullenly. "I've been treated like a dog."

"That is not it."

"That is it," declared Sinclair savagely, "and they'll find it's it."

"Murray, I want to say only this--only this to make things clear.
Bucks feels that he's been treated worse than a dog."

"Then let him put me back where I belong."

"It's a little late for that, Murray; a _little_ late," said Smith
gently. "Shouldn't you rather take good money and get off the
division? Mind you, I say good money, Murray--and peace."

Sinclair answered without the slightest hesitation: "Not while that
man McCloud is here."

Whispering Smith smiled. "I've got no authority to kill McCloud."

"There are plenty of men in the mountains that don't need any."

"But let's start fair," urged Whispering Smith softly. He leaned
forward with one finger extended in confidence. "Don't let us have any
misunderstanding on the start. Let McCloud alone. If he is killed--now
I'm speaking fair and open and making no threats, but I know how it
will come out--there will be nothing but killing here for six months.
We will make just that memorandum on McCloud. Now about the main
question. Every sensible man in the world wants something."

"I know men that have been going a long time without what they
wanted."

Smith flushed and nodded. "You needn't have said that, but no matter.
Every sensible man wants something Murray. This is a big country.
There's a World's Fair running somewhere all the time in it. Why not
travel a little? What do you want?"

"I want my job, or I want a new superintendent here."

"Just exactly the two things, and, by heavens! the only two, I can't
manage. Come once more and I'll meet you."

"No!" Sinclair rose to his feet. "No--damn your money! This is my
home. The high country is my country; it's where my friends are."

"It's filled with your friends; I know that. But don't put your trust
in your friends. They will stay by you, I know; but once in a long
while there will be a false friend, Murray, one that will sell
you--remember that."

"I stay."

Whispering Smith looked up in admiration. "I know you're game. It
isn't necessary for me to say that to you. But think of the fight you
are going into against this company. You can worry them; you've done
it. But a bronco might as well try to buck a locomotive as for one man
or six or six hundred to win out in the way you are playing."

"I will look out for my friends; others--" Sinclair hitched his belt
and paused, but Whispering Smith, cutting and running the cards, gave
no heed. His eyes were fixed on the green cloth under his fingers.
"Others--" repeated Sinclair.

"Others?" echoed Whispering Smith good-naturedly.

"May look out for themselves."

"Of course, of course! Well, if this is the end of it, I'm sorry."

"You will be sorry if you mix in a quarrel that is none of yours."

"Why, Murray, I never had a quarrel with a man in my life."

"You are pretty smooth, but you can't drive me out of this country. I
know how well you'd like to do it; and, take notice, there's one trail
you can't cross even if you stay here. I suppose you understand
that."

Smith felt his heart leap. He sat in his chair turning the pack
slowly, but with only one hand now; the other hand was free. Sinclair
eyed him sidewise. Smith moistened his lips and when he replied spoke
slowly: "There is no need of dragging any allusion to her into it. For
that matter, I told Bucks he should have sent any man but me. If I'm
in the way, Sinclair, if my presence here is all that stands in the
way, I'll go back and stay back as before, and send any one else you
like or Bucks likes. Are you willing to say that I stand in the way
of a settlement?"

Sinclair sat down and put his hands on the table. "No; your matter and
mine is another affair. All I want between you and me is fair and
right."

Whispering Smith's eyes were on the cards. "You've always had it."

"Then keep away from _her_."

"Don't tell me what to do."

"Then don't tell me."

"I'm not telling you. You will do as you please; so will I. I left
here because Marion asked me to. I am here now because I have been
sent here. It is in the course of my business. I have my living to
earn and my friends to protect. Don't dictate to me, because it would
be of no use."

"Well, you know now how to get into trouble."

"Every one knows that; few know how to keep out."

"You can't lay your finger on me at any turn of the road."

"Not if you behave yourself."

"And you can't bully me."

"Surely not. No hard feelings, Murray. I came for a friendly talk, and
if it's all the same to you I'll watch this wheel awhile and then go
over to the Wickiup. I leave first--that's understood, I hope--and if
your pink-eyed friend is waiting outside tell him there is nothing
doing, will you, Murray? Who is the albino, by the way? You don't know
him? I think I do. Fort City, if I remember. Well, good-night,
Murray."

It was after twelve o'clock and the room had filled up. Roulette-balls
were dropping, and above the faro-table the extra lights were on. The
dealers, fresh from supper, were putting things in order for the long
trick.

At the Wickiup Whispering Smith found McCloud in the office signing
letters. "I can do nothing with him," said Smith, drawing down a
window-shade before he seated himself to detail his talk with
Sinclair. "He wants a fight."

McCloud put down his pen. "If I am the disturber it would be better
for me to get out."

"That would be hauling down the flag across the whole division. It is
too late for that. If he didn't centre the fight on you he would
centre it somewhere else. The whole question is, who is going to run
this division, Sinclair and his gang or the company? and it is as easy
to meet them on one point as another. I know of no way of making this
kind of an affair pleasant. I am going to do some riding, as I told
you. Kennedy is working up through the Deep Creek country, and has
three men with him. I shall ride toward the Cache and meet him
somewhere near South Mission Pass."

"Gordon, would it do any good to ask a few questions?"

"Ask as many as you like, my dear boy, but don't be disappointed if I
can't answer them. I can look wise, but I don't know anything. You
know what we are up against. This fellow has grown a tiger among the
wolves, and he has turned the pack loose on us. One thing I ask you to
do. Don't expose yourself at night. Your life isn't worth a
coupling-pin if you do."

McCloud raised his hand. "Take care of _your_self. If you are murdered
in this fight I shall know I got you in and that I am to blame."

"And suppose you were?" Smith had risen from his chair. He had few
mannerisms, and recalling the man the few times I have seen him, the
only impression he has left on me is that of quiet and gentleness.
"Suppose you were?" He was resting one arm on top of McCloud's desk.
"What of it? You have done for me up here what I couldn't do, George.
You have been kind to Marion when she hadn't a friend near. You have
stood between him and her when I couldn't be here to do it, and when
she didn't want me to--helped her when I hadn't the privilege of doing
it." McCloud put up his hand in protest, but it was unheeded. "How
many times it has been in my heart to kill that man. She knows it; she
prays it may never happen. That is why she stays here and has kept me
out of the mountains. She says they would talk about her if I lived in
the same town, and I have stayed away." He threw himself back into the
chair. "It's going beyond both of us now. I've kept the promise I made
to her to-day to do all in my power to settle this thing without
bloodshed. It will not be settled in that way, George."

"Was he at Sugar Buttes?"

"If not, his gang was there. The quick get-away, the short turn on Van
Horn, killing two men to rattle the _posse_--it all bears Sinclair's
ear-marks. He has gone too far. He has piled up plunder till he is
reckless. He is crazy with greed and insane with revenge. He thinks he
can gallop over this division and scare Bucks till he gets down on his
knees to him. Bucks will never do it. I know him, and I tell you Bucks
will never do it. He is like that man in Washington: he will fight it
to the death. He would fight Sinclair if he had to come up here and
meet him single-handed, but, he will never have to do it. He put you
here, George, to round that man up. This is the price for your
advancement, and you must pay it."

"It is all right for me to pay it, but I don't want you to pay it.
Will you have a care for yourself, Gordon?"

"Will you?"

"Yes."

"You need never ask me to be careful," Smith went on. "That is my
business. I asked you to watch your window-shades at night, and when I
came in just now I found one up. It is you who are likely to forget,
and in this kind of a game a man never forgets but once. I'll lie down
on the Lincoln lounge, George."

"Get into the bed."

"No; I like the lounge, and I'm off early."

In the private room of the superintendent, provided as a sleeping
apartment in the old headquarters building many years before hotel
facilities reached Medicine Bend, stood the only curio the Wickiup
possessed--the Lincoln lounge. When the car that carried the remains
of Abraham Lincoln from Washington to Springfield was dismantled, the
Wickiup fell heir to one piece of its elaborate furnishings, the
lounge, and the lounge still remains as an early-day relic. Whispering
Smith walked into the bedroom and disposed himself in an incredibly
short time. "I've borrowed one of your pillows, George," he called out
presently.

"Take both."

"One's enough. I hope," he went on, rolling himself like a hen into
the double blanket, "the horse Kennedy has left me will be all right;
he got three from Bill Dancing. Bill Dancing," he snorted, driving his
nose into the pillow as if in final memorandum for the night, "he will
get himself killed if he fools around Sinclair too much now."

McCloud, under a light shaded above his desk, opened a roll of
blue-prints. He was going to follow a construction gang up the
Crawling Stone in the morning and wanted to look over the surveys.
Whispering Smith, breathing regularly, lay not far away. It was late
when McCloud put away his maps, entered the inner room, and looked at
his friend.

He lay like a boy asleep. On the chair beside his head he had placed
his old-fashioned hunting-case watch, as big as an alarm-clock, the
kind a railroad man would wind up with a spike-maul. Beside the watch
he had laid his huge revolver in its worn leather scabbard. Breathing
peacefully, he lay quite at his companion's mercy, and McCloud,
looking down on this man who never made a mistake, never forgot a
danger, and never took an unnecessary chance, thought of what between
men confidence may sometimes mean. He sat a moment with folded arms on
the side of his bed, studying the tired face, defenceless in the
slumber of fatigue. When he turned out the light and lay down, he
wondered whether, somewhere in the valley of the great river to which
he was to take his men in the morning, he should encounter the slight
and reckless horsewoman who had blazed so in anger when he stood
before her at Marion's. He had struggled against her charm too long.
She had become, how or when he could not tell, not alone a pretty
woman but a fascinating one--the creature of his constant thought.
Already she meant more to him than all else in the world. He well knew
that if called on to choose between Dicksie and all else he could only
choose her. But as he drew together the curtains of thought and sleep
stole in upon him, he was resolved first to have Dicksie; to have all
else if he could, but, in any case, Dicksie Dunning. When he awoke day
was breaking in the mountains. The huge silver watch, the low-voiced
man, and the formidable six-shooter had disappeared. It was time to
get up, and Marion Sinclair had promised an early breakfast.



CHAPTER XIII

THE TURN IN THE STORM


The beginning of the Crawling Stone Line marked the first determined
effort under President Bucks, while undertaking the reconstruction of
the system for through traffic, to develop the rich local territory
tributary to the mountain division. New policies in construction dated
from the same period. Glover, with an enormous capital staked for the
new undertakings, gave orders to push the building every month in the
year, and for the first time in mountain railroad-building winter was
to be ignored. The older mountain men met the innovation as they met
any departure from their traditions, with curiosity and distrust. On
the other hand, the new and younger blood took hold with confidence,
and when Glover called, "Yo, heave ho!" at headquarters, they bent
themselves clear across the system for a hard pull together.

McCloud, resting the operating on the shoulders of his assistant
Anderson, devoted himself wholly to forwarding the construction plans,
and his first clash over winter road-building in the Rockies came
with his own right-hand man, Mears. McCloud put in a switch below
Piedmont, opened a material-yard, and began track-laying toward the
lower Crawling Stone Valley, when Mears said it was time to stop work
till spring. When McCloud told him he wanted track across the divide
and into the lower valley by spring, Mears threw up his hands. But
there was metal in the old man, and he was for orders all the time. He
kept up a running fire of protests and forebodings about the danger of
exposing men during the winter season, but stuck to his post. Glover
sent along the men, and although two out of every three deserted the
day after they arrived, Mears kept a force in hand, and crowded the
track up the new grade as fast as the ties and steel came in, working
day in and day out with one eye on the clouds and one on the tie-line
and hoping every day for orders to stop.

December slipped away to Christmas with the steel still going down and
the disaffected element among the railroad men at Medicine Bend
waiting for disaster. The spectacle of McCloud handling a flying
column on the Crawling Stone work in the face of the most treacherous
weather in the mountain year was one that brought out constant
criticism of him among Sinclair's sympathizers and friends, and while
McCloud laughed and pushed ahead on the work, they waited only for his
discomfiture. Christmas Day found McCloud at the front, with men
still very scarce, but Mears's gang at work and laying steel. The work
train was in charge of Stevens, the freight conductor, who had been
set back after the Smoky Creek wreck and was slowly climbing back to
position. They were working in the usual way, with the flat cars ahead
pushed by the engine, the caboose coupled to the tender being on the
extreme hind end of the train.

At two o'clock on Christmas afternoon, when there was not a cloud in
the sky, the horizon thickened in the east. Within thirty minutes the
mountains from end to end of the sky-line were lost in the sweep of a
coming wind, and at three o'clock snow struck the valley like a pall.
Mears, greatly disturbed, ordered the men off the grade and into the
caboose. McCloud had been inspecting culverts ahead, and had started
for the train when the snow drove across the valley. It blotted the
landscape from sight so fast that he was glad after an anxious five
minutes to regain the ties and find himself safely with his men.

But when McCloud came in the men were bordering on a panic. Mears,
with his two foremen, had gone ahead to hunt McCloud up, and had
passed him in the storm; it was already impossible to see, or to hear
an ordinary sound ten yards away. McCloud ordered the flat cars cut
off the train and the engine whistle sounded at short intervals, and,
taking Stevens, buttoned his reefer and started up the grade after the
three trackmen. They fired their revolvers as they went on, but the
storm tossed their signals on the ears of Mears and his companions
from every quarter of the compass. McCloud was standing on the last
tie and planning with his companion how best to keep the grade as the
two advanced, when the engine signals suddenly changed. "Now that
sounds like one of Bill Dancing's games," said McCloud to his
companion. "What the deuce is it, Stevens?"

Stevens, who knew a little of everything, recognized the signals in an
instant and threw up his hands. "It's Morse code, Mr. McCloud, and
they are in--Mears and the foremen--and us for the train as quick as
the Lord will let us; that's what they're whistling."

"So much for an education, Stevens. Bully for you! Come on!"

They regained the flat cars and made their way back to the caboose
and engine, which stood uncoupled. McCloud got into the cab with
Dancing and Stevens. Mears, from the caboose ahead, signalled all in,
and, with a whistling scream, the engine started to back the caboose
to Piedmont. They had hardly more than got under full headway when
a difficulty became apparent to the little group around the
superintendent. They were riding an unballasted track and using such
speed as they dared to escape from a situation that had become
perilous. But the light caboose, packed like a sardine-box with men,
was dancing a hornpipe on the rail-joints. McCloud felt the peril,
and the lurching of the car could be seen in the jerk of the engine
tender to which it was coupled. Apprehensive, he crawled back on
the coal to watch the caboose himself, and stayed long enough to
see that the rapidly drifting snow threatened to derail the outfit
any minute. He got back to the cab and ordered a stop. "This won't
do!" said he to Stevens and the engineman. "We can't back that
caboose loaded with men through this storm. We shall be off the
track in five minutes."

"Try it slow," suggested Stevens.

"If we had the time," returned McCloud; "but the snow is drifting on
us. We've got to make a run for it if we ever get back, and we must
have the engine in front of that way car with her pilot headed for the
drifts. Let's look at things."

Dancing and Stevens, followed by McCloud, dropped out of the gangway.
Mears opened the caboose door and the four men went forward to inspect
the track and the trucks. In the lee of the caboose a council was
held. The roar of the wind was like the surge of many waters, and the
snow had whitened into storm. They were ten miles from a habitation,
and, but for the single track they were travelling, might as well have
been a hundred miles so far as reaching a place of safety was
concerned. They were without food, with a caboose packed with men on
their hands, and they realized that their supply of fuel for either
engine or caboose was perilously slender.

"Get your men ready with their tools, Pat," said McCloud to Mears.

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to turn the train around and put the nose of the engine
into it."

"Turn the train around--why, yes, that would make it easy. I'd be glad
to see it turned around. But where's your turntable, Mr. McCloud?"
asked Mears.

"How are you going to turn your train around on a single track?" asked
Stevens darkly.

"I'm going to turn the track around. I know about where we are, I
think. There's a little stretch just beyond this curve where the grade
is flush with the ground. Ask your engineman to run back very slowly
and watch for the bell-rope. I'll ride on the front platform of the
caboose till we get to where we want to go to work. Lose no time, Pat;
tell your men it's now or never. If we are caught here we may stay
till they carry us home, and the success of this little game depends
on having everything ready and working quick."

Stevens, who stayed close to McCloud, pulled the cord within five
minutes, and before the caboose had stopped the men were tumbling
out of it. McCloud led Mears and his foreman up the track. They
tramped a hundred yards back and forth, and, with steel tapes for
safety lines, swung a hundred feet out on each side of the track to
make sure of the ground. "This will do," announced McCloud; "you
waited here half a day for steel a week ago; I know the ground.
Break that joint, Pat." He pointed to the rail under his foot. "Pass
ahead with the engine and car about a thousand feet," he said to
the conductor, "and when I give you a signal back up slow and look
out for a thirty-degree curve--without any elevation, either. Get out
all your men with lining-bars."

The engine and caboose faded in the blur of the blizzard as the break
was made in the track. "Take those bars and divide your men into
batches of ten with foremen that can make signs, if they can't talk
English," directed McCloud. "Work lively now, and throw this track to
the south!"

Pretty much everybody--Japs, Italians, and Greeks--understood the game
they were playing. McCloud said afterward he would match his Piedmont
hundred in making a movable Y against any two hundred experts Glover
could pick; they had had the experience, he added, when the move meant
their last counter in the game of mountain life or death. The Piedmont
"hundred," to McCloud's mind, were after that day past masters in the
art of track-shifting. Working in a driving cloud of grit and snow,
the ignorant, the dull, and the slow rose to the occasion. Bill
Dancing, Pat Mears and his foreman, and Stevens moved about in the
driving snow like giants. The howling storm rang with the shouting of
the foremen, the guttural cries of the Japs, and the clank of the
lining-bars as rail-length after rail-length of the heavy track was
slued bodily from the grade alignment and swung around in a short
curve to a right angle out on the open ground.

McCloud at last gave the awaited signal, and, with keen-eyed, anxious
men watching every revolution of the cautious driving-wheels, the
engine, hissing and pausing as the air-brakes went off and on, pushed
the light caboose slowly out on the rough spur to its extreme end and
stopped with the pilot facing the main track at right angles; but
before it had reached its halting-place spike-mauls were ringing at
the fish-plates where a moment before it had left the line on the
curve. The track at that point was cut again, and under a long line
of bars and a renewed shouting it was thrown gradually quite across
the long gap in the main line, and the new joints in a very rough
curve were made fast just as the engine, running now with its pilot
ahead, steamed slowly around the new curve and without accident
regained the regular grade. It was greeted by a screeching yell as the
men climbed into the caboose, for the engine stood safely headed into
the teeth of the storm for Piedmont. The ten miles to cover were now a
matter of less than thirty minutes, and the construction train drew
into the Piedmont yards just as the telegraph wires were heating from
headquarters with orders annulling freights, ordering ploughs on
outgoing engines, and battening the division hatches for a grapple
with a Christmas blizzard.

No man came back better pleased than Stevens. "That man is all right,"
said he to Mears, nodding his head toward McCloud, as they walked up
from the caboose. "That's all I want to say. Some of these fellows
have been a little shy about going out with him; they've hounded me
for months about stepping over his way when Sinclair and his mugs
struck. I reckon I played my hand about right."



CHAPTER XIV

THE QUARREL


Spring found the construction of the valley line well advanced, and
the grades nearing the lands of the Dunning ranch. Right-of-way men
had been working for months with Lance Dunning, over the line, and
McCloud had been called frequently into consultation to adjust the
surveys to objections raised by Dicksie's cousin to the crossing of
the ranch lands. Even when the proceedings had been closed, a strong
current of discontent set from the managing head of the Stone Ranch.
Rumors of Lance Dunning's dissatisfaction often reached the railroad
people. Vague talk of an extensive irrigation scheme planned by
Sinclair for the Crawling Stone Valley crept into the newspapers, and
it was generally understood that Lance Dunning had expressed himself
favorably to the enterprise.

Dicksie gave slight heed to matters as weighty as these. She spent
much of her time on horseback, with Jim under the saddle; and in
Medicine Bend, where she rode with frequency, Marion's shop became
her favorite abiding-place. Dicksie ordered hats until Marion's
conscience rose and she practically refused to supply any more. But
the spirited controversy on this point, as on many others--Dicksie's
haughtiness and Marion's restraint, quite unmoved by any show of
displeasure--ended always in drawing the two closer to each other.

At home Dicksie's fancies at that time ran to chickens, and crate
after crate of thoroughbreds and clutch after clutch of eggs were
brought over the pass from far-away countries. But the coyotes stole
the chickens and kept the hens in such a state of excitement that
they could not be got to sit effectively. Nest after nest Dicksie
had the mortification of seeing deserted at critical moments and left
to furred prowlers of the foothills and canyons. Once she had managed
to shoot a particularly bold coyote, only to be overcome with
remorse at seeing its death-struggle. She gained reputation with
her cousin and the men, but was ever afterward assailed with the
reflection that the poor fellow might have been providing for a
hungry family. Housekeeping cares rested lightly on Dicksie. Puss
had charge of the house, and her mistress concerned herself more
with the setting of Jim's shoes than with the dust on the elk
heads over the fireplace in the dining-room. Her Medicine Bend
horseshoer stood in much greater awe of her than Puss did, because
if he ever left a mistake on Jim's heels Dicksie could, and would,
point it coldly out.

One March afternoon, coming home from Medicine Bend, she saw at some
distance before her a party of men on horseback. She was riding a
trail leading from the pass road that followed the hills, and the
party was coming up the bridge road from the lower ranch. Dicksie had
good eyes, and something unusual in the riding of the men was soon
apparent to her. Losing and regaining sight of them at different turns
in the trail, she made out, as she rode among the trees, that they
were cowboys of her own ranch, and riding, under evident excitement,
about a strange horseman. She recognized in the escort Stormy Gorman,
the ferocious foreman of the ranch, and Denison and Jim Baugh, two of
the most reckless of the men. These three carried rifles slung across
their pommels, and in front of them rode the stranger.

Fragments of the breakfast-table talk of the morning came back to
Dicksie's mind. The railroad graders were in the valley below the
ranch, and she had heard her cousin say a good deal on a point she
cared little about, as to where the railroad should cross the Stone
Ranch. Approaching the fork of the two roads toward which she and the
cowboys were riding, she checked her horse in the shade of a
cottonwood tree, and as the party rode up the draw she saw the
horseman under surveillance. It was George McCloud.

Unluckily, as she caught a glimpse of him she was conscious that he
was looking at her. She bent forward to hide a momentary confusion,
spoke briskly to her horse, and rode out of sight. At Marion's she had
carefully avoided him. Her precipitancy at their last meeting had
seemed, on reflection, unfortunate. She felt that she must have
appeared to him shockingly rude, and there was in her recalling of the
scene an unconfessed impression that she had been to blame. Often when
Marion spoke of him, which she did without the slightest reserve and
with no reference as to whether Dicksie liked it or not, it had been
in Dicksie's mind to bring up the subject of the disagreeable scene,
hoping that Marion would suggest a way for making some kind of
unembarrassing amends. But such opportunities had slipped away
unimproved, and here was the new railroad superintendent, whom their
bluff neighbor Sinclair never referred to other than as the college
guy, being brought apparently as a prisoner to the Stone Ranch.

Busied with her thoughts, Dicksie rode slowly along the upper trails
until a long _détour_ brought her around the corrals and in at the
back of the house. Throwing her lines to the ground, she alighted and
through the back porch door made her way unobserved to her room. From
the office across the big hall she heard men's voices in dispute, and
she slipped into the dining-room, where she could hear and might see
without being seen. The office was filled with cowboys. Lance Dunning,
standing with a cigar in his hand and one leg thrown over a corner of
the table, was facing McCloud, who stood before him with his hand on a
chair. Lance was speaking as Dicksie looked into the room, and in curt
tones: "My men were acting under my orders."

"You have no right to give such orders," McCloud said distinctly, "nor
to detain me, nor to obstruct our free passage along the right of way
you have agreed to convey to us under our survey."

"Damn your survey! I never had a plat of any such survey. I don't
recognize any such survey. And if your right-of-way men had ever said
a word about crossing the creek above the flume I never would have
given you a right of way at all."

"There were never but two lines run below the creek; after you raised
objection I ran them both, and both were above the flume."

"Well, you can't put a grade there. I and some of my neighbors are
going to dam up that basin, and the irrigation laws will protect our
rights."

"I certainly can't put a grade in below the flume, and you refuse to
talk about our crossing above it."

"I certainly do."

"Why not let us cross where we are, and run a new level for your ditch
that will put the flume higher up?"

"You will have to cross below the flume where it stands, or you won't
cross the ranch at all."

McCloud was silent for a moment. "I am using a supported grade there
for eight miles to get over the hill within a three-tenths limit. I
can't drop back there. We might as well not build at all if we can't
hold our grade, whereas it would be very simple to run a new line for
your ditch, and my engineers will do it for you without a dollar of
expense to you, Mr. Dunning."

Lance Dunning waved his hand as an ultimatum. "Cross where I tell you
to cross, or keep off the Stone Ranch. Is that English?"

"It certainly is. But in matter of fact we must cross on the survey
agreed on in the contract for a right-of-way deed."

"I don't recognize any contract obtained under false representations."

"Do you accuse me of false representations?"

Lance Dunning flipped the ash from his cigar. "Who are you?"

"I am just a plain, every-day civil engineer, but you must not talk
false representations in any contract drawn under my hand."

"I am talking facts. Whispering Smith may have rigged the joker--I
don't know. Whoever rigged it, it has been rigged all right."

"Any charge against Whispering Smith is a charge against me. He is not
here to defend himself, but he needs no defence. You have charged me
already with misleading surveys. I was telephoned for this morning to
come over to see why you had held up our work, and your men cover me
with rifles while I am riding on a public road."

"You have been warned, or your men have, to keep off this ranch. Your
man Stevens cut our wires this morning----"

"As he had a perfect right to do on our right of way."

"If you think so, stranger, go ahead again!"

"Oh, no! We won't have civil war--not right away, at least. And if you
and your men have threatened and browbeaten me enough for to-day, I
will go."

"Don't set foot on the Stone Ranch again, and don't send any men here
to trespass, mark you!"

"I mark you perfectly. I did not set foot willingly on your ranch
to-day. I was dragged on it. Where the men are grading now, they will
finish their work."

"No, they won't."

"What, would you drive us off land you have already deeded?"

"The first man that cuts our wires or orders them cut where they were
strung yesterday will get into trouble."

"Then don't string any wires on land that belongs to us, for they will
certainly come down if you do."

Lance Dunning turned in a passion. "I'll put a bullet through you if
you touch a barb of Stone Ranch wire!"

Stormy Gorman jumped forward with his hand covering the grip of his
six-shooter. "Yes, damn you, and I'll put another!"

"Cousin Lance!" Dicksie Dunning advanced swiftly into the room. "You
are under our own roof, and you are wrong to talk in that way."

Her cousin stared at her. "Dicksie, this is no place for you!"

"It is when my cousin is in danger of forgetting he is a gentleman."

"You are interfering with what you know nothing about!" exclaimed
Lance angrily.

"I know what is due to every one under this roof."

"Will you be good enough to leave this room?"

"Not if there is to be any shooting or threats of shooting that
involve my cousin."

"Dicksie, leave the room!"

There was a hush. The cowboys dropped back. Dicksie stood motionless.
She gave no sign in her manner that she heard the words, but she
looked very steadily at her cousin. "You forget yourself!" was all she
said.

"I am master here!"

"Also my cousin," murmured Dicksie evenly.

"You don't understand this matter at all!" declared Lance Dunning
vehemently.

"Nothing could justify your language."

"Do you think I am going to allow this railroad company to ruin this
ranch while I am responsible here? You have no business interfering, I
say!"

"I think I have."

"These matters are not of your affair!"

"Not of my affair?" The listeners stood riveted. McCloud felt himself
swallowing, and took a step backward with an effort as Dicksie
advanced. Her hair, loosened by her ride, spread low upon her head.
She stood in her saddle habit, with her quirt still in hand. "Any
affair that may lead my cousin into shooting is my affair. I make it
mine. This is my father's roof. I neither know nor care anything about
what led to this quarrel, but the quarrel is mine now. I will not
allow my cousin to plunge into anything that may cost him his life or
ruin it." She turned suddenly, and her eyes fell on McCloud. "I am not
willing to leave either myself or my cousin in a false position. I
regret especially that Mr. McCloud should be brought into so
unpleasant a scene, because he has already suffered rudeness at my own
hands----"

McCloud flushed. He raised his hand slightly.

"And I am very sorry for it," added Dicksie, before he could speak.
Then, turning, she withdrew from the room.

"I am sure," said McCloud slowly, as he spoke again to her cousin,
"there need be no serious controversy over the right-of-way matter,
Mr. Dunning. I certainly shall not precipitate any. Suppose you give
me a chance to ride over the ground with you again and let us see
whether we can't arrive at some conclusion?"

But Lance was angry, and nursed his wrath a long time.



CHAPTER XV

THE SHOT IN THE PASS


Dicksie walked hurriedly through the dining-room and out upon the rear
porch. Her horse was standing where she had left him. Her heart beat
furiously as she caught up the reins, but she sprang into the saddle
and rode rapidly away. The flood of her temper had brought a disregard
of consequence: it was in the glow of her eyes, the lines of her lips,
and the tremor of her nostrils as she breathed long and deeply on her
flying horse.

When she checked Jim she had ridden miles, but not without a course
nor without a purpose. Where the roads ahead of her parted to lead
down the river and over the Elbow Pass to Medicine Bend, she halted
within a clump of trees almost where she had first seen McCloud.
Beyond the Mission Mountains the sun was setting in a fire like that
which glowed under her eyes. She could have counted her heart-beats as
the crimson ball sank below the verge of the horizon and the shadows
threw up the silver thread of the big river and deepened across the
heavy green of the alfalfa fields. Where Dicksie sat, struggling with
her bounding pulse and holding Jim tightly in, no one from the ranch
or, indeed, from the up-country could pass her unseen. She was waiting
for a horseman, and the sun had set but a few minutes when she heard a
sharp gallop coming down the upper road from the hills.

All her brave plans, terror-stricken at the sound of the hoof-beats,
fled from her utterly. She was stunned by the suddenness of the
crisis. She had meant to stop McCloud and speak to him, but before she
could summon her courage a tall, slender man on horseback dashed past
within a few feet of her. She could almost have touched him as he flew
by, and a horse less steady than Jim would have shied under her.
Dicksie caught her breath. She did not know this man--she had seen
only his eyes, oddly bright in the twilight as he passed--but he was
not of the ranch. He must have come from the hill road, she concluded,
down which she herself had just ridden. He was somewhere from the
North, for he sat his horse like a statue and rode like the wind.

But the encounter nerved her to her resolve. Some leaden moments
passed, and McCloud, galloping at a far milder pace toward the fork of
the roads, checked his speed as he approached. He saw a woman on
horseback waiting in his path.

"Mr. McCloud!"

"Miss Dunning!"

"I could not forgive myself if I waited too long to warn you that
threats have been made against your life. Not of the kind you heard
to-day. My cousin is not a murderer, and never could be, I am sure, in
spite of his talk; but I was frightened at the thought that if
anything dreadful should happen his name would be brought into it.
There are enemies of yours in this country to be feared, and it is
against these that I warn you. Good-night!"

"Surely you won't ride away without giving me a chance to thank you!"
exclaimed McCloud. Dicksie checked her horse. "I owe you a double debt
of gratitude," he added, "and I am anxious to assure you that we
desire nothing that will injure your interests in any way in crossing
your lands."

"I know nothing about those matters, because my cousin manages
everything. It is growing late and you have a good way to go, so
good-night."

"But you will allow me to ride back to the house with you?"

"Oh, no, indeed, thank you!"

"It will soon be dark and you are alone."

"No, no! I am quite safe and I have only a short ride. It is you who
have far to go," and she spoke again to Jim, who started briskly.

"Miss Dunning, won't you listen just a moment? Please don't run away!"
McCloud was trying to come up with her. "Won't you hear me a moment? I
have suffered some little humiliation to-day; I should really rather
be shot up than have more put on me. I am a man and you are a woman,
and it is already dark. Isn't it for me to see you safely to the
house? Won't you at least pretend I can act as an escort and let me go
with you? I should make a poor figure trying to catch you on
horseback----"

Dicksie nodded naïvely. "With that horse."

"With any horse--I know that," said McCloud, keeping at her side.

"But I _can't_ let you ride back with me," declared Dicksie, urging
Jim and looking directly at McCloud for the first time. "How could I
explain?"

"Let me explain. I am famous for explaining," urged McCloud, spurring
too.

"And will you tell me what _I_ should be doing while you were
explaining?" she asked.

"Perhaps getting ready a first aid for the injured."

"I feel as if I ought to run away," declared Dicksie, since she had
clearly decided not to. "It will have to be a compromise, I suppose.
You must not ride farther than the first gate, and let us take this
trail instead of the road. Now make your horse go as fast as you can
and I'll keep up."

But McCloud's horse, though not a wonder, went too fast to suit his
rider, who divided his efforts between checking him and keeping up the
conversation. When McCloud dismounted to open Dicksie's gate, and
stood in the twilight with his hat in his hand and his bridle over his
arm, he was telling a story about Marion Sinclair, and Dicksie in the
saddle, tapping her knee with her bridle-rein, was looking down and
past him as if the light upon his face were too bright. Before she
would start away she made him remount, and he said good-by only after
half a promise from her that she would show him sometime a trail to
the top of Bridger's Peak, with a view of the Peace River on the east
and the whole Mission Range and the park country on the north. Then
she rode away at an amazing run, nodding back as he sat still holding
his hat above his head.

McCloud galloped toward the pass with one determination--that he would
have a horse, and a good one, one that could travel with Jim, if it
cost him his salary. He exulted as he rode, for the day had brought
him everything he wished, and humiliation had been swallowed up in
triumph. It was nearly dark when he reached the crest between the
hills. At this point the southern grade of the pass winds sharply,
whence its name, the Elbow; but from the head of the pass the grade
may be commanded at intervals for half a mile. Trotting down this road
with his head in a whirl of excitement, McCloud heard the crack of a
rifle; at the same instant he felt a sharp slap at his hat. Instinct
works on all brave men very much alike. McCloud dropped forward in his
saddle, and, seeking no explanation, laid his head low and spurred
Bill Dancing's horse for life or death. The horse, quite amazed,
bolted and swerved down the grade like a snipe, with his rider
crouching close for a second shot. But no second shot came, and after
another mile McCloud ventured to take off his hat and put his finger
through the holes in it, though he did not stop his horse to make the
examination. When they reached the open country the horse had settled
into a fast, long stride that not only redeemed his reputation but
relieved his rider's nerves.

When McCloud entered his office it was half-past nine o'clock, and the
first thing he did before turning on the lights was to draw the
window-shades. He examined the hat again, with sensations that were
new to him--fear, resentment, and a hearty hatred of his enemies. But
all the while the picture of Dicksie remained. He thought of her
nodding to him as they parted in the saddle, and her picture blotted
out all that had followed.



CHAPTER XVI

AT THE WICKIUP


Two nights later Whispering Smith rode into Medicine Bend. "I've been
up around Williams Cache," he said, answering McCloud's greeting as he
entered the upstairs office. "How goes it?" He was in his riding rig,
just as he had come from a late supper.

When he asked for news McCloud told him the story of the trouble with
Lance Dunning over the survey, and added that he had referred the
matter to Glover. He told then of his unpleasant surprise when riding
home afterward.

"Yes," assented Smith, looking with feverish interest at McCloud's
head; "I heard about it."

"That's odd, for I haven't said a word about the matter to anybody but
Marion Sinclair, and you haven't seen her."

"I heard up the country. It is great luck that he missed you."

"Who missed me?"

"The man that was after you."

"The bullet went through my hat."

"Let me see the hat."

McCloud produced it. It was a heavy, broad-brimmed Stetson, with a
bullet-hole cut cleanly through the front and the back of the crown.
Smith made McCloud put the hat on and describe his position when the
shot was fired. McCloud stood up, and Whispering Smith eyed him and
put questions.

"What do you think of it?" asked McCloud when he had done.

Smith leaned forward on the table and pushed McCloud's hat toward him
as if the incident were closed. "There is no question in my mind, and
there never has been, but that Stetson puts up the best hat worn on
the range."

McCloud raised his eyebrows. "Why, thank you! Your conclusion clears
things so. After you speak a man has nothing to do but guess."

"But, by Heaven, George," exclaimed Smith, speaking with unaccustomed
fervor, "Miss Dicksie Dunning is a hummer, _isn't_ she? That child
will have the whole range going in another year. To think of her
standing up and lashing her cousin in that way when he was browbeating
a railroad man!"

"Where did you hear about that?"

"The whole Crawling Stone country is talking about it. You never told
me you had a misunderstanding with Dicksie Dunning at Marion's.
Loosen up!"

"I will loosen up in the way you do. What scared me most, Gordon, was
waiting for the second shot. Why didn't he fire again?"

"Doubtless he thought he had you the first time. Any man big enough to
start after you is not used to shooting twice at two hundred and fifty
yards. He probably thought you were falling out of the saddle; and it
was dark. I can account for everything but your reaching the pass so
late. How did you spend all your time between the ranch and the
foothills?"

McCloud saw there was no escape from telling of his meeting with
Dicksie Dunning, of her warning, and of his ride to the gate with her.
Every point brought a suppressed exclamation from Whispering Smith.
"So she gave you your life," he mused. "Good for her! If you had got
into the pass on time you could not have got away--the cards were
stacked for you. He overestimated you a little, George; just a little.
Good men make mistakes. The sport of circumstances that we are! The
sport of circumstances!"

"Now tell me how _you_ heard so much about it, Gordon, and where?"

"Through a friend, but forget it."

"Do you know who shot at me?"

"Yes."

"I think I do, too. I think it was the fellow that shot so well with
the rifle at the barbecue--what was his name? He was working for
Sinclair, and perhaps is yet."

"You mean Seagrue, the Montana cowboy? No, you are wrong. Seagrue is a
man-killer, but a square one."

"How do you know?"

"I will tell you sometime--but this was not Seagrue."

"One of Dunning's men, was it? Stormy Gorman?"

"No, no, a very different sort! Stormy is a wind-bag. The man that is
after you is in town at this minute, and he has come to stay until he
finishes his job."

"The devil! That's what makes your eyes so bright, is it? Do you know
him?"

"I have seen him. You may see him yourself if you want to."

"I'd like nothing better. When?"

"To-night--in thirty minutes." McCloud closed his desk. There was a
rap at the door.

"That must be Kennedy," said Smith. "I haven't seen him, but I sent
word for him to meet me here." The door opened and Kennedy entered the
room.

"Sit down, Farrell," said Whispering Smith easily. "_Ve gates?_"

"How's that?"

"_Wie geht es?_ Don't pretend you can't make out my German. He is
trying to let on he is not a Dutchman," observed Whispering Smith to
McCloud. "You wouldn't believe it, but I can remember when Farrell
wore wooden shoes and lighted his pipe with a candle. He sleeps under
a feather-bed yet. Du Sang is in town, Farrell."

"Du Sang!" echoed the tall man with mild interest as he picked up a
ruler and, throwing his leg on the edge of the table, looked cheerful.
"How long has Du Sang been in town? Visiting friends or doing
business?"

"He is after your superintendent. He has been here since four o'clock,
I reckon, and I've ridden a hard road to-day to get in in time to talk
it over with him. Want to go?"

Kennedy slapped his leg with the ruler. "I always want to go, don't
I?"

"Farrell, if you hadn't been a railroad man you would have made a
great undertaker, do you know that?" Kennedy, slapping his leg, showed
his ivory teeth. "You have such an instinct for funerals," added
Whispering Smith.

"Now, Mr. Smith! Well, who are we waiting for? I'm ready," said
Kennedy, taking out his revolver and examining it.

McCloud put on his new hat and asked if he should take a gun. "You are
really accompanying me as my guest, George," explained Whispering
Smith reproachfully. "Won't it be fun to shove this man right under Du
Sang's nose and make him bat his eyes?" he added to Kennedy. "Well,
put one in your pocket if you like, George, provided you have one that
will go off when sufficiently urged."

McCloud opened the drawer of the table and took from it a revolver.
Whispering Smith reached out his hand for the gun, examined it, and
handed it back.

"You don't like it."

Smith smiled a sickly approbation. "A forty-five gun with a
thirty-eight bore, George? A little light for shock; a _little_ light.
A bullet is intended to knock a man down; not necessarily to kill him,
but, if possible, to keep him from killing you. Never mind, we all
have our fads. Come on!"

At the foot of the stairs Whispering Smith stopped. "Now I don't know
where we shall find this man, but we'll try the Three Horses." As they
started down the street McCloud took the inside of the sidewalk, but
Smith dropped behind and brought McCloud into the middle. They failed
to find Du Sang at the Three Horses, and leaving started to round up
the street. They visited many places, but each was entered in the same
way. Kennedy sauntered in first and moved slowly ahead. He was to step
aside only in case he saw Du Sang. McCloud in every instance followed
him, with Whispering Smith just behind, amiably surprised. They spent
an hour in and out of the Front Street resorts, but their search was
fruitless.

"You are sure he is in town?" asked Kennedy. The three men stood
deliberating in the shadow of a side street.

"Sure!" answered Whispering Smith. "Of course, if he turns the trick
he wants to get away quietly. He is lying low. Who is that, Farrell?"
A man passing out of the shadow of a shade tree was crossing Fort
Street a hundred feet away.

"It looks like our party," whispered Kennedy. "No, stop a bit!" They
drew back into the shadow. "That is Du Sang," said Kennedy; "I know
his hobble."



CHAPTER XVII

A TEST


Du Sang had the sidewise gait of a wolf, and crossed the street with
the choppy walk of the man out of a long saddle. Being both uncertain
and quick, he was a man to slip a trail easily. He travelled around
the block and disappeared among the many open doors that blazed along
Hill Street. Less alert trailers than the two behind him would have
been at fault; but when he entered the place he was looking for,
Kennedy was so close that Du Sang could have spoken to him had he
turned around.

Kennedy passed directly ahead. A moment later Whispering Smith put
his head inside the door of the joint Du Sang had entered, withdrew
it, and, rejoining his companions, spoke in an undertone: "A negro
dive; he's lying low. Now we will keep our regular order. It's a
half-basement, with a bar on the left; crap games at the table behind
the screen on the right. Kennedy, will you take the rear end of the
bar? It covers the whole room and the back door. George, pass in
ahead of me and step just to the left of the slot machine; you've
got the front door there and everything behind the screen, and I can
get close to Du Sang. Look for a thinnish, yellow-faced man with a
brown hat and a brown shirt--and pink eyes--shooting craps under this
window. I'll shoot craps with him. Is your heart pumping, George?
Never mind, this is easy! Farrell, you're first!"

The dive, badly lighted and ventilated, was counted tough among tough
places. White men and colored mixed before the bar and about the
tables. When Smith stepped around the screen and into the flare of the
hanging lamps, Du Sang stood in the small corner below the screened
street window. McCloud, though vitally interested in looking at the
man that had come to town to kill him, felt his attention continually
wandering back to Whispering Smith. The clatter of the rolling dice,
the guttural jargon of the negro gamblers, the drift of men to and
from the bar, and the clouds of tobacco smoke made a hazy background
for the stoop-shouldered man with his gray hat and shabby coat,
dust-covered and travel-stained. Industriously licking the broken
wrapper of a cheap cigar and rolling it fondly under his forefinger,
he was making his way unostentatiously toward Du Sang. Thirty-odd men
were in the saloon, but only two knew what the storm centre moving
slowly across the room might develop. Kennedy, seeing everything and
talking pleasantly with one of the barkeepers, his close-set teeth
gleaming twenty feet away, stood at the end of the bar sliding an
empty glass between his hands. Whispering Smith pushed past the
on-lookers to get to the end of the table where Du Sang was shooting.
He made no effort to attract Du Sang's attention, and when the latter
looked up he could have pulled the gray hat from the head of the man
whose brown eyes were mildly fixed on Du Sang's dice; they were lying
just in front of Smith. Looking indifferently at the intruder, Du Sang
reached for the dice: just ahead of his right hand, Whispering Smith's
right hand, the finger-tips extended on the table, rested in front of
them; it might have been through accident or it might have been
through design. In his left hand Smith held the broken cigar, and
without looking at Du Sang he passed the wrapper again over the tip of
his tongue and slowly across his lips.

Du Sang now looked sharply at him, and Smith looked at his cigar.
Others were playing around the semicircular table--it might mean
nothing. Du Sang waited. Smith lifted his right hand from the table
and felt in his waistcoat for a match. Du Sang, however, made no
effort to take up the dice. He watched Whispering Smith scratch a
match on the table, and, either because it failed to light or through
design, it was scratched the second time on the table, marking a cross
between the two dice.

The meanest negro in the joint would not have stood that, yet Du Sang
hesitated. Whispering Smith, mildly surprised, looked up. "Hello,
Pearline! You shooting here?" He pushed the dice back toward the
outlaw. "Shoot again!"

Du Sang, scowling, snapped the dice and threw badly.

"Up jump the devil, is it? Shoot again!" And, pushing back the dice,
Smith moved closer to Du Sang. The two men touched arms. Du Sang,
threatened in a way wholly new to him, waited like a snake braved by a
mysterious enemy. His eyes blinked like a badger's. He caught up the
dice and threw. "Is that the best you can do?" asked Smith. "See
here!" He took up the dice. "Shoot with me!" Smith threw the dice up
the table toward Du Sang. Once he threw craps, but, reaching directly
in front of Du Sang, he picked the dice up and threw eleven. "Shoot
with me, Du Sang."

"What's your game?" snapped Du Sang, with an oath.

"What do you care, if I've got the coin? I'll throw you for
twenty-dollar gold pieces."

Du Sang's eyes glittered. Unable to understand the reason for the
affront, he stood like a cat waiting to spring. "This is my game!" he
snarled.

"Then play it."

"Look here, what do you want?" he demanded angrily.

Smith stepped closer. "Any game you've got. I'll throw you left-handed,
Du Sang." With his right hand he snapped the dice under Du Sang's nose
and looked squarely into his eyes. "Got any Sugar Buttes money?"

Du Sang for an instant looked keenly back; his eyes contracted in that
time to a mere narrow slit; then, sudden as thought, he sprang back
into the corner. He knew now. This was the man who held the aces at
the barbecue, the railroad man--Whispering Smith. Kennedy, directly
across the table, watched the lightning-like move. For the first time
the crap-dealer looked impatiently up.

It was a showdown. No one watching the two men under the window
breathed for a moment. Whispering Smith, motionless, only watched the
half-closed eyes. "You can't shoot craps," he said coldly. "What can
you shoot, Pearline? You can't stop a man on horseback."

Du Sang knew he must try for a quick kill or make a retreat. He took
in the field at a glance. Kennedy's teeth gleamed only ten feet away,
and with his right hand half under his coat lapel he toyed with his
watch-chain. McCloud had moved in from the slot machine and stood at
the point of the table, looking at Du Sang and laughing at him.
Whispering Smith threw off all pretence. "Take your hand away from
your gun, you albino! I'll blow your head off left-handed if you pull!
Will you get out of this town to-night? If you can't drop a man in the
saddle at two hundred and fifty yards, what do you think you'd look
like after a break with me? Go back to the whelp that hired you, and
tell him when he wants a friend of mine to send a man that can shoot.
If you are within twenty miles of Medicine Bend at daylight I'll rope
you like a fat cow and drag you down Front Street!"

Du Sang, with burning eyes, shrank narrower and smaller into his
corner, ready to shoot if he had to, but not liking the chances. No
man in Williams Cache could pull or shoot with Du Sang, but no man in
the mountains had ever drawn successfully against the man that faced
him.

Whispering Smith saw that he would not draw. He taunted him again in
low tones, and, backing away, spoke laughingly to McCloud. While
Kennedy covered the corner, Smith backed to the door and waited for
the two to join him. They halted a moment at the door, then they
backed slowly up the steps and out into the street.

There was no talk till they reached the Wickiup office. "Now, will
some of you tell me who Du Sang is?" asked McCloud, after Kennedy and
Whispering Smith with banter and laughing had gone over the scene.

Kennedy picked up the ruler. "The wickedest, cruelest man in the
bunch--and the best shot."

"Where is your hat, George--the one he put the bullet through?" asked
Whispering Smith, limp in the big chair. "Burn it up; he thinks he
missed you. Burn it up now. Never let him find out what a close call
you had. Du Sang! Yes, he is cold-blooded as a wild-cat and cruel as a
soft bullet. Du Sang would shoot a dying man, George, just to keep him
squirming in the dirt. Did you ever see such eyes in a human being,
set like that and blinking so in the light? It's bad enough to watch a
man when you can see his eyes. Here's hoping we're done with him!"



CHAPTER XVIII

NEW PLANS


Callahan crushed the tobacco under his thumb in the palm of his right
hand. "So I am sorry to add," he concluded, speaking to McCloud, "that
you are now out of a job." The two men were facing each other across
the table in McCloud's office. "Personally, I am not sorry to say it,
either," added Callahan, slowly filling the bowl of his pipe.

McCloud said nothing to the point, as there seemed to be nothing to
say until he had heard more. "I never knew before that you were
left-handed," he returned evasively.

"It's a lucky thing, because it won't do for a freight-traffic
man, nowadays, to let his right hand know what his left hand
does," observed Callahan, feeling for a match. "I am the only
left-handed man in the traffic department, but the man that handles
the rebates, Jimmie Black, is cross-eyed. Bucks offered to send him
to Chicago to have Bryson straighten his eyes, but Jimmie thinks
it is better to have them as they are for the present, so he can look
at a thing in two different ways--one for the Interstate Commerce
Commission and one for himself. You haven't heard, then?" continued
Callahan, returning to his riddle about McCloud's job. "Why, Lance
Dunning has gone into the United States Court and got an injunction
against us on the Crawling Stone Line--tied us up tighter than
zero. No more construction there for a year at least. Dunning comes
in for himself and for a cousin who is his ward, and three or four
little ranchers have filed bills--so it's up to the lawyers for
eighty per cent. of the gate receipts and peace. Personally, I'm
glad of it. It gives you a chance to look after this operating for a
year yourself. We are going to be swamped with freight traffic this
year, and I want it moved through the mountains like checkers for the
next six months. You know what I mean, George."

To McCloud the news came, in spite of himself, as a blow. The results
he had attained in building through the lower valley had given him
a name among the engineers of the whole line. The splendid showing of
the winter construction, on which he had depended to enable him to
finish the whole work within the year, was by this news brought to
naught. Those of the railroad men who said he could not deliver a
completed line within the year could never be answered now. And
there was some slight bitterness in the reflection that the very
stumbling-block to hold him back, to rob him of his chance for a
reputation with men like Glover and Bucks, should be the lands of
Dicksie Dunning.

He made no complaint. On the division he took hold with new energy
and bent his faculties on the operating problems. At Marion's he saw
Dicksie at intervals, and only to fall more hopelessly under her
spell each time. She could be serious and she could be volatile and
she could be something between which he could never quite make out.
She could be serious with him when he was serious, and totally
irresponsible the next minute with Marion. On the other hand, when
McCloud attempted to be flippant, Dicksie could be confusingly
grave. Once when he was bantering with her at Marion's she tried to
say something about her regret that complications over the right of
way should have arisen; but McCloud made light of it, and waved the
matter aside as if he were a cavalier. Dicksie did not like it, but it
was only that he was afraid she would realize he was a mere railroad
superintendent with hopes of a record for promotion quite blasted.
And as if this obstacle to a greater reputation were not enough, a
wilier enemy threatened in the spring to leave only shreds and
patches of what he had already earned.

The Crawling Stone River is said to embody, historically, all of the
deceits known to mountain streams. Below the Box Canyon it ploughs
through a great bed of yielding silt, its own deposit between the two
imposing lines of bluffs that resist its wanderings from side to side
of the wide valley. This fertile soil makes up the rich lands that are
the envy of less fortunate regions in the Great Basin; but the
Crawling Stone is not a river to give quiet title to one acre of its
own making. The toil of its centuries spreads beautifully green under
the June skies, and the unsuspecting settler, lulled into security by
many years of the river's repose, settles on its level bench lands and
lays out his long lines of possession; but the Sioux will tell you in
their own talk that this man is but a tenant at will; that in another
time and at another place the stranger will inherit his fields; and
that the Crawling Stone always comes back for its own.

This was the peril that Glover and McCloud essayed when they ran a
three-tenths grade and laid an eighty-pound rail up two hundred and
fifty miles of the valley. It was in local and exclusive territory a
rich prize, and they brought to their undertaking not, perhaps,
greater abilities than other men, but incomparably greater material
resources than earlier American engineers had possessed.

Success such as theirs is cumulative: when the work is done one man
stands for it, but it represents the work of a thousand men in every
walk of American industry. Where the credit must lie with the engineer
who achieves is in the application of these enormous reserves of
industrial triumphs to the particular conditions he faces in the
problem before him; in the application lies the genius called success,
and this is always new. Moreover, men like Glover and McCloud were
fitted for a fight with a mountain river because trained in the
Western school, where poverty or resource had sharpened the wits. The
building of the Crawling Stone Line came with the dawn of a new day in
American capital, when figures that had slept in fairies' dreams woke
into every-day use, and when enlarged calculation among men
controlling hitherto unheard-of sums of money demanded the best and
most permanent methods of construction to insure enduring economies in
operating. Thus the constructing of the Crawling Stone Line opened in
itself new chapters in Rocky Mountain railroad-building. An equipment
of machinery, much of which had never before been applied to such
building, had been assembled by the engineers. Steam-shovels had been
sent in battalions, grading-machines and dump-wagons had gone forward
in trainloads, and an army of men were operating in the valley. A huge
steel bridge three thousand feet long was now being thrown across the
river below the Dunning ranch.

The winter had been an unusual one even in a land of winters. The
season's fall of snow had not been above an average, but it had fallen
in the spring and had been followed by excessively low temperatures
throughout the mountains. June came again, but a strange June. The
first rise of the Crawling Stone had not moved out the winter frost,
and the stream lay bound from bank to bank, and for hundreds of miles,
under three feet of ice. When June opened, backward and cold, there
had been no spring. Heavy frosts lasting until the middle of the month
gave sudden way to summer heat, and the Indians on the upper-valley
reservation began moving back into the hills. Then came the rise.
Creek after creek in the higher mountains, ice-bound for six months,
burst without warning into flood. Soft winds struck with the sun and
stripped the mountain walls of their snow. Rains set in on the desert,
and far in the high northwest the Crawling Stone lifting its four-foot
cap of ice like a bed of feathers began rolling it end over end down
the valley. In the Box, forty feet of water struck the canyon walls
and ice-floes were hurled like torpedoes against the granite spurs:
the Crawling Stone was starting after its own.

When the river rose, the earlier talk of Dunning's men had been that
the Crawling Stone would put an end to the railroad pretensions by
washing the two hundred and fifty miles of track back to the Peace
River, where it had started. This much in the beginning was easy to
predict; but the railroad men had turned out in force to fight for
their holdings, and while the ranchers were laughing, the river was
flowing over the bench lands in the upper valley.

At the Dunning ranch the confidence of the men in their own security
gave way to confusion as the river, spreading behind the ice-jams into
broad lakes and bursting in torrents through its barriers, continued
to rise. Treacherous in its broad and yellow quiet, lifting its muddy
head in the stillness of the night, moving unheard over broad sandy
bottoms, backing noiselessly into forgotten channels, stealing through
heavy alfalfa pastures, eating a channel down a slender furrow--then,
with the soil melting from the root, the plant has toppled at the
head, the rivulet has grown a stream; night falls, and in the morning
where yesterday smiling miles of green fields looked up to the sun
rolls a mad flood of waters: this is the Crawling Stone.



CHAPTER XIX

THE CRAWLING STONE RISE


So sudden was the onset of the river that the trained riders of the
big ranch were taken completely aback, and hundreds of head of Dunning
cattle were swept away before they could be removed to points of
safety. Fresh alarms came with every hour of the day and night, and
the telephones up and down the valley rang incessantly with appeals
from neighbor to neighbor. Lance Dunning, calling out the reserves of
his vocabulary, swore tremendously and directed the operations against
the river. These seemed, indeed, to consist mainly of hard riding and
hard language on the part of everybody. Murray Sinclair, although he
had sold his ranch on the Crawling Stone and was concentrating his
holdings on the Frenchman, was everywhere in evidence. He was the
first at a point of danger and the last to ride away from the slipping
acres where the muddy flood undercut; but no defiance seemed to
disturb the Crawling Stone, which kept alarmingly at work.

Above the alfalfa lands on the long bench north of the house the
river, in changing its course many years earlier, had left a
depression known as Mud Lake. It had become separated from the main
channel of the Crawling Stone by a high, narrow barrier in the form of
a bench deposited by the receding waters of some earlier flood, and
added to by sand-storms sweeping among the willows that overspread it.
Without an effective head or definite system of work the efforts of
the men at the Stone Ranch were of no more consequence than if they
had spent their time in waving blankets at the river. Twenty men
riding in together to tell Lance Dunning that the river was washing
out the tree claims above Mud Lake made no perceptible difference in
the event. Dicksie, though an inexperienced girl, saw with helpless
clearness the futility of it all. The alarms and the continual
failures of the army of able-bodied men directed by Sinclair and her
cousin wore on her spirit. The river rose until each succeeding inch
became a menace to the life and property of the ranch, and in the
midst of it came the word that the river was cutting into the willows
and heading for Mud Lake. All knew what that meant. If the Crawling
Stone should take its old channel, not alone were the two square miles
of alfalfa doomed: it would sweep away every vestige of the long
stacks below the corrals, take the barns, and lap the slope in front
of the ranch-house itself.

Terror seized Dicksie. She telephoned in her distress for Marion,
begging her to come up before they should all be swept away; and
Marion, turning the shop over to Katie Dancing, got into the
ranch-wagon that Dicksie had sent and started for the Crawling Stone.
The confusion along the river road as the wagon approached the ranch
showed Marion the seriousness of the situation. Settlers driven from
their homes in the upper valley formed almost a procession of
misery-stricken people, making their way on horseback, on foot, and in
wagons toward Medicine Bend. With them they were bringing all they had
saved from the flood--the little bunch of cows, the wagonload of hogs,
the household effects, the ponies--as if war or pestilence had struck
the valley.

At noon Marion arrived. The ranch-house was deserted, and the men were
all at the river. Puss stuck her head out of the kitchen window, and
Dicksie ran out and threw herself into Marion's arms. Late news from
the front had been the worst: the cutting above Mud Lake had weakened
the last barrier that held off the river, and every available man was
fighting the current at that point.

Marion heard it all while eating a luncheon. Dicksie, beset with
anxiety, could not stay in the house. The man that had driven Marion
over, saddled horses in the afternoon and the two women rode up above
Mud Lake, now become through rainfall and seepage from the river a
long, shallow lagoon. For an hour they watched the shovelling and
carrying of sandbags, and rode toward the river to the very edge of
the disappearing willows, where the bank was melting away before the
undercut of the resistless current. They rode away with a common
feeling--a conviction that the fight was a losing one, and that
another day would see the ruin complete.

"Dicksie," exclaimed Marion--they were riding to the house as she
spoke--"I'll tell you what we _can_ do!" She hesitated a moment. "I
will tell you what we _can_ do! Are you plucky?"

Dicksie looked at Marion pathetically.

"If you are plucky enough to do it, we can keep the river off yet. I
have an idea. I will go, but you must come along."

"Marion, what do you mean? Don't you think I would go anywhere to save
the ranch? I should like to know where you dare go in this country
that I dare not!"

"Then ride with me over to the railroad camp by the new bridge. We
will ask Mr. McCloud to bring some of his men over. He can stop the
river; he knows how."

Dicksie caught her breath. "Oh, Marion! that would do no good, even if
I could do it. Why, the railroad has been all swept away in the lower
valley."

"How do you know?"

"So every one says."

"Who is every one?"

"Cousin Lance, Mr. Sinclair--all the men. I heard that a week ago."

"Dicksie, don't believe it. You don't know these railroad men. They
understand this kind of thing; cattlemen, you know, don't. If you will
go with me we can get help. I feel just as sure that those men can
control the river as I do that I am looking at you--that is, if
anybody can. The question is, do you want to make the effort?"

They talked until they left the horses and entered the house. When
they sat down, Dicksie put her hands to her face. "Oh, I wish you had
said nothing about it! How _can_ I go to him and ask for help
now--after Cousin Lance has gone into court about the line and
everything? And of course my name is in it all."

"Dicksie, don't raise spectres that have nothing to do with the case.
If we go to him and ask him for help he will give it to us if he can;
if he can't, what harm is done? He has been up and down the river for
three weeks, and he has an army of men camped over by the bridge. I
know that, because Mr. Smith rode in from there a few days ago."

"What, Whispering Smith? Oh, if he is there I would not go for
worlds!"

"Pray, why not?"

"Why, he is such an awful man!"

"That is absurd, Dicksie."

Dicksie looked grave. "Marion, no man in this part of the country has
a good word to say for Whispering Smith."

"Perhaps you have forgotten, Dicksie, that you live in a very rough
part of the country," returned Marion coolly. "No man that he has ever
hunted down would have anything pleasant to say about him; nor would
the friends of such a man be likely to say a good word of him. There
are many on the range, Dicksie, that have no respect for life or law
or anything else, and they naturally hate a man like Whispering
Smith----"

"But, Marion, he killed----"

"I know. He killed a man named Williams a few years ago, while you
were at school--one of the worst men that ever infested this country.
Williams Cache is named after that man; he made the most beautiful
spot in all these mountains a nest of thieves and murderers. But did
you know that Williams shot down Gordon Smith's only brother, a
trainmaster, in cold blood in front of the Wickiup at Medicine Bend?
No, you never heard that in this part of the country, did you? They
had a cow-thief for sheriff then, and no officer in Medicine Bend
would go after the murderer. He rode in and out of town as if he owned
it, and no one dared say a word, and, mind you, Gordon Smith's brother
had never seen the man in his life until he walked up and shot him
dead. Oh, this was a peaceful country a few years ago! Gordon Smith
was right-of-way man in the mountains then. He buried his brother, and
asked the officers what they were going to do about getting the
murderer. They laughed at him. He made no protest, except to ask for a
deputy United States marshal's commission. When he got it he started
for Williams Cache after Williams in a buckboard--think of it,
Dicksie--and didn't they laugh at him! He did not even know the
trails, and imagine riding two hundred miles in a buckboard to arrest
a man in the mountains! He was gone six weeks, and came back with
Williams's body strapped to the buckboard behind him. He never told
the story; all he said when he handed in his commission and went back
to his work was that the man was killed in a fair fight. Hate him! No
wonder they hate him--the Williams Cache gang and all their friends
on the range! Your cousin thinks it policy to placate that element,
hoping that they won't steal your cattle if you are friendly with
them. I know nothing about that, but I do know something about
Whispering Smith. It will be a bad day for Williams Cache when they
start him up again. But what has that to do with your trouble? He will
not eat you up if you go to the camp, Dicksie. You are just raising
bogies."

They had moved to the front porch and Marion was sitting in the
rocking-chair. Dicksie stood with her back against one of the pillars
and looked at her. As Marion finished Dicksie turned and, with her
hand on her forehead, looked in wretchedness of mind out on the
valley. As far, in many directions, as the eye could reach the waters
spread yellow in the flood of sunshine across the lowlands. There was
a moment of silence. Dicksie turned her back on the alarming sight.
"Marion, I can't do it!"

"Oh, yes, you can if you want to, Dicksie!" Dicksie looked at her with
tearless eyes. "It is only a question of being plucky enough,"
insisted Marion.

"Pluck has nothing to do with it!" exclaimed Dicksie in fiery tones.
"I should like to know why you are always talking about my not having
courage! This isn't a question of courage. How can I go to a man that
I talked to as I talked to him in your house and ask for help? How can
I go to him after my cousin has threatened to kill him, and gone into
court to prevent his coming on our land? Shouldn't I look beautiful
asking help from him?"

Marion rocked with perfect composure. "No, dear, you would not look
beautiful asking help, but you would look sensible. It is so easy to
be beautiful and so hard to be sensible."

"You are just as horrid as you can be, Marion Sinclair!"

"I know that, too, dear. All I wanted to say is that you would look
very sensible just now in asking help from Mr. McCloud."

"I don't care--I won't do it. I will never do it, not if every foot of
the ranch tumbles into the river. I hope it will! Nobody cares
anything about me. I have no friends but thieves and outlaws."

"Dicksie!" Marion rose.

"That is what you said."

"I did not. I am your friend. How dare you call me names?" demanded
Marion, taking the petulant girl in her arms. "Don't you think I care
anything about you? There are people in this country that you have
never seen who know you and love you almost as much as I do. Don't
let any silly pride prevent your being sensible, dear." Dicksie burst
into tears. Marion drew her over to the settee, and she had her cry
out. When it was over they changed the subject. Dicksie went to her
room. It was a long time before she came down again, but Marion rocked
in patience: she was resolved to let Dicksie fight it out herself.

When Dicksie came down, Marion stood at the foot of the stairs. The
young mistress of Crawling Stone Ranch descended step by step very
slowly. "Marion," she said simply, "I will go with you."



CHAPTER XX

AT THE DIKE


Marion caught her closely to her heart. "I knew you would go if I got
you angry, dear. But you are so slow to anger. Mr. McCloud is just the
same way. Mr. Smith says when he does get angry he can do anything. He
is very like you in so many ways."

Dicksie was wiping her eyes. "Is he, Marion? Well, what shall I
wear?"

"Just your riding-clothes, dear, and a smile. He won't know what you
have on. It is you he will want to see. But I've been thinking of
something else. What will your Cousin Lance say? Suppose he should
object?"

"Object! I should like to see _him_ object after losing the fight
himself." Marion laughed. "Well, do you think you can find the way
down there for us?"

"I can find any way anywhere within a hundred miles of here."

On the 20th of June McCloud did have something of an army of men in
the Crawling Stone Valley. Of these, two hundred and fifty were in
the vicinity of the bridge, the abutments and piers of which were
being put in just below the Dunning ranch. Near at hand Bill Dancing,
with a big gang, had been for some time watching the ice and
dynamiting the jams. McCloud brought in more men as the river
continued to rise. The danger line on the gauges was at length
submerged, and for three days the main-line construction camps had
been robbed of men to guard the soft grades above and below the
bridge. The new track up and down the valley had become a highway of
escape from the flood, and the track patrols were met at every curve
by cattle, horses, deer, wolves, and coyotes fleeing from the waste of
waters that spread over the bottoms.

Through the Dunning ranch the Crawling Stone River makes a far bend
across the valley to the north and east. The extraordinary volume of
water now pouring through the Box Canyon exposed ten thousand acres of
the ranch to the caprice of the river, and if at the point of its
tremendous sweep to the north it should cut back into its old channel
the change would wipe the entire body of ranch alfalfa lands off the
face of the valley. With the heat of the lengthening June days a vast
steam rose from the chill waters of the river, marking in ominous
windings the channel of the main stream through a yellow sea which,
ignoring the usual landmarks of trees and dunes, flanked the current
broadly on either side. Late in the afternoon of the day that Dicksie
with Marion sought McCloud, a storm drifted down the Topah Topah
Hills, and heavy showers broke across the valley.

At nightfall the rain had passed and the mist lifted from the river.
Above the bluffs rolling patches of cloud obscured the face of the
moon, but the distant thunder had ceased, and at midnight the valley
near the bridge lay in a stillness broken only by the hoarse calls of
the patrols and far-off megaphones. From the bridge camp, which lay on
high ground near the grade, the distant lamps of the track-walkers
could be seen moving dimly.

Before the camp-fire in front of McCloud's tent a group of men,
smoking and talking, sat or lay sprawled on tarpaulins, drying
themselves after the long day. Among them were the weather-beaten
remnants of the old guard of the mountain-river workers, men who had
ridden in the caboose the night that Hailey went to his death, and had
fought the Spider Water with Glover. Bill Dancing, huge, lumbering,
awkward as a bear and as shifty, was talking, because with no apparent
effort he could talk all night, and was a valuable man at keeping the
camp awake. Bill Dancing talked and, after Sinclair's name had been
dropped from the roll, ate and drank more than any two men on the
division. A little apart, McCloud lay on a leather caboose cushion
trying to get a nap.

"It was the day George McCloud came," continued Dancing, spinning a
continuous story. "Nobody was drinking--Murray Sinclair started that
yarn. I was getting fixed up a little for to meet George McCloud, so
I asked the barber for some tonic, and he understood me for to say
dye for my whiskers, and he gets out the dye and begins to dye my
whiskers. My cigar went out whilst he was shampooing me, and my
whiskers was wet up with the dye. He turned around to put down th'
bottle, and I started for to light my cigar with a parlor-match, and,
by gum! away went my whiskers on fire--burnt jus' like a tumbleweed.
There was the barbers all running around at once trying for to choke
me with towels, and running for water, and me sitting there
blazing like a tar-barrel. That's all there was to that story. I went
over to Doc Torpy's and got bandaged up, and he wanted me for to go to
the hospit'l--but I was going for to meet George McCloud." Bill
raised his voice a little and threw his tones carelessly over toward
the caboose cushion: "And I was the on'y man on the platform when
his train pulled in. His car was on the hind end. I walked back and
waited for some one to come out. It was about seven o'clock in the
evening and they was eating dinner inside, so I set up on the fence
for a minute, and who do you think got out of the car? That boy
laying right over there. 'Where's your dad?' says I; that's exactly
what I said. 'Dead,' says he. 'Dead!' says I, surprised-like. 'Dead,'
says he, 'for many years.' 'Where's the new superintendent?' says
I. 'I'm the new superintendent,' says he. Well, sir, you could have
blowed me over with a air-hose. 'Go 'way,' I says. 'What's the
matter with your face, Bill?' he says, while I was looking at him;
now that's straight. That was George McCloud, right over there,
the first time I ever set eyes on him or him on me. The assertion
was met with silence such as might be termed marked.

[Illustration: SCENE FROM THE PHOTO-PLAY PRODUCTION OF "WHISPERING
SMITH." © _American Mutual Studio_.]

"Bucks told him," continued Bill Dancing, in corroborative detail,
"that when he got to Medicine Bend one man would be waiting for to
meet him. 'He met me,' says Bucks; 'he's met every superintendent
since my time; he'll meet you. Go right up and speak to him,' Bucks
says; 'it'll be all right.'"

"Oh, hell, Bill!" protested an indignant chorus.

"Well, what's er matter with you fellows? Didn't you ask me to tell
the story?" demanded Dancing angrily. "If you know it better than I
do, tell it! Give me some tobacco, Chris," said Bill, honoring with
the request the only man in the circle who had shown no scepticism,
because he spoke English with difficulty. "And say, Chris, go down and
read the bridge gauge, will you? It's close on twelve o'clock, and
he's to be called when it reaches twenty-eight feet. I said the boy
could never run the division without help from every man on it, and
that's what I'm giving him, and I don't care who knows it," said Bill
Dancing, raising his voice not too much. "Bucks says that any man that
c'n run this division c'n run any railroad on earth. Shoo! now who's
this coming here on horseback? Clouding up again, too, by gum!"

The man sent to the bridge had turned back, and behind his lantern
Dancing heard the tread of horses. He stood at one side of the
camp-fire while two visitors rode up; they were women. Dancing stood
dumb as they advanced into the firelight. The one ahead spoke: "Mr.
Dancing, don't you know me?" As she stopped her horse the light of the
fire struck her face. "Why, Mis' Sinclair!"

"Yes, and Miss Dunning is with me," returned Marion. Bill staggered.
"This is an awful place to get to; we have been nearly drowned, and
we want to see Mr. McCloud."

McCloud, roused by Marion's voice, came forward. "You were asleep,"
said she as he greeted her. "I am so sorry we have disturbed you!" She
looked careworn and a little forlorn, yet but a little considering the
struggle she and Dicksie had made to reach the camp.

Light blazed from the camp-fire, where Dicksie stood talking with
Dancing about horses.

"They are in desperate straits up at the ranch," Marion went on, when
McCloud had assured her of her welcome. "I don't see how they can save
it. The river is starting to flow into the old channel and there's a
big pond right in the alfalfa fields."

"It will play the deuce with things if it gets through there," mused
McCloud. "I wonder how the river is? I've been asleep. O Bill!" he
called to Dancing, "what water have you got?"

"Twenty-eight six just now, sir. She's a-raising very, very slow, Mr.
McCloud."

"So I am responsible for this invasion," continued Marion calmly.
"I've been up with Dicksie at the ranch; she sent for me. Just think
of it--no woman but old Puss within ten miles of the poor child! And
they have been trying everywhere to get bags, and you have all the
bags, and the men have been buzzing around over there for a week like
bumblebees and doing just about as much good. She and I talked it all
over this afternoon, and I told her I was coming over here to see you,
and we started out together--and merciful goodness, such a time as we
have had!"

"But you started out together; where did you leave her?"

"There she stands the other side of the fire. O Dicksie!"

"Why did you not tell me she was here!" exclaimed McCloud.

Dicksie came into the light as he hastened over. If she was uncertain
in manner, he was not. He met her, laughing just enough to relieve the
tension of which both for an instant were conscious. She gave him her
hand when he put his out, though he felt that it trembled a little.
"Such a ride as you have had! Why did you not send me word? I would
have come to you!" he exclaimed, throwing reproach into the words.

Dicksie raised her eyes. "I wanted to ask you whether you would sell
us some grain-sacks, Mr. McCloud, to use at the river, if you could
spare them?"

"Sacks? Why, of course, all you want! But how did you _ever_ get here?
In all this water, and two lone women! You have been in danger
to-night. Indeed you have--don't tell me! And you are both wet; I
know it. Your feet must be wet. Come to the fire. O Bill!" he called
to Dancing, "what's the matter with your wood? Let us have a fire,
won't you?--one worth while; and build another in front of my tent. I
can't believe you have ridden here all the way from the ranch, two of
you alone!" exclaimed McCloud, hastening boxes up to the fire for
seats.

Marion laughed. "Dicksie can go anywhere! I couldn't have ridden from
the house to the barns alone."

"Then tell me how _you_ could do it?" demanded McCloud, devouring
Dicksie with his eyes.

Dicksie looked at the fire. "I know all the roads pretty well. We did
get lost once," she confessed in a low voice, "but we got out again."

"The roads are all underwater, though."

"What time is it, please?"

McCloud looked at his watch. "Two minutes past twelve."

Dicksie started. "Past twelve? Oh, this is dreadful! We must start
right back, Marion. I had no idea we had been five hours coming five
miles."

McCloud looked at her, as if still unable to comprehend what she had
accomplished in crossing the flooded bottoms. Her eyes fell back to
the fire. "What a blaze!" she murmured as the driftwood snapped and
roared. "It's fine for to-night, isn't it?"

"I know you both must have been in the water," he insisted, leaning
forward in front of Dicksie to feel Marion's skirt.

"I'm not wet!" declared Marion, drawing back.

"Nonsense, you are wet as a rat! Tell me," he asked, looking at
Dicksie, "about your trouble up at the bend. I know something about
it. Are the men there to-night? Given up, have they? Too bad! Do open
your jackets and try to dry yourselves, both of you, and I'll take a
look at the river."

"Suppose--I only say suppose--you first take a look at me." The voice
came from behind the group at the fire, and the three turned
together.

"By Heaven, Gordon Smith!" exclaimed McCloud. "Where did you come
from?"

Whispering Smith stood in the gloom in patience. "Where do I look as
if I had come from? Why don't you ask me whether I'm wet? And won't
you introduce me--but this is Miss Dicksie Dunning, I am sure."

Marion with laughter hastened the introduction.

"And you are wet, of course," said McCloud, feeling Smith's shoulder.

"No, only soaked. I have fallen into the river two or three times,
and the last time a big rhinoceros of yours down the grade, a section
foreman named Klein, was obliging enough to pull me out. Oh, no! I was
not looking for you," he ran on, answering McCloud's question; "not
when he pulled me out. I was just looking for a farm or a ladder or
something. Klein, for a man named Small, is the biggest Dutchman I
ever saw. 'Tell me, Klein,' I asked, after he had quit dragging me
out--he's a Hanoverian--'where did you get your pull? And how about
your height? Did your grandfather serve as a grenadier under old
Frederick William and was he kidnapped?' Bill, don't feed my horse for
a while. And Klein tried to light a cigar I had just taken from my
pocket and given him--fancy! the Germans are a remarkable people--and
sat down to tell me his history, when some friend down the line began
bawling through a megaphone, and all that poor Klein had time to say
was that he had had no supper, nor dinner, nor yet breakfast, and
would be obliged for some by the boat he forwarded me in." And, in
closing, Whispering Smith looked cheerfully around at Marion, at
McCloud, and last and longest of all at Dicksie Dunning.

"Did you come from across the river?" asked Dicksie, adjusting her wet
skirt meekly over her knees.

"You are soaking wet," observed Whispering Smith. "Across the river?"
he echoed. "Well, hardly, my dear Miss Dunning! Every bridge is out
down the valley except the railroad bridge and there are a few things
I don't tackle; one is the Crawling Stone on a tear. No, this was
across a little break in this man McCloud's track. I came, to be
frank, from the Dunning Ranch to look up two women who rode away from
there at seven o'clock to-night, and I want to say that they gave me
the ride of my life," and Whispering Smith looked all around the
circle and back again and smiled.

Dicksie spoke in amazement. "How did you know we rode away? You were
not at the ranch when we left."

"Oh, don't ask him!" cried Marion.

"He knows everything," explained McCloud.

Whispering Smith turned to Dicksie. "I was interested in knowing that
they got safely to their destination--whatever it might be, which was
none of my business. I happened to see a man that had seen them start,
that was all. You don't understand? Well, if you want it in plain
English, I made it my business to see a man who made it _his_ business
to see them. It's all very simple, but these people like to make a
mystery of it. Good women are scarcer than riches, and more to be
prized than fine gold--in my judgment--so I rode after them."

Marion put her hand for a moment on his coat sleeve; he looked at
Dicksie with another laugh and spoke to her because he dared not look
toward Marion. "Going back to-night, do you say? You never are."

Dicksie answered quite in earnest: "Oh, but we are. We must!"

"Why did you come, then? It's taken half the night to get here, and
will take a night and a half at least to get back."

"We came to ask Mr. McCloud for some grain-sacks--you know, they have
nothing to work with at the ranch," said Marion; "and he said we might
have some and we are to send for them in the morning."

"I see. But we may as well talk plainly." Smith looked at Dicksie.
"You are as brave and as game as a girl can be, I know, or you
couldn't have done this. Sacks full of sand, with the boys at the
ranch to handle them, would do no more good to-morrow at the bend than
bladders. The river is flowing into Squaw Lake above there now. A
hundred men that know the game might check things yet if they're there
by daylight. Nobody else, and nothing else on God's earth, can."

There was silence before the fire. McCloud broke it: "I can put the
hundred men there at daylight, Gordon, if Miss Dunning and her cousin
want them," said McCloud.

Marion sprang to her feet. "Oh, will you do that, Mr. McCloud?"

McCloud looked at Dicksie. "If they are wanted."

Dicksie tried to look at the fire. "We have hardly deserved help from
Mr. McCloud at the ranch," she said at last.

He put out his hand. "I must object. The first wreck I ever had on
this division Miss Dunning rode twenty miles to offer help. Isn't that
true? Why, I would walk a hundred miles to return the offer to her.
Perhaps your cousin would object," he suggested, turning to Dicksie;
"but no, I think we can manage that. Now what are we going to do? You
two can't go back to-night, that is certain."

"We must."

"Then you will have to go in boats," said Whispering Smith.

"But the hill road?"

"There is five feet of water across it in half a dozen places. I swam
my horse through, so I ought to know."

"It is all back-water, of course, Miss Dunning," explained McCloud.
"Not dangerous."

"But moist," suggested Whispering Smith, "especially in the dark."

McCloud looked at Marion. "Then let's be sensible," he said. "You and
Miss Dunning can have my tent as soon as we have supper."

"Supper!"

"Supper is served to all on duty at twelve o'clock, and we're on duty,
aren't we? They're about ready to serve now; we eat in the tent," he
added, holding out his hand as he heard the patter of raindrops. "Rain
again! No matter, we shall be dry under canvas."

Dicksie had never seen an engineers' field headquarters. Lanterns
lighted the interior, and the folding-table in the middle was strewn
with papers which McCloud swept off into a camp-chest. Two double cots
with an aisle between them stood at the head of the tent, and, spread
with bright Hudson Bay blankets, looked fresh and undisturbed. A
box-table near the head-pole held an alarm-clock, a telegraph key, and
a telephone, and the wires ran up the pole behind it. Leather jackets
and sweaters lay on boxes under the tent-walls, and heavy boots stood
in disorderly array along the foot of the cots. These McCloud, with
apologies, kicked into the corners.

"Is this where you stay?" asked Dicksie.

"Four of us sleep in the cots, when we can, and an indefinite number
lie on the ground when it rains."

Marion looked around her. "What do you do when it thunders?"

The two men were pulling boxes out for seats; McCloud did not stop to
look up. "I crawl under the bed--the others don't seem to mind it."

"Which is your bed?"

"Whichever I can crawl under quickest. I usually sleep there." He
pointed to the one on the right.

"I thought so. It has the blanket folded back so neatly, just as if
there were sheets under it. I'll bet there aren't any."

"Do you think this is a summer resort? Knisely, my assistant, sleeps
there, but of course we are never both in bed at the same time; he's
down the river to-night. It's a sort of continuous performance, you
know." McCloud looked at Dicksie. "Take off your coat, won't you,
please?"

Whispering Smith was trying to drag a chest from the foot of the cot,
and Marion stood watching. "What are you trying to do?"

"Get this over to the table for a seat."

"Silly man! why don't you move the table?"

Dicksie was taking off her coat. "How inviting it all is!" she
smiled. "And this is where you stay?"

"When it rains," answered McCloud. "Let me have your hat, too."

"My hair is a sight, I know. We rode over rocks and up gullies into
the brush----"

"And through lakes--oh, I know! I can't conceive how you ever got here
at all. Your hair is all right. This is camp, anyway. But if you want
a glass you can have one. Knisely is a great swell; he's just from
school, and has no end of things. I'll rob his bag."

"Don't disturb Mr. Knisely's bag for the world!"

"But you are not taking off your hat. You seem to have something on
your mind."

"Help me to get it off my mind, will you, please?"

"If you will let me."

"Tell me how to thank you for your generosity. I came all the way over
here to-night to ask you for just the help you have offered, and I
could not--it stuck in my throat. But that wasn't what was on my mind.
Tell me what you thought when I acted so dreadfully at Marion's."

"I didn't deserve anything better after placing myself in such a fool
position. Why don't you ask me what I thought the day you acted so
beautifully at Crawling Stone Ranch? I thought that the finest thing
I ever saw."

"You were not to blame at Marion's."

"I seemed to be, which is just as bad. I am going to start the 'phones
going. It's up to me to make good, you know, in about four hours with
a lot of men and material. Aren't you going to take off your hat?--and
your gloves are soaking wet."

McCloud took down the receiver, and Dicksie put her hands slowly to
her head to unpin her hat. It was a broad hat of scarlet felt rolled
high above her forehead, and an eagle's quill caught in the black
rosette swept across the front. As she stood in her clinging
riding-skirt and her severely plain scarlet waist with only a black
ascot falling over it, Whispering Smith looked at her. His eyes did
not rest on the picture too long, but his glance was searching. He
spoke in an aside to Marion. Marion laughed as she turned her head
from where Dicksie was talking again with McCloud. "The best of it
is," murmured Marion, "she hasn't a suspicion of how lovely she really
is."



CHAPTER XXI

SUPPER IN CAMP


"Will you never be done with your telephoning?" asked Marion. McCloud
was still planning the assembling of the men and teams for the
morning. Breakfast and transportation were to be arranged for, and the
men and teams and material were to be selected from where they could
best be spared. Dicksie, with the fingers of one hand moving softly
over the telegraph key, sat on a box listening to McCloud's
conferences and orders.

"Cherry says everything is served. Isn't it, Cherry?" Marion called to
the Japanese boy.

Cherry laughed with a guttural joy.

"We are ready for it," announced McCloud, rising. "How are we to
sit?"

"You are to sit at the head of your own table," said Marion. "I serve
the coffee, so I sit at the foot; and Mr. Smith may pass the beans
over there, and Dicksie, you are to pour the condensed milk into the
cups."

"Or into the river, just as you like," suggested Whispering Smith.

McCloud looked at Marion Sinclair. "Really," he exclaimed, "wherever
you are it's fair weather! When I see you, no matter how tangled up
things are, I feel right away they are coming out. And this man is
another."

"Another what?" demanded Whispering Smith.

"Another care-killer." McCloud, speaking to Dicksie, nodded toward his
companion. "Troubles slip from your shoulders when he swaggers in,
though he's not of the slightest use in the world. I have only one
thing against him. It is a physical peculiarity, but an indefensible
one. You may not have noticed it, but he is bowlegged."

"From riding your scrub railroad horses. I feel like a sailor ashore
when I get off one. Are you going to eat all the bacon, Mr. McCloud,
or do we draw a portion of it? I didn't start out with supper
to-night."

"Take it all. I suppose it would be useless to ask where you have been
to-day?"

"Not in the least, but it would be useless to tell. I am violating no
confidence, though, in saying I'm hungry. I certainly shouldn't eat
this stuff if I weren't, should you, Miss Dunning? And I don't believe
you are eating, by the way. Where is your appetite? Your ride ought
to have sharpened it. I'm afraid you are downcast. Oh, don't deny it;
it is very plain: but your worry is unnecessary."

"If the rain would only stop," said Marion, "everybody would cheer up.
They haven't seen the sun at the ranch for ten days."

"This rain doesn't count so far as the high water is concerned," said
McCloud. "It is the weather two hundred and fifty miles above here
that is of more consequence to us, and there it is clear to-night. As
long as the tent doesn't leak I rather like it. Sing your song about
fair weather, Gordon."

"But can the men work in such a downpour?" ventured Dicksie.

The two men looked serious and Marion laughed.

"In the morning you will see a hundred of them marching forward with
umbrellas, Mr. McCloud leading. The Japs carry fans, of course."

"I wish I could forget we are in trouble at home," said Dicksie,
taking the badinage gracefully. "Worrying people are such a nuisance.
Don't protest, for every one knows they are."

"But we are all in trouble," insisted Whispering Smith. "Trouble! Why,
bless you, it really is a blessing; pretty successfully disguised, I
admit, sometimes, but still a blessing. I'm in trouble all the time,
right now, up to my neck in trouble, and the water rising this minute.
Look at this man," he nodded toward McCloud. "He is in trouble, and
the five hundred under him, they are in all kinds of trouble. I
shouldn't know how to sleep without trouble," continued Whispering
Smith, warming to the contention. "Without trouble I lose my appetite.
McCloud, don't be tight; pass the bread."

"Never heard him do so well," declared McCloud, looking at Marion.

"Seriously, now," Whispering Smith went on, "don't you know people
who, if they were thoroughly prosperous, would be intolerable--simply
intolerable? I know several such. All thoroughly prosperous people are
a nuisance. That is a general proposition, and I stand by it. Go over
your list of acquaintances and you will admit it is true. Here's to
trouble! May it always chasten and never overwhelm us: our greatest
bugbear and our best friend! It sifts our friends and unmasks our
enemies. Like a lovely woman, it woos us----"

"Oh, never!" exclaimed Marion. "A lovely woman doesn't woo, she is
wooed!"

"What are you looking for, perfection in rhetorical figure? This is
extemporaneous."

"But it won't do!"

"And asks to be conquered," suggested Whispering Smith.

"Asks! Oh, scandalous, Mr. Smith!"

"It is easy to see why _he_ never could get any one to marry him,"
declared McCloud over the bacon.

"Hold on, then! Like lovely woman, it does not seek us, we seek it,"
persisted the orator, "_That_ at least is so, isn't it?"

"It is better," assented Marion.

"And it waits to be conquered. How is that?"

Marion turned to Dicksie. "You are not helping a bit. What do you
think?"

"I don't think woman and trouble ought to be associated even in
figure; and I think 'waits' is horrid," and Dicksie looked gravely at
Whispering Smith.

McCloud, too, looked at him. "You're in trouble now yourself."

"And I brought it on myself. So we do seek it, don't we? And trouble,
I must hold, _is_ like woman. 'Waits' I strike out as unpleasantly
suggestive; let it go. So, then, trouble is like a lovely woman,
loveliest _when_ conquered. Now, Miss Dunning, if you have a spark of
human kindness you won't turn me down on that proposition. By the way,
I have something put down about trouble."

He was laughing. Dicksie asked herself if this could be the man about
whom floated so many accusations of coldness and cruelty and death. He
drew a note-book from a waistcoat pocket.

"Oh, it's in the note-book! There comes the black note-book,"
exclaimed McCloud.

"Don't make fun of my note-book!"

"I shouldn't dare." McCloud pointed to it as he spoke to Dicksie. "You
should see what is in that note-book: the record, I suppose, of every
man in the mountains and of a great many outside."

"And countless other things," added Marion.

"Such as what?" asked Dicksie.

"Such as you, for example," said Marion.

"Am I a thing?"

"A sweet thing, of course," said Marion ironically. "Yes, you; with
color of eyes, hair, length of index finger of the right hand,
curvature of thumb, disposition--whether peaceable or otherwise, and
prison record, if any."

"And number of your watch," added McCloud.

"How dreadful!"

Whispering Smith eyed Dicksie benignly. "They are talking this
nonsense to distract us, of course, but I am bound to read you what I
have here, if you will graciously submit."

"Submit? I _wait_ to hear it," laughed Dicksie.

"My training in prosody is the slightest, as will appear," he
continued, "and _synecdoche_ and _Schenectady_ were always on the
verge of getting mixed when I went to school. My sentiment may be
termed obvious, but I want to offer a slight apology on behalf of
trouble; it is abused too much. I submit this

                         "SONG TO TROUBLE

             "Here's to the measure of every man's worth,
               Though when men are wanting it grieves us.
             Hearts that are hollow we're better without,
               Hearts that are loyal it leaves us.

             "Trouble's the dowry of every man's birth,
               A nettle adversity flings us;
             It yields to the grip of the masterful hand,
               When we play coward it stings us.

"Chorus."

"Don't say chorus; that's common."

"I have to say chorus. My verses don't speak for themselves, and no
one would know it was a chorus if I didn't explain. Besides, I'm short
a line in the chorus, and that is what I'm waiting for to finish the
song.

         "Chorus:

         "Then here's to the bumper that proves every friend!
           And though in the drinking it wrings us,
         Here's to the cup that we drain to the end,
           And here's to--

There I stick. I can't work out the last line."

"And here's to the hearts that it brings us!" exclaimed Dicksie.

"Fine!" cried McCloud. "'Here's to the hearts that it brings us!'"

Dicksie threw back her head and laughed with the others. Then
Whispering Smith looked grave. "There is a difficulty," said he,
knitting his brows. "You have spoiled my song."

"Oh, Mr. Smith, I hope not! Have I?"

"Your line is so much better than what I have that it makes my stuff
sound cheap."

"Oh, no, Gordon!" interposed McCloud. "You don't see that one reason
why Miss Dunning's line sounds better than yours is owing to the
differences in your voices. If she will repeat the chorus, finishing
with her line, you will see the difference."

"Miss Dunning, take the note-book," begged Whispering Smith.

"And rise, of course," suggested McCloud.

"Oh, the note-book! I shall be afraid to hold it. Where are the
verses, Mr. Smith? Is this fine handwriting yours?

         Then here's to the bumper that proves every friend!

Isn't that true?

              And though when we drink it it wrings us,

--and it does sometimes!

             Here's to the cup that we drain to the end,

Even women have to be plucky, don't they, Marion?

             And here's to the hearts that it brings us!"

Whispering Smith rose before the applause subsided. "I ask you to
drink this, standing, in condensed milk."

"Have we enough to stand in?" interposed Dicksie.

"If we stand together in trouble, that ought to be enough," observed
McCloud.

"We're doing that without rising, aren't we?" asked Marion. "If we
hadn't been in trouble we shouldn't have ventured to this camp
to-night."

"And if you had not put me to the trouble of following you--and it was
a lot of trouble!--_I_ shouldn't have been in camp to-night," said
Whispering Smith.

"And if _I_ had not been in trouble this camp wouldn't have been here
to-night," declared McCloud. "What have we to thank for it all but
trouble?"

A voice called the superintendent's name through the tent door. "Mr.
McCloud?"

"And there is more trouble," added McCloud. "What is it, Bill?"

"Twenty-eight and nine tenths on the gauge, sir."

McCloud looked at his companions. "I told you so. Up three-tenths.
Thank you, Bill; I'll be with you in a minute. Tell Cherry to come and
take away the supper things, will you? That is about all the water we
shall get to-night, I think. It's all we want," added McCloud,
glancing at his watch. "I'm going to take a look at the river. We
shall be quiet now around here until half-past three, and if you,
Marion, and Miss Dunning will take the tent, you can have two hours'
rest before we start. Bill Dancing will guard you against intrusion,
and if you want ice-water ring twice."



CHAPTER XXII

A TALK WITH WHISPERING SMITH


When Whispering Smith had followed McCloud from the tent, Dicksie
turned to Marion and caught her hand. "Is this the terrible man I have
heard about?" she murmured. "And I thought him ferocious! But is he as
pitiless as they say, Marion?"

Marion laughed--a troubled little laugh of surprise and sadness.
"Dear, he isn't pitiless at all. He has unpleasant things to do, and
does them. He is the man on whom the railroad relies to repress the
lawlessness that breaks out in the mountains at times and interferes
with the operating of the road. It frightens people away, and prevents
others from coming in to settle. Railroads want law and order. Robbery
and murders don't make business for railroads. They depend on settlers
for developing a country, don't you know; otherwise they would have no
traffic, not to speak of wanting their trains and men let alone. When
Mr. Bucks undertook to open up this country to settlers, he needed a
man of patience and endurance and with courage and skill in dealing
with lawless men, and no man has ever succeeded so well as this
terrible man you have heard about. He is terrible, my dear, to lawless
men, not to any one else. He is terrible in resource and in daring,
but not in anything else I know of, and I knew him when he was a boy
and wore a big pink worsted scarf when he went skating."

"I should like to have seen that scarf," said Dicksie reflectively.
She rose and looked around the tent. In a few minutes she made Marion
lie down on one of the cots. Then she walked to the front of the tent,
opened the flap, and looked out.

Whispering Smith was sitting before the fire. Rain was falling, but
Dicksie put on her close-fitting black coat, raised the door-flap, and
walked noiselessly from the tent and up behind him. "Alone in the
rain?" she asked.

She had expected to see him start at her voice, but he did not, though
he rose and turned around. "Not now," he answered as he offered her
his box with a smile.

"Are you taking your hat off for me in the rain? Put it on again!" she
insisted with a little tone of command, and she was conscious of
gratification when he obeyed amiably.

"I won't take your box unless you can find another!" she said. "Oh,
you have another! I came out to tell you what a dreadful man I
thought you were, and to apologize."

"Never mind apologizing. Lots of people think worse than that of me
and don't apologize. I'm sorry I have no shelter to offer you, except
to sit on this side and take the rain."

"Why should you take the rain for me?"

"You are a woman."

"But a stranger to you."

"Only in a way."

Dicksie gazed for a moment at the fire. "You won't think me abrupt,
will you?" she said, turning to him, "but, as truly as I live, I
cannot account for you, Mr. Smith. I guess at the ranch we don't know
what goes on in the world. Everything I see of you contradicts
everything I have heard of you."

"You haven't seen much of me yet, you know, and you may have heard
much better accounts of me than I deserve. Still, it isn't surprising
you can't account for me; in fact, it would be surprising if you
could. Nobody pretends to do that. You must not be shocked if I can't
even account for myself. Do you know what a derelict is? A ship that
has been abandoned but never wholly sinks."

"Please don't make fun of me! How did you happen to come into the
mountains? I do want to understand things better."

"Why, you are in real earnest, aren't you? But I am not making fun of
you. Do you know President Bucks? No? Too bad! He's a very handsome
old bachelor. And he is one of those men who get all sorts of men to
do all sorts of things for them. You know, building and operating
railroads in this part of the country is no joke. The mountains are
filled with men that don't care for God, man, or the devil. Sometimes
they furnish their own ammunition to fight with and don't bother the
railroad for years; at such times the railroad leaves them alone. For
my part, I never quarrel with a man that doesn't quarrel with the
road. Then comes a time when they get after us, shooting our men or
robbing our agents or stopping our trains. Of course we have to get
busy then. A few years ago they worried Bucks till they nearly turned
his hair gray. At that unfortunate time I happened into his office
with a letter of introduction from his closest Chicago friend, Willis
Howard, prince of good men, the man that made the Palmer House
famous--yes. Now I had come out here, Miss Dunning--I almost said Miss
Dicksie, because I hear it so much----"

"I should be greatly set up to hear you call me Dicksie. And I have
wondered a thousand times about your name. Dare I ask--_why_ do they
call you Whispering Smith? You don't whisper."

He laughed with abundance of good-humor. "That is a ridiculous
accident, and it all came about when I lived in Chicago. Do you
know anything about the infernal climate there? Well, in Chicago I
used to lose my voice whenever I caught a cold--sometimes for
weeks together. So they began calling me Whispering Smith, and I've
never been able to shake the name. Odd, isn't it? But I came out to go
into the real-estate business. I was looking for some gold-bearing
farm lands where I could raise quartz, don't you know, and such
things--yes. I don't mind telling you this, though I wouldn't tell
it to everybody----"

"Certainly not," assented Dicksie, drawing her skirt around to sit in
closer confidence.

"I wanted to get rich quick," murmured Whispering Smith, confidentially.

"Almost criminal, wasn't it?"

"I wanted to have evening clothes."

"Yes."

"And for once in my life two pairs of suspenders--a modest ambition,
but a gnawing one. Would you believe it? Before I left Bucks's office
he had hired me for a railroad man. When he asked me what I could do,
and I admitted a little experience in handling real estate, he brought
his fist down on the table and swore I should be his right-of-way
man."

"How about the mining?"

Whispering Smith waved his hand in something of the proud manner in
which Bucks could wave his presidential hand. "My business, Bucks
said, need not interfere with that, not in the least; he said that I
could do all the mining I wanted to, and I _have_ done all the
mining I wanted to. But here is the singular thing that happened: I
opened up my office and had nothing to do; they didn't seem to want
any right of way just then. I kept getting my check every month,
and wasn't doing a hand's turn but riding over the country and
shooting jack-rabbits. But, Lord, I love this country! Did you
know I used to be a cowboy in the mountains years ago? Indeed I did.
I know it almost as well as you do. I mined more or less in the
meantime. Occasionally I would go to Bucks--you say you don't know
him?--too bad!--and tell him candidly I wasn't doing a thing to
earn my salary. At such times he would only ask me how I liked the
job," and Whispering Smith's heavy eyebrows rose in mild surprise
at the recollection. "One day when I was talking with him he handed me
a telegram from the desert saying that a night operator at a
lonely station had been shot and a switch misplaced and a train
nearly wrecked. He asked me what I thought of it. I discovered that
the poor fellow had shot himself, and in the end we had to put him
in the insane asylum to save him from the penitentiary--but that was
where my trouble began.

"It ended in my having to organize the special service on the whole
road to look after a thousand and one things that nobody else
had--well, let us say time or inclination to look after: fraud and
theft and violence and all that sort of disagreeable thing. Then one
day the cat crawled out of the bag. What do you think? That man who is
now president of this road had somewhere seen a highly colored story
about me in a magazine, a ten-cent magazine, you know. He had spotted
me the first time I walked into his office, and told me a long time
afterward it was just like seeing a man walk out of a book, and that
he had hard work to keep from falling on my neck. He knew what he
wanted me for; it was just this thing. I left Chicago to get away from
it, and this is the result. It is not all that kind of thing, oh, no!
When they want to cross a reservation I have a winter in Washington
with our attorneys and dine with old friends in the White House, and
the next winter I may be on snowshoes chasing a band of rustlers. I
swore long ago I would do no more of it--that I couldn't and wouldn't.
But it is Bucks. I can't go back on him. He is amiable and I am soft.
He says he is going to have a crown and harp for me some day, but I
fancy--that is, I have an intimation--that there will be a red-hot
protest at the bar of Heaven," he lowered his tone, "from a certain
unmentionable quarter when I undertake to put the vestments on. By the
way, I hear you are interested in chickens. Oh, yes, I've heard a lot
about you! Bob Johnson, over at Oroville, has some pretty bantams I
want to tell you about."

Whether he talked railroad or chickens, it was all one: Dicksie sat
spellbound; and when he announced it was half-past three o'clock and
time to rouse Marion, she was amazed.

[Illustration: SCENE FROM THE PHOTO-PLAY PRODUCTION OF "WHISPERING
SMITH." © _American Mutual Studio_.]

Dawn showed in the east. The men eating breakfast in tents were to be
sent on a work-train up a piece of Y-track that led as near as they
could be taken to where they were needed. The train had pulled out
when Dicksie, Marion, McCloud, and Whispering Smith took horses to get
across to the hills and through to the ranch-house. They had ridden
slowly for some distance when McCloud was called back. The party
returned and rode together into the mists that hung below the bridge.
They came out upon a little party of men standing with lanterns on a
piece of track where the river had taken the entire grade and raced
furiously through the gap. Fog shrouded the light of the lanterns and
lent gloom to the silence, but the women could see the group that
McCloud had joined. Standing above his companions on a pile of ties, a
tall young man holding a megaphone waited. Out of the darkness there
came presently a loud calling. The tall young man at intervals bawled
vigorously into the fog in answer. Far away could be heard, in the
intervals of silence, the faint clang of the work-train engine-bell.
Again the voice came out of the fog. McCloud took the megaphone and
called repeatedly. Two men rowed a boat out of the back-water behind
the grade, and when McCloud stepped into it, it was released on a line
while the oarsmen guided it across the flood until it disappeared. The
two megaphone voices could still be heard. After a time the boat was
pulled back again, and McCloud stepped out of it. He spoke a moment
with the men, rejoined his party, and climbed into the saddle. "Now we
are off," said he.

"What was it all about?" asked Whispering Smith.

"Your friend Klein is over there. Nobody could understand what he said
except that he wanted me. When I got here I couldn't make out what he
was talking about, so they let us out in the boat on a line. Half-way
across the break I made out what was troubling him. He said he was
going to lose three hundred feet of track, and wanted to know what to
do."

"And you told him, of course?"

"Yes."

"What did you tell him?"

"I told him to lose it."

"I could have done that myself."

"Why didn't you?"



CHAPTER XXIII

AT THE RIVER


They found the ranch-house as Marion and Dicksie had left it,
deserted. Puss told them every one was at the river. McCloud did not
approve Dicksie's plan of going down to see her cousin first. "Why not
let me ride down and manage it without bringing you into it at all?"
he suggested. "It can be done." And after further discussion it was so
arranged.

McCloud and Smith had been joined by Dancing on horseback, and they
made their way around Squaw Lake and across the fields. The fog was
rolling up from the willows at the bend. Men were chopping in the
brush, and McCloud and his companion soon met Lance Dunning riding up
the narrow strip of sand that held the river off the ranch.

McCloud greeted Dunning, regardless of his amazement, as if he had
parted from him the day before. "How are you making it over here?" he
asked. "We are in pretty good shape at the moment down below, and I
thought I would ride over to see if we could do anything for you.
This is what you call pretty fair water for this part of the valley,
isn't it?"

Lance swallowed his astonishment. "This isn't water, McCloud; this is
hell." He took off his hat and wiped his forehead. "Well, I call this
white, anyway, and no mistake--I do indeed, sir! This is Whispering
Smith, isn't it? Glad to see you at Crawling Stone, sir." Which served
not only to surprise but to please Whispering Smith.

"Some of my men were free," continued McCloud; "I switched some
mattresses and sacks around the Y, thinking they might come in play
here for you at the bend. They are at your service if you think you
need them."

"Need them!" Lance swore fiercely and from the bottom of his heart. He
was glad to get help from any quarter and made no bones about it.
Moreover, McCloud lessened the embarrassment by explaining that he had
a personal interest in holding the channel where it ran, lest a change
above might threaten the approaches already built to the bridge; and
Whispering Smith, who would have been on terms with the catfish if he
had been flung into the middle of the Crawling Stone, contributed at
once, like a reënforced spring, to the ease of the situation.

Lance again took off his hat and wiped the sweat of anxiety from his
dripping forehead. "Whatever differences of opinion I may have with
your damned company, I have no lack of esteem personally, McCloud, for
you, sir, by Heaven! How many men did you bring?"

"And whatever wheels you Crawling Stone ranchers may have in your
heads on the subject of irrigation," returned McCloud evenly, "I have
no lack of esteem personally, Mr. Dunning, for you. I brought a
hundred."

"Do you want to take charge here? I'm frank, sir; you understand this
game and I don't."

"Suppose we look the situation over; meantime, all our supplies have
to be brought across from the Y. What should you think, Mr. Dunning,
of putting all the teams you can at that end of the work?"

"Every man that can be spared from the river shall go at it. Come over
here and look at our work and judge for yourself."

They rode to where the forces assembled by Lance were throwing up
embankments and riprapping. There was hurried running to and fro, a
violent dragging about of willows, and a good deal of shouting.

Dunning, with some excitement, watched McCloud's face to note the
effect of the activity on him, but McCloud's expression, naturally
reserved, reflected nothing of his views on the subject. Dunning
waved his hand at the lively scene. "They've been at it all night. How
many would you take away, sir?"

"You might take them all away, as far as the river is concerned," said
McCloud after a moment.

"What? Hell! All?"

"They are not doing anything, are they, but running around in a
circle? And those fellows over there might as well be making mud pies
as riprapping at that point. What we need there is a mattress and
sandbags--and plenty of them. Bill," directed McCloud in an even tone
of business as he turned to Dancing, "see how quick you can get your
gangs over here with what sacks they can carry and walk fast. If you
will put your men on horses, Mr. Dunning, they can help like
everything. That bank won't last a great while the way the river is
getting under it now." Dancing wheeled like an elephant on his bronco
and clattered away through the mud. Lance Dunning, recovering from his
surprise, started his men back for the wagons, and McCloud,
dismounting, walked with him to the water's edge to plan the fight for
what was left of the strip in front of the alfalfa fields.

When Whispering Smith got back to the house he was in good-humor. He
joined Dicksie and Marion in the dining-room, where they were
drinking coffee. Afterward Dicksie ordered horses saddled and the
three rode to the river. Up and down the bank as far as they could see
in the misty rain, men were moving slowly about--more men, it seemed
to Dicksie, than she had ever seen together in her life. The confusion
and the noise had disappeared. No one appeared to hurry, but every one
had something to do, and, from the gangs who with sledges were sinking
"dead-men" among the trees to hold the cables of the mattress that was
about to be sunk, and the Japs who were diligently preparing to float
and load it, to the men that were filling and wheeling the sandbags,
no one appeared excited. McCloud joined the visitors for a few moments
and then went back to where Dancing and his men on life-lines were
guiding the mattress to its resting-place. In spite of the gloom of
the rain, which Whispering Smith said was breaking, Dicksie rode back
to the house in much better spirits with her two guests; and when they
came from luncheon the sun, as Smith had predicted, was shining.

"Oh, come out!" cried Dicksie, at the door. Marion had a letter to
write and went upstairs, but Whispering Smith followed Dicksie. "Does
everything you say come true?" she demanded as she stood in the
sunshine.

She was demure with light-heartedness and he looked at her
approvingly. "I hope nothing I may say ever will come true unless it
makes you happy," he answered lightly. "It would be a shame if it did
anything else."

She pointed two accusing fingers at him. "Do you know what you
promised last night? You have forgotten already! You said you would
tell me why my leghorns are eating their feathers off."

"Let me talk with them."

"Just what I should like. Come on!" said Dicksie, leading the way to
the chicken-yard. "I want you to see my bantams too. I have three of
the dearest little things. One is setting. They are over the way. Come
see them first. And, oh, you must see my new game chickens. Truly, you
never saw anything as handsome as Cæsar--he's the rooster; and I have
six pullets. Cæsar is perfectly superb."

When the two reached the chicken-houses Dicksie examined the nest
where she was setting the bantam hen. "This miserable hen will not
set," she exclaimed in despair. "See here, Mr. Smith, she has left her
nest again and is scratching around on the ground. Isn't it a shame?
I've tied a cord around her leg so she couldn't run away, and she is
hobbling around like a scrub pony."

"Perhaps the eggs are too warm," suggested her companion. "I have had
great success in cases like this with powdered ice--not using too
much, of course; just shave the ice gently and rub it over the eggs
one at a time; it will often result in refreshing the attention of the
hen."

Dicksie looked grave. "Aren't you ashamed to make fun of me?"

Whispering Smith seemed taken aback. "Is it really serious business?"

"Of course."

"Very good. Let me watch this hen for a few minutes and diagnose her.
You go on to your other chickens. I'll stay here and think."

Dicksie went down through the yards. When she came back, Whispering
Smith was sitting on a cracker-box watching the bantam. The chicken
was making desperate efforts to get off Dicksie's cord and join its
companions in the runway. Smith was eying the bantam critically when
Dicksie rejoined him. "Do you usually," he asked, looking suddenly up,
"have success in setting roosters?"

"Now you are having fun with me again."

"No, by Heaven! I am not."

"Have you diagnosed the case?"

"I have, and I have diagnosed it as a case of mistaken identity."

"Identity?"

"And misapplied energy. Miss Dicksie, you have tied up the wrong bird.
This is not a bantam hen at all; this is a bantam rooster. Now that
is _my_ judgment. Compare him with the others. Notice how much darker
his plumage is--it's the rooster," declared Whispering Smith, wiping
the perplexity from his brow. "Don't feel bad, not at all. Cut him
loose, Miss Dicksie--don't hesitate; do it on my responsibility. Now
let's look at the cannibal leghorns--and great Cæsar."



CHAPTER XXIV

BETWEEN GIRLHOOD AND WOMANHOOD


About nine o'clock that night Puss ushered McCloud in from the river.
Dicksie came running downstairs to meet him. "Your cousin insisted I
should come up to the house for some supper," said McCloud dryly. "I
could have taken camp fare with the men. Gordon stayed there with
him."

Dicksie held his hat in her hand, and her eyes were bright in the
firelight. Puss must have thought the two made a handsome couple, for
she lingered, as she started for the kitchen, to look back.

"Puss," exclaimed her mistress, "fry a chicken right away! A big one,
Puss! Mr. McCloud is very hungry, I know. And be quick, do! Oh, how is
the river, Mr. McCloud?"

"Behaving like a lamb. It hasn't fallen much, but the pressure seems
to be off the bank, if you know what that means?"

"You must be a magician! Things changed the minute you came!"

"The last doctor usually gets credit for the cure, you know."

"Oh, I know all about that. Don't you want to freshen up? Should you
mind coming right to my room? Marion is in hers," explained Dicksie,
"and I am never sure of Cousin Lance's,--he has so many boots."

When she had disposed of McCloud she flew to the kitchen. Puss was
starting after a chicken. "Take a lantern, Puss!" whispered Dicksie
vehemently.

"No, indeed; dis nigger don' need no lantern fo' chickens, Miss
Dicksie."

"But get a good one, Puss, and make haste, do! Mr. McCloud must be
starved! Where is the baking powder? I'll get the biscuits started."

Puss turned fiercely. "Now look-a heah, yo' can't make biscuits! Yo'
jes' go se' down wif dat young gen'm'n! Jes' lemme lone, ef yo'
please! Dis ain't de firs' time I killed chickens, Miss Dicksie, an'
made biscuits. Jes' clair out an' se' down! Place f'r young ladies is
in de parlor! Ol' Puss can cook supper f'r one man yet--ef she _has_
to!"

"Oh, yes, Puss, certainly, I know, of course; only, get a nice
chicken!" and with the parting admonition Dicksie, smoothing her hair
wildly, hastened back to the living-room.

But the harm was done. Puss, more excited than her mistress, lost her
head when she got to the chicken-yard, and with sufficiently bad
results. When Dicksie ran out a few moments afterward for a glass of
water for McCloud, Puss was calmly wiping her hands, and in the sink
lay the quivering form of young Cæsar. Dicksie caught her favorite up
by the legs and suppressed a cry. There could be no mistake. She cast
a burning look on Puss. It would do no good to storm now. Dicksie only
wrung her hands and returned to McCloud.

He rose in the happiest mood. He could not see what a torment
Dicksie was in, and took the water without asking himself why it
trembled in her hand. Her restrained manner did not worry him, for
he felt that his fight at the river was won, and the prospect of
fried chicken composed him. Even the long hour before Puss, calm
and inviting in a white cap and apron, appeared to announce supper,
passed like a dream. When Dicksie rose to lead the way to the
dining-room, McCloud walked on air; the high color about her eyes
intoxicated him. Not till half the fried chicken, with many
compliments from McCloud, had disappeared, and the plate had gone out
for the second dozen biscuits, did he notice Dicksie's abstraction.

"I'm sure you need worry no longer about the water," he observed
reassuringly. "I think the worst of the danger is past."

Dicksie looked at the table-cloth with wide-open eyes. "I feel sure
that it is. I am no longer worrying about that."

"It's nothing I can do or leave undone, is it?" asked McCloud,
laughing a little as he implied in his tone that she must be worrying
about something.

Dicksie made a gesture of alarm. "Oh, no, no; nothing!"

"It's a pretty good plan not to worry about anything."

"Do you think so?"

"Why, we all thought so last night. Heavens!" McCloud drew back in his
chair. "I never offered you a piece of chicken! What have I been
thinking of?"

"Oh, I wouldn't eat it anyway!" cried Dicksie.

"You wouldn't? It is delicious. Do have a plate and a wing at least."

"Really, I could not bear to think of it," she said pathetically.

He spoke lower. "Something is troubling you. I have no right to a
confidence, I know," he added, taking a biscuit.

Her eyes fell to the floor. "It is nothing. Pray, don't mind me. May I
fill your cup?" she asked, looking up. "I am afraid I worry too much
over what has happened and can't be helped. Do you never do that?"

McCloud, laughing wretchedly, tore Cæsar's last leg from his body. "No
indeed. I never worry over what can't be helped."

They left the dining-room. Marion came down. But they had hardly
seated themselves before the living-room fire when a messenger arrived
with word that McCloud was wanted at the river. His chagrin at being
dragged away was so apparent that Marion and Dicksie sympathized with
him and laughed at him. "'I never worry about what can't be helped,'"
Dicksie murmured.

He looked at Marion. "That's a shot at me. You don't want to go down,
do you?" he asked ironically, looking from one to the other.

"Why, of course I'll go down," responded Dicksie promptly. "Marion
caught cold last night, I guess, so you will excuse her, I know. I
will be back in an hour, Marion, and you can toast your cold while I'm
gone."

"But you mustn't go alone!" protested McCloud.

Dicksie lifted her chin the least bit. "I shall be going with you,
shall I not? And if the messenger has gone back I shall have to guide
you. You never could find your way alone."

"But I can go," interposed Marion, rising.

"Not at all; you can _not_ go!" announced Dicksie. "I can protect both
Mr. McCloud and myself. If he should arrive down there under the wing
of two women he would never hear the last of it. I am mistress here
still, I think; and I sha'n't be leaving home, you know, to make the
trip!"

McCloud looked at Marion. "I never worry over what can't be
helped--though it is dollars to cents that those fellows don't need me
down there any more than a cat needs two tails. And how will you get
back?" he asked, turning to Dicksie.

"I will ride back!" returned Dicksie loftily. "But you may, if you
like, help me get my horse up."

"Are you sure you can find your way back?" persisted McCloud.

Dicksie looked at him in surprise. "Find my way back?" she echoed
softly. "I could not lose it. I can ride over any part of this country
at noon or at midnight, asleep or awake, with a saddle or without,
with a bridle or without, with a trail or without. I've ridden every
horse that has ever come on the Crawling Stone Ranch. I could ride
when I was three years old. Find my way back?"

The messenger had gone when the two rode from the house. The sky was
heavily overcast, and the wind blew such a gale from the south and
west that one could hardly hear what the other said. McCloud could not
have ridden from the house to the barn in the utter darkness, but his
horse followed Dicksie's. She halted frequently on the trail for him
to come up with her, and after they had crossed the alfalfa fields
McCloud did not care whether they ever found the path again or not.
"It's great, isn't it?" he exclaimed, coming up to her after opening a
gate in the dark. "Where are you?"

"This way," laughed Dicksie. "Look out for the trail here. Give me
your hand and let your horse have his head. If he slips, drop off
quick on this side." McCloud caught her hand. They rode for a moment
in silence, the horses stepping cautiously. "All right now," said
Dicksie; "you may let go." But McCloud kept his horse up close and
clung to the warm hand. "The camp is just around the hill," murmured
Dicksie, trying to pull away. "But of course if you would like to ride
in holding my hand you may!"

"No," said McCloud, "of course not--not for worlds! But, Miss Dicksie,
couldn't we ride back to the house and ride around the other way into
camp? I think the other way into the camp--say, around by the railroad
bridge--would be prettier, don't you?"

For answer she touched Jim lightly with her lines and his spring
released her hand very effectively. As she did so the trail turned,
and the camp-fire, whipped in the high wind, blazed before them.

Whispering Smith and Lance Dunning were sitting together as the two
galloped up. Smith helped Dicksie to alight. She was conscious of her
color and that her eyes were now unduly bright. Moreover, Whispering
Smith's glance rested so calmly on both McCloud's face and her own
that Dicksie felt as if he saw quite through her and knew everything
that had happened since they left the house.

Lance was talking to McCloud. "Don't abuse the wind," McCloud was
saying. "It's our best friend to-night, Mr. Dunning. It is blowing the
water off-shore. Where is the trouble?" For answer Dunning led McCloud
off toward the Bend, and Dicksie was left alone with Whispering
Smith.

He made a seat for her on the windward side of the big fire. When she
had seated herself she looked up in great contentment to ask if he was
not going to sit down beside her. The brown coat, the high black hat,
and the big eyes of Whispering Smith had already become a part of her
mental store. She saw that he seemed preoccupied, and sought to draw
him out of his abstraction.

"I am so glad you and Mr. McCloud are getting acquainted with Cousin
Lance," she said. "And do you mind my giving you a confidence, Mr.
Smith? Lance has been so unreasonable about this matter of the
railroad's coming up the valley and powwowing so much with lawyers and
ranchers that he has been forgetting about everything at home. He is
so much older than I am that he ought to be the sensible one of the
family, don't you think so? It frightens me to have him losing at
cards and drinking. I am afraid he will get into some shooting affair.
I don't understand what has come over him, and I worry about it. I
believe you could influence him if you knew him."

"What makes you think that?" asked Whispering Smith, but his eyes were
on the fire.

"Because these men he spends his time with in town--the men who fight
and shoot so much--are afraid of you. Don't laugh at me. I know it is
quite true in spite of their talk. I was afraid of you myself
until----"

"Until we made verse together."

"Until you made verse and I spoiled it. But I think it is because I
don't understand things that I am so afraid. I am not naturally a
coward. I'm sure I could not be afraid of you if I understood things
better. And there is Marion. She puzzles me. She will never speak of
her husband--I don't know why. And I don't know why Mr. McCloud is so
hard on Mr. Sinclair--Mr. Sinclair seems so kind and good-natured."

Whispering Smith looked from the fire into Dicksie's eyes. "What
should you say if I gave you a confidence?"

She opened her heart to his searching gaze. "Would you trust me with a
confidence?"

He answered without hesitation. "You shall see. Now, I have many
things I can't talk about, you understand. But if I had to give you a
secret this instant that carried my life, I shouldn't fear to do
it--so much for trusting you. Only this, too, as to what I say: don't
ever quote me or let it appear that you any more than know me. Can you
manage that? Really? Very good; you will understand why in a minute.
The man that is stirring up all this trouble with your Cousin Lance
and in this whole country is your kind and good-natured neighbor, Mr.
Sinclair. I am prejudiced against him; let us admit that on the start,
and remember it in estimating what I say. But Sinclair is the man who
has turned your cousin's head, as well as made things in other ways
unpleasant for several of us. Sinclair--I tell you so you will
understand everything, more than your cousin, Mr. McCloud, or Marion
Sinclair understand--Sinclair is a train-wrecker and a murderer. That
makes you breathe hard, doesn't it? but it is so. Sinclair is fairly
educated and highly intelligent, capable in every way, daring to the
limit, and, in a way, fascinating; it is no wonder he has a following.
But his following is divided into two classes: the men that know all
the secrets, and the men that don't--men like Rebstock and Du Sang,
and men like your cousin and a hundred or so sports in Medicine Bend,
who see only the glamour of Sinclair's pace. Your cousin sympathizes
with Sinclair when he doesn't actually side with him. All this has
helped to turn Sinclair's head, and this is exactly the situation you
and McCloud and I and a lot of others are up against. They don't know
all this, but I know it, and now you know it. Let me tell you
something that comes close to home. You have a cowboy on the ranch
named Karg--he is called Flat Nose. Karg was a railroad man. He is a
cattle-thief, a train-robber, a murderer, and a spy. I should not tell
you this if you were not game to the last drop of your blood. But I
think I know you better than you know yourself, though you never saw
me until last night. Karg is Sinclair's spy at your ranch, and you
must never feel it or know it; but he is there to keep your cousin's
sympathy with Sinclair, and to lure your cousin his way. And Karg will
try to kill George McCloud every time he sets foot on this ranch,
remember that."

"Then Mr. McCloud ought not to be here. I don't want him to stay if he
is in danger!" exclaimed Dicksie.

"But I do want him to come here as if it mattered nothing, and I shall
try to take care of him. I have a man among your own men, a cowboy
named Wickwire, who will be watching Karg, and who is just as quick,
and Karg, not knowing he was watched, would be taken unawares. If
Wickwire goes elsewhere to work some one else will take his place
here. Karg is not on the ranch now; he is up North, hunting up some of
your steers that were run off last month by his own cronies. Now do
you think I am giving you confidence?"

She looked at him steadily. "If I can only deserve it all." In the
distance she heard the calling of the men at the river borne on the
wind. The shock of what had been told her, the strangeness of the
night and of the scene, left her calm. Fear had given way to
responsibility and Dicksie seemed to know herself.

"You have nothing whatever to do to deserve it but keep your own
counsel. But listen a moment longer--for this is what I have been
leading up to," he said. "Marion will get a message to-morrow, a
message from Sinclair, asking her to come to see him at his
ranch-house before she goes back. I don't know what he wants--but she
is his wife. He has treated her infamously; that is why she will not
live with him and does not speak of him. But you know how strange a
woman is--or perhaps you don't: she doesn't always cease to care for a
man when she ceases to trust him. I am not in Marion's confidence,
Miss Dicksie. She is another man's wife. I cannot tell how she feels
toward him; I know she has often tried to reclaim him from his
deviltry. She may try again, that is, she may, for one reason or
another, go to him as he asks. I could not interfere, if I would. I
have no right to if I could, and I will not. Now this is what I'm
trying to get up the courage to ask you. Should you dare to go with
her to Sinclair's ranch if she decides to go to him?"

"Certainly I should dare."

"After all you know?"

"After all I know--why not?"

"Then in case she does go and you go with her, you will know nothing
whatever about anything, of course, unless you get the story from her.
What I fear is that which possibly may come of their interview. He may
try to kill her--don't be frightened. He will not succeed if you can
only make sure he doesn't lead her away on horseback from the
ranch-house or get her alone in a room. She has few friends. I respect
and honor her because she and I grew up as children together in the
same little town in Wisconsin. I know her folks, all of them, and I've
promised them--you know--to have a kind of care of her."

"I think I know."

He looked self-conscious even at her tone of understanding. "I need
not try to deceive you; your instinct would be poor if it did not tell
you more than I ought to. He came along and turned her head. You need
fear nothing for yourself in going with her, and nothing for her if
you can cover just those two points--can you remember? Not to let her
go away with him on horseback, and not to leave her where she will be
alone with him in the house?"

"I can and will. I think as much of Marion as you do. I am proud to be
able to do something for you. How little I have known you! I thought
you were everything I didn't want to know."

"It's nothing," he returned easily, "except that Sinclair has stirred
up your cousin and the ranchers as well as the Williams Cache gang,
and that makes talk about me. I have to do what I can to make this a
peaceable country to live in. The railroad wants decent people here
and doesn't want the other kind, and it falls on me, unfortunately, to
keep the other kind moving. I don't like it, but we can none of us do
quite what we please in making a living. Let me tell you this"--he
turned to fix his eyes seriously on hers: "Believe anything you hear
of me except that I have ever taken human life willingly or save in
discharge of my duty. But this kind of work makes my own life an
uncertainty, as you can see. I do almost literally carry my life in my
hand, for if my hand is not quicker every time than a man's eye, I am
done for then and there."

"It is dreadful to think of."

"Not exactly that, but it is something I can't afford to forget."

"What would become of the lives of the friends you protect if you were
killed?"

"You say you care for Marion Sinclair. I should like to think if
anything should happen to me you wouldn't forget her?"

"I never will."

He smiled. "Then I put her in charge of the man closest to me, George
McCloud, and the woman she thinks the most of in the world--except her
mother. What is this, are they back? Yonder they come."

"We found nothing serious," McCloud said, answering their questions
as he approached with Lance Dunning. "The current is really swinging
away, but the bank is caving in where it was undermined last night."
He stopped before Dicksie. "I am trying to get your cousin to go to
the house and go to bed. I am going to stay all night, but there is no
necessity for his staying."

"Damn it, McCloud, it's not right," protested Lance, taking off his
hat and wiping his forehead. "You need the sleep more than I do. I say
he is the one to go to bed to-night," continued Lance, putting it up
to Whispering Smith. "And I insist, by the Almighty, that you two take
him back to the house with you now!"

Whispering Smith raised his hand. "If this is merely a family quarrel
about who shall go to bed, let us compromise. You two stay up all
night and let me go to bed."

Lance, however, was obdurate.

"It seems to be a family characteristic of the Dunnings to have their
own way," ventured McCloud, after some further dispute. "If you will
have it so, Mr. Dunning, you may stand watch to-night and I will go to
the house."

Riding back with McCloud, Dicksie and Whispering Smith discussed the
flood. McCloud disclaimed credit for the improvement in the situation.
"If the current had held against us as it did yesterday, nothing I
could have done would have turned it," he said.

"Honesty is the best policy, of course," observed Whispering Smith. "I
like to see a modest man--and you want to remind him of all this when
he sends in his bill," he suggested, speaking to Dicksie in the dark.
"But," he added, turning to McCloud, "admitting that you are right,
don't take the trouble to advertise your view of it around here. It
would be only decent strategy for us in the valley just now to take a
little of the credit due to the wind."



CHAPTER XXV

THE MAN ON THE FRENCHMAN


Sinclair's place on the Frenchman backed up on a sharp rise against
the foothills of the Bridger range, and the ranch buildings were
strung along the creek. The ranch-house stood on ground high enough to
command the country for miles up and down the valley.

Only two roads lead from Medicine Bend and the south into the
Frenchman country: one a wagon-road following Smoky Creek and running
through Dale Canyon; the other a pack-road, known as the Gridley
trail, crossing the Topah Topah Hills and making a short cut from the
Dunning ranch on the Crawling Stone to the Frenchman. The entire
valley is, in fact, so difficult of access, save by the long and
roundabout wagon-road, that the sight of a complete outfit of
buildings such as that put up by Sinclair always came as a surprise to
the traveller who, reaching the crest of the hills, looked suddenly
down a thousand feet on his well-ordered sheds and barns and corrals.

The rider who reaches the Topah Topah crest on the Gridley trail now
sees in the valley below only traces of what was so laboriously
planned and perfectly maintained a few years ago. But even the ruins
left on the Frenchman show the herculean labor undertaken by the man
in setting up a comfortable and even an elaborate establishment in so
inaccessible a spot. His defiance of all ordinary means of doing
things was shown in his preference for bringing much of his
building-material over the trail instead of around by the Smoky Creek
road. A good part of the lumber that went into his house was packed
over the Gridley trail. His piano was brought through the canyon on a
wagon, but the mechanical player for the piano and his wagons
themselves were packed over the trail on the backs of mules. A heavy
steel range for the kitchen had been brought over the same way. For
Sinclair no work was hard enough, none went fast enough, and revelry
never rose high enough. During the time of his activity in the
Frenchman Valley Sinclair had the best-appointed place between
Williams Cache and the Crawling Stone, and in the Crawling Stone only
the Dunning ranch would bear comparison with his own. On the Frenchman
Sinclair kept an establishment the fame of which is still foremost in
mountain story. Here his cows ranged the canyons and the hills for
miles, and his horses were known from Medicine Bend to Fort Tracy.
Here he rallied his men, laid snares for his enemies, dispensed a
reckless hospitality, ruled his men with an oath and a blow, and
carried a six-shooter to explain orders and answer questions with.

Over the Gridley trail from the Crawling Stone Marion and Dicksie
Dunning rode early in the morning the day after McCloud and his men
left the Stone Ranch with their work done. The trail is a good three
hours long, and they reached Sinclair's place at about ten o'clock. He
was waiting for Marion--she had sent word she should come--and he came
out of the front door into the sunshine with a smile of welcome when
he saw Dicksie with her. Dicksie, long an admirer of Sinclair's, as
women usually were, had recast somewhat violently her opinions of him.
She faced him now with a criminal consciousness that she knew too
much. The weight of the dreadful secret weighed on her, and her
responsibility in the issue of the day ahead did not help to make her
greeting an easy one. One thing only was fixed in her mind and
reflected in the tension of her lips and her eyes: the resolve to keep
at every cost the promise she had given. For Dicksie had fallen under
the spell of a man even more compelling than Sinclair, and felt
strangely bounden to what she had said.

Sinclair, however, had spirit enough to smooth quite away every
embarrassment. "Bachelor's quarters," he explained roughly and
pleasantly, as he led the two women toward the house. "Cowmen make
poor housekeepers, but you must feel at home." And when Dicksie,
looking at his Indian rugs on the floors, the walls, and the couches,
said she thought he had little to apologize for, Sinclair looked
gratified and took off his hat again. "Just a moment," he said,
standing at the side of the door. "I've never been able to get Marion
over here before, so it happens that a woman's foot has never entered
the new house. I want to watch one of you cross the threshold for the
first time."

Dicksie, moving ahead, retreated with a laugh. "You first, then,
Marion."

"No, Dicksie, you."

"Never! you first." So Marion, quite red and wretchedly ill at ease,
walked into the ranch-house first.

Sinclair shone nowhere better than as a host. When he had placed his
guests comfortably in the living-room he told them the story of the
building of the house. Then he made a cicerone of himself, and
explained, with running comments, each feature of his plan as he
showed how it had been carried out through the various rooms.
Surprised at the attractiveness of things, Dicksie found herself
making mental notes for her own use, and began asking questions.
Sinclair was superb in answering, but the danger of admiring things
became at once apparent, for when Dicksie exclaimed over a handsome
bearskin, a rich dark brown grizzly-skin of unusual size, Sinclair
told the story of the killing, bared his tremendous forearm to show
where the polished claws had ripped him, and, disregarding Dicksie's
protests, insisted on sending the skin over to Crawling Stone Ranch as
a souvenir of her visit.

"I live a great deal alone over here," he said, waving Dicksie's
continued refusal magnificently aside as he moved into the next room.
"I've got a few good dogs, and I hunt just enough to keep my hand in
with a rifle." Dicksie quailed a little at the smile that went with
the words. "The men, at least the kind I mix with, don't care for
grizzly-skins, and to enjoy anything you've got to have sympathetic
company--don't you know that?" he asked, looking admiringly at
Dicksie. "I've got another skin for you--a silver-tip," he added in
deep, gentle tones, addressing Marion. "It has a fine head, as fine as
I ever saw in the Smithsonian. It is down at Medicine Bend now, being
dressed and mounted. By the way, I've forgotten to ask you, Miss
Dicksie, about the high water. How did you get through at the ranch?"

Dicksie, sitting on the piano-bench, looked up with resolution.
"Bravely!" she exclaimed. "Mr. McCloud came to our rescue with bags
and mattresses and a hundred men, and he has put in a revetement a
thousand feet long. Oh, we are regular river experts at our house now!
Had you any trouble here, Mr. Sinclair?"

"No, the Frenchman behaves pretty well in the rock. We had forty feet
of water here one day, though; forty feet, that's right. McCloud, yes;
able fellow, I guess, too, though he and I don't hit it off." Sinclair
sat back in his chair, and as he spoke he spoke magnanimously. "He
doesn't like me, but that is no fault of his; railroad men, and good
ones, too, sometimes get started wrong with one another. Well, I'm
glad he took care of you. Try that piano, Miss Dicksie, will you? I
don't know much about pianos, but that ought to be a good one. I would
wheel the player over for you, but any one that plays as beautifully
as you do ought not to be allowed to use a player. Marion, I want to
talk a few minutes with you, may I? Do you mind going out under the
cottonwood?"

Dicksie's heart jumped. "Don't be gone long, Marion," she exclaimed
impulsively, "for you know, Mr. Sinclair, we _must_ get back by two
o'clock." And Dicksie, pale with apprehension, looked at them both.
Marion, quite composed, nodded reassuringly and followed Sinclair out
of doors into the sunshine.

For a few minutes Dicksie fingered wildly on the piano at some
half-forgotten air, and in a fever of excitement walked out on the
porch to see where they were. To her relief, she saw Marion sitting
near Sinclair under the big tree in front of the house, where the
horses stood. Dicksie, with her hands on her girdle, walked forlornly
back and forth, hummed a tune, sat down in a rocking-chair, fanned
herself, rose, walked back and forth again, and reflected that she was
perfectly helpless, and that Sinclair might kill Marion a hundred
times before she could reach her. And the thought that Marion was
perhaps wholly unconscious of danger increased her anxiety.

She sat down in despair. How could Whispering Smith have allowed any
one he had a care for to be exposed in this dreadful way? Trying to
think what to do, Dicksie hurried back into the living-room, walked to
the piano, took the pile of sheet-music from the top, and sat down to
thumb it over. She threw song after song on the chair beside her. They
were sheets of gaudy coon songs and ragtime with flaring covers, and
they seemed to give off odors of cheap perfume. Dicksie hardly saw the
titles as she passed them over, but of a sudden she stopped. Between
two sheets of the music lay a small handkerchief. It was mussed, and
in the corner of it "Nellie" was written conspicuously in a laundry
mark. The odor of musk became in an instant sickening. Dicksie threw
the music disdainfully aside, and sprang up with a flushed face to
leave the room. Sinclair's remark about the first woman to cross his
threshold came back to her. From that moment Dicksie hated him. But no
sooner had she seated herself on the porch than she remembered she had
left her hat in the house, and rose to go in after it. She was
resolved not to leave it under the roof another moment, and she had
resolved to go over and wait where her horse was tied. As she
reëntered the doorway she stopped. In the room she had just left a
cowboy sat at the table, taking apart a revolver to clean it. The
revolver was spread in its parts before him, but across the table lay
a rifle. The man had not been in the room when she left it a moment
before.

Dicksie passed behind him. He paid no attention to her; he had not
looked up when she entered the room. Passing behind him once more to
go out, Dicksie looked through the open window before which he sat.
Sinclair and Marion sitting under the cottonwood tree were in plain
sight, and the muzzle of the rifle where it lay covered them. Dicksie
thrilled, but the man was busy with his work. Breathing deeply, she
walked out on the porch again. Sinclair, she thought, was looking
straight at her, and in her anxiety to appear unconscious she turned,
walked to the end of the house, and at the corner almost ran into a
man sitting out of doors in the shade mending a saddle. He had removed
his belt to work, and his revolver lay in the holster on the bench,
its grip just within reach of his hand. Dicksie walked in front of
him, but he did not look up. She turned as if changing her mind, and
with a little flirt of her riding-skirt sat down in the porch chair,
feeling a faint moisture upon her forehead.

                  *       *       *       *       *

"I am going to leave this country, Marion," Sinclair was saying.
"There's nothing here for me; I can see that. What's the use of my
eating my heart out over the way I've been treated? I've given the
best years of my life to this railroad, and now they turn me down with
a kick and a curse. It's the old story of the Indian and his dog, only
I don't propose to let them make soup of me. I'm going to the coast,
Marion. I'm going to California, where I wanted to go when we were
married, and I wish to God we had gone there then. All our troubles
might never have been if I had got in with a different crowd from
these cow-boozers on the start. And, Marion, I want to know whether
you'll give me another chance and go with me."

Sinclair, on the bench and leaning against the tree, sat with folded
arms looking at his wife. Marion in a hickory chair faced him.

"No one would like to see you be all you ought to be more than I,
Murray; but you are the only one in the world that can ever give
yourself another chance to be that."

"The fellows in the saddle here now have denied me every chance to
make a man of myself again on the railroad--you know that, Marion. In
fact, they never did give me the show I was entitled to. I ought to
have had Hailey's place. Bucks never treated me right in that; he
never pushed me in the way he pushed other men that were just as bad
as I ever was. It discouraged me; that's the reason I went to
pieces."

"It could be no reason for treating me as you treated me: for bringing
drunken men and drunken women into our house, and driving me out of it
unless I would be what you were and what they were."

"I know I haven't treated you right; I've treated you shamefully. I
will do anything on earth you say to square it. I will! Recollect, I
had lived among men and in the same country with women like that for
years before I knew you. I didn't know how to treat you; I admit it.
Give me another chance, Marion."

"I gave you all that I had when I married you, Murray. I haven't
anything more to give to any man. You would be disappointed in me if I
could ever live with you again, and I could not do that without living
a lie every day."

He bent forward, looking at the ground. He talked of their first
meeting in Wisconsin; of the happiness of their little courtship; he
brought up California again, and the Northwest coast, where, he told
her, a great railroad was to be built and he should find the chance he
needed to make a record for himself--it had been promised him--a
chance to be the man his abilities entitled him to be in railroading.
"And I've got a customer for the ranch and the cows, Marion. I don't
care for this business--damn the cows! let somebody else chase after
'em through the sleet. I've done well; I've made money--a lot of
money--the last two years in my cattle deals, and I've got it put
away, Marion; you need never lift your hand to work in our house
again. We can live in California, and live well, under our own orange
trees, whether I work or not. All I want to know is, will you go with
me?"

"No! I will not go with you, Murray."

He moved in his seat and threw his head up appealingly. "Why not?"

"I will never be dishonest with you; I never have been and I never
will be. I have nothing in my heart to give you, and I will not live
upon your money. I am earning my own living. I am as content as I ever
can be, and I shall stay where I am and do what I am doing till I die,
probably. And this is why I came when you asked me to; to tell you the
exact truth. I am not a girl any longer--I never can be again. I am a
woman. What I was before I married you I never can be again, and you
have no right to ask me to be a hypocrite and say I can love you--for
that is what it all comes to--when I have no such thing in my heart or
life for you. It is dead and gone, and I cannot help it."

"That sounds pretty hard, Marion."

"It is only the truth. It sounded fearfully hard to me when you told
me that woman was your friend--that you knew her before you knew me
and would know her after I was dead; that she was as good as I, and
that if I didn't entertain her you would. But it was the truth; you
told me the truth, and it was better that you told it--as it is better
now that I tell it to you."

"I was drunk. I didn't tell you the truth. A man is a pretty tough
animal sometimes, but you are a woman and a pure one, and I care more
for you than for all the other women in the world, and it is not your
nature to be unforgiving."

"It is to be honest."

He looked suddenly up at her and spoke sharply: "Marion, I know why
you won't go."

"I have honestly told you."

"No; you have not honestly told me. The real reason is Gordon Smith."

"If he were I should not hesitate to tell you, Murray, but he is not,"
she said coldly.

Sinclair spoke harshly: "Do you think you can fool me? Don't you
suppose I know he spends his time loafing around your shop?"

Marion flushed indignantly. "It is not true!"

"Don't you suppose I know he writes letters back to Wisconsin to your
folks?"

"What have I to do with that? Why shouldn't he write to my mother? Who
has a better right?"

"Don't drive me too far. By God! if I go away alone I'll never leave
you here to run off with Whispering Smith--remember that!" She sat in
silence. His rage left her perfectly quiet, and her unmoved expression
shamed and in part silenced him. "Don't drive me too far," he muttered
sullenly. "If you do you will be responsible, Marion."

She did not move her eyes from the blue hills on the horizon. "I
expect you to kill me sometime; I feel sure you will. And that you may
do." Then she bent her look on him. "You may do it now if you want
to."

His face turned heavy with rage. "Marion," he cried, with an oath, "do
you know how close you are to death at this moment?"

"You may do it now."

He clinched the bench-rail and rose slowly to his feet. Marion sat
motionless in the hickory chair; the sun was shining in her face and
her hands were folded in her lap. Dicksie rocked on the porch. In the
shadow of the house the man was mending the saddle.



CHAPTER XXVI

TOWER W


At the end of a long and neglected hall on the second floor of the old
bank block in Hill Street, Whispering Smith had a room in which he
made headquarters at Medicine Bend; it was in effect Whispering
Smith's home. A man's room is usually a forlorn affair in spite of any
effort to make it home-like. If he neglects his room it looks barren,
and if he ornaments it it looks fussy. Boys can do something with a
den because they are not yet men, and some tincture of woman's nature
still clings to a boy. Girls are born to the deftness that is to
become all theirs in the touch of a woman's hand; but men, if they
walk alone, pay the penalty of loneliness.

Whispering Smith, being logical, made no effort to decorate his
domestic poverty. All his belongings were of a simple sort and his
room was as bare as a Jesuit's. Moreover, his affairs, being at times
highly particular, did not admit of the presence of a janitor in his
quarters, and he was of necessity his own janitor. His iron bed was
spread with a pair of Pullman blankets, his toilet arrangements
included nothing more elaborate than a shaving outfit, and the mirror
above his washstand was only large enough to make a hurried shave,
with much neck-stretching, possible. The table was littered with
letters, but it filled up one corner of the room, and a rocking-chair
and a trunk filled up another. The floor was spread with a Navajo
blanket, and near the head of the bed stood an old-fashioned wardrobe.
This served not to ward Whispering Smith's robes, which hung for the
most part on his back, but to accommodate his rifles, of which it
contained an array that only a practised man could understand. The
wardrobe was more, however, than an armory. Beside the guns that stood
racked in precision along the inner wall, McCloud had once, to his
surprise, seen a violin. It appeared out of keeping in such an
atmosphere and rather the antithesis of force and violence than a
complement for it. And again, though the rifles were disquietingly
bright and effective-looking, the violin was old and shabby, hanging
obscurely in its corner, as if, whatever it might have in common with
its master, it had nothing in common with its surroundings.

The door of the room in the course of many years had been mutilated
with keyholes and reënforced with locks until it appeared difficult
to choose an opening that would really afford entrance; but two men
besides Whispering Smith carried keys to the room--Kennedy and George
McCloud. They had right of way into it at all hours, and knew how to
get in.

McCloud had left the bridge camp on the river for Medicine Bend on the
Saturday that Marion Sinclair--whose husband had finally told her he
would give her one more chance to think it over--returned with Dicksie
safely from their trip to the Frenchman ranch.

Whispering Smith, who had been with Bucks and Morris Blood, got back
to town the same day. The president and general manager were at the
Wickiup during the afternoon, and left for the East at nine o'clock in
the evening, when their car was attached to an east-bound passenger
train. McCloud took supper afterward with Whispering Smith at a Front
Street chop-house, and the two men separated at eleven o'clock. It was
three hours later when McCloud tapped on the door of Smith's room, and
in a moment opened it. "Awake, Gordon?"

"Sure: come in. What is it?"

"The second section of the passenger train--Number Three, with the
express cars--was stopped at Tower W to-night. Oliver Sollers was
pulling; he is badly shot up, and one of the messengers was shot all
to pieces. They cracked the through safe, emptied it, and made a clean
get-away."

"Tower W--two hundred and seventy-six miles. Have you ordered up an
engine?"

"Yes."

"Where's Kennedy?"

A second voice answered: "Right here."

"Strike a light, Farrell. What about the horses?"

"They're being loaded."

"Is the line clear?"

"Rooney Lee is clearing it."

"Spike it, George, and leave every westbound train in siding, with the
engine cut loose and plenty of steam, till we get by. It's now or
never this time. Two hundred and seventy-six miles; they're giving us
our money's worth. Who's going with us, Farrell?"

"Bob Scott, Reed Young, and Brill, if Reed can get him at Sleepy Cat.
Dancing is loading the horses."

"I want Ed Banks to lead a _posse_ straight from here for Williams
Cache; Dancing can go with him. And telephone Gene and Bob Johnson to
sit down in Canadian Pass till they grow to the rocks, but not to let
anybody through if they want to live after I see them. They've got all
the instructions; all they need is the word. It's a long chance, but
I think these are our friends. You can head Banks off by telephone
somewhere if we change our minds when we get a trail. Start Brill
Young and a good man from Sleepy Cat ahead of us, George, if you can,
in a baggage car with any horses that they can get there. They can be
at Tower W by daybreak and perhaps pick up a trail before we reach
there, and we shall have fresh horses for them. I'm ready, I guess;
let's go. Slam the door, George!" In the hall Whispering Smith threw a
pocket-light on his watch. "I want you to put us there by seven
o'clock."

"Charlie Sollers is going to pull you," answered McCloud. "Have you
got everything? Then we're off." The three men tiptoed down the dark
hall, down the stairs, and across the street on a noiseless run for
the railroad yard.

The air was chill and the sky clear, with a moon more than half to the
full. "Lord, what a night to ride!" exclaimed Whispering Smith,
looking mournfully at the stars. "Well planned, well planned, I must
admit."

The men hastened toward the yard, where lanterns were moving about
the car of the train-guards near the Blue Front stables. The
loading board had been lowered, and the horses were being carefully
led into the car. From a switch engine behind the car a shrill
cloud of steam billowed into the air. Across the yard a great
passenger engine, its huge white side-rod rising and falling slowly
in the still light of the moon--one of the mountain racers,
thick-necked like an athlete and deep-chested--was backing down for
the run with the single car almost across the west end of the
division. Trainmen were running to and from the Wickiup platform. By
the time the horses were loaded the conductor had orders. Until the
last minute, Whispering Smith was in consultation with McCloud, and
giving Dancing precise instructions for the _posse_ into the Cache
country. They were still talking at the side door of the car,
McCloud and Dancing on the ground and Whispering Smith squatting on
his haunches inside the moving car, when the engine signalled and
the special drew away from the chute, pounded up the long run of the
ladder switch, and moved with gathering speed into the canyon. In the
cab Charlie Sollers, crushing in his hand the tissue that had
brought the news of his brother's death, sat at the throttle. He had
no speed orders. They had only told him he had a clear track.



CHAPTER XXVII

PURSUIT


Brill Young picked up a trail Sunday morning at Tower W before the
special from Medicine Bend reached there. The wrecked express car,
which had been set out, had no story to tell. "The only story," said
Whispering Smith, as the men climbed into their saddles, "is in the
one from the hoofs, and the sooner we get after it the better."

The country around Tower W, which is itself an operating point on the
western end of the division, a mere speck on the desert, lies high and
rolling. To the south, sixty miles away, rise the Grosse Terre
Mountains, and to the north and west lie the solitudes of the Heart
range, while in the northeast are seen the three white Saddle peaks of
the Missions. The cool, bright sunshine of a far and lonely horizon
greets the traveller here, and ten miles away from the railroad, in
any direction, a man on horseback and unacquainted with the country
would wish himself--mountain men will tell you--in hell, because it
would be easier to ride out of.

To the railroad men the country offered no unusual difficulties. The
Youngs were as much at home on a horse as on a hand car. Kennedy,
though a large and powerful man, was inured to hard riding, and Bob
Scott and Whispering Smith in the saddle were merely a part--though an
important part--of their horses; without killing their mounts, they
could get out of them every mile in their legs. The five men covered
twenty miles on a trail that read like print. One after another of the
railroad party commented on the carelessness with which it had been
left. But twenty miles south of the railroad, in an open and
comparatively easy country, it was swallowed completely up in the
tracks of a hundred horses. The railroad men circled far and wide,
only to find the herd tracks everywhere ahead of them.

"This is a beautiful job," murmured Whispering Smith as the party rode
together along the edge of a creek-bottom. "Now who is their friend
down in this country? What man would get out a bunch of horses like
this and work them this hard so early in the morning? Let's hunt that
man up. I like to meet a man that is a friend in need."

Bob Scott spoke: "I saw a man with some horses in a canyon across the
creek a few minutes ago, and I saw a ranch-house behind those buttes
when I rode around them."

"Stop! Here's a man riding right into our jaws," muttered Kennedy.
"Divide up among the rocks." A horseman from the south came galloping
up the creek, and Kennedy rode out with an ivory smile to meet him.
The two men parleyed for a moment, disputed each other sharply, and
rode together back to the railroad party.

"Haven't seen any men looking for horses this morning, have you?"
asked Whispering Smith, eying the stranger, a squat, square-jawed
fellow with a cataract eye.

"I'm looking for horses myself. I ain't seen anybody else. What are
you looking for?"

"Is this your bunch of horses that got loose here?" asked Smith.

"No."

"I thought," said Kennedy, smiling, "you said a minute ago they
were."

The stranger fixed his cataract on him like a flash-light. "I changed
my mind."

Whispering Smith's brows rose protestingly, but he spoke with perfect
amiability as he raised his finger to bring the good eye his way. "You
ought to change your hat when you change your mind. I saw you driving
a bunch of horses up that canyon a few minutes ago. Now, Rockstro, do
you still drag your left leg?"

The rancher looked steadily at his new inquisitor, but blinked like a
gopher at the sudden onslaught. "Which of you fellows is Whispering
Smith?" he demanded.

"The man with the dough is Whispering Smith every time," was the
answer from Smith himself. "You have about seven years to serve,
Rockstro, haven't you? Seven, I think. Now what have I ever done to
you that you should turn a trick like this on me? I knew you were
here, and you knew I knew you were here, and I call this a pretty
country; a little smooth right around here, like the people, but
pretty. Have I ever bothered you? Now tell me one thing--what did you
get for covering this trail? I stand to give you two dollars for every
one you got last night for the job, if you'll put us right on the
game. Which way did they go?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Get off your horse a minute," suggested Whispering Smith, dismounting,
"and step over here toward the creek." The man, afraid to refuse and
unwilling to go, walked haltingly after Smith.

"What is it, Rockstro?" asked his tormentor. "Don't you like this
country? What do you want to go back to the penitentiary for? Aren't
you happy here? Now tell me one thing--will you give up the trail?"

"I don't know the trail."

"I believe you; we shouldn't follow it anyway. Were you paid last
night or this morning?"

"I ain't seen a man hereabouts for a week."

"Then you can't tell me whether there were five men or six?"

"You've got one eye as good as mine, and one a whole lot better."

"So it was fixed up for cash a week ago?"

"Everything is cash in this country."

"Well, Rockstro, I'm sorry, but we'll have to take you back with us."

The rancher whipped out a revolver. Whispering Smith caught his wrist.
The struggle lasted only an instant. Rockstro writhed, and the pistol
fell to the ground.

"Now, shall I break your arm?" asked Smith, as the man cursed and
resisted. "Or will you behave? We are going right back and you'll have
to come with us. We'll send some one down to round up your horses and
sell them, and you can serve out your time--with allowances, of
course, for good conduct, which will cut it down. If I had ever done
you a mean turn I would not say a word. If you could name a friend of
yours I had ever done a mean turn to I would not say a word. Can you
name one? I guess not. I have left you as free as the wind here,
making only the rule I make for everybody--to let the railroad alone.
This is my thanks. Now, I'll ask you just one question. I haven't
killed you, as I had a perfect right to when you pulled; I haven't
broken your arm, as I would have done if there had been a doctor
within twenty-five miles; and I haven't started you for the pen--not
yet. Now I ask you one fair question only: Did you need the money?"

"Yes, I did need it."

Whispering Smith dropped the man's wrist. "Then I don't say a word. If
you needed the money, I'm not going to send you back--not for mine."

"How can a man make a living in this country," asked the rancher, with
a bitter oath, "unless he picks up everything that's going?"

"Pick up your gun, man! I'm not saying anything, am I?"

"But I'm damned if I can give a double-cross to any man," added
Rockstro, stooping for his revolver.

"I should think less of you, Rockstro, if you did. You don't need
money anyway now, but sometime you may need a friend. I'm going to
leave you here. You'll hear no more of this, and I'm going to ask you
a question: Why did you go against this when you knew you'd have to
square yourself with me?"

"They told me you'd be taken care of before it was pulled off."

"They lied to you, didn't they? No matter, you've got their stuff. Now
I am going to ask you one question that I don't know the answer to;
it's a fair question, too. Was Du Sang in the penitentiary with you at
Fort City? Answer fair."

"Yes."

"Thank you. Behave yourself and keep your mouth shut. I say nothing
this time. Hereafter leave railroad matters alone, and if the woman
should fall sick or you have to have a little money, come and see me."
Smith led the way back to the horses.

"Look here!" muttered Rockstro, following, with his good eye glued on
his companion. "I pulled on you too quick, I guess--quicker'n I'd
ought to."

"Don't mention it. You didn't pull quick enough; it is humiliating to
have a man that's as slow as you are pull on me. People that pull on
me usually pull and shoot at the same time. Two distinct movements,
Rockstro, should be avoided; they are fatal to success. Come down to
the Bend sometime, and I'll get you a decent gun and give you a few
lessons."

Whispering Smith drew his handkerchief as the one-eyed man rode away
and he rejoined his companions. He was resigned, after a sickly
fashion. "I like to play blind-man's-buff," he said, wiping his
forehead, "but not so far from good water. They have pulled us
half-way to the Grosse Terre Mountains on a beautiful trail, too
beautiful to be true, Farrell--too beautiful to be true. They have
been having fun with us, and they've doubled back, through the Topah
Topahs toward the Mission Mountains and Williams Cache--that is my
judgment. And aren't we five able-bodied jays, gentlemen? Five
strong-arm suckers? It is an inelegant word; it is an inelegant
feeling. No matter, we know a few things. There are five good men and
a led horse; we can get out of here by Goose River, find out when we
cross the railroad how much they got, and pick them up somewhere
around the Saddle peaks, _if_ they've gone north. That's only a guess,
and every man's guess is good now. What do you think, all of you?"

"If it's the crowd we think it is, would they go straight home? That
doesn't look reasonable, does it?" asked Brill Young.

"If they could put one day between them and pursuit, wouldn't they be
safer at home than anywhere else? And haven't they laid out one day's
work for us, good and plenty? Farrell, remember one thing: there is
sometimes a disadvantage in knowing too much about the men you are
after. We'll try Goose River."

It was noon when they struck the railroad. They halted long enough to
stop a freight train, send some telegrams, and ask for news. They
got orders from Rooney Lee, had an empty box car set behind the
engine for a special, and, loading their horses at the chute, made a
helter-skelter run for Sleepy Cat. At three o'clock they struck north
for the Mission Mountains.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE SUNDAY MURDER


Banks's _posse_, leaving Medicine Bend before daybreak, headed
northwest. Their instructions were explicit: to scatter after crossing
the Frenchman, watch the trails from the Goose River country and
through the Mission Mountains, and intercept everybody riding north
until the _posse_ from Sleepy Cat or Whispering Smith should
communicate with them from the southwest. Nine men rode in the party
that crossed the Crawling Stone Sunday morning at sunrise with Ed
Banks.

After leaving the river the three white-capped Saddles of the Mission
range afford a landmark for more than a hundred miles, and toward
these the party pressed steadily all day. The southern pass of the
Missions opens on the north slope of the range into a pretty valley
known as Mission Springs Valley, and the springs are the head-waters
of Deep Creek. The _posse_ did not quite obey the instructions, and
following a natural instinct of safety five of them, after Banks and
his three deputies had scattered, bunched again, and at dark crossed
Deep Creek at some distance below the springs. It was afterward known
that these five men had been seen entering the valley from the east at
sundown just as four of the men they wanted rode down South Mission
Pass toward the springs. That they knew they would soon be cut off, or
must cut their way through the line which Ed Banks, ahead of them, was
posting at every gateway to Williams Cache, was probably clear to
them. Four men rode that evening from Tower W through the south pass;
the fifth man had already left the party. The four men were headed for
Williams Cache and had reason to believe, until they sighted Banks's
men, that their path was open.

They halted to take counsel on the suspicious-looking _posse_ far
below them, and while their cruelly exhausted horses rested, Du Sang,
always in Sinclair's absence the brains of the gang, planned the
escape over Deep Creek at Baggs's crossing. At dusk they divided: two
men lurking in the brush along the creek rode as close as they could,
unobserved, toward the crossing, while Du Sang and the cowboy Karg,
known as Flat Nose, rode down to Baggs's ranch at the foot of the
pass.

At that point Dan Baggs, an old locomotive engineer, had taken a
homestead, got together a little bunch of cattle, and was living
alone with his son, a boy of ten years. It was a hard country and too
close to Williams Cache for comfort, but Dan got on with everybody
because the toughest man in the Cache country could get a meal, a feed
for his horse, and a place to sleep at Baggs's, without charge, when
he needed it.

Ed Banks, by hard riding, got to the crossing at five o'clock, and
told Baggs of the hold-up and the shooting of Oliver Sollers. The news
stirred the old engineman, and his excitement threw him off his guard.
Banks rode straight on for the middle pass, leaving word that two of
his men would be along within half an hour to watch the pass and the
ranch crossing, and asking Baggs to put up some kind of a fight for
the crossing until more of the _posse_ came up--at the least, to make
sure that nobody got any fresh horses.

The boy was cooking supper in the kitchen, and Baggs had done his
milking and gone back to the corral, when two men rode around the
corner of the barn and asked if they could get something to eat. Poor
Baggs sold his life in six words: "Why, yes; be you Banks's men?"

Du Sang answered: "No; we're from Sheriff Coon's office at Oroville,
looking up a bunch of Duck Bar steers that's been run somewhere up
Deep Creek. Can we stay here all night?"

They dismounted and disarmed Baggs's suspicions, though the condition
of their horses might have warned him had he had his senses. The
unfortunate man had probably fixed it in his mind that a ride from
Tower W to Deep Creek in sixteen hours was a physical impossibility.

"Stay here? Sure! I want you to stay," said Baggs bluffly. "Looks to
me like I seen you down at Crawling Stone, ain't I?" he asked of
Karg.

Karg was lighting a cigarette. "I used to mark at the Dunning ranch,"
he answered, throwing away his match.

"That's hit. Good! The boy's cooking supper. Step up to the kitchen
and tell him to cut ham for four more."

"Four?"

"Two of Ed Banks's men will be here by six o'clock. Heard about the
hold-up? They stopped Number Three at Tower W last night and shot
Ollie Sollers, as white a boy as ever pulled a throttle. Boys, a man
that'll kill a locomotive engineer is worse'n an Indian; I'd help skin
him."

"The hell you would!" cried Du Sang. "Well, don't you want to start in
on me? I killed Sollers. Look at me; ain't I handsome? What you going
to do about it?"

Before Baggs could think Du Sang was shooting him down. It was
wanton. Du Sang stood in no need of the butchery; the escape could
have been made without it. His victim had pulled an engine throttle
too long to show the white feather, but he was dying by the time he
had dragged a revolver from his pocket. Du Sang did the killing alone.
At least, Flat Nose, who alone saw all of the murder, afterward
maintained that he did not draw because he had no occasion to, and
that Baggs was dead before he, Karg, had finished his cigarette. With
his right arm broken and two bullets through his chest, Baggs fell on
his face. That, however, did not check his murderer. Rising to his
knees, Baggs begged for his life. "For God's sake! I'm helpless,
gentlemen! I'm helpless. Don't kill me like a dog!" But Du Sang,
emptying his pistol, threw his rifle to his shoulder and sent bullet
after bullet crashing through the shapeless form writhing and
twitching before him until he had beaten it in the dust soft and flat
and still.

Banks's men came up within an hour to find the ranch-house deserted.
They saw a lantern in the yard below, and near the corral gate they
found the little boy in the darkness, screaming beside his father's
body. The sheriff's men carried the old engineman to the house; others
of the _posse_ crossed the creek during the evening, and at eleven
o'clock Whispering Smith rode down from the south pass to find that
four of the men they were after had taken fresh horses, after killing
Baggs, and passed safely through the cordon Banks had drawn around the
pass and along Deep Creek. Bill Dancing, who had ridden with Banks's
men, was at the house when Whispering Smith arrived. He found some
supper in the kitchen, and the tired man and the giant ate together.

Whispering Smith was too experienced a campaigner to complain. His
party had struck a trail fifty miles north of Sleepy Cat and followed
it to the Missions. He knew now who he was after, and knew that they
were bottled up in the Cache for the night. The sheriff's men were
sleeping on the floor of the living-room when Smith came in from the
kitchen. He sat down before the fire. At intervals sobs came from the
bedroom where the body lay, and after listening a moment, Whispering
Smith got stiffly up, and, tiptoeing to still the jingle of his spurs,
took the candle from the table, pushed aside the curtain, and entered
the bedroom.

The little boy was lying on his face, with his arm around his father's
neck, talking to him. Whispering Smith bent a moment over the bed,
and, setting the candle on the table, put his hand on the boy's
shoulder. He disengaged the hand from the cold neck, and sitting down
took it in his own. Talking low to the little fellow, he got his
attention after much patient effort and got him to speak. He made him,
though struggling with terror, to understand that he had come to be
his friend, and after the child had sobbed his grief into a strange
heart he ceased to tremble, and told his name and his story, and
described the two horsemen and the horses they had left. Smith
listened quietly. "Have you had any supper, Dannie? No? You must have
something to eat. Can't you eat anything? But there is a nice pan of
fresh milk in the kitchen."

A burst of tears interrupted him. "Daddie just brought in the milk,
and I was frying the ham, and I heard them shooting."

"See how he took care of you till the last minute, and left something
for you after he was gone. Suppose he could speak now, don't you think
he would want you to do as I say? I am your next friend now, for you
are going to be a railroad man and have a big engine."

Dannie looked up. "Dad wasn't afraid of those men."

"Wasn't he, Dannie?"

"He said we would be all right and not to be afraid."

"Did he?"

"He said Whispering Smith was coming."

"My poor boy."

"He is coming, don't be afraid. Do you know Whispering Smith? He is
coming. The men to-night all said he was coming."

The little fellow for a long time could not be coaxed away from his
father, but his companion at length got him to the kitchen. When they
came back to the bedroom the strange man was talking to him once more
about his father. "We must try to think how he would like things done
now, mustn't we? All of us felt so bad when we rode in and had so much
to do we couldn't attend to taking care of your father. Did you know
there are two men out at the crossing now, guarding it with rifles?
But if you and I keep real quiet we can do something for him while the
men are asleep; they have to ride all day to-morrow. We must wash his
face and hands, don't you think so? And brush his hair and his beard.
If you could just find the basin and some water and a towel--you
couldn't find a brush, could you? Could you, honestly? Well! I call
that a good boy--we shall have to have you on the railroad, sure. We
must try to find some fresh clothes--these are cut and stained; then I
will change his clothes, and we shall all feel better. Don't disturb
the men; they are tired."

They worked together by the candle-light. When they had done, the boy
had a violent crying spell, but Whispering Smith got him to lie down
beside him on a blanket spread on the floor, where Smith got his back
against the sod wall and took the boy's head in his arm. He waited
patiently for the boy to go to sleep, but Dan was afraid the murderers
would come back. Once he lifted his head in a confidence. "Did you
know my daddy used to run an engine?"

"No, I did not; but in the morning you must tell me all about it."

Whenever there was a noise in the next room the child roused. After
some time a new voice was heard; Kennedy had come and was asking
questions. "Wake up here, somebody! Where is Whispering Smith?"

Dancing answered: "He's right there in the bedroom, Farrell, staying
with the boy."

There was some stirring. Kennedy talked a little and at length
stretched himself on the floor. When all was still again, Dannie's
hand crept slowly from the breast of his companion up to his chin, and
the little hand, feeling softly every feature, stole over the strange
face.

"What is it, Dannie?"

"Are you Whispering Smith?"

"Yes, Dannie. Shut your eyes."

At three o'clock, when Kennedy lighted a candle and looked in, Smith
was sitting with his back against the wall. The boy lay on his arm.
Both were fast asleep. On the bed the dead man lay with a handkerchief
over his face.



CHAPTER XXIX

WILLIAMS CACHE


Ed Banks had been recalled before daybreak from the middle pass. Two
of the men wanted were now known to have crossed the creek, which
meant they must work out of the country through Williams Cache.

"If you will take your best two men, Ed," said Whispering Smith,
sitting down with Banks at breakfast, "and strike straight for
Canadian Pass to help Gene and Bob Johnson, I'll undertake to ride in
and talk to Rebstock while Kennedy and Bob Scott watch Deep Creek. The
boy gives a good description, and the two men that did the job here
are Du Sang and Flat Nose. Did I tell you how we picked up the trail
yesterday? Magpies. They shot a scrub horse that gave out on them and
skinned the brand. It hastened the banquet, but we got there before
the birds were all seated. Great luck, wasn't it? And it gave us a
beautiful trail. One of the party crossed the Goose River at American
Fork, and Brill Young and Reed followed him. Four came through the
Mission Mountains; that is a cinch and they are in the Cache--and if
they get out it is our fault personally, Ed, and not the Lord's."

Williams Cache lies in the form of a great horn, with a narrow
entrance at the lower end known as the Door, and a rock fissure at the
upper end leading into Canadian Pass; but this fissure is so narrow
that a man with a rifle could withstand a regiment. For a hundred
miles east and west rise the granite walls of the Mission range,
broken nowhere save by the formation known as the Cache. Even this
does not penetrate the range; it is a pocket, and runs not over
half-way into it and out again. But no man really knows the Cache; the
most that may be said is that the main valley is known, and it is
known as the roughest mountain fissure between the Spanish Sinks and
the Mantrap country. Williams Cache lies between walls two thousand
feet high, and within it is a small labyrinth of canyons. A generation
ago, when Medicine Bend for one winter was the terminus of the
overland railroad, vigilantes mercilessly cleaned out the town, and
the few outlaws that escaped the shotgun and the noose at Medicine
Bend found refuge in a far-away and unknown mountain gorge once named
by French trappers the Cache. Years after these outcasts had come to
infest it came one desperado more ferocious than all that had gone
before. He made a frontier retreat of the Cache, and left to it the
legacy of his evil name, Williams. Since his day it has served, as it
served before, for the haunt of outlawed men. No honest man lives in
Williams Cache, and few men of any sort live there long, since their
lives are lives of violence; neither the law nor a woman crosses Deep
Creek. But from the day of Williams to this day the Cache has had its
ruler, and when Whispering Smith rode with a little party through the
Door into the Cache the morning after the murder in Mission Valley he
sent an envoy to Rebstock, whose success as a cattle-thief had brought
its inevitable penalty. It had made Rebstock a man of consequence and
of property and a man subject to the anxieties and annoyances of such
responsibility.

Sitting once in the Three Horses at Medicine Bend, Rebstock had talked
with Whispering Smith. "I used to have a good time," he growled. "When
I was rustling a little bunch of steers, just a small bunch all by
myself, and hadn't a cent in the world, no place to sleep and nothing
to eat, I had a good time. Now I have to keep my money in the bank;
that ain't pleasant--you know that. Every man that brings a bunch of
cattle across Deep Creek has stole 'em, and expects me to buy 'em or
lend him money. I'm busy with inspecters all the time, deviling with
brands, standing off the Stock Association and all kinds of trouble.
I've got too many cows, too much money. I'm afraid somebody will shoot
me if I go to sleep, or poison me if I take a drink. Whispering Smith,
I'd like to give you a half-interest in my business. That's on the
square. You're a young man, and handy; it wouldn't cost you a cent,
and you can have half of the whole shooting-match if you'll cross Deep
Creek and help me run the gang." Such was Rebstock free from anxiety
and in a confidential moment. Under pressure he was, like all men,
different.

Whispering Smith had acquaintance even in the Cache, and after a
little careful reconnoitring he found a crippled-up thief, driving a
milch cow down the Cache, who was willing to take a message to the
boss.

Whispering Smith gave his instructions explicitly, facing the
messenger, as the two sat in their saddles, with an importunate eye.
"Say to Rebstock exactly these words," he insisted. "This is from
Whispering Smith: I want Du Sang. He killed a friend of mine last
night at Mission Springs. I happened to be near there and know he rode
in last night. He can't get out; the Canadian is plugged. I won't
stand for the killing, and it is Du Sang or a clean-up in the Cache
all around, and then I'll get Du Sang anyway. Regards."

Riding circumspectly in and about the entrance to the Cache, the
party waited an hour for an answer. When the answer came, it was
unsatisfactory. Rebstock declined to appear upon so trivial a matter,
and Whispering Smith refused to specify a further grievance. More
parley and stronger messages were necessary to stir the Deep Creek
monarch, but at last he sent word asking Whispering Smith to come
to his cabin accompanied only by Kennedy.

The two railroad men rode up the canyon together. "And now I will show
you a lean and hungry thief grown monstrous and miserly, Farrell,"
said Whispering Smith.

At the head of a short pocket between two sheer granite walls they saw
Rebstock's weather-beaten cabin, and he stood in front of it smoking.
He looked moodily at his visitors out of eyes buried between rolls of
fat. Whispering Smith was a little harsh as the two shook hands, but
he dismounted and followed Rebstock into the house.

"What are you so high and mighty about?" he demanded, throwing his hat
on the table near which Rebstock had seated himself. "Why don't you
come out when I send a man to you, or send word what you will do? What
have you got to kick about? Haven't you been treated right?"

Being in no position to complain, but shrewdly aware that much
unpleasantness was in the wind, Rebstock beat about the bush. He had
had rheumatism; he couldn't ride; he had been in bed three weeks and
hadn't seen Du Sang for three months. "You ain't chasing up here after
Du Sang because he killed a man at Mission Springs. I know better than
that. That ain't the first man he's killed, and it ain't a' goin' to
be the last."

Whispering Smith lifted his finger and for the first time smiled. "Now
there you err, Rebstock--it is 'a goin' to be' the last. So you think
I'm after you, do you? Well, if I were, what are you going to do about
it? Rebstock, do you think, if I wanted _you_, I would send a message
for you to come out and meet me? Not on your life! When I want you
I'll come to your shack and drag you out by the hair of the head. Sit
down!" roared Whispering Smith.

Rebstock, who weighed at least two hundred and seventy-five pounds,
had lifted himself up to glare and swear freely. Now he dropped
angrily back into his chair. "Well, who do you want?" he bellowed in
kind.

A smile softened the asperity of the railroad man's face. "That's a
fair question and I give you a straight answer. I'm not bluffing: I
want Du Sang."

Rebstock squirmed. He swore with shortened breath that he knew nothing
about Du Sang; that Du Sang had stolen his cattle; that hanging was
too good for him; that he would join any _posse_ in searching for him;
and that he had not seen him for three months.

"Likely enough," assented Whispering Smith, "but this is wasting time.
He rode in here last night after killing old Dan Baggs. Your estimable
nephew Barney is with him, and Karg is with him, and I want them; but,
in especial and particular, I want Du Sang."

Rebstock denied, protested, wheezed, and stormed, but Whispering Smith
was immovable. He would not stir from the Cache upon any promises.
Rebstock offered to surrender any one else in the Cache--hinted
strongly at two different men for whom handsome rewards were out; but
every compromise suggested was met with the same good-natured words:
"I want Du Sang."

At last the smile changed on Whispering Smith's face. It lighted his
eyes still, but with a different expression. "See here, Rebstock, you
and I have always got along, haven't we? I've no desire to crowd any
man to the wall that is a man. Now I am going to tell you the simple
truth. Du Sang has got you scared to death. That man is a faker,
Rebstock. Because he kills men right and left without any provocation,
you think he is dangerous. He isn't; there are a dozen men in the
Cache just as good with a gun as Du Sang is. Don't shake your head. I
know what I'm talking about. He is a jay with a gun, and you may tell
him I said so; do you hear? Tell him to come out if he wants me to
demonstrate it. He has got everybody, including you, scared to death.
Now, I say, don't be silly. I want Du Sang."

Rebstock rose to his feet solemnly and pointed his finger at
Whispering Smith. "Whispering Smith, you know me--"

"I know you for a fat rascal."

"That's all right. You know me, and, just as you say, we always get
along because we both got sense."

"You're hiding yours to-day, Rebstock."

"No matter; I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give you all the
horseflesh you can kill and all the men you can hire to go after him,
and I'll bury your dead myself. You think he can't shoot? I give you a
tip on the square." Whispering Smith snorted. "He'll shoot the four
buttons off your coat in four shots." Smith kicked Rebstock's dog
contemptuously. "And do it while you are falling down. I've seen him
do it," persisted Rebstock, moist with perspiration. "I'm not looking
for a chance to go against a sure thing; I wash my hands of the job."

Whispering Smith rose. "It was no trick to see he had you scared to
death. You are losing your wits, old man. The albino is a faker, and I
tell you I am going to run him out of the country." Whispering Smith
reached for his hat. "Our treaty ends right here. You promised to
harbor no man in your sink that ever went against our road. You know
as well as I do that this man, with four others, held up our train
night before last at Tower W, shot our engineman to death for mere
delight, killed a messenger, took sixty-five thousand dollars out of
the through safe, and made his good get-away. Now, don't lie; you know
every word of it, and you thought you could pull it out of me by a
bluff. I track him to your door. He is inside the Cache this minute.
You know every curve and canyon and pocket and washout in it, and
every cut-throat and jail-bird in it, and they pay you blood-money and
hush-money every month; and when I ask you not to give up a dozen men
the company is entitled to, but merely to send this pink-eyed lobster
out with his guns to talk with me, you wash your hands of the job, do
you? Now listen. If you don't send Du Sang into the open before noon
to-morrow, I'll run every living steer and every living man out of
Williams Cache before I cross the Crawling Stone again, so help me
God! And I'll send for cowboys within thirty minutes to begin the job.
I'll scrape your Deep Creek canyons till the rattlesnakes squeal. I'll
make Williams Cache so wild that a timber-wolf can't follow his own
trail through it. You'll break with me, will you, Rebstock? Then wind
up your bank account; before I finish with you I'll put you in stripes
and feed buzzards off your table."

Rebstock's face was apoplectic. He choked with a torrent of oaths.
Whispering Smith, paying no attention, walked out to where Kennedy was
waiting. He swung into the saddle, ignoring Rebstock's abjurations,
and with Kennedy rode away.

"It is hard to do anything with a man that is scared to death," said
Smith to his companion. "Then, too, Rebstock's nephew is probably in
this. In any case, when Du Sang has got Rebstock scared, he is a
dangerous man to be abroad. We have got to smoke him out, Farrell.
Lance Dunning insisted the other day he wanted to do me a favor. I'll
see if he'll lend me Stormy Gorman and some of his cowpunchers for a
round-up. We've got to smoke Du Sang out. A round-up is the thing.
But, by Heaven, if that round-up is actually pulled off it will be a
classic when you and I are gone."

Thirty minutes afterward, messengers had taken the Frenchman trail for
Lance Dunning's cowboys.



CHAPTER XXX

THE FIGHT IN THE CACHE


A clear night and a good moon made a long ride possible, and the
Crawling Stone contingent, headed by Stormy Gorman, began coming into
the railroad camp by three o'clock the next morning. With them rode
the two Youngs, who had lost the trail they followed across Goose
River and joined the cowboys on the road to the north.

The party divided under Kennedy and Smith, who rode through the Door
into the Cache just before daybreak.

"I don't know what I am steering you against this morning, Farrell,"
said Whispering Smith. "Certainly I should hate to run you into Du
Sang, but we can't tell where we shall strike him. If we have laid out
the work right I ought to see him as soon as anybody does. Accidents
do happen, but remember he will never be any more dangerous than he is
at the first moment. Get him to talk. He gets nervous if he can't
shoot right away. When you pull, get a bullet into his stomach at the
start, if you possibly can, to spoil his aim. We mustn't make the
mistake of underestimating him. Rebstock is right: he is a fright with
a revolver, and Sinclair and Seagrue are the only men in the mountains
that can handle a rifle with him. Now we split here; and good luck!"

"Don't you want to take Brill Young with you?"

"You take both the Youngs, Farrell. We shall be among rocks, and if he
tries to rush us there is cover."

Stormy Gorman with four Crawling Stone cowboys followed Whispering
Smith. Every rider on the range had a grievance against Williams
Cache, and any of them would have been glad to undertake reprisals
against the rustlers under the wing of Whispering Smith.

Just how in the mountains--without telegraph, newspapers, and all
ordinary means of publicity--news travels so fast may not certainly be
said. The scattered lines of telephone wires help, but news outstrips
the wires. Moreover, there are no telephones in the Mission Mountains.
But on the morning that the round-up party rode into the Cache it was
known in the streets of Medicine Bend that the Tower W men had been
tracked into the north country; that some, if not all, of them were in
Williams Cache; that an ultimatum had been given, and that Whispering
Smith and Kennedy had already ridden in with their men to make it
good.

Whispering Smith, with the cowboys, took the rough country to the
left, and Kennedy and his party took the south prong of the Cache
Creek. The instructions were to make a clean sweep as the line
advanced. Behind the centre rode three men to take stock driven in
from the wings. Word that was brief but reasonable had been sent
everywhere ahead. Every man, it was promised, that could prove
property should have a chance to do so at the Door that day and the
next; but any brands that showed stolen cattle, or that had been
skinned or tampered with in any way, were to be turned over to the
Stock Association for the benefit of owners.

The very first pocket raided started a row and uncovered eighty head
of five-year-old steers bearing a mutilated Duck Bar brand. It was
like poking at rattlesnakes to undertake to clean out the grassy
retreats of the Cache, but the work was pushed on in spite of
protests, threats, and resistance. Every man that rode out openly to
make a protest was referred calmly to Rebstock, and before very long
Rebstock's cabin had more men around it than had been seen together in
the Cache for years. The impression that the whole jig was up, and
that the refugees had been sold out by their own boss, was one that no
railroad man undertook to discourage. The cowboys insisted on the
cattle, with the assurance that Rebstock could explain everything. By
noon the Cache was in an uproar. The cowboys were riding carefully,
and their guards, rifles in hand, were watching the corners. Ahead of
the slowly moving line with the growing bunch of cattle behind it,
flourished as it were rather conspicuously, fugitive riders dashed
back and forth with curses and yells across the narrow valley. If it
had been Whispering Smith's intention to raise a large-sized row it
was apparent that he had been successful. Rebstock, driven to
desperation, held council after council to determine what to do.
Sorties were discussed, ambushes considered, and a pitched battle was
planned. But, while ideas were plentiful, no one aspired to lead an
attack on Whispering Smith.

Moreover, Williams Cache, it was conceded, would in the end be worsted
if the company and the cowmen together seriously undertook with men
and unlimited money to clean it out. Whispering Smith's party had no
explanation to offer for the round-up, but when Rebstock made it known
that the fight was over sending out Du Sang, the rage of the rustlers
turned on Du Sang. Again, however, no man wanted to take up personally
with Du Sang the question of the reasonableness of Whispering Smith's
demand. Instead of doing so, they fell on Rebstock and demanded that
if he were boss he make good and send Du Sang out.

Of all this commotion the railroad men saw only the outward
indications. As the excitement grew on both sides there was perhaps a
little more of display in the way the cattle were run in, especially
when some long-lost bunch was brought to light and welcomed with yells
from the centre. A steer was killed at noon, everybody fed, and the
line moved forward. The wind, which had slept in the sunshine of the
morning, rose in the afternoon, and the dust whirled in little clouds
where men or animals moved. From the centre two men had gone back with
the cattle gathered up to that time, and Bill Dancing, with Smith,
Stormy Gorman, and two of the cowboys, were heading a draw to cross to
the north side of the Cache, when three men rode out into the road
five hundred yards ahead, and halted.

Whispering Smith spoke: "There come our men; stop here. This ground in
front of us looks good to me; they may have chosen something over
there that suits them better. Feel your guns and we'll start forward
slowly; don't take your eyes off the bunch, whatever you do. Bill, you
go back and help the men with the cattle; there will be four of us
against three then."

"Not for mine!" said Bill Dancing bluntly. "You may need help from an
old fool yet. I'll see you through this and look after the cattle
afterward."

"Then, Stormy, one or two of you go back," urged Whispering Smith,
speaking to the cowboy foreman without turning his eyes. "There's no
need of five of us in this."

But Stormy swore violently. "You go back yourself," exclaimed Stormy,
when he could control his feelings. "We'll bring them fellows in for
you in ten minutes with their hands in the air."

"I know you would; I know it. But I'm paid for this sort of thing and
you are not, and I advise no man to take unnecessary chances. If you
all want to stay, why, stay; but don't ride ahead of the line, and let
me do all the talking. See that your guns are loose--you'll never have
but one chance to pull, and don't pull till you're ready. The albino
is riding in the middle now, isn't he? And a little back, playing for
a quick drop. Watch him. Who is that on the right? Can it be George
Seagrue? Well, this is a bunch. And I guess Karg is with them."

Holding their horses to a slow walk, the two parties gingerly
approached each other. When the Cache riders halted the railroad
riders halted; and when the three rode the five rode: but the three
rode with absolute alignment and acted as one, while Whispering Smith
had trouble in holding his men back until the two lines were fifty
feet apart.

By this time the youngest of the cowboys had steadied and was thinking
hard. Whispering Smith halted. In perfect order and sitting their
horses as if they were riding parade, the horses ambling at a snail's
pace, the Cache riders advanced in the sunshine like one man. When Du
Sang and his companions reined up, less than twelve feet separated the
two lines.

In his tan shirt, Du Sang, with his yellow hair, his white eyelashes,
and his narrow face, was the least impressive of the three men.
The Norwegian, Seagrue, rode on the right, his florid blood showing
under the tan on his neck and arms. He spoke to the cowboys from the
ranch, and on the left the young fellow Karg, with the broken
nose, black-eyed and alert, looked the men over in front of him and
nodded to Dancing. Du Sang and his companions wore short-armed shirts;
rifles were slung at their pommels, and revolvers stuck in their
hip-scabbards. Whispering Smith, in his dusty suit of khaki, was the
only man in either line who showed no revolver, but a hammerless or
muley Savage rifle hung beside his pommel.

Du Sang, blinking, spoke first: "Which of you fellows is heading this
round-up?"

"I am heading the round-up," said Whispering Smith. "Why? Have we got
some of your cattle?"

The two men spoke as quietly as school-teachers. Whispering Smith's
expression in no way changed, except that as he spoke he lifted his
eyebrows a little more than usual.

Du Sang looked at him closely as he went on: "What kind of a way is
this to treat anybody? To ride into a valley like this and drive a
man's cows away from his door without notice or papers? Is your name
Smith?"

"My name is Smith; yours is Du Sang. Yes, I'll tell you, Du Sang. I
carry an inspector's card from the Mountain Stock Association--do you
want to see it? When we get these cattle to the Door, any man in the
Cache may come forward and prove his property. I shall leave
instructions to that effect when we go, for I want you to go to
Medicine Bend with me, Du Sang, as soon as convenient, and the men
that are with me will finish the round-up."

"What do you want me for? There's no papers out against me, is
there?"

"No, but I'm an officer, Du Sang. I'll see to the papers; I want you
for murder."

"So they tell me. Well, you're after the wrong man. But I'll go with
you; I don't care about that."

"Neither do I, Du Sang; and as you have some friends along, I won't
break up the party. They may come, too."

"What for?"

"For stopping a train at Tower W Saturday night."

The three men looked at one another and laughed.

Du Sang with an oath spoke again: "The men you want are in Canada by
this time. I can't speak for my friends; I don't know whether they
want to go or not. As far as I am concerned, I haven't killed anybody
that I know of. I suppose you'll pay my expenses back?"

"Why, yes, Du Sang, if you were coming back I would pay your expenses;
but you are not coming back. You are riding down Williams Cache for
the last time; you've ridden down it too many times already. This
round-up is especially for you. Don't deceive yourself; when you ride
with me this time out of the Cache, you won't come back."

Du Sang laughed, but his blinking eyes were as steady as a cat's. It
did not escape Whispering Smith's notice that the mettlesome horses
ridden by the outlaws were continually working around to the right of
his party. He spoke amiably to Karg: "If you can't manage that horse,
Karg, I can. Play fair. It looks to me as if you and Du Sang were
getting ready to run for it, and leave George Seagrue to shoot his way
through alone."

Du Sang, with some annoyance, intervened: "That's all right; I'll go
with you. I'd rather see your papers, but if you're Whispering Smith
it's all right. I'm due to shoot out a little game sometime with you
at Medicine Bend, anyway."

"Any time, Du Sang; only don't let your hand wabble next time. It's
too close to your gun now to pull right."

"Well, I told you I was going to come, didn't I? And I'm coming--now!"

With the last word he whipped out his gun. There was a crash of
bullets. Questioned once by McCloud and reproached for taking chances,
Whispering Smith answered simply. "I have to take chances," he said.
"All I ask is an even break."

But Kennedy had said there was no such thing as an even break with
Whispering Smith. A few men in a generation amuse, baffle, and mystify
other men with an art based on the principle that the action of the
hand is quicker than the action of the eye. With Whispering Smith the
drawing of a revolver and the art of throwing his shots instantly from
wherever his hand rested was pure sleight-of-hand. To a dexterity so
fatal he added a judgment that had not failed when confronted with
deceit. From the moment that Du Sang first spoke, Smith, convinced
that he meant to shoot his way through the line, waited only for the
moment to come. When Du Sang's hand moved like a flash of light,
Whispering Smith, who was holding his coat lapels in his hands, struck
his pistol from the scabbard over his heart and threw a bullet at him
before he could fire, as a conjurer throws a vanishing coin into the
air. Spurring his horse fearfully as he did so, he dashed at Du Sang
and Karg, leaped his horse through their line and, wheeling at arm's
length, shot again. Bill Dancing jumped in his saddle, swayed, and
toppled to the ground. Stormy Gorman gave a single whoop at the
spectacle and, with his two cowboys at his heels, fled for life.

[Illustration: Wheeling at arm's length, shot again.]

More serious than all, Smith found himself among three fast revolvers,
working from an unmanageable horse. The beast tried to follow the
fleeing cowboys, and when faced sharply about showed temper. The
trained horses of the outlaws stood like statues, but Smith had to
fight with his horse bucking at every shot. He threw his bullets as
best he could first over one shoulder and then over the other, and
used the last cartridge in his revolver with Du Sang, Seagrue, and
Karg shooting at him every time they could fire without hitting one
another.

It was not the first time the Williams Cache gang had sworn to get him
and had worked together to do it, but for the first time it looked as
if they might do it. A single chance was left to Whispering Smith for
his life, and with his coat slashed with bullets, he took it. For an
instant his life hung on the success of a trick so appallingly awkward
that a cleverer man might have failed in turning it. If his rifle
should play free in the scabbard as he reached for it, he could fall
to the ground, releasing it as he plunged from the saddle, and make a
fight on his feet. If the rifle failed to release he was a dead man.
To so narrow an issue are the cleverest combinations sometimes brought
by chance. He dropped his empty revolver, ducked like a mud-hen on his
horse's neck, threw back his leg, and, with all the precision he could
summon, caught the grip of his muley in both hands. He made his fall
heavily to the ground, landing on his shoulder. But as he keeled from
the saddle the last thing that rolled over the saddle, like the flash
of a porpoise fin, was the barrel of the rifle, secure in his hands.
Karg, on horseback, was already bending over him, revolver in hand,
but the shot was never fired. A thirty-thirty bullet from the ground
knocked the gun into the air and tore every knuckle from Karg's hand.
Du Sang spurred in from the right. A rifle-slug like an axe at the
root caught him through the middle. His fingers stiffened. His
six-shooter fell to the ground and he clutched his side. Seagrue,
ducking low, put spurs to his horse, and Whispering Smith, covered
with dust, rose on the battle-field alone.

Hats, revolvers, and coats lay about him. Face downward, the huge bulk
of Bill Dancing was stretched motionless in the road. Karg, crouching
beside his fallen horse, held up the bloody stump of his gun hand, and
Du Sang, fifty yards away, reeling like a drunken man in his saddle,
spurred his horse in an aimless circle. Whispering Smith, running
softly to the side of his own trembling animal, threw himself into the
saddle, and, adjusting his rifle sights as the beast plunged down the
draw, gave chase to Seagrue.



CHAPTER XXXI

THE DEATH OF DU SANG


Whispering Smith, with his horse in a lather, rode slowly back twenty
minutes later with Seagrue disarmed ahead of him. The deserted
battle-ground was alive with men. Stormy Gorman, hot for blood, had
come back, captured Karg, and begun swearing all over again, and Smith
listened with amiable surprise while he explained that seeing Dancing
killed, and not being able to tell from Whispering Smith's peculiar
tactics which side he was shooting at, Gorman and his companions had
gone for help. While they angrily surrounded Karg and Seagrue, Smith
slipped from his horse where Bill Dancing lay, lifted the huge head
from the dust, and tried to turn the giant over. A groan greeted the
attempt.

"Bill, open your eyes! Why would you not do as I wanted you to?" he
murmured bitterly to himself. A second groan answered him. Smith
called for water, and from a canteen drenched the pallid forehead,
talking softly meanwhile; but his efforts to restore consciousness
were unavailing. He turned to where two of the cowboys had dragged
Karg to the ground and three others had their old companion Seagrue in
hand. While two held huge revolvers within six inches of his head, the
third was adjusting a rope-knot under his ear.

Whispering Smith became interested. "Hold on!" said he mildly, "what
is loose? What are you going to do?"

"We're going to hang these fellows," answered Stormy, with a volley of
hair-raising imprecations.

"Oh, no! Just put them on horses under guard."

"That's what we're going to do," exclaimed the foreman. "Only we're
going to run 'em over to those cottonwoods and drive the horses out
from under 'em. Stand still, you tow-headed cow-thief!" he cried,
slipping the noose up tight on George Seagrue's neck.

"See here," returned Whispering Smith, showing some annoyance, "you
may be joking, but I am not. Either do as I tell you or release those
men."

"Well, I guess we are not joking very much. You heard me, didn't you?"
demanded Stormy angrily. "We are going to string these damned critters
up right here in the draw on the first tree."

Whispering Smith drew a pocket-knife and walked to Flat Nose, slit the
rope around his neck, pushed him out of the circle, and stood in
front of him. "You can't play horse with my prisoners," he said
curtly. "Get over here, Karg. Come, now, who is going to walk in
first? You act like a school-boy, Gorman."

Hard words and a wrangle followed, but Smith did not change
expression, and there was a backdown. "Have you fellows let Du Sang
get away while you were playing fool here?" he asked.

"Du Sang's over the hill there on his horse, and full of fight yet,"
exclaimed one.

"Then we will look him up," suggested Smith. "Come, Seagrue."

"Don't go over there. He'll get you if you do," cried Gorman.

"Let us see about that. Seagrue, you and Karg walk ahead. Don't duck
or run, either of you. Go on."

Just over the brow of the hill near which the fight had taken place, a
man lay below a ledge of granite. The horse from which he had fallen
was grazing close by, but the man had dragged himself out of the
blinding sun to the shade of the sagebrush above the rock--the trail
of it all lay very plain on the hard ground. Watching him narrowly,
Smith, with his prisoners ahead and the cowboys riding in a circle
behind, approached.

"Du Sang?"

The man in the sagebrush turned his head.

Smith walked to him and bent down. "Are you suffering much, Du Sang?"

The wounded man, sinking with shock and internal hemorrhage, uttered a
string of oaths.

Smith listened quietly till he had done; then he knelt beside him and
put his hand on Du Sang's hand. "Tell me where you are hit, Du Sang.
Put your hand to it. Is it the stomach? Let me turn you on your side.
Easy. Does your belt hurt? Just a minute, now; I can loosen that."

"I know you," muttered Du Sang thickly. Then his eyes--terrible,
rolling, pink eyes--brightened and he swore violently.

"Du Sang, you are not bleeding much, but I'm afraid you are badly
hit," said Whispering Smith. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Get me some water."

A creek flowed at no great distance below the hill, but the cowboys
refused to go for water. Whispering Smith would have gone with Seagrue
and Karg, but Du Sang begged him not to leave him alone lest Gorman
should kill him. Smith canvassed the situation a moment. "I'll put you
on my horse," said he at length, "and take you down to the creek."

He turned to the cowboys and asked them to help, but they refused to
touch Du Sang.

Whispering Smith kept his patience. "Karg, take that horse's head,"
said he. "Come here, Seagrue; help me lift Du Sang on the horse. The
boys seem to be afraid of getting blood on their hands."

With Whispering Smith and Seagrue supporting Du Sang in the saddle and
Karg leading the horse, the cavalcade moved slowly down to the creek,
where a tiny stream purled among the rocks. The water revived the
injured man for a moment; he had even strength enough, with some help,
to ride again; and, moving in the same halting order, they took him to
Rebstock's cabin. Rebstock, at the door, refused to let the sinking
man be brought into the house. He cursed Du Sang as the cause of all
the trouble. But Du Sang cursed him with usury, and, while Whispering
Smith listened, told Rebstock with bitter oaths that if he had given
the boy Barney anything but a scrub horse they never would have been
trailed. More than this concerning the affair Du Sang would not say,
and never said. The procession turned from the door. Seagrue led the
way to Rebstock's stable, and they laid Du Sang on some hay.

Afterward they got a cot under him. With surprising vitality he talked
a long time to Whispering Smith, but at last fell into a stupor. At
nine o'clock that night he sat up. Ed Banks and Kennedy were standing
beside the cot. Du Sang became delirious, and in his delirium called
the name of Whispering Smith; but Smith was at Baggs's cabin with Bill
Dancing. In a spasm of pain, Du Sang, opening his eyes, suddenly threw
himself back. The cot broke, and the dying man rolled under the feet
of the frightened horses. In the light of the lanterns they lifted him
back, but he was bleeding slowly at the mouth, quite dead.

The surgeon, afterward, found two fatal wounds upon him. The first
shot, passing through the stomach, explained Du Sang's failure to kill
at a distance in which, uninjured, he could have placed five shots
within the compass of a silver dollar. Firing for Whispering Smith's
heart, he had, despite the fearful shock, put four bullets through his
coat before the rifle-ball from the ground, tearing at right angles
across the path of the first bullet, had cut down his life to a
question of hours.

Bill Dancing, who had been hit in the head and stunned, had been moved
back to the cabin at Mission Spring, and lay in the little bedroom. A
doctor at Oroville had been sent for, but had not come. At midnight of
the second day, Smith, who was beside his bed, saw him rouse up, and
noted the brightness of his eyes as he looked around. "Bill," he
declared hopefully, as he sat beside the bed, "you are better, hang
it! I know you are. How do you feel?"

"Ain't that blamed doctor here yet? Then give me my boots. I'm going
back to Medicine Bend to Doc Torpy."

In the morning Whispering Smith, who had cleansed and dressed the
wound and felt sure the bullet had not penetrated the skull, offered
no objection to the proposal beyond cautioning him to ride slowly.
"You can go down part way with the prisoners, Bill," suggested
Whispering Smith. "Brill Young is going to take them to Oroville, and
you can act as chairman of the guard."

Before the party started, Smith called Seagrue to him. "George, you
saved my life once. Do you remember--in the Pan Handle? Well, I gave
you yours twice in the Cache day before yesterday. I don't know how
badly you are into this thing. If you kept clear of the killing at
Tower W I will do what I can for you. Don't talk to anybody."



CHAPTER XXXII

McLOUD AND DICKSIE


News of the fight in Williams Cache reached Medicine Bend in the
night. Horsemen, filling in the gaps between telephones leading to the
north country, made the circuit complete, but the accounts, confused
and colored in the repeating, came in a cloud of conflicting rumors.
In the streets, little groups of men discussed the fragmentary reports
as they came from the railroad offices. Toward morning, Sleepy Cat,
nearer the scene of the fight, began sending in telegraphic reports in
which truth and rumor were strangely mixed. McCloud waited at the
wires all night, hoping for trustworthy advices as to the result, but
received none. Even during the morning nothing came, and the silence
seemed more ominous than the bad news of the early night. Routine
business was almost suspended and McCloud and Rooney Lee kept the
wires warm with inquiries, but neither the telephone nor the telegraph
would yield any definite word as to what had actually happened in the
Williams Cache fight. It was easy to fear the worst.

At the noon hour McCloud was signing letters when Dicksie Dunning
walked hurriedly up the hall and hesitated in the passageway before
the open door of his office. He gave an exclamation as he pushed back
his chair. She was in her riding-suit just as she had slipped from her
saddle. "Oh, Mr. McCloud, have you heard the awful news? Whispering
Smith was killed yesterday in Williams Cache by Du Sang."

McCloud stiffened a little. "I hope that can't be true. We have had
nothing here but rumors; perhaps it is these that you have heard."

"No, no! Blake, one of our men, was in the fight and got back at the
ranch at nine o'clock this morning. I heard the story myself, and I
rode right in to--to see Marion, and my courage failed me--I came here
first. Does she know, do you think? Blake saw him fall from the saddle
after he was shot, and everybody ran away, and Du Sang and two other
men were firing at him as he lay on the ground. He could not possibly
have escaped with his life, Blake said; he must have been riddled with
bullets. Isn't it terrible?" She sobbed suddenly, and McCloud, stunned
at her words, led her to his chair and bent over her.

"If his death means this to you, think of what it means to me!"

A flood of sympathy bore them together. The moment was hardly one for
interruption, but the despatcher's door opened and Rooney Lee halted,
thunderstruck, on the threshold.

Dicksie's hand disappeared in her handkerchief. McCloud had been in
wrecks before, and gathered himself together unmoved. "What is it,
Rooney?"

The very calmness of the two at the table disconcerted the despatcher.
He held the message in his hand and shuffled his feet. "Give me your
despatch," said McCloud impatiently.

Quite unable to take his hollow eyes off Dicksie, poor Rooney
advanced, handed the telegram to McCloud, and beat an awkward
retreat.

McCloud devoured the words of the message at a glance.

"Ah!" he cried, "this is from Gordon himself, sent from Sleepy Cat. He
must be safe and unhurt! Listen:

    "Three of the Tower W men trailed into Williams Cache. In
    resisting arrest this morning, Du Sang was wounded and is
    dying to-night. Two prisoners, Karg and Seagrue. G. S.

"Those are Gordon's initials; it is the signature over which he
telegraphs me. You see, this was sent last night long after Blake
left. He is safe; I will stake my life on it."

Dicksie sank back while McCloud re-read the message. "Oh, isn't that a
relief?" she exclaimed. "But how can it be? I can't understand it at
all; but he _is_ safe, isn't he? I was heartbroken when I heard he was
killed. Marion ought to know of this," she said, rising. "I am going
to tell her."

"And may I come over after I tell Rooney Lee to repeat this to
headquarters?"

"Why, of course, if you want to."

When McCloud reached the cottage Dicksie met him. "Katie Dancing's
mother is sick, and she has gone home. Poor Marion is all alone this
morning, and half dead with a sick headache," said Dicksie. "But I
told her, and she said she shouldn't mind the headache now at all."

"But what are you going to do?"

"I am going to get dinner; do you want to help?"

"I'm going to help."

"Oh, you are? That would be very funny."

"Funny or not, I'm going to help."

"You would only be in the way."

"You don't know whether I should or not."

"I know _I_ should do much better if you would go back and run the
railroad a few minutes."

"The railroad be hanged. I am for dinner."

"But I will get dinner for you."

"You need not. I can get it for myself."

"You are perfectly absurd, and if we stand here disputing, Marion
won't have anything to eat."

They went into the kitchen disputing about what should be cooked. At
the end of an hour they had two fires going--one in the stove and one
in Dicksie's cheeks. By that time it had been decided to have a
luncheon instead of a dinner. Dicksie attempted some soup, and McCloud
found a strip of bacon, and after he had cooked it, Dicksie, with her
riding-skirt pinned up and her sleeves delightfully rolled back, began
frying eggs. When Marion, unable longer to withstand the excitement,
appeared, the engineer, flushed with endeavor, was making toast.

The three sat down at table together. They found they had forgotten
the coffee, but Marion was not allowed to move from her chair. When
the coffee was made ready the bacon had been eaten and more had to be
fried. McCloud proved able for any part of the programme, and when
they rose it was four o'clock and too late, McCloud declared, to go
back to the office that afternoon.

Marion and Dicksie, after a time, attempted jointly to get rid of him,
but they found they could not, so the three talked about Whispering
Smith. When the women tried to discourage McCloud by talking hats he
played the wheezy piano, and when Dicksie spoke about going home he
declared he would ride home with her. But Dicksie had no mind that he
should, and when he asked to know why, without realizing what a flush
lingered in his face, she said only, no; if she had reasons she would
give none. McCloud persisted, because under the flush about his eyes
was the resolve that he would take one long ride that evening, in any
event. He had made up his mind for that ride--a longer one than he had
ever taken before or expected ever to take again--and would not be
balked.

Dicksie, insisting upon going home, went so far as to have her horse
brought from the stable. To her surprise, a horse for McCloud came
over with it. Quiet to the verge of solemnity, but with McCloud
following, Dicksie walked with admirable firmness out of the shop to
the curb. McCloud gave her rein to her, and with a smile stood waiting
to help her mount.

She was drawing on her second glove. "You are not going with me."

"You'll let me ride the same road, won't you--even if I can't keep
up?"

Dicksie looked at his mount. "It would be difficult to keep up, with
that horse."

"Would you ride away from me just because you have a better horse?"

"No, not _just_ because I have a better horse."

He looked steadily at her without speaking.

"Why must you ride home with me when I don't want you to?" she asked
reproachfully. Fear had come upon her and she did not know what she
was saying. She saw only the expression of his eyes and looked away,
but she knew that his eyes followed her. The sun had set. The deserted
street lay in the white half-light of a mountain evening, and the
day's radiance was dying in the sky. In lower tones he spoke again,
and she turned deadly white.

"I've wanted so long to say this, Dicksie, that I might as well be
dead as to try to keep it back any longer. That's why I want to ride
home with you if you are going to let me." He turned to stroke her
horse's head. Dicksie stood seemingly helpless. McCloud slipped his
finger into his waistcoat pocket and held something out in his hand.
"This shell pin fell from your hair that night you were at camp by the
bridge--do you remember? I couldn't bear to give it back."

Dicksie's eyes opened wide. "Let me see it. I don't think that is
mine."

"Great Heaven! Have I been carrying Marion Sinclair's pin for a
month?" exclaimed McCloud. "Well, I won't lose any time in returning
it to her, at any rate."

"Where are you going?" Dicksie's voice was faint.

"I'm going to give Marion her pin."

"Do nothing of the sort! Come here! Give it to me."

"Dicksie, dare you tell me, after a shock like that, it really _is_
your pin?"

"Oh, I don't know whose pin it is!"

"Why, what is the matter?"

"Give me the pin!" She put her hands unsteadily up under her hat.
"Here, for Heaven's sake, if you must have something, take this comb!"
She slipped from her head the shell that held her knotted hair. He
caught her hand and kissed it, and she could not get it away.

"You are dear," murmured Dicksie, "if you are silly. The reason I
wouldn't let you ride home with me is because I was afraid you might
get shot. How do you suppose I should feel if you were killed? Or
don't you think I have any feeling?"

"But, Dicksie, is it all right?"

"How do I know? What do you mean? I will not let you ride home with
me, and you _will_ not let me ride home alone. Tie Jim again. I am
going to stay with Marion all night."



CHAPTER XXXIII

THE LAUGH OF A WOMAN


Within an hour, Marion, working over a hat in the trimming-room, was
startled to hear the cottage door open, and to see Dicksie quite
unconcernedly walk in. To Marion's exclamation of surprise she
returned only a laugh. "I have changed my mind, dear. I am going to
stay all night."

Marion kissed her approvingly. "Really, you are getting so sensible I
shan't know you, Dicksie. In fact, I believe this is the most sensible
thing you were ever guilty of."

"Glad you think so," returned Dicksie dryly, unpinning her hat. "I
certainly hope it is. Mr. McCloud persuaded me it wasn't right for me
to ride home alone, and I knew better than he what danger there was
for him in riding home with me--so here I am. He is coming over for
supper, too, in a few minutes."

When McCloud arrived he brought with him a porterhouse steak, and
Marion was again driven from the kitchen. At the end of an hour,
Dicksie, engrossed over the broiler, was putting the finishing touches
to the steak, and McCloud, more engrossed, was watching her, when a
diffident and surprised-looking person appeared in the kitchen doorway
and put his hand undecidedly on the casing. While he stood, Dicksie
turned abruptly to McCloud.

"Oh, by the way, I have forgotten something! Will you do me a favor?"

"Certainly! Do you want money or a pass?"

"No, not money," said Dicksie, lifting the steak on her forks, "though
you might give me a pass."

"But I should hate to have you go away anywhere----"

"I don't want to go anywhere, but I never had a pass, and I think it
would be kind of nice to have one just to keep. Don't you?"

"Why, yes; you might put it in the bank and have it drawing
interest."

"This steak is. Do they give interest on passes?"

"Well, a good deal of interest is felt in them--on this division at
least. What is the favor?"

"Yes, what is it? How can I think? Oh, I know! If they don't put Jim
in a box stall to-night he will kill some of the horses over there.
Will you telephone the stables?"

"Won't you give me the number and let me telephone?" asked a voice
behind them. They turned in astonishment and saw Whispering Smith. "I
am surprised," he added calmly, "to see a man of your intelligence,
George, trying to broil a steak with the lower door of your stove wide
open. Close the lower door and cut out the draft through the fire.
Don't stare, George; put back the broiler. And haven't you made a
radical mistake to start with?" he asked, stepping between the
confused couple. "Are you not trying to broil a roast of beef?"

"Where did you come from?" demanded McCloud, as Marion came in from
the dining-room.

"Don't search me the very first thing," protested Whispering Smith.

"But we've been frightened to death here for twenty-four hours. Are
you really alive and unhurt? This young lady rode in twenty miles this
morning and came to the office in tears to get news of you."

Smith looked mildly at Dicksie. "Did you shed a tear for me? I should
like to have seen just one! Where did I come from? I reported in wild
over the telephone ten minutes ago. Didn't Marion tell you? She is so
forgetful. That is what causes wrecks, Marion. I have been in the
saddle since three o'clock this morning, thank you, and have had
nothing for five days but raw steer garnished with sunshine."

The four sat down to supper, and Whispering Smith began to talk. He
told the story of the chase to the Cache, the defiance from Rebstock,
and the tardy appearance of the men he wanted. "Du Sang meant to shoot
his way through us and make a dash for it. There really was nothing
else for him to do. Banks and Kennedy were up above, even if he could
have ridden out through the upper canyon, which is very doubtful with
all the water now. After a little talk back and forth, Du Sang drew,
and of course then it was every man for himself. He was hit twice and
he died Sunday night, but the other two were not seriously hurt. What
can you do? It is either kill or get killed with those fellows, and,
of course, I talked plainly to Du Sang. He had butchered a man at
Mission Springs just the night before, and deserved hanging a dozen
times over. He meant from the start, he told me afterward, to get me.
Oh, Miss Dunning, may I have some more coffee? Haven't I an agreeable
part of the railroad business, don't you think? I shouldn't have
pushed in here to-night, but I saw the lights when I rode by awhile
ago; they looked so good I couldn't resist."

McCloud leaned forward. "You call it pushing in, do you, Gordon? Do
you know what this young lady did this morning? One of her cowboys
came down from the Cache early with the word that you had been killed
in the fight by Du Sang. He said he saw you drop from your saddle to
the ground with Du Sang shooting at you. She ordered up her horse,
without a word, and rode twenty miles in an hour and a half to find
out here what we had heard. She 'pushed in' at the Wickiup, where she
never had been before in her life, and wandered through it alone
looking for my office, to find out from me whether I hadn't something
to contradict the bad news. While we talked, in came your despatch
from Sleepy Cat. Never was one better timed! And when she knew you
were safe her eyes filled again."

Whispering Smith looked at Dicksie quizzically. Her confusion was
delightful. He rose, lifted her hand in his own, and, bending, kissed
it.

They talked till late, and when Dicksie walked out on the porch
McCloud followed to smoke. Whispering Smith still sat at the table
talking to Marion, and the two heard the sound of the low voices
outside. At intervals Dicksie's laugh came in through the open door.

Whispering Smith, listening, said nothing for some time, but once she
laughed peculiarly. He pricked up his ears. "What has been happening
since I left town?"

"What do you mean?" asked Marion Sinclair.

He nodded toward the porch. "McCloud and Dicksie out there. They have
been fixing things up."

"Nonsense! What do you mean?"

"I mean they are engaged."

"Never in the world!"

"I may be slow in reading a trail," said Smith modestly, "but when a
woman laughs like that I think there's something doing. Don't you
believe it? Call them in and ask them. You won't? Well, I will. Take
them in separate rooms. You ask her and I'll ask him."

In spite of Marion's protests the two were brought in. "I am required
by Mr. Smith to ask you a very silly question, Dicksie," said Marion,
taking her into the living-room. "Answer yes or no. Are you engaged to
anybody?"

"What a question! Why, no!"

"Marion Sinclair wants to know just one thing, George," said
Whispering Smith to McCloud after he had taken him into the dark shop.
"She feels she ought to know because she is in a way Dicksie's
chaperone, you know, and she feels that you are willing she should
know. I don't want to be too serious, but answer yes or no. Are you
engaged to Dicksie?"

"Why, yes. I----"

"That's all; go back to the porch," directed Whispering Smith. McCloud
obeyed orders.

Marion, alone in the living-room, was waiting for the inquisitor, and
her face wore a look of triumph. "You are not such a mind-reader after
all, are you? I told you they weren't."

"I told you they were," contended Whispering Smith.

"She says they are _not_," insisted Marion.

"He says they are," returned Whispering Smith, "And, what's more, I'll
bet my saddle against the shop they are. I could be mistaken in
anything but that laugh."



CHAPTER XXXIV

A MIDNIGHT VISIT


The lights, but one, were out. McCloud and Whispering Smith had gone,
and Marion was locking up the house for the night, when she was halted
by a knock at the shop door. It was a summons that she thought she
knew, but the last in the world that she wanted to hear or to answer.
Dicksie had gone to the bedroom, and standing between the portières
that curtained the work-room from the shop, Marion in the half-light
listened, hesitating whether to ignore or to answer the midnight
intruder. But experience, and bitter experience, had taught her there
was only one way to meet that particular summons, and that was to act,
whether at noon or at midnight, without fear. She waited until the
knocking had been twice repeated, turned up the light, and going to
the door drew the bolt; Sinclair stood before her, and she drew back
for him to enter. "Dicksie Dunning is with me to-night," said Marion,
with her hand on the latch, "and we shall have to talk here."

Sinclair took off his hat. "I knew you had company," he returned in
the low, gentle tone that Marion knew very well, "so I came late. And
I heard to-night, for the first time, that this railroad crowd is
after me--God knows why; but they have to earn their salary somehow. I
want to keep out of trouble if I can. I won't kill anybody if they
don't force me to it. They've scared nearly all my men away from the
ranch already; one crippled-up cowboy is all I have got to help me
look after the cattle. But I won't quarrel with them, Marion, if I can
get away from here peaceably, so I've come to talk it over once more
with you. I'm going away and I want you to go with me; I've got enough
to keep us as well as the best of them and as long as we live. You've
given me a good lesson. I needed it, girlie----"

"Don't call me that!"

He laughed kindly. "Why, that's what it used to be; that's what I want
it to be again. I don't blame you. You're worth all the women I ever
knew, Marion. I've learned to appreciate some few things in the lonely
months I've spent up on the Frenchman; but I've felt while I was there
as if I were working for both of us. I've got a buyer in sight now for
the cattle and the land. I'm ready to clean up and say good-by to
trouble--all I want is for you to give me the one chance I've asked
for and go along."

They stood facing each other under the dim light. She listened
intently to every word, though in her terror she might not have heard
or understood all of them. One thing she did very clearly understand,
and that was why he had come and what he wanted. To that she held her
mind tenaciously, and for that she shaped her answer. "I cannot go
with you--now or ever."

He waited a moment. "We always got along, Marion, when I behaved
myself."

"I hope you always will behave yourself; but I could no more go with
you than I could make myself again what I was years ago, Murray. I
wish you nothing but good; but our ways parted long ago."

"Stop and think a minute, Marion. I offer you more and offer it more
honestly than I ever offered it before, because I know myself better.
I am alone in the world--strong, and better able to care for you than
I was when I undertook to----"

"I have never complained."

"That's what makes me more anxious to show you now that I can and will
do what's right."

"Oh, you multiply words! It is too late for you to be here. You are in
danger, you say; for the love of Heaven, leave me and go away!"

"You know me, Marion, when my mind is made up. I won't leave without
you." He leaned with one hand against the ribbon showcase. "If you
don't want to go I will stay right here and pay off the scores I owe.
Two men here have stirred this country up too long, anyway. I don't
care much how soon anybody gets me after I round them up. But to-night
I felt like this: you and I started out in life together, and we ought
to live it out or die together, whether it's to-night, Marion, or
twenty years from to-night."

"If you want to kill me to-night, I have no resistance to make."

Sinclair sat down on a low counter-stool, and, bending forward, held
his head between his hands. "It oughtn't all to end here. I know you,
and I know you want to do what's right. I couldn't kill you without
killing myself; you know that." He straightened up slowly. "Here!" He
slipped his revolver from his hip-holster and held the grip of the gun
toward her. "Use it on me if you want to. It is your chance to end
everything; it may save several lives if you do. I won't leave McCloud
here to crow over me, and, by God, I won't leave you here for
Whispering Smith! I'll settle with him anyhow. Take the pistol! What
are you afraid of? Take it! Use it! I don't want to live without you.
If you make me do it, you're to blame for the consequences."

She stood with wide-open eyes, but uttered no word.

"You won't touch it--then you care a little for me yet," he murmured.

"No! Do not say so. But I will not do murder."

"Think about the other, then. Go with me and everything will be all
right. I will come back some evening soon for my answer. And until
then, if those two men have any use for life, let them keep in the
clear. I heard to-night that Du Sang is killed. Do you know whether it
is true?"

"It is true."

An oath half escaping showed how the confirmation cut him. "And
Whispering Smith got away! It is Du Sang's own fault; I told him to
keep out of that trap. I stay in the open; and I'm not Du Sang. I'll
choose my own ground for the finish when they want it with me, and
when I go I'll take company--I'll promise you that. Good-night,
Marion. Will you shake hands?"

"No."

"Damn it, I like your grit, girl! Well, good-night, anyway."

She closed the door. She had even strength enough to bolt it before
his footsteps died away. She put out the light and felt her way
blindly back to the work-room. She staggered through it, clutching at
the curtains, and fell in the darkness into Dicksie's arms.

"Marion dear, don't speak," Dicksie whispered. "I heard everything.
Oh, Marion!" she cried, suddenly conscious of the inertness of the
burden in her arms. "Oh, what shall I do?"

Moved by fright to her utmost strength, Dicksie drew the unconscious
woman back to her room and managed to lay her on the bed. Marion
opened her eyes a few minutes later to see the lights burning, to hear
the telephone bell ringing, and to find Dicksie on the edge of the bed
beside her.

"Oh, Marion, thank Heaven, you are reviving! I have been frightened to
death. Don't mind the telephone; it is Mr. McCloud. I didn't know what
to do, so I telephoned him."

"But you had better answer him," said Marion faintly. The telephone
bell was ringing wildly.

"Oh, no! he can wait. How are you, dear? I don't wonder you were
frightened to death. Marion, he means to kill us--every one!"

"No, Dicksie. He will kill me and kill himself; that is where it will
end. Dicksie, do answer the telephone. What are you thinking of? Mr.
McCloud will be at the door in five minutes. Do you want him in the
street to-night?"

Dicksie fled to the telephone, and an excited conference over the wire
closed in seeming reassurance at both ends. By that time Marion had
regained her steadiness, but she could not talk of what had passed. At
times, as the two lay together in the darkness, Marion spoke, but it
was not to be answered. "I do not know," she murmured once wearily.
"Perhaps I am doing wrong; perhaps I ought to go with him. I wish, oh,
I wish I knew what I ought to do!"



CHAPTER XXXV

THE CALL


Beyond receiving reports from Kennedy and Banks, who in the interval
rode into town and rode out again on their separate and silent ways,
Whispering Smith for two days seemed to do nothing. Yet instinct
keener than silence kept the people of Medicine Bend on edge during
those two days, and when President Bucks's car came in on the evening
of the second day, the town knew from current rumors that Banks had
gone to the Frenchman ranch with a warrant on a serious charge for
Sinclair. In the president's car Bucks and McCloud, after a late
dinner, were joined by Whispering Smith, and the president heard the
first connected story of the events of the fortnight that had passed.
Bucks made no comment until he had heard everything. "And they rode
Sinclair's horses," he said in conclusion.

"Sinclair's horses," returned Whispering Smith, "and they are all
accounted for. One horse supplied by Rebstock was shot where they
crossed Stampede Creek. It had given out and they had a fresh horse
in the willows, for they shot the scrub half a mile up one of the
canyons near the crossing. The magpies attracted my attention to it. A
piece of skin a foot square had been cut out of the flank."

"You got there before the birds."

"It was about an even thing," said Smith. "Anyway, we were there in
time to see the horse."

"And Sinclair was away from the ranch from Saturday noon till Sunday
night?"

"A rancher living over on Stampede Creek saw the five men when they
crossed Saturday afternoon. The fellow was scared and lied to me about
it, but he told Wickwire who they were."

"Now, who is Wickwire?" asked Bucks.

"You ought to remember Wickwire, George," remarked Whispering Smith,
turning to McCloud. "You haven't forgotten the Smoky Creek wreck? Do
you remember the tramp who had his legs crushed and lay in the sun all
morning? You put him in your car and sent him down here to the
railroad hospital and Barnhardt took care of him. That was Wickwire.
Not a bad fellow, either; he can talk pretty straight and shoot pretty
straight. How do I know? Because he has told me the story and I've
seen him shoot. There, you see, is one friend that you never reckoned
on. He used to be a cowboy, and I got him a job working for Sinclair
on the Frenchman; he has worked at Dunning's and other places on the
Crawling Stone. He hates Sinclair with a deadly hatred for some
reason. Just lately Wickwire set up for himself on Little Crawling
Stone."

"I have noticed that fellow's ranch," remarked McCloud.

"I couldn't leave him at Sinclair's," continued Whispering Smith
frankly. "The fellow was on my mind all the time. I felt certain he
would kill Sinclair or get killed if he stayed there. And then, when I
took him away they sprang Tower W on me! That is the price, not of
having a conscience, for I haven't any, but of listening to the voice
that echoes where my conscience used to be," said the railroad man,
moving uneasily in his chair.

Bucks broke the ash from his cigar into the tray on the table. "You
are restless to-night, Gordon--and it isn't like you, either."

"It is in the air. There has been a dead calm for two days. Something
is due to happen to-night. I wish I could hear from Banks; he started
with the papers for Sinclair's yesterday while I went to Oroville to
sweat Karg. Blood-poisoning has set in and it is rather important to
us to get a confession. There's a horse!" He stepped to the window.
"Coming fast, too. Now, I wonder--no, he's gone by."

Five minutes later a messenger came to the car from the Wickiup with
word that Kennedy was looking for Whispering Smith. Bucks, McCloud,
and Smith left the car together and walked up to McCloud's office.

Kennedy, sitting on the edge of the table, was tapping his leg
nervously with a ruler. "Bad news, Gordon."

"Not from Ed Banks?"

"Sinclair got him this morning."

Whispering Smith sat down. "Go on."

"Banks and I picked up Wickwire on the Crawling Stone early, and we
rode over to the Frenchman. Wickwire said Sinclair had been up at
Williams Cache the day before, and he didn't think he was home. Of
course I knew the Cache was watched and he wouldn't be there long, so
Ed asked me to stay in the cottonwoods and watch the creek for him. He
and Wickwire couldn't find anybody home when they got to the
ranch-house and they rode down the corral together to look over the
horses."

Whispering Smith's hand fell helplessly on the table. "Rode down
together! For God's sake, why didn't _one_ of them stay at the
house?"

"Sinclair rode out from behind the barn and hit Wickwire in the arm
before they saw him. Banks turned and opened on him, and Wickwire
ducked for the creek. Sinclair put a soft bullet through Banks's
shoulder--tore it pretty bad, Gordon--and made his get-away before
Wickwire and I could reach the barn again. I got Ed on his horse and
back to Wickwire's, and we sent one of the boys to Oroville for a
doctor. After Banks fell out of the saddle and was helpless Sinclair
talked to him before I came up. 'You ought to have kept out of this,
Ed,' he said. 'This is a railroad fight. Why didn't they send the head
of their own gang after me?'--naming you." Kennedy nodded toward
Whispering Smith.

"Naming me."

"Banks says, 'I'm sheriff of this county, and will be a long time
yet!' I took the papers from his breast pocket," continued Kennedy.
"You can see where he was hit." Kennedy laid the sheriff's packet on
the table. Bucks drew his chair forward and, with his cigar between
his fingers, picked the packet up and opened it. Kennedy went on: "Ed
told Sinclair if he couldn't land him himself that he knew a man who
could and would before he was a week older. He meant you, Gordon, and
the last thing Ed told me was that he wanted you to serve the papers
on Sinclair."

A silence fell on the company. One of the documents passing under
Bucks's hand caught his eye and he opened it. It was the warrant for
Sinclair. He read it without comment, folded it, and, looking at
Whispering Smith, pushed it toward him. "Then this, I guess, Gordon,
belongs to you."

Starting from a revery, Whispering Smith reached for the warrant. He
looked for a moment at the blood-stained caption. "Yes," he said,
"this, I guess, belongs to me."



CHAPTER XXXVI

DUTY


The stir of the town over the shooting of Banks seemed to Marion, in
her distress, to point an accusing finger at her. The disgrace of what
she had felt herself powerless to prevent now weighed on her mind, and
she asked herself whether, after all, the responsibility of this
murder was not upon her. Even putting aside this painful doubt, she
bore the name of the man who had savagely defied accountability and
now, it seemed to her, was dragging her with him through the slough of
blood and dishonor into which he had plunged.

The wretched thought would return that had she listened to him, had
she consented to go away, this outbreak might have been prevented. And
what horror might not another day bring--what lives still closer to
her life be taken? For herself she cared less; but she knew that
Sinclair, now that he had begun, would not stop. In whichever way her
thoughts turned, wretchedness was upon them, and the day went in one
of those despairing and indecisive battles that each one within his
own heart must fight at times with heaviness and doubt.

McCloud called her over the telephone in the afternoon to say that he
was going West on the evening train and would not be over for supper.
She wished he could have come, for her loneliness began to be
insupportable.

Toward sunset she put on her hat and started for the post-office. In
the meantime, Dicksie, at home, had called McCloud up and told him she
was coming down for the night. He immediately cancelled his plans for
going West, and when Marion returned at dusk she found him with
Dicksie at the cottage. The three had supper. Afterward Dicksie and
McCloud went out for a walk, and Marion was alone in the house when
the shop door opened and Whispering Smith walked in. It was dusk.

"Don't light the lamps, Marion," he said, sitting down on a
counter-stool as he took off his hat. "I want to talk to you just a
minute, if you don't mind. You know what has happened. I am called on
now to go after Sinclair. I have tried to avoid it, but my hand has
been forced. To-day I've been placing horses. I am going to ride
to-night with the warrant. I have given him a start of twenty-four
hours, hoping he may get out of the country. To stay here means only
death to him in the end, and, what is worse, the killing of more and
innocent men. But he won't leave the country; do you think he will?"

"Oh, I do not know! I am afraid he will not."

"I do not think I have ever hesitated before at any call of this kind;
nor at what such a call will probably sometime mean; but this man I
have known since we were boys."

"If I had never seen him!"

"That brings up another point that has been worrying me all day. I
could not help knowing what you have had to go through in this
country. It is a tough country for any woman. Your people and mine
were always close together and I have felt bound to do what I could
to----"

"Don't be afraid to say it--make my path easier."

"Something like that, though there's been little real doing. What this
situation in which Sinclair is now placed may still mean to you I do
not know, but I would not add a straw to the weight of your troubles.
I came to-night to ask a plain question. If he doesn't leave the
country I have got to meet him. You know what, in all human
probability, that will mean. From such a meeting only one of us can
come back. Which shall it be?"

"I'm afraid I don't understand you--do you ask me this question? How
can I know which it shall be? What is it you mean?"

"I mean I will not take his life in a fight--if it comes to that--if
you would rather he should come back."

A sob almost refused an answer to him. "How can you ask me so terrible
a question?"

"It is a question that means a good deal to me, of course, and I don't
know just what it means to you: that is the point I am up against. I
may have no choice in the matter, but I must decide what to try to do
if I have one. Am I to remember first that he is your husband?"

There was a silence. "What shall I say--what can I say? God help me,
how am I to answer a question like that?"

"How am I to answer it?"

Her voice was low and pitiful when her answer came: "You must do your
duty."

"What is my duty then? To serve the paper that has been given to me, I
know--but not necessarily to defend my life at the price of his. The
play of a chance lies in deciding that; I can keep the chance or give
it away; that is for you to say. Or take the question of duty again.
You are alone and your friends are few. Haven't I any duty toward you,
perhaps? I don't know a woman's heart. I used to think I did, but I
don't. My duty to this company that I work for is only the duty of a
servant. If I go, another takes my place; it means nothing except
taking one name off the payroll and putting another on. Whatever he
may have done, this man is your husband; if his death would cause you
a pang, it shall not be laid at my door. We ought to understand each
other on that point fairly before I start to-night."

"Can you ask me whether you ought not to take every means to defend
your own life? or whether any consideration ought to come before that?
I think not. I should be a wicked woman if I were to wish evil to him,
wretched as he has made me. I am a wretched woman, whichever way I
turn. But I should be less than human if I could say that to me your
death would not be a cruel, cruel blow."

There was a moment of silence. "Dicksie understood you to say that you
were in doubt as to whether you ought to go away with him when he
asked you to go. That is why I was unsettled in my mind."

"The only reason why I doubted was that I thought by going I might
save better lives than mine. I could willingly give up my life to do
that. But to stain it by going back to such a man--God help me!"

"I think I understand. If the unfortunate should happen before I come
back I hope only this: that you will not hate me because I am the man
on whom the responsibility has fallen. I haven't sought it. And if I
should not come back at all, it is only--good-by."

He saw her clasp her hands convulsively. "I will not say it! I will
pray on my knees that you do come back."

"Good-night, Marion. Some one is at the cottage door."

"It is probably Mr. McCloud and Dicksie. I will let them in."



CHAPTER XXXVII

WICKWIRE


McCloud and Dicksie met them at the porch door. Marion, unnerved, went
directly to her room. Whispering Smith stopped to speak to Dicksie and
McCloud interposed. "Bob Scott telephoned the office just now he had a
man from Oroville who wanted to see you right away, Gordon," said he.
"I told him to send him over here. It is Wickwire."

"Wickwire," repeated Whispering Smith. "Wickwire has no business here
that I know of; no doubt it is something I ought to know of. And, by
the way, you ought to see this man," he said, turning again to
Dicksie. "If McCloud tells the story right, Wickwire is a sort of
protégé of yours, Miss Dicksie, though neither of you seems to have
known it. He is the tramp cowboy who was smashed up in the wreck at
Smoky Creek. He is not a bad man, but whiskey, you know, beats some
decent men." A footstep fell on the porch. "There he comes now, I
reckon. Shall I let him in a minute?"

"Oh, I should like to see him! He has been at the ranch at different
times, you know."

Smith opened the door and stepping out on the porch, talked with the
new-comer. In a moment he brought him in. Dicksie had seated herself
on the sofa, McCloud stood in the doorway of the dining-room, and
Whispering Smith laid one arm on the table as he sat down beside it
with his face above the dark shade of the lamp. Before him stood
Wickwire. The half-light threw him up tall and dark, but it showed the
heavy shock of black hair falling over his forehead, and the broad,
thin face of a mountain man.

"He has just been telling me that Seagrue is loose," Whispering Smith
explained pleasantly. "Who turned the trick, Wickwire?"

"Sheriff Coon and a deputy jailer started with Seagrue for Medicine
Bend this morning. Coming through Horse Eye Canyon, Murray Sinclair
and Barney Rebstock got a clean drop on them, took Seagrue, and they
all rode off together. They didn't make any bones about it, either.
Their gang has got lots of friends over there, you know. They rode
into Atlantic City and stayed over an hour. Coon tracked them there
and got up a _posse_ of six men. The three were standing in front of
the bank when the sheriff rode into town. Sinclair and Seagrue got on
their horses and started off. Rebstock went back to get another
drink. When he came out of the saloon he gave the _posse_ a gun-fight
all by himself, and wounded two men and made his get-away."

Whispering Smith shook his head, and his hand fell on the table with a
tired laugh. "Barney Rebstock," he murmured, "of all men! Coward,
skate, filler-in! Barney Rebstock--stale-beer man, sneak, barn-yard
thief! Hit two men!" He turned to McCloud. "What kind of a wizard is
Murray Sinclair? What sort of red-blood toxin does he throw into his
gang to draw out a spirit like that? Murray Sinclair belongs to the
race of empire-builders. By Heaven, it is pitiful a man like that
should be out of a job! England, McCloud, needs him. And here he is
holding up trains on the mountain division!"

"They are all up at Oroville with the Williams Cache gang, celebrating,"
continued Wickwire.

Whispering Smith looked at the cowboy. "Wickwire, you made a good ride
and I thank you. You are all right. This is the young lady and this is
the man who had you sent to the hospital from Smoky Creek," he added,
rising. "You can thank them for picking you up. When you leave here
tell Bob Scott to meet me at the Wickiup with the horses at eleven
o'clock, will you?" He turned to Dicksie in a gentle aside. "I am
riding north to-night--I wish you were going part way."

Dicksie looked at him intently. "You are worried over something," she
murmured; "I can see it in your face."

"Nothing more than usual. I thrive, you know, on trouble--and I'm
sorry to say good-night so early, but I have a long ride ahead." He
stepped quietly past McCloud and out of the door.

Wickwire was thanking Dicksie when unwillingly she let Whispering
Smith's hand slip out of her own. "I shore wouldn't have been here
to-night if you two hadn't picked me up," laughed Wickwire, speaking
softly to Dicksie when she turned to him. "I've knowed my friends a
long time, but I reckon they all didn't know me."

"I've known you longer than you think," returned Dicksie with a smile.
"I've seen you at the ranch-house. But now that we really do know each
other, please remember you are always sure of a home at the
ranch--whenever you want one, Mr. Wickwire, and just as long as you
want one. We never forget our friends on the Crawling Stone."

"If I may make so bold, I thank you kindly. And if you all will let me
run away now, I want to catch Mr. Whispering Smith for just one
minute."

Wickwire overtook Smith in Fort Street. "Talk quick, Wickwire," he
said; "I'm in a hurry. What do you want?"

"Partner, I've always played fair with you."

"So far as I know, Wickwire, yes. Why?"

"I've got a favor to ask."

"What is it--money?"

"No, partner, not money this time. You've always been more than
liberal with me. But so far I've had to keep under cover; you asked me
to. I want to ask the privilege now of coming out into the open. The
jig is up so far as watching anybody goes."

"Yes."

"There's nobody to watch any more--they're all to chase, I reckon,
now. The open is my kind of a fight, anyway. I want to ride out this
manhunt with you."

"How is your arm?"

"My arm is all right, and there ought to be a place for me in the
chase now that Ed Banks is out of it. I want to cut loose up on the
range, anyhow; if I'm a man I want to know it, and if I ain't I want
to know it. I want to ride with you after Seagrue and Sinclair and
Barney Rebstock."

Whispering Smith spoke coldly: "You mean, Wickwire, you want to get
killed."

"Why, partner, if it's coming to me, I don't mind--yes."

"What's the use, Wickwire?"

"If I'm a man I want to know it; if I ain't, it's time my friends
knowed it. Anyhow, I'm man enough to work out with some of that gang.
Most of them have put it over me one time or another; Sinclair pasted
me like a blackbird only the other day. They all say I'm nothing but a
damned tramp. You say I have done you service--give me a show."

Whispering Smith stopped a minute in the shadow of a tree and looked
keenly at him. "I'm too busy to-night to say much, Wickwire," he said
after a moment. "You go over to the barn and report to Bob Scott. If
you want to take the chances, it is up to you; and if Bob Scott is
agreeable, I'll use you where I can--that's all I can promise. You
will probably have more than one chance to get killed."



CHAPTER XXXVIII

INTO THE NORTH


The moon had not yet risen, and in the darkness of Boney Street Smith
walked slowly toward his room. The answer to his question had come.
The rescue of Seagrue made it clear that Sinclair would not leave the
country. He well knew that Sinclair cared no more for Seagrue than for
a prairie-dog. It was only that he felt strong enough, with his
friends and sympathizers, to defy the railroad force and Whispering
Smith, and planned now, probably, to kill off his pursuers or wear
them out. There was a second incentive for remaining: nearly all the
Tower W money had been hidden at Rebstock's cabin by Du Sang. That
Kennedy had already got hold of it Sinclair could not know, but it was
certain that he would not leave the country without an effort to
recover the booty from Rebstock.

Whispering Smith turned the key in the door of his room as he revolved
the situation in his mind. Within, the dark was cheerless, but he made
no effort to light a lamp. Groping his way to the side of the low
bed, he sat down and put his head between his hands to think.

There was no help for it that he could see: he must meet Sinclair. The
situation he had dreaded most, from the moment Bucks asked him to come
back to the mountains, had come.

He thought of every phase of the outcome. If Sinclair should kill
him the difficulties were less. It would be unpleasant, certainly,
but something that might happen any time and at any man's hands.
He had cut into the game too long ago and with his eyes too wide
open to complain at this time of the possibility of an accident. They
might kill each other; but if, escaping himself, he should kill
Sinclair----

He came back in the silence always to that if. It rose dark between
him and the woman he loved--whom he had loved since she was a child
with school-girl eyes and braided hair. After he had lost her, only to
find years afterward that she was hardly less wretched in her life
than he in his, he had dreamed of the day when she might again be free
and he free to win a love long hoped for.

But to slay this man--her husband--in his inmost heart he felt it
would mean the raising of a bar as impalpable as fate, and as undying,
to all his dreams. Deserved or not, whatever she should say or not
say, what would she feel? How could her husband's death in that
encounter, if it ever came, be other than a stain that must shock and
wound her, no matter how much she should try not to see. Could either
of them ever quite forget it?

                  *       *       *       *       *

Kennedy and his men were guarding the Cache. Could they be sent
against Sinclair? That would be only a baser sort of murder--the
murder of his friends. He himself was leader, and so looked upon; the
post of danger was his.

He raised his head. Through the window came a faint light. The moon
was rising, and against the inner wall of the room the straight, hard
lines of the old wardrobe rose dimly. The rifles were within. He must
choose.

He walked to the window and pushed the curtain aside. It was dark
everywhere across the upper town, but in the distance one light
burned. It was in Marion's cottage. He had chosen this room because
from the window he could see her home. He stood for a few moments with
his hands in his pockets, looking. When he turned away he drew the
shade closely, lighted a lamp, and unlocked the wardrobe door.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Scott left the barn at half-past ten with a led horse for Whispering
Smith. He rode past Smith's room in Fort Street, but the room was
dark, and he jogged down to the Wickiup square, where he had been told
to meet him. After waiting and riding about for an hour, he tied the
horses and went up to McCloud's office. McCloud was at his desk, but
knew nothing of Whispering Smith except that he was to come in before
he started. "He's a punctual man," murmured Bob Scott, who had the low
voice of the Indian. "Usually he is ahead of time."

"Is he in his room, do you think?" asked McCloud.

"I rode around that way about fifteen minutes ago; there was no
light."

"He must be there," declared McCloud. "Have you the horses below? We
will ride over and try the room again."

Fort Street back of Front is so quiet after eleven o'clock at night
that a footfall echoes in it. McCloud dismounted in front of the bank
building and, throwing the reins to Bob Scott, walked upstairs and
back toward Smith's room. In the hallway he paused. He heard faint
strains of music. They came from within the room--fragments of old
airs played on a violin, and subdued by a mute, in the darkness.
Instinct stayed McCloud's hand at the door. He stood until the music
ceased and footsteps moved about in the room; then he knocked, and a
light appeared within. Whispering Smith opened the door. He stood in
his trousers and shirt, with his cartridge-belt in his hand. "Come in,
George. I'm just getting hooked up."

"Which way are you going to-night, Gordon?" asked McCloud, sitting
down on the chair.

"I am going to Oroville. The crowd is celebrating there. It is a défi,
you know."

"Who are you going to take with you?"

"Nobody."

McCloud moved uneasily. "I don't like that."

"There will be nothing doing. Sinclair may be gone by the time I
arrive, but I want to see Bob and Gene Johnson, and scare the Williams
Cache coyotes, just to keep their tails between their legs."

"I'd like to kill off half a dozen of that gang."

Whispering Smith said nothing for a moment. "Did you ever have to kill
a man, George?" he asked buckling his cartridge-belt.

"No. Why?"

There was no reply. Smith had taken a rifle from the rack and was
examining the firing mechanism. He worked the lever for a moment with
lightning-like speed, laid the gun on the bed, and sat down beside
it.

"You would hardly believe, George, how I hate to go after Murray
Sinclair. I've known him all my life. His folks and mine lived across
the street from one another for twenty years. Which is the older?
Murray is five years older than I am; he was always a big, strong,
good-looking fellow." Whispering Smith put his hands on the side of
the bed. "It is curious how you remember things that happened when you
were a boy, isn't it? I thought of something to-night I hadn't thought
of for twenty years. A little circus came to town. While they were
setting up the tent the lines for the gasolene tank got fouled in the
block at the top of the centre pole. The head canvasman offered a
quarter to any boy that would climb the pole and free the block. One
boy after another tried it, but they couldn't climb half-way up. Then
Murray sailed in. I was seven years old and Murray was twelve, and he
wore a vest. He gave me the vest to hold while he went up. I felt like
a king. There was a lead-pencil in one pocket, beautifully sharpened,
and I showed it to the other boys. Did he make good? He always made
good," said Whispering Smith gloomily. "The canvasman gave him the
quarter and two tickets, and he gave one of the tickets to me. I got
to thinking about that to-night. As boys, Murray and I never had a
quarrel." He stopped. McCloud said nothing, and, after an interval,
Smith spoke again:

"He was an oracle for all the small boys in town, and could advise us
on any subject on earth--whether he knew anything about it or nothing
about it made no difference. I told him once I wanted to be a
California stage-robber, and he replied without an instant's
hesitation that I ought to begin to practise running. I was so upset
at his grasp of the subject that I hadn't the nerve to ask him why I
needed to practise running to be a stage-robber. I was ashamed of
appearing green and to this day I've never understood what he meant.
Whether it was to run after the stage or to run away from it I
couldn't figure out. Perhaps my being too proud to ask the question
changed my career. He went away for a long time, and we heard he was
in the Black Hills. When he came back, my God! what a hero he was."

Bob Scott knocked at the door and Whispering Smith opened it. "Tired
of waiting, Bob? Well, I guess I'm ready. Is the moon up? This is the
rifle I'm going to take, Bob. Did Wickwire have a talk with you? He's
all right. Suppose you send him to the mouth of Little Crawling Stone
to watch things a day or two. They may try to work north that way or
hide in the wash."

Walking down to the street, Whispering Smith continued his suggestions.
"And by the way, Bob, I want you to pass this word for me up and
down Front Street. Sinclair has his friends in town and it's all
right--I know them and expect them to stay by him. I expect Murray's
friends to do what they can for him. I've got my friends and expect
them to stay by me. But there is one thing that I will not stand for
on any man's part, and that is hiding Sinclair anywhere in Medicine
Bend. You keep him out of Medicine Bend, Bob; will you do it? And
remember, I will never let up on the man who hides him in town while
this fight is on. There are good reasons for drawing the line on
that point, and there I draw it hard and fast. Now Bob and Gene Johnson
were at Oroville when you left, were they, Bob?" He was fastening his
rifle in the scabbard. "Which is deputy sheriff this year, Bob or
Gene? Gene--very good." He swung into the saddle.

"Have you got everything?" murmured Scott.

"I think so. Stop! I'm riding away without my salt-bag. That would be
a pretty piece of business, wouldn't it? Take the key, Bob. It's
hanging between the rifles and the clock. Here's the wardrobe key,
too."

There was some further talk when Scott came back with the salt,
chiefly about horses and directions as to telephoning. Whispering
Smith took up a notch again in his belt, pulled down his hat, and bent
over the neck of his horse to lay his hand a moment in McCloud's. It
was one o'clock. Across the foothills the moon was rising, and
Whispering Smith straightening up in the saddle wheeled his horse and
trotted swiftly up the street into the silent north.



CHAPTER XXXIX

AMONG THE COYOTES


Oroville once marked farthest north for the Peace River gold camps,
but with mining long ago abandoned it now marks farthest south for a
rustler's camp, being a favorite resort for the people of the Williams
Cache country. Oroville boasts that it has never surrendered and that
it has never been cleaned out. It has moved, and been moved, up stream
and down, and from bank to bank; it has been burned out and blown away
and lived on wheels: but it has never suffered the loss of its
identity. Oroville is said to have given to its river the name of
Peace River--either wholly in irony or because in Oroville there was
for many years no peace save in the river. However, that day, too, is
past, and Peace County has its sheriff and a few people who are not
habitually "wanted."

Whispering Smith, well dusted with alkali, rode up to the Johnson
ranch, eight miles southwest of Oroville, in the afternoon of the day
after he left Medicine Bend. The ranch lies in a valley watered by
the Rainbow, and makes a pretty little oasis of green in a limitless
waste of sagebrush. Gene and Bob Johnson were cutting alfalfa when
Whispering Smith rode into the field, and, stopping the mowers, the
three men talked while the seven horses nibbled the clover.

"I may need a little help, Gene, to get him out of town," remarked
Smith, after he had told his story; "that is, if there are too many
Cache men there for me."

Bob Johnson was stripping a stalk of alfalfa in his fingers. "Them
fellows are pretty sore."

"That comes of half doing a job, Bob. I was in too much of a hurry
with the round-up. They haven't had dose enough yet," returned
Whispering Smith. "If you and Gene will join me sometime when I have a
week to spare, we will go in there, clean up the gang and burn the
hair off the roots of the chapparal--what? I've hinted to Rebstock he
could get ready for something like that."

"Tell us about that fight, Gordon."

"I will if you will give me something to eat and have this horse taken
care of. Then, Bob, I want you to ride into Oroville and reconnoitre.
This is mail day and I understand some of the boys are buying postage
stamps to put on my coffin."

They went to the house, where Whispering Smith talked as he ate. Bob
took a horse and rode away, and Gene, with his guest, went back to the
alfalfa, where Smith took Bob's place on the mower. When they saw Bob
riding up the valley, Whispering Smith, bringing in the machine,
mounted his horse.

"Your man is there all right," said Bob, as he approached. "He and
John Rebstock were in the Blackbird saloon. Seagrue isn't there, but
Barney Rebstock and a lot of others are. I talked a few minutes with
John and Murray. Sinclair didn't say much; only that the railroad gang
was trying to run him out of the country, and he wanted to meet a few
of them before he went. I just imagined he held up a little before me;
maybe not. There's a dozen Williams Cache men in town."

"But those fellows are not really dangerous, Bob, though they may be
troublesome," observed Smith reflectively.

"Well, what's your plan?" blurted Gene Johnson.

"I haven't any, Gene," returned Smith, with perfect simplicity. "My
only plan is to ride into town and serve my papers, if I can. I've got
a deputyship--and that I'm going to do right away. If you, Bob, or
both of you, will happen in about thirty minutes later you'll get the
news and perhaps see the fun. Much obliged for your feed, Gene; come
down to Medicine Bend any time and I'll fill you up. I want you both
for the elk hunt next fall, remember that. Bucks is coming, and is
going to bring Brown and Henson and perhaps Atterbury and Gibbs and
some New Yorkers; and McCloud's brother, the preacher, is coming out
and they are all right--all of them."

The only street in Oroville faces the river, and the buildings string
for two or three blocks along modest bluffs. Not a soul was anywhere
in sight when Whispering Smith rode into town, save that across the
street from where he dismounted and tied his horse three men stood in
front of the Blackbird.

They watched the new arrival with languid interest. Smith walked
stiffly over toward the saloon to size up the men before he should
enter it. The middle man of the group, with a thin red face and very
blue eyes, was chewing tobacco in an unpromising way. Before Smith was
half-way across the street he saw the hands of the three men falling
to their hips. Taking care, however, only to keep the men between him
and the saloon door, Smith walked directly toward them. "Boys, have
you happened to see Gene or Bob Johnson to-day, any of you?" He threw
back the brim of his Stetson as he spoke.

"Hold your hand right there--right where it is," said the blue-eyed
man sharply.

Whispering Smith smiled, but held his hand rather awkwardly upon his
hat-brim.

"No," continued the spokesman, "we ain't none of us happened to see
Bob or Gene Johnson to-day; but we happen to seen Whispering Smith,
and we'll blow your face off if you move it an inch."

Smith laughed. "I never quarrel with a man that's got the drop on me,
boys. Now, this is sudden but unexpected. Do I know any of you?" He
looked from one face to another before him, with a wide reach in his
field of vision for the three hands that were fast on three
pistol-butts. "Hold on! I've met you somewhere," he said with easy
confidence to the blue-eyed man with the weather-split lip. "Williams
Cache, wasn't it? All right, we're placed. Now what have you got in
for me?"

"I've got forty head of steers in for you," answered the man in the
middle, with a splitting oath. "You stole forty head of my steers in
that round-up, and I'm going to fill you so full of lead you'll never
run off no more stock for nobody. Don't look over there to your horse
or your rifle. Hold your hands right where they are."

"Certainly, certainly!"

"When I pull, I shoot!"

"I don't always do it, but it is business, I acknowledge. When a man
pulls he ought to shoot--very often it's the only chance he ever gets
to shoot. Well, it isn't every man gets the drop on me that easy, but
you boys have got it," continued Whispering Smith in frank admiration.
"Only I want to say you're after the wrong man. That round-up was all
Rebstock's fault, and Rebstock is bound to make good all loss and
damage."

"You'll make good my share of it right now and here," said the man
with the wash-blue eyes.

"Why, of course," assented Whispering Smith, "if I must, I must. I
suppose I may light a cigarette, boys, before you turn loose the
fireworks?"

"Light it quick!"

Laughing at the humor of the situation, Whispering Smith, his eyes
beaming with good-nature, put the finger and thumb of his right hand
into his waistcoat pocket, drew out a package of cigarette paper, and,
bantering his captors innocently the while, tore out a sheet and put
the packet back. Folding the paper in his two hands, he declared he
believed his tobacco was in his saddle-pocket, and asked leave to step
across the street to get it. The trick was too transparent, and leave
was refused with scorn and some hard words. Whispering Smith begged
the men in front of him in turn for tobacco. They cursed him and shook
their heads.

For an instant he looked troubled. Still appealing to them with his
eyes, he tapped lightly the lower outside pockets of his coat with his
fingers, shifting the cigarette paper from hand to hand as he hunted.
The outside pockets seemed empty. But as he tapped the inside breast
pocket on the left side of the coat--the three men, lynx-eyed,
watching--his face brightened. "Stop!" said he, his voice sinking to a
relieved whisper as his hand rested lightly on the treasure. "There's
the tobacco. I suppose one of you will give me a match?"

All that the three before him could ever afterward recollect--and for
several years afterward they cudgelled their brains pretty thoroughly
about that moment--was that Whispering Smith took hold of the left
lapel of his coat to take the tobacco out of the breast pocket. An
excuse to take that lapel in his left hand was, in fact, all that
Whispering Smith needed to put not alone the three men before him but
all Oroville at his mercy. The play of his right hand in crossing the
corduroy waistcoat to pull his revolver from its scabbard and throw it
into their faces was all too quick for better eyes than theirs. They
saw only the muzzle of the heavy Colt's playing like a snake's tongue
under their surprised noses, with the good-natured smile still behind
it. "Or will one of you roll a cigarette?" asked Whispering Smith,
without a break between the two questions. "I don't smoke. Now don't
make faces; go right ahead. Do anything you want to with your hands. I
wouldn't ask a man to keep his hands or feet still on a hot day like
this," he insisted, the revolver playing all the time. "You won't
draw? You won't fight? Pshaw! Then disengage your hands gently from
your guns. You fellows really ought not to attempt to pull a gun in
Oroville, and I will tell you why--there's a reason for it." He looked
confidential as he put his head forward to whisper among the
crestfallen faces. "At this altitude it is too fast work. I know you
now," he went on as they continued to wilt. "You are Fatty Filber," he
said to the thin chap. "Don't work your mouth like that at me; don't
do it. You seem surprised. Really, have you the asthma? Get over it,
because you are wanted in Pound County for horse-stealing. Why, hang
it, Fatty, you're good for ten years, and of course, since you have
reminded me of it, I'll see that you get it. And you, Baxter," said he
to the man on the right, "I know I spoke to you once when I was
inspector about altering brands; that's five years, you know. You," he
added, scrutinizing the third man to scare him to death--"I think you
were at Tower W. No? No matter; you two boys may go, anyway. Fatty,
you stay; we'll put some state cow on your ribs. By the way, are you a
detective, Fatty? Aren't you? See here! I can get you into an
association. For ten dollars, they give you a German-silver star, and
teach the Japanese method of pulling, by correspondence. Or you might
get an electric battery to handle your gun with. You can get pocket
dynamos from the mail-order houses. Sure! Read the big book!"

When Gene and Bob Johnson rode into town, Whispering Smith was sitting
in a chair outside the Blackbird, still chatting with Filber, who
stood with his arms around a hitching-post, holding fast a mail-order
house catalogue. A modest crowd of hangers-on had gathered.

"Here we are, Gene," exclaimed Smith to the deputy sheriff. "I was
looking for steers, but some calves got into the drive. Take him
away."

While the Johnsons were laughing, Smith walked into the Blackbird. He
had lost thirty minutes, and in losing them had lost his quarry.
Sinclair had disappeared, and Whispering Smith made a virtue of
necessity by taking the upsetting of his plans with an unruffled face.
There was but one thing more, indeed, to do, and that was to eat his
supper and ride away. The street encounter had made so much talk in
Oroville that Smith declined Gene Johnson's invitation to go back to
the house. It seemed a convenient time to let any other ambitious
rustlers make good if they were disposed to try, and Whispering Smith
went for his supper to the hotel where the Williams Cache men made
their headquarters.

There was a rise in the atmospheric pressure the moment he entered the
hotel office door, and when he walked into the dining-room, some
minutes later, the silence was oppressive. Smith looked for a seat.
The only vacant place chanced to be at a table where nine men from the
Cache sat busy with ham and eggs. It was a trifle awkward, but the
only thing to do was to take the vacant chair.

The nine men were actively engaged with knives and forks and spoons
when Whispering Smith drew out the empty chair at the head of the
table; but nine pairs of hands dropped modestly under the table when
he sat down. Coughing slightly to hide his embarrassment and to keep
his right hand in touch with his necktie, Whispering Smith looked
around the table with the restrained air of a man who has bowed his
head and resolved to ask the blessing, but wants to make reasonably
sure that the family is listening. A movement at the other tables,
among the regular boarders of the hostelry, was apparent almost at
once. Appetites began to fail all over the dining-room. Whispering
Smith gave his order genially to the confused waitress:

"Bring me two eggs--one fried on one side and one on the other--and
coffee."

There was a general scraping of chairs on the floor as they were
pushed back and guests not at the moment interested in the bill of
fare started, modestly but firmly, to leave the dining-room. At
Whispering Smith's table there were no second calls for coffee. To
stimulate the eating he turned the conversation into channels as
reassuring as possible. Unfortunately for his endeavor, the man at the
far end of the table reached for a toothpick. It seemed a pleasant way
out of the difficulty, and when the run on toothpicks had once begun,
all Whispering Smith's cordiality could not check it. Every man
appeared to want a toothpick, and one after another of Whispering
Smith's company deserted him. He was finally left alone with a
physician known as "Doc," a forger and a bigamist from Denver. Smith
tried to engage Doc in medical topics. The doctor was not alone
frightened but tipsy, and when Smith went so far as to ask him, as a
medical man, whether in his opinion the high water in the mountains
had any direct connection with the prevalence of falling of the spine
among old "residenters" in Williams Cache, the doctor felt of his head
as if his brain were turning turtle.

When Whispering Smith raised his knife ostentatiously to bring out a
feature of his theory, the doctor raised his knife higher to admit the
force of it; and when Whispering Smith leaned his head forward
impressively to drive home a point in his assertion, the doctor
stretched his neck till his face grew apoplectic. Releasing him at
length from the strain, Whispering Smith begged of the staring
maid-servant the recipe for the biscuit. When she came back with it he
sat all alone, pouring catsup over his griddle-cakes in an abstracted
manner, and it so flurried her that she had to go out again to ask
whether the gasolene went into the dough or under it.

He played out the play to the end, but when he rode away in the dusk
his face was careworn. John Rebstock had told him why Sinclair dodged:
there were others whom Sinclair wanted to meet first; and Whispering
Smith was again heading on a long, hard ride, and after a man on a
better horse, back to the Crawling Stone and Medicine Bend. "There's
others he wants to see first or you'd have no trouble in talking
business to-day. You nor no other man will ever get him alive." But
Whispering Smith knew that.

"See that he doesn't get you alive, Rebstock," was his parting retort.
"If he finds out Kennedy has got the Tower W money, the first thing he
does will be to put the Doxology all over you."



CHAPTER XL

A SYMPATHETIC EAR


When Whispering Smith rode after Sinclair, Crawling Stone Ranch, in
common with the whole countryside, had but one interest in life, and
that was to hear of the meeting. Riders across the mountain valleys
met with but one question; mail-carriers brought nothing in their
pouches of interest equal to the last word concerning Sinclair or his
pursuer. It was commonly agreed through the mountains that it would be
a difficult matter to overhaul any good man riding Sinclair's
steel-dust horses, but with Sinclair himself in the saddle, unless it
pleased him to pull up, the chase was sure to be a stern one. Against
this to feed speculation stood one man's record--that of the man who
had ridden alone across Deep Creek and brought Chuck Williams out on a
buckboard.

Business in Medicine Bend, meantime, was practically suspended. As the
centre of all telephone lines the big railroad town was likewise the
centre of all rumors. Officers and soldiers to and from the Fort,
stage-drivers and cowmen, homesteaders and rustlers, discussed the
apprehension of Sinclair. Moreover, behind this effort to arrest one
man who had savagely defied the law were ranged all of the prejudices,
sympathies, and hatreds of the high country, and practically the whole
population tributary to Medicine Bend and the Crawling Stone Valley
were friends either to Sinclair or to his pursuer. Behind Sinclair
were nearly all the cattlemen, not alone because he was on good terms
with the rustlers and protected his friends, but because he warred
openly on the sheepmen. The big range interests, as a rule, were
openly or covertly friendly to Sinclair, while against him were the
homesteaders, the railroad men, the common people, and the men who
everywhere hate cruelty and outrage and the making of a lie.

Lance Dunning had never concealed his friendliness for Sinclair, even
after hard stories about him were known to be true, and it was this
confidence of fellowship that made Sinclair, twenty-four hours after
he had left Oroville, ride down the hill trail to Crawling Stone
ranch-house.

The morning had been cold, with a heavy wind and a dull sky. In the
afternoon the clouds lowered over the valley and a misting rain set
in. Dicksie had gone into Medicine Bend on the stage in the morning,
and, after a stolen half-hour with McCloud at Marion's, had ridden
home to escape the storm. Not less, but much more, than those about
her she was alive to the situation in which Sinclair stood and its
danger to those closest to her. In the morning her one prayer to
McCloud had been to have a care of himself, and to Marion to have a
care of herself; but even when Dicksie left them it seemed as if
neither quite felt the peril as she felt it.

In the afternoon the rain, falling steadily, kept her in the house,
and she sat in her room sewing until the light failed. She went
downstairs. Puss had lighted the grate in the living-room, and Dicksie
threw herself into a chair. The sound of hoofs aroused her and she
went to a window. To her horror, she saw Sinclair walking with her
cousin up to the front door. She ran into the dining-room, and the two
men entered the hall and walked into the office. Choking with
excitement, Dicksie ran through the kitchen and upstairs to master her
agitation.

In the office Sinclair was sitting down before the hot stove with
a tumbler of whiskey. "Lance"--he shook his head as he spoke
hoarsely--"I want to say my friends have stood by me to a man, but
there's none of them treated me squarer through thick and thin than
you have. Well, I've had some bad luck. It can't be helped.
Regards!"

He drank, and shook his wet hair again. Four days of hard riding had
left no trace on his iron features. Wet to the bone, his eyes flashed
with fire. He held the glassful of whiskey in a hand as steady as a
spirit-level and tossed it down a throat as cool as dew.

"I want to say another thing, Lance: I had no more intention than a
child of hurting Ed Banks. I warned Ed months ago to keep out of this
fight; and I never knew he was in it till it was too late. But I'm
hoping he will pull through yet, if they don't kill him in the
hospital to spite me. I never recognized the men at all till it was
too late. Why, one of them used to work for me! A man with the whole
railroad gang in these mountains after him has got to look out for
himself or his life ain't worth a glass of beer. Thank you, Lance, not
any more. I saw two men, with their rifles in their hands, looking for
me. I hollered at them; but, Lance, I'm rough and ready, as all my
friends know, and I will let no man put a drop on me--that I will
never do. Ed, before I ever recognized him, raised his rifle; that's
the only reason I fired. Not so full, Lance, not so full, if you
please. Well," he shook his black hair as he threw back his head,
"here's to better luck in worse countries!" He paused as he
swallowed, and set the tumbler down. "Lance, I'm saying good-by to the
mountains."

"You're not going away for good, Murray?"

"I'm going away for good. What's the use? For two years these railroad
cutthroats have been trying to put something on me; you know that.
They've been trying to mix me up with that bridge-burning at Smoky
Creek; Sugar Buttes, they had me there; Tower W--nothing would do but
I was there, and they've got one of the men in jail down there now,
Lance, trying to sweat enough perjury out of him to send me up. What
show has a poor man got against all the money there is in the country?
I wouldn't be afraid of a jury of my own neighbors--the men that know
me, Lance--any time. What show would I have with a packed jury in
Medicine Bend? I could explain anything I've done to the satisfaction
of any reasonable man. I'm human, Lance; that's all I say. I've been
mistreated and I don't forget it. They've even turned my wife against
me--as fine a woman as ever lived."

Lance swore sympathetically. "There's good stuff in you yet, Murray."

"I'm going to say good-by to the mountains," Sinclair went on grimly,
"but I'm going to Medicine Bend to-night and tell the man that has
hounded me what I think of him before I leave. I'm going to give my
wife a chance to do what is right and go with me. She's been poisoned
against me--I know that; but if she does what's fair and square
there'll be no trouble--no trouble at all. All I want, Lance, is a
square deal. What?"

Dicksie with her pulses throbbing at fever-heat heard the words. She
stood half-way down the stairs, trembling as she listened. Anger,
hatred, the spirit of vengeance, choked in her throat at the sinister
words. She longed to stride into the room and confront the murderer
and call down retribution on his head. It was no fear of him that
restrained her, for the Crawling Stone girl never knew fear. She would
have confronted him and denounced him, but prudence checked her angry
impulse. She knew what he meant to do--to ride into Medicine Bend
under cover of the storm, murder the two he hated, and escape in the
night; and she resolved he should never succeed. If she could only get
to the telephone! But the telephone was in the room where he sat. He
was saying good-by. Her cousin was trying to dissuade him from riding
out into the storm, but he was going. The door opened; the men went
out on the porch, and it closed. Dicksie, lightly as a shadow, ran
into the office and began ringing Medicine Bend on the telephone.



CHAPTER XLI

DICKSIE'S RIDE


When Lance Dunning entered the room ten minutes later, Dicksie stood
at the telephone; but the ten minutes of that interval had made quite
another creature of his cousin. The wires were down and no one from
any quarter gave a response to her frantic ringing. Through the
receiver she could hear only the sweep of the rain and the harsh
crackle of the wind. Sometimes praying, sometimes fainting, and
sometimes despairing, she stood clinging to the instrument, ringing
and pounding upon it like one frenzied. Lance looked at her in
amazement. "Why, God a'mighty, Dicksie, what's the matter?"

He called twice to her before she turned, and her words almost stunned
him: "Why did you not detain Sinclair here to-night? Why did you not
arrest him?"

Lance's sombrero raked heavily to one side of his face, and one end of
his mustache running up much higher on the other did not begin to
express his astonishment. "Arrest him? Arrest Sinclair? Dicksie, are
you crazy? Why the devil should I arrest Sinclair? Do you suppose I am
going to mix up in a fight like this? Do you think _I_ want to get
killed? The level-headed man in this country, just at present, is the
man who can keep out of trouble, and the man who succeeds, let me tell
you, has got more than plenty to do."

Lance, getting no answer but a fierce, searching gaze from Dicksie's
wild eyes, laid his hand on a chair, lighted a cigar, and sat down
before the fire. Dicksie dropped the telephone receiver, put her hand
to her girdle, and looked at him. When she spoke her tone was
stinging. "You know that man is going to Medicine Bend to kill his
wife!"

Lance took the cigar from his mouth and returned her look. "I know no
such thing," he growled curtly.

"And to kill George McCloud, if he can."

He stared without reply.

"You heard him say so," persisted Dicksie vehemently.

Lance crossed his legs and threw back the brim of his hat. "McCloud is
nobody's fool. He will look out for himself."

"These fiendish wires to Medicine Bend are down. Why hasn't this line
been repaired?" she cried, wringing her hands. "There is no way to
give warning to any one that he is coming, and you have let him go!"

Lance whirled in his chair. "Damnation! Could I keep him from going?"

"You did not want to; you are keeping out of trouble. What do you care
whom he kills to-night!"

"You've gone crazy, Dicksie. Your imagination has upset your reason.
Whether he kills anybody to-night or not, it's too late now to make a
row about it," exclaimed Lance, throwing his cigar angrily away. "He
won't kill us."

"And you expect me to sit by and fold my hands while that wretch sheds
more blood, do you?"

"It can't be helped."

"I say it can be helped! I can help it--I will help it--as you could
have done if you had wanted to. I will ride to Medicine Bend to-night
and help it."

Lance jumped to his feet, with a string of oaths. "Well this is the
limit!" He pointed his finger at her. "Dicksie Dunning, you won't stir
out of this house to-night."

Her face hardened. "How dare you speak in that way to me? Who are you,
that you order me what to do, where to stay? Am I your cowboy, to be
defiled with your curses?"

He looked at her in amazement. She was only eighteen; he would still
face her down. "I'll tell you who I am. I am master here, and you will
do as I tell you. You will ride to Medicine Bend to-night, will you?"
He struck the table with his clinched fist. "Do you hear me? I say, by
God, not a horse shall leave this ranch in this storm to-night to go
anywhere for anybody or with anybody!"

"Then I say to you this ranch is my ranch, and these horses are my
horses! From this hour forth I will order them to go and come when and
where I please!" She stepped toward him. "Henceforward I am mistress
here. Do you hear me? Henceforward _I_ give orders in Crawling Stone
House, and every one under this roof takes orders from me!"

"Dicksie, what do you mean? For God's sake, you're not going to try to
ride----"

She swept from the room. What happened afterward she could never
recall. Who got Jim for her or whether she got the horse up herself,
what was said to her in low, kindly words of warning by the man at
Jim's neck when she sprang into the saddle, who the man was, she could
not have told. All she felt at last was that she was free and out
under the black sky, with the rain beating her burning face and her
horse leaping fearfully into the wind.

No man could have kept the trail to the pass that night. The horse
took it as if the path flashed in sunshine, and swung into the
familiar stride that had carried her so many times over the twenty
miles ahead of them. The storm driving into Dicksie's face cooled her.
Every moment she recollected herself better, and before her mind all
the aspects of her venture ranged themselves. She had set herself to a
race, and against her rode the hardest rider in the mountains. She had
set herself to what few men on the range would have dared and what no
other woman on the range could do. "Why have I learned to ride," went
the question through her mind, "if not for this--for those I love and
for those who love me?" Sinclair had a start, she well knew, but not
so much for a night like this night. He would ride to kill those he
hated; she would ride to save those she loved. Her horse already was
on the Elbow grade; she knew it from his shorter spring--a lithe,
creeping spring that had carried her out of deep canyons and up long
draws where other horses walked. The wind lessened and the rain drove
less angrily in her face. She patted Jim's neck with her wet glove,
and checked him as tenderly as a lover, to give him courage and
breath. She wanted to be part of him as he strove, for the horror of
the night began to steal on the edge of her thoughts. A gust drove
into her face. They were already at the head of the pass, and the
horse, with level ground underfoot, was falling into the long reach;
but the wind was colder.

Dicksie lowered her head and gave Jim the rein. She realized how wet
she was; her feet and her knees were wet. She had no protection but
her skirt, though the meanest rider on all her countless acres would
not have braved a mile on such a night without leather and fur. The
great lapels of her riding-jacket, reversed, were buttoned tight
across her shoulders, and the double fold of fur lay warm and dry
against her heart and lungs; but her hands were cold, and her skirt
dragged leaden and cold from her waist, and water soaked in upon her
chilled feet. She knew she ought to have thought of these things. She
planned, as thought swept in a moving picture across her brain, how
she would prepare again for such a ride--with her cowboy costume that
she had once masqueraded in for Marion, with leggings of buckskin and
"chaps" of long white silken wool. It was no masquerade now--she was
riding in deadly earnest; and her lips closed to shut away a creepy
feeling that started from her heart and left her shivering.

She became conscious of how fast she was going. Instinct, made keen by
thousands of saddle miles, told Dicksie of her terrific pace. She was
riding faster than she would have dared go at noonday and without
thought or fear of accident. In spite of the sliding and the plunging
down the long hill, the storm and the darkness brought no thought of
fear for herself; her only fear was for those ahead. In supreme
moments a horse, like a man when human efforts become superhuman, puts
the lesser dangers out of reckoning, and the faculties, set on a
single purpose, though strained to the breaking-point, never break.
Low in her saddle, Dicksie tried to reckon how far they had come and
how much lay ahead. She could feel her skirt stiffening about her
knees, and the rain beating at her face was sharper; she knew the
sleet as it stung her cheeks, and knew what next was coming--the
snow.

There was no need to urge Jim. He had the rein and Dicksie bent down
to speak to him, as she often spoke when they were alone on the road,
when Jim, bolting, almost threw her. Recovering instantly, she knew
they were no longer alone. She rose alert in her seat. Her straining
eyes could see nothing. Was there a sound in the wind? She held her
breath to listen, but before she could apprehend Jim leaped violently
ahead. Dicksie screamed in an agony of terror. She knew then that she
had passed another rider, and so close she might have touched him.

Fear froze her to the saddle; it lent wings to her horse. The speed
became wild. Dicksie knit herself to her dumb companion and a prayer
choked in her throat. She crouched lest a bullet tear her from her
horse; but through the darkness no bullet came, only the sleet,
stinging her face, stiffening her gloves, freezing her hair, chilling
her limbs, and weighting her like lead on her struggling horse. She
knew not even Sinclair could overtake her now--that no living man
could lay a hand on her bridle-rein--and she pulled Jim in down the
winding hills to save him for the long flat. When they struck it they
had but four miles to go.

Across the flat the wind drove in fury. Reflection, thought, and
reason were beginning to leave her. She was crying to herself quietly
as she used to cry when she lost herself, a mere child, riding among
the hills. She was praying meaningless words. Snow purred softly on
her cheeks. The cold was soothing her senses. Unable at last to keep
her seat on the horse, she stopped him, slipped stiffly to the ground,
and, struggling through the wind as she held fast to the bridle and
the horn, half walked and half ran to start the blood through her
benumbed veins. She struggled until she could drag her mired feet no
farther, and tried to draw herself back into the saddle. It was almost
beyond her. She sobbed and screamed at her helplessness. At last she
managed to climb flounderingly back into her seat, and, bending her
stiffened arms to Jim's neck, she moaned and cried to him. When again
she could hold her seat no longer, she fell to the horse's side,
dragged herself along in the frozen slush, and, screaming with the
pain of her freezing hands, drew herself up into the saddle.

She knew that she dare not venture this again--that if she did so she
could never remount. She felt now that she should never live to reach
Medicine Bend. She rode on and on and on--would it never end? She
begged God to send a painless death to those she rode to save, and
when the prayer passed her failing senses a new terror awakened her,
for she found herself falling out of the saddle. With excruciating
torment she recovered her poise. Reeling from side to side, she fought
the torpor away. Her mind grew clearer and her tears had ceased. She
prayed for a light. The word caught between her stiffened lips and she
mumbled it till she could open them wide and scream it out. Then came
a sound like the beating of great drums in her ears. It was the crash
of Jim's hoofs on the river bridge, and she was in Medicine Bend.

A horse, galloping low and heavily, slued through the snow from Fort
Street into Boney, and, where it had so often stopped before, dashed
up on the sidewalk in front of the little shop. The shock was too much
for its unconscious rider, and, shot headlong from her saddle, Dicksie
was flung bruised and senseless against Marion's door.



CHAPTER XLII

AT THE DOOR


She woke in a dream of hoofs beating at her brain. Distracted words
fell from her lips, and when she opened her swollen eyes and saw those
about her she could only scream.

Marion had called up the stable, but the stablemen could only tell her
that Dicksie's horse, in terrible condition, had come in riderless.
While Barnhardt, the railway surgeon, at the bedside administered
restoratives, Marion talked with him of Dicksie's sudden and
mysterious coming. Dicksie, lying in pain and quite conscious, heard
all, but, unable to explain, moaned in her helplessness. She heard
Marion at length tell the doctor that McCloud was out of town, and the
news seemed to bring back her senses. Then, rising in the bed, while
the surgeon and Marion coaxed her to lie down, she clutched at their
arms and, looking from one to the other, told her story. When it was
done she swooned, but she woke to hear voices at the door of the shop.
She heard as if she dreamed, but at the door the words were dread
reality. Sinclair had made good his word, and had come out of the
storm with a summons upon Marion and it was the surgeon who threw open
the door and saw Sinclair standing in the snow.

No man in Medicine Bend knew Sinclair more thoroughly or feared him
less than Barnhardt. No man could better meet him or speak to him with
less of hesitation. Sinclair, as he faced Barnhardt, was not easy in
spite of his dogged self-control; and he was standing, much to his
annoyance, in the glare of an arc-light that swung across the street
in front of the shop. He was well aware that no such light had ever
swung within a block of the shop before and in it he saw the hand of
Whispering Smith. The light was unexpected, Barnhardt was a surprise,
and even the falling snow, which protected him from being seen twenty
feet away, angered him. He asked curtly who was ill, and without
awaiting an answer asked for his wife.

The surgeon eyed him coldly. "Sinclair, what are you doing in Medicine
Bend? Have you come to surrender yourself?"

"Surrender myself? Yes, I'm ready any time to surrender myself. Take
me along yourself, Barnhardt, if you think I've done worse than any
man would that has been hounded as I've been hounded. I want to see my
wife."

"Sinclair, you can't see your wife."

"What's the matter--is she sick?"

"No, but you can't see her."

"Who says I can't see her?"

"I say so."

Sinclair swept the ice furiously from his beard and his right hand
fell to his hip as he stepped back. "You've turned against me too,
have you, you gray-haired wolf? Can't see her! Get out of that door."

The surgeon pointed his finger at the murderer. "No, I won't get out
of this door. Shoot, you coward! Shoot an unarmed man. You will not
live to get a hundred feet away. This place is watched for you; you
could not have got within a hundred yards of it to-night except for
this snow." Barnhardt pointed through the storm. "Sinclair, you will
hang in the court-house square, and I will take the last beat of your
pulse with these fingers, and when I pronounce you dead they will cut
you down. You want to see your wife. You want to kill her. Don't lie;
you want to kill her. You were heard to say as much to-night at the
Dunning ranch. You were watched and tracked, and you are expected and
looked for here. Your best friends have gone back on you. Ay, curse
again and over again, but that will not put Ed Banks on his feet."

Sinclair stamped with frenzied oaths. "You're too hard on me," he
cried, clenching his hands. "I say you're too hard. You've heard one
side of it. Is that the way you put judgment on a man that's got no
friends left because they start a new lie on him every day? Who is it
that's watching me? Let them stand out like men in the open. If they
want me, let them come like men and take me!"

"Sinclair, this storm gives you a chance to get away; take it. Bad as
you are, there are men in Medicine Bend who knew you when you were a
man. Don't stay here for some of them to sit on the jury that hangs
you. If you can get away, get away. If I were your friend--and God
knows whom you can call friend in Medicine Bend to-night--I couldn't
say more. Get away before it is too late."

He was never again seen alive in Medicine Bend. They tracked him next
day over every foot of ground he had covered. They found where he had
left his spent horse and where afterward he had got the fresh one.
They learned how he had eluded all the picketing planned for precisely
such a contingency, got into the Wickiup, got upstairs and burst open
the very door of McCloud's room. But Dicksie had on her side that
night One greater than her invincible will or her faithful horse.
McCloud was two hundred miles away.

Barnhardt lost no time in telephoning the Wickiup that Sinclair was in
town, but within an hour, while the two women were still under the
surgeon's protection, a knock at the cottage door gave them a second
fright. Barnhardt answered the summons. He opened the door and, as the
man outside paused to shake the snow off his hat, the surgeon caught
him by the shoulder and dragged into the house Whispering Smith.

Picking the icicles from his hair, Smith listened to all that
Barnhardt said, his eyes roving meantime over everything within the
room and mentally over many things outside it. He congratulated
Barnhardt, and when Marion came into the room he apologized for the
snow he had brought in. Dicksie heard his voice and cried out from the
bedroom. They could not keep her away, and she ran out to catch his
hands and plead with him not to go away. He tried to assure her that
the danger was over; that guards were now outside everywhere, and
would be until morning. But Dicksie clung to him and would take no
refusal.

Whispering Smith looked at her in amazement and in admiration. "You
are captain to-night, Miss Dicksie, by Heaven. If you say the word
I'll lie here on a rug till morning. But that man will not be back
to-night. You are a queen. If I had a mountain girl that would do as
much as that for me I would----"

"What would you do?" asked Marion.

"Say good-by to this accursed country forever."



CHAPTER XLIII

CLOSING IN


In the morning the sun rose with a mountain smile. The storm had swept
the air till the ranges shone blue and the plain sparkled under a
cloudless sky. Bob Scott and Wickwire, riding at daybreak, picked up a
trail on the Fence River road. A consultation was held at the bridge,
and within half an hour Whispering Smith, with unshaken patience, was
in the saddle and following it.

With him were Kennedy and Bob Scott. Sinclair had ridden into the
lines, and Whispering Smith, with his best two men, meant to put it up
to him to ride out. They meant now to get him, with a trail or
without, and were putting horseflesh against horseflesh and craft
against craft.

At the forks of the Fence they picked up Wickwire, Kennedy taking him
on the up road, while Scott with Whispering Smith crossed to the
Crawling Stone. When Smith and Scott reached the Frenchman they parted
to cover in turn each of the trails by which it is possible to get out
of the river country toward the Park and Williams Cache.

By four o'clock in the afternoon they had all covered the ground so
well that the four were able to make their rendezvous on the big Fence
divide, south of Crawling Stone Valley. They then found, to their
disappointment, that, widely separated as they had been, both parties
were following trails they believed to be good. They shot a steer,
tagged it, ate dinner and supper in one, and separated under
Whispering Smith's counsel that both the trails be followed into the
next morning--in the belief that one of them would run out or that the
two would run together. At noon the next day Scott rode through the
hills from the Fence, and Kennedy with Wickwire came through Two
Feather Pass from the Frenchman with the report that the game had left
their valleys.

Without rest they pushed on. At the foot of the Mission Mountains they
picked up the tracks of a party of three horsemen. Twice within ten
miles afterward the men they were following crossed the river. Each
time their trail, with some little difficulty, was found again. At a
little ranch in the Mission foothills, Kennedy and Scott, leaving
Wickwire with Whispering Smith, took fresh horses and pushed ahead as
far as they could ride before dark, but they brought back news. The
trail had split again, with one man riding alone to the left, while
two had taken the hills to the right, heading for Mission Pass and the
Cache. With Gene Johnson and Bob at the mouth of the Cache there was
little fear for that outlet. The turn to the left was the unexpected.
Over the little fire in the ranch kitchen where they ate supper, the
four men were in conference twenty minutes. It was decided that Scott
and Kennedy should head for the Mission Pass, while Whispering Smith,
with Wickwire to trail with him, should undertake to cut off,
somewhere between Fence River and the railroad, the man who had gone
south, the man believed to be Sinclair. It was a late moon, and when
Scott and Kennedy saddled their horses Whispering Smith and Wickwire
were asleep.

With the cowboy, Whispering Smith started at daybreak. No one saw them
again for two days. During those two days and nights they were in the
saddle almost continuously. For every mile the man ahead of them rode
they were forced to ride two miles and often three. Late in the second
night they crossed the railroad, and the first word from them came in
long despatches sent by Whispering Smith to Medicine Bend and
instructions to Kennedy and Scott in the north, which were carried by
hard riders straight to Deep Creek.

On the morning of the third day Dicksie Dunning, who had gone home
from Medicine Bend and who had been telephoning Marion and George
McCloud two days for news, was trying to get Medicine Bend again on
the telephone when Puss came in to say that a man at the kitchen door
wanted to see her.

"Who is it, Puss?"

"I d'no, Miss Dicksie; 'deed, I never seen him b'fore."

Dicksie walked around on the porch to the kitchen. A dust-covered man
sitting on a limp horse threw back the brim of his hat as he touched
it, lifted himself stiffly out of the saddle, and dropped to the
ground. He laughed at Dicksie's startled expression. "Don't you know
me?" he asked, putting out his hand. It was Whispering Smith.

He was a fearful sight. Stained from head to foot with alkali,
saddle-cramped and bent, his face scratched and stained, he stood with
a smiling appeal in his bloodshot eyes.

Dicksie gave a little uncertain cry, clasped her hands, and, with a
scream, threw her arms impulsively around his neck. "Oh, I did not
know you! What has happened? I am so glad to see you! Tell me what
has happened. Are you hurt?"

He stammered like a school-boy. "Nothing has happened. What's this?
Don't cry; nothing at all has happened. I didn't realize what a tramp
I look or I shouldn't have come. But I was only a mile away and I had
heard nothing for four days from Medicine Bend. And how are you? Did
your ride make you ill? No? By Heaven, you are a game girl. That was a
ride! How are they all? Where's your cousin? In town, is he? I thought
I might get some news if I rode up, and oh, Miss Dicksie--jiminy! some
coffee. But I've got only two minutes for it all, only two minutes; do
you think Puss has any on the stove?"

Dicksie with coaxing and pulling got him into the kitchen, and Puss
tumbled over herself to set out coffee and rolls. He showed himself
ravenously hungry, and ate with a simple directness that speedily
accounted for everything in sight. "You have saved my life. Now I am
going, and thank you a thousand times. There, by Heaven, I've
forgotten Wickwire! He is with me--waiting down in the cottonwoods at
the fork. Could Puss put up a lunch I could take to him? He hasn't had
a scrap for twenty-four hours. But, Dicksie, your tramp is a hummer!
I've tried to ride him down and wear him out and lose him, and, by
Heaven, he turns up every time and has been of more use to me than two
men."

She put her hand on Whispering Smith's arm. "I told him if he would
stop drinking he could be foreman here next season." Puss was putting
up the lunch. "Why need you hurry away?" persisted Dicksie. "I've a
thousand things to say."

He looked at her amiably. "This is really a case of must."

"Then, tell me, what favor may I do for you?" She looked appealingly
into his tired eyes. "I want to do something for you. I must! don't
deny me. Only, what shall it be?"

"Something for me? What can I say? You'll be kind to Marion--I
shouldn't have to ask that. What can I ask? Stop! there is one thing.
I've got a poor little devil of an orphan up in the Deep Creek
country. Du Sang murdered his father. You are rich and generous,
Dicksie; do something for him, will you? Kennedy or Bob Scott will
know all about him. Bring him down here, will you, and see he doesn't
go to the dogs? You're a good girl. What's this, crying? Now you are
frightened. Things are not so bad as that. You want to know
everything--I see it in your eyes. Very well, let's trade. You tell me
everything and I'll tell you everything. Now then: Are you engaged?"

They were standing under the low porch with the sunshine breaking
through the trees. She turned away her face and threw all of her
happiness into a laugh. "I won't tell."

"Oh, that's enough. You have told!" declared Whispering Smith. "I
knew--why, of course I knew--but I wanted to make you own up. Well,
here's the way things are. Sinclair has run us all over God's creation
for two days to give his pals a chance to break into Williams Cache to
get the Tower W money they left with Rebstock. For a fact, we have
ridden completely around Sleepy Cat and been down in the Spanish Sinks
since I saw you. He doesn't want to leave without the money, and
doesn't know it is in Kennedy's hands, and can't get into the Cache to
find out. Now the three--whoever the other two are--and Sinclair--are
trying to join forces somewhere up this valley, and Kennedy, Scott,
Wickwire, and I are after them; and every outlet is watched, and it
must all be over, my dear, before sunset to-night. Isn't that fine? I
mean to have the thing wound up somehow. Don't look worried."

"Do not--do not let him kill you," she cried with a sob.

"He will not kill me; don't be afraid."

"I _am_ afraid. Remember what your life is to all of us!"

"Then, of course, I've got to think of what it is to myself--being the
only one I've got. Sometimes I don't think much of it; but when I get
a welcome like this it sets me up. If I can once get out of this
accursed man-slaughtering business, Dicksie--How old are you?
Nineteen? Well, you've got the finest chap in all these mountains, and
George McCloud has the finest----"

With a bubbling laugh she shook her finger at him. "_Now_ you are
caught. Say the finest woman in these mountains if you dare! Say the
finest woman!"

"The finest woman of nineteen in all creation!" He swung with a laugh
into the saddle and waved his hat. She watched him ride down the road
and around the hill. When he reappeared she was still looking and he
was galloping along the lower road. A man rode out at the fork to meet
him and trotted with him over the bridge. Riding leisurely across the
creek, their broad hats bobbing unevenly in the sunshine, they spurred
swiftly past the grove of quaking asps, and in a moment were lost
beyond the trees.



CHAPTER XLIV

CRAWLING STONE WASH


Where the Little Crawling Stone River tears out of the Mission
Mountains it has left a grayish-white gap that may be seen for many
miles. This is the head of the North Crawling Stone Valley. Twenty
miles to the right the big river itself bursts through the Mission
hills in the canyon known as the Box. Between the confluence of Big
and Little Crawling Stone, and on the east side of Little Crawling
Stone, lies a vast waste. Standing in the midst of this frightful
eruption from the heart of the mountains, one sees, as far as the eye
can reach, a landscape utterly forbidding. North for sixty miles lie
the high chains of the Mission range, and a cuplike configuration of
the mountains close to the valley affords a resting-place for the
deepest snows of winter and a precipitous escape for the torrents of
June. Here, when the sun reaches its summer height or a sweet-grass
wind blows soft or a cloudburst above the peaks strikes the southerly
face of the range, winter unfrocks in a single night. A glacier of
snow melts within twenty-four hours into a torrent of lava and bursts
with incredible fury from a thousand gorges.

When this happens nothing withstands. Whatever lies in the path of the
flood is swept from the face of the earth. The mountains, assailed in
a moment with the ferocity of a hundred storms, are ripped and torn
like hills of clay. The frosted scale of the granite, the desperate
root of the cedar, the poised nest of the eagle, the clutch of the
crannied vine, the split and start of the mountainside, are all as one
before the June thaw. At its height Little Crawling Stone, with a head
of forty feet, is a choking flood of rock. Mountains, torn and
bleeding, vomit bowlders of thirty, sixty, a hundred tons like pebbles
upon the valley. Even there they find no permanent resting-place. Each
succeeding year sees them torn groaning from their beds in the wash.
New masses of rock are hurled upon them, new waters lift them in fresh
caprice, and the crash and the grinding echo in the hills like a roar
of mountain thunder.

Where the wash covers the valley nothing lives; the fertile earth has
long been buried under the mountain _débris_. It supports no plant
life beyond the scantiest deposit of weed-plant seed, and the rocky
scurf, spreading like a leprosy over many miles, scars the face of the
green earth. This is the Crawling Stone wash. Exhausted by the fury
of its few yearly weeks of activity, Little Crawling Stone runs for
the greater part of the year a winding, shallow stream through a bed
of whitened bowlders where lizards sun themselves and trout lurk in
shaded pools.

When Whispering Smith and his companions were fairly started on the
last day of their ride, it was toward this rift in the Mission range
that the trail led them. Sinclair, with consummate cleverness, had
rejoined his companions; but the attempt to get into the Cache, and
his reckless ride into Medicine Bend, had reduced their chances of
escape to a single outlet, and that they must find up Crawling Stone
Valley. The necessity of it was spelled in every move the pursued men
had made for twenty-four hours. They were riding the pick of mountain
horseflesh and covering their tracks by every device known to the high
country. Behind them, made prudent by unusual danger, rode the best
men the mountain division could muster for the final effort to bring
them to account. The fast riding of the early week had given way to
the pace of caution. No trail sign was overlooked, no point of
concealment directly approached, no hiding-place left unsearched.

The tension of a long day of this work was drawing to a close when the
sun set and left the big wash in the shadow of the mountains. On the
higher ground to the right, Kennedy and Scott were riding where they
could command the gullies of the precipitous left bank of the river.
High on the left bank itself, worming his way like a snake from point
to point of concealment through the scanty brush of the mountainside,
crawled Wickwire, commanding the pockets in the right bank. Closer to
the river on the right and following the trail itself over shale and
rock and between scattered bowlders, Whispering Smith, low on his
horse's neck, rode slowly.

It was almost too dark to catch the slight discolorations where
pebbles had been disturbed on a flat surface or the calk of a
horseshoe had slipped on the uneven face of a ledge, and he had halted
under an uplift to wait for Wickwire on the distant left to advance,
when, half a mile below him, a horseman crossing the river rode slowly
past a gap in the rocks and disappeared below the next bend. He was
followed in a moment by a second rider and a third. Whispering Smith
knew he had not been seen. He had flushed the game, and, wheeling his
horse, rode straight up the river-bank to high ground, where he could
circle around widely below them. They had slipped between his line and
Wickwire's, and were doubling back, following the dry bed of the
stream. It was impossible to recall Kennedy and Scott without giving
an alarm, but by a quick _détour_ he could at least hold the quarry
back for twenty minutes with his rifle, and in that time Kennedy and
Scott could come up.

Less than half an hour of daylight remained. If the outlaws could slip
down the wash and out into the Crawling Stone Valley they had every
chance of getting away in the night; and if the third man should be
Barney Rebstock, Whispering Smith knew that Sinclair thought only of
escape. Smith alone, of their pursuers, could now intercept them, but
a second hope remained: on the left, Wickwire was high enough to
command every turn in the bed of the river. He might see them and
could force them to cover with his rifle even at long range. Casting
up the chances, Whispering Smith, riding faster over the uneven ground
than anything but sheer recklessness would have prompted, hastened
across the waste. His rifle lay in his hand, and he had pushed his
horse to a run. A single fearful instinct crowded now upon the long
strain of the week. A savage fascination burned like a fever in his
veins, and he meant that they should not get away. Taking chances that
would have shamed him in cooler moments, he forced his horse at the
end of the long ride to within a hundred paces of the river, threw his
lines, slipped like a lizard from the saddle, and, darting with
incredible swiftness from rock to rock, gained the water's edge.

From up the long shadows of the wash there came the wail of an owl.
From it he knew that Wickwire had seen them and was warning him, but
he had anticipated the warning and stood below where the hunted men
must ride. He strained his eyes over the waste of rock above. For one
half-hour of daylight he would have sold, in that moment, ten years of
his life. What could he do if they should be able to secrete
themselves until dark between him and Wickwire? Gliding under cover of
huge rocks up the dry watercourse, he reached a spot where the floods
had scooped a long, hollow curve out of a soft ledge in the bank,
leaving a stretch of smooth sand on the bed of the stream. At the
upper point great bowlders pushed out in the river. He could not
inspect the curve from the spot he had gained without reckless
exposure, but he must force the little daylight left to him. Climbing
completely over the lower point, he advanced cautiously, and from
behind a sheltering spur stepped out upon an overhanging table of rock
and looked across the river-bottom. Three men had halted on the sand
within the curve. Two lay on their rifles under the upper point, a
hundred and twenty paces from Whispering Smith. The third man,
Seagrue, less than fifty yards away, had got off his horse and was
laying down his rifle, when the hoot-owl screeched again and he looked
uneasily back. They had chosen for their halt a spot easily defended,
and needed only darkness to make them safe, when Smith, stepping out
into plain sight, threw forward his hand.

They heard his sharp call to pitch up, and the men under the point
jumped. Seagrue had not yet taken his hand from his rifle. He threw it
to his shoulder. As closely together as two fingers of the right hand
can be struck twice in the palm of the left, two rifle-shots cracked
across the wash. Two bullets passed so close in flight they might have
struck. One cut the dusty hair from Smith's temple and slit the brim
of his hat above his ear; the other struck Seagrue under the left eye,
ploughed through the roof of his mouth, and, coming out below his ear,
splintered the rock at his back.

The shock alone would have staggered a bullock, but Seagrue, laughing,
came forward pumping his gun. Sinclair, at a hundred and twenty yards,
cut instantly into the fight, and the ball from his rifle creased the
alkali that crusted Whispering Smith's unshaven cheek. As he fired he
sprang to cover.

For Seagrue and Smith there was no cover: for one or both it was death
in the open and Seagrue, with his rifle at his cheek, walked straight
into it. Taking for a moment the fire of the three guns, Whispering
Smith stood, a perfect target, outlined against the sky. They whipped
the dust from his coat, tore the sleeve from his wrist, and ripped the
blouse collar from his neck; but he felt no bullet shock. He saw
before him only the buckle of Seagrue's belt forty paces away, and
sent bullet after bullet at the gleam of brass between the sights.
Both men were using high-pressure guns, and the deadly shock of the
slugs made Seagrue twitch and stagger. The man was dying as he walked.
Smith's hand was racing with the lever, and had a cartridge jammed,
the steel would have snapped like a match.

It was beyond human endurance to support the leaden death. The little
square of brass between the sights wavered. Seagrue stumbled, doubled
on his knees, and staggering plunged loosely forward on the sand.
Whispering Smith threw his fire toward the bowlder behind which
Sinclair and Barney Rebstock had disappeared.

Suddenly he realized that the bullets from the point were not coming
his way. He was aware of a second rifle-duel above the bend. Wickwire,
worming his way down the stream, had uncovered Sinclair and young
Rebstock from behind. A yell between the shots rang across the wash,
and the cringing figure of a man ran out toward Whispering Smith with
his hands high in the air, and pitched headlong on the ground. It was
the skulker, Barney Rebstock, driven out by Wickwire's fire.

The, shooting ceased. Silence fell upon the gloom of the dusk. Then
came a calling between Smith and Wickwire, and a signalling of
pistol-shots for their companions. Kennedy and Bob Scott dashed down
toward the river-bed on their horses. Seagrue lay on his face. Young
Rebstock sat with his hands around his knees on the sand. Above him at
some distance, Wickwire and Smith stood before a man who leaned
against the sharp cheek of the bowlder at the point. In his hands his
rifle was held across his lap just as he had dropped on his knee to
fire. He had never moved after he was struck. His head, drooping a
little, rested against the rock, and his hat lay on the sand; his
heavy beard had sunk into his chest and he kneeled in the shadow,
asleep. Scott and Kennedy knew him. In the mountains there was no
double for Murray Sinclair.

When he jumped behind the point to pick Whispering Smith off the ledge
he had laid himself directly under Wickwire's fire across the wash.
The first shot of the cowboy at two hundred yards had passed, as he
knelt, through both temples.

They laid him at Seagrue's side. The camp was made beside the dead men
in the wash. "You had better not take him to Medicine Bend," said
Whispering Smith, sitting late with Kennedy before the dying fire. "It
would only mean that much more unpleasant talk and notoriety for her.
The inquest can be held on the Frenchman. Take him to his own ranch
and telegraph the folks in Wisconsin--God knows whether they will want
to hear. But his mother is there yet. But if half what Barney has told
to-night is true it would be better if no one ever heard."



CHAPTER XLV

BACK TO THE MOUNTAINS


In the cottage in Boney Street, one year later, two women were
waiting. It was ten o'clock at night.

"Isn't it a shame to be disappointed like this?" complained Dicksie,
pushing her hair impatiently back. "Really, poor George is worked to
death. He was to be in at six o'clock, Mr. Lee said, and here it is
ten, and all your beautiful dinner spoiled. Marion, are you keeping
something from me? Look me in the eye. Have you heard from Gordon
Smith?"

"No, Dicksie."

"Not since he left the mountains a year ago?"

"Not since he left the mountains a year ago."

Dicksie, sitting forward in her chair, bent her eyes upon the fire.
"It is so strange. I wonder where he is to-night. How he loves you,
Marion! He told me everything when he said good-by. He made me promise
not to tell then; but I didn't promise to keep it forever."

Marion smiled. "A year isn't forever, Dicksie."

"Well, it's pretty near forever when you are in love," declared
Dicksie energetically. "I know just how he felt," she went on in a
quieter tone. "He felt that all the disagreeable excitement and talk
we had here then bore heaviest on you. He said if he stayed in
Medicine Bend the newspapers never would cease talking and people
never would stop annoying you--and you know George did say they were
asking to have passenger trains held here just so people could see
Whispering Smith. And, Marion, think of it, he actually doesn't know
yet that George and I are married! How could we notify him without
knowing where he was? And he doesn't know that trains are running up
the Crawling Stone Valley. Mercy! a year goes like an hour when you're
in love, doesn't it? George said he _knew_ we should hear from him
within six months--and George has never yet been mistaken excepting
when he said I should grow to like the railroad business--and now it
is a year and no news from him." Dicksie sprang from her chair. "I am
going to call up Mr. Rooney Lee and just demand my husband! I think
Mr. Lee handles trains shockingly every time George tries to get home
like this on Saturday nights--now don't you? And passenger trains
ought to get out of the way, anyway, when a division superintendent
is trying to get home. What difference does it make to a passenger,
I'd like to know, whether he is a few hours less or longer in getting
to California or Japan or Manila or Hongkong or Buzzard's Gulch,
provided he is safe--and you know there has not been an accident on
the division for a year, Marion. There's a step now. I'll bet that's
George!"

The door opened and it was George.

"Oh, honey!" cried Dicksie softly, waving her arms as she stood an
instant before she ran to him. "But haven't I been a-waitin' for
you!"

"Too bad! and, Marion," he exclaimed, turning without releasing his
wife from his arms, "how can I ever make good for all this delay? Oh,
yes, I've had dinner. Never, for Heaven's sake, wait dinner for me!
But wait, both of you, till you hear the news!"

Dicksie kept her hands on his shoulders. "You have heard from
Whispering Smith!"

"I have."

"I knew it!"

"Wait till I get it straight. Mr. Bucks is here--I came in with him in
his car. He has news of Whispering Smith. One of our freight-traffic
men in the Puget Sound country, who has been in a hospital in
Victoria, learned by the merest accident that Gordon Smith was lying
in the same hospital with typhoid fever."

Marion rose swiftly. "Then the time has come, thank God, when I can do
something for him; and I am going to him to-night!"

"Fine!" cried McCloud. "So am I, and that is why I'm late."

"Then I am going, too," exclaimed Dicksie solemnly.

"Do you mean it?" asked her husband. "Shall we let her, Marion? Mr.
Bucks says I am to take his car and take Barnhardt, and keep the car
there till I can bring Gordon back. Mr. Bucks and his secretary will
ride to-night as far as Bear Dance with us, and in the morning they
join Mr. Glover there." McCloud looked at his watch. "If you are both
going, can you be ready by twelve o'clock for the China Mail?"

"We can be ready in an hour," declared Dicksie, throwing her arm half
around Marion's neck, "can't we, Marion?"

"I can be ready in thirty minutes."

"Then, by Heaven--" McCloud studied his watch.

"What is it, George?"

"We won't wait for the midnight train. We will take an engine, run
special to Green River, overhaul the Coast Limited, and save a whole
day."

"George, pack your suit-case--quick, dear; and you, too, Marion;
suit-cases are all we can take," cried Dicksie, pushing her husband
toward the bedroom. "I'll telephone Rooney Lee for an engine myself
right away. Dear me, it is kind of nice, to be able to order up a
train when you want one in a hurry, isn't it, Marion? Perhaps I
_shall_ come to like it if they ever make George a vice-president."

In half an hour they had joined Bucks in his car, and Bill Dancing was
piling the baggage into the vestibule. Bucks was sitting down to
coffee. Chairs had been provided at the table, and after the
greetings, Bucks, seating Marion Sinclair at his right and Barnhardt
and McCloud at his left, asked Dicksie to sit opposite and pour the
coffee. "You are a railroad man's wife now and you must learn to
assume responsibility."

McCloud looked apprehensive. "I am afraid she will be assuming the
whole division if you encourage her too much, Mr. Bucks."

"Marrying a railroad man," continued Bucks, pursuing his own thought,
"is as bad as marrying into the army; if you have your husband half
the time you are lucky. Then, too, in the railroad business your
husband may have to be set back when the traffic falls off. It's a
little light at this moment, too. How should you take it if we had to
put him on a freight train for a while, Mrs. McCloud?"

"Oh, Mr. Bucks!"

"Or suppose he should be promoted and should have to go to
headquarters--some of us are getting old, you know."

"Really," Dicksie looked most demure as she filled the president's
cup, "really, I often say to Mr. McCloud that I can not believe Mr.
Bucks is president of this great road. He always looks to me to be the
youngest man on the whole executive staff. Two lumps of sugar, Mr.
Bucks?"

The bachelor president rolled his eyes as he reached for his cup.
"Thank you, Mrs. McCloud, only one after that." He looked toward
Marion. "All I can say is that if Mrs. McCloud's husband had married
her two years earlier he might have been general manager by this time.
Nothing could hold a man back, even a man of his modesty, whose wife
can say as nice things as that. By the way, Mrs. Sinclair, does this
man keep you supplied with transportation?"

"Oh, I have my annual, Mr. Bucks!" Marion opened her bag to find it.

Bucks held out his hand. "Let me see it a moment." He adjusted his
eye-glasses, looked at the pass, and called for a pen; Bucks had
never lost his gracious way of doing very little things. He laid the
card on the table and wrote across the back of it over his name: "Good
on all passenger trains." When he handed the card back to Marion he
turned to Dicksie. "I understand you are laying out two or three towns
on the ranch, Mrs. McCloud?"

"Two or three! Oh, no, only one as yet, Mr. Bucks! They are laying
out, oh, such a pretty town! Cousin Lance is superintending the street
work--and whom do you think I am going to name it after? You! I think
'Bucks' makes a dandy name for a town, don't you? And I am going to
have one town named Dunning; there will be two stations on the ranch,
you know, and I think, really, there _ought_ to be three."

"As many as that?"

"I don't believe you can operate a line that long, Mr. Bucks, with
stations fourteen miles apart." Bucks opened his eyes in benevolent
surprise. Dicksie, unabashed, kept right on: "Well, do you know how
traffic is increasing over there, with the trains running only two
months now? Why, the settlers are fairly pouring into the country."

"Will you give me a corner lot if we put another station on the
ranch?"

"I will give you two if you will give us excursions and run some of
the Overland passenger trains through the valley."

Bucks threw back his head and laughed in his tremendous way. "I don't
know about that; I daren't promise offhand, Mrs. McCloud. But if you
can get Whispering Smith to come back you might lay the matter before
him. He is to take charge of all the colonist business when he
returns; he promised to do that before he went away for his vacation.
Whispering Smith is really the man you will have to stand in with."

                  *       *       *       *       *

Whispering Smith, lying on his iron bed in the hospital, professed not
to be able quite to understand why they had made such a fuss about it.
He underwent the excitement of the appearance of Barnhardt and the
first talk with McCloud and Dicksie with hardly a rise in his
temperature, and, lying in the sunshine of the afternoon, he was
waiting for Marion. When she opened the door his face was turned
wistfully toward it. He held out his hands with the old smile. She ran
half blinded across the room and dropped on her knee beside him.

"My dear Marion, why did they drag you away out here?"

"They did not drag me away out here. Did you expect me to sit with
folded hands when I heard you were ill anywhere in the wide world?"

He looked hungrily at her. "I didn't suppose any one in the wide world
would take it very seriously."

"Mr. McCloud is crushed this afternoon to think you have said you
would not go back with him. You would not believe how he misses you."

"It has been pretty lonesome for the last year. I didn't think it
_could_ be so lonesome anywhere."

"Nor did I."

"Have you noticed it? I shouldn't think you could in the mountains.
Was there much water last spring? Heavens, I'd like to see the
Crawling Stone again!"

"Why don't you come back?"

He folded her hands in his own. "Marion, it is you. I've been afraid I
couldn't stand it to be near you and not tell you----"

"What need you be afraid to tell me?"

"That I have loved you so long."

Her head sunk close to his. "Don't you know you have said it to me
many times without words? I've only been waiting for a chance to tell
you how happy it makes me to think it is true."



ZANE GREY'S NOVELS

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list

THE LIGHT OF WESTERN STARS

A New York society girl buys a ranch which becomes the center of
frontier warfare. Her loyal superintendent rescues her when she is
captured by bandits. A surprising climax brings the story to a
delightful close.

THE RAINBOW TRAIL

The story of a young clergyman who becomes a wanderer in the great
western uplands--until at last love and faith awake.

DESERT GOLD

The story describes the recent uprising along the border, and ends
with the finding of the gold which two prospectors had willed to the
girl who is the story's heroine.

RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE

A picturesque romance of Utah of some forty years ago when Mormon
authority ruled. The prosecution of Jane Withersteen is the theme of
the story.

THE LAST OF THE PLAINSMEN

This is the record of a trip which the author took with Buffalo Jones,
known as the preserver of the American bison, across the Arizona
desert and of a hunt in "that wonderful country of deep canons and
giant pines."

THE HERITAGE OF THE DESERT

A lovely girl, who has been reared among Mormons, learns to love a
young New Englander. The Mormon religion, however, demands that the
girl shall become the second wife of one of the Mormons--Well, that's
the problem of this great story.

THE SHORT STOP

The young hero, tiring of his factory grind, starts out to win fame
and fortune as a professional ball player. His hard knocks at the
start are followed by such success as clean sportsmanship, courage and
honesty ought to win.

BETTY ZANE

This story tells of the bravery and heroism of Betty, the beautiful
young sister of old Colonel Zane, one of the bravest pioneers.

THE LONE STAR RANGER

After killing a man in self defense, Buck Duane becomes an outlaw
along the Texas border. In a camp on the Mexican side of the river, he
finds a young girl held prisoner, and in attempting to rescue her,
brings down upon himself the wrath of her captors and henceforth is
hunted on one side by honest men, on the other by outlaws.

THE BORDER LEGION

Joan Randle, in a spirit of anger, sent Jim Cleve out to a lawless
Western mining camp, to prove his mettle. Then realizing that she
loved him--she followed him out. On her way, she is captured by a
bandit band, and trouble begins when she shoots Kells, the leader--and
nurses him to health again. Here enters another romance--when Joan,
disguised as an outlaw, observes Jim, in the throes of dissipation. A
gold strike, a thrilling robbery--gambling and gun-play carry you
along breathlessly.

THE LAST OF THE GREAT SCOUTS, By Helen Cody Wetmore and Zane Grey

The life story of Colonel William F. Cody, "Buffalo Bill," as told by
his sister and Zane Grey. It begins with his boyhood in Iowa and his
first encounter with an Indian. We see "Bill" as a pony express rider,
then near Fort Sumter as Chief of the Scouts, and later engaged in the
most dangerous Indian campaigns. There is also a very interesting
account of the travels of "The Wild West" Show. No character in public
life makes a stronger appeal to the imagination of America than
"Buffalo Bill," whose daring and bravery made him famous.

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



THE NOVELS OF

GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's
list.

GRAUSTARK. Illustrated with Scenes from the Play.

With the appearance of this novel, the author introduced a new type of
story and won for himself a perpetual reading public. It is the story
of love behind a throne in a new and strange country.

BEVERLY OF GRAUSTARK. Illustrations by Harrison Fisher.

This is a sequel to "Graustark." A bewitching American girl visits the
little principality and there has a romantic love affair.

PRINCE OF GRAUSTARK. Illustrations by A. I. Keller.

The Prince of Graustark is none other than the son of the heroine of
"Graustark." Beverly's daughter, and an American multimillionaire with
a brilliant and lovely daughter also figure in the story.

BREWSTER'S MILLIONS.

Illustrated with Scenes from the Photo-Play.

A young man, required to spend one million dollars in one year, in
order to inherit seven, accomplishes the task in this lively story.

COWARDICE COURT.

Illus. by Harrison Fisher and decorations by Theodore Hapgood.

A romance of love and adventure, the plot forming around a social feud
in the Adirondacks in which an English girl is tempted into being a
traitor by a romantic young American.

THE HOLLOW OF HER HAND. Illustrated by A. I. Keller.

A story of modern New York, built around an ancient enmity, born of
the scorn of the aristocrat for one of inferior birth.

WHAT'S-HIS-NAME. Illustrations by Harrison Fisher.

"What's-His-Name" is the husband of a beautiful and popular actress
who is billboarded on Broadway under an assumed name. The very
opposite manner in which these two live their lives brings a dramatic
climax to the story.

Ask for Complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



THE NOVELS OF

MARY ROBERTS RINEHART

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.

"K." Illustrated.

K. LeMoyne, famous surgeon, drops out of the world that has known him,
and goes to live in a little town where beautiful Sidney Page lives.
She is in training to become a nurse. The joys and troubles of their
young love are told with that keen and sympathetic appreciation which
has made the author famous.

THE MAN IN LOWER TEN. Illustrated by Howard Chandler Christy.

An absorbing detective story woven around the mysterious death of the
"Man in Lower Ten." The strongest elements of Mrs. Rinehart's success
are found in this book.

WHEN A MAN MARRIES.

Illustrated by Harrison Fisher and Mayo Bunker.

A young artist, whose wife had recently divorced him, finds that his
aunt is soon to visit him. The aunt, who contributes to the family
income and who has never seen the wife, knows nothing of the domestic
upheaval. How the young man met the situation is humorously and most
entertainingly told.

THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE. Illus. by Lester Ralph.

The summer occupants of "Sunnyside" find the dead body of Arnold
Armstrong, the son of the owner, on the circular staircase. Following
the murder a bank failure is announced. Around these two events is
woven a plot of absorbing interest.

THE STREET OF SEVEN STARS. Illustrated (Photo Play Edition.)

Harmony Wells, studying in Vienna to be a great violinist, suddenly
realizes that her money is almost gone. She meets a young ambitious
doctor who offers her chivalry and sympathy, and together with
world-worn Dr. Anna and Jimmie, the waif, they share their love and
slender means.

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



MYRTLE REED'S NOVELS

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's
list.

LAVENDER AND OLD LACE.

A charming story of a quaint corner of New England, where bygone
romance finds a modern parallel. The story centers round the coming of
love to the young people on the staff of a newspaper--and it is one of
the prettiest, sweetest and quaintest of old-fashioned love stories.

MASTER OF THE VINEYARD.

A pathetic love story of a young girl, Rosemary. The teacher of the
country school, who is also master of the vineyard, comes to know her
through her desire for books. She is happy in his love till another
woman comes into his life. But happiness and emancipation from her
many trials come to Rosemary at last. The book has a touch of humor
and pathos that will appeal to every reader.

OLD ROSE AND SILVER.

A love story,--sentimental and humorous,--with the plot subordinate to
the character delineation of its quaint people and to the exquisite
descriptions of picturesque spots and of lovely, old, rare treasures.

A WEAVER OF DREAMS.

This story tells of the love-affairs of three young people, with an
old-fashioned romance in the background. A tiny dog plays an important
role in serving as a foil for the heroine's talking ingeniousness.
There is poetry, as well as tenderness and charm, in this tale of a
weaver of dreams.

A SPINNER IN THE SUN.

An old-fashioned love story, of a veiled lady who lives in solitude
and whose features her neighbors have never seen. There is a mystery
at the heart of the book that throws over it the glamour of romance.

THE MASTER'S VIOLIN.

A love story in a musical atmosphere. A picturesque, old German
virtuoso consents to take for his pupil a handsome youth who proves to
have an aptitude for technique, but not the soul of an artist. The
youth cannot express the love, the passion and the tragedies of life
as can the master. But a girl comes into his life, and through his
passionate love for her, he learns the lessons that life has to
give--and his soul awakes.

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



STORIES OF RARE CHARM BY

GENE STRATTON-PORTER

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.

MICHAEL O'HALLORAN, Illustrated by Frances Rogers.

Michael is a quick-witted little Irish newsboy, living in Northern
Indiana. He adopts a deserted little girl, a cripple. He also assumes
the responsibility of leading the entire rural community upward and
onward.

LADDIE. Illustrated by Herman Pfeifer.

This is a bright, cheery tale with the scenes laid in Indiana. The
story is told by Little Sister, the youngest member of a large family,
but it is concerned not so much with childish doings as with the love
affairs of older members of the family. Chief among them is that of
Laddie and the Princess, an English girl who has come to live in the
neighborhood and about whose family there hangs a mystery.

THE HARVESTER. Illustrated by W. L. Jacobs.

"The Harvester," is a man of the woods and fields, and if the book had
nothing in it but the splendid figure of this man it would be notable.
But when the Girl comes to his "Medicine Woods," there begins a
romance of the rarest idyllic quality.

FRECKLES. Illustrated.

Freckles is a nameless waif when the tale opens, but the way in which
he takes hold of life; the nature friendships he forms in the great
Limberlost Swamp; the manner in which everyone who meets him succumbs
to the charm of his engaging personality; and his love-story with "The
Angel" are full of real sentiment.

A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST. Illustrated.

The story of a girl of the Michigan woods; a buoyant, loveable type of
the self-reliant American. Her philosophy is one of love and kindness
towards all things; her hope is never dimmed. And by the sheer beauty
of her soul, and the purity of her vision, she wins from barren and
unpromising surroundings those rewards of high courage.

AT THE FOOT OF THE RAINBOW. Illustrations in colors.

The scene of this charming love story is laid in Central Indiana. The
story is one of devoted friendship, and tender self-sacrificing love.
The novel is brimful of the most beautiful word painting of nature,
and its pathos and tender sentiment will endear it to all.

THE SONG OF THE CARDINAL. Profusely illustrated.

A love ideal of the Cardinal bird and his mate, told with delicacy and
humor.

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



B. M. BOWER'S NOVELS

Thrilling Western Romances

Large 12 mos. Handsomely bound in cloth. Illustrated

CHIP, OF THE FLYING U

A breezy wholesome tale, wherein the love affairs of Chip and Della
Whitman are charmingly and humorously told. Chip's jealousy of Dr.
Cecil Grantham, who turns out to be a big, blue eyed young woman is
very amusing. A clever, realistic story of the American Cow-puncher.

THE HAPPY FAMILY

A lively and amusing story, dealing with the adventures of eighteen
jovial, big hearted Montana cowboys. Foremost amongst them, we find
Ananias Green, known as Andy, whose imaginative powers cause many
lively and exciting adventures.

HER PRAIRIE KNIGHT

A realistic story of the plains, describing a gay party of Easterners
who exchange a cottage at Newport for the rough homeliness of a
Montana ranch-house. The merry-hearted cowboys, the fascinating
Beatrice, and the effusive Sir Redmond, become living, breathing
personalities.

THE RANGE DWELLERS

Here are every-day, genuine cowboys, just as they really exist.
Spirited action, a range feud between two families, and a Romeo and
Juliet courtship make this a bright, jolly, entertaining story,
without a dull page.

THE LURE OF DIM TRAILS

A vivid portrayal of the experience of an Eastern author, among the
cowboys of the West, in search of "local color" for a new novel. "Bud"
Thurston learns many a lesson while following "the lure of the dim
trails" but the hardest, and probably the most welcome, is that of
love.

THE LONESOME TRAIL

"Weary" Davidson leaves the ranch for Portland, where conventional
city life palls on him. A little branch of sage brush, pungent with
the atmosphere of the prairie, and the recollection of a pair of large
brown eyes soon compel his return. A wholesome love story.

THE LONG SHADOW

A vigorous Western story, sparkling with the free, outdoor, life of a
mountain ranch. Its scenes shift rapidly and its actors play the game
of life fearlessly and like men. It is a fine love story from start to
finish.

Ask for a complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction.

Grosset & Dunlap, 526 West 26th St., New York



THE NOVELS OF

STEWARD EDWARD WHITE

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.

THE BLAZED TRAIL. Illustrated by Thomas Fogarty.

A wholesome story with gleams of humor, telling of a young man who
blazed his way to fortune through the heart of the Michigan pines.

THE CALL OF THE NORTH. Ills. with Scenes from the Play.

The story centers about a Hudson Bay trading post, known as "The
Conjuror's House" (the original title of the book.)

THE RIVERMAN. Ills. by N. C. Wyeth and C. F. Underwood.

The story of a man's fight against a river and of a struggle between
honesty and grit on the one side, and dishonesty and shrewdness on the
other.

RULES OF THE GAME. Illustrated by Lejaren A. Hiller.

The romance of the son of "The Riverman." The young college hero goes
into the lumber camp, is antagonized by "graft," and comes into the
romance of his life.

GOLD. Illustrated by Thomas Fogarty.

The gold fever of '49 is pictured with vividness. A part of the story
is laid in Panama, the route taken by the gold-seekers.

THE FOREST. Illustrated by Thomas Fogarty.

The book tells of the canoe trip of the author and his companion into
the great woods. Much information about camping and outdoor life. A
splendid treatise on woodcraft.

THE MOUNTAINS. Illustrated by Fernand Lungren.

An account of the adventures of a five months' camping trip in the
Sierras of California. The author has followed a true sequence of
events.

THE CABIN. Illustrated with photographs by the author.

A chronicle of the building of a cabin home in a forest-girdled meadow
of the Sierras. Full of nature and woodcraft, and the shrewd
philosophy of "California John."

THE GRAY DAWN. Illustrated by Thomas Fogarty.

This book tells of the period shortly after the first mad rush for
gold in California. A young lawyer and his wife, initiated into the
gay life of San Francisco, find their ways parted through his downward
course, but succeeding events bring the "gray dawn of better things"
for both of them.

Ask for Complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



NOVELS OF FRONTIER LIFE BY

WILLIAM MacLEOD RAINE

HANDSOMELY BOUND IN CLOTH. ILLUSTRATED.

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's list

MAVERICKS.

A tale of the western frontier, where the "rustler," whose depredations
are so keenly resented by the early settlers of the range, abounds. One
of the sweetest love stories ever told.

A TEXAS RANGER.

How a member of the most dauntless border police force carried law
into the mesquit, saved the life of an innocent man after a series of
thrilling adventures, followed a fugitive to Wyoming, and then passed
through deadly peril to ultimate happiness.

WYOMING.

In this vivid story of the outdoor West the author has captured the
breezy charm of "cattleland," and brings out the turbid life of the
frontier with all its engaging dash and vigor.

RIDGWAY OF MONTANA.

The scene is laid in the mining centers of Montana, where politics and
mining industries are the religion of the country. The political
contest, the love scene, and the fine character drawing give this
story great strength and charm.

BUCKY O'CONNOR.

Every chapter teems with wholesome, stirring adventures, replete with
the dashing spirit of the border, told with dramatic dash and
absorbing fascination of style and plot.

CROOKED TRAILS AND STRAIGHT.

A story of Arizona; of swift-riding men and daring outlaws; of a
bitter feud between cattlemen and sheep-herders. The heroine is a most
unusual woman and her love story reaches a culmination that is
fittingly characteristic of the great free West.

BRAND BLOTTERS.

A story of the Cattle Range. This story brings out the turbid life of
the frontier, with all its engaging dash and vigor, with a charming
love interest running through its 320 pages.

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



JACK LONDON'S NOVELS

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.

JOHN BARLEYCORN. Illustrated by H. T. Dunn.

This remarkable book is a record of the author's own amazing
experiences. This big, brawny world rover, who has been acquainted
with alcohol from boyhood, comes out boldly against John Barleycorn.
It is a string of exciting adventures, yet it forcefully conveys an
unforgettable idea and makes a typical Jack London book.

THE VALLEY OF THE MOON. Frontispiece by George Harper.

The story opens in the city slums where Billy Roberts, teamster and
ex-prize fighter, and Saxon Brown, laundry worker, meet and love and
marry. They tramp from one end of California to the other, and in the
Valley of the Moon find the farm paradise that is to be their
salvation.

BURNING DAYLIGHT. Four illustrations.

The story of an adventurer who went to Alaska and laid the foundations
of his fortune before the gold hunters arrived. Bringing his fortunes
to the States he is cheated out of it by a crowd of money kings, and
recovers it only at the muzzle of his gun. He then starts out as a
merciless exploiter on his own account. Finally he takes to drinking
and becomes a picture of degeneration. About this time he falls in
love with his stenographer and wins her heart but not her hand and
then--but read the story!

A SON OF THE SUN. Illustrated by A. O. Fischer and C. W. Ashley.

David Grief was once a light-haired, blue-eyed youth who came from
England to the South Seas in search of adventure. Tanned like a native
and as lithe as a tiger, he became a real son of the sun. The life
appealed to him and he remained and became very wealthy.

THE CALL OF THE WILD. Illustrations by Philip R. Goodwin and Charles
Livingston Bull. Decorations by Charles E. Hooper.

A book of dog adventures as exciting as any man's exploits could be.
Here is excitement to stir the blood and here is picturesque color to
transport the reader to primitive scenes.

THE SEA WOLF. Illustrated by W. J. Aylward.

Told by a man whom Fate suddenly swings from his fastidious life into
the power of the brutal captain of a sealing schooner. A novel of
adventure warmed by a beautiful love episode that every reader will
hail with delight.

WHITE FANG. Illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull.

"White Fang" is part dog, part wolf and all brute, living in the frozen
north; he gradually comes under the spell of man's companionship, and
surrenders all at the last in a fight with a bull dog. Thereafter he
is man's loving slave.

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



THE NOVELS OF

CLARA LOUISE BURNHAM

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.

JEWEL: A Chapter in Her Life.

Illustrated by Maude and Genevieve Cowles.

A story breathing the doctrine of love and patience as exemplified in
the life of a child. Jewel will never grow old because of the
immortality of her love.

JEWEL'S STORY BOOK. Illustrated by Albert Schmitt.

A sequel to "Jewel," in which the same characteristics of love and
cheerfulness touch and uplift the reader.

THE INNER FLAME. Frontispiece in color.

A young mining engineer, whose chief ambition is to become an artist,
but who has no friends with whom to realize his hopes, has a way
opened to him to try his powers, and, of course, he is successful.

THE RIGHT PRINCESS.

At a fashionable Long Island resort, a stately English woman employs a
forcible New England housekeeper to serve in her interesting home.
Many humorous situations result. A delightful love affair runs through
it all.

THE OPENED SHUTTERS.

Illustrated with Scenes from the Photo Play.

A beautiful woman, at discord with life, is brought to realize, by her
new friends, that she may open the shutters of her soul to the blessed
sunlight of joy by casting aside self love.

THE RIGHT TRACK.

Frontispiece in color by Greene Blumenschien.

A story of a young girl who marries for money so that she can enjoy
things intellectual. Neglect of her husband and of her two step
children makes an unhappy home till a friend brings a new philosophy
of happiness into the household.

CLEVER BETSY. Illustrated by Rose O' Neill.

The "Clever Betsy" was a boat--named for the unyielding spinster whom
the captain hoped to marry. Through the two Betsy's a delightful group
of people are introduced.

Ask for Complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



CHARMING BOOKS FOR GIRLS

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list

WHEN PATTY WENT TO COLLEGE, By Jean Webster. Illustrated by C. D.
Williams.

One of the best stories of life in a girl's college that has ever been
written. It is bright, whimsical and entertaining, lifelike, laughable
and thoroughly human.

JUST PATTY, By Jean Webster. Illustrated by C. M. Relyea.

Patty is full of the joy of living, fun-loving, given to ingenious
mischief for its own sake, with a disregard for pretty convention
which is an unfailing source of joy to her fellows.

THE POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL, By Eleanor Gates. With four full page
illustrations.

This story relates the experience of one of those unfortunate children
whose early days are passed in the companionship of a governess,
seldom seeing either parent, and famishing for natural love and
tenderness. A charming play as dramatized by the author.

REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM, By Kate Douglas Wiggin.

One of the most beautiful studies of childhood--Rebecca's artistic,
unusual and quaintly charming qualities stand out midst a circle of
austere New Englanders. The stage version is making a phenomenal
dramatic record.

NEW CHRONICLES OF REBECCA, By Kate Douglas Wiggin. Illustrated by F.
C. Yohn.

Additional episodes in the girlhood of this delightful heroine that
carry Rebecca through various stages to her eighteenth birthday.

REBECCA MARY, By Annis Hamilton Donnell. Illustrated by Elizabeth
Shippen Green.

This author possesses the rare gift of portraying all the grotesque
little joys and sorrows and scruples of this very small girl with a
pathos that is peculiarly genuine and appealing.

EMMY LOU: Her Book and Heart, By George Madden Martin. Illustrated by
Charles Louis Hinton.

Emmy Lou is irresistibly lovable, because she is so absolutely real.
She is just a bewitchingly innocent, hugable little maid. The book is
wonderfully human.

Ask for complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

Grosset & Dunlap, 526 West 26th St., New York



SEWELL FORD'S STORIES

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.

SHORTY McCABE. Illustrated by Francis Vaux Wilson.

A very humorous story. The hero, an independent and vigorous thinker,
sees life, and tells about it in a very unconventional way.

SIDE-STEPPING WITH SHORTY. Illustrated by Francis Vaux Wilson.

Twenty skits, presenting people with their foibles. Sympathy with
human nature and an abounding sense of humor are the requisites for
"side-stepping with Shorty."

SHORTY McCABE ON THE JOB. Illustrated by Francis Vaux Wilson.

Shorty McCabe reappears with his figures of speech revamped right up
to the minute. He aids in the right distribution of a "conscience
fund," and gives joy to all concerned.

SHORTY McCABE'S ODD NUMBERS, Illustrated by Francis Vaux Wilson.

These further chronicles of Shorty McCabe tell of his studio for
physical culture, and of his experiences both on the East side and at
swell yachting parties.

TORCHY. Illus, by Geo. Biehm and Jas. Montgomery Flagg.

A red-headed office boy, overflowing with wit and wisdom peculiar to
the youths reared on the sidewalks of New York, tells the story of his
experiences.

TRYING OUT TORCHY. Illustrated by F. Foster Lincoln.

Torchy is just as deliriously funny in these stories as he was in the
previous book.

ON WITH TORCHY. Illustrated by F. Foster Lincoln.

Torchy falls desperately in love with "the only girl that ever was,"
but that young society woman's aunt tries to keep the young people
apart, which brings about many hilariously funny situations.

TORCHY, PRIVATE SEC. Illustrated by F. Foster Lincoln.

Torchy rises from the position of office boy to that of secretary for
the Corrugated Iron Company. The story is full of humor and infectious
American slang.

WILT THOU TORCHY. Illus. by F. Snapp and A. W. Brown.

Torchy goes on a treasure search expedition to the Florida West Coast,
in company with a group of friends of the Corrugated Trust and with
his friend's aunt, on which trip Torchy wins the aunt's permission to
place an engagement ring on Vee's finger.

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



KATHLEEN NORRIS' STORIES

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.

MOTHER. Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

This book has a fairy-story touch, counterbalanced by the sturdy
reality of struggle, sacrifice, and resulting peace and power of a
mother's experiences.

SATURDAY'S CHILD.

Frontispiece by F. Graham Cootes.

Out on the Pacific coast a normal girl, obscure and lovely, makes a
quest for happiness. She passes through three stages--poverty, wealth
and service--and works out a creditable salvation.

THE RICH MRS. BURGOYNE.

Illustrated by Lucius H. Hitchcock.

The story of a sensible woman who keeps within her means, refuses to
be swamped by social engagements, lives a normal human life of varied
interests, and has her own romance.

THE STORY OF JULIA PAGE.

Frontispiece by Allan Gilbert.

How Julia Page, reared in rather unpromising surroundings, lifted
herself through sheer determination to a higher plane of life.

THE HEART OF RACHAEL.

Frontispiece by Charles E. Chambers.

Rachael is called upon to solve many problems, and in working out
these, there is shown the beauty and strength of soul of one of
fiction's most appealing characters.

Ask for Complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



JOHN FOX, JR'S.

STORIES OF THE KENTUCKY MOUNTAINS

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's
list.

THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE. Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

The "lonesome pine" from which the story takes its name was a tall
tree that stood in solitary splendor on a mountain top. The fame of
the pine lured a young engineer through Kentucky to catch the trail,
and when he finally climbed to its shelter he found not only the pine
but the foot-prints of a girl. And the girl proved to be lovely,
piquant, and the trail of these girlish foot-prints led the young
engineer a madder chase than "the trail of the lonesome pine."

THE LITTLE SHEPHERD OF KINGDOM COME

Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

This is a story of Kentucky, in a settlement known as "Kingdom Come."
It is a life rude, semi-barbarous; but natural and honest, from which
often springs the flower of civilization.

"Chad," the "little shepherd" did not know who he was nor whence he
came--he had just wandered from door to door since early childhood,
seeking shelter with kindly mountaineers who gladly fathered and
mothered this waif about whom there was such a mystery--a charming
waif, by the way, who could play the banjo better than anyone else in
the mountains.

A KNIGHT OF THE CUMBERLAND. Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

The scenes are laid along the waters of the Cumberland, the lair of
moonshiner and feudsman. The knight is a moonshiner's son, and the
heroine a beautiful girl perversely christened "The Blight." Two
impetuous young Southerners' fall under the spell of "The Blight's"
charms and she learns what a large part jealousy and pistols have in
the love making of the mountaineers.

Included in this volume is "Hell fer-Sartain" and other stories, some
of Mr. Fox's most entertaining Cumberland valley narratives.

Ask for complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

GROSSET & DUNLAP, 526 WEST 26th ST., NEW YORK



THE NOVELS OF

WINSTON CHURCHILL

THE INSIDE OF THE CUP. Illustrated by Howard Giles.

The Reverend John Hodder is called to a fashionable church in a
middle-western city. He knows little of modern problems and in his
theology is as orthodox as the rich men who control his church could
desire. But the facts of modern life are thrust upon him; an awakening
follows and in the end he works out a solution.

A FAR COUNTRY. Illustrated by Herman Pfeifer.

This novel is concerned with big problems of the day. As The Inside of
the Cup gets down to the essentials in its discussion of religion, so
A Far Country deals in a story that is intense and dramatic, with
other vital issues confronting the twentieth century.

A MODERN CHRONICLE. Illustrated by J. H. Gardner Soper.

This, Mr. Churchill's first great presentation of the Eternal
Feminine, is throughout a profound study of a fascinating young
American woman. It is frankly a modern love story.

MR. CREWE'S CAREER. Illus. by A. I. Keller and Kinneys.

A new England state is under the political domination of a railway and
Mr. Crewe, a millionaire, seizes a moment when the cause of the people
is being espoused by an ardent young attorney, to further his own
interest in a political way. The daughter of the railway president
plays no small part in the situation.

THE CROSSING. Illustrated by S. Adamson and L. Baylis.

Describing the battle of Fort Moultrie, the blazing of the Kentucky
wilderness, the expedition of Clark and his handful of followers
in Illinois, the beginning of civilization along the Ohio and
Mississippi, and the treasonable schemes against Washington.

CONISTON. Illustrated by Florence Scovel Shinn.

A deft blending of love and politics. A New Englander is the hero, a
crude man who rose to political prominence by his own powers, and then
surrendered all for the love of a woman.

THE CELEBRITY. An episode.

An inimitable bit of comedy describing an interchange of personalities
between a celebrated author and a bicycle salesman. It is the purest,
keenest fun--and is American to the core.

THE CRISIS. Illustrated with scenes from the Photo-Play.

A book that presents the great crisis in our national life with
splendid power and with a sympathy, a sincerity, and a patriotism that
are inspiring.

RICHARD CARVEL. Illustrated by Malcolm Frazer.

An historical novel which gives a real and vivid picture of Colonial
times, and is good, clean, spirited reading in all its phases and
interesting throughout.

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



GROSSET & DUNLAP'S

DRAMATIZED NOVELS

THE KIND THAT ARE MAKING THEATRICAL HISTORY

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list

WITHIN THE LAW. By Bayard Veiller & Marvin Dana. Illustrated by Wm.
Charles Cooke.

This is a novelization of the immensely successful play which ran for
two years in New York and Chicago.

The plot of this powerful novel is of a young woman's revenge directed
against her employer who allowed her to be sent to prison for three
years on a charge of theft, of which she was innocent.

WHAT HAPPENED TO MARY. By Robert Carlton Brown. Illustrated with
scenes from the play.

This is a narrative of a young and innocent country girl who is
suddenly thrown into the very heart of New York, "the land of her
dreams," where she is exposed to all sorts of temptations and
dangers.

The story of Mary is being told in moving pictures and played in
theatres all over the world.

THE RETURN OF PETER GRIMM. By David Belasco.

Illustrated by John Rae.

This is a novelization of the popular play in which David Warfield as
Old Peter Grimm, scored such a remarkable success.

The story is spectacular and extremely pathetic but withal, powerful,
both as a book and as a play.

THE GARDEN OF ALLAH. By Robert Hichens.

This novel is an intense, glowing epic of the great desert, sunlit
barbaric, with its marvelous atmosphere of vastness and loneliness.

It is a book of rapturous beauty, vivid in word painting. The play has
been staged with magnificent cast and gorgeous properties.

BEN HUR. A Tale of the Christ. By General Lew Wallace.

The whole world has placed this famous Religious-Historical Romance on
a height of pre-eminence which no other novel of its time has reached.
The clashing of rivalry and the deepest human passions, the perfect
reproduction of brilliant Roman life, and the tense, fierce atmosphere
of the arena have kept their deep fascination. A tremendous dramatic
success.

BOUGHT AND PAID FOR. By George Broadhurst and Arthur Hornblow.
Illustrated with scenes from the play.

A stupendous arraignment of modern marriage which has created an
interest on the stage that is almost unparalleled. The scenes are laid
in New York, and deal with conditions among both the rich and poor.

The interest of the story turns on the day-by-day developments which
show the young wife the price she has paid.

Ask for complete free fist of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

Grosset & Dunlap, 526 West 26th St., New York





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